What does it take to have cities, lakes, cruise ships, railway stations and even horse drawn carriages named after you? Well, you have to be famous like Queen Victoria!
A state in Australia, a waterfall in Africa, and two provincial capitals in Canada, all are named after Queen Victoria. Pennies, Farthings, Shillings, Pounds and dozens of other types of coins, all have Queen Victoria’s design on them. Even the famous Bombay Sapphire Gin has Queen Victoria’s picture on its label!
What made Queen Victoria so ubiquitous? I thought to myself as I landed in Victoria, the capital of the British Columbia province in Canada.
“Welcome to the city for the newly wed and nearly dead” quipped the taxi driver as he slowed down at the crossing and grinned at me through the rear view mirror.
At first I thought it was a bad joke, and then I noticed a young chattering couple crossing the road, as well as a much older blinking couple on the side-walk. Roughly 1 in 5 people in Victoria is above 65 and it has the highest proportion of people in Canada who are above 80!
Known as the city of gardens, Victoria has everything needed to draw roughly 4 million tourists a year: sunshine, golf all year round, rich history, scenic inner harbor, mountains, a record number of restaurants, and an easy-going pace of life.
Within a few minutes of checking into my downtown hotel, I was out on the street walking towards the inner harbor, passing by the quaint looking shops and galleries, gazing at the old buildings and observing the multi-cultural people of modern Victoria.
Hundreds of people were strolling along the harbor, taking in the view of the boats on one side and the historic Empress Hotel on the other side. One of the restaurants in the Empress Hotel is The Bengal Lounge, decorated in Colonial Indian style, reminiscing the time when Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India.
Located along the harbor is the Emily Carr house with its beautiful flower garden, the Royal BC museum with the IMAX and the tallest totem pole, the iconic British Columbia Parliament buildings with the statue of a young Queen Victoria… reminding one of a bygone era, transporting one back in time! I had first seen the statue of Queen Victoria when I was a kid, at the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, the city which was once the capital of British India. Then later I had seen her statues in many other commonwealth countries. It didn’t strike me then, but now I wondered:
Why was Queen Victoria such a celebrated monarch?
For starters, she had the longest reign in history. She inherited the throne when she was 18 and reigned for more than 63 years until she died in 1901. She married her first cousin Prince Albert, had 9 children who married into various noble families across Europe, thus earning her the nickname “grandmother of Europe”. From Victoria and Albert descended the royal families of Germany, Russia, Spain, Denmark, Greece and Sweden!
There were at least four attempts to assassinate the young Queen. Prince Albert died at the young age of 42 but he influenced the Queen’s thinking and views greatly. She stabilized the British Empire against various threats. Britain became the first industrial power in the world. With industrialization came the mills, the mines and the railways. And this meant jobs for the rising middle class. It had a lasting impact in creating wealth and improving the life of the working class.
Queen Victoria was also a prolific writer. She wrote on average 2500 words each day in her diary, making up 122 volumes of memoirs.
The British Empire expanded under her rule. She was proclaimed Empress of India in 1876. During special occasions, she wore her diamond crown that had more than a thousand diamonds! With all the far flung colonies, the sun never set on the British Empire.
46 years after Queen Victoria died; the sun did set on the British Empire, as the British rule over India ended. Apart from economic reasons, there were many freedom struggles that forced the British to leave, a peaceful movement led by Gandhi, and an armed movement led by Subhash Chandra Bose.
During the last days of the British rule there were many love-hate relationships between the British rulers and the Indian people, as narrated by E M Forster in “A Passage to India” and by Paul Scott in “The Jewel in the Crown”.
India was figuratively one of the “jewels” in the British Crown.
In 1973, there was a super hit Hindi movie called “Victoria No. 203” that featured Saira Banu as the female Victoria carriage driver, disguised as a boy, while there is a mad hunt for stolen diamonds that were hidden in the lamp of the Victoria carriage. The movie is a riot of comedy, song and dance, and suspense.
In the movie, virtue is ultimately rewarded; the stolen diamonds are retrieved and returned to the rightful owners.
In an ironic twist of fate, the same thing happened to the “jewels” in the British Crown. The “jewels” that were stolen and hidden from the world, were rediscovered, and returned to the rightful heirs.