In this war news flew faster than ever it had done before. You heard how Benjamin Franklin found that electricity—that strange power of which lightning is the visible sign—could be carried along upon metal wire. It has since been made out how to make the touch of a magnet at one end of these wires make the other end move so that letters can be pointed to, words spelt out and messages sent to any distance with really the speed of lightning. This is the wonderful electric telegraph, of which you see the wires upon the railway.
VICTORIA. A.D. 1857—1860.
Peace had been made after the Crimean war, and everybody hoped it was going to last, when very sad news came from India. You know I told you the English people had gone to live in India, and had gradually gained more and more lands there, so that they were making themselves rulers and governors over all that great country. They had some of the regiments of the English army to help them to keep up their power, and a great many soldiers besides—Hindoos, or natives of India, who had English officers, and were taught to fight in the English manner. These Hindoo soldiers were called Sepoys. They were not Christians, but were some of them Mahommedans, and some believed in the strange religion of India, which teached people to believe in a great many gods—some of them very savage and cruel ones, according to their stories, and which forbids them many very simple things. One of the things it forbids is the killing a cow, or touching beef, or any part of it.
Now, it seems the Sepoys had grown discontented with the English; and, besides that, there came out a new sort of cartridge—that is, little parcels of powder and shot with which to load fire-arms. The Sepoys took it into their heads that these cartridges had grease in them taken from cows, and that it was a trick on the part of the English to make them break the rules of their religion, and force them to become Christians. In their anger they made a conspiracy together; and, in many of the places in India, they then suddenly turned upon their English officers, and shot them down on their parade ground, and then they went to the houses and killed every white woman and child they could meet with. Some few had very wonderful escapes, and were treated kindly by native friends; and many showed great bravery and piety in their troubles. After that the Sepoys marched away to the city of Delhi, where an old man lived who had once been king, and they set him up to be king, while every English person left in the city was murdered.
The English regiments in India made haste to come into Bengal, to try to save their country-folk who had shut themselves up in the towns or strong places, and were being besieged there by the Sepoys. A great many were in barracks in Cawnpore. It was not a strong place, and only had a mud wall round; but there was a native prince called the Nana Sahib, who had always seemed a friend to the officers—had gone out hunting with them, and invited them to his house. They thought themselves safe near him; but, to their horror, he forgot all this, and joined the Sepoys. The cannon were turned against them, and the Sepoys watched all day the barrack yard where they were shut in, and shot everyone who went for water. At last, after more pain and misery than we can bear to think of, they gave themselves up to the Nana, and horrible to tell, he killed them all. The men were shot the first day, and the women and little children were then shut up in a house, where they were kept for a night. Then the Nana heard that the English army was coming, and in his fright and rage he sent in his men, who killed everyone of them, and threw their bodies into a deep well. The English came up the next day, and were nearly mad with grief and anger. They could not lay hands on the Nana, but they punished all the people he employed; and they were so furious that they hardly showed any mercy to another Sepoy after that dreadful sight.
There were some more English holding out in the city of Lucknow, and they longed to go to their relief; but first Delhi, where the old king was, had to be taken; and, as it was a very strong place, it was a long time before it was conquered; but at last the gates of the city were blown up by three brave men, and the whole army made their way in. More troops had been sent out from England to help their comrades, and they were able at last to march to Lucknow. There, week after week, the English soldiers, men of business, ladies, soldier's wives, and little children, had bravely waited, with the enemy round, and shot so often coming through the buildings that they had chiefly to live in the cellars; and the food was so scanty and bad, that the sickly people and the little babies mostly died; and no one seemed able to get well if once he was wounded. Help came at last. The brave Sir Colin Campbell, who had been sent out from home, brought the army to their rescue, and they were saved. The Sepoys were beaten in every fight; and at last the terrible time of the mutiny was over, and India quiet again.
In 1860, the queen and all the nation had a grievous loss in the death of the good Prince Consort, Albert, who died of a fever at Windsor Castle, and was mourned for by everyone, as if he had been a relation or friend. He left nine children, of whom the eldest, Victoria, the Princess Royal, was married to the Prince of Prussia. He had done everything to help forward improvements; and the country only found out how wise and good he was after he was taken away.
Pains began to be taken to make the great towns healthier. It is true that the plague has never come to England since the reign of Charles II., but those sad diseases, cholera and typhus fever, come where people will not attend to cleanliness. The first time the cholera came was in the year 1833, under William IV.; and that was the last time of all, because it was a new disease, and the doctors did not know what to do to cure it. But now they understand it much better—both how to treat, and, what is better, how to keep it away; and that is by keeping everything sweet and clean.
VICTORIA. A.D. 1860—1872.
One more chapter, which, however, does not finish the history of good Queen Victoria, and these Stories of the History of England will be over.
All the nation rejoiced very much when the queen's eldest son, Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, married Alexandra, daughter to the king of Denmark. Her father and mother brought her to England, and the prince met her on board ship in the mouth of the Thames; and there was a most beautiful and joyous procession through London. When they were married the next day, in St. George's Chapel at Windsor, the whole of England made merry, and there were bonfires on every hill, and illuminations in every town, so that the whole island was glowing with brightness all that Spring evening.
There is a country in Abyssinia, south of Egypt. The people there are Christians, but they have had very little to do with other nations, and have grown very dull and half savage; indeed they have many horrid and disgusting customs, and have forgotten all the teaching that would have made them better. Of late years there had been some attempt to wake them up and teach them; and they had a clever king named Theodore, who seemed pleased and willing to improve himself and his nation. He allowed missionaries to come and try to teach his people what Christianity means a little better than they knew before, and invited skilled workmen to come and teach his people. They came; but not long after Theodore was affronted by the English Government, and shut them all up in prison. Messages were sent to insist upon his releasing them, but he did not attend or understand; and at last an army was sent to land on the coast from the east, under General Napier, and march to his capital, which was called Magdala, and stood on a hill.
General Napier managed so well that there was no fighting on the road. He came to the gates of Magdala, and threatened to fire upon it if the prisoners were not given up to him. He waited till the time was up, and then caused his troops to begin the attack. The Abyssinians fled away, and close by one of the gates Theodore was found lying dead, shot through. No one is quite sure whether one of his servants killed him treacherously, or whether he killed himself in his rage and despair. England did not try to keep Abyssinia though it was conquered; but it was left to the royal family whom Theodore had turned out, and Theodore's little son, about five years old, was brought to England; but, as he could not bear the cold winter, he was sent to a school in India.
This, which was in the year 1868, was the last war the English have had. There has been fighting all round and about in Europe, especially a great war between France and Prussia in 1870; but the only thing the English had to do with that, was the sending out of doctors and nurses, with all the good things for sick people that could be thought of, to take care of all the poor wounded on both sides, and lessen their suffering as much as possible. They all wore red crosses on their sleeves, and put up a red-cross flag over the houses where they were taking care of the sick and wounded, and then no one on either side fired upon them.
An Act of Parliament has given the right to vote, at the election of the House of Commons, to much poorer men than used to have it. It is to be hoped that they will learn to use wisely this power of helping to choose those who make the laws and govern the country. To give them a better chance of doing so, a law has been made that no child shall be allowed to grow up without any teaching at all, but that those who are too poor to pay for their own schooling shall be paid for by the State, and that their parents shall be obliged to send them. The great thing is to learn to know and do one's duty. If one only learns to be clever with one's head, without trying to be good at the same time, it is of very little use. But I hope you will try to mind your duty—first to God and then to man; and if you do that, God will prosper you and bless you.