In 1870 Gladstone was Prime Minister of a Liberal Government.
Though industry was growing agriculture was suffering. The United States had completed its railway from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The USA had recovered from the Civil War. Cheap American foodstuffs were shipped to Europe. Many methods of preserving food had been invented in the American Civil War. Air tight tin cans kept food edible for months. British farmers could not compete. Cheaper food was welcomed by those who were not farmers. The value of agricultural land fell. Many institutions which relied on agricultural holdings did badly. Eton was hit hard. Oxford University built the Examination Schools at the time and the university was almost bankrupt when its income was suddenly reduced by the agricultural depression. The Liberal policy of free trade was denounced by farmers.
In 1874 there was another election. Benjamin Disraeli led the Conservatives to victory.
Disraeli introduced the Food and Drug Act. He tried to ensure that peoples food and medicines were of a reasonable standard. His government also passed the Artisan’s Dwelling Act.
Much of what he did was to pass permissive legislation. This allowed local government to take certain actions but did not oblige them to. Conservatives said they believed in keeping power local.
One Liberal said that the COnservative did more for the working man in six years than the Liberals had done in 60. He was goading his party to do more.
Queen Victoria found relations with Disraeli easier than with Gladstone.
Every August the Queen would go to Balmoral. Her Scottish estate is privately owned. It became a habit to invite the Prime Minister to stay with her there for a week. Foreign heads of state are not invited. The royal family can relax there.
Queen Victoria found relations easier with Disraeli than with Gladstone. This is surprising given that Gladstone was well got compared to Dizzy Boy. Victoria strove to be neutral as her late husband had urged her to to. The Prince of Wales (the futute Edward VII) is said to have favoured the Conservatives. This is possibly because they seemed more monarchical. Moreover, it seemed sensible to curry favour with them as they appeared to be in the ascendant.
Victoria started some sort of relationship with her ghillie John Brown. A ghillie is a game keeper in Scotland. The nature of this relationship is unclear. Perhaps it was romantic or maybe platonic. The London press heard tell of this. Punch – a satirical magazine – published a court circular. It sent up Queen Victoria by referring to her as ”Mrs Brown.”
Disraeli was ennobled as the Earl of Beaconsfield. This is pronounced ”BEK onz feeld”. This is because Beaconsfield is in his constituency.
The Earl of Beaconsfield had Parliament pass a law granting Queen Victoria the title Empress of India. Some mocked this as pretentious frippery. It underlined that the Conservatives saw imperial might as important and also a vote winner. Victoria never went to India. The idea of a female ruler was more unusual in India than in the British Isles. There had been Indian women who ruled their states such as the Rani of Jhansi. Edward VII (then Prince of Wales) went to India to be crowned on behalf of his mother. The ceremony was called a Durbar. Durbar is an Indian word which can mean ”palace” or ”coronation.”
The Durbar took place not in Calcutta which was then the Indian capital. It occurred in Delhi which was the historic capital of India. The British Raj seemed rock solid. Hundreds of Indian potentates came to pay homage to the son of their empress.
Many new voters were not very reflective. They were swayed by flag waving. A music hall ditty of the time went
”We don’t want to fight/ But by jingo if we do/ We’ve got the men, we’ve got the guns and we’ve got money to/ No, the Russians may not have Constantinople.” This gave rise to the expression ”jingoism” which means an absurd brand of militaristic excessive nationalism.
Constantinople is what we call Istanbul. It was the capital of the Ottoman Empire. It had formerly been a Greek Orthodox Christian city. Moscow was the new seat of the Orthodox Church. Many Russians dreamt of retaking the city for their faith. It would also allow them access to the Mediterranean.
In 1878 the Second Afghan War broke out. There was a British Resident in Kabul – Sir Louis Cavagnari. Cavagnari was partly Italian hence his surname. The United Kingdom had attempted to gain a degree of control over Afghanistan. Many Afghans revolted against this. The British Legation was stormed and Cavagnari was killed. Indian and British troops invaded Afghanistan. The outcome was not decisive but was more favourable to Afghanistan than British India. There was no British resident after 1878.
Russia was prospecting for greater influence in Central Asia. The Russian calls this the tournament of shadows. They would offer arms and money to any ruler who would be their ally. The British were also seeking to gain allies in this region. Britishers called it the Great Game. The Russians were widely seen as being anti-Muslim. The Britishers did not have this hindrance.
In 1878 there was a possibility of a war against Russia in Central Asia. In the end wiser counsels prevailed. In readiness the government moved Indian troops to Malta. This was done since Parliament did not need to be consulted about the deployment of Indian soldiers. SOme joked that if it came to war ”we will send the mild Hindu.”
In 1878 there was an uprising in Bulgaria against the Ottomans. The rebels were defeated. The Ottoman Army went far beyond the usages of civilised warfare. To kill an armed combatant is acceptable. In this case many civilians were killed. No army is perfect but in this case the victors behaved with exceptional cruelty.
News came to the United Kingdom of how many Bulgarian civilians had been wantonly killed. The Conservative Government favoured an amicable relationship with the Ottomans. The Russians were threatening to intervene on the side of their fellow Orthodox Christians who appealed for protection.
Gladstone pronounced himself outraged that the Conservatives should acquiesce in such atrocities. He wrote a pamphlet ”The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East.” The question of the East was about who should dominated Eastern Europe, the Middle East and South Asia.
THE ZULU WAR
In South Africa a new British governor arrived. His name was Sir Bartle Frere. Frere wanted to unite the whole of South Africa under British rule. The Afrikaners (people of Dutch ancestry) ruled their inland republics – the Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic. There were a few native kingdoms.
In January 1879 a Zulu woman had crossed a river into British territory and taken up with a man there who was not her husband. Her husband and sons crossed the river and seized her. They carried her back into Zululand and did her to death.
The British then issued a series of unjustified demands. The Zulu system of conscription and delayed marriage must be abolished. King Ceteshwayo of thew Zulus could not possible agree to such terms. The United Kingdom declared war.
Disraeli lamented that this war was begun by prancing proconsuls. There was still a significant prospect of a war against Russia. He did not want any distractions in Africa.
The British invaded with several thousand foot and horse. Many on the British side were Natal Native Contingent. The NNC were men from tribes who were traditional enemies of the Zulus. They wore the same clothes and used the same weapons as their foes.
In February 1879 the Zulus scored a magnificent victory. Despite having very few firearms they all but destroyed a British Army of over 1 000 men. This was the Battle of Isandhlwana. The British commander, Thesiger, had divided his forces. He had left no cavalry at his camp. He had allowed the camp to be too spread out. He had disregarded advice from Boers (Dutch descended people) who had fought Zulus for decades. They said to have a small perimeter.
Three days later the Zulus crossed into the British province of Natal. They attacked a post called Rorke’s Drift. 100 or so British soldiers defended a very small perimeter. They showed how to defeat the Zulus by being close together. Their intensity of fire was something the spear bearers could not break through.
Thesiger learnt from his mistakes. In future his army moved in close formation. He use gatling guns and rocket tubes. Cavalry would harry and harass the enemy.
After a few months Thesiger was on the brink of victory. Cetshewayo realised that he was being thrashed. He sent cattle in token of reconciliation. Some of his hot head young warriors would not allow this peace offering through. Thesiger marched on Ulundi. This kraal was the Zulu capital. Here his men did much destruction. The Zulus were utterly defeated and their capital was in flames.
Having bested the Zulus the British withdrew. They did not annex Zululand at the stage. It was a British victory but it was not the walkover it should have been. The UK was the world superpower. It had the best military technology of the time. The Zulus had proved their valour. Disraeli commented, ”the Zulus are a remarkable people. They defeat our armies and convert our bishops.”
The Zulu War was mainly forgotten in the UK until the film Zulu was made in 1964.
Cetshewayo was highly regarded in the United Kingdom as a noble adversary. In 1872 he was invited to visit the United Kingdom. He stayed near Holland Park. He dined with Queen Victoria at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. He died two years later.
Thesiger later inherited the title Lord Chelmsford.
Towards the end of 1879 Disraeli was ailing. The Conservative Party was unpopular. The Tories were soon riven by bickering.
The Conservatives lost the 1880 election.