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n the 1870s, at about the midpoint of the 1837-to-1901 reign of Queen Victoria, England was the world's greatest power and was colonizing throughout the world. In 1876, Queen Victoria took the additional title "Empress of India" and British holdings would continue to expand rapidly throughout the rest of her reign. Exploration and annexation were of primary importance, but science was quickly gaining ground as a worthwhile endeavor unto itself.

For English people of the Victorian era, the traditional dependence upon religion to provide answers to the big questions was giving way to a new belief that science could and would eventually explain the answers. Science was revealing the world's secrets, promising to unravel the great mysteries, and Victorian society evidenced a pervasive fascination with all things scientific and a belief in the value of self-edification. Reforms had made it possible for Victorians of moderate status to ensure a good education for, and thus, in theory, a prosperous future for, their children.

By 1836 Darwin had traveled with the Beagle and his On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, better known today as "The Origin of Species," published in 1859, presented new theories for debate among the members of the Royal Society.

During this time scientists in important academic positions and members of the Royal Society had unprecedented influence on popular thinking and even political decision-making.

A Brief Timeline
1859 Darwin's On the Origin of Species is published.
1860 The English navy launches its iron warships.
1861 Civil War begins in America.
1867 Diamonds are discovered in South Africa; The second Reform Act is passed.
1869 The Suez Canal is opened in Egypt.
1871 Stanley finds Livingstone in Africa.
1873 Asante war occurs on the Gold Coast.
1876 First telephone call made by Alexander Graham Bell