TEN OF THE GREATEST; Victorian Icons; LIVE FOR LISTS

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), March 14, 2010 | Go to article overview

TEN OF THE GREATEST; Victorian Icons; LIVE FOR LISTS


Byline: by JEREMY PAXMAN Journalist, author and television presenter

1 QUEEN VICTORIA 1819-1901

Let's not pretend the achievements in the age of Queen Victoria (right) were her creation. But she was lucky enough to take the throne in 1837, as Britain was entering its greatest years. Our present queen has had the reverse experience, and presided over an era in which the Union Flag has been run down all over the world. It's not her fault, and nor was Britain's greatness Victoria's doing. But she at least knew her limits. Indeed, for much of her reign, after Prince Albert died, she was virtually invisible. But you cannot begin to make a list of eminent Victorians without including her.

2 GENERAL GORDON 1833-1885

George W Joy's painting (right) of Charles George Gordon's last moments, standing on the steps of the palace in Khartoum, about to be speared to death by a group of Islamist warriors in 1885, once hung on classroom walls across the land, an almost Christ-like impression of sacrifice. Gordon was apparently fearless and deeply religious, but he was also almost impossible to work with and slightly nuts. He died after holding out in Khartoum for over 300 days, a calamity seized on by the media to wind the British up into a fury for vengeance. Not for the first time, politicians bent the knee to press frenzy and eventually sent Kitchener to mow down the rebels and lop offthe head of their leader.

3 WT STEAD 1849-1912

One of the greatest newspaper editors of all time. At the Pall Mall Gazette, Stead (left) whipped up demands to have General Gordon sent to Khartoum (see No 2). More useful were his campaigns for better housing for the poor, a universal right to vote, freedom for Ireland and better working conditions. His most famous crusade, in which he 'bought' a 13-year-old chimney-sweep's daughter for [pounds sterling]5 to expose the extent of child prostitution, landed him in jail. Like Gordon, Stead was slightly unhinged, believing he was receiving messages from the spirit world which he passed on through 'magic writing'. Last seen leading a group of women and children to a lifeboat on the Titanic.

4 SIR HENRY BESSEMER 1813-1898

Ask anyone to name a Victorian engineer, ten-to-one they'll say Brunel, not Bessemer (left). But without the discovery of how to massproduce mild steel by blowing air through his Bessemer Converter, it would have been impossible to manufacture ships, bridges and railways. Not all his ideas worked. Suffering from sea-sickness, he designed a paddlesteamer with a swinging saloon to always keep passengers perfectly upright. The SS Bessemer turned out to be unsteerable and demolished Calais Pier, also laying waste to his business plans.

5 JULIA M CAMERON 1815-1879

If you haven't seen the pioneering photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron (right), you've missed a treat. Although she didn't take up a camera until she was nearly 50 - and her portraits are now getting on for 150 years old - they could still teach professionals a lesson or two. Browning, Tennyson, Darwin and Ellen Terry, the great Shakespearean actress of the age, were among the subjects who sat for her. …

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