The death of the Prince Consort blights Victoria's life and, although British power is largely undiminished, problems at home and abroad become increasingly prominent.
Palmerston was an elderly gentleman in 1862 when, as prime minister, he had to deal with Queen Victoria’s mental collapse following the death of the Prince Consort. Their relationship had never been cordial, but he appears to have handled the difficult situation with good sense and sensibility.
Palmerston had first become a minister during the Napoleonic wars and his view of the natural world order, which had guided his management of British foreign policy in the 1840s and 50s, was becoming challenged by recent events. He was a sincere and long-serving opponent of slavery, but when the American Civil War started in 1861, like many leading British politicians, he sympathized with the right of the confederacy of southern states with its slave based economy to secede from the United States. The South provided British industry with raw materials such as cotton and tobacco and was an important market for British manufactured goods, whereas the North was becoming a serious manufacturing competitor. Britain declared its neutrality, but Palmerston sent troops to Canada when an American navy boarding party took two confederate envoys from the British ship SS Trent and he adopted a hostile attitude until the two envoys were released. Thereafter Britain maintained its neutral stance.
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In 1863 the Prince of Wales married Alexandra of Denmark, daughter of the new Danish king and sister of the newly installed King of Greece. Early the next year Otto von Bismarck, the chief minister of Prussia sent a mixed Austrian-Prussian force into the Danish counties of Schleswig-Holstein, with the intention of gaining German access to the North Sea. The British public supported Denmark, home country of the new Princess of Wales, but the queen was pro-German. Palmerston expected France to take military action, but he faced something of a dilemma: whilst he refused to let the Austrian fleet pass through the English Channel or enter the Baltic, he was not willing to agree to French troops proceeding beyond their Rhine frontier and would not commit British troops to a European conflict. Bismarck summed up the limits of British power in Europe with his remark: ‘the British Navy lacks wheels’.
Palmerston apparently failed to understand Bismarck’s game plan and was slow to adapt to the changing situation in Europe. He supported the unification of Italy, but was concerned about the involvement of Napoleon III, whom he possibly suspected of harbouring some of his uncle’s Bonapartist ambitions. In 1859 France had defeated Austria in northern Italy which resulted in France taking control of Nice and Savoy, whilst Tuscany and neighbouring areas of Italy were ceded to King Victor Emmanuel of Sardinia, who was finally declared King of Italy when the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies fell in 1861. As Austria proved militarily weak and inefficient, Bismarck was beginning to plan the unification of Germany.
Throughout those years, Palmerston brushed aside William Gladstone’s constant endeavours to promote radical proposals for electoral reform and other matters such as the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. At the age of eighty, Palmerston led the Liberals to another election victory with an increased majority in 1865, but he died a few weeks later. The queen wrote that it was: “strange to think of that strong, determined man, with so much worldly ambition - gone!”, but admitted he had behaved very well as prime minister. Norman Gash a historian, summed him up as: “a legend in his own lifetime, the personification of an England that was already passing away.”
Palmerston was succeeded by Lord John Russell, the veteran Whig leader, who found his moderate liberal views were at odds with the more radical agenda of Gladstone, who was clearly the Liberal Party's leader-in-waiting. Russell and Gladstone lost no time in presenting a new reform bill, but it was fiercely opposed by a group of old-time Whigs known as the Adullamites. With their help, the bill was defeated by Disraeli and the Conservatives, and Russell resigned for the last time.
For the third time Lord Derby forms a minority Conservative government in June 1867. Huge public meetings in favour of a reformed franchise persuaded Disraeli to bring forward his own reform bill, much to the disgust of Lord Robert Cecil, now known as Lord Cranborne, who resigned as an MP. Disraeli accepted opposition amendments, so long as they were not tabled by Gladstone, with the result that he pushed through an act more far-reaching than his original intention. The 1867 Reform Act enfranchised all householders in the boroughs, as well as lodgers who paid rent of £10 a year or more, and gave the vote to small agricultural landowners and tenants in the counties. The Act roughly doubled the electorate in England and Wales from about one million to nearly two million men: it effectively gave the vote to many working class men and the electorate was spread more evenly across the country. Scotland gained seven members and Irish representation remained the same. The ballot remained a public act and women were not allowed to vote.
Disraeli showed great skill in guiding the reform bill through parliament and was rewarded with the premiership when Derby resigned on grounds of ill-health in February 1868; in his words he had “climbed to the top of the greasy pole.” His government was hamstrung by the Liberal majority in the Commons, but managed to pass a bill outlawing public executions and another act transferring matters to do with corrupt election practices from the House of Commons to a panel of judges from the courts of justice. He supposed his Reform Act would be rewarded with Conservative votes in the ensuing election, but he was mistaken. The enlarged urban majority returned a Liberal government with a majority of more than 100 in the Commons.
Gladstone became prime minister in December 1868. He came from a family which had owned slaves before the declaration of emancipation in 1834 and, despite espousing many radical views, his attitude to slavery remained ambivalent: - he thought slaves should be taught to support themselves before being set free. Although he favoured the Confederacy in the early stages of the American Civil War, he supported a peace-seeking foreign policy, exemplified by his settlement of claims for losses inflicted by the British-built Confederate gunship Alabama during the American Civil War. He generally held a laissez faire attitude in support of minimal government intervention in economic affairs and social matters.
When he took over government he declared his mission was the pacification of Ireland. Although he was anti-papist on account of the Pope’s claim to absolute authority, Gladstone was sympathetic to Catholic complaints of mistreatment in Ireland. The Irish Church Act of 1869 disestablished the Protestant Church of Ireland which was no longer entitled to collect tithes and other charges from the predominantly Catholic population. It also ceased to send bishops to the House of Lords. With the Landlord and Tenant (Ireland) Act 1870 Gladstone attempted to rectify some of the historic problems of Irish landholding customs, which were loaded against the tenant. However, the practical results of the act were fairly minimal as the Irish judicial system remained skewed in favour of the landlords.
The Elementary Education Act 1870, formulated by William Edward Foster, established a system of national education in England and Wales. It did not enforce compulsory education which only became a legal requirement for children aged 5 to 10 in 1880. Nonconformist liberals were unhappy about existing church schools receiving remuneration and the act was widely hated in Wales where children, who very often knew no English, were taught in English only.
Meanwhile, the whole of Europe was shocked by the ruthless superiority displayed by the Prussian army in the rapid defeat of Austria in the Seven Weeks War of 1866. And now, with the even more shocking victory over France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/1, culminating in the capture of Napoleon III at Sedan and the siege of Paris, it was clear that Bismarck had created a new, very professional and effective military power in Europe.
A new Empire of Germany was officially proclaimed at the palace of Versailles in January 1871, with Wilhelm I of Prussia as its first Emperor or Kaiser and Bismarck as its Chancellor or chief minister. The new state replaced the German Confederation, a loose association of sovereign states, which previously regarded Austria as the seat of German culture and politics. Alsace and Lorraine were taken into the new German state from France as part of the subsequent peace treaty.
These events galvanised critics of Britain’s recent military performances, who had been demanding drastic reform of the British army. Problems of mismanagement by Britain’s amateur officer corps had been highlighted during the Crimean War and, despite the bravery of soldiers and officers, continuing inefficiency was demonstrated during the Indian Mutiny. Gladstone’s Secretary for War Edward Cardwell brought in a series of measures with the intention of creating a modern, professional army. The War Office itself was reorganised into a single department, bringing the Horse Guards and the Commander in Chief (the queen’s cousin the Duke of Cambridge) under the War Secretary’s control; the purchase of commissions was abolished and officers were to be promoted by merit; county regiments were instituted with local depots and two battalions, one serving overseas the other at home; flogging was abolished in the army and suspended in the Royal Navy. In addition British troops were recalled from overseas colonies which were to provide their own local forces.
Gladstone lost the general election of 1874. Disraeli assumed power again and, for the first time, he had a working majority. Ill health forced him eventually to forsake the Commons in 1876; he remained as prime minister, but he sat in the Lords as the Earl of Beaconsfield. Disraeli's second government enacted reforms, including an act making cheap loans available to towns and cities wishing to construct working-class council houses, the Public Health Act 1875, the Sale of Food and Drugs Act 1875 and the Education Act 1876 which tightened school attendance and child employment rules and created a system of free education in certain cases. Acts were also passed which allowed peaceful picketing by workers and enabled workers to sue employers in the civil courts if they broke legal contracts.
Disraeli had criticised Gladstone for a do-nothing foreign policy in face of the fundamental shift in European power politics, and he was presented with a suitable way to reassert Britain's place in world affairs in 1875. He learned that the Khedive (who ruled Egypt as an autonomous part of the Ottoman Empire) wanted to sell his 44% share in the Suez Canal which had opened in 1871. The remaining shares were owned by the French company who built the canal. Disraeli, feeling time was of the essence, approached Lionel de Rothschild who agreed to purchase the Khedive’s shares for 100 million francs on behalf of the British government. It was universally acknowledged that Disraeli had secured a vital highway to India for Britain and, in doing so, he became an ardent promoter of the empire.
Disraeli assiduously cultivated a close relationship with Queen Victoria and encouraged her to seek an imperial title as head of the empire and as proof of Britain’s supreme stature in the world. Furthermore the queen was also unhappy that her daughter would outrank her when her husband became Emperor of Germany. Parliament was not enthusiastic, but Disraeli eventually gained authority for the queen to declare herself Regina et Imperatrix, or Queen and Empress in 1876.
Britain had maintained its policy of supporting the Ottoman Empire in order to restrain Russian influence in the region, but Ottoman relations with Christian populations in the Balkans had steadily deteriorated and some provinces, especially Serbia and Romania, enjoyed virtual independence. Russia encouraged nationalist sentiments and a Bulgarian uprising erupted in 1876, which was crushed with much cruelty by Turkish forces. Russia declared war in April 1877 and, with Rumanian help, most of Bulgaria was liberated. As the Russians approached Constantinople, the Ottomans were forced to accept the independence of Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro, and the autonomy of Bulgaria. However, Britain and other great powers were alarmed by the extension of Russian influence into the Balkans. Britain prepared for war and Russia agreed to further discussions at the Congress of Berlin in June 1878, where Disraeli formed a warm relationship with Chancellor Bismarck. The area of Bulgarian territory was reduced so that the Ottomans were left with enough land in Europe to enable them to defend Constantinople and the Dardanelles. Russia was permitted to retain possession of territories it had seized on the Black Sea coast, whilst Britain, took Cyprus from the Ottomans as a military and naval protectorate in the Eastern Mediterranean. Disraeli and the Foreign Secretary Robert Cecil, who was now the Marquess of Salisbury, were greeted as heroes on their return from Berlin.
Russia also disturbed the British rulers in India by sending an uninvited deputation to Kabul. This escalated into the Second Afghan War, during which a British representative and his staff were massacred at Kabul in 1879. A force under General Sir Frederick Roberts (known to his men as ‘Bobs’) imposed retribution at the battle of Kandahar the next year. Britain installed a new emir and, in return for an annual subsidy, was recognised as protector of Afghanistan. The Viceroy took possession of some forts on the North West Frontier, but refrained from imposing a British presence in Kabul.
In 1879, affairs in far-off Southern Africa suddenly claimed the government’s attention. Sir Bartle Frere, governor of Cape Colony, was trying to persuade the Boer republics of the Orange Free State and The Republic of South Africa (known to the British as the Transvaal) to federate with the Cape and Natal colonies. Frere considered Boers would be more likely to accept his proposals if Britain subdued warlike African tribes in the region. A military column led by Lord Chelmsford entered Zululand intending to subjugate the Zulus, but it was annihilated at the battle of Isandlwana by the impis of the warrior king Cetshwayo during a solar eclipse. The defeat was regarded as a national humiliation, only partially redeemed by the brave defence of a heavily outnumbered unit at the Rorke’s Drift mission station later that day. Reinforcements were sent, the Zulus were subdued, Cetshwayo was exiled and his country was dismantled into a number of sub-kingdoms.
The Transvaal Boers, much relieved by the Zulus’ defeat, planned to reclaim the independence which had been ceded to Natal at the time of financial collapse and fear of the Zulus in 1877. Under the leadership of Paul Kruger, this small nation of backwoods farmers, with its commandos of sharpshooters versed in the hunting skills of blending into the countryside and killing with a single shot at long range, defeated the red-coated British army at Majuba. It was absolutely clear that the British army was in urgent need of the reforms being pushed by Edward Cardwell; the red coats had to give way to khaki, the thin red line to field-craft and knowledge of modern forms of warfare had to be instilled into a professional officer corps.
In a series of speeches during the 1880 General Election, William Gladstone had launched an all-out attack on Disraeli’s foreign, imperial and domestic policies. It became known as the Midlothian Campaign, as Gladstone was standing for a Liberal seat in central Scotland. He branded the Afghan war as dishonourable and severely criticized management of affairs in southern Africa as well as the government’s economic history. But his main invective was directed at the ‘Bulgarian Atrocities’, carried out by the Turks in 1876, and Disraeli’s continuing policy of support for the Ottoman cause. Without overtly referring to Disraeli, he deplored the influence of Jews and Judaism in the Eastern Question, the title with which the problems of the Ottoman Empire were often referred to, and he refused to speak out against persecution of Jews in other contexts.
The Conservatives lost the election and Gladstone was reappointed leader of the Liberals, a position he had relinquished after defeat in 1874. The queen was saddened by Disraeli’s departure: he flattered her and she appreciated his wit, which contrasted with Gladstone’s habit of addressing her as though she were a public meeting. She wept when Disraeli died the following year, shortly after publishing his final novel Endymion. He is remembered in the Conservative party as the man who promoted One Nation Conservativism in sympathy with the needs of the working classes, whilst the Liberals were identified as the party of the urban élite. Lord Salisbury succeeded him as leader of the party.
Queen Victoria, in some ways an unorthodox woman, was left with one man on whom she relied for an antidote to the strict etiquette and suffocating formality of court life. Victoria's children and ministers resented the high regard she had for her Scottish servant John Brown, who had stood by her side as friend as well as servant through the long years of her widowhood. Stories that there was something improper in their relationship were formulated by people who were familiar with her but did not know her. When John Brown died at Windsor in March 1883, the queen was perhaps moved by the feelings of desertion and loneliness, with which she was familiar following the deaths of Albert the Prince Consort, Melbourne her mentor and first prime minister and, just lately, the wit and fellow author Disraeli Lord Beaconsfield. All very different men but all important supporters for a complex woman occupying a lonely and challenging position in public life.
Gladstone swiftly ensured that the bungled attempt to take over the Transvaal Republic of South Africa, followed by embarrassing military losses ending with the battle of Majuba, was reversed. Transvaal reclaimed its independence under a vague British suzerainty over foreign and African affairs in March 1881. The empire was becoming larger and more unwieldy and Gladstone was among those who were not comfortable with some of the means needed to keep control of its mass of different peoples and problems.
Although Egypt was not part of the empire, Britain was becoming more deeply involved in its affairs because of the Suez Canal. The Khedive had run up huge debts, despite selling his shares in the canal to Britain in 1875, and he was forced to accept Anglo-French control of his treasury, railways, ports and other facilities. The new Khedive appointed a popular nationalist named Ahmad Urabi Pasha as minister of war. This alarmed both Britain and France, who were concerned about access to the canal and the safety of their financial investments in Egypt. In 1882 a fleet was sent to Alexandria and bombarded the city’s fortifications for 10 hours when an ultimatum to dismantle its armaments was ignored. Urabi's troops left Alexandria and reinforcements from Britain and India, commanded by Sir Garnet Wolseley, scattered the Egyptian forces in a dawn attack at Tel el Kebir. Cairo was occupied and the Khedive Tewfik was restored to power.
Nominally a province of the Ottoman Empire, Egypt was now in the hands of the British. A permanent British military garrison was installed to defend the Suez Canal. Possession of Egypt brought with it British responsibility for the Egyptian colony of Sudan to the south, where Muhammad Ahmad declared himself Mahdi, or ‘the rightly guided one’. William Hicks Pasha, an Indian army colonel seconded to the Khedive’s Egyptian army, was sent to Khartoum and Omdurman, twin cities at the confluence of the Blue and While Nile rivers, with instructions to crush the Mahdi. He reluctantly led his men out into the desert where, as he feared, his force was ambushed. Hicks was one of the great majority who were killed at El Obeid in November 1883.
The following year General Charles Gordon was sent with orders to escort the Egyptian soldiers and civilians remaining at Khartoum out of the Sudan. Gordon was a distinguished soldier who was celebrated for his actions at the head of his ‘Ever Victorious’ army of Chinese soldiers in China. He had later served as the Khedive’s Governor General in the Sudan, where he did much to supress revolts and discourage the local slave trade, before he retired to England suffering from exhaustion. When he arrived back in Khartoum, Gordon evacuated most of the civilians, but disobeyed orders when he remained in the city with the soldiers and organised its defence. There he remained under siege for the best part of a year, for which he earned the admiration of the British public. However, it was only with great reluctance that Gladstone’s government permitted a relief force to be sent up the Nile to rescue Gordon. The ever-reliable Garnet Wolseley led the expedition which, at his instigation, included Canadian boatmen called voyageurs who were experts at traversing rapids and cataracts. Khartoum fell in January 1885; Gordon and the entire garrison were slaughtered. Two days later an advance detachment from the relieving force surveyed the city, but correctly decided to withdraw and await further orders. Wolseley sent news of Gordon’s death back to London and was furious when he was ordered to end the Sudan mission and return home.
The failure to rescue General Gordon's force in Sudan seriously damaged Gladstone's popularity. Queen Victoria rebuked him with a telegram which found its way into the press. Despite winning the previous election with his campaign against the Bulgarian atrocities, Gladstone had devoted little personal attention to foreign affairs and military matters which were now at the forefront of public attention. With the help of Irish votes in the Commons, that year’s budget was defeated in June 1885, and Lord Salisbury led the Conservatives back into power. However, it was another minority government which was soon evicted at a general election in December, although it managed to pass the Working Classes Housing Bill which allowed local authorities to close unhealthy houses and made it illegal for landlords to charge rent for property which was below elementary sanitary standards.
This was the first election held since the Third Reform Act of 1884, which established a uniform franchise throughout the country by giving country dwellers the same voting rights as those enjoyed in the towns. Another act redistributed constituencies, gave more representation to urban areas and abolished most dual member constituencies. The election resulted in Charles Stewart Parnell’s Irish party holding the balance of power. Gladstone let it be known he was in favour of Home Rule for Ireland and was thus able to form a government with Parnell’s support. Ireland was now at the forefront of parliamentary affairs.
Since becoming part of the United Kingdom in 1800, with representation in the Westminster parliament and gradual relaxation of anti-Catholic rules, Ireland was claiming more attention and resources from central government. Memories of the potato famine and the ongoing struggles about land and rents were continuing running sores. Where people had once sought merely food, shelter and safety they were now being roused by Charles Stewart Parnell to demand land reform and Home Rule. His Land League introduced the boycott as a tool against landlords and called for a rent strike. The Liberals had offered a measure of land reform but it was too little, too late. Divisions were exacerbated in 1882, when Lord Frederick Cavendish the Chief Secretary for Ireland and his assistant were murdered in Phoenix Park Dublin by Fenian gunmen. This provoked a stern response from the Dublin authorities which included suspension of trial by jury.
Aided by a pact with Parnell, Gladstone sought to pacify Ireland with his Home Rule bill. However, a section of the Liberals were viscerally opposed to Home Rule and formed a breakaway group known as Liberal Unionists led by Joseph Chamberlain and the Liberal leader in the Lords Lord Hartington, brother of the murdered Lord Frederick Cavendish. The bill, also fostered the revival of the Protestant Orange Order in Ireland and the formation of the Irish Unionist Party. The bill was defeated and Gladstone’s government came to an end after only a few months. The main body of the Liberal Party was deserted by practically the entire Whig peerage and many middle-class Liberals.
Irish dreams faded further when a divorce trial revealed that Parnell had been the long-term lover of Mrs. Kitty O'Shea and had fathered three of her children. A divorce decree was granted in November 1890 with Parnell's two surviving children remaining in Captain O'Shea's custody. The Catholic Church hierarchy in Ireland was shocked by the revelations and renounced Parnell. Nonconformist Liberals also rebelled against their party being in liaison with an adulterer and Gladstone was well aware Home Rule could not be won if Parnell remained the leader of the Irish in Parliament. The Irish party split, with only a minority of MPs supporting Parnell. The bitterness of the split tore Ireland apart and Parnell, sometimes recognised as the most talented party leader of his generation, died the following year.
In July 1886 the Conservatives and Liberal Unionists won the general election with a majority of 118 over the combined Gladstonian Liberals and Parnell's 85 Irish Party seats. Salisbury formed his second government with Liberal Unionist support, which won concessions from Salisbury in support of legislation regarding Irish land purchases, education and the formation of local government units, including London County Council.
Salisbury retained control of foreign affairs and, in 1887, appointed his nephew Arthur Balfour as Secretary for Ireland. Balfour was greeted with contempt, but soon proved a tough opponent for the nationalists. He brought in the Irish Crimes Act which enabled the authorities to deal more forcefully with illegal activity in the so-called Land War and actively encouraged Unionist activism. He also brought in a measure to alleviate poverty and atrocious living conditions in the west of Ireland. He continued with the Liberal scheme to buy up land for sale to Irish tenants. However, the price of farm products was supressed by a continuing agricultural depression and it was not easy to make a living on a small farm with a mortgage. Nevertheless, after 1890 violence declined sharply and, as Balfour had hoped, Irish nationalism declined as the number of small farmers grew and the old landlords began to give up their estates and retire to Britain.
Ireland was not alone in suffering a decline in agricultural fortunes. From the late 1840s to the early 1870s, British farming had enjoyed a golden age as modern methods increased the production of food, which was bought by traders at profitable market prices in order to feed the expanding industrial population. By the late 19th century, however, the days of prosperity in farming had slipped away and the entire kingdom had entered a great agricultural depression. The problems were primarily caused by the Free Trade policy put in place to assist the trade in manufactured goods. This now benefited the growing industrial, wage-earning communities by allowing cheap corn, especially wheat, to be imported from the colonies and the United States. Aided by reliable transport via the new railways and steam ships, extensive mechanised prairie agriculture was undercutting British farm prices. Cheap foreign meat brought in by refrigerated vessels was also beginning to impoverish the livestock areas of British and Irish farming.
The landed gentry could no longer boast about their fine acres of productive agriculture and the social and physical landscape in the countryside changed substantially. Poorer arable land was allowed to revert to rough pasture and ‘dog and stick’ farming. Milk and dairy produce was still in demand and market gardens thrived on fertile soils, from whence their fruit and vegetables could be transported by rail to the great markets in the highly populated areas. Most farmers on better quality corn growing land struggled along by reducing costs and increasing efficiency. Hedges were left uncut, drainage was neglected and much of the countryside adopted an uncared for appearance. Poverty among the land workers and the trades dependent for a living on agriculture was desperate; at the end of their working life, most finished in the workhouse. Many of the able-bodied drifting into the towns looking for work and others were paid to seek a better life in the colonies. The growing countryside crisis caused the government to create a Board of Agriculture in 1889.
The farming crisis had no impact on the genuine pleasure most felt when the Queen’s Golden Jubilee was celebrated throughout the empire in 1887. The unpopularity caused by her withdrawal from public life in the early years of her bereavement was forgotten. Fifty kings and princes attended a thanksgiving service in Westminster Abbey. Soon afterwards a Muslim Indian named Abdul Karim was engaged in her service and proved so acceptable to her majesty that he was promoted to become her Munshi or teacher and clerk. He taught her Urdu and became detested by her family and staff, but despite evidence that he had lied about his family history and other matters, he remained by her side until her death, when he was swiftly removed back to India and all his correspondence with the queen was destroyed.
Salisbury’s main endeavour during his ministry 1886-92 was to maintain British control of the seas and £20 million was spent on strengthening the Royal Navy, which partly accounted for the abrupt resignation of his rising star chancellor Lord Randolph Churchill - a momentous mistake, after which Churchill was never able to recover influence or office. He had improved Conservative party organisation and encouraged the party to seek votes from the urban middle and working classes. His lasting memorial in government was the imperialist incorporation of Burma into the Raj after the brief Third Anglo-Burmese War, conducted whilst he was Secretary for India in 1885. Salisbury’s purpose in strengthening the navy was to protect and enhance the empire. He made agreements with Italy and Austro-Hungary which guaranteed British power in the Mediterranean in order to protect the Suez Canal.
The European powers and Britain were also engaged in a scramble to establish colonies in the vast spaces of Africa. The businessman and aspiring politician Cecil Rhodes was promoting the grandiose idea of a Cape to Cairo railway, which would necessitate British control of large areas of eastern and central Africa, but other European countries, particularly France, Portugal and Germany, were seeking to establish colonies in the same areas. Portugal simply did not have the resources to take over territories which today are known as Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, but were named Nyasaland, Northern and Southern Rhodesia, when Britain assumed responsibility. The last two were named for Cecil Rhodes who obtained mining concessions by chicanery from the native rulers; with his vast mining wealth, he financed administration of the areas through his British South Africa Company and in return his commercial interests were protected by being part of the British Empire. Nyasaland, first named the British Central African Protectorate, was established to prevent a Portuguese takeover of an area where mainly Scottish missionaries and a small number of settlers operated missions and tried to repel slave traders.
In 1890 Salisbury reached agreement with Germany in a dispute about colonialization in East Africa. Victoria’s grandson Wilhelm II had become the German Kaiser. He had dispensed with the services of the experienced Bismarck and was developing his plans to build a German navy to rival the Royal Navy. In return for the tiny island of Heligoland, which dominated the approach to Germany’s North Sea ports, plus recognition of German control in Tanganyika and a small strip of land giving access from German South West Africa to the Zambesi River, the Germans agreed to Britain taking authority over Zanzibar Island, off the coast of East Africa, and mainland territory which later became Kenya, giving access to Uganda and Lake Victoria. With diplomatic control of Zanzibar, an important trading post between Africa, India and Arabia, the British tightened their grip on the slave traders of the Indian Ocean. Somalia was taken into protection for much the same reason in 1887.
Rivalry with France in the region came to a head when the French reconnoitred a railway route from their territory on the Atlantic coast of Africa to the Red Sea, which would give them control of all the trade routes out of the Sahara into Central Africa and overrule British authority in the Sudan. The French survey party was confronted by an armed British unit at Fashoda on the White Nile. The unit was led by General Sir Herbert Kitchener, who days before had avenged General Gordon by defeating the Mahdi’s successor at the battle of Omdurman in September 1898 (it was here that Winston Churchill took part in the last British cavalry charge with the 21st Lancers). France, embroiled in the Dreyfus affair, recognised it needed British support in the developing rivalry with Germany. The French withdrew, after acknowledging Anglo-Egyptian suzerainty in the area.
Lord Salisbury was also concerned about the growing strength and ambition of Germany and was keen to improve the Anglo-French relationship. For similar reasons he agreed unfavourable terms with the United States for boundary adjustments between Canada and the US territory of Alaska.
Meanwhile, Gladstone had supported the labouring class in some of the bitter industrial disputes of the period, such as the Dockers’ strike of 1889, and was beginning to abandon some of his earlier laisser faire views on social welfare. However, he was not involved with the famous Bryant & May match-girls’ strike in 1888, possibly because the owners had financed a fine statue of him, which was erected next to Bow church in the East End of London in 1882. In modern times, the statue’s hands are still painted red to commemorate the rumour that Bryant & May paid for it with money deducted from the match-girls pay-packets. As evidence that his social sympathy for the poor was not all-embracing, Gladstone wrote, “the New Poor Act of 1834 rescued the English peasantry from the total loss of their independence”.
The Conservatives and associated Liberal Unionists remained the largest party group after the election of July 1892, but in conjunction with the Irish Party, William Gladstone was able to form a government with a majority of 30. He had fought the election on a programme of radical reforms, including reform or abolition of the House of Lords. Top of the list was another attempt to pass a Home Rule for Ireland bill, which was Gladstone’s main consideration. In 1893 he succeeded in getting the 2nd Home Rule bill approved by the Commons, but it had some serious financial flaws and was vetoed by the Lords. With his overriding policy interest lost and at odds with his cabinet colleagues, who supported an increase in naval procurement and the introduction of death duties, Gladstone retired in March 1894 aged 84 and was succeeded as prime minister by the Earl of Rosebery, leader of the right wing Imperialist Liberal faction.
Gladstone started off in the Tory Party and, with a strong belief in individual freedom and independence, many of his deepest social instincts remained conservative, but he was no imperialist and disliked the jingoist spirit of the age. He never surrendered his enduring belief in sound national finances, but was not afraid to change his mind on other fundamental issues and reverted from a High Anglican religious view to the Evangelical Christianity of his childhood. The same intellectual process changed him from a Tory to a Liberal. He will be remembered for his laisser faire and free trade economic policy and for his support for Irish Home Rule. He died in May 1898 and was accorded a state funeral at Westminster Abbey, with the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) and the Duke of York (the future King George V) acting as pallbearers.
Following Gladstone’s retirement, Sir William Harcourt led the Liberals in the Commons and he was at cross-purposes with Rosebery the prime minister, who sat in the Unionist-dominated House of Lords and was decidedly cool about securing Home Rule for Ireland. The Rosebery administration resigned in June 1895 and the Queen turned again to Lord Salisbury, who promptly went to the country and won a crushing majority, which was given further support by Chamberlain’s Liberal Unionists.
Great Britain straddled the world ‘like a colossus’, but was virtually friendless abroad, standing in ‘Splendid Isolation’. Government was struggling with growing social problems at home, as well as the ever-present Irish question, when a new crisis erupted over the New Year period of 1895/6. Gold had been discovered in the Transvaal South African Republic (SAR) in 1886. Thousands of mainly British strangers, known as uitlanders in the Boer republics, flooded into the SAR; they soon outnumbered the Boer population by about two to one and were concentrated in the goldfields around Johannesburg. Paul Kruger instituted a raft of measures to prevent the uitlanders taking political control of the SAR: voting rights or citizenship were denied to anyone who had not been resident for fourteen years and who was over 40 years of age.
Cecil Rhodes’ British South African Company, with eyes on the mineral wealth of the Transvaal, sent armed raiders led by Leander Starr Jameson into the republic just before the New Year 1896, expecting to trigger an uprising by the uitlanders. However, by and large they refused to answer his call and the invading force was quickly overpowered and arrested. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany exploited the situation with a telegram congratulating Kruger on the successful defence of the SAR against the British intruders, which aroused a wave of anti-German hostility in Britain. Rhodes was obliged to resign as prime minister of the Cape Colony and lost his position at the head of the British South Africa Company, although he continued to exercise effective control. His career as an arch imperialist was finished and his health was also impaired; he died in 1902.
Sir Alfred Milner the High Commissioner for South Africa and the Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, seeking to exercise Britain’s right to suzerainty over the republic, and to bring the vast Witwatersrand gold reserves under British control, continued to put pressure upon Kruger's government to allow political rights for the uitlanders. The Orange Free State, the other Boer republic, tried to mediate in June 1899, but Milner was obdurate and requested troop reinforcements from Britain. The combined Boer nations decided to strike before Britain completed its military preparations and the Second Boer War began in October. The Boers attacked on two fronts: into Natal from the SAR and out of the Free State into the northern Cape area, where they were joined by several rebellious Boer districts. The British quickly lost ground and suffered a series of defeats such as at Spion Kop. By the end of the year, they were besieged in three key towns at Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley.
The tide turned with the arrival of British reinforcements by early 1900. Volunteers from other colonial countries also arrived. Under the command of Generals Kitchener and ‘Bobs’ Roberts, British forces relieved the besieged towns and beat the Boer armies in the field. Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State, was occupied in February 1900, Johannesburg fell in May and Pretoria in June. Kruger evaded capture and went to Europe, but was unable to secure any military support. The war then entered its bloodiest phase. Boer commandos, using hit and run tactics familiar from the earlier Boer war, were able to hold the British at bay. British army bases were attacked and communications were harried. Large rural areas of the SAR and the Orange Free State remained beyond British control. Kitchener responded with a scorched-earth policy; farms were destroyed and the farmers were rounded up and held in segregated concentration camps. Several thousand died and the plight of the Boer women and children in the unhygienic camps became a a cause for international outrage.
Gradually, Kitchener’s tactics paid off. The Boer leadership was split and they finally accepted the loss of their independence with the Peace of Vereeniging in May 1902 which recognised British suzerainty, but promised self-government in the future and a grant to help restock the farms. The question of giving the franchise to black voters was to be settled after the two Boer territories had been granted self-government, but when the four colonies were unified into the Union of South Africa in 1910 only Cape Colony allowed black Africans to vote.
One of the notable episodes of the conflict was the capture and escape of a young British war correspondent Winston Churchill, son of the late Lord Randolph, with posters being displayed offering a reward for his capture dead or alive. Another figure destined to become a world-famous name was Mahatma Gandhi who raised a corps of 1100 Indian volunteer medics and ambulance drivers to support the British forces, most notably at Spion Kop where Gandhi and his bearers had to carry wounded soldiers for miles to a field hospital because the terrain was too rough for ambulances.
A ‘khaki’ election was held in at the height of the war in 1900, which was easily won by the Conservatives. There was little popular support for the anti-imperialist views of some Liberal spokesmen.
Lord Salisbury was deeply affected by the death of his wife in 1899; his health was failing and he retired in 1902 and died in 1903. He was the last prime minister to run the country whilst sitting in the House of Lords. Unlike many politicians, he enjoyed widespread esteem and respect to the end of his career. He was a strong and effective leader in foreign affairs with a sound grasp of the issues. He was an imperialist, but he had respect for the many different peoples of the empire, except the Boers, and his policy was to consolidate and preserve what he considered was a necessary commitment to British supremacy in a changing world. He was willing to make deals where it improved relationships with the growing powers of the United States and Bismarck’s Germany. He was probably not comfortable with the more confrontational attitude of the young German Kaiser, especially when the German Admiral Tirpitz began to challenge the Royal Navy with a powerful Imperial German Navy. In Ireland, Salisbury supported a land reform programme which enabled hundreds of thousands of landless Irish peasants to own their own farms; the old landlords were reduced in numbers and acreage. Views of his home policies remain mixed, but acts for free elementary education, compensation for workmen’s accidents and housing improvements for the poor were passed whilst he was prime minister.
Another death marked the incoming new century and marked the end of an era. Queen Victoria died in January 1901. The last great personal event of her reign was the Diamond Jubilee celebration in 1897 which became a festival of the British Empire at the suggestion of Joseph Chamberlain. The prime ministers of all the self-governing colonies came to London for the festivities, but foreign heads of states were not invited as it was feared the presence of Victoria’s grandson, the Kaiser, might cause problems. The celebration was marked by vast crowds of spectators and a great outpouring of affection for the 78-year-old Queen.
Queen Victoria, Empress of India, died on 22nd January 1901 with her son and successor Edward VII at her bedside. On the other side of the bed, her grandson Kaiser Wilhelm II also witnessed her death. She was put into her coffin wearing her wedding dress and veil. One of Albert’s dressing gowns was by her side and a picture of John Brown with a lock of his hair was concealed in her hand.
She reigned over the United Kingdom for 63 years and seven months, a period which saw Britain rise to the height of its imperial power and world influence. Due to the journal which she wrote throughout almost the entire period of her adult life, she left a fascinating view of the world, seen by an emotional but strong-minded woman from the apex of power. Contrary to uninformed opinion, she was not straight-laced and enjoyed fun, although she maintained a strong emphasis on morality and family values. She formed sage opinions about the men she had to deal with and seldom changed her views, but she adjusted well to becoming a constitutional monarch in an increasingly democratic system, where the House of Commons had become the prime political power. Queen Victoria’s relationships with Europe's royal families earned her the nickname ‘the grandmother of Europe’.
1862 Confederate naval raider SS Alabama is built and launched from Birkenhead.
~ The art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) publishes his social and economic tract entitled Unto This Last in which he criticizes Utilitarian economics and the industrial despoliation of nature.
~ Christina Rossetti (1830-94), one of the age’s finest English poets, publishes Goblin Market.
~ George Meredith (1828-1909) publishes Modern Love a collection of sonnets.
~ William G Palgrave (1826-88) explores central Arabia on behalf of the Jesuit order and Napoleon III.
~ The Legislative assembly of Belize in Central America, unable to secure agreement between different business and ethnic groups, asks for direct British rule and is renamed the crown colony of British Honduras.
1863 London’s first underground ‘tube’ service from Paddington to Farringdon, opens.
~ The Prince of Wales marries Alexandra of Denmark (1844-1925).
~ The Second Maori War in New Zealand.
~ J. S. Mill publishes Utilitarianism.
~ The Football Association is formed.
1864 The London Conference fails to resolve the Schleswig-Holstein problem and Otto von Bismarck (1815-98) of Prussia sends troops to take possession.
~ The Ionian Isles are ceded to Greece.
~ Royal Navy shells Kagoshima when Japan closes ports and expels foreign traders. Japan pays an indemnity and reopens its ports.
~ The first County Cricket Championship is held and overarm bowling is legalised.
~ John Clare, the peasant poet, dies in Northampton lunatic asylum.
~ Anthony Trollope (1815-82) begins publishing the first of his Palliser series of political novels Can You Forgive Her?
~ William Wallace Mitchell of Glasgow publishes The Manual of Bowls Playing the basis of rules for the modern game.
1865 Lord Palmerston is to date the last prime minister to die in office. Lord John Russell succeeds him.
~ Edward J. Eyre, governor of Jamaica and the explorer of Australia, is recalled and dismissed after the brutal suppression of a rebellion in Morant Bay.
~ Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Charles L. Dodgson alias Lewis Carroll (1832-98) is published.
1866 Whig ‘Adullamites’ and Conservatives defeat a Reform bill moved by Gladstone. Russell resigns.
~ Earl of Derby becomes P M and Disraeli Leader of the Commons and Chancellor of the Exchequer.
~ Financial panic in the City with bank failure and many bankruptcies.
~ Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917) qualifies as the first woman medical practitioner and institutes women’s medical courses.
~ W. G. Grace (1848-1915) scores his maiden first class century with an innings of 224 not out for All-England against Surrey at The Oval.
~ The colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia merge and become part of Canada in 1871.
1867 The Second Reform Act, introduced by Benjamin Disraeli, broadens the franchise and double the number of voters in England and Wales. Moves to allow women to vote are opposed.
~ Karl Marx publishes the first volume of the socialist bible Das Kapital, researched and written in London and published in Hamburg.
~ Walter Bagehot (1826-77) editor of The Economist publishes The English Constitution.
~ Antiseptic measures to prevent infection are first used by Joseph Lister (1827-1912), professor of surgery at Glasgow.
~ Transportation of convicts to the colonies is ended.
~ Fenian uprisings by the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Ireland and a plan to seize Chester are quashed.
~ The Confederation of Canada is formed of the four provinces Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
~ The Gold Coast colony is formed on the Guinea coast of West Africa.
~ The East India Company gives up the Straits Settlements in South East Asia which become a Crown colony.
~ The Marquess of Queensbury Rules for the regulation of Boxing are introduced.
~ Matthew Arnold (1822-88) writes the poem Dover Beach describing the decline of old religious verities.
1868 Derby retires and Benjamin Disraeli becomes prime minister for the first time.
~ The Corrupt Practices Act takes electoral bribery cases out of political control in the Commons.
~ After the General Election of that year Gladstone also becomes PM for the first time with a large majority.
~ The last public hangings are held at Newgate and Maidstone prisons.
~ The first Trades Union Congress is held in Manchester.
~ Sir James Brooke (born 1803), the first ‘white Rajah’ of Sarawak in Borneo, dies.
~ Basutoland, seeking protection from the Orange Free State, is annexed and put under Cape colony administration.
~ Outbreak of the Third Maori War in New Zealand.
~ Wilkie Collins publishes The Moonstone.
~ Queen Victoria publishes …Our Life in the Highlands.
1869 Girton, the first college for women is founded at Hitchin but shortly moves to Cambridge; it only became part of the university in 1948.
~ The Protestant Church of Ireland is disestablished.
~ Diamonds are discovered at Kimberley in the northern Cape Colony.
~ Hudson’s Bay Company gives up rights in Rupert’s Land (the NW territory) to Canada.
~ Cutty Sark one of the last and fastest tea Clipper sailing ships is launched, shortly to be superseded by steamships.
~ Lorna Doone, R. D. Blackmore’s (1825-1900) classic romantic novel set on Exmoor is published.
~ Matthew Arnold publishes Culture and Anarchy.
~ Anthony Trollope publishes Phineas Finn.
~ J. S. Mill publishes The Subjection of Women.
1870 William E. Forster’s (1818-86) Education Act provides for compulsory education of all children aged 5 to 12.
~ The Married Women’s Property Act allows wives to legally own the money they earn and to inherit property.
~ Frances Elizabeth Morgan (1843-1927) of Wales becomes the first woman to obtain a medical degree from a European University (Zurich), taking 3 years to complete the 6 year course.
~ Thomas Barnardo (1845-1905) opens his first orphanage in London’s East End.
~ The Red River rebellion in Manitoba, Canada, ends peacefully when the Metis (French-speaking mixed race) leaders flee to the United States as an expedition led by Col. Garnet Wolseley (1833-1913) arrives.
~ London is linked to Australia by telegraph.
~ Death of Charles Dickens the novelist.
~ J. Millais paints The Boyhood of Raleigh.
1871 The Trade Union Act legalises unions.
~ The purchase of commissions in the British Army is abolished as part of the wide-ranging military reform programme, initiated by Minister for War Edward Cardwell (1813-86) in response to evident failings in the Crimea and the growing military strength of Bismarck’s Germany.
~ The American journalist Henry M. Stanley (1841-1904) meets Dr David Livingstone, who had been missing for nearly 6 years, at Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika.
~ The Royal Albert Hall concert venue, home for many notable events in national and international culture, is opened.
~ The Slade School of fine Art is established at University College London.
~ Newnham College, first hall of residence for women, opens in Cambridge.
~ Public holidays are instituted with the first Bank Holiday on August 7th.
~ Wealthy philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts (1814-1906), co-founder of the NSPCC, is created a Baroness in her own right.
~ The Rugby Football Union is founded.
~ British Columbia joins Canada.
~ Charles Darwin publishes The Descent of Man.
~ Edward Lear (1812-88) publishes Nonsense Songs, etc. which includes the poem Owl and the Pussycat.
1872 The first secret ballot is held in Great Britain at a bi-election in Pontefract.
~ The first Licensing Act made drunkenness in public an offence, imposed closing times on public houses and regulates the contents of beer.
~ The first FA cup final at Kennington Oval is won by Wanderers 1 Royal Engineers 0.
~ The First international football match (Scotland 0 England 0).
~ The first lawn tennis club is formed at Leamington Spa.
~ Joseph Arch (1826-1919) forms the Agricultural Workers’ Union. ~ George Eliot publishes Middlemarch.
~ Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), poet and novelist, publishes Under the Greenwood Tree.
1873 Judicature Act reforms high courts structure. Supreme Court established with separate divisions and an Appeals Court.
~ Dr. David Livingstone, missionary and explorer dies at Lake Bangwelu, Central Africa.
~ Great Britain attempts to end the Arab slave trade in East Africa with the Anglo-Zanzibar Treaty.
~ Diplomatic contact with Persia strengthened by the Shah’s visit to Britain.
~ The Cape Colony becomes self-governing (often called the Cape of Good Hope).
~ The experienced General Sir Garnet Wolseley subdues the Ashanti and secures the promise of an end to human sacrifice in the Gold Coast, which becomes a crown colony.
~ Prince Edward Island colony joins Canada.
~ John Stuart Mill, the political economist and liberal philosopher dies.
~ Napoleon III dies in exile at Chislehurst in England.
~ The Scottish Football Association is inaugurated and the Scottish FA Challenge Cup is won the following year by Queens Park.
1874 Conservatives led by Disraeli win a majority in the General Election.
~ Factory Act raises working age to 9 and reduces working hours in textile mills to 56 per week.
~ Agricultural labourers strike in eastern England fails. The Agricultural Workers Union advocates emigration.
~ The Cavendish Laboratory of Experimental Physics opens in Cambridge.
~ Fiji becomes a crown colony.
~ Thomas Hardy publishes Far From the Madding Crowd.
~ Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900), ethical philosopher, publishes his influential The Methods of Ethics.
1875 Benjamin Disraeli purchases a major stake in the Suez Canal Company for Britain.
~ The Chimney Sweepers Act, enforced by police regulation, effectively ends the employment of child sweeps.
~ Public Health and Artisan’s Dwellings Acts, measures to improve sanitation and replace insanitary dwellings.
~ The Trade Mark Registration Act permits the UK Patent Office to register trade marks. The beginning of product identity and promotion - the first mark to be registered is the Bass Brewery red triangle.
~ The Prince of Wales makes a state visit to India and Ceylon.
~ The new Alexandra Palace reopens in North London as a people’s recreation centre 2 years after the first was destroyed by fire soon after its inaugural ceremony.
~ The London Medical School for Women is established.
~ W. S. Gilbert (1836-1911) and Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) present Trial by Jury at the Royalty theatre.
~ Ellen Terry (1847-1928) is greatly acclaimed for her artistry and beauty as Portia in Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice‘.
~ Captain Matthew Webb (1848-1883) is the first to swim across the English Channel in 21 hours 45 mins.
~ The MCC draws up the first rules of Lawn Tennis.
1876 Queen Victoria is declared Empress of India.
~ Disraeli is created Earl of Beaconsfield and goes to the House of Lords.
~ Gladstone begins campaign against Turkish outrages in Bulgaria.
~ Merchant Shipping Act measures includes the Plimsoll Line to prevent overloading of vessels.
~ Death of Harriet Martineau (born 1802), feminist and pioneering sociologist.
1877 The first All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Championship is held at Wimbledon.
~ Australia beat England in an inaugural test match at Melbourne.
~ Natal annexes Transvaal which is near bankruptcy and fears Zulu attack, but dislikes British interference.
~ The British Western Pacific Territories is set up to administer Fiji, The Solomon Isles, Tonga, Pitcairn and some other island dependencies.
~ William Morris (1834-96) and Philip Webb (1831-1915) found the Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings.
~ Just before her death Anna Sewell (1820-1878) publishes her only novel Black Beauty, an instant best seller with an animal welfare theme.
1878 650 die when a pleasure steamer The Princess Alice is rammed by a collier and sinks in the Thames. Many are poisoned by the effluent from nearby sewerage outlets.
~ William Booth (1829-1912) founds the Salvation Army, a Christian evangelical and charitable movement.
~ The Congress of Berlin settles the Balkan war; Cyprus, formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, becomes a British Protectorate.
~ ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’ an ancient Egyptian obelisk is installed on the Embankment in London.
1879 The battle of Isandlwana, South Africa. A Zulu army overwhelms a British invasion from Natal before going on to meet courageous and successful resistance by a motley collection of military and civilian defenders at Rorkes’ Drift.
~ The Zulus are decisively beaten at the battle of Ulundi and their chief Cetshwayo (c1826-1884) is exiled to London for three years before returning to rule his people. Zululand becomes a British protectorate.
~ The Second Afghan War. British agent and staff massacred in Kabul. General Sir Frederick ‘Bobs’ Roberts VC (1832-1914) invades and occupies Kabul.
~ Gladstone opens his Midlothian Campaign.
~ The Quaker Cadbury brothers transfer their chocolate factory from Birmingham to Bournville - the beginning of a large scale development scheme to improve working conditions and social conditions for workers.
~ Electric street lighting is introduced in London at the Embankment and Waterloo Bridge.
~ The Irish National Land League seeks to reduce rents and transfer land to tenants, Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-91), a Protestant Anglo-Irishman, is elected president.
~ The Tay Bridge railway disaster, 78 lives lost.
~ Somerville and Lady Margaret Hall colleges for women are founded at Oxford.
1880 Liberals win a general election. Gladstone becomes prime minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer.
~ Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) founds the De Beers diamond mining company in South Africa.
~ The First Boer War starts. Boers led by Paul Kruger (1825-1904) rebel against British rule in Transvaal.
~ Parnell becomes leader of the Home Rule League, later called the Irish Parliamentary Party.
~ Gen. Roberts defeats Afghans at Kandahar. Afghanistan becomes a British protectorate in return for a subsidy.
~ Captain Boycott (1832-1897) is ostracized by tenants and inhabitants of the Erne estate in Co Mayo Ireland.
~ Mary Anne Evans, alias George Eliot, author of powerful novels such as Middlemarch, dies.
~ The Guildhall School of Music is founded.
~ First refrigerated load of meat arrives from New South Wales.
1881 British are defeated at Majuba Hill by Boer commandos with heavy losses. Full self-government returned to Boers of Transvaal with British control of foreign and African affairs.
~ Richard D’Oyly Carte (1844-1901) opens the Savoy Theatre for production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s light operas.
~ British army regiments are reorganised into multi-battalion territorial units, usually with county affiliations.
~ The Natural History Museum moves to new premises in South Kensington.
~ Habeas Corpus in Ireland is suspended due to agrarian unrest. The National Land League is declared illegal.
~ Death of Benjamin Disraeli Lord Beaconsfield.
~ Thomas Carlyle (born 1795), Scottish historian, lecturer and essayist, dies.
~ Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) publishes Poems.
1882 Ottoman authority continues to decay in the Middle East and Britain assumes the unofficial position of de facto Protector of Egypt following the Battle of Tel El Kebir, at which British forces led by Sir Garnet Wolseley defeat the dissident
~ The Phoenix Park murders; Fenians kill Lord Frederick Cavendish (born 1836), Chief Secretary of Ireland, and the permanent under Secretary Thomas Henry Burke (born 1829).
~ Trial by jury is suspended in Ireland.
~ Australia defeats England in a Test Match at the Oval and ‘The Ashes’ are created.
~ The Married Women’s Property Act improves the right of married women to own and control property in their own right.
~ Leslie Stephen (1832-1904) begins compiling The Dictionary of National Biography a reference work on notable figures in British history.
~ Henry Sidgwick presides over the Society for Psychical Research.
~ The rules of Snooker are written by Sir Neville Chamberlain serving at Ootacamund, India.
1883 Karl Marx, communist philosopher dies and is buried at Highgate.
~ Evelyn Baring (1841-1917) later Lord Cromer, is appointed British agent to oversee Egyptian financial management, whilst recognising nominal Ottoman suzerainty and continued rule by the Khedive with a legislative assembly.
~ An Anglo-Egyptian force led by Hicks Pasha (born 1830) in the Sudan is annihilated by Islamic forces led by El Mahdi.
~ Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) publishes Treasure Island.
~ The Royal College of Music is founded.
1884 The Third Parliamentary Reform Act establishes a uniform franchise and extends male suffrage - farm workers are enfranchised.
~ Greenwich is chosen as the world’s Prime Meridian (0 degree Longitude).
~ Anglo-Portuguese treaty tries to check German colonial ambitions.
~ Berlin conference on West Africa agrees to regulate European colonisation and suppress slavery.
~ James Murray (1837-1915) begins work on the Oxford English Dictionary.
~ Lord Shaftesbury (1801-1885) and Baroness Burdett-Coutts found The London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (renamed National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children NSPCC)).
~ The Fabian Society is created to propagate socialist ideas.
~ The Cape Colony is found incapable of managing Basutoland which becomes a crown colony.
1885 General Charles Gordon (born 1833) is killed by ‘Dervishes’ under their religious leader the Mahdi at Khartoum, together with the Egyptian garrison whose withdrawal he was sent to supervise.
~ Relief force under Sir Garnet Wolseley, aided by Canadian ‘voyageur’ boatmen, arrives too late and retreats from Sudan.
~ Last appearance of the British ‘redcoat’ tunic in battle at Gennis by units sent to relieve besieged Anglo-Egyptian troops in the North Sudanese fort.
~ Budget is defeated with help of Irish votes. Gladstone resigns and Robert Cecil Lord Salisbury (1830-1903) becomes P M, Lord Randolph Churchill (1849-95) is Secretary of State for India.
~ The Third Burmese war, following which Upper Burma is annexed and Burma as a whole is created a province of The Indian Raj.
~ The Criminal Law Amendment Act raises the age of sexual consent for girls to 16.
~ Irish Purchase of Land Act offers cheap loans for tenants to buy land holdings. Conservatives hope to gain Parnell’s Irish members support.
~ General election results in a Liberal majority, Salisbury retains power with Irish support but is soon forced to resign.
~ At the instigation of John Mackenzie (1835-99) of the London Missionary Society, the Bechuanaland Protectorate is created to prevent Boer encroachment from the south.
~ The Mikado continues Gilbert and Sullivan’s success at the Savoy Theatre.
1886 Gladstone forms his third government. Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914) heads 93 Liberals who vote against the first Home Rule bill which is defeated.
~ General election with Conservative victory and Liberals split between Home Rulers and Chamberlain’s Unionist Liberals. Salisbury forms a government.
~ Britain and Germany divide the East African lands of the Sultanate of Zanzibar. The Imperial British East African Company administers a protectorate which eventually becomes the colony of Kenya and the protectorate of Uganda.
~ Lord Randolph Churchill unexpectedly resigns after failing to win cabinet support for defence economies.
~ Sir Henry Ryder Haggard (1856-1925) publishes King Solomon’s Mines.
~ R. L. Stevenson publishes Kidnapped and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
~ The Hockey Association is formed.
1887 Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.
~ The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society is formed to promote high quality and functional decorative art and crafts.
~ William Lever (1851-1925), industrialist and philanthropist, constructs Port Sunlight factory and model village in the Wirral, Cheshire, but he is accused of intruding into the personal freedom of his employees.
~ The Irish Crimes Act gives authorities greater power to deal with agrarian crime. Irish Lands Act allows courts to revise unjust rents.
~ Britain, Austria Hungary and Italy conclude the Mediterranean Agreement to support the Ottoman Empire against Russian naval pressure and defend against French expansion in North Africa.
~ Annie Besant nee Wood (1847-1933) helps establish The Link newspaper which campaigns for social improvement.
~ Britain annexes Zululand, which blocks Transvaal from the sea.
~ The Somalia coast region in the Horn of Africa is taken over from Egypt and becomes a protectorate administered from Aden by the India Office.
1888 Jack the Ripper brutally murders 6 women in London’s East End, but is never identified.
~ The match girls at Bryant and Mays’ factory in East London, encouraged by Annie Besant, win a strike for better working conditions.
~ Local Government Act establishes County Councils in England and Wales. Women are enfranchised. Similar act set up for Scotland the following year.
~ An Anglo-Indian force occupies Sikkim, a buffer state between India and Tibet. Tibet gives up claims to the region and the border is defined.
~ The British East Africa Company takes over administration of Mombasa from the Sultan of Zanzibar.
~ The Gambia becomes a British crown colony.
~ Brunei, Sarawak and two other territories in Borneo become the British Protectorate of North Borneo.
~ The Financial Times is published for first time.
~ The Football League is formed with 12 participating clubs from the north and midlands.
~ Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), storyteller and poet, publishes Plain Tales from the Hills.
~ The Lawn Tennis Association is formed.
1889 The British South Africa Company is chartered to promote commercial development and settlement in Mashonaland and Matabeleland which later becomes Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).
~ The area around Lake Nyasa, East Africa, is declared a British protectorate and, with extensions becomes the protectorate of Nyasaland in 1907.
~ The Board of Agriculture is established.
~ The first British mosque is built at Woking.
~ Gerard Manley Hopkins (born 1844) Jesuit priest and poet dies in Dublin. His original, and influential poems are published twenty nine years after his death.
~ Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927), English humorist, publishes Three Men in a Boat.
~ Crossing the Bar Tennyson’s last poem is published.
1890 Charles S. Parnell loses the support of the Catholic Church and Nonconformists because of his involvement as co-respondent in the O’Shea divorce case.
~ Cecil Rhodes head of the British South Africa Company sends a Pioneer Column into Mashonaland and Matabeleland and founds Fort Salisbury (now Harare, Zimbabwe).
~ Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929) becomes president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.
~ The colony of Western Australia becomes self-governing.
~ Zanzibar/Pemba becomes a British Protectorate by agreement with Germany in return for the North Sea isle of Heligoland.
~ The Forth Railway Bridge opens.
1891 The Congested Districts Board is established to improve living conditions in the West of Ireland.
~ The Elementary Education Act abolishes fees for elementary education.
~ The London-Paris telephone system begins operating.
~ Oscar Wilde publishes The Picture of Dorian Grey.
~ Thomas Hardy publishes Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
~ Rachel Beer nee Sassoon (1858-1927) becomes the first woman editor of a national newspaper, The Observer.
1892 General Election. Conservatives have most seats but Liberals and Irish form a majority. Salisbury resigns and Gladstone forms his fourth government.
~ Alfred Lord Tennyson, poet laureate during much of Victoria’s reign, dies.
~ William Thompson Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), mathematical physicist and engineer, is first scientist to be created a Peer in the House of Lords.
~ Wilfred Grenfell (1865-1940), later knighted, begins his medical and educational mission in Newfoundland and Labrador.
~ The Gilbert and Ellice Islands are declared British protectorates.
~ The Theatre Royal, Covent Garden is renamed the Royal Opera House.
~ The Children of the Ghetto written by Israel Zangwill (1864-1926) is a novel revealing the life of a Jewish immigrant community in a London.
1893 The Independent Labour Party is founded by Kier Hardie (1856-1915).
~ The Second Home Rule Bill is defeated in the House of Lords.
~ Matabele revolt is put down by the British South Africa Co.
~ The University of Wales is incorporated.
~ Britain creates a protectorate in the Solomon Islands (enlarged by taking over French interests in the area in exchange for Western Samoa in 1900).
~ Francis Thompson (1859-1907), mystic and opium addict, publishes Poems including The Hound of Heaven.
~ The Badminton Association launches the revised form of the game.
1894 William E. Gladstone retires after a career in politics lasting more than 60 years. Succeeded as Liberal leader and P M by the Earl of Rosebery (1847-1929).
~ Anglo-Japanese Treaty recognises Japanese sovereignty and abolishes privileged status for British citizens.
~ The Manchester Ship Canal is opened.
~ Local Government Act establishes parish councils, women voters and candidates allowed.
~ The protectorate of Uganda is created in Central Africa.
~ Dame Edith Brown (1864-1956) founds The Christian Medical College for Women in the Punjab, India.
~ The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle (1859-1930) and The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling are published.
~ First performance of Arms and the Man by Irish playwright and polemicist George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950).
~ Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) illustrates The Yellow Book.
~ Anthony Hope (1863-1933) publishes The Prisoner of Zenda.
~ Blackpool Tower opens to the public marking the resort as the premier holiday destination for the North of England and beyond.
1895 Oscar Wilde, playwright and wit is sent to gaol for committing an act of gross indecency soon after the opening performance of his most successful play The Importance of Being Earnest.
~ Rosebery resigns. Lord Salisbury forms his third administration.
~ The National Trust is founded by Octavia Hill (1838-1912), Sir Robert Hunter (1844-1913) and Hardwicke Rawnsley (1851-1920).
~ The Jameson Raid into Transvaal, rich in gold and diamond resources, fails and surrenders in January ‘96. Rhodes resigns as PM of Cape colony.
~ The British East African Protectorate is created when the East Africa Company runs into financial difficulties.
~ The London School of Economics and Political Science is founded.
~ A series of Promenade Concerts conducted by Henry Wood (1869-1944), later knighted, opens at the Queens Hall, Langham Place, London – forerunner of the annual Proms now held in the Royal Albert Hall.
~ The Northern Union of Rugby Football clubs is formed (it changed its name to the Rugby Football League in 1922).
~ H. G. Wells (1866-1946) publishes The Time Machine, a pioneer science fiction novella.
~ Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) an Anglo-French man of letters and affairs publishes Verses and Sonnets.
1896 The death of William Morris (born 1834), the influential Arts and Crafts designer, poet and socialist.
~ The Royal Navy shells the sultan’s palace in Zanzibar. A surrender signal is received from the usurper sultan 38 minutes later. The shortest war in history.
~ The British East Africa Company starts construction of the Uganda Railway from Mombasa, with the considerable help of Indian labour, which opens up East and Central Africa for trade and colonial development.
~ A Shropshire Lad, a collection of rural, melancholic poems is published by A. E. Housman (1859-1936).
~ The Daily Mail newspaper is published for the first time.
1897 Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee is celebrated.
~ The Tate Gallery of British Art opens, founded by Henry Tate (1819-99) the eponymous sugar merchant and philanthropist.
~ Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928), influential architect and designer, begins work on his Glasgow School building.
~ Workmen’s Compensation Act grants compensation for any accident to faultless employees, even if the employer is not negligent.
~ The protectorate of Zululand is subsumed into the colony of Natal.
1898 The last British army cavalry charge takes place at the battle of Omdurman. Khartoum is retaken by General (later Field Marshal Lord) Kitchener (1850-1916) and the Sudan is administered by an Anglo-Egyptian condominium.
~ The Fashoda incident. A party surveying for a French Trans-Africa railway system in southern Sudan is dissuaded by a force led by Kitchener.
~ The British South Africa Company lands in Matabele/ Mashonaland are named Southern and Northern Rhodesia for Cecil Rhodes.
~ Britain leases from China new territories north of Kowloon, also leases anchorage at Wei Hai Wei as a countermeasure to Russia leasing Port Arthur.
~ H. G. Wells writes War of the Worlds.
1899 Second Boer War with the Transvaal and Orange Free State begins. The Boers take the offensive and besiege some British settlements in the Cape.
~ Winston Churchill, a war correspondent, is taken prisoner by the Boers and achieves fame when he escapes.
~ London’s first motor bus service begins.
~ Sir Edward Elgar’s (1857-1934) Enigma Variations is performed for the first time in London.
~ The John Rylands Library is opened in Manchester.
1900 Britain is part of an eight nation coalition which forcefully suppresses the Boxer rebellion against western colonialism and Christian missions in China. Western troops enter Peking (Beijing) to relieve their besieged legations and impose punitive measures on the Chinese Qing dynasty.
~ Boers inflict a defeat on a British force at the battle of Spion Kop.
~ Mafeking, a small town in the Cape Colony commanded by Colonel Baden-Powell, is relieved. Great celebration in Britain.
~ Johannesburg and other Boer cities are taken.
~ The Wallace Collection, an eclectic collection of fine arts, furniture and arms and armour (much of it bought from France during the revolution) is bequeathed to the nation and opens in Hertford House, London.
~ Conservatives win the ‘Khaki’ general election.
~ The Daily Express is published for first time.
~ Arthur Evans begins to excavate the Minoan site at Knossos, Crete.
~ Joseph Conrad, the Anglo-Polish writer writes Lord Jim.
~ Elgar’s oratorio The Dream of Gerontius is first performed.
~ London University comprising 23 college/institutions is restructured with a new constitution.
~ Tonga becomes a British protectorate.
1901 Queen Victoria the grandmother of most European royal houses dies, succeeded by Edward VII.