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Victoria 1837 - 1901

The death of William IV in 1837 bought his 18-year-old niece, Victoria to the throne. Along with her husband Albert, she came to symbolize many of the virtues of this period. Victorian England was a time when families were close-knit, and people were filled with a sense of public duty, integrity, and respectability, and their beliefs and attitudes were shaped by a revival of evangelical religion, and by utilitarian notions of efficiency and good business practice.

The early years of Victoria's reign was a time when Britons were less concerned with domestic conflict than with an economic boom occasionally affected by wars and threats of war on the Continent and overseas? The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London symbolized Britain's industrial supremacy. The railroad network of 1850 more than doubled in length during the mid-Victorian years, and the number of passengers carried each year increased several fold. The invention of the telegraph provided a means of instant communication and, thanks to Henry Bessemer's process of 1856, inexpensive steel was made available. This in turn led to a boom in steamship building during the next decade, and this helped to increase the value of British exports, and at the same time the value of overseas capital investments quadrupled.

The same agricultural depression that led to unrest among Irish tenant farmers in the second half of the 19th century also undermined British agriculture and the prosperity of country squires. The mid-Victorian boom gave way to an era of deflation, falling profit margins, and occasional large-scale unemployment. Both the U.S. and Germany overtook Britain in the production of steel and other manufactured goods. At the same time, Britain remained the world's prime shipbuilder, shipper, and banker, and a majority of British workers gained in purchasing power.

A relative lack of interest in empire during the mid-Victorian years gave way to increased concern during the 1880s and 1890s. The raising of tariff barriers by the U.S., Germany, and France made colonies more valuable again, ushering in an era of rivalry with Russia in the Middle East and along the Indian frontier and a "scramble for Africa" that involved the carving out of large claims by Britain, France, and Germany. Hong Kong and Singapore served as centres of British trade and influence in China and the South Pacific. The completion of the Suez Canal (1869) led indirectly to a British protectorate over Egypt in 1882. Queen Victoria became empress of India in 1876, and both Victoria's golden jubilee (1887) and her diamond jubilee (1897) celebrated imperial unity. The Conservative ministries of Lord Salisbury (1885, 1886-92, and 1895-1902) were preoccupied with imperial concerns as well. The policies of Salisbury's colonial secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, contributed to the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899. Britain suffered initial reverses in that war, but then captured Johannesburg and Pretoria in 1900. Only after protracted guerrilla warfare, however, was the conflict brought to an end in 1902. By then Queen Victoria was dead.

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Last Edited 03/07/2006    Copyright © 2000-2006 Witheridge

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