Room 27: Science and Technology
© The National Portrait Gallery, London
Science and technology affected the lives of the Victorians to an unprecedented degree. The harnessing of steam, and the development of advanced manufacturing processes, made Britain the world's leading industrial nation. The most visible and dynamic manifestation of technological change, the railway, was already spreading across the country when Victoria came to the throne. But its extension into a national network, transforming the economic and social life of the country, belongs to the middle decades of the century. Experimental discoveries by scientists like Michael Faraday led to the foundation of modern chemical and electrical industries. Another new technology, photography, gave to portraiture itself a further means of recording likenesses.
While technology transformed the day-to-day existence of the Victorians, scientific theories changed their perception of Man's place in the natural world. The publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859 crystallised doubts in the Biblical account of Man's creation. In the public mind, at least, science and religion were in conflict and certainties which had held for centuries were open to question.