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Subject: ‘Conservation’

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“Great Britain’s” most momentous journey was her last voyage home

Posted in Conservation, Engineering, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Ships on Thursday, 6 March 2014

This edited article about the S.S. Great Britain first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 582 published on 10 March 1973.

S.S. Great Britain, , picture, image, illustration
S.S. Great Britain arrives back in Bristol in 1970

Divers swarmed around the beached hulk of a once magnificent ship that lay partly submerged on the sand of Sparrow Cove in the Falkland Islands.

Battered by the sub-arctic waters of the icy Atlantic that had made a wide crack on the starboard side and pitted the sides with holes, she was the sad corpse of a pioneer of the oceans, the first screw steamer to cross the Atlantic.

A man of foresight, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, had designed her in 1843; the first ocean-going screw steamer. And another man of foresight, Dr. Ewan Corlett, a naval architect, was planning to bring her back to Britain.

To Dr. Corlett, this vessel, the S.S. “Great Britain” was as technically advanced for her time as the supersonic Concorde airliners of today, and for this reason she was worth preserving.

While the salvage experts were preparing the ship for her last historic voyage, Dr. Corlett must surely have reflected on the sequence of events that had brought the vessel to the Falkland Islands.

Her first trip to America had taken 15 days, an outstandingly short passage for those days. In her bunkers were a thousand tons of coal. And while her three hundred passengers enjoyed themselves in the enormous dining saloon or strolled upon her decks, her four-cylinder steam engine set the decks rumbling as it turned the giant-sized, six-bladed screw propeller.

There was 1,200 tons of cargo on board, stowed safely away from the eight roaring furnaces and three boilers that sent the ship surging through the sea at about 12 knots.

But she was an ill-fated ship. On her first voyage, she broke her propeller, which was replaced by a four-bladed one. In 1846, she ran ashore on the Irish coast and stayed there for nearly a year before she was refloated.

Another firm bought her, repaired her, gave her a new type of engine that was more powerful, and fitted a three-bladed propeller. After a while on the Atlantic run, she began carrying cargo between Britain and Australia.

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Grey Owl of Saskatchewan was really a Hastings Grammar School boy

Posted in Animals, Conservation, Historical articles, History, Oddities on Monday, 6 January 2014

This edited article about impostors first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 503 published on 4 September 1971.

Grey Owl, picture, image, illustration
Grey Owl alias Archibald Belaney was born in Hastings, England, in 1888, by Ron Embleton

The curtain rose and revealed a tall, striking-looking Indian in his full native costume. The huge audience sat spellbound. Then the Indian started to speak in a rich, deep voice.

“I am Wa-Sha-Quon-Asin, Grey Owl, a North American Indian. I come from far across the western ocean . . .”

He went on to describe the Indians and how they lived, and to talk thrillingly about Canada’s wild life and his own fight to help save it.

At the end of his talk there was a moment’s silence, then deafening applause. It was the same wherever he went in Britain. Thousands wrote to him; children sought his autograph which was never refused. He lectured to King George VI and his family at Buckingham Palace. Then he returned to Canada, and soon after, in April 1938, he suddenly died.

Some months later, the scandal broke. Grey Owl had always claimed to be a half-breed, his father British and his mother an Apache. He said he had been born in Mexico. Yet it turned out that he had been really born in Hastings, Sussex, and that he did not have a drop of Indian blood in him. His real name was Archie Belaney!

His great fight to save Canada’s wild animals – he had literally saved the beaver from extinction – was forgotten in a torrent of abuse. He was branded an impostor, a fraud.

Yet the truth about Grey Owl was far more complicated and interesting. If he was a fraud – and there was no denying the existence of Archie Belaney, ex-pupil of Hastings Grammar School – then he was a magnificent one.

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Polar Bears continue to be an endangered species

Posted in Animals, Conservation, Nature, Wildlife on Monday, 6 January 2014

This edited article about wildlife first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 503 published on 4 September 1971.

Polar Bears, picture, image, illustration
Polar Bear and Cubs

The Arctic Regions once provided a secure sanctuary for the Polar Bear, adapted to the rigours of this inhospitable area that stretches from Greenland to Alaska.

Moving freely over the pack-ice on its broad, hairy-soled feet, with head swinging from side to side, as if continually smelling out its prey, the Polar Bear hunts for its favourite food, the seal.

The two young are born in the depths of winter, the mother burying herself deep in the snow where she stays to suckle and look after her cubs. The Polar Bear is a slow-breeder because the young cubs are dependent on their mother for as long as two years. A litter can only be produced every third year because of this.

Bears are not really so dangerous as is commonly supposed, and they will always avoid a human if at all possible. It is only when they are deliberately attacked or alarmed that they become fierce. Once provoked, however, they can be one of the most ferocious and dangerous beasts in the world.

With its powerful, heavy build, great limbs and claws, this bear has a wonderful agility both on land and in the sea.

With few natural enemies except the killer whale and walrus, its chance of survival was good. So long as the Polar Bear was hunted by Eskimos with only dogs and spears, it was difficult to kill. It had little fear of men.

But now the Eskimo has a gun. So does the European; and in addition to a gun – a helicopter. An Eskimo, armed with primitive weapons and stalking the ice in a primitive craft of skins and whalebone, is one thing; but a helicopter landing on the ice floe, a passenger at the ready with a high-powered firearm, is an enemy against which an unfortunate bear has little chance.

Even if the bear can sense danger – his sense of smell is highly-developed – and quickly dives into the water, it cannot remain submerged for more than a few minutes.

The white man penetrates the Arctic Circle to hunt, trade and fish – especially for seals. The Polar Bear thus deprived of its main diet (seals), turns to other sources and thereby comes into closer contact with man.

The Polar Bear, a coveted prize, its meat and for invaluable, is hunted down by greedy and trigger-happy men. With their flying machines and powerful weapons they come to threaten this great animal with extinction.

The policy of reforestation will help to protect Britain’s red deer

Posted in Animals, Conservation, Nature, Wildlife on Tuesday, 26 November 2013

This edited article about animals first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 462 published on 21 November 1970.

Red deer stags, picture, image, illustration
Red deer stags lock antlers in a fight for supremacy

It is the largest wild animal left in the British Isles, and certainly one of the most romantic-looking. In spite of every hazard, past and present, and the disappearance of so many of the forests that are its home, the red deer still manages to survive in fair numbers and with reasonable hopes for its future.

The policy of reforestation – growing new forests – has helped improve the red deer’s chances. Animals from herds kept in private parks, which were disbanded by the iron hand of taxation, have either been re-instated in national forests or have simply arrived in these welcome sanctuaries, for it must be stressed that the red deer is a forest animal.

The term “deer-forest,” when applied to large moorland areas is incorrect, because moors are not the natural habitat of these creatures. They require space, and when Britain was covered with forests, space is what they had.

Deer enjoyed Royal protection and were hunted for both food and sport. But with the spread of agriculture, and the widespread destruction of woodland and forest, not to mention the damage done by deer to crops, they would long ago have disappeared had they not been kept for sport and the highly prized wide-spreading antlers sought as trophies.

The red deer calf is born most frequently, in June, that is, eight months after the rutting season. Twins may occur if conditions are favourable, or the hind might suckle an orphan, bereft of its dam, thereby giving an impression that she is the parent of two calves.

A well-sheltered spot with ample cover is favoured as a birthplace, where the newly born calf, with its red coat, dappled with white spots, will be completely hidden in heather and bracken. Although the calf can stand within a few minutes of birth, the hind presses it down into the cover if it attempts to follow her, and will keep it there for some hours, mounting guard nearby, before suckling the calf for the first time.

Soon it will follow her, and when a few days old it can run well enough, if it has to. The care of the hind for her calf is proverbial, and she is prepared to face great danger in searching for it if it should be lost or strayed.

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Invitation to a turtle beheading in the kitchen of a grand establishment

Posted in Animals, Conservation, Historical articles, History, Oddities on Friday, 22 November 2013

Turtle beheading, picture, image, illustration
Beheading the turtle

Turtle Soup is a traditional dish in Oriental and Pacific nations, but during the Eighteenth century it also became fashionable as a delicacy in Europe. The turtle population undoubtedly decreased as its culinary importance grew, and traditional turtle hunting was soon a sport enjoyed by other parties interested in making a profit. Catching turtles became a lucrative business, and the animals which were killed were usually large breeding adults whose demise severely lessened the chances of the turtles’ population growth. Consequently, the sport was outlawed in many countries, especially America. The fast and humane way of killing the animal was beheading, and in this bizarre and unusual picture the entire kitchen staff of some great London hotel have gathered with a crowd of onlookers to witness the execution. Mock Turtle soup was concocted as a cheaper version and is really made of veal, especially calf’s head, which is why Lewis Carroll’s Mock Turtle was depicted with a calf’s head in the peerless illustrations by John Tenniel.

Many more pictures relating to kitchens can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

‘Prehistoric’ Coelacanths have survived in the deepest, darkest ocean depths

Posted in Animals, Conservation, Fish, Nature, Prehistory on Wednesday, 6 November 2013

This edited article about the Coelacanth originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 449 published on 22 August 1970.

Coelacanth and fossil, picture, image, illustration
Coelacanth and its fossilised ancestor

Try to imagine the shock you would feel if you were suddenly confronted by a life-sized dinosaur. This was the sort of incredulous amazement experienced by everyone connected with the capture of the first coelacanth in recent history. The coelacanth – a fish – is thought to have become extinct 300 to 700 million years ago!

It happened on 22nd December, 1938, when this fish was spotted among sharks brought in by a local fisherman in East London, a port in South East Africa, by Miss Courtenay-Latimer, the alert curator of the local museum.

This strange fish, five feet long, with curiously padded fins similar to limbs, was unlike anything she had ever seen before, so she sent a sketch of it to Professor J. L. B. Smith, the famous fish expert. He identified it as a coelacanth from fossil remains and named it Coelacanth Latimeria.

The discovery caused a sensation and leaflets were distributed with photos of the fish, offering rewards for any others captured.

In 1952, the search of Professor Smith and his wife for the fish seemed to be rewarded. A cable from Captain Eric Hunt told them that a coelacanth had been captured off the Comoro Islands, between Mozambique and Madagascar, some 2,000 miles away. They flew to identify it.

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Nelson’s amusing signal: England expects that every man will do his duty

Posted in Architecture, Conservation, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, London, Ships, War on Thursday, 18 July 2013

This edited article about the British Museum originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 341 published on 27 July 1968.

Last signal before Trafalgar, picture, image, illustration
Nelson's last signal at Trafalgar: England expects that every man will do his duty.

The British Museum in Bloomsbury, London, is the most popular museum in Britain. Every year it attracts about 1,500,000 visitors. It is probably the oldest museum in the world, having been officially created in 1753, and it contains Britain’s largest collection of treasures. Displayed in the enormous galleries, several of which are 100 yards long, are priceless exhibits from many countries: huge Greek sculptures, Egyptian mummies, proud bronze heads from Africa, ceremonial masks from New Guinea, precious jewels and rare stamps.

Some of the most fascinating items are in the Manuscript Saloon. Here, for example, is one of the four original copies of Magna Carta, the death warrant for the Earl of Essex, signed by Queen Elizabeth I in 1601; Scott’s Antarctic Journals, written on his last polar expedition of 1910-1912, and five exhibits which vividly recall one of England’s most glorious naval victories – the Battle of Trafalgar.

The first of the five is Admiral Horation Nelson’s secret Memorandum explaining his battle tactics. Nelson dates the quarto pages: Off Cadiz. October 9, 1805. Then, concentrating with only his left eye (he lost the sight of his right eye in 1794) and holding his quill pen in his left hand (his right arm had to be amputated after a wound in 1797), he sets out his imaginative plan for defeating the enemy. In bold, impulsive handwriting he instructs the captains of his fleet to approach the centre of the long line of enemy ships at right-angles, in two parallel columns, and surprise them by concentrating the attack on the middle and rear of their line.

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Norwegian farmers discovered a Viking burial ship at Gokstad

Posted in Archaeology, Boats, Conservation, Historical articles, History, Ships on Wednesday, 5 June 2013

This edited article about the Vikings originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 280 published on 27 May 1967.

Viking burial ship, picture, image, illustration
Viking burial ship by Graham Coton

From the high cliffs, bonfires blaze out in the dark night. The water far below catches the red light, and the blades of many oars send it circling and spinning towards the black rocky shores. The Vikings are home.

Their long, low ships glide into the fiord. Laughter and shouting echo across the water, and above all comes the measured call of the crewmaster, giving time to the oarsmen.

Another raid is over.

“The Scottish men, eh! Did you see them run?” “The fat one – he tripped over his sword . . .” “Aye, and guess who now has the gold goblet he carried . . .” So the men boast and joke among themselves as they approach their village.

But something is wrong. The village, whose huts crouch on the sloping shore, is still. No answering shouts come from the water’s edge, and the guiding bonfires burn in silence. Even the dogs are quiet.

A scraping of the wooden keel on pebbles, and the first Vikings are ashore. They laugh, uncertainly now, as out of the night steps an elder of the village.

“What news, wise one?” the raiders ask.

The elder sighs, and whispers, “The King is dead . . .”

And they take the King’s ship, and at the head of a narrow fiord they bury it. In it they lay to rest Olav, King of Vestfold, son of King Gudr√∂d. On his chest is his sword; at each side of his ship hang his warriors’ shields, 32 a side, yellow and black.

Then the thick clay soil is piled above . . .

Over the centuries, a small group of farms grows up by the royal grave. The place is called Gokstad, and there a tale becomes a legend, passed from father to son. Here is the King’s Mound. But what king, they cannot say . . .

Now it is early in 1880, and in Gokstad, as in the rest of Norway, the winter days are short and bitterly cold. Around a blazing fire, a farmer and his sons while the long evenings away with tales of heroes long gone, of the Vikings and their deeds in war.

So the talk turns to the mound, which the farmers own. Every year, as for so many years past, the plough has sliced its furrow in the strange, man-made hill. But such a monument cannot be easily reduced. It still stands 15 feet high, and is 150 feet long from end to end.

The farmer’s sons are fascinated by the legend which surrounds it, for the story goes that here, in ancient times, a King was buried with all his treasure.

“We will dig and see if it is so,” they declare.

They did. On and off, throughout January of that year, they hacked and shovelled at the stubborn, frozen soil, sinking a shaft down through the centre of the mound. Their only reward was a few pieces of timber.

And there they might have left the matter, had they not talked quite openly about it. As it was, the news reached the ears of a merchant in a town nearby. His hobby was archaeology.

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Petra, the most beautiful ruined city in the world

Posted in Ancient History, Architecture, Conservation, Discoveries on Tuesday, 16 April 2013

This edited article about Petra originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 226 published on 14 May 1966.

Petra, picture, image, illustration

Petra

In 1812, John Burkhardt, a Swiss student at Cambridge University, made an expedition across the desert from Syria to Egypt, crossing what is now the Kingdom of Jordan. During this journey he accidentally discovered Petra, a unique city which had been lost to the world for hundreds of years.

The interest of explorers and archaeologists was at once aroused by Burkhardt’s description of Petra. But in the nineteenth century the journey was hazardous and very few people managed to get there.

When I visited Petra recently, I was driven down the Desert Highway from Amman to Wadi Musa, and from there we set out on the last stage of the journey to Petra on hired horses. For a quarter of a mile we rode on sand and pebbles beside the dried-up bed of the Wadi Musa. Then we entered the Siq, the narrow canyon that for centuries preserved Petra from attack.

The Siq winds on for nearly three miles between cliffs that tower 300 ft. on either side. Here and there a stunted tree clings to a cleft in the rock, but little else grows in this almost sunless gorge. After about half an hour’s ride, we reached one of the most unusual buildings in the world – the Khazneh, the Royal Treasury of the Nabataeans.

The Khazneh is extraordinary because, like most of Petra’s monuments, it was not built, but was carved out of the living rock. Columns in Grecian style – portico, decorative urns and arches – all were patiently cut by hand out of the sandstone cliff by Nabataean workmen more than 1,500 years ago.

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HMS Victory was launched forty years before Trafalgar

Posted in Conservation, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Ships on Friday, 12 April 2013

This edited article about H.M.S. Victory originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 225 published on 7 May 1966.

HMS Victory, picture, image, illustration

HMS Victory by Andrew Howat

Not everyone knows that H.M.S. Victory carried Nelson’s flag at Trafalgar forty years after she had been launched on May 7, 1765, and that she still survives at Portsmouth much as she was when Nelson trod her quarterdeck.

Nelson’s Victory, which was the third warship of that name, was so big that she had to be built in a dry dock at Chatham instead of on a slipway. She was “launched” by filling the dry dock with water and then floating her out. With a tonnage of 2,162, she was 152 feet long, 52 feet wide, and had a draught of 21 feet. Over 300,000 feet of oak were used in her construction. She was armed with one hundred guns: thirty 42-pounders, twenty-eight 24-pounders, thirty 12-pounders, and she had also twelve 6-pounders.

H.M.S. Victory was first in action in the battle of Brest in July, 1778. Three years later, she was again in action against the French, and in 1782 she led the fleet that raised the siege of Gibraltar. Victory was flagship at the great battle of Cape St. Vincent in 1797 in which British fortunes against Napoleon first took a turn for the better. After an extensive refit H.M.S. Victory became Nelson’s flagship in 1803.

With the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, and later the advent of steam warships, there was no further use for her, and for over a century she lay at anchor as flagship of the Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth. In 1922 her hull was found to be in such bad condition that she was placed permanently in dry dock and completely restored.