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Posted in Africa, Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Sea, Ships on Tuesday, 14 May 2013
This edited article about Vasco da Gama originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 254 published on 26 November 1966.
Vasco da Gama rounding the Cape
In the 15th century, the people of Europe began to widen their horizons. Extending the range of their knowledge in every direction, they began to explore the world for themselves, stretching out long arms to encompass new empires across unknown seas.
Portugal, in contrast with the rest of Europe, was politically stable in the early 15th century. She was a nation alive with untapped energy, and it was in this century that her brave little ships challenged uncharted seas and currents. In July, 1497, four ships set sail from Portugal under the command of Vasco da Gama to complete the discovery of the sea-route to India, around the tip of Africa.
Vasco da Gama took with him all the latest navigational equipment, and he needed it, for much of the time no land was seen. An unknown member of the crew kept a record of the journey: “At last on Wednesday [22nd November],” he said, “at noon, having the wind astern, we suceeded in doubling the Cape [of Good Hope] and then ran along the coast.”
From that point onwards, the region was unknown, and the ships battled against the strong, adverse current. They paused at Natal, and noted the prosperity of the tall, friendly natives. They pulled out of Natal and edged their way up the east coast of Africa to Malindi. With a strong wind behind them, they sailed across the Indian Ocean, anchoring near Calicut in May, 1498. They discovered many of the wonders of the East – precious stones and spices – just as they had hoped.
Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the sea-route changed the shape of the world as it had been imagined, and showed the way for the beginning of direct trade by sea with the East.
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.
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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Posted in Discoveries, Historical articles, History, Trade on Friday, 12 April 2013
This edited article about the Hudson’s Bay Company originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 225 published on 7 May 1966.
When King Charles II signed a charter on May 2, 1670, granting to his cousin, Prince Rupert, and seventeen other merchant adventurers sole rights of trade in the unoccupied lands of Hudson’s Bay, no one realized the vast territory that had been handed over to a private trading company.
The story of Hudson’s Bay began in 1517, when Sebastian Cabot sailed into it but made no attempt at exploration. In 1610, Henry Hudson sailed into the bay and gave it his name. But even after these early ventures, the land surrounding the mighty gulf of icy water, stretching as far north as the Arctic Ocean, seemed too inhospitable for Europeans.
Then in 1663, the French trade-explorer Pierre Radison, who had travelled along a small part of the Bay’s shore, brought into Quebec a cargo of 60,000 beaver skins worth £100,000. Dazzled by this, Prince Rupert determined that England should have a share in the wealth of Hudson’s Bay.
Years of exploration were necessary before the Company of Adventurers discovered that the land included all of the present Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan and a large part of Alberta.
Prince Rupert’s charter gave the Hudson’s Bay Company more than just trading privileges. The company also owned the land and governed the people. But in 1869, it was forced to surrender most of its privileges and large tracts of its territories to the Dominion of Canada.
Posted in America, Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Royalty on Friday, 12 April 2013
This edited article about Christopher Columbus originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 223 published on 23 April 1966.
If a queen had not offered to sell her jewels on April 17, 1492, Columbus would not have been able to make his first voyage to the New World.
Everybody laughed at Christopher Columbus when he declared that, given enough money to fit out an expedition, he could sail westwards across the Atlantic and find land.
Columbus spent seven years trying without success to interest one Spanish nobleman after another in his idea. Thoroughly disheartened, he decided to leave Spain. On his last day in the country, he put up for the night at the Monastery of La Rabida near the port of Palos, in Andalusia.
During supper he was telling one of the monks about his plan. The monk then revealed that he had once been confessor to Isabella, wife of King Ferdinand of Spain.
The monk gave Columbus a letter of introduction and suggested that he try and see the queen and tell her of his plans. Next morning Columbus set out for the Spanish Court. On April 17, 1492, he was granted an audience.
Isabella was interested in the voyage, but Ferdinand decided that the Moorish war made it impossible to provide either money or ships. At that Queen Isabella then declared that, if the royal treasury would not provide funds, she would pledge her jewels to finance the voyage.
Ferdinand was so impressed by Isabella’s determination that he agreed to provide the necessary ships and money. The first step had been taken to open a new world to Europe.
Posted in Disasters, Discoveries, Historical articles, History, Plants on Thursday, 11 April 2013
This edited article about the potato originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 222 published on 16 April 1966.
The Irish potato famine by Pat Nicolle
According to most history books, the potato was introduced into Europe from America in 1586 when Sir Walter Raleigh planted some on his estate at Youghal, in County Cork. But the potatoes grown by Sir Walter Raleigh were not the potatoes we know today.
Raleigh’s potato was a sweet potato, and was not nearly so valuable as a food as the potatoes we eat now. In fact, there is good reason to believe that the potato as we know it was not introduced into Ireland until 1590, when it was first planted by a shipwrecked Spanish sailor.
When the Spanish conquered South America in the mid-sixteenth century, they found the potato being used by the Indians as a staple food. Soon the vegetable became an important item among the provisions of Spanish ships. By 1565, they were being grown in Spain.
According to one story, a Spanish galleon bound from South America was wrecked on the Irish coast about the middle of April in 1590. The survivors salvaged some seed potatoes from the ship’s stores and taught the local inhabitants how to plant them. Within a few years, potato-growing had spread to many parts of Ireland, and eventually the vegetable became a staple diet of the peasantry.
In 1847 a disease struck the Irish potato crop and brought famine to the country. Despite government and private relief schemes, thousands died of starvation.
Posted in Australia, Discoveries, Historical articles, History, Ships on Wednesday, 10 April 2013
This edited article about Australia originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 221 published on 9 April 1966.
Captain Cook and Joseph Banks in Botany Bay by Alec Ball
Water and fresh provisions were running dangerously low when the look-out’s cry of “Land Ho!” sounded from the masthead of H.M.S. Endeavour one April morning in 1770. To the crew and their captain, James Cook, the sight of land came as a great relief, for nearly two years out from England, they still had the long voyage home to make.
That afternoon the Endeavour dropped anchor in an inlet and Cook ventured ashore with Mr. Banks, a naturalist. Because of the variety of plants they found, they named the spot Botany Bay.
It was an historic landing. Cook and his companions were the first Europeans to step ashore on what is now the south-eastern coast of Australia. The coastline reminded them of parts of Wales, and so they called the area New South Wales.
Not that Captain Cook discovered Australia. Both the Portuguese and the Spaniards had sailed along the coast in the sixteenth century, but none of them had landed.
Cook landed on what is the most fertile coast of Australia. The country seemed to consist of large tracks of land suitable for farming, there was plenty of water, and the climate, though hot, was suited to Europeans.
Before finally sailing for home, Cook planted a Union Flag and claimed Australia for King George III. But the British government was not at first impressed. It was not until January, 1788, that the first British settlers arrived in Australia. Their tiny settlement is now the city of Sydney, capital of New South Wales and second biggest European-populated city in the British Commonwealth.
Posted in Discoveries, Education, Historical articles, History, Science on Friday, 5 April 2013
This edited article about Albert Einstein originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 219 published on 26 March 1966.
Albert Einstein was expelled from school because his work was so terrible.
In the sombre, brown-painted headmaster’s study, the young German student stood waiting to say that he was leaving school. He disliked the authority of the masters, and hated having to learn the dates and places of battles by heart, “just like a parrot.”
But before fifteen-year-old Albert Einstein could produce the medical certificate which stated that he was suffering from a “nervous breakdown,” the headmaster faced him sternly.
“Your work is terrible,” he said, “and I’m not prepared to have you here any longer, Einstein. I want you to leave the school.”
The headmaster had decided that he had had enough of this young “rebel and dunce.” But though this was just what Albert wanted, curiosity made him ask what crime he had committed to be so brusquely expelled.
The Head looked bleakly at him.
“Your presence in the classroom makes it impossible for the teachers to teach, and for the other pupils to learn,” he said. “You refuse to learn, you are in constant rebellion, and no serious work can be done while you are there.”
So the boy who in 1921 – twenty-seven years later – was to be hailed as one of the greatest geniuses of all time and awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, left the study with the headmaster’s words of disapproval ringing in his ears.
But Albert was used to being misunderstood like this. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to learn and succeed like the other boys. He just happened to be more interested in searching behind facts and figures, to find out why things happened, rather than when.
Albert’s individual way of looking at things was first noticed by his parents when he was only five years old. They were worried because their son seemed very backward in learning to talk. He joined in none of the other children’s games either, but preferred playing by himself with a small pocket compass.
Albert was fascinated by the fact that, no matter which way he held the compass, the needle always pointed to the north. This was perhaps the beginning of his interest in the workings of the universe.
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Posted in Astronomy, Discoveries, Historical articles, History, Royalty on Friday, 5 April 2013
This edited article about astronomy originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 218 published on 19 March 1966.
It was nearly midnight on March 13, 1781, and Sir William Herschel was looking at the stars through his home-made telescope.
Suddenly he noticed in a corner of his lens a greenish-blue disc. There was nothing unusual about that. For centuries charts of the night sky had shown an object there, but astronomers had always classed it as a star.
Something made Herschel examine the disc more closely than anyone had done before. The more he looked at it, the less star-like it seemed. At first he thought it was a distant comet, but it did not behave like a comet.
Then the truth came to him in a flash. It was not a star and it was not a comet; it was a planet and part of the solar system.
Herschel called the planet “Georgium Sidus,” which is the Latin for “Georgian star,” in honour of King George III. King George was so flattered that in 1782 he appointed Herschel his private astronomer.
In 1850, however, the planet’s name was changed to Uranus.
Uranus is the seventh planet in order of distance from the sun, being 1,784 million miles away from it. The planet’s average distance from the earth is 1,680 million miles. It takes eighty-four years to travel round the sun, so that anyone born on Uranus would have a birthday only once every eighty-four years. But the planet rotates on its axis once in ten hours; this means that a Uranian day lasts for less than half as long as our earth day. Uranus is 30,900 miles in diameter and has five moons.
Posted in Africa, Discoveries, Exploration, Geography, Historical articles, History, Rivers on Friday, 5 April 2013
This edited article about James Bruce originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 218 published on 19 March 1966.
Bruce went crazy with delight at his discovery of the source of what would turn out to be the Blue Nile and not the Nile, as he thought
In an age of tall men, James Bruce was considered something of a giant. He was an imposing six-feet-four, with red hair and a loud, fierce voice. He admitted to having a “passionate disposition,” and it was obvious that he would never be content to lead a normal, everyday life.
Many such men are unhappy because they cannot find the right outlet for their energy. But Scotsman Bruce was lucky. He had a goal in life. He was determined to locate the source of the River Nile.
For more than two thousand years mankind had been baffled as to where this mighty river actually began. Bruce said that it was “a defiance of all travellers, and an opprobrium (disgrace) to geography.” He felt it his duty to relieve this disgrace, and to put the source of the Nile on the map. Today most people know that the two Niles, the White and the Blue, meet at Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. But in 1730, when Bruce was born, the map of Africa was not so clearly marked. Indeed, until Bruce discovered it, there was no Blue Nile. And this geographical vagueness played a strange part in Bruce’s career as an explorer.
This career did not start until 1768, when Bruce was thirty-eight. By then he had already led a life with enough adventure in it to satisfy most men, especially one who had been delicate in youth. He went to Edinburgh University, and by the time he was twenty-four he had fought a duel in Brussels, sailed down the Rhine, and travelled through Spain and Portugal.
In 1762, this varied experience led George III’s government to appoint Bruce British consul in Algiers. This meant a port among the infamous Barbary pirates, but Bruce’s reaction was simple. Algiers was on the way to Central Africa and the source of the Nile, so to Algiers he would go.
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Posted in Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Ships on Saturday, 30 March 2013
This edited article about Henry the Navigator originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 216 published on 5 March 1966.
Prince Henry the Navigator at the school of navigation at Sagres by C L Doughty
In earlier days, the people of Europe believed that the world was a solid mass of land and that the seas and the Atlantic Ocean were great lakes. The man who was to prove how wrong they were was not a seaman but a Portuguese prince born on March 4, 1394. Known as Prince Henry the Navigator, he was the fifth son of King John I of Portugal. His mother was Philippa, daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.
In 1415 he took part in the conquest of Ceuta, in Morocco on the northern coast of Africa. Afterwards he set out to find a way around that continent to the East Indies.
On his estate at Sagres on Cape St. Vincent, he set about organizing exploration on a scientific basis. He built, at his own expense, an observatory and a school where young men could learn navigation. Also, he obtained the best shipbuilders in Europe to design vessels sturdy enough to face the perils of great voyages.
When the ships were ready and the crews trained, he began sending out expeditions on voyages of discovery. He continued to do so for the next forty-five years.
“Explore and trade” was the order which he gave to his captains. This they did so well that one by one the rich islands of the Canaries, Azores, Madeira and Cape Verdi were visited and properly charted.
Prince Henry’s captains began sailing farther and farther down the African coast all the way to Slerra Leone. To this day you can see many of the stone pillars which they set up to mark the most distant points they had reached.
Prince Henry, who died in 1460, was the inspiration of the bold seamen who discovered America, rounded the Cape of Good Hope to reach India, and finally sailed around the world.