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Posted in Ancient History, Archaeology, Boats, Historical articles, History, Rivers, Sea, Ships, Trade, Transport, Travel on Wednesday, 22 May 2013
This edited article about seafaring originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 263 published on 28 January 1967.
Queen Hatshepsut's expedition to Punt with inset diagram showing details of the boat construction
How did seafaring begin? Who first made a raft, a dug-out, a bark canoe? We haven’t much idea, any more than we can find out now who first thought up the idea of making a wheel.
But it is pretty sure that the same materials available to men over much of the earth led to the development of the same sort of floating ‘vehicles’ – so much so, indeed, that many exceedingly primitive craft are still with us. After all, logs, burned-out hollow trees, curled bits of bark, rafts and even lashed-up reeds will float anywhere. So will blown-up animal skins and big baskets, woven and caulked with bitumen or tar, or just trampled-down grass held together with any gooey stuff that happens to be to hand, like resin out of trees.
Rock drawings; scratchings on stone; stylised decorations on ancient vases scarcely identifiable as any sort of vessel, actual models of very old Egyptian river-craft; all these still exist and we can make what we want of them. So do the vessels themselves on which the drawings and models were based, in surprising profusion: reed boats on Lake Titicaca in South America, for example, which are nothing but bundles of bulrushes in which a fisherman may sit and control a small sail of light woven reeds set from a bipod mast of sticks; basket-boats woven from bamboos and caulked with a mixture of cow-dung and coconut oil in Vietnam; the one-man rafts of small balsa logs lashed together which are used for fishing inshore along the coasts of Peru and Brazil; and dug-outs with or without outriggers; twin-hulled or single, large and small, still abound in parts of the South Sea Islands, and around the coasts of India, Ceylon, Burma, East and West Africa.
With one exception, none of these craft would ever grow into any sort of seagoing ship. Even the primitive Australian aborigines made a raft of mangrove poles, but they got no farther. Rafts, reeds and baskets did all that was needed.
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Posted in America, Christmas, Historical articles, History, Rivers, War on Friday, 17 May 2013
This edited article about the American War of Independence originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 258 published on 24 December 1966.
On Christmas Night, 1776, an event occurred which changed the history of the world. The American colonists, who had broken away from Great Britain the previous July and formed a new nation, seemed doomed. Their small army, under General George Washington, was in retreat. In early December, it crossed the icy Delaware river to the Pennsylvania side.
Washington’s men were ill-fed and raggedly dressed; some were bare-footed, and many had deserted. The European enemies of Britain had written off the Americans’ chances. But, on Christmas Eve, Washington decided to re-cross the Delaware and attack the British and their German mercenary troops from Hesse, who were in Trenton, eight miles away. His only possible advantage was that the Hessians would be busy celebrating Christmas!
The crossing started on Christmas evening in a snowstorm. The men went first, then the horses, then the artillery. The operation took nine hours and not a man was lost. Washington stood on the bank directing operations, until his horse came across, then he mounted and rode among his men, encouraging and inspiring them. The sight of their beloved leader on his horse sent their weary spirits soaring.
At 3 a.m., the march to Trenton began. By the end of the day, Washington had won a great victory. The tide turned. Europe’s interest in the American cause was re-awakened. Whatever happened now, the worst was over. The young nation would survive.
Posted in Animals, Fish, Nature, Rivers, Sea, Wildlife on Wednesday, 17 April 2013
This edited article about marine life originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 227 published on 21 May 1966.
Life in estuaries
Life in estuaries can be confusing. Depending upon the state of the tide, freshwater animals can be found almost in the sea and marine animals up the river.
Flounders for instance, are found well up stream in certain rivers, and often anglers hoping to catch freshwater fish such as eels will find flat fish such as the flounder taking their bait.
Flounders are found all round the coast, but they are particularly common on sand banks and in muddy estuaries. They are usually about 8 ins. long, but can grow bigger. Although they are not much sought after as a food, some people do enjoy them. After seeing a few flounders and other “flatties” you will soon recognize the different markings.
Some fish, such as the sea trout and the eel, are only in the estuary for a short while, on their way up or down river. The sea trout goes up river to spawn during the spring and returns later, provided it has managed to escape the hundreds of hazards it is likely to meet on its journey.
The sea trout is much prized by anglers who will fish for it with fly and spinning tackle.
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Posted in Animals, Fish, Nature, Rivers, Sea, Wildlife on Monday, 15 April 2013
This edited article about coastal wildlife originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 226 published on 14 May 1966.
Creatures around our coasts: the muddy shores
In nature there are always cases of creatures being found where least expected. For instance, in river estuaries all sorts of water-life can turn up.
With fresh water running down from the river into the sea, it is not unusual to find a number of freshwater fishes and water fleas coming down with the flood. When the tide turns, sea fishes can be seen going up into fresh water areas.
Conger eels are common along the river estuaries and marshes of the south and west coasts. They spend a great deal of their lives hiding in the mud or under stones, growing to a very large size – up to eight feet in length. Only small ones are generally found in-shore.
Another creature that hides in the sand and mud is the Heart urchin. No doubt this is in order to protect itself, as, although it has a number of spines, these are not very strong and would not protect the animal from the claws of a large crab. Heart urchins are very beautiful and grow to three inches long. They are not easily found, so local knowledge should be sought when looking for them.
The Sea cucumber might at first seem to have a strange name, but it does look like a cucumber, and is often green. It can be found near estuaries where there are rocks. It is not really aggressive, but is often attacked by crabs and large fishes. When this happens, it is able to put out a large mass of sticky threads and entangle the crabs while it escapes.
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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 Adventure, Africa, Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Rivers on Wednesday, 27 February 2013
This edited article about John Speke originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 164 published on 6 March 1965.
John Hanning Speke and James Augustus Grant
Somerset-born explorer John Speke sat under the awning on the deck of the little boat that slipped smoothly down the River Nile towards Khartoum and gazed contentedly down at the muddy waters of the great river.
Contentedly, too, Speke thought back to the day nearly three years ago when the Royal Geographical Society in London had asked him to lead an expedition to discover the source of the Nile. Now, with thirteen hundred miles of trekking through scorching, steaming jungle behind him, Speke was going home, his mission completed.
Africa and its perils were no novelty to John Hanning Speke when the London geographers sent him off on his path of discovery in 1860. In one of his earlier excursions into the continent natives had attacked his party and tied him up. As he lay on the ground with his hands bound one of the natives had coolly attempted to spear him to death. Speke jumped up, knocked the weapon from the native’s hand, sent him sprawling and escaped to a waiting boat.
Another time, on a Royal Geographical Society expedition, fever inflamed his eyes and practically blinded him. But nothing daunted, Speke pushed on into the continent and discovered a huge lake, which he named Victoria Nyanza. From what the local natives told him he was sure that the lake was the clue to one of the great geographical mysteries of the nineteenth century – the whereabouts of the source of the Nile. But when all attempts to get boats for an exploratory voyage failed he had to return to London.
Speke’s report and his discovery of Victoria Nyanza caused earnest discussion in London and when the new expedition was mounted in 1860 Speke was named as its commander with Captain J. A. Grant as his deputy.
From London Speke took his men to Zanzibar, thence towards Victoria Nyanza, via Uganda. Here steady rain turned into a torrent; many of the mules died; disillusioned natives continually deserted, and supplies ran precariously low.
Along this tortuous route Captain Grant fell ill and Speke decided to go on without him. Fresh troubles awaited the explorer when his party arrived at the city of King M’tesa of Uganda.
M’tesa had all the temper and unpredictability of an early English king. None of his subjects dared to cross him; none was allowed to sit in his presence, and executions of those who had displeased this tyrant African ruler were an habitual occurrence.
Speke decided that if he showed servility when he met the King it might be taken as a sign of weakness. So when M’tesa did not turn up on time for a prearranged meeting Speke told the King’s astonished courtiers that he was prepared to wait five minutes – and no longer. After that he would go.
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Posted in Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Leisure, Revolution, Rivers on Friday, 2 November 2012
This edited article about the Pont Neuf originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 778 published on 11th December 1975.
A view of the Pont Neuf in Paris with the equestrian statue of Henri IV in the foreground
Paris was in turmoil. Angry crowds of people marched through the streets shouting and fighting, overturning carts and hurling bricks at the windows of buildings.
It was 14th July, 1789 and the crowds were on their way to the Bastille prison, the symbol of tyranny and oppression. Before the day was over, they had destroyed the prison and killed the governor. The French Revolution had begun.
On their way, the furious mobs had to surge across the Pont-Neuf, which stretches across the Seine.
Its origin goes back to the 16th century when Paris was bursting its medieval limits and spreading over both banks of the Seine, especially the right. It was growing into a city, the capital of a flourishing kingdom, and developing severe traffic problems.
The Ile de la Cite was its centre with the cathedral of Notre Dame towering over the low-roofed buildings.
A petition to connect the almost isolated isle to both banks was drawn up and presented to Henri II, who died from tournament wounds before he could do anything about it. His successor, Francois II also reigned briefly and did nothing about building a bridge, and his successor, Charles IX, was just as inactive in this respect.
For a generation nothing was achieved and the problem became intense, for the only links between the island and the mainland were two ageing bridges which were nearing the end of their days.
At last, under Henri III, the last Valois, the new bridge was ordered through the auspices of the National Treasury, and a commission of prominent men, assisted by a technical board of master masons, carpenters and builders was set up.
The design was drawn up by two men, Baptiste Decerceau, the royal architect, and Pierre des Illes. On 31st May, 1578, the first stone was placed by the king in the presence of the Queen Mother, Catherine de Medici.
All the piers to the left bank – the shorter distance – were completed by he end of the year. The design called for a bridge resting on the Pointe de la Cit√©, the western end of the isle, with a long arm connecting the right bank and a shorter one the left.
Provision was made for houses and shops, but the prospective tenants had to be patient, for the bridge was not completed for 28 years.
First the construction was halted by the religious wars of 1588. By the time peace returned, the piers of the long arm of the new bridge were suffering from the scourge of all medieval bridges – scour, the abrasive action of moving sand.
In 1602, Henri IV, then on the throne, carried out repairs and completed the short arm to the left bank. A year later, he rode his white horse over the still dangerously incomplete bridge. The roadway was finished in 1607 and the bridge opened.
In the mid-17th century, the bridge became the social centre of Paris, as well as the strategic focal point. By now it was not merely an essential passageway but the busiest, liveliest street in town. Idlers, rich or poor, strolled across it and the wealthy rode upon it in their carriages or sedan chairs.
In the 18th century there came the upheaval of the Revolution followed, in 1792, by the setting up on the bridge of a recruiting station to enlist men to fight for the Republic.
The battles of the Revolution passed to and fro across the bridge and then, in 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte accepted the leadership of France when he was appointed First Consul at a ceremony on Pont-Neuf.
Firework displays on the bridge celebrated successive victories, revealing that the Pont-Neuf was as much at the heart of Paris then as it is in these modern times.
Posted in Architecture, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, London, Politics, Rivers, Royalty, Uncategorized on Friday, 5 October 2012
This edited article about London originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 764 published on 4th September 1976.
The riot of the Apprentices in 1517, after which Catherine of Aragon interceded with King Henry on their behalf (inset). Pictures by Clive Uptton
“London, thou art the flower of cities all!” The poet William Dunbar was clearly impressed. He had come down from Scotland with his master, the Scottish Ambassador, for a Christmas Day feast at the Lord Mayor of London’s palace in 1501.
Other foreigners were not quite so sure. Only four years earlier, an Italian business man had got a poor reception. “Londoners have such fierce tempers and wicked dispositions that they not only despise the way in which Italians live, but actually pursue them with uncontrolled hatred. They look askance at us by day, and at night they sometimes drive us off with kicks and blows of the truncheon.”
Unfortunately it was true that Londoners did go in for a lot of anti-foreign riots, insults and sometimes murder. Sometimes things really got out of hand, as on the ‘Evil May Day’ of 1517. Young apprentices of London had been bullying foreigners for months. The city aldermen decided to have a curfew on May Day night. But the youngsters had been looking forward to letting of steam on May Day, and they simply refused to go indoors when the bells tolled. Instead they attacked one of the city fathers. A riot started, windows were broken and King Henry VIII decided that the Mayor and Corporation had lost control. In his opinion, these rioters were committing treason by assaulting foreigners who were under the King’s personal protection.
Cannonballs were fired from the Tower of London into the city and some apprentices were arrested. On May 4th, thirteen of these “poor younglings” were executed, much to the horror of all London. As the Venetian Ambassador put it: “This has been a great commotion, but the terror was greater than the harm.”
London’s urban government was breaking down in the face of problems that would daunt even the modern Greater London Council. Things really got bad when huge areas of England were fenced off for sheep pastures, forcing peasants to go to the cities in search of a new life. Their numbers were later swollen by refugees from religious persecution in Europe, and London’s population soon rose to 200,000. Most had to live outside the city wall. This meant that they were generally outside the city’s control as well, and ghastly slums started to appear. Homeless, starving people became a threat to those lucky enough to have work. These included redundant soldiers, peasants driven from the land and, after King Henry VIII had got rid of the monasteries, hundreds of monks and nuns, who had been left to beg in the streets.
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Posted in Adventure, Africa, Discoveries, Exploration, Famous landmarks, Geography, Historical articles, History, Rivers, Travel on Monday, 6 August 2012
This edited article about Livingstone in Zambia originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 759 published on 31st July 1976.
As your jet heads for Livingstone International Airport, you look down on the dull red flatness of parched scrubland that makes up a good deal of the Zambian countryside. There is a dusty road, and here and there villages of thatched huts that look like toys, with distant forests looming dark on the horizon. To anyone making the trip for the first time it is impossible not to feel awe at the sheer toughness of the Victorian explorers who walked across this enormous wilderness with no idea as to what they might find on the other side.
Suddenly someone points, and there is a curious low cloud, all by itself in an otherwise completely blue sky, and you wonder what has caused a cloud to form so close to the hot, dry land. The answer is that the cloud is always there and is unlikely to go away, because it is one of the best known navigational checkpoints in all Africa, “the smoke that thunders”, the cloud of fine spray that hangs permanently above the place where the Zambesi River drops over a high cliff to make the mighty Victoria Falls.
When Dr. David Livingstone reached this spot in 1855 it seemed to him that falls of such grandeur could only be named after his Queen, and it was inevitable that the city that was to grow up nearby should be named after the explorer himself. Few men have deserved such a distinction more, for Livingstone had to overcome enormous difficulties before he could even start on the work to which he was to devote his life.
He was born in a village in Lanarkshire, Scotland, in 1813, poor, and apparently without a chance of doing more with his life than following his friends into the local cotton mill. But unlike his friends, the young Livingstone had two burning ambitions. Inspired by the work of Robert Moffat in Africa, he wanted to be a missionary, and in order that his work should have a practical as well as a spiritual value he promised himself that somehow he would qualify as a doctor as well.
The chance of anyone of Livingstone’s background becoming a doctor in the first half of the 19th century were remote, but from the age of ten he not only studied during the whole of his spare time but actually managed to continue to read text books while working at his loom in the mill. By the time he was 25 he had educated himself to a point at which he was accepted by the London Missionary Society, and two years later he qualified as a doctor, with the intention of serving in China.
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Posted in Communism, Geography, Rivers, Trade, Travel on Monday, 6 August 2012
This edited article about the Yangtze River originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 759 published on 31st July 1976.
Giant Pandas are found in the mountains from which the Yangtze River descends
In the bleak highlands of Tibet, many, rivers have their sources. Among them is one of the world’s major waterways – China’s Yangtze Kiang, or Yangtze River. Its winding course takes it some 3,500 miles (5,600 km) to the East China Sea, which it reaches close to the great city and port of Shanghai. Over this vast distance, the varying regions it traverses are like different worlds.
Known in its upper reaches as the Kinsha, it runs first east, then south-east and south, pouring down the precipitous gorges it has carved through the mountains. So steep is its descent that, by the time it reaches Batang, only 600 miles (965 km) from its source, it has already dropped over 8,000 feet (2,450 m).
On its southward course it flows roughly parallel with two other great rivers, the Mekong and Salween. These two run on to reach the sea in south-east Asia, but the Yangtze, diverted by a mountain barrier, takes many twists and turns. Eventually it follows a generally eastward direction through the heart of China.
The Yangtze has played a major part in Chinese history for thousands of years as a highway for travel and transportation; and the rich alluvial soils carried down and spread by the river and its tributaries have helped to make its valley one of the most fertile in the world. It has been estimated that about one tenth of the human race inhabit the region.
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