1851 - 1860



March 30: Second full British Census – improvements in data compared with the first

On May 1, 1851, Queen Victoria opened a vast exhibition of "the Works of Industry of all Nations" in the specially constructed Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London. Inspired and organised chiefly by her beloved husband, Prince Albert, the Great Exhibition, as it became known, was a showcase for the achievements of progress and the Industrial Revolution, but also for Britain’s manufacturing strength and imperial might. Some six million visitors saw the different stands of the participating nations, the exhibits were judged by international juries (with most of the prizes going to Britain). The Crystal Palace itself, designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, was an innovative and influential construction of iron and glass; it was subsequently dismantled and rebuilt in Sydenham, south-east London, where a fire destroyed it in 1936. The income from the Exhibition helped pay for other new educational ventures such as London’s museums in South Kensington and the Royal Albert Hall. The Great Exhibition lasted until October, and marked the beginning of Britain’s High Victorian period of progress and confidence, epitomising Victorian faith in technology, education, and commercial wealth.

Photography is popularised by introduction of "wet collodion" process

Gold discovered in Australia



First voyage of 'Great Britain' to Australia



September 14: Allied armies land in Crimea

Cigarettes introduced into Britain 

In 1854 Florence Nightingale, an English nurse, organised a group of 38 nurses to serve in the Crimean War. When she arrived at the British hospital at Üsküdar, in Turkey, she found that more soldiers were dying from disease than bullets. She introduced sanitary regulations, ordered a healthy diet for the troops, and provided clean linen. As a result, the death rate fell from 45 per cent to 2 per cent. Upon returning to England, she established a nursing school in 1860. In 1907 Nightingale became the first woman to receive the British Order of Merit.



January 1: Registration of births, marriages & deaths made compulsory in Scotland

First London pillar boxes

Cellulose nitrate, first synthetic plastic material, invented by Alexander Parkes



Transatlantic cable laid

London postal districts introduced


the Indian soldiers (sepoys) serving in the Bengal army of the British East India Company mutinied against their British masters. 



January: Legally proved Wills start to be entered into an index (Eng & W) – taken out of ecclesiastical jurisdiction

January 31: 'Great Eastern' launched

East India Company dissolved



Charles Darwin published a book commonly known as On The Origin of Species, one of the most influential books ever written. In this and a subsequent volume, The Descent of Man (1871), Darwin set out his theory of evolution by natural selection, which held that the complex life forms we see today developed from simpler organisms and, most controversially, that human beings themselves were descended from the apes. 

From his study of the birds and animals of the Galápagos Islands, and many other observations he had made during his voyages around the world on the HMS Beagle, Darwin boldly suggested that species slowly change through a process called natural selection. According to this process, some of the naturally occurring variations within a species provide advantages for the survival of the animal or plant concerned (for example, a particular colouring may provide better camouflage against predators). Greater numbers of such advantaged creatures are likely to survive, passing on the same trait to their offspring. Eventually, most of the population of the species would consist of individuals with the advantageous trait. A change in environment would result in different traits proving advantageous. By this means, Darwin argued, species are constantly evolving to become better suited to their environment. Darwin's insight is all the more remarkable for the relatively small amount of evidence on which it was based. Subsequently, much more evidence has accumulated to support the theory.