Britain achieves its peak period of political and commercial dominance, as portrayed by the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the political influence of Lord Palmerston, but the Irish Potato famine is a warning of future problems.
When Princess Victoria came to the throne as a girl of eighteen, nobody could have imagined that the rest of the century would come to be known as her personal era. Her mother had planned that her advisor Sir John Conroy would manage the practical affairs of the monarchy, but right from the beginning the slight little figure of Victoria exhibited the stubbornness which was a defining mark of her character thereafter. Her prime minister Lord Melbourne became a father figure: acting as her mentor and private secretary, he educating her in the operation of a constitutional monarchy. His influence was not always for the best; he encouraged her to make a serious error in blighting the last days of Lady Flora Hastings, one of her mother’s ladies in waiting.
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The queen was upset when Melbourne decided to resign in 1839. She did not form much of a bond with Sir Robert Peel and refuse his request to dismiss some of the Whig ladies in her entourage. Peel then refused to take office and Melbourne resumed as prime minister.
However, change was in the air. Railways were beginning to snake across the countryside; Euston, London’s first terminus fronted by a magnificent Romanesque portico, was completed in 1838. Soon Gothic Revival would become the defining architectural style of the era, as demonstrated by Augustin Pugin and Charles Barry in their Houses of Parliament, rebuilt 1840-60. The Sirius completed the first trans-Atlantic voyage under steam in 1838. Rowland Hill introduced the Penny Post in 1840 which, together with the invention of the electric telegraph in 1837, allowed people to speedily communicate news and views the length and breadth of the country.
Life was speeding up, but despite these harbingers of technological change, many people struggled with the new conditions thrust upon them by the ongoing Industrial Revolution. Insanitary living conditions led to the rapid spread of diseases such as small pox and outbreaks of cholera, which first struck in 1832. Various Factory Acts only marginally improved urban working conditions; accidental injury and death, caused by poor maintenance of machinery or lack of proper safety precautions, were commonplace. The abolition of the old Poor Law support measures and the introduction of Union workhouses had added another worry to the lives of the labouring poor, who also continued to pay an inflated price for their daily bread due to the Corn Laws.
In the political world, the parties were in a state of flux. The Tories had already shed their radical and old style Tory components and, following the Tamworth Manifesto, were becoming known as Conservatives. Whig constitutionalists like Lord Melbourne, who considered the Reform Act and Catholic emancipation as unfortunate events and supported slavery, were closer in outlook to old style Tories, whereas younger radicals were adopting new ideas such as free trade and some of the further constitutional changes demanded by the Chartist movement. They would gradually coalesce into the Liberal party.
The Chartist movement began in 1838 when a People's Charter was drawn up for the London Working Men's Association by William Lovett and Francis Place with six demands:
1. Universal manhood suffrage.
2. A secret ballot.
3. Parliamentary elections every year.
4. Equal sized constituencies.
5. MPs should be paid.
6. Property qualification for MPs should be abolished.
In June 1839, the Chartist petition, signed by 1.3 million people was presented to the House of Commons, but MPs voted not to hear the petitioners. Widespread unrest followed and was swiftly put down; 24 Chartist sympathisers were killed in a riot at Newport, Monmouthshire. A second petition was presented in May 1842, signed by over three million people, but once again it was rejected and further unrest followed. In April 1848, a significant year when revolts engulfed many countries in Europe, a third and final petition was presented, but again failed to gain any response. Nevertheless, the Chartists’ agenda took root in the political landscape and all but annual elections are now part of British constitutional arrangements.
In 1840 Melbourne was replaced as the most important man in the queen’s life when Victoria married her cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. By the end of 1841 they were parents of two children.
Lord Melbourne left office when a general election finally gave Peel a working majority in the Commons for his new Conservative party, and this time the queen raised no objection. Another economic recession was in progress and the Whigs left a government deficit, which Peel rectified by reintroducing an Income Tax of 7d in the £. The new tax raised so much money that Peel was able to remove or reduce the tariffs on more than 1,200 types of imports. This was a move towards the free trade policy which was promoted by Richard Cobden and John Bright. They had formed the Anti Corn Law League in 1838, but a measure to reform it in the 1842 budget was rejected in the Commons. In 1844 the Conservatives made some improvements to employment in factories, including basic safety measures and a twelve hour working day for women, including meal breaks, and the Mines Act of 1842 forbade the employment of women and young children underground.
Peel was successfully implementing his Tamworth Manifesto philosophy when one of the nineteenth century’s great tragedies disrupted the nation's politics. Potato blight first appeared in the United Kingdom and Europe in 1845. Elsewhere it was a nasty blow, but in Ireland it was a catastrophe. Most of the land was owned by the absentee Anglo-Irish Ascendancy, who were members of the established Protestant Church, whilst their tenants were overwhelmingly Catholic. The landlords’ agents retained the best land for production of saleable products such as grain, butter and cattle; the rest was split into small plots, which were often not large enough to sustain the tenant families who lived in abject poverty. Tenants were often unemployed and living on the verge of starvation at the best of times; few had security of tenure and the agent could eject a tenant and retain his improvements to the holding with no remuneration. Holdings were so small that no crop other than potatoes could feed a family and many survived only with money earned as seasonal migrant labour in England and Scotland. Concern for the prevailing situation in Ireland caused Peel to set up a Royal Commission in 1843 which reported: “in many districts their only food is the potato, their only beverage water ... their cabins are seldom a protection against the weather ... a bed or a blanket is a rare luxury ... their pig and a manure heap constitute their only property.”
By September 1845 reports began to circulate that more than a third of the Irish potato crop was decimated by ‘a murrain’. Peel found the reports very alarming but remarked there was "always a tendency to exaggeration in Irish news". The following year three quarters of the crop was lost and people began to die in November 1846. Seed potatoes were scarce and only a small acreage could be planted in 1847. Hunger and death ravaged the country that year and again in 1848. Peel authorised Barings bank to purchase maize and corn meal in America in November 1845, but the consignments were delivered late and the few Irish mills experienced difficulties with processing the corn. Peel also moved to repeal the Corn Laws, but his party refused to support him; he resigned but was persuaded to remain in office. The next year he succeeded in pushing the Repeal Act through Parliament, but it did little to help the starving Irish and the measure split the Conservative Party, leading to the fall of Peel's ministry.
The Whig leader, Lord John Russell, became prime minister as the Irish crisis deepened. Influenced by their laissez faire principles, the Whigs increased the distress when they halted food distribution and public relief works, and refused to interfere with the export of large quantities of food in the form of grains and pulses, butter, cattle, sheep and swine from Ireland to England. Large quantities of wheat were imported into Ireland at the height of the famine, but much of it was used as livestock feed, possibly because there were few mills to turn it into flour and much flour that was produced was quickly spoiled in the wet climate. No tenants’ shacks possessed a bread oven and it is unlikely that potato eaters would know how to make bread anyway. An attempt to introduce a new programme of public works at the end of the year was a failure and was quickly abandoned.
The government then relied on administering direct aid by means of soup kitchens and through the workhouses. However, those who chose the workhouse had to give up their land before they were allowed admittance; it is estimated nearly 200,000 were driven off the land in 1849/50. The rental income of many estates plummeted and speculators moved in, buying up estates with the intention of turning the land over to pastureland for cattle grazing; the few tenants remaining were removed by swingeing rent increases. Hundreds of thousands of landless, starving peasants flocked to seaports and small harbours, trying to flee the devastated country and seek a new life in the United States and Britain or one of the colonies in Canada and Australia. Accurate figures cannot be quoted, but it is estimated that some 1.5 - 2 million people left Ireland and something like 1 million died from hunger and disease in the famine years 1846-51. The worst population losses were sustained in the western and central areas.
Peel’s Corn Law repeal led to a final split in the old Tory party. He led a Peelite remnant which included William Gladstone. The rest of the Conservative party remained more or less true to the Tamworth Manifesto, under the leadership of Lord Derby and the silver-tongued orator Benjamin Disraeli, but remained opposed to Free Trade Liberalism and relied for support on the country gentry and their Church of England allies.
One of the most prominent Anglo-Irish absentee landlords was Lord Palmerston. He believed the only way to improve social conditions in Ireland was by a systematic reduction in the number of small scale tenancies. It is said 2,000 tenants either quit or were evicted from his estates in County Sligo during the famine and he paid for some to leave Ireland and seek a new life in North America.
Palmerston was aged 24 when he was appointed Secretary at War in 1808 by Spencer Perceval and held the post for twenty years. He became identified with the Canningite wing of the Tory party, being a moderate supporter of Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform. In 1828 he resigned from Wellington’s government over the matter of franchise reform. In 1832 he became Foreign Secretary in the Whig government led by Lord Grey and began to exert a muscular British foreign policy which became known as ‘gunboat diplomacy’.
He was immediately involved in the European turmoil of 1830, when the Bourbon monarchy was replaced by the ‘citizen king’ Louis Philippe in France, the Belgians revolted against Dutch rule and the Poles rebelled against the Russians. Palmerston called the London Conference, intending to maintain the balance of power and the status quo in Europe. He offered nothing to the Poles, but secured recognition of an independent Belgium ruled by Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, the widower of George IV’s daughter Charlotte Augusta and uncle of Princess Victoria. At the Treaty of London 1839 the neutrality of Belgium was guaranteed by the major powers.
Palmerston became a stout defender of the Ottoman Empire, which he saw as a bulwark against Russian encroachment into Persia and the Mediterranean, and against suspected French designs in Egypt via its colonisation of the North African coast. In 1840 Palmerston organised an alliance with Russia and Austria which overcame a rebellion by the governor of Egypt Muhammed Ali, who was receiving tacit support from France. An Austro-British fleet bombarded rebel-held Beirut and drove Muhammed Ali’s troops out of Acre. The French prudently withdrew their support and Ali agreed to retreat back into Egypt, where he became hereditary viceroy.
Palmerston also intervened forcefully when a trade dispute between the East India Company and the Chinese Empire escalated in 1839. The company was only allowed to purchase Chinese luxury goods (particularly silk, porcelain, and tea) in return for silver at the river port of Canton (Guangzhou). China accumulated massive reserves of silver and there was a corresponding shortage in the European trading countries. The company began to grow opium in Bengal, India, which was sold in return for silver to Chinese merchants who then smuggled the opium into the China interior. The silver thus earned was used to buy goods in the official market at Canton. Eventually, opium addiction became a serious social and economic problem in China and the viceroy at Canton seized opium stocks and blockaded all foreign ships on the Pearl River. Palmerston send an expeditionary force to China in early 1840; Chinese forces were outgunned by the Royal Navy and, when negotiations broke down in May 1841, Canton was occupied. Nanjing in Eastern China was captured the next year and a peace treaty was agreed which compelled China to pay a large indemnity and increased the number of treaty ports where Britons could trade and reside to five, one of which was Shanghai. The island of Hong Kong near the mouth of the Pearl River was ceded to Britain; this was one of Palmerston’s prime objectives as it provided a defendable naval supply base close to Canton, but it also became the major port for trading opium into China. Although he was now out of power due to a change of government, Palmerston’s main goal of opening China to trade was achieved, but his critics remained focussed on the immorality of the opium trade.
By these actions Palmerston, a master of self-publicity, achieved great popularity, but to many of his colleagues in government he seemed like a loose cannon. His long-term extra-marital association with and eventual marriage in 1839 to Emily Lamb, sister of Lord Melbourne, helped him secure his place in government and high society, but the queen and her husband Prince Albert were always cool towards him.
The Royal couple set an example of matrimonial fidelity and happiness. After early years of unpopularity, Albert was becoming respected for his hard work and devotion to good causes. He was Chancellor of the University of Cambridge and became President of the Society for the Extinction of the Slave Trade and Civilisation of Africa, founded by Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton in 1839, which believed the continuing Slave Trade in Africa could be destroyed by promoting agriculture, trade, modern medical assistance and the spread of Christianity in Africa. He improved the royal finances, modernised the royal estates and supervised the building of Osborne House in the Isle of Wight as a private family home and residence. He also leased and later bought Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire to become the royal family home in Scotland. Albert, as President of the Society of Arts, was always interested in applying science and art to the manufacturing industries and eventually became the moving spirit behind the Great Exhibition of 1851, which was the defining demonstration of British achievements and wealth at the height of its industrial and commercial power. He had to fight reactionary opposition to the Great Exhibition every inch of the way to its triumphant opening at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in May 1851. All the credit for its colossal success was Albert’s. The profits were used to purchase land in South Kensington where the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, Imperial College London, the Royal Albert Hall and the Victoria and Albert Museum would be built. Following the death of the Duke of Wellington that year, Albert took over some of his honorary offices, which included being master of Trinity House and Colonel of the Grenadier Guards. He began a campaign for modernisation of the army, which was long overdue.
Palmerston had returned to the Foreign Office in 1846 as a member of Lord John Russell’s administration. An explosion of revolution and unrest across Europe occupied him throughout 1848. Louis Philippe was toppled by revolution and lived out the rest of his brief life in Britain. Louis Napoléon Bonaparte was elected president in December 1848 and declared himself Emperor Napoleon III in 1852. Palmerston had been sympathetic to most of the European revolutionary movements, such as in northern Italy and in Hungary against the Austrian empire, but in practice he could do little to support them. The queen and Prince Albert remained unsympathetic to his nationalistic policies. However, they were helpless before the great wall of popularity he enjoyed after he defended, with his five hour Civis Romanum Sum speech, an order to blockade the port of Piraeus in Greece because an anti-Semite crowd, led by sons of a Greek minister, pillaged the home of a British citizen named Don Pacifico of Gibraltar. Many in Britain now truly believed they were the natural successors to the Roman Empire.
However, Palmerston overreached himself when, without consulting the queen, he sent a private message of congratulation to Louis Napoleon after the latter overturned the latest French constitution and took supreme power in December 1851. His resignation was accepted, leaving Russell’s administration in a terminal state of weakness. Two months later Russell lost a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons when Palmerston voted with the opposition. A general election resulted in the Whig/Liberals and Peelites holding nearly as many seats as the Conservatives, led by the Earl of Derby - with Irish Nationalists holding the balance of power. Derby tried to take power, but the Conservative budget presented by Disraeli was defeated and Derby resigned in December 1852.
Following the repeal of the Corn Laws, British political opinion could no longer be accurately described in party terms. Peelites and radical Whigs, now becoming known as Liberals, shared many ideas, but were often divided on detail, and the same applied to the protectionist conservatives and traditionalist Whigs. It was a difficult time to form strong and effective governments. The queen turned to the Earl of Aberdeen, leader of the Peelites, to form a coalition government. No government could manage without Palmerston’s support, but the queen and Aberdeen could not tolerate him back at the Foreign Office and he was made Home Secretary. The up and coming Peelite William E Gladstone was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer and he seized his opportunity to make the first of his Free Trade budgets in 1853. 123 duties were abolished and 133 duties were reduced. The income tax had expired, but Gladstone proposed to extend it for seven years to fund the tariff reductions. His budget speech raised him to the first rank of parliamentary orators.
Palmerston, perhaps to the surprise of many, showed off his liberal credentials at the Home Office. In 1853, he oversaw the passing of the Factory Act which outlawed young persons working between 6pm and 6am, and introduced the Truck Act which prevented employers paying workmen in goods instead of money, or forcing them to purchase goods from the employers’ own shops. He introduced the Smoke Abatement Act, in an effort to control the increasing smoke emissions associated with the Industrial Revolution, and he also assisted the passage of the Vaccination Act 1853, a private member's bill which made vaccination of children compulsory for the first time. He reduced the period in which prisoners could be held in solitary confinement from eighteen months to nine months. He also ended transportation of prisoners to Tasmania by passing the Penal Servitude Act 1853. Finally he introduced the Reformatory Schools Act of 1854 which gave the Home Secretary powers to send juvenile prisoners to a reformatory school instead of prison, although he was forced to accept an amendment which ensured they firstly had to spend at least three months in gaol.
During this time the Palmerston-Russell feud continued. Lord John Russell was leader of the Whig group and Foreign Secretary in the Aberdeen administration, when Britain became involved in a dispute about control of the Christian Holy places in Jerusalem, which was within the Ottoman Empire. Napoleon III had asked the Sultan to recognise France’s right to protect the sites. However, the Czar of Russia drew attention to a treaty of 1778, in which Russia had agreed to evacuate the Danubian provinces of Wallachia-Moldavia in return for the exclusive right to protect the Christian sites. The Ottomans floundered; first reneging on their agreement with France and then reinstating it when Napoleon III sent a warship into the Black Sea. Russia then threatened to take back the Danubian provinces. Russell was inclined to support the French by warning Russia not to invade Ottoman territory and wanted to send a fleet to the Dardanelles. Aberdeen was sympathetic to the Russian position, and, faced with the prime minister’s resistance, Russell resigned. Nevertheless a fleet was eventually sent as a final warning to Russia. Bad weather caused the ships to shelter in the straits, which the Czar considered was a contravention of the Straits Convention of 1841, and Russia proceded to invade the provinces.
In November 1853, having ignored an Anglo-French ultimatum to quit the provinces, the Russians destroyed the Ottoman fleet at Sinope. War was declared in March 1854, but it was September before a joint Anglo-French expeditionary force landed on the Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea and laid siege to the local capital Sevastopol. The allied supply base at Balaclava was attacked, but was successfully defended. During the battle the heroic but misguided and tragic Charge of the Light Brigade took place and entered national mythology. Reports began to filter back to London about the mismanagement of the conflict and the miserable conditions endured by the troops. A parliamentary committee was set up; Aberdeen chose to regard it as a no confidence matter, largely as a result of Russell’s hostile attitude, and resigned. The queen was then forced to ask Palmerston, aged 70, to form a government.
In late 1854, Florence Nightingale was invited to organize a corps of nurses to tend to the sick and wounded soldiers in the Crimea. She quickly assembled a team of 34 nurses from a variety of religious orders and set about reforming the dreadfully unhygienic state of the military hospital at Scutari on the Anatolian side of the Bosphorus from Istanbul. Nightingale became known as ‘the Lady with the Lamp’ and revolutionised the treatment and care of the sick and wounded. Her name still stands as the first patron for humane and hygienic standards in the world of nursing.
Nearer the action in the Crimea, another woman helped to improve the lot of the troops. Mary Jane Seacole was a businesswoman and midwife/healer of mixed race from Jamaica. She was not accepted as a Nightingale nurse and so she made her own way to the Crimea, where she opened her British Hotel near Balaclava in the Crimea in March 1855. The ‘hotel’ was a shack built of any salvaged material that would serve a purpose. Provisions were shipped from London and Constantinople, or were purchased from the British and French army camps. The hotel served meals prepared by two black cooks and also provided outside catering. Seacole sold a wide range of products to army officers and visiting sightseers. She also went out selling her provisions to the troops, and nursed casualties brought from the trenches around Sevastopol, using skills and knowledge picked up in the West Indies as a nurse and herbalist. Many years after these events, Mrs Seacole’s humanitarian and practical efforts in the Crimea have finally become well-recognised.
The Russian Czar Nicholas I had died and his successor Alexander II wanted to end the war, which had devastated the weak Russian economy. Palmerston, however, taking a longer view, wanted to reduce Russian influence in Northern Europe with a display of naval superiority in the Baltic. The French, on the other hand were also minded to make peace. They had sent a larger force to the Crimea and lost more men than their British allies, but Palmerston managed to keep Napoleon III in harness until Sevastopol eventually fell in September 1855, after which he reluctantly accepted the general wish for a peace conference. At the Congress of Paris in 1856, Russia agreed to demilitarise the Black Sea and restore the Danube provinces to Ottoman suzerainty together with the left bank at the mouth of the Danube. Russia was also forced to abandon its claim to protect Christians in the Ottoman Empire, which had been the spark which set off the Crimean conflagration. The hope that the Ottoman Empire could be strengthened was, however, illusory as nationalist sentiment continued to grow in the Balkan components of the empire.
As soon as British troops were removed from the Crimea, trouble flared up once more in China. The Second Opium War broke out in October 1856 when Chinese officials boarded a ship named The Arrow moored in Canton, seized the Chinese crew and lowered the Union flag. In retaliation, a British warship bombarded Canton. The Chinese responded by burning foreign warehouses. Once again the French cooperated in a military expedition with the British which took Canton. British warships arrived at Tientsin (Tianjin) in 1858, where the Chinese agreed a treaty which provided residences in Peking for foreign envoys and allowed several new ports to be opened to Western trade and residents; the right of foreign travel in the interior of China and freedom of movement for Christian missionaries was also permitted. Later in the year, the importation of opium was legalized.
In June 1859 French and British diplomats en route to Peking to ratify the treaties were refused permission to pass by the Dagu forts, but the British-led forces decided to proceed and were driven back with heavy casualties. The Chinese subsequently refused to ratify the treaties, and the allies resumed hostilities. In 1860 an Anglo-French force destroyed the Dagu batteries and captured Peking (Beijing) in October, where it plundered and burned the emperor’s summer palace. Later that month the Chinese agreed to observe the treaties of Tientsin and also ceded to Britain the southern portion of the Kowloon Peninsula adjacent to Hong Kong.
At the time, these events were overshadowed by terrible events in India. When British traders followed other Europeans to India in the early seventeenth century, it was possibly the richest country in the world; the Mughal emperors were at the height of their power and ruled nearly all the sub-continent, with its millions of fellow-Muslim, Hindu, Jaan, Buddhist and Christian inhabitants. Like other traders, the East India Company constantly sought to increase its privileges and gain trading advantages, but sometimes it overreached itself. In 1688, a British fleet sent to support the company’s trading ambitions in Bengal, captured vessels loaded with people making the pilgrimage to Mecca. The Emperor Aurangzeb confiscated all the company possessions and company representatives were forced to prostrate themselves before him and pay a large levy in order to regain their factories and trading rights. However the company was allowed to establish a factory or trading depot at Calcutta, which eventually became the capital of British rule in India.
Following Aurangzeb’s death, the Mughal power declined. In 1739, the Mughal capital Delhi was sacked by the Shah of Persia. The Emperor also lost control of much of his empire to warlike subjects such as the Rajputs and Mahrattas. Some of them accepted military help from European trading companies, who expected exclusive trading rights in return. Moreover, during the eighteenth century, the struggle between France and Britain for international supremacy had spread to India, particularly the Carnatic region along the south east coast, where the British East India Company eventually established complete dominance. The struggle then moved to the province of Bengal, where Robert Clive defeated the Mughal army at Plassey.
With the French off the scene and Bengal lost, the Mughal Empire entered its final spiral of decline. The emperor became a mere figurehead, whose former territories were either under the direct rule of the East India Company or split between hundreds of kingdoms and principalities, most of which acknowledged the company’s suzerainty. The company paid a pension to the emperor, but maintained a military force and collected taxes in Delhi.
The East India Company established control of one great Indian province after another until it met a major disaster early in 1842. The Governor General Lord Aukland had rashly deposed the Emir of Afghanistan, whom he suspected of planning an alliance with Persia to extinguish Sikh rule in Punjab, thus opening the way for a Muslim invasion into the heart of India. British troops, administrators and their families were sent to the Afghan capital Kabul to support the new British-appointed emir, who soon aroused the hatred of the Afghans. The emir lost control of Kabul and British residents were persuaded to return to India under promise of safe conduct, but the column of 16,000 men, women and children was under constant attack as it retreated in extremely harsh wintry conditions; tribesmen killed every member of the retreating column bar one in the snows and rocks of the Hindu Kush. British forces exacted some form of retribution when they recaptured Kabul and rescued some prisoners in September, be-fore withdrawing back to India through the Khyber Pass. Indians everywhere noted that the redcoats were not invincible, whilst politicians in London worried the North West Frontier, controlled by the independent Sikh kingdom of Punjab, was now vulnerable to Russian interference.
Following the Kabul disaster, the British were inclined to take over all territory bordering Afghanistan in order to close the door on a possible Russian threat. The Sindh province, to the south of Punjab, was the first to be annexed, against orders, by Sir Charles Napier in 1843. This was followed by the First Sikh War in 1845. The Sikh army was large, courageous, well-armed and trained; it fought well, despite signs of treason among some of its leaders, but the British eventually won a hard-fought battle at Sobraon in 1846. The young Maharajah Duleep Singh retained most of the Punjab, but his government was put in the hands of an East India Company representative in Lahore. Resentment at British control led to the outbreak of the Second Sikh War in April 1848. The Sikhs and their Afghan allies were decisively beaten at Gujarat and Punjab was annexed into British India in 1849. Duleep Singh was deposed and sent to England, where he became a friend of Queen Victoria and was buried at Elveden, Suffolk.
A mutual respect for each other's fighting prowess had developed between the Sikhs and British, and in 1857 Sikh recruits in the Indian army proved invaluable in the fierce struggle which the British called the Indian Mutiny and is remembered in India as the First War of Independence. The Sikh attitude to annexation contrasted with resistance in the rich client state of Oudh in northern India when the company, alleging the decadence of the ruling Nawab, took complete control in 1856. Sepoys (non-commissioned soldiers) in the Bengal section of the Indian army, many of whom had family connections in Oudh, feared the changeover would result in a loss of family privileges and religious customs. Oudh and its capital Lucknow became a centre of resistance during the ensuing mutiny. Other grievances, included fears that service in distant parts such as Burma was no longer to be rewarded with the remuneration that had previously been due to sepoys, and complaints that social reforms interfered with Indian religious practices such as Sati and the denial of remarriage for widows.
The final spark came when a new Enfield rifle was issued which used greased paper cartridges. The sepoys had to bite the cartridge open to release the powder, but rumours quickly swept through the ranks that the grease included lard derived from pork, which was offensive to Muslims, and tallow derived from beef, which was offensive to Hindus. British officers quickly tried to defuse the situation so that sepoys could grease cartridges with material of their own choice and tear them open by hand with no mouth contact. This merely confirmed the sepoys’ suspicions and unrest spread through much of the Bengalese military corps.
Sepoys at Meerut refused to handle the cartridges and disorder broke out and spread into the city. The first killings of British men, women, children and sometimes their Indian servants took place here in May 1857. The sepoys headed for Delhi 40 miles away, where elements from three infantry regiments joined the mutiny. Bahadur Shah Zafar, the 81 year old Emperor whose lifetime work was a corpus of Urdu poetry, was declared Emperor of India or Hindustan by the rebels, most of whom were Hindu. About fifty British prisoners were executed in the palace courtyard. The mutineers were quickly joined by a general uprising in the surrounding countryside. Muslims were often more hesitant about joining the rebellion and Sikhs generally supported the British against a revived Mughal Empire which had oppressed them in the past; they also disliked the Hindu sepoys whom they had fought in the recent Sikh Wars. The Gurkha regiments also remained loyal. The Bombay army was mostly loyal to the company and the army of the Madras presidency remained totally loyal.
British army units were sent overland to assist the authorities in India via Persia from the recently concluded Crimean conflict and others were diverted from the Chinese Opium War. After savage hand to hand fighting, the city of Delhi was taken in September. Bahadur Shah Zafar was captured and sent into exile in Burma; two of his sons were executed. In addition to the massacres at Meerut and Delhi, the discovery of women and children hacked to death and thrown into a well at Cawnpore, after their menfolk were all killed in an earlier massacre, further inflamed British opinion. The rebels could expect no mercy as they crumpled before a campaign of savage retribution. They were hanged or ‘blew from a cannon’, the traditional Mughal punishment for treason or mutiny. Mass killings and torture took place at Cawnpore, Fatehpore, Allahabad and many other places as the British regained control. Lucknow was besieged for ninety days with heavy losses and one relief force found itself unable to evacuate and joined the besieged, who fortunately had a large stock of supplies. Lucknow was finally evacuated in November 1857 and the Oudh rebels were overcome in March 1858. The last remnant of the Mutiny ended with rebels surrendering in July. Isolated mutinies had occurred throughout Bengal and were put down with the help of Gurkha regiments. It is claimed that approximately 6,000 of the 40,000 British living in India were killed in the Mutiny. In response, many thou-sands of Indians were killed by British troops and loyal Indian units. Numerous atrocities were committed by both sides. The Governor General Earl Canning called for moderation, but was ignored and was scornfully nicknamed ‘Clemency’ Canning by the press.
In August 1858, the Honourable East India Company was formally dissolved by Act of Parliament and its powers were transferred to the British Crown. The India Office department of state was created and the Governor-General became the Viceroy of India and implemented policies devised by the India Office. Former East India Company territories, such as the Straits Settlements, became British colonies. The old Bengal army was almost completely dismembered and the Indian army increased recruitment from the Punjab region, with more responsibility given to Indian officers. A programme of reform curbed previous attempts to interfere with Hindu and Muslim traditional ways of life; the traditions and hierarchies of the various cultures were to be preserved and respected and a programme of integrating Indians into local government was started. The British Raj came into being in 1858 and the East India Company, the most powerful company ever known, was finally dissolved in 1874.
Lord Palmerston had been prime minister throughout most of these turbulent times in India, China and the Crimea, but lost office early in 1858 when he introduced a Conspiracy to Murder bill, which made it a felony in Britain to plot the murder of someone abroad. This was in response to an attempted assassination of Napoleon III by an Italian nationalist named Orsini using a bomb made in Birmingham. Lord Derby once more formed a weak government without a majority in the House of Commons, where the Conservative’s policies were managed by Disraeli. He secured the Government of India Act and, following parliament’s experience of the ‘Great Stink,’ the Thames Purification Act which funded Bazalgette’s massive renewal of London’s sewers. However his modest attempt to broaden the franchise was defeated.
All parties favoured increasing the electorate, but they all wished to do it in a way which favoured sections of the population which they thought were in sympathy with their views. The Conservatives failed to gain a majority in the ensuing 1859 election and Palmerston was recalled to office once again. The Conservative rank and file blamed Disraeli for the defeat and some, led by young Lord Robert Cecil MP, accused the novelist with a Jewish background of being disloyal to Derby in terms which were certainly class-biased if not overtly racist.
Following the election, Lord John Russell agreed to pool his Whigs with Palmerston’s followers to form the Liberal party and the queen reluctantly called on Palmerston to form the first Liberal government. Russell wished to bring forward his own reform bill, but the prime minister would not agree. Palmerston was also usually at odds with his chancellor of the Exchequer William Gladstone, who pursued the Free Trade agenda in his first budget with a swingeing reduction in the number of excise duties from 419 to 48. He also increased income tax to an upper limit of 9d in the pound, rather than borrowing money to reduce the government’s deficit. However, by 1865 he was able to reduce the tax in stages to 4d. He believed that economy in public expenditure was the most important principle in government finance and money should “fructify in the pockets of the people”. Despite this, Palmerston pressed ahead with an expensive programme of fortifications to protect the naval dockyards and ports against the possibility of a French invasion. During Gladstone’s time at the Exchequer the precedent of presenting only one national finance bill (the budget) each year was put into practice. Gladstone changed his mind about electoral reform in this period of his life and became a strong supporter of increasing the franchise.
By this time, Queen Victoria had been on the throne for more than twenty years. Although she was always subject to emotional judgements, she had become an astute observer of national affairs, greatly aided by counsel from the Prince Consort. Victoria was mother of nine children and, when her eldest daughter married Prince Frederick of Prussia and gave birth to the future Kaiser Willem II in January 1859, she became a grandmother for the first time. Her son ‘Bertie’ Prince of Wales was an affable young man and, although not one of nature’s scholars, he had brought a feeling of goodwill to a sometimes fraught relationship with the United States, which he visited after touring Canada in 1860.
Following her mother’s death early in 1861, Victoria was deeply touched by the evidence of maternal love in her private papers. Moreover, she was increasingly concerned about Albert’s health. He had been suffering painful stomach problems for some time and had a narrow escape from death in a carriage accident the previous year. In November, Albert travelled to Cambridge to discuss with the Prince of Wales gossip about his unseemly relationship with an Irish actress. On his return to Windsor he became very ill and died on 14 December 1861. Victoria was devastated, blaming her husband's death on worry over ‘Bertie’s’ philandering. She was overwhelmed with grief and never recovered, wearing mourning black for the rest of her life. The country showed enormous sympathy for her loss, and also demonstrated a belated recognition of Albert’s achievements, of which the most significant was perhaps the moral revival of the royal family.
The close of the year 1861 was the end of Victoria’s years as a happy, fulfilled woman and a monarch deeply involved with the direction of her country’s affairs. For many years in the future she would be shrouded in her grief whilst her ministers at home and across the globe felt their way forward in a world which was beset with new problems, new opportunities and new fears. At home, the nation was dominated by the ideas and standards of a comfortable middle class which, by and large, followed the orthodox religious views and the example of wholesome family life set by the queen and her husband. Nevertheless, new political creeds demanding radical social reorganisation were beginning to be heard and were being expressed in calls for further electoral, social and administrative reforms.
Across the sprawling British Empire, people were still exploring unknown territory and trying to establish British forms of administration and justice. There was a sense of moral responsibility, usually expressed in the religious orthodoxies of the time. Anglican, Nonconformist and Catholic missions were being sent across the globe to spread their different forms of the Christian message, but also to inform the inhabitants of foreign lands about western science and thought, and to offer medical and other social services. The Indian Mutiny had been a shock, but few saw it as a signal that anything was inherently wrong with British dominion over foreign peoples. Britain proudly boasted a Pax Britannica, imposed by the Royal Navy which patrolled the oceans to protect trade from piracy and maintained an embargo on the Atlantic slave trade until it completed its mission in 1860.
Across the Atlantic, America was riven by an existential struggle in which the right to own slaves divided the states in an agonisingly bitter civil war. Elements in the United States, with memories of the dreadful Irish famine of 46/49, were also supporting increasingly forceful demands for Irish independence. On the continent, Victoria’s daughter was queen designate of Prussia, a country which was preparing to take over the whole of Germany. The European status quo set up by Castlereagh and Metternich was crumbling and new players were coming to prominence on the world stage.
1837 Queen Victoria succeeds her uncle William IV on the throne of the United Kingdom, but the royal family’s ancestral home of Hanover passes by Salic law to her father’s younger brother the Duke of Cumberland (1771-1851).
~ The Whig Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (1779-1848) is adopted as her political and constitutional mentor by the queen.
~ Buckingham Palace becomes the London home of the British monarch.
~ Republican revolts break out in Upper and Lower Canada.
~ Charles Wheatstone (1802-75) and William F. Cooke (1806-79) patent the first electric telegraph system.
~ The National Gallery opens.
~ Whilst finishing the final instalments of his humorous novel Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens (1812-70) publishes Oliver Twist, also in serial form, his earliest attempt to portray the social evils of nineteenth century Britain.
~ John Constable, the pre-eminent British landscape painter, dies.
~ Death of Sir John Soane (born 1753), architect and founder of the museum of the same name in Lincoln’s Inn fields.
1838 Richard Cobden (1804-65) and John Bright (1811-89) form the Anti-Corn Law League with Free Trade aspirations.
~ Lord Durham (1792-1840) is appointed Governor-General of British North America.
~ Boer Voortrekkers deserting the Cape Colony push British settlers out of Durban and try to establish the Natalia Republic.
~ SS Sirius completes the first fully steam-powered Atlantic crossing.
~ London Prize Ring rules supercede the Broughton Rules for bare-knuckle fights.
1839 The first Chartist petition seeking radical constitutional reforms is delivered to parliament.
~ 24 are killed when Chartist sympathisers riot at Newport, Monmouthshire.
~ The Rebecca Riots about rural poverty break out in West Wales.
~ The First Opium war begins when China forces the East India Company superintendent in Canton to hand over all the company’s stocks of opium which are then destroyed.
~ The First Afghan War starts. The East India Company, fearing a Russian attempt to gain access to the North West region of India, aims to replace the Afghan ruler with a pro-British candidate and sends a force to Kabul.
~ The Treaty of London guarantees the neutrality and independence of Belgium.
~ The East India Company takes control of Aden in the Yemen as a coaling depot.
~ The first Grand National horse race and the first Henley Regatta take place.
1840 Rowland Hill (1795-1879) introduces the Penny Post, pre-paid by the Penny Black, the world’s first postage stamp.
~ Queen Victoria marries her cousin Prince Albert (1819-1861) of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.
~ Kew Royal Botanic Gardens which house the ‘largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world’ are created.
~ Thomas Clarkson is key speaker at the first conference of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, founded 1839 in London, which campaigns to end slavery in other countries and is the world's oldest international human rights organisation.
~ The first steam-driven paddle steamer services are introduced - to Alexandria (P&O) and to Boston (Cunard).
~ The provinces of Canada are unified under a single legislature by Lord Durham.
~ The rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament begins, planned by Sir Charles Barry (1795-1860) with interior and exterior decoration by Augustus Pugin (1812-52). Completed 1860.
1841 General Election leads to fall of Lord Melbourne succeeded by Peel.
~ Dr David Livingstone (1813-73) starts his exploration and missionary work in Central Africa.
~ Edward J. Eyre (1815-1901) completes 2000 mile exploration along the great Australian Bite coastline from the Nullabor plain in South Australia to Albany, Western Australia.
~ George Everest (1790-1866) completes the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India begun in 1806. The mountain is named in his honour.
~ New Zealand becomes a colony.
~ Captain Sir James Clark Ross explores Antarctica.
~ The first edition of Punch humorous magazine is published.
1842 The disastrous retreat of British forces from Kabul. 3,500 British and Indian troops and 12,000 others die, including women and children. One survivor makes it back to India.
~ Shanghai and Chinkiang are taken by British troops. The treaty of Nanking ends the First Opium War with China. Treaty ports are opened for free trade in all goods, including opium, and Hong Kong becomes a British colony.
~ The First peacetime Income Tax is introduced – seven pence in the pound (2.9%) on incomes over £150.
~ The Mines Act forbids underground employment of women and children under ten.
~ US/Canadian frontiers are defined by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty.
~ Thomas Babington Macauley (1800-59), historian, Whig politician and educationalist publishes his Lays of Ancient Rome.
~ The first Illustrated London News is published.
1843 I. K. Brunel launches The Great Britain, the first iron, screw-driven passenger liner and the largest ship ever built at that time.
~ The Indian Slavery Act, enacted by Governor General Lord Ellenborough (1790-1871), bans the sale or purchase of slaves in East India Company territory, but it is opposed as an interference in traditional Hindu and Muslim customs and social structures.
~ General Sir Charles Napier (1782-1853) leads units of the Indian army and, against orders, overcomes the Sindh Emirate (now part of Pakistan). He sends the famous single Latin word telegram ‘Peccavi’ (I have sinned).
~ Natal is taken over and becomes a British colony ruled from Cape Town.
~ John Stuart Mill (1806-73) publishes System of Logic.
~ The Economist magazine begins publication.
~ John Lawes (1814-1900) founds Rothamsted Agricultural Experimental Station to support agricultural science.
1844 The Factory Act limits working hours - women twelve hours, children (aged 8-13) six hours per day, and introduces safety measures.
~ The first Cooperative Society shop opens in Rochdale.
~ Bank Charter Act gives exclusive note-issuing powers to the Bank of England.
~ J M W Turner (1775-1851) paints Rain, Steam and Speed.
1845 A three year famine caused by potato blight starts in Ireland. Government attempts to alleviate hunger fail, resulting in enormous loss of life and the Great Irish Migration to the USA. The population of Ireland falls by 20-25%.
~ First Sikh War. The Sikh army attacks East India Company forces at Mudki. British victory with heavy losses.
~ The last sighting of Sir John Franklin’s (1786-1847) expedition to find the North West Passage via the Arctic to the Pacific.
~ Maoris begin armed resistance to white settlers in New Zealand.
~ Henry Layard (1817-1894) begins to excavate at Assyrian sites of Nineveh and Nimrud.
1846 The Corn Laws are repealed by Peel’s government in an attempt to ease hardship in Ireland and alleviate working class complaints about the price of bread.
~ Tory protectionist rebels led by Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) split the party and eventually form the Conservative Party. The Peelite rump eventually merges with Free Trade Whigs to become the Liberal Party.
~ Lord John Russell (1792-1878) forms a Whig government with Lord Palmerston as Foreign Secretary.
~ The treaties of Lahore and Amritsar ends the First Sikh War in the Punjab and puts the infant Maharajah Duleep Singh under British control.
~ Death of the Anti-Slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson.
~ The distinguished poets Robert Browning (1812-89) and Elizabeth Barrett (1806-61) marry despite her father’s disapproval.
~ Using male pseudonyms, the Bronte sisters Charlotte, Emily and Ann (later to achieve fame for powerful novels using their own names) publish a collection of poems.
~ Edward Lear (1812-1888) publishes A Book of Nonsense.
1847 Greenwich Mean Time is used as standardised time (Railway Time) throughout Great Britain, aided by the General Post Office (GPO) telegraph service.
~ James Newlands (1813-71) is appointed Borough Engineer of Liverpool and begins designing the world’s first integrated sewage system.
~ John Fielden (1784-1849), humanitarian, radical and industrialist pilots the 10 hour Factory Act, which reduces working hours for women and 13-18 year olds, through parliament.
~ Charlotte Bronte (1816-55) publishes Jane Eyre, Emily Bronte (1818-48) publishes Wuthering Heights and Anne Bronte (1820-49) publishes Agnes Grey.
1848 The third Chartist Petition is presented to parliament.
~ A year of revolutions in Europe – many refugees come to London including King Louis Philippe (1773-1850) of France.
~ Robert Fortune (1812-80), a Scottish botanist, smuggles tea plants out of China which eventually enable tea plantations to be established in India.
~ The Public Health Act, promoted by Edwin Chadwick (1800-1890), sets up the Central Board of Health with limited powers after another severe cholera outbreak.
~ London-Edinburgh railway line opens.
~ A group of young artists led by John E. Millais (1829-96) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82) form the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
~ Vanity Fair, a novel by William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-63) is published.
~ J. S. Mill publishes Principles of Public Economy.
~ John Mitchel (1815-75) publishes The United Irishman intent on securing independence from Britain.
1849 2nd Anglo-Sikh War. The East India Company defeats the Sikh empire and annexes the Punjab and the North West frontier province in India. Maharajah Duleep Singh (1838-93) gives up sovereignty and retires to England.
~ The Koh-i-Noor diamond is ceded to Queen Victoria in the peace treaty and becomes part of the crown jewels.
~ The colony of Vancouver Island is established off the west coast of North America.
~ The bowler hat is designed by London hat-makers originally for protective use by gamekeepers at Holkham Hall, Norfolk.
~ Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910), daughter of a Bristol sugar refiner, becomes first woman to achieve a medical degree in the United States at Geneva, New York State.
1850 Palmerston makes his Civis Romanum Sum speech, asserting British citizens should be able to expect government protection against injustice anywhere in the world.
~ Australian Colonies Government Act sets up parliaments similar to NSW for South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria.
~ English version of The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx (1818-83) and Friedrich Engels (1820-95) is published - first published in French and German.
~ Romantic poet William Wordsworth dies succeeded as poet laureate by Alfred Tennyson who publishes In Memoriam.
~ Charles Dickens’ semi-autobiographical novel David Copperfield, featuring many of his best known characters, is published.
~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning publishes Sonnets from the Portuguese.
1851 The Great Exhibition promoted by Albert, the Prince Consort, opens in the Crystal Palace created by Joseph Paxton (1803-63) at Hyde Park and probably marks the high point of British Industrial and Imperial supremacy.
~ Palmerston is dismissed as Foreign Secretary.
~ The reconstruction of Marble Arch at the NE corner of Hyde Park is completed.
~ The colony of Victoria is established in Australia and a gold rush soon develops when gold is discovered.
~ J. M. W. Turner, ‘the supreme painter of light’ (The Fighting Temeraire etc.) dies.
~ Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (1802-73) paints his most famous animal picture Monarch of the Glen.
~ Travel writer with a penchant for the gypsy way of life George Henry Borrow (1803-81) publishes Lavengro.
1852 Lord John Russell resigns after a Palmerston-inspired defeat. Earl of Derby (1799-1869) and Disraeli form minority government but resign when their budget is defeated.
~ Earl of Aberdeen (1784-1860) leads a Whig-Peelite coalition government with Palmerston as Home Secretary and William Gladstone (1809-98) Chancellor of the Exchequer.
~ The Duke of Wellington dies, celebrated by a State Funeral.
~ Birkenhead Drill. Women and children are evacuated in lifeboats, whilst soldiers are ordered to stand fast aboard the sinking troopship HMS Birkenhead off the South African coast.
~ New Zealand representative constitution is enacted.
~ Britain annexes Lower Burma at conclusion of the second Anglo-Burmese war which escalated out of minor issues.
~ The Canterbury Music Hall, believed to be the first purpose-built music hall, opened in Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth.
1853 William Gladstone presents his first Free Trade Budget.
~ The Crimean War starts when the Ottoman Empire, backed by Napoleon III (1808-73) of France declares war on Russia and Britain is involved as an ally.
~ Cape Colony receives a constitution with an elected legislature with vote for all males possessing property worth £25; same qualification applied to members of the House of Assembly, members of the Legislative Council had to be worth £1,000.
~ Sir Titus Salt (1803-76) completes his fine new woollen Mill near Bradford and goes on to build Saltaire village in Italianate style for the humanitarian benefit of his workers.
~ Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell, nee Stephenson, (1810-1865) publishes the novel Cranford.
1854 Anglo-French Fleet enters the Black Sea and troops are landed in the Crimea.
~ Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) and female nurses tend the sick and wounded of the Crimean War. Her influence and example are felt across the globe.
~ The Charge of the Light Brigade. Recklessly brave assault with heavy losses by British cavalry on Russian artillery positions at the Battle of Balaclava caused by a tragic confusion of orders.
~ Lord John Russell withdraws a Parliamentary Reform bill because of the war.
~ The Anglo-Japanese Friendship Treaty is signed and leads to cooperation in the Crimean War with Russia.
~ Vice Admiral Robert Fitzroy (1805-65) starts the Meteorological Office (later the Met Office) as a service to mariners.
1855 The government is defeated on a motion revealing grave worries about the condition of the army. Aberdeen resigns and Palmerston becomes prime minister.
~ Mrs Mary Seacole (1805-81) establishes her British Hotel near Balaclava.
~ Anglo-French assault takes Sevastopol.
~ Limited Liability Act protects shareholders from debts beyond the value of their shares when a company fails.
~ The Post office erects experimental pillar boxes in London.
~ Newfoundland becomes a self-governing colony.
~ The Daily Telegraph commences publication.
~ David Livingstone discovers the Victoria Falls.
1856 The Victoria Cross medal for valour in the presence of the enemy is instituted.
~ Treaty of Paris ends the Crimean War.
~ The Chinese take into custody The Arrow, a ship flying the British flag, on suspicion of piracy and precipitate the Second Opium War.
~ Natal becomes a crown colony with an elected assembly.
~ The puppet state of Oudh is annexed by The East India Company.
~ Ellen Terry (1847-1928) makes her debut on the London stage as Maxmillius in The Winter’s Tale.
1857 The Indian Mutiny (or the First Indian War for Independence), noted for atrocities committed by both sides, starts in Meerut. Handicapped by the deaths of numerous military leaders due to wounds or cholera, British forces regain control with much difficulty.
~ An Anglo-French force occupies Canton in southern China.
~ Palmerston is censured by Commons for his China Policy, but he wins a subsequent General Election.
~ Prince Albert is created Prince Consort.
~ The Matrimonial Causes Act sets up Divorce Courts in England and Wales and treats marriage as a contract not a sacrament.
~ British Museum Reading Room opens.
~ Thomas Hughes (1822-96) publishes Tom Brown’s Schooldays.
1858 Joseph Bazalgette (1819-91) plans a grand renewal of London’s sewerage system after London experiences ‘the Great Stink’.
~ Palmerston resigns after losing attempt to extradite Italian patriots to France accused of making a bomb to kill Napoleon III. Derby and Disraeli lead a minority government.
~ Following the Mutiny, the administration of India is transferred from the East India Company to the Crown.
~ The Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret society aiming to establish an Irish republic, is founded in Dublin. Members are often referred to as Fenians.
~ A trans-Atlantic telegraph cable link to America is completed.
~ Largest steamship of its time, Brunel’s Great Eastern is launched.
~ The Colony of British Columbia is established on the west coast of North America.
1859 Charles Darwin (1809-82) publishes The Origin of Species by Natural Selection, the foundation stone of evolutionary biology.
~ After a General Election, Lord Palmerston forms his second administration, which is regarded as the first Liberal Party government, with Gladstone at the Exchequer.
~ Richard Burton (1821-90) and John H. Speke (1827-64) return from their exploration of Central Africa and announce the existence of Lake Victoria which Speke correctly declares is the source of the White Nile.
~ Thomas Blake Glover (1838-1911), Scots agent for Jardine Matheson, starts trading tea in Nagasaki, Japan. He helps overthrow Shogun rule and becomes a key figure in the industrialization of Japan.
~ John Stuart Mill publishes On Liberty.
~ Edward FitzGerald’s (1809-83) translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is published.
~ Mary Anne Evans alias George Eliot (1819-1880) publishes her first novel Adam Bede followed by The Mill on the Floss in the following year.
~ A Book of Household Management is published by Mrs. Isabella Beeton (1836-65).
~ Queensland separates from NSW as an independent colony.
~ The National Portrait Gallery opens.
~ A team of cricketers tours Canada and the United States.
1860 A British party sent to parley with Peking (Bejing) after capturing the Taku Forts, is taken prisoner and some are tortured to death. In retaliation, an Anglo-French force enters Peking and burns the Summer Palaces (Beijing).
~ The Royal Navy West Africa Squadron stands down having helped put an end to the international trans-Atlantic slave trade.
~ Nightingale Training School for Nurses at St. Thomas' Hospital, London becomes the world's first nursing school connected to a hospital and medical school.
~ Armed conflict with Maoris breaks out in Taranaki NZ.
~ The first British Open Golf championship is held at Prestwich.
~ The New Houses of Parliament are completed.
~ Wilkie Collins (1824-99) publishes The Woman in White.
1861 Albert the Prince Consort dies. Queen Victoria enters a period of withdrawal from national affairs.
~ Beginning of a four year slump in the Lancashire cotton industry, largely caused by disruption in the supply of raw cotton from the southern states engaged in the American Civil War. Britain announces neutrality.
~ U S warship seizes two confederate envoys on board the British SS Trent.
~ The first National Eisteddfod of Wales is held at Aberdare.
~ The Royal Horticultural Society (formerly The London Horticultural Society since 1804) which promotes gardening and botanical research and development is chartered.
~ Irish soldier Robert O’H. Burke (born 1821) and William J. Wills (born 1834), an English surveyor, die of hunger after returning to their abandoned base camp at the end of their South to North crossing of the Australian land mass.
~ HMS Warrior the first all-iron built warship is commissioned.
~ The city state of Lagos in West Africa is annexed and taken over as a crown colony.
~ Bahrain in the Persian Gulf becomes a British Protectorate.