The first full decade of the Victorian Era, the 1840s, saw a wave of changes that would shake the United Kingdom and the British Empire forever. From new governments at home to new territory abroad, Britain as we know it was fundamentally altered every year. New stories and doctrines found their ways to print, not only shaping the country but the rest of the world. Truly, 1841 to 1850 was a revolutionary time in many respects, only ten of which we have outlined here. We have included a major event from each year below and if you think we left something out, you can let us know in the comments.
1841 – Robert Peel’s Second Government
An economic recession saw the Conservative Party win a sweeping majority in 1841, bringing Sir Robert Peel back into power for his second term as Prime Minister. Peel’s government saw a wide array of economic reforms including income tax, child labor laws, and lowing food costs. Peel’s progressive attitude ended up causing Benjamin Disraeli and other Tories to vote him out as leader in 1846 for Lord John Russell.
1842 – First Peacetime Income Tax
Prior to 1842, income tax in the United Kingdom had been restricted to times of war, with the last income tax expiring after the Napoleonic Wars. Peel’s government introduced the first peacetime income tax of 3% which helped raise enough revenue to abolish some tariffs. While proposed as a temporary measure, it ended up being continual (and in fact, it has to be renewed in Parliament every year).
1843 – Annexation of Sind
Part of modern Pakistan, Sind became a part of British India in 1843 through military action led by Major General Charles Napier. It became part of the Bombay Presidency and the Sind Province in 1936.
1844 – Daniel O’Connell Found Guilty of Conspiracy
Daniel O’Connell, also known as “The Liberator,” was a major figure in the fight for Irish Catholic emancipation for most of his life. An MP for Clare, in 1843, he gave a speech to a large crowd at the Hill of Tara and had planned to give another speech at Clontarf, but the British government had him arrested on charges of conspiracy. He was found guilty in 1844 and served three months of a twelve-month sentence. His health deteriorated afterward and the cause of Irish freedom fell to other groups.
1845 – Potato Famine
Otherwise known as the Great Famine or the Irish Potato Famine, this devastating ecological, economic, and humanitarian event was caused by an infestation that ruined one-half of the crops. It was made worse by absentee landlords, merchants, and the British government which cared more for keeping the economy afloat than feeding the starving Irish population. Roughly 1 million people died and another 1.5 million left the country, reducing Ireland’s population by 20-25%. The population of Ireland still hasn’t fully recovered. Many historians argue that it was a genocide.
1846 – Corn Laws Repealed
The Corn Laws were tariffs that were imposed on imported corn and food from about 1815 to 1846. In the latter year, Robert Peel pushed for the repeal of the tariffs as a believer in free trade. Despite opposition from his own party, the Corn Laws repeal passed and the price of bread and other foodstuffs plummeted. However, it also cost Peel his leadership.
1847 – Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre Published
The Brontes are one of the most famous literary families around and in 1847, two of its leading figures, Emily and Charlotte, published their respective works of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. The books were almost immediately well-received and have become cornerstones of most literary curriculums around the world.
1848 – Community Manifesto Published
Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels were two German philosophers and political activists who were living in the UK when they wrote and published the Communist Manifesto in 1848. The twenty-three-page pamphlet was initially published anonymously and later expanded to thirty pages. It was mostly obscure as a document until 1872 as Marx became a more prominent socialist figure, ultimately leading to its adoption in several countries including Russia and China in the early 20th Century. This one little document had a hugely negative impact on world history in the 20th century.
1849 – Annexation of Punjab
The end of the Second Anglo-Sikh War saw the defeat of the Sikh Empire at the Battle of Gujrat and the annexation of the Punjab region of modern-day India into the British Empire under the British East India Company. The region, and the rest of British India, would fall under the direct rule of the Crown in 1858 and remain so until 1947.
1850 – Don Pacifico Affair
The Don Pacifico Affair was a major international diplomatic incident that took place between the United Kingdom, Greece, and Portugal in 1850. David Pacifico, also known as Don Pacifico, was a British national born in Gibraltar but served as consul-general for the Portuguese government in Athens. He then became a merchant and after his house was burned down by an anti-Semitic mob, he petitioned the Greek government for compensation and got the British government involved, who in turn sent a naval blockade to Greece to get that government to concede. This take on foreign policy massively increased the influence of the British Empire and allowed successive governments to intercede when they felt British citizens were threatened.