Capital, Monopoly and Economic Nationalism
: A History of British Railways in Colombia, 1902-1930

  • Andrew Primmer

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This PhD thesis focusses on British railway companies in Colombia during 1902-30. It explores the impact of instability, insecure property rights, business culture, civil conflict, regionalism, national politics, and contractual instability on British overseas investment. It also evaluates whether British railway companies represented economic imperialism. The first chapter introduces the research question and evaluates the present state of the historiography. The second chapter explores attitudes towards foreign investment within national politics, focussing on the dominant verdad de la deuda doctrine, concluding that the loss of Panama led to national sovereignty taking precedent over economic development within public policy. The third chapter explores the history of what are termed the ‘Northern Railways’: a group of companies conceived to connect the north-east of the interior with the capital city Bogotá. The fourth chapter explores the Colombian National Railway Company, which connected Bogotá with the Magdalena River. The fifth chapter investigates the railways of the Caribbean coast, which linked the ports of Barranquilla and Santa Marta with the Magdalena River. The sixth chapter focusses on the Dorada Railway Company, which bridged the Lower and Upper Magdalena river valleys, monopolising a vital trade route linking the Caribbean railways and those of the interior. The thesis illustrates that rather than geography, it was principally institutional and political factors which inhibited British investment. This is accomplished through detailed empirical analysis of primary source material, which sheds light on the everyday experiences of British railway companies operating in the country for the first time. Furthermore, the organisation and experiences of British railways, both in terms of their shareholders and administrators, closely parallels the concept of ‘gentlemanly capitalism’. As such, the thesis presents a hitherto unknown intersection of imperialism within Britain’s Latin American ‘informal empire’.
Date of Award23 Jan 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorMatthew D Brown (Supervisor) & Robert Julio Decker (Supervisor)

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