The Victorian era is considered a morbid time in history, due to its seeming obsession with death. Rather, it was an era when humanity began to win the fight against preventable diseases and so the loss of a life was considered a greater tragedy then in previous eras. In our modern era, we tend to avoid discussing death and all the paraphernalia that accumulates around the passing of an individual. We tend not to talk about coffins (shaped to be widest across the shoulders) and caskets (a straightforward box shape), and yet they are still big business for funeral homes.
Sir Henry Thompson’s main reason for supporting cremation was that “it was becoming a necessary sanitary precaution against the propagation of disease among a population daily growing larger in relation to the area it occupied”.
Until the 1870s, cremation was not an option for British citizens, and all were buried in graveyards (though not forever in cemeteries with limited space). Some Christian religions need the body to remain uncremated because the body will be resurrected. This created levels of ‘status’ for the various coffins (and caskets). In keeping with the Victorian for ornamentation, there were certain items added to coffins to ‘decorate’ them.
People collected coffin plates from family relatives. Now that is morbid!
As you can see, a pine box can get very ornamental with all these doodads. As well, the lining of a coffin could vary from nothing to a lead lining right up to silk or satin linings, and might include a coffin bell for those who feared being buried alive.
As a writer, I would use coffins as a metaphor for the social status of the deceased. Coffins add a Gothic sensibility to the Steampunk genre, though the addition of bells might inspire one to make a coffin something more than a bed for your character’s eternal rest. In Terry Pratchett’s Nation, the character of Cookie has equipped his coffin as a survival pod, complete with rations, maps and a sail. A Steampunk writer might add grenades, rayguns, and the coffin might convert to a mole machine with a rotating digger for a nose. A coffin for a truly Great Escape.