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Posted in Adventure, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Trade, Travel on Friday, 7 March 2014
This edited article about Alexander Mackenzie first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 582 published on 10 March 1973.
Mackenzie and his party setting off to find a route due West to the Pacific Ocean, crossing rocks and rapids by Graham Coton
It was the year of 1788, and winter had closed in on the little fur trading post of Fort Chipewyan in the far North West of Canada. Imprisoned in their log huts by the cold, the little colony had settled down to sit out the long months and pass the time as best they could. One could play cards, or one could read or one could gaze out of the window at the falling snow piling up steadily against the other log cabins. There was alcohol, of course, but not enough to numb the senses as it was strictly rationed. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that everyone on the station was already bored to death.
Well, almost everyone.
There was one exception, a young Scot from the Outer Hebrides named Alexander Mackenzie. He was not bored because he was obsessed with a dream that had occupied his mind for some time. The dream was to find a route to the Pacific coast of Canada, which would then give the fur trading company a direct access to China, the greatest fur market in the world.
Knowing that there were no tracks across the forest-clad Canadian interior, Mackenzie dreamed of finding some great river flowing ever westwards until it finally emptied itself in the Pacific. It was a dream not entirely rooted in fantasy. According to Captain Cooke who had voyaged along the Pacific coast some ten years before, such a river probably existed. The problem was how to find it amid the thousands of miles of uncharted territory that made up the great tracts of Northern Canada.
Mackenzie had only one clue to work on. A group of Red Indians who had visited the trading company had spoken of a great inland sea known as The Great Slave Lake. From there, they claimed, a big river flowed westwards. It was Mackenzie’s plan to make his way there with a small band of men and three canoes when the Spring came. In the meantime, Mackenzie dreamed and planned.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Trade on Thursday, 6 March 2014
This edited article about Canada first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 580 published on 24 February 1973.
Indians came to Albany Fort to trade skins for muskets and knives
The cabin was built of white fir logs but the wood had been unseasoned and had shrunk and rotted in the summer rains. In winter, when the stove burned low, ice formed on the inside, seven or eight inches thick. It was winter now and Tom Tollier, armourer of Albany Fort, began to chip away the frozen lining of the room while his friend John Scott lit the stove, filling the cabin with eddying smoke. Sunday, 12 January 1729, had begun in discomfort. It was to end in death.
Albany Fort was built by the Hudson’s Bay Company as a centre for the fur-trade in Canada. It lay at the mouth of the Albany River, on the west shore of James Bay, the tail-like extension of Hudson Bay. To the fort came Indians, their canoes laden with skins, and from there went hunters and traders to plunder further afield. Each year, weather permitting, a ship from London would arrive at the fort. It unloaded supplies, trading-stock and new recruits to the Company’s service; it took on bundles of skins in their thousands together with homegoing company employees.
Life at Albany was hard and monotonous. The traders were plagued by snow and ice for one half of the year and by heat and mosquitoes for the other. Although there was plenty of hard work to be done – building and repairing cabins, hunting ptarmigan, geese and snowshoe-hare and exploring further north and west – there were also long hours of boredom when the traders’ main consolation was the bottle.
Tom Tollier had joined the Company in 1726 and had not long been at Albany. He was a quiet lad, a skilled gunsmith. It was his job to keep the fort’s guns in good order and to care for the muskets which were traded to the Indians. He had impressed the governor of the fort, Joseph Myatt, and his career was promising.
John Scott, a bricklayer, was an even more recent recruit to the Company’s service and had arrived in Albany only the previous August. The Company paid him £25 a year to keep the brick stoves and chimneys repaired; they were the only brick constructions in the fort.
Tom and John breakfasted together – flour supplies were low so there was not much bread but they filled up on salted meat – and donned their outdoor clothing. First they pulled on ‘toggies,’ huge overcoats of beaverskin which reached to their feet; next they put on beaver caps and mittens; lastly, around their legs, they fastened spatter-dashes or gaiters and pulled on several pairs of socks. Then they went to see the governor.
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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 English Literature, Historical articles, History, Literature, London, Royalty, Trade on Wednesday, 26 February 2014
This edited article about Geoffrey Chaucer first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 569 published on 9 December 1972.
The bitter east wind brought with it the first few flurries of snow, and men wrapped their furs close around them. Geoffrey Chaucer looked for a snug corner among the barrels of wine in his father’s storehouse and wished that winter had never come. But a week later, in the bright, frosty sunshine, he was away from the house as soon as he could, laughing and shouting to the other apprentice boys to follow him to Moorfields.
Now that the marshy area just outside London’s walls had frozen over, crowds of boys turned the area into a giant ice rink. Mere skating was not enough; they fastened bone skates securely to their feet, armed themselves with sticks and set out at full speed to tilt with rivals. It was a rough and painful game sometimes, but perhaps no more so than the violent games of football or wrestling which were favourites for much of the year.
In summer, too, the boys of Chaucer’s London, had special feast-days with games and competitions from morning until night. Putting the stone and throwing the hammer and javelin took place on land, while in the fast-flowing river young men in boats aimed lances at a strong shield set on a pole in midstream. Roars of laughter echoed round when someone missed, fell into the river and had to be dragged up the muddy bank to safety.
This was one side of London life in the 14th century. Geoffrey Chaucer so loved the city all his life that the liveliness of its characters, its trade and its whole existence came through in the stories he wrote. He was born in 1340, the son of a prosperous wine merchant, in an age when England seemed to be coming into her own. There were great disasters, too.
When Chaucer was only nine years old, his parents hurriedly moved from London because of the ravages of the Black Death. Whole communities were wiped out in the most dreadful plague ever to visit these shores (it is thought that nearly a half of the population died) but fortunately the Chaucers survived and returned to a strangely quiet city.
Soon the mood changed, and for Geoffrey there began the start of a colourful and adventurous life. He became a pageboy in the great household of the Countess of Ulster, and took part in the excitement and extravagance of court life. In his short cloak, new shoes with red and black breeches, he rubbed shoulders with noblemen and fools, monks and minstrels, poets and prisoners as his mistress moved from one great castle to another. Britain was at war with France, and captive French noblemen shared with their British captors all the knightly sports. Jousting tournaments were arranged, hawking and hunting provided, and the evenings filled with dancing in the great halls.
For Geoffrey Chaucer, however, life was soon to become much more serious. He went to war with his king and in 1359 marched with Edward’s splendid army from Calais to Reims. This was no glorious campaign but a frustrating story of one setback after another. Towns closed their gates, the French army hovered just out of reach and the weather was so cold that men died like flies. For seven long weeks, Edward blockaded Reims until both men and horses were on the verge of starvation.
Early one morning Chaucer was sent with a party of soldiers to scour the countryside for supplies. Ten miles from camp they entered into a skirmish with the French. Chaucer realised he would have to flee but his tired starving horses could take him no further and he was captured. After he had spent some time as a prisoner, the king paid £16 towards his ransom and he returned to Britain, thankful to be alive.
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Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Ships, Trade on Friday, 21 February 2014
This edited article about Japan first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 562 published on 21 October 1972.
The Japanese giving in to Commodore Perry
Commodore Perry’s face was suitably stern and resolute as he stepped ashore at the tiny village of Kurihama. His was the expression Orientals called “hsuing,” the look of a warrior: it was something the Japanese revered and recognised.
They recognised, too, the ceremony of a formal occasion – the American ensign and blue pendant carried before him, the blue-jacketed crew drawn up on the decks of “Susquehanna,” the marines presenting arms, the sailors raising their oars in salute.
Yet, whatever was familiar in all this, in Japanese eyes, a foreign barbarian was setting foot on their sacred soil.
Not that Perry was unexpected – the Dutch had already warned Japan’s rulers that he was coming, and it was not difficult to guess the content of the letters he brought from the American President.
Already the Japanese had tried to induce Perry to go away with a mixture of neglect, delay, disdain and condescension. But the man had obstinately remained.
An outpouring of prayers for a “kamikaze,” a divine wind to drive him off had gone unheard. Perry’s great “black ships,” the “kurofune,” were still there in the bay, dragon-like smoke belching from their funnels and drifting out among the pines and groves and temples.
A few educated Japanese realised how puny and useless these efforts were. They knew too much about the energy with which the world outside had progressed since Japan had embarked on two hundred years of isolation.
While the Japanese remained petrified in ancient ways, cut off by government decree from foreign books, foreign science, foreign ideas, the Europeans had charged ahead, penetrating the mysteries of Earth and stars, building machines to do the work of men, spreading their trade, their coaling stations and, in places, their rule over the whole face of the globe.
From all this, Japan had managed to remain aloof, allowing only a few Dutch traders to live and work on Deshima, a manmade island in Nagasaki harbour, and offering them regular humiliation at the court of the Shogun. There, the Dutch were forced to crawl on their stomachs before the Shogun, the effective ruler of Japan, and witness their Japanese employees ceremoniously trampling on the Cross to show contempt for Christianity.
When isolation began, in 1638, it had been inspired by hatred of missionaries who, the shogunate felt, would subvert the people and teach them disobedient ways.
However, when Matthew Calbraith Perry, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Naval Forces in the East India, China and Japan Seas, arrived in Sagami Bay on 8th July, 1853, the Japanese had more to fear than a change of religion.
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Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Industry, Institutions, Labour Party, Politics, Trade on Thursday, 20 February 2014
This edited article about the General Strike first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 559 published on 30 September 1972.
Volunteer bus drivers were protected during the General Strike of 1926 by John Keay
Overnight, the country seemed to have died. Docks, factories, mines and power stations were idle. There were no trains, buses or newspapers . . . half of Britain was on strike against poverty, but the other half was determined to keep the country alive.
The soldiers stood with their guns at the ready, their eyes wary and watchful. There had been no trouble yet, but the tenseness, the almost eerie calm of the strikers lining the roads to the London docks might explode into violence at any moment.
Inside the dock gates, some of the older men loading lorries with meat and flour were wilting under the effort, for they were quite unused to this strenuous labour that hardened the hands and mesmerised the mind with its tedium. The undergraduates who worked with them were naturally more energetic, but were just as obviously strangers to dock-work. Their expressions lacked the sullen glower of the strikers in the crowd outside. Their faces were free of the undernourished grey, and the lines stamped by poverty and restive envy of those to whom life had been less generous.
This strange reversal of roles, in which solicitors, stockbrokers, students and other members of the middle class temporarily assumed the tasks of labourers, occurred on 9th May, 1926, at a time when want and insecurity still marked the lives of many British working men.
All over Britain, overcrowded slums polluted towns and cities, spawning a population whose health was suspect, whose work was menial and could be dangerous, and whose diet sometimes barely skirted starvation level.
After World War I, it was to people like this that employers addressed demands that wages should be cut.
The protests were, naturally, vigorous and, at first, seemed successful. After strike action by railwaymen in 1919, proposals to reduce their wages were withdrawn. And though miners’ pay was forced down in 1921, the mine-owners three years later conceded a rise and a seven instead of an eight-hour day.
The basic conflict however, remained; and it remained at its most aggressive in the mining industry where, despite sporadic flickers upwards, exports were falling in the face of European competition.
In this situation, employers and employed took firm and stubbornly opposing stands.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Trade on Wednesday, 19 February 2014
This edited article about the Victorians first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 558 published on 23 September 1972.
“The English,” sneered the Emperor Napoleon, “are no more than a nation of shopkeepers.”
He was partly right. In no other country in Europe were there so many shops in Victorian England selling so many things to so many people of all classes. From the workshops and factories of the Industrial Revolution and after there poured cataracts of cheap, mass-produced articles. The docklands of Britain bristled with the masts and spars of East Indiamen, and the funnels of the new steamships, their holds crammed with the silks, spices, oil, ivory and copper of the Far East and Africa. There was tea and there was coffee and preserved meat from Australia.
It was the business of the merchants and traders to “deliver the goods” wholesale. It became the calling of the shopkeeper to buy as cheaply as possible and sell as profitably as possible. He may have been a parasite, this “middleman,” and he was certainly a greedy fellow. But, arranging his stock-in-trade, erecting his flamboyant signs and unctuously rubbing his hands together and beaming on the passers-by he was certainly useful.
And his slogan was: “The Customer is always right.”
Unfortunately, in early Victorian days there were no Health Inspectors calling without warning to take samples of the eatables on offer, poking into corners to chivvy up cockroaches and sniff at the sanitary conditions. Many of the small retailers, ground up alum, peas and beans to pad out the “pure flour,” popped sulphuric acid into beer, faked up the Englishman’s “cuppa” with sawdust from ash and elder and “recovered” tea-leaves by liberal use of black lead! The customer, if poor and ignorant, had no defence. The first big-town dairies painted “Cow Keeper” over their open shop-fronts, while at the back of the premises, behind wooden bars, cows could be seen to be kept. The customer brought his own milk-jug and was served from a churn. He took his chance as to whether his milk was one-hundred-per-cent unwatered. And he took a very big chance, with overcrowded City cows, in the risk of supping up the seeds of tuberculosis, that dread “consumption” which carried off countless scores of Victorians into early “decline.”
The early Victorian years were those of the small, specialised shops. The street markets flourished, as, astonishingly, they still flourish in this day of the multiple stores and supermarkets. But the shopkeeper proper lived upon his premises and did his business from a covered wooden counter jutting on to the pavement. At closing time the tradesman, to use a phrase still common today, “Put up the shutters” and popped indoors to count his money.
On Sundays the shutters were up all day. By and large, they still are, with certain exceptions. The Victorian “exceptions” were milk and mackerel, the milk being allowed only before 9 a.m. and after 4 p.m. and the mackerel before, or after, divine service.
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Posted in Geography, Historical articles, History, Trade on Monday, 17 February 2014
This edited article about South America first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 555 published on 2 September 1972.
The "Public Buildings", Georgetown, Demerara, British Guiana
Although Britain governed practically all the North American continent at one time, she never gained more than a foothold in the South. South America was the prized possession of Spain and Portugal, whose languages, religion and customs took such deep root there that even today, the whole continent, from Mexico to Cape Horn, is usually referred to as “Latin” America, because the Latin language is the basis of those spoken by the Spanish and Portuguese.
Three European countries harassed the Portuguese and Spanish in their occupation of South America, but the raiders were rewarded only with three meagre slices of neighbouring territory between Brazil and the Caribbean sea. The countries were Britain, France and Holland, who founded the colonies of British, French and Dutch Guiana. From these, only Britain has completely withdrawn, leaving Guyana, as it is now called, as a self-governing member of the Commonwealth. The parts colonised by the French and Dutch are still closely linked to their mother-countries, and depend heavily on them for the way in which they are run. But the strange thing is that the part which is today under Dutch influence was first colonised by the British, while that formerly ruled by the British was at first a Dutch settlement!
It was in 1630 that the first British settlers landed there, and in the next 30 years they set up about 50 “plantations” or settlements for the growing of sugar and maize. But the war which was being waged so hotly between the British and the Dutch in the North Sea and the Channel spread even to these distant parts, and in 1667 the Dutch landed in the capital, Paramaribo, and claimed the country for themselves, naming it Surinam.
This capture was, however, a poor exchange for New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island, which the British had seized from the Dutch in 1664. Today scarcely anyone has heard of Paramaribo, but the city which the British captured has become one of the largest and most prosperous in the world. They gave it a new name, by which it is still known – New York! The Dutch gave the name of New Amsterdam to a small settlement in Surinam, which still exists.
With the Dutch in control, many settlers of British origin left Surinam, and went to Trinidad or other islands of the West Indies. But they were always ready to return and take a hand in Surinam’s affairs, and when the Dutch were faced with a large-scale revolt of slaves, between 1772 and 1777, it was a British Officer, Captain Stedman, who led the forces which crushed it.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Trade on Friday, 14 February 2014
This edited article about the East India Company first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 553 published on 19 August 1972.
Tiger hunting was a dangerous blood sport by C L Doughty
By the beginning of the 19th century the young men who sailed round the Cape of Good Hope to begin service with the East India Company were arriving in a land where some sort of order had at last been established. The merchant adventurers who had fought and intrigued for the first foothold in India had faded into history while even the fierce tribal wars and the Indians’ hopeless fight for independence seemed remote.
The British were masters of India and they meant to remain so. The victories of Clive and Wellington needed to be followed by a period when government could be achieved by peaceful means. Soon the British would bring steamboats, railways and the electric telegraph to transform the continent, but first they wanted to make money.
Almost everyone who came to India dreamt of making a fortune and in the earlier days very many of them did. Not everyone did as well as William Bolts, who amassed £90,000 in five years (almost two million pounds in today’s terms) but many a returning “nabob” came home rich enough to buy a large house and a country estate. India came near to being torn to pieces by fortune seekers and only firm action by Governors like Warren Hastings enabled some control to be re-imposed.
Uppermost in many peoples minds was the fact that life could be very short in the dangerous and disease-ridden towns of India. Even the pastimes in which the English indulged added an extra element of excitement and danger. In the cold season, when the jungle became a riot of brilliant colour, then hunting became the favourite occupation.
Wolves, tigers, water buffalo and wild hogs were all worthy opponents and despite being mounted on a swift horse or a ponderous elephant the hunter knew that his quarry could easily turn on him when cornered. The last desperate leap of a trapped tiger or the hopeless charge of a water buffalo killed many a man who had simply started out for a day’s sport.
For those who did not wish to hunt there was much to do in this land of colour and contrasts. Many complained of the “dull, gloomy, spiritless hot season” but for the Englishman who lived a life of luxury the treasures of the continent were there for the seeking. In the north was the great brooding mass of the Himalayas, 1,500 miles of snowcovered peaks, which even then were crossed by hardy explorers on ponies or yaks.
To the south, in Ceylon, the English would go to stare at the fantastic and intricate temples at Kandy, particularly the Temple of the Tooth, where one of Buddha’s teeth is kept as a relic. Once a year, in the hot blackness of an August night, the Europeans would watch, fascinated, as the tooth was carried round the city on an elephant, gorgeously decorated with jewelled golden hangings. Streets were lit with torches and lamps and in the procession were devil dancers and musicians, elephants and conjurers, all celebrating in a riot of colour and noise.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Trade on Friday, 14 February 2014
This edited article about the East India Company first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 552 published on 12 August 1972.
The British Army entering Singapore after its cession in 1824
Throughout its history, the East India Company managed to attract a succession of brilliant and courageous men to carry out its work in the Far East. The military victories won by Clive and Wellington meant that the Company now ruled enormous areas and populations and more and more staff were needed to administer what had, in effect, become a private Empire.
More English and Sepoy soldiers had to be trained, more tax collectors, sailors, clerks, governors and engineers were required, whilst men like Warren Hastings ruled over all with the power of an Emperor. Other men, too, gave their lives and energies for the East India Company and in doing so they altered the whole balance of power in the Far East. Such a man was Stamford Raffles.
He was born near Jamaica on board a West Indiaman which his father commanded. He joined the Company as a clerk when he was 14 years old. Ten years later the long hours of work followed by evenings of study paid off at last and he was sent out to Penang, in Malaya as assistant to the Secretary there.
Raffles was determined to make a success of his new appointment for he knew how important it might become. Malaya and the Spice Islands were still mainly ruled by the Dutch and apart from the local trade they stood between the Indian continent and the rich China trade. Much of the Company’s trade now came from China and the Dutch were one of many enemies.
These were seas where pirates still held sway. Some were Chinese, with innocuous looking junks which suddenly bristled 30 guns or more. Others were Malayan, still using long war canoes which skimmed swiftly over the narrow waters dividing Malaya and Sumatra and through which the East Indiamen must pass. At one notorious spot, by the Straits of Malacca, there was a long, narrow beach where the silver sand was dotted with hundreds of skulls. This was where the pirates used to divide their booty, put captives to death and fight each other for a share of the spoils.
Raffles soon made himself well known in this exciting and dangerous area. He persuaded the British to take the rich island of Java from the French and after a successful conquest he became Governor, ruling wisely and well. It was a bitter disappointment to him when the island was returned to the Dutch after Napoleon’s defeat brought peace to Europe, but in 1818 he was back again, this time as Governor of Sumatra.
The island is a vast stretch of territory, 1,000 miles long and containing fierce volcanoes, dense, impenetrable rain forests and rich plantation land. When Raffles arrived it had hardly been visited except along the coast and he threw himself enthusiastically into the administration and exploration of his new colony.
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