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Posted in Africa, Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Rivers on Thursday, 6 March 2014
This edited article about Mungo Park first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 580 published on 24 February 1973.
Mungo Park was exhibited in a market place as a sideshow and forced to dress and undress many times a day to show the tribesmen his strange white skin and odd-buttoned clothes, by Angus McBride
“Nothing can be more beautiful than the views of the immense river; sometimes as smooth as a mirror, at other times ruffled with a gentle breeze, but at all times sweeping us along at the rate of six or seven miles an hour.”
So wrote Mungo Park about Africa’s mystery river, called by the inhabitants the “Joliba” – the “Great Water.” In 1805, when Park went to Africa, no one knew where the Niger rose nor where it terminated. Geographers believed it ran to waste in the burning deserts. Park himself believed it to be a tributary of the Congo. But he was in Africa determined to trace it, and wherever it went – he was going.
Mungo Park was the son of a Lowland Scots farmer. As a boy he was known for “the gravity and decorum of his manner.” Apprenticed to a surgeon, Thomas Anderson, whose daughter Alison he was to marry, and whose son Alexander he was to whisk away to his death in Africa, Mungo was “passed at Surgeons’ Hall” in 1791.
He was twenty-three when he received an offer to explore the Niger for the African Association, which had already sent three unsuccessful expeditions. In June, 1795, he landed at Jonkakonda on the Gambia River, dressed in cotton breeches, a blue coat and a waistcoat with brass buttons. The last of these buttons was to save his life in the wild interior of Africa.
All that Mungo wrote about that first journey showed him to have been a humane, kindly man who looked upon the Africans as equal human beings with whom he made many friendships. He was young and inexperienced, so that often he was robbed and cheated unmercifully, but he took it in good part, until he came to the “Moors.” These were people of mixed descent, Arab and African, who lived on the southern fringes of the Great Desert. According to him, they were a vicious people who terrorised and robbed the Africans, considering them only good for slavery. Fanatical Moslems, they viewed Christians as devils in human form whose destruction would be rewarded in Paradise.
Into their hands, Mungo naively delivered himself, penniless, alone except for a servant boy and unarmed. They seized him and enslaved his “boy.” Mungo, they subjected to insult and indignity. He was exhibited in the market place as a side show, and forced to undress and dress forty times a day to display his strange white skin and odd-buttoned clothes. For three months, he was the prisoner of King Ali, dragged out to amuse the tribesmen, otherwise kept in a hut with barely enough food or water to sustain life. Had it not been for Queen Fatima, who looked favourably upon the handsome young Scot and interceded with Ali on his behalf, he knew he would have been murdered out of hand.
In the confusion of a tribal war, Mungo finally escaped. A fugitive, followed by Ali’s men, he still pressed on, using his last brass button to buy a few days’ food. Reaching the Niger at Sego, he fell on his knees, to drink the water and give thanks to God. Only then did he turn back, joining a slave trader’s caravan which at last brought him safely to Gambia and a ship to Britain.
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Posted in Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Nature, Science on Friday, 28 February 2014
This edited article about Charles Darwin first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 574 published on 13 January 1973.
Aboard the 10-gun brig, H.M.S. Beagle, a regular feature of Sunday afternoons, as she sailed round the world on a scientific and surveying voyage, was her captain’s entertaining his officers by reading extracts from the Bible.
Captain Robert FitzRoy, only 23 years old and descended from Charles II, was a deeply religious young man, as well as being hot-tempered, eccentric, brave as a bull, just, strict and given to fits of deepest gloom. Like many religious people at that time – the Beagle sailed in 1831 – he firmly believed in the Genesis story of the creation of the world, with Man being made on the sixth day.
Not only that, FitzRoy and millions of others believed that the world was made at 9 am on 23 October, 4,004 B.C., a date worked out by an Irish Anglican archbishop of the 16th century called Ussher. All the ship’s Bibles, like countless others of the day, had a note to that effect. But on board the Beagle was a young naturalist, dressed as a civilian among all the naval officers, who was later to prove that the good archbishop was wrong by millions of years. His name was Charles Darwin.
Darwin, born in 1809, was one of the mildest of revolutionaries, who, in most Victorians’ opinions, was later to break the rules of decency in the most spectacular way by daring to challenge the Book of Genesis.
His beginnings were not spectacular. Though he came of a brilliant family, with a Shrewsbury doctor as a father, a poet and scientist as a grandfather and a mother who was the daughter of the great potter, Josiah Wedgwood, he was rather a dunce at school, was a poor medical student at Edinburgh, and, at Cambridge, seemed destined to become an obscure country parson, a strange beginning for a scientific genius.
It was at Cambridge, however, that he met botanists and scientists, who transformed his outlook on life. One of them, the Rev Professor Henslow, recommended him to FitzRoy as the ship’s naturalist.
When they met, FitzRoy disliked him on sight, mainly because he disapproved of the shape of his nose. It was not the nose, it seemed, to endure the hardships of a trip round the world. But after talking to the keen young naturalist, who was anything but the stuffy-looking Victorian his later photographs suggest, FitzRoy decided that Darwin would do, even with his nose!
On the great voyage, which lasted from 1831-6, Darwin did everything from climbing volcanoes in South America to studying the social life of ants. All of creation fascinated him throughout his life from tiny insects to the fossils of prehistoric monsters, and it was all triggered off for him by the voyage of the Beagle and, especially, the creatures he saw on the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific.
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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 America, Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Legend on Friday, 21 February 2014
This edited article about Ponce de Leon first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 561 published on 14 October 1972.
The heat of the summer nights in the West Indies was unbearable and Ponce de Leon couldn’t sleep. The air was alive with mosquitoes and as if that wasn’t enough there was something on Ponce’s mind.
Ponce de Leon groaned and twisted and turned. But still he couldn’t sleep. What had that Indian said? Those Indians all spoke such barbarous languages. How could a Spanish nobleman like Ponce hope to understand them, however hard he tried.
“The Fountain of Youth,” muttered Ponce de Leon over and over again until at last he dozed. “The Fountain of Youth on the fair island of Bimini,” was that really what the Indian had been trying to say?
Every Spaniard living in the newly conquered lands of America knew about a fabulous fountain that gave eternal youth to anyone who drank from it, but nobody knew quite where it was. Some even said that it was a legend, but most believed that such a fountain existed, somewhere. Ponce de Leon believed in the fountain and he was far from being an ignorant or superstitious sailor. He was a man of breeding, a man of great experience and courage who had won fame as a worthy successor to the great Columbus.
Now it seemed that Ponce de Leon had been given a chance to discover something that could shake the world, just as Columbus had shaken the world by reaching the Americas only a few years beforehand. Ponce had only to find Bimini and search out the fantastic fountain, the fabled Fountain of Eternal Youth.
So started Ponce de Leon’s fanatical hunt throughout the islands and coasts of what is now Florida and the Bahamas. He had a great deal of experience to draw on. Ponce de Leon had sailed with Columbus on his second voyage to the New World in 1493 when still a young man.
Nine years later he had sailed with Ovando, the first Royal Governor of the Indies. In the cruel rivalry that had then sprung up between Ovando and Columbus, Ponce de Leon had sided with the Royal Governor. It had been a hard life. Endless wars with the fierce Carib indians, disease and even starvation made sure that only the toughest and luckiest survived.
Perhaps Ponce de Leon’s dream of discovering Bimini and the Fountain of Youth would never have got off the ground if it had not been for those vicious jealousies that flared up between Spaniard and Spaniard in the West Indies. For years Ponce de Leon served his leaders faithfully, putting down Indian revolts in the north of Hispaniola, the present day Dominica, until he had been rewarded by being made Governor of that region.
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Posted in Africa, Discoveries, Exploration, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 20 February 2014
This edited article about Burton and Speke first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 560 published on 7 October 1972.
The Ancient Egyptians, who farmed the banks of the Nile over 6,000 years ago, regarded the mighty African river as sacred. They did not know where it flowed from, but believed it must be from some earthly Paradise in the centre of Africa. Even the learned members of the Royal Geographical Society in the middle of the 19th century did not know the answer.
In 1857, when the Society decided to send an expedition to discover the great lakes of Darkest Africa in order to try to find the source of the Nile, they realised that only someone of the nature of a superman could be considered to lead such a hazardous mission.
The nearest approach to a superman they could think of was Richard Francis Burton. His talents were staggering – soldier, explorer, inventor, archaeologist, author, linguist (he could speak 29 languages as easily as his own), anthropologist and student of religions. No swordsman in all Europe could stand against him with a rapier.
Burton had made a hazardous journey through Somaliland in East Africa and was the first European to enter the forbidden city of Harar where he stayed for ten days in deadly peril and then rode across the desert, running the gauntlet of Somali spears all the way. He had also disguised himself as an Indian Moslem, being one of the first white men to take part in the great pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, the sacred Moslem cities of Arabia.
Yet, if his father had had his way, Burton would have spent his life as an English clergyman. With his heart set on an Army career, young Richard had been an unwilling student at Oxford and within a year had managed to have himself expelled. The jubilant young man had departed from university in triumph, driving a specially-hired horse-tandem. Whether by accident or design, he drove the tandem across one of the college’s finest flower-beds!
Realising that it was useless to battle with his son any longer, Richard’s father reluctantly agreed to a military career and obtained for him a commission in the Bombay Native Infantry And so began Burton’s remarkable, exciting life of adventure.
It was on June 17th, 1857, that Burton set out from Zanzibar to explore the uncharted lakes of Africa and to seek the source of the Nile. His second-in-command was an old friend of his Army days, John Hanning Speke, a giant of a man and seasoned traveller, but lacking many of Burton’s talents, particularly a knowledge of languages.
They differed in temperament, too. As time went on, and the hardships of the expedition increased, these differences in temperament resulted in the two men becoming increasingly intolerant of each other, and this was to have disastrous consequences.
They were now in the depths of humid jungle, where every step was an effort, the stench of rotting vegetation overpowering, and the torment of insects unbearable.
Burton became so ill with fever that he had to be carried on an ass and supported by bearers.
To add to the nightmare of the journey, they encountered slave caravans stricken by small-pox. Their trails were marked by dead and dying and vultures were feeding off the corpses. Then fever gripped Speke and he could only walk by being supported on both sides. One night, he became so deliriously violent that his weapons had to be taken from him.
On December 14th, 1857 after resting at Tabora they set off towards Ujiji, 200 miles away where, people believed, there was a gigantic lake called Tanganyika. If it existed, no white man had seen it. They had not gone far when some jungle fever struck Burton and in a few hours he had lost the use of his limbs. A week later Speke was struck by an eye infection which made him almost blind. He had to be carried on a donkey whilst Burton, unable to walk had to be carried in a hammock. To add to their troubles. Speke’s donkey collapsed and died of exhaustion.
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Posted in America, Discoveries, Historical articles, History, Legend on Thursday, 13 February 2014
This edited article about Prince Madoc first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 550 published on 29 July 1972.
Who first discovered America? There are many legends of wanderers, princes, Vikings, adventurers, people from many lands crossing the seas and being the first to land in the new world. One such story is that of the Welsh prince, Madoc.
Prince Madoc was one of the three sons of the last independent prince of Wales, Owen Gwynedd. Towards the end of the 12th century, Owen Gwynedd died without declaring which of his three sons, Hywel, Davyz or Madoc, should succeed him on the throne. Within days of their father’s death, the princes Hywel and Davyz entered into bitter argument as to who was their father’s rightful heir.
Prince Madoc felt deeply ashamed by his brothers’ greed and his shame was increased when his brothers’ dispute developed into open conflict. Madoc could not face the disgrace his brothers were bringing on his family name. He decided to leave Wales and relinquish any rights he had to the throne.
The people of Wales watched and waited as Hywel’s and Davyz’s armies fought for the throne. Few saw Prince Madoc’s three tiny ships leave the shore and set their sails for the west.
Many months of hunger and hardship went by before the tiny fleet sighted land. Prince Madoc waded ashore and set foot for the first time in America. This new land was beyond his dreams, rich in all the resources necessary to start a new community. Prince Madoc was so overjoyed that he decided that more of his people should reap the benefits of his discovery, so leaving the majority of his followers behind to begin the work of colonisation, he set sail again for Wales.
Madoc returned to his homeland and travelled from village to village, town to town, telling of the wonders awaiting the people beyond the seas. So powerful were the Prince’s gifts of persuasion that he soon had enough followers to fill ten ships and once more set sail for the New World.
Again Madoc faced the perils of the ocean and led this much larger fleet safely to the new land. He was overjoyed to find his new colony prospering, the original colonists having started to build and to cultivate the land.
The colony under Prince Madoc’s leadership prospered, and in a short time the more adventurous of the Welshmen were exploring deep into the interior, soon making contact with the Indian tribes. They built forts, navigated the rivers, and some say even travelled as far down the Continent as Mexico.
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Posted in Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Institutions, Ships, Trade on Wednesday, 12 February 2014
This edited article about the East India Company first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 549 published on 22 July 1972.
The East India Company was sanctioned when the Mughal Emperor Akbar received Sir John Mildenhall, Queen Elizabeth I's ambassador, 1599
Diamonds, silk, pepper and cinnamon – these and a thousand other riches lay locked in India. If only the merchants of Britain could establish a trade link with this treasure house the key to prosperity would be theirs
It was the last day of 1600. Outside, the snow was falling heavily, covering everything with a blanket of white, but inside the dining room a roaring log fire threw warmth and a flickering light into the far corners of the room. Twelve men sat around the table, all prosperous London merchants, but their minds were far from the weather or the glasses of Madeira wine in their hands.
Time and time again their talk returned to the fabulous riches of the East – diamonds, silk, pepper and cinnamon. Travellers’ tales of the great Mogul Empire in India, twenty times as large and as rich as Britain; the Spice Islands, where a fortune could be made from a single voyage; mysterious and forbidding China, hardly visited since the great Marco Polo. None of this was new but today they would know whether all their ambitious plans for exploiting the wealth of the East were to be realised.
The sound of horses’ hoofs on the cobbles outside brought all conversation to an abrupt end and everyone glanced towards the door. Seconds later it burst open and the messenger, looking like some dramatic ghost from the windswept snow that still covered him, announced triumphantly “Her Majesty has signed the Charter!”
Late that night lights still burned all over the house as men came and went and preparations were made. The Honourable East India Company was beginning to take shape and the rest of the 125 partners had to be notified. There was money to raise, ships, stores and men to be found, and ahead of them the dreams of excitement and riches.
None of these Elizabethan merchants can ever have dreamt, however, of what eventually lay in store. They had created what was to become the most powerful trading company in the world, a Company which sold tea but maintained huge armies; which carried a sword in one hand and a ledger in the other. Now their eyes were set only on the prospects for trade but in time they founded an Empire and owned a continent. The Honourable East India Company would eventually become one of the most colourful and dramatic concerns in British history.
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Posted in Dinosaurs, Discoveries, Geology, Historical articles, History, Prehistory, Religion, Science on Tuesday, 4 February 2014
This edited article about dinosaurs first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 541 published on 27 May 1972.
Fossilised Megalosaurus remains were found in Stonesfield by Dean Buckland
Dean William Buckland had good cause to look astonished when he dug into a slate quarry at Stonesfield and found what he could only describe as the remains of a giant lizard.
A set of the most unusual teeth he had ever seen attached to a massive jaw, part of a pelvis, a section of a shoulder blade, and several large backbones were all part of a giant skeleton which must have once belonged to some grotesque monster of prehistoric times. Dean Buckland worked out that the creature must have measured fifty feet long and eight feet high, classified it as a reptile, and gave it the name of ‘Megalosaurus’.
Remains of such creatures had been found before this discovery which was made at the beginning of the 19th century. The first hints of these long-buried monsters of the past had been found in various parts of the U.S.A. A bone dug up here, a footprint found there, but there had never been enough evidence to establish the fact that dinosaurs had ever really existed. No records were kept of these first discoveries such as the thigh bone found in New Jersey in the 18th century, or the giant rib discovered on the south bank of Yellowstone River in 1806. These early finds were virtually ignored. Prehistoric monsters were found only in fairy tales, they surely had never existed.
But had they? The work of two English pioneers in dinosaur discovery did much to refute such an attitude. Dean Buckland, the geologist who had found parts of the giant skeleton of the creature he named Megalosaurus, and Dr. Gideon Mantell were to become the founders of modern palaeontology, and to provide irrefutable evidence of the existence of such monsters.
In March 1822, Doctor Mantell and his wife were visiting a patient in Lewes, Sussex. It was here that the second dinosaur remains to be found in England were discovered by accident in a pile of rubble which been put aside for road repairs. Mrs Mantell had noticed something glinting in the rubble heap, and when she and her husband went closer to investigate they found that the glint came from some fossilised teeth embedded in a piece of stone. His curiosity aroused, Dr Mantell returned to the site for some weeks afterwards and, to his great delight, found not only more teeth, but also a number of large fossilised bones, none of which he could identify.
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Posted in Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Nature, Plants on Tuesday, 4 February 2014
This edited article about David Douglas first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 540 published on 20 May 1972.
David Douglas went searching in Canada for nature's secrets; during one of his expeditions he was surrounded by a group of heavily-armed Indians
The people of Scone were not to blame for failing to recognise in young David Douglas a person destined to become one of its most celebrated citizens. He was constantly playing truant from school or disturbing the peace of the village with all manner of high-spirited mischief.
“Something must be done about that lad of yours or he’ll come to no good end,” the schoolmaster told young David’s father. “His head is stuffed with nothing but fancy notions about flowers, plants, birds and such-like. He’ll not earn his living that way, Mr Douglas. In my opinion there’s only one thing to do and that’s to send him to Mr Wilson’s school in Perth. If Wilson can’t put some sense into his head, nobody can.”
The school at Perth was three miles from Scone, which meant that young David had a six-mile walk every day. But instead of being dismayed by this daily trek, the lad was highly delighted, for it gave him the chance to make new discoveries about nature and her ways. What his pockets contained on returning home from Perth each day was anybody’s guess. It might be anything from a rare wild flower to a wriggling grass snake!
It would seem that the formidable Mr Wilson had no more success in taming the “wild” boy of Scone than his previous schoolmaster.
In desperation his father took him away from school at the age of eleven and apprenticed him as a gardener’s boy in the nursery garden at Scone Palace. Young David’s joy knew no bounds. Here he would be working among flowers and plants, learning their secrets and all the time adding to his knowledge of the wonder-world of nature.
In old Mr Beattie, the head gardener, he found a friend indeed and the old Scot would often take the lad’s side in his high-spirited disputes with the other gardening lads, saying he “preferred a deevil to a dolt.”
There was no holding the “bad” boy of Scone now that he had found himself on the path he wished to follow. He read every book on trees and plants he could lay hands upon. It was also about this time he came across a copy of “Robinson Crusoe.” The story fascinated him and sparked off a burning desire to seek adventure in strange, far-off lands, looking for plants, trees and flowers such as the gardeners of Britain had never set eyes upon.
At the age of 19 David Douglas joined the staff of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Glasgow. His knowledge and enthusiasm very soon attracted the attention of the celebrated botanist, Professor William Hooker. He singled him out to accompany him on several botanical excursions into the wilds of Scotland.
One morning the great man called Douglas into his office and told him that the Horticultural Society of London (now known as the Royal Horticultural Society) were looking for a field collector to work in overseas countries hunting for new and rare species of plants and trees.
“I think you’re the very man for the job, Douglas. If you feel like applying for the post you can count on me to back up your application,” said the Professor.
A few weeks later the great news came – the Society’s choice for the post was David Douglas!
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Posted in Africa, Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History on Tuesday, 4 February 2014
This edited article about African exploration first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 539 published on 13 May 1972.
Pierre Brazza exploring the Ogowe river in Africa
Pierre Brazza had only seen his great uncle twice and so a visit from him was now something of a formal occasion. He had stood half-fearful, half-expectant as Uncle Guiseppe questioned him briskly about history, geography and other subjects. But the fierce old man seemed to have relaxed as the 14 year old Pierre was able to give the answers he wanted. But now came the question that Pierre had been dreading. Should he carry on pleasing his formidable uncle whom half his family seemed to fear? Or should he say what he thought and never mind the consequences?
Pierre’s thoughts were stopped abruptly as his uncle asked the question again, more sharply. “Well boy, what do you want to do when you are a man, eh?” Pierre took a deep breath and said slowly, “I want to join the navy; I want to be a sailor.”
The reaction was, to say the least, unexpected. Uncle Guiseppe threw back his head and roared with laughter until tears came to his eyes. “The boy’s joking,” he shouted. “Italy has no fleet for him to join.”
But Pierre found a country with a fleet when, two years later he won a place at the French naval school. After training, he not only served in their Navy but adopted French nationality as well. He served his new country faithfully and well.
The slim fourteen year old developed into a tough, bearded sailor; and service in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic helped him cope with hardships of varying kinds. It was a visit to Libreville in what is now Gabon, that first stirred his interest in Africa. The languages and customs of the natives fascinated him and he decided he would like nothing more than the chance to explore some of this steamy, dangerous, intriguing Equatorial country.
He could hardly have chosen a better time. Although exploration for its own sake was now almost at an end in the continent (it was 1875) there was a developing struggle between the European nations as each sought to acquire new territories, new colonies and new wealth.
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