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Posted in Adventure, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Trade, Travel on Friday, 7 March 2014
This edited article about Alexander Mackenzie first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 582 published on 10 March 1973.
Mackenzie and his party setting off to find a route due West to the Pacific Ocean, crossing rocks and rapids by Graham Coton
It was the year of 1788, and winter had closed in on the little fur trading post of Fort Chipewyan in the far North West of Canada. Imprisoned in their log huts by the cold, the little colony had settled down to sit out the long months and pass the time as best they could. One could play cards, or one could read or one could gaze out of the window at the falling snow piling up steadily against the other log cabins. There was alcohol, of course, but not enough to numb the senses as it was strictly rationed. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that everyone on the station was already bored to death.
Well, almost everyone.
There was one exception, a young Scot from the Outer Hebrides named Alexander Mackenzie. He was not bored because he was obsessed with a dream that had occupied his mind for some time. The dream was to find a route to the Pacific coast of Canada, which would then give the fur trading company a direct access to China, the greatest fur market in the world.
Knowing that there were no tracks across the forest-clad Canadian interior, Mackenzie dreamed of finding some great river flowing ever westwards until it finally emptied itself in the Pacific. It was a dream not entirely rooted in fantasy. According to Captain Cooke who had voyaged along the Pacific coast some ten years before, such a river probably existed. The problem was how to find it amid the thousands of miles of uncharted territory that made up the great tracts of Northern Canada.
Mackenzie had only one clue to work on. A group of Red Indians who had visited the trading company had spoken of a great inland sea known as The Great Slave Lake. From there, they claimed, a big river flowed westwards. It was Mackenzie’s plan to make his way there with a small band of men and three canoes when the Spring came. In the meantime, Mackenzie dreamed and planned.
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Posted in Adventure, Famous news stories, Geography, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 5 March 2014
This edited article about Tenzing Norkay first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 578 published on 10 February 1973.
Tenzing and Hillary on top of Everest
Tenzing Norkay, a Sherpa tribesman of Nepal, was thirteen years old when he first ran away from his home two miles up in the Himalayan mountains. He was tired of tending his peasant father’s flock of goats and yaks. Although he could neither read nor write, he was determined to go to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, where he hoped to be taken on as a mountain porter.
The young Sherpa was used to climbing the hills near his parents’ small stone house, but he had no idea that the journey to Kathmandu would prove so arduous. There were no roads linking Norkay’s village of Thami with the rest of the country, and not even the hardiest of mountain mules could negotiate the jagged rocks and swift-flowing rivers. Travellers to and from Thami had to walk for two weeks through the mountains. They crossed the rivers by bridges made of chains and rope, and there was the danger that they might lose their way and never be seen again.
Despite these hazards, the runaway managed to reach the capital, but when he got there his hopes of becoming a porter were crushed because of a misunderstanding.
For years, Norkay – who was born in 1914 – had listened to the older sherpas’ stories of the attempts by Europeans to climb nearby Mount Everest. The Sherpa tribesmen are acknowledged as the world’s finest mountain porters, and their services were used on the three unsuccessful British expeditions made in the 1920s.
In his innocence, Norkay had imagined that these expeditions started from Kathmandu, and he was dismayed to learn that the mountaineers all made their headquarters at Darjeeling, the hill-resort over the border, in India. Sadly disappointed, he returned to his father’s house.
Five years later, in 1932, Norkay again said goodbye to his parents and his many brothers and sisters. He had no money, and owned nothing except a single blanket and the clothes he stood up in. This time he was bound for Darjeeling, and he vowed that he would not return home until he had become a porter.
But once more his plans were thwarted. On reaching Darjeeling, he found the town crowded out with would-be porters. He was forced to take a job on an outlying farm, where he resumed his old work as a shepherd.
To make matters worse, the Indian boys laughed at the pigtail he wore. It was a Sherpa tradition to sport a pigtail, but in spite of this Norkay had his hair cut short.
At the time this seemed to be a good idea – but a few months later, he bitterly regretted his action. When he applied to the English mountaineer Hugh Ruttledge, who would only employ Sherpas, Mr Ruttledge took him to be an Indian and refused him a job.
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Posted in Adventure, America, Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Trade on Wednesday, 26 February 2014
This edited article about Henry Hudson first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 569 published on 9 December 1972.
Henry Hudson discovered Jan Mayen Island around which so many whales could be seen that he realised the profitability of setting up whaling stations in Spitsbergen, by Severino Baraldi
They had been set adrift in an open boat somewhere in the vast expanse of Hudson Bay. There were nine of them, including the great navigator, Henry Hudson, and his son John, abandoned by the mutineers who had taken over their ship, the Discovery.
There was only one possible fate left open to them, to perish miserably. No one will ever know what finally happened to them. Like so much of Hudson’s life, these last days of his remain shrouded in mystery, for the bodies of the nine were never found. The harrowing picture of that open boat on a limitless sea has haunted the imagination of seafarers and landlubbers alike ever since.
Henry Hudson, who perished in 1611, was born, so scholars believe, before 1570. Not until 1607 does he definitely appear in recorded history, when he set out on a voyage sponsored by the Muscovy Company. This had been founded by English merchants to find a route to China and the Indies by way of the seas north of Russia, though it gradually became a company trading with Russia. In Hudson’s time the dream was to find the short cut westwards to China, the longed for North-west Passage.
It was a reasonable idea at the time. Though Magellan’s and Drake’s expeditions had sailed round the world in the previous century, and though Spain had colonised much of Central and South America, no one as yet knew just how vast a mass of land barred ships from sailing to China.
There was always the hope that one could cross the mysterious North American continent by water, or sail around its northern extremities. It was then Henry Hudson’s mission in life to find such a route.
Incredible though it may seem, his first expedition was supposed to be across the North Pole. From the maps that existed such a course did not seem impossible, but it must have been an awesome sight for Hudson when he first set eyes on the great sheet of ice. The treacherous conditions made life intolerable and he and his crew of ten, were forced to return home. Yet he was able to bring back stories of the islands he had discovered and of the many whales he had seen around Spitsbergen. His sponsors were later to make vast amounts of money from whaling in those icy waters. A second attempt was made a year later – this time round the north of Europe – but ice blocked him again. So he turned westward toward America. But once more his mission was ill-fated. Gale winds drove him off course and he had to head for home.
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Posted in Adventure, Historical articles, History, Religion, Travel, War on Tuesday, 25 February 2014
This edited article about John of Plano Carpini first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 566 published on 18 November 1972.
Friar John marches through the blinding snow
On Easter Sunday, 1245, when Friar John da Pian del Carpine left Lyon at the start of a long journey, he was by no means sure he would live to see another Easter day. And the farther he travelled, the less sure he became.
Snow covered him like a white blanket, as he crossed Poland and Russia. Icy winds numbed his bones and chilled his limbs, so that at the end of the day he could hardly crawl out of the sledge in which he travelled. But it was not this which caused his growing feeling of horror. It was the devastated countryside all around him. The cities he passed were in ruins, some with hardly a building left standing. There were few people, but there were human skulls and skeletons littering the roads.
The devastation was the work of ruthless Mongol invaders, and it gave Friar John no consolation at all to reflect that he was on his way to visit the leader of these savage hordes, with a letter from the Pope.
Just over thirty years earlier the Mongols, fierce nomads, united under the leadership of Genghiz Khan, had swept out of the steppe lands into Central Asia, smashed through the Great Wall of China and conquered the country, and then overrun Persia.
Genghiz Khan was a savage conqueror, born in a savage age. His enemies might find themselves boiled, burned or skinned alive, or nailed to wooden horses. Conquered cities were often levelled to the ground, so that no trace of them remained, and their inhabitants massacred. Any who hoped to save their lives by offering to join the Mongol army were likely to be summarily executed as they entered the Mongol camp.
In 1237 the Mongols, led now by Genghis Khan’s son and successor, Ogedei, turned on Europe, unleashed a reign of terror. Just when it seemed that nothing could save Christendom, Ogedei died. The throne was elective, the election required the presence of all the Mongol nobles and still undefeated, the Mongol army poured back into Mongolia to elect a new leader.
At this stage, Pope Innocent IV decided to send a mission to the Mongol leader demanding that their attacks cease. For this mission, he chose Friar John da Pian del Carpini.
There could hardly have been a more surprised man than Friar John. There was nothing in his past to suggest that at the age of sixty odd he was the ideal man to go adventuring into an unknown, inhospitable land where no Westerner had ever been before.
Born in the little Italian village of Pian del Carpine about 1180, He had joined the Order founded by St Francis and risen to become warden of the friary of Cologne. Whatever his duties, they did not consist of riding from dawn to dusk in all weathers, converting heathen hordes, exploring unknown territory, or spying, one or all of which would have stood in him good stead for the task the Pope had in mind, which was to convert the Mongols, or, failing that, to bring back details of their military strength and their future plans for attacking Europe.
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Posted in Adventure, Education, English Literature, Historical articles, History, Leisure, Literature on Tuesday, 18 February 2014
This edited article about Victorian children’s books first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 556 published on 9 September 1972.
Some familiar characters from children's story books
If you had been a child in the ‘nineties whose parents were not poor, it is almost certain you would have received from some kindly aunt at Christmas a copy of ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ by a woman named Frances Hodgson Burnett. And you would have been duly impressed by the good behaviour of this golden-haired little gentleman in the velvet suit and lace collar who called his widowed American mother ‘Dearest,’ found himself heir to an English Earldom and eventually melted the heart of his grandfather, a crusty old Earl who hated everybody and everything.
‘Fauntleroy’ would produce in the average youngster of today, the urge to give him a good kick on the seat of his velvet pants. But he was no joke to the late Victorians whose small boys were rigged out in ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ suits, and to whom the little chap’s winning ways and practical compassion for the so called ‘Lower orders’ were wholly admirable. ‘Fauntleroy,’ in fact, was a symbol of the feeling among certain of the upper classes to be more kindly to those less fortunate than themselves.
Even so, the Victorian child who was ready to take an uplifting lesson from ‘Fauntleroy’ might secretly have preferred F. Anstey’s ‘Vice Versa’ in which, by magic means, the schoolboy son of an unspeakably pompous Papa is able to change places with the parent who, pompous as ever, finds that school is not exactly the happy place to which he imagined he had sent his lad.
The school, of course, was one where children of the upper classes often had a worse time of it than those in the State or Church schools. Rugby was not exactly a bed of roses in 1857 when Thomas Hughes published ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays,’ the greatest Public School story of that century, if not of all time. Like most Victorian school yarns there was a message and a moral. Young Tom’s arrival at Rugby coincided with that of its new Headmaster, the famous Dr Arnold. But the old order of bullying among the senior boys still prevailed. The odious Flashman was a cad, far more villainous than the cads of Greyfriars and St Jims, those two wholly imaginary schools immortalized in the Magnet and the Gem, which gave so much pleasure to your fathers.
Within a year of Tom Brown’s days at Rugby, a clergyman, Dean Farrar, produced a school tale of quite a different kind. ‘Eric or Little by Little,’ the tale of a boy whose forthright and delicate young nature falls under evil influences, including that of the Demon Drink, is almost laughable today. The good Dean preached a typically Victorian sermon which brought tears to the eyes of its readers because it contained an abundance of deaths, including those of Eric’s nearest and dearest relatives and his closest school friend and finally – no doubt to the relief of many readers – of himself.
What real tear-jerkers were some of the writers for children in the second half of the 19th Century, after the Great Exhibition of 1851 had trumpeted ‘Progress’ to the world, and social reform was doing its best to improve the appalling conditions of the working classes. A certain lady who wrote under the initials A.L.O.E. – ‘A Lady of England’ – saw the sadness of the London poor through, of all things, a family of rats. Rats, despised by everybody, were shown to be loyal, generous and family minded to a degree, and quite incapable of what horrified them in their dockland warehouse – man’s inhumanity to man. ‘The Rambles of a Rat’ is a true Victorian curiosity. And let’s not forget perhaps the greatest ‘weepie’ of them all – ‘Frogg’s Little Brother,’ published in 1871.
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Posted in Adventure, America, Historical articles, History, Weapons on Tuesday, 18 February 2014
This edited article about the Wild West first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 556 published on 9 September 1972.
Calamity Jane with (inset) Wild Bill Hickock
There are many stories concerning bravery and daring, horse riding and shooting attributed to the legendary Calamity Jane, but what is less known are her abilities as a nurse and her many acts of kindness, acts which at the time were just as much responsible for her fame as her more masculine pursuits.
Calamity Jane, her real name was Martha Jane Canary, certainly spent her childhood in the hair-raising atmosphere of western frontier towns, but as to exactly where she was born nobody really knows. At least three American towns were said to have been Calamity Jane’s birthplace. One story has it that she was born in Princeton, Missouri, another that her birthplace was Burlington, in Iowa, and a third tale that she was born in a trading post near Fort Laramie and that her parents had been killed by Indians. Jane, having survived the attack, was taken to the fort and adopted by a soldier stationed there.
As a child Jane was almost certainly continuously under influences contrary to those most suited to the upbringing of a young lady. Her orthodox schooling, if any, was scarce, her time was spent in the company of soldiers, gunmen, miners, and muleskinners, and as time went by Jane Canary learnt more of the trades of the west. It was said that at an early age she could handle a gun as well as any man, that in a fist fight it was far better to have her as a friend than an enemy, but in all these manly pursuits it was the handling of mules and horses in which she excelled. This later pursuit enabled her to earn a living, often working for the government and army as a pony express rider or handling pack trains.
In learning these trades contrary to those usually taken up by a lady, Calamity Jane also picked up some rather nasty habits. She is said to have drunk very heavily, which would account for the many reports of her adventures in frontier saloons, to have sworn like a trooper and to have continuously chewed tobacco. Add to all this the fact that she dressed completely in buckskins and other manly attire, it would have been difficult to have seen her as any way different to the rough, violent men frequenting the American West in the 1870′s.
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Posted in Adventure, English Literature, Historical articles, History, Sea, Ships, War on Thursday, 13 February 2014
This edited article about Frederick Marryat first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 550 published on 29 July 1972.
During a hurricane off New York the mizzen, fore, and main topmasts of the frigate “Aeolus” were blown down and the ship was flung over onto her side. A young midshipman, Frederick Marryat, without thought of personal danger and followed by half a dozen brave seamen, mounted the weather rigging and cut away the wreck allowing the freed ship to right herself. The year was 1811 and Marryat later described this as the “proudest moment of my life.” This was just one of many such brave deeds. During twenty-four years in the Navy he received twenty-seven commendations for saving life at sea and was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Humane Society.
Frederick had entered the Royal Navy as a midshipman in 1806 when he was 14. He loved the exciting life in the wartime Navy but was horrified by the living conditions on board ship. These conditions and the vigorous and hard life he led undermined his health and while serving in Barbados in 1813 a blood vessel in his lung burst and he collapsed. He was sent home for six months to regain his health.
When he returned to duty his ship was the “Newcastle.” Britain was at war with the United States and Marryat was sent into Boston Bay in an open boat as leader of a raiding party to destroy four American merchant ships. They succeeded but at the cost of eleven lives. The rest of the raiders spent three days without food or water before regaining contact with their ship.
By the time peace came to Europe Frederick had reached the rank of commander. The peace put a curb on further promotions and he spent the next few years on land. As the son of a wealthy man Frederick did not have to face the hardships that many naval officers were confronted with at this time. In fact he could now indulge in his hobbies of reading, writing and sketching. He had a chance to travel for pleasure and to enjoy a social life which had been denied him so far. He also got married.
During this time ashore he worked out a better signalling system for ships and in 1817 published “A Code of Signals for the Use of Vessels Employed in the Merchant Service.” This code was so successful that it was used by seamen for many years.
In 1820 Marryat received his first naval command. The next two or three years afloat were rather uneventful and boring for this adventure-loving man. In 1823, however, he set sail for the East Indies in command of the sloop “Larne.” On arrival at Madras in early 1824 he heard that the Burmese had invaded Bengal and he sailed at once to support the British military commander there. This war dragged on for three years. The British troops had to cope with cholera and fever as well as the fierce Burmese fighters. Marryat lost half his crew within a few months and himself contracted cholera.
In 1827 he was confirmed in the rank of captain, a promotion long overdue to this gallant sailor. He was also awarded the Order of the Companion of the Bath.
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Posted in Adventure, America, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Wednesday, 5 February 2014
This edited article about America first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 543 published on 10 June 1972.
When a band of Sioux attacked the stage on the Nebraska plains that summer morning in 1865, the passengers were alarmed but not surprised. The Civil War, recently ended, had badly affected stage line operations, and the Indians, taking advantage of the fact that most soldiers had been recalled to fight in the East, had made things even worse.
What was surprising perhaps was that the man riding shotgun (guard) on top of the coach, the man who saw to it that the Sioux, armed only with bows and arrows, kept their distance and finally gave up, their ponies being no match for the coach’s horses, was the head of the stage line himself, Ben Holladay.
Yet it was not really so surprising. Holladay, like the other stagecoach kings who dominated Western land transportation until the 1890s, long after a transcontinental railroad had been completed back in 1869, believed in leading his “troops” from the front from time to time. On this occasion he was out to prove that now the war was over, operations could commence once again in earnest.
Except when there were rivers – and some of them were unsafe to navigate – the stagecoach was the best means of transportation in that vast, untamed area, the best and the safest. The badmen who held up stagecoaches – “road agents,” as they were called – could never guarantee to succeed against a coachload of as many as eighteen people, some of them heavily armed, who could be crammed into and on to that queen of the prairies, the Concord coach, along with baggage, mail and sometimes gold.
There was nothing comfortable about the journey, even if there was not a full load. As the “Omaha Herald” noted on October 3, 1877, “Don’t imagine for a moment that you are going on a picnic. Expect annoyances, discomfort, and some hardship.” That was an understatement!
The first stage coach king, before Holladay, before Henry Wells and William Fargo, was John Butterfield, who, after a minimum of schooling, rose from driving a stage in New York State in the 1820s to becoming the biggest man in staging in the East, with interests in packet boats and steamboats as well.
In 1857, having founded the American Express Company, he gained a sensational contract from the U.S. Government, being given the task of organising the first transcontinental stage line.
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Posted in Adventure, Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Nature, Travel, Wildlife on Monday, 3 February 2014
This edited article about Alexander Humboldt first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 538 published on 6 May 1972.
Alexander Humboldt was an explorer of considerable wealth and his expeditions were always well equipped with scientific apparatus, by Graham Coton
It was the kind of holiday that any boy would dream about and now that it was coming true Alexander could hardly believe that the long months of waiting were really over. Starting from his house in the heart of Germany they were to go by boat down the Rhine until they reached the sea. Then on to the Netherlands, over the Channel to spend some time in England and finally a short stay in Paris.
As the son of a nobleman he had always expected to be able to travel, but his father died when he was ten and there had followed a rather lonely and friendless period at school and college. Now he was being rewarded for the hours of study by his own Grand Tour, and the carefully planned journey would give him a much broader view of Europe.
It was the choice of his companion, however, which had the most far-reaching effects. For his tutor chose John Forster, an Englishman who had travelled with Captain Cook on his second voyage and long after the European trip had been forgotten Alexander remembered their conversations, lasting far into the night. He was haunted by the exotic images of south sea islands, the vast inner wilderness of Australia, the bustling excitement of the far eastern ports and the terror of a stormy passage round Cape Horn. He dreamed of great voyages which he could undertake and of new lands which he could visit for the first time.
The determination to fulfil these ambitions burned as fiercely as ever until, at last, he had the money to finance his travels. There followed a series of journeys which were to make him one of the most famous men in Europe, and his name appears no less than five times in the Atlas of the world as a monument to his courage and resourcefulness.
It was the age-old quest for gold which finally determined the area that Alexander Humboldt was to explore first. Not that he was particularly anxious to discover it, but the Spanish government were. Their South American colonies had fallen sadly from the ancient glories that were theirs at the time of the Conquistadores and it was they who gave Humboldt every assistance when the idea of a visit to South America was suggested. As a trained geologist, he would surely find the precious metal if it was there.
Humboldt’s original intention had been to go with Napoleon on his combined military and scientific expedition to Egypt. Indeed he had done everything he could, offering to join at his own expense, but it was of no avail and eventually, impatient and annoyed at the waste of several months he and his friend Aime Bonpland, a naturalist, had gone to Spain instead.
The Spanish were so afraid of revolutionary plots in their colonies that passports were difficult to obtain. But once Humboldt had official backing for his plan to explore the unknown and reputedly dangerous basin of the great Orinoco river he was given every help.
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Posted in Adventure, Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Plants, Ships on Monday, 3 February 2014
This edited article about Louis Bougainville first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 537 published on 29 April 1972.
finally he took the soldiers around the ship so that they could see just how bad the situation was, by Graham Coton
No one spoke, and those who had essential work to do if the ship were to continue its voyage did so listlessly. The leather on the yards and on the oars had long since been stripped off and, until a few days previously, men could be seen chewing it mechanically, still hoping for some sustenance from the thin, dry strips.
As so happened, scurvy had taken its toll and there must have been many who were secretly convinced that they would never see France again.
For all of them it was the disappointment which was so hard to bear. They had surmounted the difficulties of sailing in unknown waters, of negotiating with unknown savages, and of a ferocious 52 day passage from the Atlantic through the Strait of Magellan to the Pacific. Now they seemed to be drifting towards death when they had achieved so much.
The following day, the question of food was still uppermost in the men’s minds, but the choice before them was grim. Should they eat the rats which swarmed in the ship’s holds or starve? Louis Bougainville brought his fists down on the table. Tired though he was, the strength of the blow sent the charts quivering. He spoke slowly and forcefully. “In just two or three days we must find one of these Dutch islands, the Moluccas,” he said, “And then our troubles will be over.”
Louis Bougainville was right to be hopeful. The next evening, pieces of driftwood and branches of trees were seen, indicating that land was very near. A coastline came into view and then a harbour. But when they moved slowly towards an anchorage two Dutch soldiers came aboard with the distressing news that no foreign ships were allowed there. Bouganville was aghast, then incensed. He pleaded, he swore and finally he took the soldiers around the ship so that they could see just how bad the situation was. They were no fighting force, but a tired, hungry party who offered no threat to anyone.
Finally, humanity won the day and the resident agent, relenting, invited Bougainville and his officers to a meal at his house. Bougainville described it as “one of the most delicious moments of my life.” In return, he agreed to tell the agent of their voyage so far. It was quite an adventure.
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