Viewing History in Photos She Ruled One in Four of All Living Souls and Her Territories Covered a Quarter of the Land Surface of the Globe. A Century Later with the British Empire All but Vanished, It Is Easy to Forget How Queen Victoria (1819-1901) Dominated the Victorian Age That Bore Her Name.; the British Century - A Photographic History of the Last Hundred Years . by Brian Moynahan (Seven Dials, Pounds 16.99)
In his fascinating photographic history of the 20th century from a British perspective, historian Brian Moynahan opens with an interesting analysis of the end of the Victorian age.
The Queen, who died in 1901 after surviving many assassination attempts, had been the first monarch to undergo vaccination against smallpox and the first to ease the pains of childbirth with chloroform - both British discoveries. She was also the first monarch to travel by railway when she made the journey from Slough to Paddington in 1842 and the first to send an intercontinental cable with a message from Windsor to Canada.
Moynahan sums up the essence of the Empire as a prodigious self-confidence and illustrates his point with a striking photograph of an Englishman decked out in white suit and boater, relaxing, feet up, reading a book in the Chennakshava Temple in India in 1900, looking as if he owned the place while turbaned Indians stood discreetly nearby, presumably awaiting orders.
"The great subcontinent and its 300 million people were administered by a mere 5,000 members of the Indian Civil Service," writes Moynahan. "The few British battalions were equally outnumbered by the Indian Army.
"The arithmetic demanded that each individual should exude unquestioned supremacy. The borderline between this "natural authority" and outright arrogance was thin; the British Raj's reputation for play and justice was not a luxury, but a necessity."
The other aspect of British globetrotting - exploration - is majestically captured in a haunting photograph of Captain Scott's doomed Antarctica expedition. Dogs pull a sleigh in the shadow of a vast mountain of ice.
"Great God! This is an awful place," wrote Scott and his fears were realised. Alongside a well-expressed historical narrative, the book is filled with interesting facts. Older generations will recall the understated language of the RAF pilots in the Battle of Britain who "pranged" rather than crashed their planes and "went for a Burton" rather than died.
But how many know that the Polish pilots in the RAF averaged 10.5 German planes destroyed for each Polish pilot killed while the ratio was 4.9 for British pilots?
The 1910 shots of three bare-footed children of the slums gazing at a window display of goods they could never afford offers a glimpse of a level of poverty that no longer exists. …