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Watch Empires Queen Victorias Empire online: Episode 4 The Scramble for Africa

In the late, chill spring of 1886, with morning frost still on the ground at eleven, the Queen left Windsor by private train early on May 4 to open the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in South Kensington. Her entourage traveled in state carriages from Paddington, passing excited and cheering crowds. The exhibition stood for everything that W. E. Gladstone, again her prime minister, disliked about British colonial involvement exoticism, exploitation, public expense, and the exaltation of the misnamed White Man s Burden. There was an Indian Hall, and a facsimile native Bazaar, and exhibits from Australia, Canada, Africa, and other red-tinted swatches of the globe. For the public flocking to the exhibition, few of whom had ever traveled more than a handful of miles beyond their homes, the event offered a glimpse of Imperial England across the seas, especially an introduction to the Dark Continent of Africa. For Victoria, who would never venture farther south from England than France and Italy, it was a tactile introduction to the Empire that she would never see, a trip into her imperial fantasies. Leaning upon the Prince of Wales, and upon her oaken walking stick, she progressed through exhibitors in the richest, brigh costumes, was greeted by salaams, and by bands that struck up as she passed them. Then she went on to the Albert Hall for a formal celebration of the occasion, with an ode for the occasion by Lord Tennyson set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan. An Address to the Queen was read by the Prince of Wales, and the Queen replied briefly. Speeches, prayers, and hymns followed, and finally Rule, Britannia, sung with fervor. No one inside the Hall seemed a convert to Gladstone s unpopular doctrine of diminishing Empire.

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