When Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837, she ushered in an era of industrialization and global expansion of the British empire. During the Victorian era, which ended with the queen's death in 1901, Great Britain became the largest imperial power in the world. By the end of her 64-year reign, the U.K. controlled more than 14 million square miles of territory and produced around 30 percent of the world's total industrial output.
The African Land Grab
In the mid- to late-1800s, European powers became obsessed with obtaining territory and colonies on the African continent. Great Britain annexed Aden in 1839 and established colonies in South Africa in 1843. With the occupation of Egypt in 1882, Great Britain aimed to annex more territory in East Africa until British territory connected the Cape of Good Hope to Cairo. European countries with interest in Africa met in Berlin in 1884 to divide the continent among themselves. The Berlin Conference awarded large portions of East Africa to Great Britain, and by 1894 Rhodesia, Nyasaland, British East Africa, Somaliland and the Sudan were under British control. The few colonies Britain maintained in West Africa primarily provided support for the British navy.
Spices and Tea
During the Victorian era, Asia and India were Britain's primary focus for expanding its empire. India was under the private control of the British East India Company until 1857. After protracted conflict, governance of India was officially transferred to the British crown in 1877, with Queen Victoria acquiring the title of Empress of India. Great Britain waged two wars with Afghanistan to protect the northwest border of India, resulting in Afghanistan becoming a semi-protectorate of the crown in 1880. After more conflict, Burma became part of the empire in the 1880s. Further east, the British established control of the Malay peninsula and acquired a lease on Hong Kong from China following the end of the Opium Wars.
The Land Down Under
During Queen Victoria's reign, Great Britain continued to expand its claim to territories in Australia and the Pacific. The country already had officially laid claim to Western Australia in 1829. The New South Wales colony on Australia's east coast was divided into separate colonies during the mid-1800s: South Australia was established in 1836, Victoria in 1851 and Queensland in 1859. British settlers landed in New Zealand in 1840. The colonies originally were administered by New South Wales, but in 1841 New Zealand became a British colony in its own right. British rule extended into the Pacific with the acquisition of the Fiji Islands in 1874 and British New Guinea in 1884. Between 1840 and 1868, the British began phasing out their original practice of shipping convicts to Australia.
The Sun Never Sets
During the Victorian era, it was said the sun never set on the British empire. The country had colonies in the Western Hemisphere as well, mostly Caribbean islands coveted for their run and sugar production. By the end of Queen Victoria's reign, the British West Indies included the island nations of Anguilla, Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Barbuda, Belize, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Turks and Caicos. Given the vast size and complexity of the empire, Great Britain made no effort to rule it as a single political unit. Different territories had different official statuses, and not all were governed directly by the British.
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