In foreign affairs, the most important fact of the Victorian Age was the consolidation of an Empire which stretched from Canada in the West to New Zealand in the East, and covered nearly a fifth of the world’s land area. Goods from the countries of the Empire poured into Britain to be sold on to other countries at a huge profit.
The heart of the British Empire was India. Traders sold Indian tea, spices, silk and cotton to other countries, and made great profits. Africa was the last continent to be colonised. The African colonies provided cocoa, coffee, wood (especially teak and mahogany) and, above all, gold and diamonds. It was not long before southern African became Britain’s chief imperial jewel, but this “jewel” proved immensely expensive because Britain was involved in costly wars with the Dutch settlers, the Boers and these wars put great strand on the financial system.
The Empire was not easy to control, and sometimes Britain had to yield to the demands of the colonies. To avoid rebellion several colonies were granted self-government (1846-49); the next stage saw the exchange more colonies into dominions – autonomous communities within the British Empire, united by a common allegiance to the Crown.
The Boer Wars (1880-81, 1899-1902) not only showed the weaknesses of the Empire; they also demonstrated that Europe had taken the part of the Boers against Britain, while Germany was emerging as a potent threat. The policy of “splendid isolation” was coming to a close, and the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 marked the end of an era of British history.