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PBS: Queen Victoria’s Empire #4/4 Scramble for Africa

07/02/2019

From Docuwiki

At the time of Queen Victoria’s birth in 1819, England was an agrarian society. Within a few short decades, this small island nation would be transformed into an industrial superpower, with an empire spanning the globe. Queen Victoria’s Empire is both the story of this remarkable time, and an engaging portrait of a Queen who ruled over one-fifth of the world’s population. It is the story of the influential figures that would shape a distinctively British imperialism: Gladstone, Disraeli, Livingstone, Rhodes, and Prince Albert, Victoria’s husband. Whether driven by profit, passion, or noble ideals, these figures would fuel an expansion unequaled in history, forever changing Britain and the lands it controlled. Personal accounts, lush reenactments, and evocative cinematography from former outposts of the Empire, including India and Africa, recount the dramatic clash of personalities and cultures that would drive Victoria’s remarkable 64-year reign.

 #1/4 Engines of Change

As a teenager, Princess Victoria — aware, as was the English public, that she was heir to the throne of her childless uncle, William IV — was taken by her mother, the Duchess of Kent, on a royal progress — by carriage — through the rain-drenched Midlands into North Wales. For Victoria, it was a horrifying introduction to the Britain that kept the elegant society of the great houses at which they would stay comfortable and prosperous. “The men, women, children, country and houses are all black…,” she wrote in her diary. “The grass is quite blasted and black.” A blast furnace the entourage passed in their carriages was “an extraordinary building flaming with fire,” after which everything continued to be “black, engines flaming, coals, in abundance; everywhere, smoking and burning coal heaps, intermingled with wretched huts and carts and little ragged children.” Yet despite the grim conditions, at every stopping place, enthusiastic crowds shouted greetings, lengthy addresses by local officials promised future devotion, choirs sang patriotic anthems, and salutes were fired by happy celebrants, unaware that such anticipations of his death made old King William more than unhappy. At the great country houses, the princess dined from gold plates and drank from gilt cups, unaware that the industrial progress she had witnessed had left her future subjects behind in an abject misery concealed by their loyalty.

 #2/4 Passage to India

On the same day in May 1856 that Queen Victoria held a review in Hyde Park at which she distributed the first Victoria Crosses, earned in the Crimea, she learned of the likelihood that many more medals were in the offing. Indian troops — Sepoys — in the subcontinent had mutinied. The news from India, with the “cruel suspense” (as she put it) of weeks of delay in securing information, as telegraphic communication was incomplete, had come just as she was pressing her prime minister, Viscount Palmerston, and the Army secretary, Lord Panmure, to do something about the “defenseless state” of Britain itself in the aftermath of post-Crimea military retrenchments. Suddenly, penny-pinching to reduce taxes had to be abandoned. The commander-in-chief of forces in India, General George Anson, was reported dead. Palmerston had to rush a replacement, Sir Colin Campbell, who departed the next day, on the long voyage around the Cape to a situation bound to be very different when he arrived from anything he knew as he embarked.

#3/3 The Moral Crusade

The puritan sides of their personalities clashed with Victoria’s and Albert’s livelier natures, and their need to maintain acceptable public postures for their fishbowl lives. Victoria, a true Hanoverian, enjoyed the sensual delights of matrimony, making it prudent for Albert to have a mechanical lock for their bedroom door at Osborne House installed within reach of his pillow. Albert had little need to persuade Victoria that her Court, its recent past tarnished, had to earn respect by example and be impenetrable to scandal. Since upper-class life ignored the middle-class morality promoted by aggressive Evangelicalism, Lord Melbourne declared to the royal couple that “damned morality would undo us all.” Albert noted in a memorandum in 1852, approvingly, “We had found great advantage in it and were determined to adhere to it.”

#4/4 The Scramble for Africa

n the late, chill spring of 1886, with morning frost still on the ground at eleven, the Queen left Windsor by private train early on May 4 to open the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in South Kensington. Her entourage traveled in state carriages from Paddington, passing excited and cheering crowds. The exhibition stood for everything that W. E. Gladstone, again her prime minister, disliked about British colonial involvement — exoticism, exploitation, public expense, and the exaltation of the misnamed White Man’s Burden. There was an Indian Hall, and a facsimile native “Bazaar,” and exhibits from Australia, Canada, Africa, and other red-tinted swatches of the globe. For the public flocking to the exhibition, few of whom had ever traveled more than a handful of miles beyond their homes, the event offered a glimpse of Imperial England across the seas, especially an introduction to the Dark Continent of Africa. For Victoria, who would never venture farther south from England than France and Italy, it was a tactile introduction to the Empire that she would never see, a trip into her imperial fantasies. Leaning upon the Prince of Wales, and upon her oaken walking stick, she progressed through exhibitors “in the richest, brightest costumes,” was greeted by salaams, and by bands that struck up as she passed them. Then she went on to the Albert Hall for a formal celebration of the occasion, with an ode for the occasion by Lord Tennyson set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan. “An Address to the Queen” was read by the Prince of Wales, and the Queen replied briefly. Speeches, prayers, and hymns followed, and finally “Rule, Britannia,” sung with fervor. No one inside the Hall seemed a convert to Gladstone’s unpopular doctrine of diminishing Empire

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