The main period that steampunk covers is the reign of Queen Victoria (1838-1901). At conventions and meet-ups, we see people dressed in spiffy waistcoats, stylish petticoats and top hats. People have high tea, create characters and personas of mad scientist, airship captains and Victorian dandies. There is nothing wrong with emulating Victorian high society; at the same time, however, during this much-admired period, the British government instituted its control over half the globe and soaked a large portion of it in blood. What, then, are our responsibilities as people who use this time period as a historical base for our worlds? This was an age of Social Darwinism, of belief in white, Christian supremacy, and the idea that it was the godly imperial duty of all good Englishmen to help extend their world view to the darker parts of the world, and if they meet resistance, it was to be crushed. Does the same vicious and racist world view come through in our worlds? If not, what is the history of people left unconquered by Western Imperialism?
Victoria’s vision of a global British empire didn’t go unchallenged. Throughout her rule, from Dublin to Khartoum, people took up arms to see the British (and other western powers) removed from the places they had come to conquer. Thus, the following questions should be asked: Who were the “rebels” of the Victorian era? Who were the people that were responded to what they saw happening all around them? The list is actually quite long: they were the Irish, the Zulus, the Boers, the Luddites, the mutineers in India, the guerillas in the Sudan, the working class of all nations, and the children living on the streets of London. These were the true rebels in Victoria’s empire, and we should pay them more attention and respect as we evolve as a subculture and literary movement. As we look for the modern “punk” in steampunk, we should become aware of the rich history that lies in all the colonies, not just the United States. Their struggles and the tactics they chose, though not always universally acceptable, make perfect fodder for the worlds and stories we wish to tell. The following is just one example of resistance to the British state from a colonized population and how the British responded. It is the story of acts of resistance that was aimed not just at Victoria’s empire, but at the queen herself.