Queen Victoria (Browne)

CHAPTER XIII: Queen and Empire

What should they know of England who only England know?

The England of Queen Elizabeth was the England of Shakespeare:

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise;
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war;
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

In Tennyson's Princess we find an echo of these words, where the poet, in contrasting England and France, monarchy and republic—much to the disadvantage of the latter—says:

God bless the narrow sea which keeps her off,
And keeps our Britain, whole within herself,
A nation yet, the rulers and the ruled.

But at a later date, in an "Epilogue to the Queen," at the close of the Idylls of the King, Tennyson has said farewell to his narrow insular views, and speaks of

Our ocean-empire with her boundless homes
For ever-broadening England, and her throne
In our vast Orient, and one isle, one isle,
That knows not her own greatness: if she knows
And dreads it we are fall'n.

He had come to recognize the necessity for guarding and maintaining the Empire, with all its greatness and all its burdens, as part of this country's destiny.

It is a little difficult to realize that the British Empire, as we now know it, has been created within only the last hundred years. Beaconsfield, in his novel Contarini Fleming, describes the difference between ancient and modern colonies. "A modern colony," he says, "is a commercial enterprise, an ancient colony was a political sentiment." In other words, colonies were a matter of 'cash' to modern nations, such as the Spaniards: in the time of the ancients there was a close tie, a feeling of kinship, and the colonist was not looked upon with considerable contempt and dislike by the Mother Country.

Beaconsfield believed that there would come a time, and that not far distant, when men would change their ideas. "I believe that a great revolution is at hand in our system of colonization, and that Europe will soon recur to the principles of the ancient polity."

This feeling of pride in the growth and expansion of our great over-seas dominions is comparatively new, and there was a time when British ministers seriously proposed separation, from what they considered to be a useless burden.

The ignorance of all that concerned the colonies in the early years of Victoria's reign was extraordinary, and this accounted, to a great extent, for the indifference with which the English people regarded the prospect of drifting apart.

Lord Beaconsfield was a true prophet, for this indifference is now a thing of the past, and in the year 1875 an Imperial Federation League was formed, which, together with the celebrations at the Jubilees in 1887 and 1897, helped to knit this country and the Dominions together in bonds of friendship and sympathy. The rapid improvements in communication have brought the different parts of the Empire closer together; the Imperial Penny Postage and an all-British cable route to Australia have kept us in constant touch with our kinsmen in every part of the world where the Union Jack is flown.

But this did not all come about in a day. Prejudice and dislike are difficult to conquer, and it was chiefly owing to the efforts of Lord Beaconsfield that they were eventually overcome.

Imperialism too often means 'Jingoism,'—wild waving of flags and chanting of such melodies as:

We don't want to fight,
    But, by Jingo, if we do,
We've got the ships, we've got the men,
    We've got the money too.

The true Imperialism is "defence, not defiance." Beaconsfield looked back into the past and sought to "resume the thread of our ancient empire." For him empire meant no easy burden but a solemn duty, a knitting together of all the varied races and religions in one common cause. "Peace with honour" was his and England's watchword. He believed, in fact, like Shakespeare, in saying

Of entrance to a quarrel; but, being in,
Bear't, that th' opposèd may beware of thee.

He was very particular on the duty of "if necessary, saying rough things kindly, and not kind things roughly," which was a lesson Lord Palmerston never seemed to be capable of learning. Another of his maxims was that it was wiser from every point of view to treat semi-barbarous nations with due respect for their customs and feelings. He preached Confederation and not Annexation. "By pursuing the policy of Confederation," he declared, "we bind states together, we consolidate their resources, and we enable them to establish a strong frontier, that is the best security against annexation."

His whole policy was to foster the growth of independence and build the foundations of a peace which should be enduring. "Both in the East and in the West our object is to have prosperous, happy, and contented neighbours."

The object of his imperialism was to progress, at the same time paying due respect to the traditions of the past; he rightly believed that the character of a nation, like that of an individual, is strengthened by responsibility.

"The glory of the Empire and the prosperity of the people" was what he hoped to achieve.

During the anxious times of the Indian Mutiny he alone seemed to grasp the real meaning of this sudden uprising of alien races. He declared that it was a revolt and not a mutiny; a revolt against the English because of their lack of respect for ancient rights and customs.

After the war was ended he declared that the Government ought to tell the people of India "that the relation between them and their real ruler and sovereign, Queen Victoria, shall be drawn nearer." This should be done "in the Queen's name and with the Queen's authority." He appealed to the whole Indian nation by his 'Royal Titles Bill,' by means of which the Queen received the title of Empress of India. This brought home to the minds and imaginations of the native races the real meaning and grandeur of the Empire of which they were now a part. The great Queen was now their Empress, or, to use the Indian title, 'Kaiser-i-Hind.'

The Queen took the deepest interest in the Proclamation to the Indian people in 1858, and insisted on a number of alterations before she would allow it to be passed as satisfactory. She wrote to Lord Derby asking him to remember that "it is a female sovereign who speaks to more than a hundred millions of Eastern people on assuming the direct government over them after a bloody, civil war, giving them pledges which her future reign is to redeem, and explaining the principles of her government. Such a document should breathe feelings of generosity, benevolence, and religious feeling, pointing out the privileges which the Indians will receive in being placed on an equality with the subjects of the British Crown, and the prosperity following in the train of civilization."

Direct mention was to be made of the introduction of railways, canals, and telegraphs, with an assurance that such works would be the cause of general welfare to the Indian people. In conclusion she added: "Her Majesty wishes expression to be given to her feelings of horror and regret at the results of this bloody civil war, and of pleasure and gratitude to God at its approaching end, and Her Majesty thinks the Proclamation should terminate by an invocation to Providence for its blessing on a great work for a great and good end."

The amended Proclamation was read in every province in India and met everywhere with cordial approval by princes and natives alike. The feeling of loyalty was aroused by the Queen's assurance that "in your prosperity is our strength, in your contentment our security, and in your gratitude our best reward."

On May 1, 1859, in England, and on July 28, 1859, in India, there was a general thanksgiving for the restoration of peace.

Although the Queen was never able to visit India in person, in 1875 the Prince of Wales went, at her request, to mark her appreciation of the loyalty of the native princes. The welcome given to the future King of England was truly royal. Reviews, banquets, illuminations, state dinners followed one another in rapid succession. Benares, the sacred city of the Hindoos, was visited, and here the Prince witnessed a great procession which included large numbers of elephants and camels, and an illumination of the entire river and city.

At Delhi, the capital of the Great Mogul, the Prince was met by Lord Napier of Magdala at the head of fifteen thousand troops, and at Lucknow an address and a crown set with jewels were presented to him.

The Secret of England's Greatness
J.T. Baker
Photo W.A. Mansell & Co.

It was in the same year that Disraeli, on behalf of the British Government, purchased a very large number of shares in the Suez Canal, thus gaining for us a hand in its administration—a vitally important matter when one realizes how much closer India has been brought by this saving in time over the long voyage round the Cape.

To pass in review the growth and expansion of the Empire during the Queen's reign would be a difficult task, and an impossible one within the limits of a small volume. The expressions of loyalty and devotion from the representatives of the great over-seas dominions on the occasion of the Queen's Jubilee in 1887 were proof enough that England and the English were no longer an insular land and people, but a mighty nation with one sovereign head.

In the address which was presented to the Queen it was stated that during her reign her colonial subjects of European descent had increased from two to nine millions, and in Asia and India there was an increase of population from ninety-six to two hundred and fifty-four millions.

After the great ceremony of thanksgiving in St Paul's Cathedral the Queen expressed her thanks to her people in the following message:

"I am anxious to express to my people my warm thanks for the kind, and more than kind, reception I met with on going to and returning from Westminster Abbey with all my children and grandchildren.

"The enthusiastic reception I met with then, as well as on those eventful days in London, as well as in Windsor, on the occasion of my Jubilee, has touched me most deeply, and has shown that the labours and anxieties of fifty long years—twenty-two years of which I spent in unclouded happiness, shared with and cheered by my beloved husband, while an equal number were full of sorrows and trial borne without his sheltering arm and wise help—have been appreciated by my people. This feeling and the sense of duty towards my dear country and subjects, who are so inseparably bound up with my life, will encourage me in my task, often a very difficult and arduous one, during the remainder of my life.

"The wonderful order preserved on this occasion, and the good behaviour of the enormous multitudes assembled, merits my highest admiration. That God may protect and abundantly bless my country is my fervent prayer."

And in laying the foundation-stone of the Imperial Institute, she said:

"I concur with you in thinking that the counsel and exertions of my beloved husband initiated a movement which gave increased vigour to commercial activity, and produced marked and lasting improvements in industrial efforts. One indirect result of that movement has been to bring more before the minds of men the vast and varied resources of the Empire over which Providence has willed that I should reign during fifty prosperous years.

"I believe and hope that the Imperial Institute will play a useful part in combining those resources for the common advantage of all my subjects, conducing towards the welding of the colonies, India, and the mother-country, into one harmonious and united community. . . ."

When war was declared in South Africa and the Boer forces invaded Cape Colony and Natal, contingents from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Cape Colony, and Natal joined the British force and fought side by side throughout that long and trying campaign.

In 1897 was celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Queen's reign, and every colony sent a detachment of troops to represent it. At the steps of St Paul's Cathedral the Queen remained to return thanks to God for all the blessings of her reign, and after the magnificent procession had returned she once again sent a message to her people:

"In weal and woe I have ever had the true sympathy of all my people, which has been warmly reciprocated by myself. It has given me unbounded pleasure to see so many of my subjects from all parts of the world assembled here, and to find them joining in the acclamations of loyal devotion to myself, and I wish to thank them all from the depth of my grateful heart."

Appendix to Chapter XIII


The population of the Empire is estimated to be 355 millions of coloured and 60 millions of white people.

1840. The Act of Union passed. The two colonies of Upper and Lower Canada united, and a representative Assembly formed.
1867. Bill for the Federation of Canada passed. The various provinces united under the title of Dominion of Canada, ruled by a Governor-General, nominated by the Crown. The Central Parliament, which dealt with matters relating to the Dominion, established at Ottawa.
1885. Completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which led to the opening up of the North-West. The great stream of emigration from Europe commences.


Australia became a United Commonwealth at the beginning of the present century.

From 1851 onward the transportation of convicts was prohibited.

The expansion of the Commonwealth has taken place to a great extent during the reign of Queen Victoria. The majority of the settlers are of British descent.


South Africa finally united in 1910 with self-government.


Disraeli, in 1876, introduced the Royal Titles Bill, by means of which the Queen was able to assume the title of Empress of India.

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