The Victorians - Towards the Modern World

Adversaries in the age of reform

Illustration: Lord John Russell (1792-1878)

Lord John Russell (1792-1878)

Born in London and educated in Edinburgh, Lord John became an MP in 1813. He was Home Secretary from 1835 to 1839 and Secretary of State for War from 1839 to 1841. When Peel's new Conservative Party split over Corn Law repeal, Russell became prime-minister (1846). It was he who instituted the programme of public works as a form of famine relief in Ireland and when this proved too expensive he tried to force Irish landlords to pay for the costs of feeding the poor themsleves, resulting in further evictions and deaths from starvation.

Russell remained active in politics for another twenty years, serving as Foreign Secretary from 1859 to 1865, and prime-minister again from 1865 to 1866.

Illustration: Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850)

Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850)

Born at Bury in Lancashire, the son of a successful mill owner, Peel became an MP in 1809 and served as chief secretary in Ireland from 1812 to 1818. Home secretary from 1822 to 1830, he established the Metropolitan Police in 1829. Often called the founder of the modern Conservative party, Peel was the first to realise that middle-class voters wanted a stable economy rather than radical change. As prime-minister (1841-6) he proved much more liberal than many of his opponents (cf John Major). Anticipating famine in Ireland he bought cheap corn (1845) but his repeal of the Corn Laws led to the fall of his government and the break up of his party. He died in London following a riding accident.