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Posted in Bravery, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 12 June 2013
This edited article about Canada originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 290 published on 5 August 1967.
Whenever young Magdelaine de Vercheres heard the alarm bell ringing in her fortress home on the St. Lawrence River, she knew that there were Red Indians about. Then she and her brothers and sisters would run to the palisade which surrounded the fort.
They often saw Indians paddle menacingly by in their war canoes. The Iroquois warriors were painted blue, white, red, yellow and green, and if they saw the children watching them, they would let out blood-curdling cries. Sometimes they shot arrows at the stockade, and when that happened, the two soldiers who guarded Fort de Vercheres (or Castle Dangerous, as it was called locally) retaliated by firing their single cannon.
Magdelaine de Vercheres was born in Castle Dangerous in March, 1678, one of the 12 children of Seigneur de Vercheres, a former professional soldier who had emigrated to New France and been granted his own piece of land. Together with her brothers and sisters, Magdelaine grew up under the constant threat of attack by the Redskins.
The children were warned that, if they were ever captured by the Iroquois, they would be cruelly tortured and probably killed, and, to ensure their safety as far as possible, they were taught how to look after themselves in all sorts of circumstances and emergencies. By the time she was eight, Magdelaine could handle a canoe, swim expertly, shoot accurately with a musket, light a camp-fire in a high wind, run on snow-shoes, and fell a young tree with an axe.
She had also been instructed in the more conventional female skills of sewing, cooking, and dress-making, but her real interest lay in ‘doing as the men do’. She loved to listen to the menfolk of Castle Dangerous talking about their past fights with the Indians, or how they had been trapped in the forest at night surrounded by howling wolves. And on the occasions when the Redskins boldly attacked the fort, and she sheltered in the armoury with the rest of the women and children, she was more excited than frightened.
Then, in 1692, when Magdelaine was 14, her parents had to make a business trip to Ottawa. For some weeks past there had been no sign of any Indians, and Madame de Vercheres decided to take some of the children with her to visit their relatives. Magdelaine, as the oldest remaining child, was left in charge of Castle Dangerous. She had with her in the small fort the two soldiers, her 12-year-old brother Pierre, an old servant called Laviolette, four young men, a man of over eighty, and some dozen women and children.
On the morning of 22nd October, all was still quiet, and Magdelaine left the fort and wandered down to the river bank, where some linen had been left out to bleach. She was standing watching the gentle lapping of the water when she suddenly heard Laviolette shout, “Run, madamoiselle, run! The Indians are upon you!” Swinging round, she saw about fifty garishly-painted warriors rushing towards her, muskets and tomahawks in their hands.
Immediately she began to run back to the fort gates. Behind her, some of the Indians stopped and fired at her, and shots whistled past her head.
She had nearly reached the safety of the fort when the fleetest of the Redskins caught up with her. He made a grab for her, but only grasped the wrap which was tied round her shoulders. She undid the pin securing the wrap and threw herself forward into the stockade. The Indian was left clutching the wrap and the gates were slammed in his face.
Magdelaine was unharmed, but the Iroquois now assembled to attack the fort. They saw that they outnumbered the occupants by more than two to one, and obviously expected a quick and easy victory.
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Posted in Australia, Bravery, Disasters, Famous news stories, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Ships on Tuesday, 11 June 2013
This edited article about Grace Bussell originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 285 published on 1 July 1967.
"Without a Moment's Hesitation she Dashed with her Noble Steed Down the Cliff and into the Raging Waters, closely followed by the Stockman, and reached the Boat, Dragging many of the Passengers Ashore"
On 2nd December, 1876, the Australian coastal steamship Georgette, bound for Adelaide, sprang a leak 180 miles south of Freemantle. The captain realised at once that he had little chance of saving his ship: his main concern was the safety of his 48 passengers, most of them women and children.
The lifeboat was lowered with eight people aboard, but it was as leaky as the Georgette, and, to the consternation of those watching, sank in a matter of moments. All its occupants were drowned.
The captain decided to try to run his vessel ashore before she too, sank, but the Georgette grounded when she was still some way out.
There was one other boat on board, which was rapidly launched, but it had scarcely left the ship’s side when it overturned. It took nearly an hour for the crew to right it and get it back alongside. Women and children were lowered down into it, and it set out again for the shore, only to capsize again in two and a half fathoms of raging water. Some of its occupants were drowned straight away; others clung desperately to the sides of the boat.
The captain swept the coastline through his telescope, but it was a wild and desolate stretch and there was no one to be seen.
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Posted in America, Bravery, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, War on Tuesday, 11 June 2013
This edited article about General Custer originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 285 published on 1 July 1967.
Custer's last stand
Although General George Custer led his Federal cavalry to victory in the American Civil War battles of Gettysburg, Cedar Creek, Five Forks and Appomattox, he is remembered today for his defeat in what has come to be known as ‘Custer’s Last Stand’.
Custer, who was born in Ohio in 1839, had a distinguished military career. After the Civil War he was sent to keep an eye on the Indian tribes. At this time the Sioux leader, Chief Sitting Bull, had signed a treaty with the U.S. Government agreeing to live peacefully in the Powder River area which was bounded by the Black Hills of Dakota. In return the Government assured the Indians they would be left alone by the white men.
In 1874, in deliberate violation of the pact, Custer was sent to make an official military survey of the area – unofficially he found gold. A gold rush followed. Miners invaded the Sioux territory and by the next year the new mining town of Custer City had 11,000 inhabitants.
Understandably the Sioux resented the taking of their land and, to prevent trouble, the U.S. Government decided to remove the Sioux to distant reservations. In December, 1875, the Indians were told that by 1st January, 1876, they had to move to reservations or soldiers would be sent to fetch them. Sitting Bull sent the reply: “Come if you wish. I am here. I shall not run away.”
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Posted in America, Bravery, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Thursday, 30 May 2013
This edited article about Canada originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 274 published on 15 April 1967.
She had no sooner finished milking when the cow kicked over the pail by Ron Embleton
The Americans were invading Canada! Eight million Americans were confronting less than half a million British and French Canadians – and there were less than 5,000 regular troops in all British North America.
In that summer of 1812, things looked black for Canada, but what happened over the next two years was to be the making of the country.
No one was more determined to fight for their country than James and Laura Secord.
Laura’s parents, whose name was Ingersoll, were among the thousands of Americans who had remained loyal to Britain during the American War of Independence. Persecuted for their loyalty to the Crown, they headed north from Massachusetts after the war ended in 1783, with their eight-year-old daughter, to settle in British territory.
Britain had gained Canada from the French 20 years before. The thousands of English-speaking men and women who settled in Canada at this time were known as the United Empire Loyalists.
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Posted in Africa, Bravery, Famous battles, Famous news stories, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Wednesday, 29 May 2013
This edited article about the Boer War originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 271 published on 25 March 1967.
From 1877 there had been constant friction between the British and the Boers – colonists of Dutch descent – in South Africa. In 1880 the Boers declared South Africa to be a Republic again, and they obtained reluctant recognition in 1884. Then gold was discovered in the Transvaal. The most fantastic gold rush followed, and immigrants poured in, intent on making their fortunes.
The Boers refused to grant the newcomers civic rights and the immigrants became restless and discontented. Finally, in 1895, they rebelled. An official in the British controlled area of South Africa, Dr. Leander Jameson, led an unofficial raid into the Transvaal to support the uprising. But the raiders had only 600 men and the affair ended in a fiasco. The raiders were captured and handed unceremoniously back to the British. Dr. Jameson was imprisoned and the Prime Minister of the Cape, Cecil Rhodes, was forced to resign.
The Boers were afraid of another raid on a bigger scale, and the immigrants, backed by the British government, continued to demand civic rights. In October, 1899, the Boers took the initiative into their own hands and declared war. They attacked all along the frontier dividing their state from the British-held territories. In the beginning, the odds were all in their favour. They were able to place 35,000 men in the field, while the resident British troops had less than half that number.
In one week, they hurled back the defenders and encircled the three key towns of Kimberley, Mafeking and Ladysmith.
The commander of the British garrison in Mafeking was an English officer, Robert Baden-Powell. He had a force of a little over 1,000 troops. Encircling the town was a Boer force of 9,000 men, under the command of General Cronje.
There should have been little doubt about the result of the siege. Certainly, the people in England thought that it was a foregone conclusion. In spite of Queen Victoria’s brave words – “We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat. They do not exist” – a wave of despondency swept across the country.
But gradually the impetus of the Boer attack was checked and held. Mafeking was still surrounded – but Baden-Powell, working miracles of improvisation, continued to keep the attackers at bay.
The days grew into weeks and the obscure township became a symbol of national pride to Britons, who daily followed the sparse news reports of conditions in the area. Kimberley was relieved in February, 1900, but the relief forces for Mafeking were hurled back three times. At last, on 17th May, 1900, a force under General Mahon succeeded in breaking through the encircling army, relieving the town after a siege of nearly eight months. London went wild with rejoicing.
Writing over 50 years afterwards, Winston Churchill recorded with disapproval the ‘unseemly scenes’ which the city witnessed during a night and day of unrestrained celebration. The breaking of the news in London added a new word to the English language – ‘mafficking’, the extravagant rejoicing of a crowd.
Posted in Adventure, Bravery, Farming, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 29 May 2013
This edited article about the Lake District originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 271 published on 25 March 1967.
Agnes Green, 'The Little Mother of Blentarn Ghyll' reaches another farm and collapses
When George Green ended his military career as a soldier in the army of King George III, he got married and decided to become a farmer. He had always yearned for a simple life, and now he found it on his small mountain farm in Westmorland, in the heart of the Lake District.
In many ways the farm, which nestled in a rugged gorge called Blentarn Ghyll, was an ideal spot for Farmer Green’s six children – four girls and two boys – to grow up in. Lake Grasmere was not far away, and the farm itself was surrounded by streams and hillocks which made it a wonderful natural playground.
At first, life for the Green children seemed like an endless game. But there were harsher realities which some of them were too young to appreciate. There was only one horse and one cow on the farm – hardly enough livestock to provide Mr. Green with a fair living.
As the children grew older it became increasingly difficult for their parents to provide them with adequate food and clothing. Meals were restricted to a monotonous diet of bread, boiled potatoes and milk.
The situation was becoming desperate when, in March, 1807, Farmer Green heard that a sale of farm equipment was being held a few miles away, at Langdale. He decided to go there and see what he could buy. With some new tools and utensils he might still be able to make a success of his farm.
So, on the afternoon of 19th March, George and his wife Sarah set out to walk to the auction. They had no fears about leaving the youngsters on their own, as they planned to be back by nightfall. Besides, the eldest, 12-year-old Agnes, was well used to looking after her brothers and sisters and liked doing it.
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Posted in Bravery, Castles, Historical articles, History, War on Tuesday, 28 May 2013
This edited article about Lady Mary Bankes originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 269 published on 11 March 1967.
On 5th March, 1646, the Parliament of Oliver Cromwell issued an order for the destruction of Corfe Castle in Dorset. Cart-loads of gunpowder were taken to the castle, and then what had been one of the strongest fortresses in Britain was blasted into the ruin which it remains to this day. This act of destruction was revenge on the part of the Roundheads for what had been to them one of the most humiliating episodes of the Civil War.
It began when, in May, 1643, the Roundhead authorities sent a party of 40 men to Corfe Castle to demand four small cannon which they knew protected its massive walls. They did not expect trouble for the castle was in charge of Lady Mary Bankes. Her husband, Sir John Bankes, was far away with his king, and Lady Mary only had five men and her maid servants in the castle. Yet when the Roundheads demanded the cannon her answer was to fire them from the battlements. The 40 men took to their heels.
On 23rd June a force of 600 men under the command of Sir Walter Earle arrived at Corfe and commenced a siege. Lady Bankes had expected this and had managed to get in a good supply of food and 80 men loyal to the Royalist cause. Despite their artillery, the Roundheads made little impression on the castle.
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Posted in Ancient History, Bravery, Historical articles, History, War on Thursday, 23 May 2013
This edited article about Regulus originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 264 published on 4 February 1967.
Rome and Carthage had been locked for nine years in a struggle for the dominance of the Mediterranean. Carthage had been founded about 100 years before Rome by the Phoenicians.
The Carthaginians controlled much of the Mediterranean and made alliances with the enemies of Rome.
Conflict between these two great powers arose in Sicily when one of the cities, menaced by the Carthaginians, appealed to Rome. The Romans agreed to help.
Three long and bloody wars lay between Roman success in Sicily and the raising of their standards over the smoking ruins of Carthage.
Characteristically, the Romans decided to carry the war into enemy territory after expelling them from Sicily. The Romans never made particularly good seamen but they learnt enough to defeat the Carthaginians on their own element and so opened the sea-road to Africa.
In 256 B.C. a great Roman army was landed upon the African coast commanded by two consuls, Manlius and Regulus. Their army overran the country in a swift and efficient campaign. The very ease of their success led to their undoing. Elections were pending in Rome and Manlius, together with a large part of the army, was recalled. Regulus continued the war with success and the enemy sued for peace. But the consul met their proposals with terms so harsh that, in despair, the Carthaginians fought on. They were fortunate in obtaining the help of a Spartan mercenary army and with these skilled soldiers, they turned the tables on Regulus. In a fierce battle the Roman force was overwhelmed and the consul taken prisoner. Only a handful of men escaped to the waiting Roman fleet, and of these many were lost in a storm that shattered the fleet at sea. A few ragged survivors brought back the news which caused such dismay in Rome.
The invincible legions had been defeated in a land battle. It needed little to persuade the Romans to forget the lure of empire, to concentrate on home affairs and to remain a purely Italian power.
It was at this crucial moment the consul Regulus returned. He had been sent as a messenger by Carthage to carry an offer of peace to Rome. Instead he urged his fellow-citizens to continue the war in the knowledge that Rome must ultimately triumph. Then, because he had given his word to do so, he returned to Carthage to torture, as it was said, and to death.
Posted in Boats, Bravery, Disasters, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Ships on Thursday, 23 May 2013
This edited article about Henry Greathead originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 264 published on 4 February 1967.
Henry Greathead and the Greathead Lifeboat
A cheer left the throats of hundreds of onlookers as a wave lifted the boat from its special carriage, and the ten oarsmen pulled with a will. Henry Greathead felt a glow of pride as he steered the boat he had built into the choppy seas off South Shields that bleak day on 30th January, 1790. Christened the Original, it was the world’s first specially designed lifeboat.
Born on 27th January, 1757, Henry Greathead grew up to become a ship’s carpenter. He learned his craft on various voyages in sailing ships, and in 1785 he set up business in South Shields as a boat-builder. He became fascinated by the idea of building an unsinkable boat to save life at sea.
In 1789 the ship, Adventure, of Newcastle, was lost on the Herd Sands outside South Shields. The entire crew was drowned in view of thousands of spectators who lined the shore only 300 yards away. The sea was too rough for any normal boat to reach the unfortunate sailors. As a result of this disaster a prize was offered for the design of a boat which might have saved the lives of the Adventure’s crew The winning model was made by a schoolteacher called William Wouldhave. Henry Greathead was entrusted to make the clay prototype into the actual boat, and was encouraged to make a number of his own modifications.
The result was a boat 30 feet long, 10 feet wide and 3 feet 4 inches deep. It was lined with 7 cwts. of cork inside and out and it could carry 20 people. This boat, so aptly named the Original, was to see service for the next 40 years during which it saved many lives.
Henry Greathead continued the work of designing and building lifeboats, improving each as he gained experience. Fourteen years after the launching of the Original he had completed 31 more craft, eight of which were for service abroad.
Modern lifeboats are ingenious pieces of design and engineering, equipped with the latest electronic devices. They are a far cry from the wood and cork boats of Henry Greathead, powered only by the muscles of their brave crews.
When Henry Greathead died in 1816 he had the satisfaction of knowing that hundreds of sailors owed their lives to his boats.
Posted in Anthropology, Boats, Bravery, Historical articles, History, Travel on Thursday, 23 May 2013
This edited article about Kon-Tiki originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 263 published on 28 January 1967.
Until 1947, no one could say with any certainty where the brown-skinned people who lived on the tiny islands in the South Pacific had come from.
A Norwegian named Thor Heyerdahl believed that they must have drifted there from Peru in South America, and to prove his theory he decided to build a raft like those used by the Pacific islanders and, making use of the prevailing winds and currents, sail it from Peru. With the assistance of the British, American and Peruvian governments, Heyerdahl was able to put his plan into action.
The raft which he had constructed consisted of nine logs of balsa wood, each 18 feet long by 1 foot in diameter. Above the logs, lashed with hemp, was a deck of split bamboo. A cabin of split bamboo and banana leaves was built upon this. To the mangrove-wood masts was fixed a large square sail with the face of the Inca god, Kon-Tiki, after whom the raft was named, painted on it.
On 28th April, 1947, the frail craft, which was to brave rough seas and danger from dolphins, whales and sharks, was towed out to sea from the naval dockyard at Callao.
After months at sea, Thor Heyerdahl and his five companions finally sighted land more than 4,000 miles from Peru, but their decision to continue sailing westwards almost led to disaster. As they approached the next island, their raft ran hard on to a reef, but was swept safely into a lagoon. At last, on 21st July, 1947, they had reached a Pacific island after months of danger at sea, with Thor’s theory finally proved.