Age of Empire Seven Ages of Britain


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Age of Empire

The story of Britain revealed through its art and treasures. David Dimbleby travels through Britain, America and India, tracing the British Empire from 1750 to 1900.


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BIG BEN CHIMES

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This was once the heart of the British Empire.

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It used to house the India Office and the Colonial Office.

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Between them, they ruled a quarter of the globe.

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Today, the British Empire is long gone.

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But hidden away at the top of a staircase

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is a work of art from 1778

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that brings back the spirit of that age.

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This is a painting called Britannia Receiving The Riches Of The East.

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And it shows Britannia sitting on a rock with the British lion beneath her,

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receiving various gifts -

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a string of pearls,

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a casket of jewels,

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a great porcelain vase,

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a tea chest

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and a bale of cotton.

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Britannia's receiving these gifts as though she's entitled to them,

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as though it were her birthright.

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Not a view we hold today, and perhaps that's one reason

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why it's hidden away in the Foreign Office, where few visitors can see it.

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But it does give us an insight into the era -

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the development of the British Empire

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with a kind of spirit of adventure and opportunity -

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even though we know today that there was a darker side

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as Britain tried, by force, to impose its will on the unwilling.

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In the middle of the 18th century,

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with naval and commercial victories overseas,

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Britain was entering a new imperial era.

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It drew us into a different way of thinking about the world,

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led from the top by the Royal Family, the figureheads of the nation.

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Here at Kew, in a modest, even homely fashion,

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King George III and Queen Charlotte raised their large family.

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But there was nothing modest about what they taught their children.

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At the heart of the palace is a very special children's toy.

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This is a tiny, elegant cabinet, very small.

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But it contains the whole world.

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When you open it, take out the drawers,

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what's revealed is one of the very first jigsaw puzzles ever made.

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And it shows a map of the world.

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It was used to teach the children geography.

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And I'm going to see if I can put it together,

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which is not easy, because, unlike modern jigsaws,

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which have their sort of interlocking pieces, this doesn't.

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It's almost completely shapeless.

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The shapes are the shapes of the countries.

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So you have to know where each country goes,

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and, what's more, it's all written in French.

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So you have to speak French as well.

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Er...

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Hmm. Ah!

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Ethiopia, I think.

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Wait a moment. Somalia...

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Don't think my geography's that bad.

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Where's this thing go?

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I can't read that one.

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Can you read that one?

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The infant Prince of Wales poring over this puzzle

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pieced together strange countries and continents.

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When the jigsaw was complete,

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the young prince could look at all the lands that he would inherit -

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Great Britain, Ireland,

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the east coast of America,

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but not the part to the west -

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"Partie inconnues", "Unknown part" -

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bits of the Caribbean,

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down here, parts of West Africa, the Gold Coast...

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...parts of India.

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But interestingly, not Australia and New Zealand,

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because when this jigsaw was made, they hadn't yet been discovered.

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That was still to come.

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In his lifetime, he would add those two great chunks to his Empire.

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What an enticing prospect the whole thing must have seemed!

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British explorers crossed the oceans,

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claiming new territories in the name of the King.

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At the heart of Britain's naval exploits

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was Greenwich.

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It's here that our great seafaring heroes are celebrated -

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Horatio Nelson,

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Sir Walter Raleigh

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and, of course, Captain James Cook.

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Captain Cook was one of our greatest explorers.

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In three daring, magnificent voyages, he crisscrossed the world,

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finding things that were unknown in Europe at the time -

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new peoples, new species,

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new islands, new countries,

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new continents even.

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The very names of his ships -

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Endeavour, Resolution,

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Adventure, Discovery -

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send a chill down the spine.

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Cook's expeditions weren't just undertaken by rough sailors.

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He also travelled with scientists, with botanists

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and with artists.

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This room is hung with the paintings

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of one of the artists who accompanied Cook on his voyages -

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William Hodges.

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They're the holiday snaps of Cook's journeys,

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and pretty sensational they are.

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In the 1770s,

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Hodges' canvases changed Britain's understanding of the world.

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People were thrilled to see for the first time

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the far-flung lands of the Pacific.

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This big canvas is the most exciting of all Hodges' paintings

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and it shows a true and really terrifying event

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on one of Cook's voyages.

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He was sailing in the Resolution when it got caught in a terrible storm,

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described by one of his officers

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as great black clouds coming up from the horizon,

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the wind blowing in all directions

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and, worst of all, these.

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The waterspouts - four waterspouts - great columns of water.

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This one all turbulent, lifting up into the sky.

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And the officer described how they had to shorten sail quickly,

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furl all their sails,

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and try and claw their way off the land to avoid going onto the rocks.

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But what's really striking about this painting

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isn't just that it's a picture of a terrifying incident.

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It's these figures down here that Hodges has painted in.

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A half-naked woman with a child

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and a man standing on the rocks with his hand up, almost in benediction,

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some say looking like Moses showing the way to the Promised Land

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or parting the waters to make a safe passage for Resolution.

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Hodges is saying this is much more than just a dangerous journey.

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There's something mystical about this, about the triumph of man over nature.

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This is an epic voyage

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with Captain Cook as its hero.

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The spirit of adventure didn't just inspire great explorers.

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In their wake came thousands of people

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wanting to escape Britain in search of opportunity.

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These British didn't leave home just to conquer unknown lands.

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They wanted to settle, to make a new life.

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Ever since the 17th century,

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for those brave enough to make the journey,

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America had seemed a thrilling new world offering prosperity and freedom,

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ideals which remain at the heart of the American Dream.

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Ah! Looks like a dog's breakfast. MAN LAUGHS

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Thanks very much.

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Oh, it's nice and warm, anyway.

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Three bucks.

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-Great. Thank you.

-Enjoy.

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Philadelphia's one of the great American cities

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and it's remarkable, because it was the vision of one man,

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an Englishman, William Penn.

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He was a Quaker, a religious sect which was persecuted in Britain.

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He himself had been imprisoned.

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And he came over here to seek freedom

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and founded Penn...sylvania.

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And, for that matter, this great city of Philadelphia -

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the Greek for "the city of brotherly love".

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And now the city of the Philly cheesesteak.

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Don't know which end to start at.

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HE CHUCKLES

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The figure of William Penn still dominates the city of Philadelphia.

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Penn wanted to make this a place of tolerance,

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a place where all religious sects could flourish

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without fear of persecution,

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equal in the eyes of God.

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Throughout the 18th century,

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the British settlers built on Penn's ideals

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of living in harmony together.

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Central to this was architecture.

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Following Penn's guidelines,

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Old City, Philadelphia, was built with wide streets,

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healthy open spaces,

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uniform, regimented houses -

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all built on simple geometric lines.

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Perfect harmony - in stone.

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But lurking behind this ideal was an inconvenient truth -

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that the great city of freedom

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was built on land that had belonged to Native Americans.

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Many of my people were forced out of the region

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by the mid-1700s, late 1700s.

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The majority of us were forced further west.

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Those that remained had to basically hide in plain sight...

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without the rights that we had

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in dealing in British courts, even under William Penn.

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It was a difficult time and it's been a difficult time.

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What's your feeling about Penn?

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He was a man trying to live out his faith,

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to build an ideal situation here in Pennsylvania.

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But for us to live together

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meant that we did not impose our wills on each other.

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That was not necessarily the way

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that even Penn, in all of his benevolence, seemed to view it.

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It was living in peace under his government,

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under the British Crown,

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and that was something that was foreign to us.

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It didn't suit the settlers' image of themselves

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to think they'd simply stolen their land from somebody else.

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So much so that one Pennsylvanian-born artist,

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Benjamin West, created a fantasy around the founding of the colony.

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At the centre of the picture is William Penn himself

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in Quaker dress, a rather portly figure.

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There are merchants here - colonialists -

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offering gifts to the Native Americans.

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The Chief there and, sitting in a circle, the sort of elders of the tribe.

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This painting became an instant bestseller.

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That's to say it was reproduced

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and hung in hundreds of American homes.

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And the reason was that it gave a portrait of Empire

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which the settlers wanted to see.

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So the whole scene is one of perfect harmony.

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Not of an empire or a colony being established by force and violence,

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which, of course, happened,

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but of agreement between the people who lived here

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and the people who were coming in,

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and the assumption that each had something to offer the other.

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An ideal portrait,

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a perfect picture of what Empire could be.

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It wasn't long before the settlers were confident enough

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not to need the motherland.

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In 1776, America declared its independence from Britain,

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and war broke out between them.

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For eight years, the country was drenched in blood,

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a defining moment in its history

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and an enduring inspiration for its art.

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Against all expectations,

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the British Crown was defeated by its own colony.

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One finely crafted object

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marks the transformation of America into a new nation.

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This is the Liberty Bell,

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a symbol as powerful for America

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as the White House or the Statue of Liberty.

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It was originally cast in memory of William Penn and his ideals

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by the state of Pennsylvania.

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It was actually made not here, but in London.

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It developed this famous crack,

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which means it can never now be rung.

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And it had this inscription put on it -

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"Proclaim liberty...

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"throughout all the land

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"unto all the inhabitants thereof."

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A quotation from the Bible.

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Tradition has it that when the American Declaration of Independence from Britain

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was signed here in Philadelphia,

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with its commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,

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this bell rang out to mark the occasion.

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Back in Britain,

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many felt the loss of America was a national humiliation.

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They were determined the same thing shouldn't happen again.

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Britain's focus now moved to the East

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and to its interests in India.

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During two centuries of trade,

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Britain had grown rich on the spoils of India.

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Its art and treasure were prized for their rare, exotic beauty.

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But as Britain tried to extend its power, from trading partner to ruler,

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it met resistance.

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In a storeroom of the Victoria and Albert Museum

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is an object that instilled fear in British hearts.

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This is Tipu's Tiger.

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It was made for Tipu Sultan,

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the ruler of Mysore in southern India,

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who was the thorn in the flesh of the British.

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He hated them, fought them all the time,

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and they feared him.

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His emblem was the tiger.

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He once said,

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"I'd rather live two days as a tiger than 200 years as a sheep."

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And he had this extraordinary toy made.

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It's a kind of toy for adults.

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Now, what happens is, if I wind the handle,

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the tiger apparently lets out a fearsome growl.

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And the figure here, who is a European,

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screams in terror and agony.

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I'll just put my hand there to stop it from falling

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and start the winding. Here we go.

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HOOTING

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LAUGHS

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HOOTING

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I think that's the scream!

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Where's the growl?

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STRONGER HOOT Ooh!

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That was the growl of the tiger.

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HOOTING It's brilliant!

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In 1799, Tipu Sultan was finally defeated

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and met his death at the hands of the British.

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The tiger was taken from his palace and brought to London,

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where it was put on display.

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The message was clear.

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If we didn't want India to go the same way as America,

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we had to start taking our responsibilities in the Empire seriously.

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Like the tiger, India had to be tamed.

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Today, Calcutta is the poorest but also the most vibrant

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of all India's great cities.

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It's a place of nonstop energy and excitement,

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where life is lived on the streets.

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In the 18th century,

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Calcutta was a power base for British traders.

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From the first, they were astonished and bewitched

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by the sights, the sounds, the smells of India.

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They even started adopting Indian customs.

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Wearing Indian clothes.

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In fact, acting more Indian than British.

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MUSIC DROWNS SPEECH

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But as a new century dawned,

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this easy mingling between cultures came to an abrupt end.

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A new Governor-General was appointed to impose British control over India,

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Richard Wellesley.

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There was no danger of Wellesley going native.

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He despised the way the British and the Indians mixed.

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He actually thought of the Indian people as depraved.

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And he didn't want to be just the leader of a great trading company,

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he actually wanted to be a ruler.

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And in keeping with these imperial ambitions,

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he built himself a new residence - Government House.

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The grandeur of Government House was designed to intimidate India.

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At the end of this ceremonial route came the throne room.

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And here the Governor-General sat in state, like a king.

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Wellesley was the first Governor-General

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to have a throne made for himself - of solid silver,

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supported by lions, for Britain, on each end.

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And what an impression it must have made when visitors came here.

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They must have felt, as they approached the throne,

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the might of British power.

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At the back of this great house

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is an area given over to busts of Roman emperors.

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150 years' worth of Roman rule.

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Julius Caesar is here.

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Augustus.

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Even Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned.

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The implication is obvious -

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Wellesley saw himself as their successor,

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part of their tradition.

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And if Wellesley was a Caesar, Britain was Rome.

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Throughout the 19th century,

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Calcutta was transformed into an imperial city,

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where size mattered.

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There were to be great churches.

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A Gothic-style cathedral.

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An imposing law court.

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Grand mansions and villas.

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Even the post office exuded authority and power.

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And it wasn't just the buildings.

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The whole British way of life was imported.

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Even our national sport.

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It's a nice bat.

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Very slow, cos I shall miss it otherwise.

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ALL CHEER LAUGHS: Try one more.

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I haven't played this for 50 years. One more?

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ALL CHEER I'm running.

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Thank you very much.

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Thank you so much.

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The new imperialists saw India through blinkers.

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A fascinating world,

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but one from which they would remain separate.

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This detachment was reflected in the art of the time.

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People in Britain

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were very curious about what India was like.

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What was it that drew people here?

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And it wasn't long

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before professional painters started coming out here to Calcutta

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and began painting scenes.

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And what they drew was interesting,

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because it wasn't quite the exotic, vibrant, colourful India

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that we know now.

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It was a rather quieter, paler version of India,

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as though they didn't want to upset people back home

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by suggesting it was too turbulent and a difficult life here.

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There was a lot of attention paid to the fine details of buildings...

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to pale horizons and trees.

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It was, in a way, India... but without the Indians.

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By the middle of the 19th century,

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the British were wondering how to develop their Empire.

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And they came up with an idea,

0:30:490:30:51

which a civil servant at the time described as

0:30:510:30:53

"creating a monument that would exceed in grandeur

0:30:530:30:56

"the aqueducts of Rome, the pyramids of Egypt

0:30:560:30:59

"and the Great Wall of China".

0:30:590:31:01

He meant the railway.

0:31:010:31:04

Calcutta's Howrah Station.

0:31:100:31:13

Built in 1851,

0:31:130:31:15

it's one of the busiest in India,

0:31:150:31:17

used by three-quarters of a million passengers a day.

0:31:170:31:21

Railway mania in India

0:31:470:31:49

meant that 25,000 miles of railway was laid in just 50 years.

0:31:490:31:54

It meant that a journey from Calcutta to Delhi,

0:31:540:31:56

which by road in 1800 would have taken six weeks,

0:31:560:32:00

by 1900 took under a day.

0:32:000:32:03

And, of course, it meant a huge improvement in efficiency, in trade

0:32:030:32:08

and in control of the country.

0:32:080:32:10

WHISTLE BLOWS

0:32:120:32:14

The Empire was now able to reach even the most remote regions of India.

0:32:250:32:30

The state of Rajasthan seems unchanged by time.

0:32:490:32:54

It's a place rich in folklore, where life is still bound by tradition.

0:32:550:33:01

-Ram! Ram!

-Ram! Ram!

0:33:060:33:07

Can I climb on?

0:33:070:33:09

I'll go round.

0:33:100:33:11

Oh!

0:33:120:33:14

OK.

0:33:150:33:17

Ooh!

0:33:190:33:20

OK, let's...

0:33:250:33:27

Ooh! Ah! Oh!

0:33:270:33:31

Let's go.

0:33:310:33:33

I'm on my rather ungainly way

0:33:410:33:43

to a place where it's possible to discover

0:33:430:33:46

how Indians in the 19th century viewed the British.

0:33:460:33:51

This region was the home of rich Indian merchants

0:33:580:34:02

who travelled throughout the country.

0:34:020:34:05

On their return home,

0:34:150:34:17

they paid for their houses to be transformed

0:34:170:34:20

into spectacular works of art.

0:34:200:34:23

Every big house in the town of Mandawa was decorated with frescoes.

0:34:380:34:44

But look closely and you can see some very bizarre images.

0:34:440:34:49

They were inspired

0:34:520:34:54

by the Indian merchants' dealings with the British.

0:34:540:34:57

With these frescoes, the people of Mandawa

0:35:020:35:05

had come up with a way of depicting their rulers.

0:35:050:35:09

These exuberant paintings

0:35:170:35:19

weren't done by artists who were shipped in, professionals,

0:35:190:35:22

they were done by the local builders.

0:35:220:35:24

And you can see it in the way they did it,

0:35:240:35:25

because they were asked to paint all the excitement of new technology,

0:35:250:35:29

railway trains, motor cars, that kind of thing.

0:35:290:35:32

And a lot of portraits of the British

0:35:320:35:35

with whom these people, the merchants, were doing trade.

0:35:350:35:37

So what did they do?

0:35:370:35:39

Well, they used illustrations, perhaps from magazines,

0:35:390:35:42

or somebody told them what things looked like,

0:35:420:35:44

and they just let their invention rip.

0:35:440:35:46

This painter, for instance,

0:35:460:35:47

has been told that a train is like houses on wheels.

0:35:470:35:52

Never seen a train, so what does he paint?

0:35:520:35:56

Rows of little houses on wheels, with the passengers in,

0:35:560:36:00

being pulled along by an engine.

0:36:000:36:02

"What's an engine like?"

0:36:020:36:03

"It's like a kind of bottle with steam coming out at the end."

0:36:030:36:06

So what does he paint?

0:36:060:36:07

Literally, a bottle

0:36:070:36:09

with a funnel at the top and steam coming out.

0:36:090:36:12

The idea behind it, of course, is partly a sort of admiration

0:36:170:36:20

for the British and their technological achievements,

0:36:200:36:23

but there's also a sort of nice sense of mischief.

0:36:230:36:26

You feel, with some of the figures,

0:36:260:36:29

they're actually making fun of the rather upright and pompous

0:36:290:36:32

British attitudes at the time.

0:36:320:36:33

Kishore Thalia lives in one of the finest of these Indian merchants' houses.

0:37:010:37:06

Look at this!

0:37:140:37:15

The interior of his house is decorated in the traditional Indian style,

0:37:150:37:20

as though the British had never arrived.

0:37:200:37:23

This is ladies' courtyards.

0:37:250:37:27

So this would be only for women?

0:37:270:37:28

Only for women.

0:37:280:37:30

Before, ladies not allowed outside, so pray here.

0:37:300:37:33

So they pray here and live here, really?

0:37:330:37:36

-Yes.

-Yes.

0:37:360:37:37

What paintings do they have? What are these pictures?

0:37:370:37:39

These are the Hindu god and goddess.

0:37:390:37:42

So it's all religious?

0:37:420:37:44

-All religion paintings.

-Lovely.

0:37:440:37:48

And these were painted by just the local person?

0:37:510:37:54

-Lower caste, lower caste.

-Lower caste?

0:37:540:37:57

And upstairs, what was all this? Cos this is all painted too.

0:37:570:38:00

Look at the procession of elephants and horses

0:38:000:38:03

and soldiers and...

0:38:030:38:05

And that's a band, is it?

0:38:050:38:06

-Is that musicians playing?

-Yes, band, band.

0:38:060:38:09

They look like soldiers, but they're musicians.

0:38:090:38:11

So it's a wedding procession, is it?

0:38:110:38:13

-A wedding procession.

-Yes.

0:38:130:38:16

-Are you married?

-I am married.

0:38:180:38:20

Did you have a big wedding with bands and music and...?

0:38:200:38:23

-Yes.

-Did you? Did you have an elephant?

0:38:230:38:25

-No elephant. Horse.

-A horse?

0:38:250:38:27

-Horse.

-Did you ride the horse?

0:38:270:38:28

-Yes.

-Oh!

0:38:280:38:30

The ancient traditions of India were to prove unyielding,

0:38:520:38:56

despite British efforts to impose their own attitudes.

0:38:560:39:01

It was a clash of cultures that couldn't be resolved.

0:39:030:39:07

As the 19th century wore on,

0:39:150:39:17

Indians began to become discontented with British rule.

0:39:170:39:21

They felt that the British were out to change their whole way of life,

0:39:210:39:25

abolish their religious ceremonies,

0:39:250:39:28

even possibly try and convert the country to Christianity.

0:39:280:39:31

It came to a head in 1857,

0:39:310:39:33

when soldiers in the Indian Army rose and killed their officers.

0:39:330:39:37

And the mutiny quickly spread right across the country.

0:39:370:39:41

The rebellion led to brutal atrocities on both sides.

0:39:470:39:51

But the British emerged supreme.

0:39:550:39:59

British artists were quick to show the revolt and its defeat

0:40:060:40:09

as a triumph of imperial values over barbarism.

0:40:090:40:15

The breaking of India set a pattern for the whole of the Empire,

0:40:240:40:28

where disobedience was to be crushed without mercy.

0:40:280:40:32

-TANNOY:

-'The train now approaching Platform 2 is the...'

0:40:380:40:42

Back home, people were adjusting to the demands of Empire.

0:40:420:40:47

Popular support couldn't be taken for granted

0:40:470:40:51

and everything was done to encourage an imperial instinct.

0:40:510:40:56

Every new generation now had to be taught

0:41:000:41:03

the importance of Empire.

0:41:030:41:05

This is a book - An ABC For Baby Patriots

0:41:050:41:10

by Mrs Ernest Ames.

0:41:100:41:12

It's a sort of humorous look at the Empire,

0:41:120:41:15

but, of course, it had a serious message behind it.

0:41:150:41:18

A was for the Army.

0:41:180:41:20

"B stands for Battles.

0:41:200:41:22

"C is for Colonies Rightly we boast

0:41:220:41:27

"That of all the great nations Great Britain has most."

0:41:270:41:31

D. E. E!

0:41:310:41:33

"E is our Empire

0:41:330:41:36

"Where sun never sets

0:41:360:41:38

"The larger we make it The bigger it gets."

0:41:380:41:42

And F.

0:41:420:41:44

"F is for flag Which wherever you see

0:41:440:41:48

"You know that beneath it You're happy and free."

0:41:480:41:52

Goodness, how times have changed!

0:41:530:41:56

The job of Britain's public schools

0:42:030:42:06

was to provide soldiers and civil servants to run the Empire.

0:42:060:42:10

The ethos of service to Queen and country

0:42:170:42:19

was taught not just in the classroom but on the playing fields.

0:42:190:42:24

PLAYERS CHEER

0:42:250:42:28

There's a famous poem about the role of sport,

0:42:280:42:31

not just in school but in life, by Henry Newbolt -

0:42:310:42:34

a poem that every schoolboy would have learnt.

0:42:340:42:37

It begins with the captain of the team, at a desperate moment,

0:42:370:42:40

putting his hand on the shoulder of a team-mate

0:42:400:42:42

and saying, "Play up, play up and play the game."

0:42:420:42:46

And then the scene moves to a battlefield in Africa,

0:42:460:42:50

with the desert sand sodden with blood,

0:42:500:42:53

with the machine gun jammed, the colonel dead, the line broken,

0:42:530:42:57

and a voice is heard rallying the troops

0:42:570:42:59

with that schoolboy cry, "Play up, play up and play the game."

0:42:590:43:05

-SOLDIERS:

-One!

0:43:080:43:10

-Squad, two!

-Two!

0:43:100:43:12

-Squad, three!

-Three!

0:43:120:43:15

The lessons learnt at school

0:43:160:43:19

were designed to be applied on battlefields across the globe.

0:43:190:43:23

In the 1880s, as Britain expanded into Africa,

0:43:280:43:31

a figure emerged who was seen to embody all the imperial virtues.

0:43:310:43:38

This is General Charles Gordon,

0:43:520:43:55

perhaps the greatest hero of the Empire.

0:43:550:43:59

He sits, in this statue, on a camel,

0:43:590:44:03

looking very glamorous with a fez,

0:44:030:44:06

dressed in uniform with his medals.

0:44:060:44:10

He was a professional soldier

0:44:110:44:13

and he'd been on expeditions to Turkey, to India, to China,

0:44:130:44:19

covering himself in great glory,

0:44:190:44:21

famous among the British public for his deeds.

0:44:210:44:24

But it was his final expedition

0:44:240:44:26

which took him to the Sudan

0:44:260:44:29

to relieve the besieged capital of Khartoum.

0:44:290:44:33

And what made him an immortal to the British public

0:44:330:44:37

was not what he achieved there

0:44:370:44:39

but the way that he died.

0:44:390:44:40

Gordon chose to die rather than desert his post,

0:44:450:44:48

inspiring the most famous portrait of Empire -

0:44:480:44:52

GW Joy's Gordon's Last Stand.

0:44:520:44:56

The image of the general nobly facing down the foreign hordes

0:44:590:45:03

was irresistible to the British public.

0:45:030:45:07

In death, Gordon was transformed from a soldier to a saint.

0:45:150:45:20

Gordon's body was never found,

0:45:470:45:49

so in the national hysteria that followed his death

0:45:490:45:52

there was nothing for people to commemorate

0:45:520:45:55

until they turned, as with all the great martyrs,

0:45:550:45:59

to souvenirs of his life.

0:45:590:46:01

There's an extraordinary collection of them.

0:46:010:46:03

This is just a few of the objects that were left behind.

0:46:030:46:07

This, for instance, is General Gordon's cigarette case.

0:46:080:46:13

It was his only known indulgence, that he smoked cigarettes.

0:46:130:46:16

Otherwise he was a puritan in every way.

0:46:160:46:19

And it actually has three cigarettes in it.

0:46:190:46:22

Though whether they're from the time, I leave up to you to decide.

0:46:220:46:26

Now, there's an interesting box here.

0:46:260:46:29

This has got an extraordinary relic,

0:46:310:46:35

a piece of paper,

0:46:350:46:37

and on the paper it says,

0:46:370:46:40

"A fly that walked the Gordon nose."

0:46:400:46:45

And there is the little crushed body of the fly.

0:46:450:46:50

Poor thing. Made a terrible mistake of walking Gordon's nose.

0:46:510:46:55

I wonder how they got that.

0:46:550:46:56

Now, the most remarkable memory of Gordon...

0:46:560:47:01

This piece of stone

0:47:020:47:04

is said to be the stone on which Gordon was standing

0:47:040:47:06

when he was killed.

0:47:060:47:07

This belonged to Queen Victoria, who was a great admirer of his.

0:47:070:47:11

It's got this wreath of leaves in silver.

0:47:110:47:15

But really interestingly,

0:47:150:47:17

here, the date of his death and a Christian cross,

0:47:170:47:21

almost like a saint's relic.

0:47:210:47:25

Of course, there's no way of authenticating any of these objects.

0:47:250:47:29

But the almost-religious cult of Gordon

0:47:290:47:33

marks the point when the pursuit of Empire

0:47:330:47:35

becomes almost a medieval crusade.

0:47:350:47:39

The public cried out for vengeance for Gordon's death.

0:47:420:47:47

An army was sent to Africa under the slogan "Remember Gordon".

0:47:470:47:52

And this time, they carried a new weapon -

0:47:520:47:56

the world's first machine gun,

0:47:560:47:59

invented in London by Hiram Maxim.

0:47:590:48:03

As merchants of death go, it's very beautiful, isn't it?

0:48:080:48:11

-It's a wonderful machine.

-Beautiful.

0:48:110:48:13

What was so special about it?

0:48:130:48:16

What was it that Maxim achieved with this?

0:48:160:48:18

Well, he was the first person

0:48:180:48:20

to ever really make a fully automatic gun.

0:48:200:48:23

Up till this time, somebody had to have hand power -

0:48:230:48:27

they cranked it by hand,

0:48:270:48:29

and you could only fire as fast as the man could go.

0:48:290:48:33

But what Maxim discovered was,

0:48:330:48:34

with all that force that came back from when you fire a rifle,

0:48:340:48:39

you could use that force,

0:48:390:48:40

and he invented this wonderful system

0:48:400:48:42

that just kept it cycling around, the force loading, firing,

0:48:420:48:45

and carrying on from there.

0:48:450:48:46

And what was the effect of it on warfare?

0:48:460:48:48

It just absolutely revolutionised the whole aspect of warfare.

0:48:480:48:52

It made us realise that cavalry was now no longer of any use,

0:48:520:48:57

and you could take a whole...

0:48:570:48:59

you could take six of these machines instead of six regiments

0:48:590:49:03

and achieve exactly the same thing.

0:49:030:49:04

What date is this one?

0:49:040:49:05

This one was made in 1896.

0:49:050:49:09

1896.

0:49:090:49:11

-Does it still fire?

-Absolutely.

0:49:110:49:13

It's in perfect working order.

0:49:130:49:15

-Can I fire it?

-You can.

0:49:150:49:17

-You can give it the whole nine yards.

-OK.

0:49:170:49:19

I'll give you a pair of those things.

0:49:190:49:21

It's a bicycle saddle.

0:49:210:49:23

Safety catch off and fire.

0:49:260:49:28

-Safety catch off and push forward.

-OK, I'll give it a go.

0:49:280:49:32

RAPID GUNFIRE

0:49:350:49:38

RAPID GUNFIRE

0:49:420:49:44

The British used the weapon without mercy

0:49:550:49:58

in their campaigns in Africa.

0:49:580:50:00

In 1898, they returned to the Sudan

0:50:050:50:08

to meet Gordon's killers at the Battle of Omdurman.

0:50:080:50:12

In the Maxim gun,

0:50:210:50:23

the British Army had a weapon that made them unbeatable.

0:50:230:50:26

It was mechanised slaughter.

0:50:260:50:29

At the Battle of Omdurman,

0:50:290:50:31

11,000 Sudanese were killed in one day,

0:50:310:50:35

those that didn't die immediately left bleeding to death

0:50:350:50:38

in the desert sand.

0:50:380:50:40

The British commander, Lord Kitchener, said,

0:50:400:50:43

"I think the enemy have had a good dusting."

0:50:430:50:47

Once again, art was to sanitise the reality of Empire.

0:50:510:50:57

Paintings of the African wars were heroic...

0:50:580:51:02

..romantic...

0:51:030:51:06

..emphasising the bravery of the cavalry

0:51:070:51:11

rather than the power of the Maxim gun.

0:51:110:51:14

One of the most successful painters of the age, Richard Caton Woodville,

0:51:170:51:22

became famous for his pictures of Britain's foreign battles.

0:51:220:51:26

The story was always the same -

0:51:330:51:35

the hardy British crushing the unruly natives.

0:51:360:51:41

You can still see treasures plundered in these campaigns.

0:51:450:51:50

Britain's rule and influence the world over

0:51:540:51:58

meant many exceptional works of art found their way here.

0:51:580:52:03

One notorious plunder occurred in 1897.

0:52:140:52:19

These are the magnificent Benin Bronzes.

0:52:220:52:26

They were looted by the British Army from the capital of Benin,

0:52:260:52:31

from the kingdom in West Africa whose king had defied British rule.

0:52:310:52:34

They went in, destroyed the city...

0:52:360:52:40

and brought back 4,000 different objects,

0:52:410:52:44

among them, these and many other beautiful brass plaques.

0:52:440:52:48

Some of them were sold to pay for the expedition,

0:52:510:52:55

others were put on display.

0:52:550:52:56

And the extraordinary thing is that when they were displayed here in London,

0:52:560:53:00

people simply refused to believe

0:53:000:53:02

they could have been done by the Africans in Benin.

0:53:020:53:07

They thought this work was too fine.

0:53:070:53:11

And it is very fine. The detail is wonderful.

0:53:110:53:13

The faces and the hands and the decoration

0:53:130:53:16

all beautifully, beautifully done.

0:53:160:53:19

The message the British were sending to their colonies in Africa

0:53:270:53:31

was that, "Seizing your treasure like this

0:53:310:53:35

"is the price you'll pay for defiance."

0:53:350:53:39

African art was itself to change under British rule.

0:53:470:53:52

Artists acknowledged the power of the Empire

0:53:540:53:57

as they created objects to please their new masters.

0:53:580:54:02

Thank you very much.

0:54:040:54:06

This is a little wooden carving of Queen Victoria,

0:54:080:54:12

made by the Yoruba people of West Africa.

0:54:120:54:15

The person who did this would never have seen her.

0:54:150:54:18

She never went on a state visit to Africa.

0:54:180:54:20

She hardly went anywhere in her colonies.

0:54:200:54:23

But they've got a very good likeness.

0:54:230:54:25

Rather solemn, po-faced. Quite recognisable as Queen Victoria.

0:54:250:54:30

She's got her crown, big bosom with string of pearls.

0:54:300:54:36

She's got a rather grand dress on.

0:54:360:54:39

Here a...fly swat or a fan - not quite sure which.

0:54:390:54:44

But anyway, it's clearly Queen Victoria, and the point about this is,

0:54:440:54:47

this is just one example of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of images

0:54:470:54:52

of Queen Victoria which were used to represent the British Empire

0:54:520:54:56

right round the globe.

0:54:560:54:58

People who never saw her heard about her,

0:54:580:55:01

knew that she was at the heart of it, the Great White Queen.

0:55:010:55:06

She looks almost...

0:55:070:55:08

not regal but divine here, like a god.

0:55:080:55:11

The power of Victoria's image carried on beyond her death.

0:55:200:55:24

In 1911, the Victoria Memorial by Thomas Brock was unveiled,

0:55:250:55:30

blocking the view of Buckingham Palace.

0:55:300:55:34

This statue is so familiar you barely notice it.

0:55:460:55:49

It's almost part of the scenery, and yet, if you examine it closely,

0:55:490:55:53

it's the most extraordinary celebration -

0:55:530:55:55

not just of the Queen but of her Empire when it was at its peak.

0:55:550:55:59

The scale of the monument is truly impressive.

0:56:030:56:06

There sits the Queen on her throne, looking rather boot-faced

0:56:070:56:13

and staring up across Westminster.

0:56:130:56:17

Underneath, the inscription... "Victoria Regina Imperatrix" -

0:56:170:56:22

"Victoria Queen Empress".

0:56:220:56:25

And then on three sides,

0:56:250:56:28

what were thought of as the virtues that Empire provided for the colonies -

0:56:280:56:34

justice,

0:56:340:56:37

truth

0:56:370:56:39

and charity,

0:56:390:56:40

interestingly shown as motherhood, the mother protecting her children.

0:56:400:56:46

And the whole glorious marble fantasy

0:56:480:56:51

crowned by the golden image of winged victory.

0:56:510:56:55

Britain's triumph.

0:56:550:56:58

By the time this grandiose memorial was unveiled,

0:57:100:57:14

the cracks in Empire were already starting to show.

0:57:140:57:17

Independence movements were springing up, world war was looming,

0:57:170:57:21

and within decades, those countries

0:57:210:57:23

that Britain had thought of as her overseas possessions

0:57:230:57:27

were starting to fall away,

0:57:270:57:29

turning what had been planned as a celebration of Empire

0:57:290:57:33

into its mausoleum.

0:57:330:57:36

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:110:58:13

The story of the British Empire from 1750 to 1900, revealed through its art and treasures. David Dimbleby travels through Britain, America and India, tracing the descent from adventure and inspiration into moral bankruptcy as the Empire became a self-serving bureaucratic machine.

In Britain, David looks at William Hodges' paintings of Captain Cook's famous voyages, Sir Hiram Maxim's original machine gun, the relics of General Gordon brought back from the Sudan, and some of the priceless trophies plundered in foreign campaigns: Tipu's mechanical Tiger and the Benin Bronzes.

In Philadelphia, he explores William Penn's utopian Old Town, the Liberty Bell, and painter Benjamin West's pictorial white-washing of history in Penn's Treaty With the Indians.

In India, David looks at the colonial architecture of Calcutta, and some fabulous frescoes in a Rajasthan village mocking British customs and personalities.

The programme ends at the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace, not so much a monument to the British Empire as its mausoleum.