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British History Timeline

Empire and Sea Power



September 1715 - February 1716
First major 'Jacobite' rising begins
In September 1715, John Erskine, Earl of Mar, raised the standard for a 'Jacobite' rising, intended to restore the exiled Stuart monarchy to the throne, and proclaimed James Francis Edward Stuart (James II's son) king of Scotland. The Jacobites were defeated by government forces at the battles of Sheriffmuir and Preston in November 1715. Three months later the rebellion had been quashed. The Jacobite leaders were impeached and some were executed.

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1718
British convicts start being transported to penal colonies overseas
In 1718, the Transportation Act introduced penal transportation. People convicted of capital crimes had their sentences 'commuted' to 14 years or life in the Americas. Convicts found guilty of non-capital crimes received seven-year sentences. Between 1718 and 1776, over 50,000 convicts were transported to Virginia and Maryland in the modern United States. The American Revolution made further transportation impossible.

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October - November 1720
'South Sea Bubble' bursts and triggers a financial panic
The South Sea Company was a financial and trading organisation mainly dealing with Spanish America. It received trading rights to the South Seas in return for financing the British government's debt. Shares were issued and unrealistic expectations cultivated. A monopoly of the slave trade was envisaged. When it was discovered that the directors of the profitless company had sold out, it sparked a massive panic and a major financial crash occurred in the City of London. Huge fortunes were lost.

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April 1721
Sir Robert Walpole becomes the first prime minister
In April 1721, Sir Robert Walpole became first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the exchequer, in the wake of the South Sea Bubble financial crash of 1720. He confirmed the Whig party's allegiance to the Hanoverian monarchy. He never held the actual title of 'prime minister', but was given the powers that came to be associated with the office. George I also gave him 10 Downing Street, still the official residence of the prime minister.

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1723
Poaching becomes a capital offence
Poaching disturbances in Windsor Forest and Park led to clashes between 'blacks' (gangs of bandits and poachers who blackened their faces) hoping to maintain common rights and wardens and gamekeepers. The government issued the Black Act to handle the situation. This made various poaching misdemeanours into capital crimes.

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11 January 1727
George I dies and is succeeded by the second Hanoverian king, George II
The threat of a Jacobite rebellion (aimed at re-establishing the Stuart dynasty) continued into George II's reign. It continued to be a source of alarm until its final defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. As the country prospered, the king's early unpopularity - partially caused by his preference for Hanover over England - changed into a general respect.

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March - April 1733
Excise crisis shakes Sir Robert Walpole's administration
In 1733, British prime minister Robert Walpole tried to shift the burden of taxation on imports away from collection at customs. He devised an 'excise' scheme - a system of bonded warehouses for tobacco, wine and brandy, where imported goods could be lodged until the proper duty, or tax, had been paid. The project was abandoned after widespread political opposition.

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1739
Methodist preachers begin their mission to the poor
John Wesley, George Whitefield and other early adherents to Wesleyan views began preaching in fields. Their aim was to spread the gospels and save souls. They attracted large audiences and many converts to evangelical Christianity. Called 'Methodists' for their focus of rules, this marked the beginning of their mission to the poor.

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19 October 1739
Britain declares war on Spain and the 'War of Jenkins's Ear' begins
Britain declared war on Spain after repeated depredations on British ships by Spanish 'guarda costas'. This was mainly a colonial war in Caribbean waters. It was named after a Captain Robert Jenkins, whose ear had been severed by the Spanish. The War of Jenkins's Ear lasted until 1748, but from 1742 effectively merged into the larger War of the Austrian Succession, which took place from October 1740 until October 1748.

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1740 - 1744
George Anson sails around the world
Between 1740 and 1744 the British naval commander George Anson sailed around the world in HMS 'Centurion'. Anson returned to England with nearly £500,000 of Spanish treasure. His account of the voyage became a bestseller.

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11 February 1742
Sir Robert Walpole resigns as prime minister
At the 1741 general election, Sir Robert Walpole's majority in the House of Commons numbered fewer than 20 seats. When parliament reassembled in December 1741, he suffered defeats in seven divisions. On 11 February 1742, Walpole resigned as first lord of the treasury after 21 years in power. Although he had effectively been prime minister, that was never his title. He died in 1745.

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13 April 1742
Handel's 'Messiah' gets its first performance, in Dublin
George Frideric Handel was one of the foremost baroque composers. Born in Germany, he lived most of his adult life in England and received a number of royal commissions, including 'Water Music' and 'Music for the Royal Fireworks'.

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27 June 1743
George II becomes the last British monarch to lead his army into battle
The Battle of Dettingen, at which the British allies defeated the French, was just one engagement in the War of the Austrian Succession. The war began in 1740, when Prussia invaded the Austrian region of Silesia, but its underlying causes were rival claims for the hereditary lands of the Austrian monarchy, the Habsburgs. Prussia allied with France against Austria, Britain and the Netherlands. The war ended in 1748 with all seized lands returned, except Silesia, which Austria ceded to Prussia.

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23 July 1745
'Bonnie Prince Charlie' lands in Scotland to claim the British throne
Charles Edward Stuart, or 'Bonnie Prince Charlie', was the grandson of the deposed James II. He landed at Eriskay, Scotland, and quickly gathered an army, who proclaimed him 'Charles III'. On 21 September, he defeated the government army in Scotland at the Battle of Prestonpans. He then marched south

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16 April 1746
Jacobites are defeated at Culloden, the last battle on British soil
Culloden, the last battle fought on British soil, marked the defeat of the Jacobite revolt of 1745-1746, also known as the '45 Rebellion. Led by 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' - Charles Edward Stuart, the grandson of the deposed king James II - the Jacobites were fighting to restore the exiled Stuarts to the throne. They reached as far south as Derby before being chased back to Scotland, where they were routed by an army under William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and second son of George II.

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1750
Scottish landlords start evicting tenants in the Highland Clearances
From the 1750s, landlords in the Scottish Highlands began to forcibly remove tenants from their land, usually to replace them with more profitable sheep farming. The clearances resulted in whole Highland communities leaving Scotland and emigrating, most of them to North America. Many others moved to growing urban industrial centres such as Glasgow. This was part of a broader process of agricultural change in Britain, but in the Highlands it was marked by particular abruptness and brutality.

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May 1756
Seven Years' War between Britain and France begins
The war between Britain and France that began in May 1756 is arguably the first global war in modern history. Britain and her allies fought France in America, India and Europe. France forged alliances with Austria and Russia against Prussia. In 1762, Spain entered the war on the side of France. Britain emerged from the war victorious in 1763, and under the Treaty of Paris acquired Quebec, Florida, Minorca, large parts of India and the West Indies.

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23 June 1757
Indian province of Bengal passes into British control after the Battle of Plassey
The Battle of Plassey took place between Siraj Ud Daulah, the last independent ruler of Bengal, and the forces of the British East India Company led by Colonel Robert Clive. The defeat of Daulah, who was backed by the French, led to the entire province of Bengal passing into Company control. This victory, and the enormous wealth of Bengal, are often seen as important factors in establishing eventual British control over all of India.

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April 1760
Tacky leads a slave rebellion in Jamaica
Tacky's Revolt was the largest of many slave uprisings in the British West Indies in the 18th century, caused by the dreadful conditions enslaved people had to endure on the sugar plantations. Hundreds of slaves attacked plantations, killing about 60 whites and setting crops and sugar works alight. Tacky was captured and beheaded, and 400 other rebels died or were executed, but skirmishes continued for many months.

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25 October 1760
George III succeeds his grandfather George II
George III was the first of the Hanoverian kings to be born and brought up in Britain. He was nicknamed 'Farmer George' because of his passion for agriculture. During his reign, Britain lost its American colonies but emerged as a leading European power. From 1788, George suffered recurrent mental illness and in 1811 his son was appointed regent.

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April 1763
Radical journalist John Wilkes is arrested for criticising the king
John Wilkes, a member of parliament and journalist, was charged with seditious libel for criticism of George III his paper 'The North Briton'. He was released and for the next 15 years campaigned for parliamentary reform. He was frequently in trouble with the authorities, and was expelled from the Commons a number of times, only to be re-elected. After his arrest in 1768, seven were killed in the 'Massacre of St George's Fields' when a crowd demanding his release was fired on by troops.

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March 1765
Riots erupt in American colonies after parliament levies 'stamp' taxes
In 1765, British Prime Minister George Grenville's administration passed the Stamp Act to raise extra taxes from the North American colonists. The money was intended to pay for the colonists' own military defence against possible future French incursions. Stamp duties were levied on newspapers and legal documents. Six of the 13 American colonies petitioned against the act and riots broke out. The Stamp Act was repealed in March 1766.

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June 1767
American colonists are taxed on imports
In 1767, Charles Townshend, the chancellor of the exchequer, drew up legislation to raise taxes from North American colonists on selected imports, including glass, paint, lead and tea. As with the repealed Stamp Act of 1765, the intention was to make colonists contribute towards their own defence against French incursions. Colonial protests led to the Revenue Act being repealed in 1770, except for the duty on imported tea.

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1768 - 1771
Captain James Cook leads his first expedition to the Pacific
In 1768, James Cook led an expedition on HMS 'Endeavour' to observe the astrological phenomenon of the transit of Venus from Tahiti. The voyage continued into the South Pacific Ocean, where Cook circumnavigated New Zealand and charted the east coast of Australia. His team of botanists and scientists brought back to England many important specimens and much scientific information. Cook made two further Pacific voyages. He was killed on the second of these in 1779 by warriors in Hawaii.

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January 1770
Lord North becomes prime minister
Frederick, Lord North (an honorary title), became prime minister at the end of a decade that had seen six administrations come and go. George III hoped that his friend North could provide political stability. Lord North remained prime minister until 1782.

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1771
'Factory Age' begins with the opening of Britain's first cotton mill
The weaving of cotton cloth had become a major industry by the 1760s, with most of the labour being done by people in their homes. In 1771, inventor Richard Arkwright opened the first cotton mill at Cromford, Derbyshire. The spinning of yarn was carried out by his own patented machine, known as a water frame. This was a significant step towards the automation of labour-intensive industries and heralded the beginning of the 'Factory Age' in Britain.

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22 June 1772
Slavery is effectively outlawed in England
When the enslaved James Somerset escaped from his owner in London, he was captured and forced on to a ship bound for Jamaica. With the help of abolitionist Granville Sharpe, Somerset's case was taken to court and Lord William Mansfield, the lord chief justice, ruled that Somerset should be freed. This was widely, and mistakenly, believed to mean that slavery was outlawed in England. Slave owners continued to capture their runaway slaves and take them back to the Caribbean, but the case marked a milestone in the struggle to abolish slavery.

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16 December 1773
'Boston Tea Party' heightens tensions in North American colonies
In 1770, taxes on imports to the American Colonies had been repealed on all goods except tea. In 1773, colonists disguised as Native Americans dumped chests of tea from East India Company vessels into Boston harbour in protest against this remaining levy. Political tensions between the American colonists and the British government escalated as a result.

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1774
Methodist John Wesley publishes 'Thoughts Upon Slavery'
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church, was a lifelong opponent of slavery. In 1774 he published a pamphlet entitled 'Thoughts Upon Slavery', which examined how Africans were captured and transported, and proposed legal and moral arguments against slavery and the slave trade. In 1788, at considerable personal risk, he preached a sermon against slavery in Bristol, one of the leading slave trading ports. Nonconformists, particularly Quakers, were very active in the abolition movement, and included other well known individuals such as Joseph Priestley and Josiah Wedgwood.

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18 April 1775
American War of Independence begins
On 18 April 1775, a skirmish between British redcoats and the local militia at Lexington, Massachusetts, led to the fighting that began the American War of Independence. No one knows which side fired the first 'shot heard around the world'. About 15 months after the outbreak of war, colonial leader Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, which argued that the goals of the United States of America were 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'. In September 1783, the Treaty of Paris formally ended the war.

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1779
Penitentiary Act authorises state prisons
An investigation into the state of English and Welsh prisons in the mid-1770s by penal reformer John Howard revealed the dreadful conditions, inadequate diet and corrupt administration of many jails. The Penitentiary Act was introduced with the intention of remedying the situation. This was the first British law to authorise state prisons.

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2-11 June 1780
'Gordon Riots' break out in protest against the Catholic Relief Act
In 1778, parliament passed the Catholic Relief Act, which removed many of the traditional restrictions on Catholics in Britain. George Gordon, leader of the Protestant Association, was leading a huge crowd to parliament with a petition calling for repeal of the act when anti-Catholic violence erupted. The ensuing orgy of property destruction and disorder lasted a week. Hundreds died in fighting between protestors and troops. These were amongst the worst riots in English history.

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19 October 1781
Americans defeat the British army at Yorktown, Virginia
British forces were besieged on the Yorktown peninsula, Virginia, by the American continental army in the west and the French fleet closing on Chesapeake Bay. Left in a hopeless situation, General Charles Cornwallis surrendered to American general George Washington, effectively ending the American War of Independence. The victory demonstrated beyond doubt that Britain could not hope to win a war so far from its own shores. The British government was forced into negotiations to end the conflict.

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29 November 1781
133 Africans are thrown overboard the slave ship 'Zong'
During a voyage from Africa to Jamaica, the captain of the slave ship 'Zong' ordered 133 slaves to be thrown overboard alive. The ship's owners then filed a fraudulent insurance claim for the value of the dead slaves. In March 1783 the case was heard in London as an insurance dispute rather than a murder trial. The case was widely publicised by outraged abolitionists, particularly Olaudah Equiano and Granville Sharp, and helped to attract new supporters to the abolition cause.

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17-Nov-04
Britain begins to evacuate loyalists from American colonies
When it became evident that the American colonists were winning their war of independence, those who had fought for the British faced an uncertain future. These included former slaves who had fought on the understanding that they would gain their freedom at the end of the conflict. Around 75,000 loyalists decided to leave, most of them going to the British North American colonies in what is now Canada, others to the West Indies and some to Britain. In 1792, more than 1,100 freed slaves and their families who had gone to Nova Scotia left Canada to settle in Sierra Leone, West Africa.

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December 1783
William Pitt the Younger becomes prime minister
After three brief ministries had failed, the William Pitt the Younger became Britain's prime minister at the age of 23. (His father, William Pitt the Elder had held the office twice, in the 1750-1760s). His critics said that the nation had been 'entrusted to a schoolboy's care'. He successfully curbed the national debt, fought revolutionary France, restructured the government of India and passed the Act of Union with Ireland in 1801. Exhausted and in poor health, he died in 1806.

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13 May 1787
First fleet of convicts sails to Australia
Since 1718, Britain had transported convicts to its North American colonies, until this was ended by the American War of Independence. On 13 May 1787, penal transportation resumed with a fleet of convict ships setting out from Portsmouth for Botany Bay. This marked the beginning of transportation to Australia. Between 1787 and 1868, when transportation was abolished, over 150,000 felons were exiled to New South Wales, Van Diemen's Land and Western Australia.

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22 May 1787
Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade is formed
The committee was formed by 12 men, the majority of them Quakers. The two non-Quakers, Granville Sharp and John Clarkson, devoted their lives to the cause of abolishing slavery. These men provided MP William Wilberforce with material to assist his parliamentary efforts to abolish the slave trade. They wrote books and pamphlets and produced prints and posters to publicise the cause. Clarkson travelled tirelessly through England, organising local abolition committees, rallies and petitions and collecting information on slavery from sailors and others who had been involved in the slave trade.

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1788
Under pressure from abolitionists, parliament investigates the slave trade
Pressure from abolitionists and detailed information gathered on transatlantic slaving resulted in the first parliamentary investigation of the slave trade. Leading abolitionist Thomas Clarkson led the fact-finding mission, while member of parliament William Wilberforce became the leading parliamentary spokesman against the slave trade. In 1792, the House of Commons agreed in principle that the British slave trade should end, but it would take until 1807 for an act to be passed into law.

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1 January 1788
First edition of 'The Times' of London is published
Originally founded in 1785 as the 'Daily Universal Register', the publication was re-named 'The Times' three years later. It is Britain's oldest surviving newspaper with continuous daily publication, and for much of its history has been regarded as the newspaper of record. Newspapers have been published in Britain since the early 16th century, but it was not until the early 18th century that regular daily newspapers were produced.

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November 1788 - February 1789
George III's illness sparks a regency crisis
George III probably suffered from porphyria, a rare hereditary disease marked by severe attacks of pain and mental instability. For four months in 1788-1789 he was incapacitated by his illness, raising the possibility a 'regent' having to rule on his behalf. This regency crisis was averted by the George's sudden recovery.

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29 April 1789
Former slave Olaudah Equiano publishes his autobiography
Olaudah Equiano was a former slave who settled in London and became closely involved in the abolition movement. His autobiography 'The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano' is one of the earliest known examples of a published work by a black writer. The public was fascinated by the story of a slave who converted to Christianity, learned to read and write and, by trading on the side, earned enough money to buy his freedom. The book became a bestseller.

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14 July 1789
French Revolution begins with the storming of the Bastille
The storming of the Bastille prison in Paris is generally held to mark the beginning of the French Revolution. This was a world-shattering event, in which the French monarchy was overthrown, the king, Louis XVI, executed and a republic established. It stimulated political debate in Britain between British Jacobins (pro-revolutionaries, named after the Jacobin Club in Paris), some of whom were republicans, and loyalists, who stressed the virtues of the existing British constitution.

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19 April 1791
Parliament rejects William Wilberforce's bill to abolish the slave trade
MP William Wilberforce introduced a bill to abolish the slave trade in May 1789. The bill was stalled and eventually consideration of the question was moved to a select committee. A general election again delayed progress and when the bill eventually came to a vote, it was passed by the Commons but defeated by the Lords. Between 1792 and 1806 a number of further unsuccessful attempts were made to enact parliamentary legislation which would either control or abolish the slave trade.

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1792 - 1794
Radical artisans form the London Corresponding Society
The spirit of 'liberty, equality and fraternity' that stemmed from the French Revolution of 1789 had inspired the establishment of radical societies in Britain. In January 1792, the 'London Corresponding Society', the most prominent of these organisations, was formed under the leadership of Thomas Hardy, a Scottish shoemaker. The LCS debated the need for parliamentary reform. It advocated universal male suffrage, a secret ballot and annual parliaments. The government banned the LCS in 1794.

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7 March 1792
Sierra Leone is established under British rule as a home for former slaves
A British settlement had been established in the area of West Africa now known as Sierra Leone in 1787, but the community was almost entirely wiped out due to failed crops and disease. In 1792 a group of 1,100 people left Nova Scotia to establish a community of free black people in Sierra Leone. Many of these settlers were black men and women who had fought for the British in the American War of Independence.

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1 February 1793
Britain goes to war with France
The French had been at war in Europe since 1792, but it was not until the execution of Louis XVI, king of France, that Britain joined the anti-French coalition. In 1805, Britain attained complete mastery of the seas at the Battle of Trafalgar, but by 1807 Napoleon Bonaparte, the emperor of France, was master of continental Europe. War continued until the final defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

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1793
British troops attempt to suppress Toussaint L'Ouverture's rebellion in Haiti
St Domingue had the largest slave population and was the wealthiest colony in the Caribbean. When a slave rebellion broke out, panic spread among slave owners all over the region. British troops were ordered to invade St Domingue, but disease and Toussaint L'Ouverture's irregular army forced them to withdraw. In 1802 Napoleon sent a French army to crush the rebellion. Toussaint was captured and imprisoned in France, where he died, but his army triumphed and on 1 January 1804 declared the Republic of Haiti.

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April - June 1797
Naval mutinies occur at Spithead and the Nore
Two mutinies broke out in the Royal Navy after clashes between seamen and officers over pay and conditions. There were fears in that such disturbances might be the trigger for a French-style revolution. The Spithead mutiny (near Portsmouth) ended in a royal pardon for the crew. At the Nore (on the Thames Estuary), the mutiny was starved out and one of the ringleaders, Richard Parker, was hanged. Mutinies occurred in several European navies in the 1790s.

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26 May 1798
Society of United Irishmen rebel against British rule in Ireland
In 1798, Wolfe Tone, a Protestant lawyer, led the Society of United Irishmen in a rebellion against British rule in Ireland. The SUI recruited supporters among Catholics and Presbyterians, but was beset by internal divisions. After failing to secure French assistance, the rebellion was ruthlessly crushed by British forces. It effectively ended with the capture of Tone in October of the same year. He was sentenced to hang, but took his own life first.

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1799 - 1800
Trade unions are outlawed
William Pitt the Younger's government passed two acts making it illegal for working men to form combinations in which their political rights were discussed. They were among several repressive measures designed to stifle any catalysts for a French-style revolution in Britain. The Combination Acts were repealed in 1824 and 1825.

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1 January 1801
Act of Union creates the United Kingdom
Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Ireland were formally joined under the Act of Union to create the United Kingdom in 1801. The Irish parliament in Dublin was dissolved. Despite the Union, Catholics were still unable to vote at general elections or to hold parliamentary and most public offices.

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10 March 1801
Britain holds its first census
The census was introduced to help the government understand the demographic layout of the country and better utilise the population in times of war. A census of England and Wales, and a separate one of Scotland, has been taken ever since on a ten-yearly basis, with the exception of 1941. In the 1801 census, information was collected on a parish basis and there were no details on individual households. It was not until the 1841 census that more detailed information was requested.

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18 July 1801 - 9 June 1803
Matthew Flinders circumnavigates Australia
English naval captain Matthew Flinders carried out the first known circumnavigation of Australia in HMS 'Investigator'. He accurately charted many parts of the Australian coast that had not been surveyed by Captain James Cook on his voyages between 1768 and 1779.

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21 October 1805
Royal Navy defeats a French and Spanish fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar
In 1805, the combined fleets of France and Spain faced the Royal Navy in the last great battle of the age of sail, at Cape Trafalgar off the coast of Spain. British naval hero Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson led the daring British attack in HMS 'Victory', but was killed at the height of the battle. It seems likely that the French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, had already abandoned his plans for the invasion of England, but the victory nonetheless handed Britain complete control of the seas.

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25 March 1807
Britain abolishes the slave trade
In 1806, parliament passed an act to abolish the supply of slaves on British ships to foreign and conquered colonies. This was followed up by the total abolition of the British slave trade in 1807. It ended more than 200 years of slave trading. The Abolition of Slavery Act, passed in 1833, freed all slaves in the British empire and provided for compensation for their owners.

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1808
British West Africa Squadron is formed to suppress slave trading
The British West Africa Squadron was established by the Royal Navy to suppress illegal slave trading along the West African coast after the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. By 1865, nearly 150,000 people had been freed by the Squadron's anti-slavery operations. The Squadron continued its work until the early 20th century.

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1811 - 1812
Luddite protesters attack industrial machinery in protest against unemployment
During two years of high unemployment, textile workers known as Luddites (named after their mythical leader 'Ned Ludd') sabotaged machinery in the woollen, cotton and hosiery industries in Nottinghamshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire. The government infiltrated the protesters with spies and sent 12,000 troops to Yorkshire in 1812 to stop further industrial violence.

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1812 - 1818
Hampden clubs are formed to advocate parliamentary reform
The Hampden clubs were the first major societies devoted to parliamentary reform following the demise of the London Corresponding Society in 1794. (The LCS had advocated universal male suffrage, a secret ballot and annual parliaments.) The clubs were named after John Hampden, a parliamentary opponent of Charles I. They were banned in 1818.

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March 1815
Corn Laws are introduced to protect British agriculture
The Tory government of Robert Banks Jenkinson, Lord Liverpool, introduced the Corn Laws in a bid to protect British agriculture. Corn prices had halved following the end of the Napoleonic wars, creating a panic among farmers. The laws imposed heavy tariffs on imports of foreign grain. They were repealed in 1846.

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18 June 1815
Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, defeats Napoleon at Waterloo
The Battle of Waterloo was a decisive victory for Britain and its allies in the Napoleonic wars. The British general who masterminded the victory, Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, had once been dismissed by Napoleon Bonaparte as a 'sepoy general' (a derisive reference to his service in India). Napoleon was forced to abdicate as emperor of France a few days later. He was sent into exile on the small Atlantic island of St Helena, where he died.

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10 March 1817
Working class 'Blanketeers' mount a march to London
Working class men devoted to parliamentary reform began a march from Manchester to London to publicise their case to the government. They were nicknamed 'Blanketeers' after the blankets they carried. The marchers were dispersed by troops before they reached Stockport.

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16 August 1819
Eleven die at the Peterloo massacre in Manchester
A huge crowd of people gathered at St Peter's Fields, Manchester, to hear radical orators speak on the subject of parliamentary reform and high food prices. The local yeomanry were ordered to arrest the speakers, but panicked and charged the crowd. Eleven people died and hundreds were injured. The massacre became known as 'Peterloo' - an ironic inversion of the British military triumph at Waterloo.

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29 January 1820
George III dies and is succeeded by George IV
George III, the longest-serving Hanoverian monarch, died after occupying the throne for 60 years. His eldest son, who had served as prince regent from 1811 to 1820 when his father was declared insane, became George IV. The new king became deeply unpopular for his extravagant lifestyle and scandalous private life, but he was an enthusiastic supporter of the arts and his residences, particularly Carlton House and Brighton Pavilion, set new standards of taste.

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27 September 1825
World's first steam locomotive passenger service begins
The first public steam railway ran between the north eastern towns of Stockton and Darlington. This ushered in the 'Railway Age', with the building of an extensive railway network in Britain providing a fast and economical means of transport and communication.

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13 April 1829
Parliament grants Catholic emancipation
In 1828, parliament had repealed the Test and Corporation Acts which had banned Catholics from holding government and public offices or from attending universities. The Catholic Relief Act of 1829 went further, granting full emancipation to British and Irish Catholics. This measure split the Tory party into different factions. The prime minister, Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, steered the bill through its final stages and secured the assent of George IV.

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June 1829
Robert Peel sets up the Metropolitan Police
The Metropolitan Police Act was the brainchild of Home Secretary Robert Peel. It established the first paid, uniformed constabulary for the metropolis, excluding the City of London. Before the police there existed an informal system of watchmen, magistrates, volunteer constables and 'thief takers'. Initially unpopular, the police proved a success and by the late 1830s police forces were being set up in many large British cities.

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26 June 1830
George IV dies and is succeeded by his brother William IV
During his youth, William had served in the Royal Navy and his bluff, unassuming manner - he was nicknamed 'the sailor king' - was in marked contrast to the extravagant, decadent lifestyle of his brother George IV. His reign was dominated by the 'Reform Crisis' - political wrangling over reform to parliamentary representation, including issues like extending the franchise (those allowed to vote) and redrawing electoral boundaries. William's personal involvement in the crisis damaged his standing.

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October 1831
Riots break out over the parliamentary Reform Bill
The Whig Party, elected to power in 1830, introduced a major bill for parliamentary reform. Bristol, Nottingham, Derby and several smaller towns witnessed violent riots after the Reform Bill was rejected by the House of Lords. Nottingham Castle was attacked and the Council House in Bristol was burnt down.

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December 1831
Samuel Sharpe leads a massive slave revolt in Jamaica
More than 20,000 slaves seized control of a wide swathe of Jamaican territory. It took a month for the British troops on the island to subdue the rebels. Sam Sharpe was executed. The British public's interest in slavery had declined after the slave trade was abolished in 1807, but Sam Sharpe's rebellion helped to bring it to the forefront again. A campaign for the abolition of slavery began to gain momentum in Britain.

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4 June 1832
Great Reform Act changes parliamentary representation
The third version of the Reform Bill finally received assent from the House of Lords and William IV. Tory peers only backed the bill after William IV said he would create 50 new Whig lords - thereby giving the Whigs a majority from which to vote the issue through. The Great Reform Act made important changes to parliamentary constituencies and extended the franchise (those allowed to vote), but did not introduce parliamentary democracy or a secret ballot.

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1833
Factory Act restricts work hours for women and children
The Tory peer and reformer Anthony Ashley Cooper promoted the bill, which restricted the hours of work by women and children in textile mills. Under the terms of the act, mill owners were required to show that children up to age 13 received two hours of schooling, six days per week.

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31 July 1833
Parliament passes a bill to abolish slavery in the British empire
After years of intense anti-slavery lobbying and pro-abolition public meetings around the country (including an abolitionist march on 10 Downing Street) parliament finally voted to end slavery throughout the British empire. Slaves would initially become 'apprentices' for a six-year term, starting in 1834. This was later shortened to four years. MP William Wilberforce, who had represented the abolitionists in the House of Commons, died just days before the passage of the bill.

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1834
New Poor Law reforms Britain's social security system
In 1832, a Royal Commission into the Poor Law recommended changes to the system of parish poor relief. Many of its recommendations were incorporated into the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. This statute maintained outdoor relief (relief given outside a workhouse), but led to more central control of the system.

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March 1834
'Tolpuddle Martyrs' are sentenced to transportation for trade union activities
Six farm labourers from the Dorset village of Tolpuddle set up a 'friendly society' to campaign for better pay and working conditions. They were put on trial and sent to penal colonies in Australia, but were granted pardons in 1836 following a public outcry. The so-called 'Tolpuddle Martyrs' are credited with helping to launch the trade union movement.

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1835
Municipal Corporations Bill creates town councils
This legislation gave 178 boroughs the right to have their own town council. All ratepayers were thereafter entitled to vote in borough council elections. The new councils gradually took control of local services such as education, housing and street lighting.

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