When Queen Victoria became Empress of India

During the Victorian Age, the British Empire was growing. Britain’s power and influence was spreading around the world. Britain believed in its superiority to the natives, or savages, as they were often called. The British saw themselves as spreading culture and knowledge, not as occupiers of someone else's land. The text below describes an official ceremony to proclaim Queen Victoria as Empress of India in 1877.

Victoria Memorial, Kolkata, India Victoria Memorial, Kolkata, India

Tasks

  1. Find out if that attitude can be found in the tone of the text. Give examples.
  2. When the writer says; ‘It is difficult to overrate the political importance of this great gathering. It was looked upon by most of the ruling chiefs as …an evidence of Her Majesty's increased interest in, and appreciation of, the vast Empire of India with its many different races and peoples,’ he is speaking from a British standpoint. What do you think some of the Indian officials were thinking?
  3. The text below is more than 130 years old, and some of the words may strike you as very old-fashioned. Choose one or two paragraphs from the text and rewrite it as a news text for a modern-day newspaper. Think carefully about what sort of changes you have to make in order to pass it off as a modern text. Is it enough to change some of the words?


Field Marshal Robert's report

The first of January, 1877, saw the Queen proclaimed Empress of India. The ceremony was most imposing, and in every way successful. Three tented pavilions had been constructed on an open plain. In front of this was the pavilion for the ruling chiefs and high European officials, in the form of a semicircle eight hundred feet long. The canopy was of Star of India blue-and-white satin embroidered in gold, each pillar being surmounted by an imperial crown. Behind the throne was the stand for the spectators, also in the form of a semicircle divided in the middle, and likewise canopied in brilliant colours. Between these two blocks was the entrance to the area.


Each chief and high official sat beneath his own banner, which was planted immediately behind his chair, and they were all mixed up as much as possible to avoid questions of precedence, the result being the most wonderful mass of colour, produced from the intermingling of British uniforms and plumes with gorgeous Eastern costumes, set off by a blaze of diamonds and other precious stones.


All the British troops brought to Delhi for the occasion were paraded to the north, and the troops and retainers belonging to the native chiefs to the south, of the pavilion. Guards of honour were drawn up on either side of the throne, and at each opening by which the ruling chiefs were to enter the pavilion.


The guests being all seated, a flourish of trumpets by the heralds exactly at noon announced the arrival of the Viceroy. The military bands played a march, and Lord Lytton, accompanied by Lady Lytton, their daughters, and his staff, proceeded to the pavilion. His Excellency took his seat upon the throne, arrayed in his robes as Grand Master of the Star of India, the National Anthem was played, the guards of honour presented arms while the whole of the vast assemblage rose as one man. The chief herald was then commanded to read the proclamation. A flourish of trumpets was again sounded, and Her Majesty was proclaimed Empress of India.


When the chief herald had ceased reading, the royal standard was hoisted, and a salute of one hundred and one salvos of artillery was fired…This was too much for the elephants… they became more and more alarmed, and at last scampered off, dispersing the crowd in every direction. When it ceased, they were quieted and brought back by their mahouts, only to start off again when the firing recommenced; but, as it was a perfectly bare plain, without anything for the great creatures to come in contact with, there was no harm done beyond a severe shaking to their riders. As the sound of the last salvo died away, the Viceroy addressed the assemblage. When he had ceased speaking, the assembly again rose en masse and joined the troops in giving several ringing cheers.


It is difficult to overrate the political importance of this great gathering. It was looked upon by most of the ruling chiefs as … an evidence of Her Majesty's increased interest in, and appreciation of, the vast Empire of India with its many different races and peoples.

(By Field Marshal Lord Roberts)