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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 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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Posted in America, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Politics on Thursday, 6 March 2014
This edited article about the American Civil War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 582 published on 10 March 1973.
General Ulysses Grant accepting the surrender of General Lee at Appomattox by Severino Baraldi
The army of Northern Virginia – what was left of it – was at bay. Under its commander, General Robert E. Lee, it had won battle after battle throughout the long years of the American Civil War. But now the South, after its early successes, had been ground down by the overwhelming numbers of the North and its industrial might; and even its finest army under its incomparable leader could fight no more.
There were only 27,000 men left of the Army of Northern Virginia that day, Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, and of that number only around 8,000 were fit to fight. The Southern troops, also known as the Confederates, because they belonged to the breakaway Confederate States of America, had been retreating for weeks; and the terrible strain and the spectre of starvation had caused many to abandon their weapons, some even to desert.
In any other army, they would have deserted in droves, but the Army of Northern Virginia was like no other army, just as its leader was like no other leader. Robert E. Lee, a century after his death, remains, with Abraham Lincoln, President of the Union during the Civil War, the most beloved figure in American history, not so much because he was a great general but because he was a great and noble man, greatly loved. When the war had broken out in 1861, a war caused because the Southern states wanted to run their own affairs, which included slavery, and because the North wanted to preserve the Union, Lee had been offered command of both armies. He did not believe in slavery himself, but he decided to side with his state of Virginia rather than his country. He believed in the states’ rights.
Although tall and as handsome as a storybook king, he was now a tired man of 58, whose hair had turned white during the war. He knew the game was up when his opponent, General Ulysses S. Grant, 15 years younger and a dogged, brilliant leader of men, first called on him to surrender on April 7. With over 100,000 men under him, Grant was the master of the situation.
On the 7th, Lee had refused, but by the 9th, with his starving army at Appomattox Court House, a sleepy village in Virginia with few buildings except the house that gave it its name, Lee was ready to surrender. He sent a flag of truce and a message to Grant, suggesting they meet at a house owned by a man named McLean, and Grant agreed.
Lee, in his full dress uniform, was the first to arrive on his splendid grey charger Traveller, being accompanied only by his military secretary, Colonel Charles Marshall. Grant, in mud-covered private’s clothes with the bars of a Lieutenant-General on his shoulders, arrived at 1.30. The two men shook hands and talked of old times before the war, then they got down to business.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Leisure, London, Royalty on Thursday, 6 March 2014
This edited article about the Edwardians first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 582 published on 10 March 1973.
Debutantes 'coming out' at Royal Henley when the river was packed with punts by Richard Hook
Let’s take a look at Edwardian ‘High Society,’ those so-called ‘idle rich,’ whose life, far from being idle, was truly more exhausting, nerve-wracked and fraught with anxiety than that of Mr Average – say, a schoolmaster jogging comfortably along on £350 a year, or even a skilled artisan who managed to keep up appearances and the wolf-from-the-door on a few pounds a week.
‘High Society,’ had, as its figurehead, the jovial King himself, and it was as different from the rather stuffily restrained upper-crust of Queen Victoria’s long reign as might be the spirit of champagne from that of heavy and befuddling port. It was as though most of the 19th Century had been blotted out and the flavour of Charles the Second or the Prince Regent put in its place. It was to be a short life, this Edwardian decade, and, for the socialites, one devoted to an unrelenting pursuit of so-called pleasure. Pleasure-seeking was hard work!
The “London Season” was the starting point for each new year of the social grind, and King Edward in his newly gilded, marbled and chandeliered Buckingham Palace fired, as it were, the “starting gun” by the introduction of “Courts,” at which the daughters of “High Society” who had, as they said at the time, “let down their dresses and put up their hair” were in an atmosphere of daunting splendour and formality “presented” to their Sovereign and his Queen Alexandra. And what an ordeal this was for all concerned, most of all for the debutante, the girl who was “coming out,” in society and whose “presentation” by some titled lady already acknowledged by the Lord Chamberlain as one fitted to “present” was the launching-pad of her mother’s aim to get her successfully married.
Either just before, or just after, the presentation was the visit, in court dress, to the Court Photographer. A Mr Bassano was the prince of Court Photographers, and very expensive he was. Expensive, too, was the debutante’s presentation dress – three ostrich plumes on the head, fan or flower-posy, flowing gown of silk or satin, wasp-waisted, making the young lady stick out like a pouter pigeon in front and like the hindquarters of a pony behind. All down the Mall, leading to Buckingham Palace, the carriages of these nervous young ladies and their ‘presenters’ waited in line, glassed in like tropical fish in bowls, to be gawked at – and often jeered at – by the common people.
At long, long last, after she had queued in corridor after corridor with others like herself, came the great moment – some thirty seconds of it, as, surrounded by satin-breeched court officials and braided flunkeys, she made her deep curtsy to Their Majesties, and prayed to heaven that she would not catch her shoe in her train and fall.
For the mammas of these young girls every moment of the long day’s ordeal had been worth it. The girls had “come out” and the marriage-market was launched – London “coming out balls,” packed with eligible young men; fruit-and-flowered hats at Royal Ascot; Royal Henley when the river was packed from booms to bank with punts and launches; chickens’ wings and champagne; the fashion parade of Henley’s famous Phyllis Court – what a world! Then came Goodwood Races, slightly less formal than Ascot, and finally; Cowes, with the Royal Yacht,’Victoria and Albert’, dressed overall, and very possibly the Kaiser’s yacht as well.
Some of it still goes on, but it is not the same as the twittering splendour of Edwardian upper-class Britain. It had, apparently, not a care in the world, but at heart it was afraid. There was the sense that this butterfly dance was to be the last.
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Posted in America, Historical articles, History, War on Thursday, 6 March 2014
This edited article about the Kit Carson first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 581 published on 3 March 1973.
Fierce Mexican Indians were important allies for the Mexicans during America's war with Mexico by Gerry Embleton
The American State of New Mexico is a long, sweeping panorama of blue hills, green plains and spectacular canyons with hardly a soul in sight for hundreds of miles at a stretch. Americans call it the nation’s vacation land and think of it as a place where holiday-making sportsmen can relax with rod or gun away from the city crowds and stresses.
It wasn’t always so in New Mexico. Little more than 100 years ago the State was the scene of brutal Indian wars. Its rolling country and its mighty canyons were a battleground of hundreds of miles where the Redman struggled tenaciously to hold back the remorseless advance of the White man.
The white settlers, spread thinly over vast acres of this empty country, were vulnerable prey to the marauders. And when, in 1862, both Apaches and Navajos swooped on the New Mexican settlements, these new farmers of the West had no answer to the swift arrows, the gleaming scalping knives and the burning torches of the stealthy foe.
Their bodies littered the plains, mutilated beyond recognition. Their farms smouldered in ruins. Their wives and children were carried off as slaves by the marauding Indians.
Colonel Kit Carson, commander of the 1st Cavalry Regiment of New Mexican Volunteers, saddled his horse and called his men to muster. His orders from the commanding general were straightforward – he was to stop the attacks and he was to take no male prisoners.
All over America Carson was a legend. He was the most famous trapper, guide, pioneer and Indian fighter the West had ever produced and no man knew better the ways of the Indians. In this case, he knew that the Apaches and the Navajos lived in fortifications cut out high up in the walls of deep rocky canyons. Prising them out with a trained cavalry regiment would be more than difficult – it would be impossible.
For these canyons had – and still have today – walls a thousand feet high and they were as much as thirty miles long. An army entering them could be cut to pieces without even getting a sight of the enemy.
Kit Carson knew all this as he led his men out of Fort Stanton. And as he rode through a wilderness of thick, driving snow, he worked out how to deal with the situation.
Carson reasoned that the rock face Indians had sometimes to come down to ground level. They had to get water, they had to harvest their crops and to hunt buffalo. If he could not winkle them out with his guns he would have to starve them out.
Systematically, his men set about destroying every field of corn within miles of the canyons. Their guns reduced an orchard of 3,000 pear trees to blackened, skeletal stumps. They drained the water holes and herded off the buffalo. Then, occupied only by the occasional desperate raid of an Indian war party, they settled down to wait.
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Posted in Ancient History, Archaeology, Historical articles, History, London on Thursday, 6 March 2014
This edited article about Cleopatra’s Needle first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 581 published on 3 March 1973.
Cleopatra's Needle in its proposed position at Westminster
Two pink granite obelisks lay among the rubbish of a squalid quarter of Alexandria in Egypt. Once they had stood as magnificent memorials to King Thotmes III. The finest of the pair had been made in 1460 BC at Aswan and taken 700 miles down the Nile to Heliopolis.
Here it stood outside the Temple of the Sun as a proud symbol of Egypt’s might. Many centuries later, on the orders of Cleopatra, it is said, it was taken down and moved to Alexandria and the Palace of the Caesars.
Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt brought the British to the country. They drove Napoleon away. Britain returned Egypt to the Turks, although some British soldiers remained there for a year or so under the command of General the Earl of Cavan.
By now the obelisks had been removed from their former positions and deposited among the rubble of Alexandria’s poorer quarter.
But the Earl of Cavan took a fancy to one of them, the finest of the pair. It would, he thought, make a fitting memorial to the British victories in Egypt, if it were shipped to London and erected there as a monument.
The Turks said he could have it. But the Earl’s plans to have it shipped to Britain fell through, and he compromised by having a brass plate put on the obelisk. Engraved on this were details of the principal events of the Egyptian campaign. Tribute was paid to Napoleon’s valour with a warning that the British nation was ordained by divine providence to defeat its enemies.
Once this had been done the obelisk stayed where it was. Mohamed Ali, one of the local rulers, reminded the British government that the needle was theirs. Would they please remove it?
But the government did not share the Earl of Cavan’s enthusiasm for the needle. They accepted the advice of an Egyptologist, Sir Gardner Wilkinson, who said, “It is unworthy of the expense of removal.”
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Leisure, Theatre on Thursday, 6 March 2014
This edited article about Edwardian Britain first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 581 published on 3 March 1973.
National Assistance . . . The Welfare State. We take these phrases for granted today. In the first years of King Edward the Seventh’s reign there was a ‘Welfare State’ for the rich who could afford the life of easy living, and something not far short of an ‘Illfare State’ for the masses of the people. The farm-labourer on fourteen shillings a week was, oddly enough, better off than the unskilled city labourer on double the money. The countryman had his low-rent ‘tied-cottage’, a pig in the back garden and, generally, a free allotment on which he could grow his vegetables. But the bulk of the population lived fairly close to the poverty line, and for the old there was the almost inevitable ‘Workhouse’, or ‘Poor House’ where, tragically, husbands and wives were forced to be sheltered separately, maybe never to meet again.
It was not until the year 1909, when the fiery young Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr David Lloyd George, introduced his ‘People’s Budget’, that things became any better. He introduced the first Old Age Pensions – five shillings a week to persons over 70 years of age. At a single happy blow old folks were relieved of the humiliation of being ‘on the Parish’ as the workhouse system was called. The ‘Welfare State’ had begun, and to pay for this small beginning the rich were taxed.
There were screams of outrage from the privileged. Income Tax was raised to one shilling and twopence in the £1 for earned incomes of £3,000 a year or over, and on all unearned incomes between £3,000 to £5,000. Then, horror of horrors, for those who gathered in £5,000-plus for doing nothing there was an additional ‘super tax’ of sixpence.
Clearly Edwardian Britain was ‘going to the dogs’. The House of Lords had, in fact, rejected Lloyd George’s ‘People’s Budget’ and it was only when the Liberal Party’s threat to flood it with up to 500 newly created Peers that the Upper House reluctantly saw reason.
Edward’s Britain did not ‘go to the dogs’, and, although a multitude of its citizens were poor, they were not, as with the Victorians, unhappily poor. The spirit of the new century, forward-looking and packed with the scientific promises of a ‘brave new world’, fairly bubbled with the spirit of being happy, of having a good time, whatever your income-bracket. Fun and games were in the air.
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Posted in Bravery, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Royalty, War on Thursday, 6 March 2014
This edited article about Pierre Bayard first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 581 published on 3 March 1973.
Watching from a hilltop the fierce battle raging below him, King Charles the Eighth of France nudged an aide at his side.
“There is a young knight of our army who is forever in the thick of the fight,” he observed. “You see him yonder, covered with blood. What is his name?”
Following the King’s outstretched arm, the aide replied, “He is Pierre Bayard, sire, a knight of Dauphine.”
The scene was the Battle of Fornovo in Italy; the month and the year, July, 1495. Charles had set out for the southern country determined to win back for France the city-state of Naples, which had been taken by the Spanish. He had succeeded in the task but now, on the way back, the people of northern Italy were standing their ground at Fornovo and fighting the invaders. They wanted to make the French army pay for the looting they had practised on their outward journey through Italy.
Right was on the Italians’ side, but might was with the French. They swept the Italians aside at Fornovo in a bloody day of fighting. And of all the brave men who performed deeds of valour on that field, none was braver than the 20-year-old knight Pierre Bayard, whom King Charles himself had noticed.
Twice Bayard had a horse killed under him and each time he vaulted on to a fresh mount and plunged anew into the fray. His zeal took him into the core of the Italian army; there, flailing with his sword, he uprooted an enemy banner. At the end of the day he presented the trophy to the King. Impressed, Charles gave his loyal young knight a reward of 500 crowns.
France was to hear much more of Pierre Bayard for, as some men grow up with a single-minded ambition, Bayard’s aim from his earliest boyhood was to become a famous soldier – to make himself a legend of chivalry and honour in the Renaissance times in which he lived.
We often say of well-born people that they were born with a silver spoon in their mouths. In the case of le Seigneur de Pierre Bayard it was not a silver spoon so much as a sword of honour. For in the two centuries before his birth nearly every head of his noble family at their magnificent chateau in Dauphine had fallen in battle.
Like all his famous ancestors, Pierre’s father had the scent of battle in his nostrils. He belonged to the fast-dying medieval school of knightly chivalry and each day he indoctrinated young Pierre with the chivalric code of honour: “Serve God. Be kindly and courteous to all men of gentle breeding. Be humble to all people. Be neither a flatterer nor a teller of tales. Be faithful in deed and in speech. Always keep your word.”
The great passion of chivalry, symbolised in tournaments, parading ladies and sumptuous banquets, was fast ebbing away when Pierre Bayard was born into a family that would not let it go.
At the last of the great tournaments young Bayard spurred his horse and broke his lance several times by driving it into the ground – a favourite trick of jousting knights to show the strength of their arm. The ladies clapped and cheered shrilly. When the day came for him to leave the family castle to seek his fortune we are told that “finding himself astride his well-bred roan, he deemed he was in Paradise.”
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Posted in Birds, Historical articles, History, Nature, Plants, Wildlife on Thursday, 6 March 2014
This edited article about Alfred Russel Wallace first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 581 published on 3 March 1973.
Loaded with their exotic catches, Bates and Wallace trudged home while their neighbours relaxed in their hammocks by Severino Baraldi
He was a thin, bespectacled, diffident young man, a land survey or by profession, and a botanist by inclination, who was most happy when he was pottering around the English hedgerows and country lanes, looking for specimens. Looking at him, you would never have thought of him as being a robust man, capable of enduring all sorts of hardships. If anything, you would have put him down as being rather a weakling. Which makes the story of Alfred Russel Wallace, all the more incredible.
It is quite possible that Wallace might well have led an obscure and uneventful life if he had not had the good fortune to meet and become the friend of a well known naturalist of the time, known as H. W. Bates. Wallace had an abrupt manner and a withdrawn nature, but there was something about Bates that broke down all his reserve. More than that, the friendship seems to have changed him overnight from an earnest but dull naturalist, into an adventurer who was to risk his life daily in a distant primeval jungle.
His imagination suddenly fired by some books of South American travel he had been reading, Wallace decided that he would like to go there in order to search for specimens. He approached his friend Bates, and put the proposition to him. Would he like to accompany Wallace on a scientific expedition along the banks of the Amazon? Bates agreed to accompany him, and in the April of 1848, the two friends set off on their journey.
Reaching the town of Para, at the mouth of the river Amazon, they rented themselves a house which they used as a base for their early expeditions into the forest. At first Wallace was only conscious of the luxuriant foliage and the immense size of the trees, which often rose to more than eighty feet before they spread out their branches like a vast canopy over everything below. The reckless extravagance of colour that Nature used for her plant life also astonished him as he trod daily along jungle paths bordered by rare orchids and mimosa growing as plentifully as weeds.
But this, as he was soon to learn, was only one aspect of the jungle. The other was ugly and cruel. In holes, only a little way off from the footpaths, great bird-catching spiders lurked. Snakes were everywhere, ready to strike out at the intruder’s legs. Hornets and wasps abounded, and crocodiles lurked on the river banks.
In the night the air was filled with venomous insects which penetrated the muslin sleeping nets and inflicted bites which turned into ugly sores. Most loathsome of all were the vampire bats, which settled on the horses and fed on their blood.
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Posted in Africa, Bravery, Famous battles, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Thursday, 6 March 2014
This edited article about Rorke’s Drift first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 581 published on 3 March 1973.
Dust flicked into the horseman’s eyes and caked on to his skin still prickling with fear and shock. The rocky landscape flashed by, a cheerless, inhospitable vista which, for all its surface calm, could easily hide clutches of warriors, ready to pounce, not content, as Lieutenant Vane well knew, merely to kill their victims. After what had happened at Isandhlwana, Vane had no doubt about the fate that awaited him if he fell into Zulu hands.
A gentle rise in the ground brought him within sight of Rorke’s Drift. It looked pitifully vulnerable, just a couple of long, stone buildings with the slopes of Mount Oskarberg rising behind them, and it had no defences, no ramparts and no entrenchments.
The wave of Zulus swarming over the few miles from Isandhlwana could swamp the place in minutes and “wash their spears,” as their ruthless king had commanded, in yet more human blood.
The ferocity and dedication of the Zulu warrior was well known and well feared in the Transvaal a century ago. The Boers, who first ventured there in 1835, had found them a constant danger to their farms, their herds, in fact to their very survival, and when the British annexed the Transvaal in 1877, they inherited the problem.
Their solution was both imperious and arbitrary: the only way to remove the Zulu menace was to annexe Zululand.
It was to provide an excuse for annexation that in December 1878, the British presented Cetawayo, the Zulu king, with demands they knew he could not meet: for to do so would have meant handing his land and people over to the British and dismantling his army.
As expected, Cetawayo ignored the ultimatum, and the result, as planned, was the invasion of Zululand in mid-January 1879 by 13,000 British troops.
When their entry went unopposed, many British soldiers presumed that this was to be yet another colonial war in which wild, disorganised savages would be quickly overcome by the superior weapons and fighting methods of the white man.
The first troops to discover the fatal falsity of this notion were those who were encamped, casually and without defences, at Isandhlwana on 22nd January. That morning, a great tide of Zulus poured down from the surrounding hills and erupted into the camp, slashing and stabbing with their assegais until over 1,300 men lay dead.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Ships on Thursday, 6 March 2014
This edited article about the Royal Navy first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 581 published on 3 March 1973.
"Pirates from the look of them," observed Lieutenant Hall as the five ships hove into sight, by Angus McBride
It was 8.30 on a cold, grey morning. Mr. Midshipman Mann leaned moodily over the side of His Majesty’s sloop Camelion. They had just passed the narrow channel between the islands of Negroport and Andros but he paid no attention to the fierce grandeur of the Ionian islands. As usual, Mr. Mann’s mind was on his promotion which was long overdue. He had entered the navy in 1814 and had passed for lieutenant in 1820. But seven years later he had still to achieve that rank.
He became aware of another muffled figure alongside; it was Lieutenant Hall, second-in-command of the sloop. He tried to reassure the young man: all it wanted, he said, was for Mann to distinguish himself in a lively action – something fancy, to catch the commander’s eye – and his promotion would be assured.
At that moment the lookout sighted five sail and gave tongue. Hall had his glass up immediately. Ahead of them, and making off at speed, were five misticos, one large, four small.
“Pirates from the look of them,” observed Hall, snapping his glass shut. In which case, he added, clapping the junior officer on the back, a lively action might come all too soon.
Between 1809 and 1815 the Ionian Islands, off the coast of Greece, having passed in rapid succession through the hands of the Venetians, the French, the Russians and the Turks, had been occupied by the British. In 1827 the waters around them were policed by a section of the small British Mediterranean Squadron under Captain Hamilton. Like the rest of the squadron the Ionian command was mainly concerned with putting down piracy. Pirates were particularly active around this obscure corner of the Mediterranean because Greece was ravaged by war against the Ottoman Empire and could not herself control the pirates who infested her coasts.
The pirates sailed in misticos, small coastal-vessels which made lightning raids on shipping, then vanished into Greek ports and harbours where they claimed protection against the British from whatever power controlled the town. If they were to be destroyed at all, they had to be caught red-handed or cornered where they could not seek sanctuary.
When Commander Cotton, in the Camelion, saw the five misticos pressing towards the channel between Andros and Tinos, he had little doubt that they were pirates, probably carrying booty which would incriminate them. He determined to force them into a position where they would have to stand and fight. He gave the order for pursuit.
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