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Record of historical events

Victoria and Albert collected works documenting political and military events

During Queen Victoria’s (1819-1901) lengthy reign, the British Empire encompassed a quarter of the globe. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (1819-61) collected photographs that documented the political and military events that defined this period of global expansion.

The Crimean War of 1854-6 was the largest conflict of the Victorian period. It was fought by an alliance of Britain, France, Turkey and Sardinia against Russia, and centred on the struggle for influence in the Middle East. In March 1855, Roger Fenton (1819-69), a former solicitor and founding member of the Photographic Society, travelled to war-torn Crimea to capture the aftermath of the main battles and create portraits of the troops. A selection of Fenton’s pioneering photographs are shown here.

Britain had attempted to increase its control in Indian economic, cultural and political life from about 1820 onwards. By the mid-19th century, The British East India Company governed two thirds of the subcontinent on Britain’s behalf. In 1857, a large proportion of the Indian army rebelled against the British authorities. This uprising and its aftermath are represented by four photographs shown here relating to the Massacre of Cawnpore. Notable photographs also include a series of photographs by Oscar Mallitte (1829-1905) documenting the Andaman Islands.

Britain’s global expansion was also dependent on the growth of international trade. By 1850, the major export markets were Asia, Europe, and later the United states. In China, the wars of 1839-42 and 1859-60 centred on the ambition to control the opium trade. The Opium Wars are represented here by photographs that show the aftermath of the Battle of Canton, in which the city of Canton (Guangzhou) was captured by British and French soldiers in January 1858.


A woman standing in a military camp in the Crimea

Fenton’s influential photographs of the Crimean conflict showed the impact of war to the public for the first time

Fishing equipment leaning against a wall

Victoria and Albert collected photographs that reflected the social and political changes in India during the late 1850s

A man sits on the steps leading up to a pavilion

Victoria and Albert’s collection of photographs includes works taken in China during the Second Opium War

Large group of people meeting on Kennington Common for the Chartist protest
United Kingdom

Photographs of the Chartist meeting reflect Prince Albert's belief in the power of photography as a historical record


Victoria and Albert’s photograph collection includes works depicting the French Imperial Army