The Victorians

The Victorians : From Empire and Industry to Poverty and Famine

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'We have long passed the Victorian Era when asterisks were followed after a certain interval by a baby.' - W. Somerset Maugham
The Victorian era boasted the glory of the Empire and the grandeur that Empire afforded, it saw huge technological advances in civil engineering and transport, mass urbanisation and social change, as well as still-treasured literature and the most popular sports that we play today. But it was also a time of great poverty, of mass child labour and prostitution, of the Irish Potato Famine and British concentration camps in the Boer War, of the boom and bust of the California Gold Rush and slavery being fought over in America, of sexual hypocrisy and rigid class differences.
The Victorians explores the Victorian world from its cholera epidemics and asylums to its workhouses and chimneysweeps, from the Opium Wars to London's opium dens, from the gangs of New York to convicts bound for Australia, from body-snatchers to freakshows, from the British in Afghanistan to the American Civil War, from imposters claiming fortunes to women pretending to be men. Included are the lives of such colourful figures as Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, the Elephant Man and Jack the Ripper, and the world that inspired Dracula, detective stories and the character of Sherlock Holmes.
Expertly written and using 180 photographs, paintings, and illustrations, The Victorians reveals that behind the splendour and the facades was a world of poverty, disease and hypocrisy, where fortunes could be quickly made - and swiftly lost.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 224 pages
  • 205 x 268 x 17mm | 610g
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 200 photos, artworks and maps; 200 Illustrations, unspecified
  • 1838861254
  • 9781838861254

Table of contents

Slums and workhouses - 19th century Britain saw a huge population increase accompanied by rapid urbanisation stimulated by the Industrial Revolution. The large numbers of skilled and unskilled people looking for work kept wages down to a barely subsistence level.
Luddite attacks by workers where new machinery had left them redundant
Child Labour - Charles Dickens - whose father was sent to a debtors' prison. Dickens' own experiences of in the workhouse. Chimney sweeps and child coal miners. Laws were passed not to ban child labour in factories, but to limit it to 12 hours a day. Early trade unions.
The Gangs of 19th century New York and their rogues' gallery of associates
Draft riots in New York in 1863 killed 105, when rioters (mostly Irish) targeted blacks who were hanged and burned.
Chicago's gambling dens flourished, and the gambler George Trussell was murdered by "Irish Mollie."
Calcutta's opium auctions were held with sales managed by the British who shipped the drug to China in fast opium clippers like the "Sea Witch."

Cholera and London's sewers - it took London's cholera epidemics of 1848-49 (killing 14,137) and subsequently in 1853 killing (10,738), for steps to be taken to replace London's cesspits and build London's sewer system, the basis of which remains the city's sewer system today.
Victorian sanatoria, hysteria and ideas of insanity
China's great northern famine of 1876-79 killed up to 13 million people. Tokyo's cholera pandemic in 1854 killed up to 200,000; seven major outbreaks in Japan occurred from1858 to 1902.
Sigmund Freud set up his practice in 1886 in Vienna.
Richard Krafft-Ebbing, an Austro-German, published in 1886 Psychopathia Sexualis concerning homosexuality and bisexuality.
Psychotic patients in Japan before 1868 were treated in asylums by monks who used water, music and herbal medicines.

Victorian morality and Marriage - Divorce legislation introduced in 1857 allowed for a man to divorce his wife for adultery, but a woman could only divorce if adultery were accompanied by cruelty. Women had no rights over the money they earned if married. Adultery. Magdalene Asylums for fallen women.
Sexuality - homosexuality was a hanging offence until 1861. Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for acts of homosexuality.
Prostitution - Poverty and a gender imbalance with more women than men led to
an increase in the number of prostitutes, most of whom were aged between 15 and Catherine "Skittles" Walters, a working class girl from Liverpool, became a courtesan not only to Edward VII of England, but also Napoleon III of France and many high profile men. In her prime, crowds would gather to watch her ride her
horse along Rotten Row in Hyde Park.
The Class System
Great Imposters - was the Fifth Duke of Portland also a shopkeeper in Baker Street?
The Tichborne Claimant - Arthur Orton claimed to be the missing heir Sir Roger Tichborne.
James Barry - a military surgeon who was secretly a woman
The telegraph is patented in Britain by Charles Wheatstone and William Cooke; the American Samuel Morse in 1840 patented Morse Code and sends the first message in 1845.
Nitroglycerin is invented in 1846 by an Italian, Ascanio Sobrero.
Gregor Mendel, an Austrian monk, established Mendel's law on genetics from 1854 to 1868.
The first internal combustion engine was developed in 1859 by the Frenchman Jean Lenoir.
Charles Darwin wrote his Origin of Species n 1859.
In 1870 in the census of California, 61% of Chinese women had prostitution listed as their profession, often conducted in mining outposts and railroad camps. Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone in 1876.
Thomas Edison patented the incandescent lamp in 1881.
In 19th century China, women sometimes lived with two husbands, especially in rural areas, for work and protection.
Karl Landsteiner, an Austrian, identified the three blood types in 1901.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs, transported for acting against the lowering of wages. Burke and Hare - a series of murders committed in Edinburgh over a period of about ten months in 1828. Irish immigrants William Burke and William Hare sold the corpses of their 16 victims to Doctor Robert Knox as dissection material for his well- attended anatomy lectures.
Jack The Ripper - an unidentified serial killer in Whitechapel, London, in 1888. The different theories behind his identity.
Madeleine Smith - did she murder her lover with arsenic when he threatened to expose their relationship?
The Road Hill House child murder, which became a major detective case followed in the nation's newspapers and inspired writers such as Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes and Wilkie Collins to write the first detective novel The Moonstone.
The Russian potato riots from 1834-44 involved 500,000 peasants.
William Sleeman, a British officer, began in 1839 to suppress the Indian cult of Thuggee that gave its members the divine right to commit murder.
Mormon founder Joe Smith was murdered in 1844 by a mob in Illinois jail. Devil's Island, France's notorious prison was opened in 1852 in French Guiana. Russia sentenced 160 Nihilists to Siberia in 1878. One Nihilist attempted to assassinate the tsar the following year.
Ned Kelly, Australian bushranger outlaw, was executed in 1880.
Frederick Deeming in 1891 in Melbourne murdered his wife after murdering another wife and four children in England. Australians thought he was Jack the Ripper.
Lizzie Borden was tried in 1892 in Massachusetts for the axe murder of her father and stepmother.
France's Dreyfus political scandal began in 1894.
U.S. federal troops were first used against strikers in 1894 when the railroad Pullman strike confrontation left 26 dead.
Joseph Vacher, the "French Ripper," raped, killed and disembowelled women and children from 1894-97. He was guillotined.
Minnie Dean in 1895 became the only woman ever executed in New Zealand after she murdered three children.
U.S. President William McKinley was assassinated by anarchist in 1901.

The Crimean War - Florence Nightingale, The Charge of the Light Brigade
The Opium Wars - illegal trading of opium to China from India in return for tea from China. In 1839, the confiscation by the Chinese authorities at Canton of 20,000 chests of opium led Britain to attack China in the First Opium War, and resulted in the seizure by Britain of Hong Kong Island, at that time a minor settlement.
The British in Afghanistan
The Indian Rebellion of 1857.
The Scramble for Africa. The Boer Wars in South Africa and the British use of concentration camps, leading to civilian deaths from typhoid and dysentery
At home, the wealth built on Empire
The Irish Potato Famine - Part of the United Kingdom, the Irish were poorly represented at Westminster, dismissively treated and farmers were so restricted by British rule in how they made a living, that growing potatoes became the only viable option. When the potato crop failed due to a parasite, many starved, others emigrated to England and America. Ireland's population halved and the famine became a rallying call for Home Rule for Ireland.
Australia's gold rush began in 1851.
Australian policy of "white Australia" began in 1855.
China's Taiping Rebellion lasted from1850 to 1864 and cost more than 20 million lives.
The East India Company ruled two-thirds of India in 1857, the year Indian soldiers rebelled in the Sepoy Mutiny.
The German army conducted a siege of Paris in 1870 and captured 170,000 French troops. Paris capitulated in 1871 in Franco-Prussian War and a new German Empire was proclaimed.

The Civil War and slavery - Abolished in Britain's trade in 1833, but continued in the United States until 1865 with the 13th Amendment. The American wealth built on slavery
California Gold Rush of 1848-55 - the boom and bust
The Robber Barons of America - Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Harriman and Rockefeller The 1838-39 Canadian Patriot War waged against the British, aided by U.S. sympathizers.
Texas annexed to the USA in 1845.
U.S. defeated Mexico in 1848 and acquires what would become California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico.
The 1857 Dred Scott case denied a slave freedom because he was not a citizen.
The abolitionist John Brown was captured and hanged in 1859.
Lincoln assassinated in 1865.
Maximilian shot in 1867 in Mexico and the Juarez government established.
Modoc War in California in 1872-73 was between Native Americans and U.S. Government.
General Custer and troops were slaughtered by Native Americans in 1876.
U.S. Marines land in Hawaii, and it is proclaimed a U.S. protectorate. Spanish-American War of 1897.

The Elephant Man - Joseph Merrick's heavily deformed head led to him being presented as a circus freakshow until rescued by a doctor.
Edgar Allan Poe's macabre life story
Dracula, published in 1897, and the strong appeal of vampires to the Victorian imagination
Doctor Crippen - the first criminal caught by wireless communication when a telegram was sent from London to Canada to arrest the American doctor as he stepped off his ship. He had murdered his wife in London and buried her body in their house. Madame Tussaud opened her London waxworks in 1835. She had been imprisoned in Paris during the revolution and had modelled revolutionary leaders from heads taken from the scaffold.
Siamese twins, Chang and Eng, were exhibited in the U.S. from 1834 for decades, both marrying and having 12 children. They led traumatic lives.
The "Werewolf of Allariz," Manuel Romasanta, murdered 13 people in Spain from 1844-52, saying he had been transformed into a wolf against his will.
P.T. Barnum entertained Americans in the 1860s with his New York museum that featured freaks and curiosities, such as the midget Tom Thumb and a fake mermaid. Labelled "the prince of humbugs" he coined the phrase "There's a sucker born every minute."
General W. T. Sherman, once thought to be insane by his own government, marched his Union army through Georgia in 1864 to burn homes and wreck revenge on Confederate civilians.
John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln in 1865


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About John D Wright

John D. Wright is an American author and editor living in England. He has been a reporter in London for Time and People magazines, covering such subjects as politics and crime. He is the author of several history books, including The Oxford Dictionary of Civil War Quotations and The Routledge Encyclopedia of Civil War Era Biographies. Among his other books are Crime Investigation and Unsolved Crimes. He holds the Ph.D. degree in Communications from the University of Texas and has taught writing at three universities.
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