timeline - 1880s

Prime ministers - William Gladstone (Liberal) 1880-5, Lord Salisbury 1885, Gladstone (Liberal)1886, Salisbury (Conservative) 1886-92.

Lords Lieutenant - Francis Thomas de Grey Cowper (7th Earl Cowper) 1880-82; John Poyntz Spencer (5th Earl Spencer) 1882-85; Henry Howard Molyneux Herbert (4th Earl of Carnarvon) 1885-6; John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon (7th Earl of Aberdeen) Feb-Aug 1886; Charles Stewart Vane-Tempest-Stewart (6th Marquess of Londonderry) 1886-1889; Lawrence Dundas (3rd Earl of Zetland) 1889-92.


  • April: Cecil Rhodes and others established the De Beers Mining Company.

  • General Election: Liberal 354, Conservative 238, Home Rule 65. Gladstone became prime minister but the Irish Home Rule party under Parnell made significant gains. The question of 'Irish Home Rule' was to dominate politics in the 1880s.

  • The House of Commons was lit with incandescent electric light. Gaslight remained the norm for most.

  • Lew Wallace, 'Ben Hur'.

  • Dostoevsky, 'The Brothers Karamazov'.

  • Gilbert & Sullivan, 'The Pirates of Penzance'.

  • Dec 1880 - Mar 1881 first Boer war: The annexation of the Transvaal in 1877 was opposed by the majority Boers. In December 1880 the restoration of the Transvaal Republic was proclaimed and the war started. The British forces were outnumbered and had underestimated their opponents. They were forced into an armistice in March 1881 that saw the recognition of an independent Transvaal (later the South African Republic) but with conditions that gave Britain control over their foreign relations.


  • Census: In Ireland the population was a little over 5 million, a 21% decline since 1851.

  • The 2nd Irish Land Act: Allowed purchase of land by tenants with 75% of the price to be advanced by the Irish Land Commission and to be paid back over 35 years at 5%, only 1000 tenants in all Ireland were in a position to take advantage. Rents could be taken for review by a new Land Court, this was widely used resulting in an overall drop in rents.

  • D'Oyly Carte, The Savoy Theatre was built introducing electric light to the theatre.

  • The socialist organisation 'The Democratic Federation' was founded, William Morris was one of its more prominent members. This and a number of offshoots were destined to break up and reform many times but despite their fractious nature this was the beginning of an intellectual socialism although it had little to do with the working classes.

  • Parnell imprisoned

  • Flogging abolished in the British army

  • Tzar Alexander II assassinated


  • Alliance signed between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy.

  • June: riots in Alexandria saw the army sent to Egypt for the protection of British interests (ie the canal). The campaign itself proved to be one of the most successful of the Victorian period but the aftermath saw the rise of the Mahdi in the Sudan and the need to maintain a permanent British army in Egypt. It was to be 1956 before they were finally thrown out.

  • Tchaikovsky '1812 Overture'.

  • Maxim machine gun invented.

  • Phoenix Park murders. Lord Frederick Cavendish, the chief secretary of Ireland, and an under secretary, TH Burke, were hacked to death with surgical knives by a gang known as the 'Invincibles'.


  • George Sims 'How The Poor Live'. First published in serialized form and later as a book. Written in the form of a travel narrative, it takes the reader through the slums of Victorian England and contrasts their lives with those of the rich.

  • February: Richard Wagner died

  • Fenian bombs exploded in London and Glasgow

  • Construction of Panama Canal began by French interests but the company was liquidated in 1889 and the lease on the land eventually sold to the United States.

  • March: Karl Marx died and was buried in Highgate cemetery.

  • May: Brooklyn Bridge was opened in New York.

  • August: eruption of Krakatoa.

  • Renoir Umbrellas


  • January: General Gordon sent to the Sudan but without any troops to back him up. On his arrival he said 'I come without soldiers but with God on my side to redress the evils of the Sudan'. He became trapped in Khartoum.

  • Large scale production of dynamite began (there had been some technical difficulties to overcome after the initial invention of 1879).

  • Parsons steam turbine patented. At first it was used for electricity generation. The Admiralty was slow to pick up the new invention and it was not until Turbinia of 1897 that they found it could no longer be ignored.

  • July: the statue of Liberty was gifted by France to the United States.

  • Reform act increased the electorate from about 3 to 5 million voters.

  • 1884 First Labour day parade, New York City 5 September

  • Cecil Rhodes annexed Bechunanaland.


  • Debut of both Marie Lloyd and Dan Leno (as an adult).

  • January: The relief column to Khartoum failed and General Gordon was killed when the city fell on the 26th. In Britain he was seen as a martyr and Gladstone was blamed for the disaster.

  • The Liberal party was split over many issues but principally the Irish question.. Gladstone resigned and in June the Conservative party formed a minority Government under Lord Salisbury. An election followed in November and, largely because of the increased franchise, the Liberal party won the largest vote (Liberal 334, Conservative 250, Irish 86) but a coalition with the Irish was needed to guarantee a majority in Parliament. Just after the election Gladstone was converted to the cause of Irish home rule causing yet another split in the Liberal party.

  • August: Karl Benz drove his first motor car around the Neckar Valley. Gottllieb Daimler built a wooden motorcycle the same year although the major advance in internal combustion engines did not cone until 1892 when Daimler invented the carburetor.

  • The language Esperanto was invented.


  • June: Wilhelm II became emperor of Germany.

  • Home Rule bill defeated in the Commons by 30 votes, Gladstone resigned again and Salisbury became prime minister in August.

  • Riots in London following a slump in trade.

  • Contagious Diseases Act repealed. This act was an anti prostitution measure seen by many as being an imposition on womens rights.


  • June: Victoria's golden jubilee

  • Rider Haggard 'She'.

  • November 13, Bloody Sunday. During a pro Irish demonstration in London 26 people were badly injured.

  • Criminal Law and Procedure Act, 1887: Introduced to curtail the activities of the Land League in Ireland. Boycotting, resisting eviction, and intimidation carried heavy penalties. Many were arrested.


  • July: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 'Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet'.

  • August: Mary Anne (Polly) Nichols was murdered in Whitechapel, East London, the first victim of Jack the Ripper. In all there were five victims, the last being Mary Kelly in November.

  • Heinrich Hertz produced the first radio waves.

  • Vincent Van Gogh cut off his ear. He entered an asylum in 1889.


  • The Paris exhibition. A new tower (the Eiffel Tower) was built from wrought iron especially for the exhibition.

  • The Naval Defence Act lead to a large increase in spending on the Navy and the beginning of a European arms race that was to culminate in the Great War.

  • The Eastman company's first production of celluloid film.

  • Joseph Conrad 'Lord Jim'.

  • Late summer: A dock strike in London lasted five weeks, Cardinal Manning was instrumental in ending it.

  • Christmas eave: Captain William O'Shea filed for divorce citing Parnell as co-respondent. The subsequent trial in November 1890 lead to the fall of Parnell and the collapse of the Irish party. After Parnell was labeled an adulterer Cardinal Manning persuaded the Irish Bishops to withdraw their support, without the support of the church the Irish party could not survive. First the party split leaving Parnell with only 28 MPs out of the 86 he had after the election, later three by-elections were lost further reducing the numbers. Parnell married Katherine O'Shea in June 1890 but died in October the same year.

Cronin Families of Cork - 1880s
2005 Michael Cronin
Last revision: 2 March 2005