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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.
In all probability, using these primitive craft began on rivers, which were the only easy means of transport for early man. Rivers held fish. Fish was food. Early man had fire, sharp stones to cut with, and time – especially time. If it took half a year to burn and cut a dug-out canoe from the trunk of a large tree, that was no bother to him.
He soon began to use such water-borne transport as he could contrive for raiding and warfare too, and for hunting. He could sneak up on both animals and man by water.
There was one thing more he needed before he could get very far. That was some stability of society, for man in his dug-out or on his raft was himself vulnerable. Before there could be sea-going ships, there had to be order. There was plenty of time for the dug-out, built up slowly with planks-on-edge above its base, to grow into a craft fit at least for estuary, bay, and the more placid open-sea sailing. Good conditions for such craft exist in the fine-weather seasons over almost the whole of the tropical Asian coasts. They have a good season and a bad season. In the bad season, make the dug-out: in the good weather, sail it. That was the way of things, and still is in some places.
So the dug-out in time grew into the mere foundation – the keel – of larger craft, and the planks sewn on edge to its sides became a hull. The vessel was no longer vulnerable to any water that slopped in. Sails of matted leaves sufficed to catch tropic winds. Twisted bits of leather, tough lengths of forest vines made the essential rigging. Pieces of wood, roughly shaped, served as paddles: longer pieces became oars. Then some brilliant pioneer came up with a thole-pin – a fulcrum by the use of which man could make an oar into a lever, and learn to row.
And slowly, slowly, men learned also to make directional use of the stars, for Asian skies were clear, and men had time to observe them.
Even more slowly, areas of ordered government were evolved; civilisations grew. It was possible to trade, to make voyages to other lands by sea. Navigation was unnecessary because early seafarers hugged the coasts.
One of the areas where civilisation began was the valley of the great river Nile in Egypt. The Nile was made for water commerce. Caravan trails led to the Red Sea coasts. Early Pharaohs cut primitive versions of the Suez Canal to connect the Nile delta with the Red Sea. In the Red Sea, unlike the Mediterranean, there were steady winds and assured good weather over much of the year. There were also places to go, and they could be reached by coasting, by sailing along a sort of God-made inland waterway inside the reefs. So even primitive craft, developed from Nile boats, could get somewhere and – more important still – get back again.
Five thousand years ago, Egyptians knew how to ship blocks of granite of up to 500 tons from Aswan; over 500 miles up-river from Cairo. This was river sailing, of course, but those transports had to be strong. Building such large vessels, inevitably the Egyptians had to learn about accepting stresses and to turn out craft which were strong, able to carry goods and survive in the sea.
We find records from 4,000 years ago, carved into great stone faces in the Valley of the Hammamat, telling of an organised voyage of five ships from Egypt to the ‘Land of Punt’. Scholars still argue about just where Punt was, but many think that it was possibly Somaliland. Later hieroglyphs carved into the stones of the great temple of Deir el Bahri by a queen named Hatshepsut, tell us what cargoes these ships carried – incense, ebony and ivory, cinnamon wood, ‘eye-cosmetic . . . apes, monkeys, dogs, and skins of the southern panther, with natives and their children . . .’
The sculptors cut pictures of the ships into the stone. We get a reasonable idea of how they were built and how they looked. If, to moderns, their cargoes might seem overmuch for such small vessels to carry, one must remember that all the items listed were precious or semi-precious, even the eye-cosmetic. This was expensive stuff, and small parcels would be worth a fortune.
In those days too, and for thousands of years afterwards, neither seamen nor the usual kind of passengers were given any accommodation as we know it. Only high priests, kings, and nobles rated ship-board shelter. Others had to live aboard the best way they could. They stretched out anywhere, wrapped in their cloaks, and their worldly goods were on them.
So the five small ships to Punt were adequate for their enterprise. What they started was carried on. The science of long coastal passage-making had arrived in Eastern and Middle Eastern seas, though the very fact that Queen Hatshepsut considered the Punt passage worthy of permanent record indicates that such enterprises were then exceptional.
Thousands of years before Christ was born, Man was learning how to make voyages in Eastern seas where the monsoons, the high, readily recognisable mountains along so many coasts, the richness of the products for barter and exchange, and the many great river-mouth ports offered conditions unknown in Northern Europe.
A tougher kind of seafaring was essential there, and that development took time. A great deal of time.
Posted in Aviation, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Saturday, 11 May 2013
This edited article about Amy Johnson originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 251 published on 5 November 1966.
Miss Amy Johnson C.B.E.
Shortly before breakfast on the morning of 5th May, 1930, a small, green-and-silver Gypsy Moth biplane took off from Croydon Aerodrome. There were no big crowds to watch the event. The pilot, a young Yorkshire typist called Amy Johnson, was unknown to the public, and only her father and a few members of the London Aeroplane Club were there to wish her well on a daring trans-world flight.
As the heavily-laden little plane roared into the air at its second attempt, the men on the ground gave a ragged cheer. Amy was hoping to fly her plane, Jason, across the globe to Australia, and so become the first woman in the world to achieve such a feat. This was at a time when aviation was just struggling out of its infancy. To many people, the very idea of a woman flier seemed incredible, and from the beginning of her career Amy had found obstacle after obstacle placed in her path.
Amy was born in Hull, the daughter of a prosperous fish merchant, in July, 1904. Her family was prominent in local society, and she was brought up with every care and comfort.
When she was 16, Amy and her sister, Molly, went up on one of the ‘five-bob joy-rides’ which were the rage of the 1920s. The flight, however, was not the delight it promised to be.
“There was no sensation,” recalled Amy. “Just a lot of noise and wind, the smell of burnt oil and escaping petrol . . . I was almost cured of flying for ever.”
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Posted in Aviation, Cars, Engineering, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Friday, 10 May 2013
This edited article about Charles Rolls originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 249 published on 22 October 1966.
Charles S Rolls' return flight across the English Channel without landing, 2 June 1910
When the Honourable Charles Rolls arrived at Bournemouth aerodrome to take part in the much-publicised flying display, he was already a national hero. Only five weeks earlier, on 1st June, 1910, he had been the first aviator to make a two-way cross-Channel flight.
Rolls had set his heart on winning the alighting contest which was one of the highlights of the display. In it the pilots had to land on a white patch in the middle of a large circle. On 12th July, the second day of the air show, a blustery 20 miles-an-hour wind blew across the aerodrome.
As Rolls’s turn came to touch down on the white patch, he turned his plane at a height of a 100 feet and met the wind head-on.
He started a sharp descent – too sharp.
“There was a sickening snap,” wrote one of the eye-witnesses. “Some . . . parts of the tail-plane had given way . . . and then there was a thud. Rolls was down, under our very eyes, it seemed but a few paces away.”
At the age of 32, Charles Rolls, motor-car enthusiast, balloonist, and aviator, was dead. Today, his name lives on mainly through the car, the Rolls-Royce, which he helped to make world famous.
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Posted in Engineering, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Railways, Transport, Travel on Tuesday, 7 May 2013
This edited article about the railways originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 244 published on 17 September 1966.
The Grand opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway by Harry Green
15th September, 1830, was a great day for Liverpool and Manchester. The Duke of Wellington had opened the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the first railway to connect two English cities entirely by steam engine.
The previous year, while the track was still being laid, the directors had offered a prize of £500 for a locomotive which they would judge to be the most suitable for hauling trains on the new line. Among the nine engineers who entered for the competition was George Stephenson, who had built the engines for the much shorter Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825.
Only five locomotives were ready for the trials, which lasted for seven days. Stephenson’s “Rocket” won the prize after hauling a train at a speed of 12¬Ω miles an hour: so on 15th September, 1830, it was the “Rocket” which proudly drew the first train from Manchester to Liverpool, carrying passengers, including the Duke of Wellington.
The great occasion was, however, marked by tragedy. A talented member of Parliament, William Huskisson, was run over by the “Rocket” and killed. He was the first man in history to be killed by a train.
The building of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway solved many problems of main-line railway construction. In all, 63 bridges were built; a cutting two miles long and 100 feet deep was dug out; a tunnel 2,240 yards long was bored under Liverpool; and track had to be laid across the famous bogland called Chat Moss.
Posted in Engineering, Geography, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Tuesday, 7 May 2013
This edited article about originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 244 published on 17 September 1966.
The Mont Cenis Tunnel, from the Italian side
On 12th September, 1871, the Mont Cenis tunnel was opened and for the first time a train could pass under the Alps between France and Italy.
Designed and built by French engineers, the Mont Cenis tunnel is 7 3/4 miles long, 26 feet wide and 19 feet high. It climbs upwards through the Alps and at its highest point reaches an altitude of 4,245 feet. Although a comparatively small tunnel by modern standards, it was, in its day, a tremendous engineering achievement.
Courage, muscles, candles and gunpowder were all the equipment the builders had when they started to bore their way through the Alps in 1857. Most of the rock had to be shattered by charges of gunpowder wedged in holes slowly and laboriously cut with hammers and chisels.
All the work had to be done by the light of candles, of which a ton were burned every week. With no mechanical haulage, every scrap of stone cut had to be hauled away by horses hitched to trucks.
The tunnel was bored from both ends and the surveyors did their work so well that when eventually the tunnellers from the two ends met, there was an error in alignment of only twelve inches.
For the first four years, the rate of tunnelling was only about seven feet a day. This was far too slow to satisfy Germain Sommeillier, the engineer in charge. After many experiments to speed up the work, he invented the pneumatic drill. This made the work of boring shot holes so much easier and quicker that the tunnelling speed was increased by 21 feet a day.
Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Oddities, Transport, War on Monday, 29 April 2013
This edited article about the Siege of Paris originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 234 published on 9 July 1966.
Rolier and Bezier flew a balloon to carry urgent dispatches for assistance during the German Siege of Paris
“The wind’s wrong,” protested Rolier.
But those around Rolier that midday on November 24th, 1870, were not balloonists and did not understand. “Jump aboard,” they said impatiently. Then, throwing him a package of vital dispatches, they said: “Here, catch hold of this.”
France was in the last stages of a disastrous war with Germany, and Paris was ringed by the steel bayonets of German troops. Only by balloon or carrier pigeon could letters and dispatches be sent to garrisons in other cities.
Officials almost pushed Rolier into the passenger basket of the balloon. Desperately he held up his hand. “Feel the wind,” he begged them. “This dispatch is for Monsieur Gambetta, head of the Provisional Government at Tours. Gentlemen, you must understand. Tours is 150 miles to the south-west of Paris, but the wind is blowing from the south-west. A balloon has no engine. What do you expect me to do – flap my arms like the wings of a bird?”
But the men around the basket still took no notice. They even bundled a passenger aboard. “This is Monsieur Bezier. He is to go with you.” Then flushed with the success of previous balloon flights which had taken thousands of letters out of Paris, they released the ropes which secured the balloon to the ground. Up it rose, swiftly, with the basket swaying in the swift currents of air above the city.
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Posted in Aviation, Historical articles, Transport on Monday, 29 April 2013
This edited article about helicopter rescue originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 233 published on 2 July 1966.
helicopter rescue at sea
At the signal “Go” the slim man slipped gently from the helicopter to find himself dangling in mid-air at the end of a cable that seemed all too slender. For a fleeting instant he forgot all the details of the experiment that had been discussed so earnestly for weeks. The reality now struck him as utterly unreal.
The machine from which he hung suspended was real enough – a Westland-Sikorsky which a few weeks before had thrilled Londoners by settling down as naturally as a pigeon on Horse Guards parade.
But the present mission called for infinitely greater precision. The dangling man was out to prove to the world that stormbound or sick lighthouse keepers need never be cut off. They could be reached at any time, in any emergency, by helicopter; a doctor could be flown to them; a sick man could be taken off, swiftly and safely.
Now that actual performance replaced theory, it seemed doubtful that anyone could be lowered accurately on to a pencil-point target. That was how Dungeness lighthouse appeared at the moment – a pencil pointing sharply to the sky. The man himself had the uncanny sensation that he had shrunk.
He was Norman Hill, a flyer who had thought and dreamed helicopters ever since he had thrilled at his first glimpse of an autogiro in 1933, the invention of that brilliant Spanish mathematician, Juan de la Cierva.
Hill had lost little time in qualifying as a pilot, and had found his way instinctively into the Rotary Wing Squadron of the R.A.F. in the Second World War.
Staying with helicopters afterwards, he helped to plan regular maintenance service for seamarks under Trinity House. This present lighthouse experiment, for which he had dressed casually in slacks and sweater, stemmed naturally from the experience thus gained.
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Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Oddities, Transport, Travel on Friday, 12 April 2013
This edited article about Wind Wagon Thomas originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 224 published on 30 April 1966.
American frontier history is filled with daring tales of rugged pioneers who trekked across the Old Santa Fe Trail in search of new wealth, excitement and adventure.
But one of the strangest trail-blazers of them all was a man called “Windwagon” Thomas. He dreamed up a fantastic invention which almost changed the history of this one-thousand-mile-long, treacherous prairie trail linking the East with the Far West.
On a sunny spring afternoon in 1853, Thomas turned up, quite unexpectedly in the frontier town of Westport, Missouri. Westport was a main jumping-off spot for travellers planning to cross the vast prairie along the Santa F√© Trail. Here a man could obtain arms, ammunition, clothing, wagons, oxen or mules, and provisions for the crossing.
The Trail had become an international trade route. Eastern merchants would boldly set off westwards with goods they planned to sell in New Mexico. Other travellers were returning from the West, their creaking wagons loaded to overflowing with Mexican silver and gold bullion, costly buffalo robes and beaver skins.
“Windwagon’s” sudden arrival in Westport caused a tremendous stir. Horses bolted in panic, settlers’ wives scurried home, mules nervously pricked up their ears, dogs ran, their tails curled apprehensively under their legs, while hardened frontiersmen watched in stunned disbelief.
“Windwagon” came sailing into town, careering along the muddy streets on a unique wind-driven wagon, fitted with wheels and bearing a fluttering white sail!
Screeching to a halt, he stepped out of his contraption and made his way over to the local saloon. The leading townsfolk soon joined him, their excitement growing into curiosity.
“Windwagon” nodded in a friendly way. “You haven’t seen anything yet,” he said. “Why, this here craft is just a small model of what I really intend to build.”
“Windwagon” Thomas quickly explained his fantastic idea. He wanted to construct a massive fleet of giant prairie schooners, all operating on wind-power, which could sail along the Santa Fe Trail. All he needed to build the first large schooner of this type, was money.
The people of Westport eyed him with scepticism. “It’s a crazy idea,” one of them growled out.
But “Windwagon,” who talked like a sailor, and who claimed he had come from the East, did not give up easily. He sternly reminded the townspeople of the hardships involved in making the crossing with conventional Conestoga Wagons. It was a slow, tedious trip, and the travellers were liable to attacks by Indians, prairie bandits and Texan Raiders.
The people of Westport nodded in agreement, and “Windwagon” went on, his voice filling with confidence, “With the wind-powered craft I can build, you have the advantage of top speed. You save the cost of a team of animals. And Indians would be afraid to attack. There’s plenty of wind on the prairie . . . so why not make use of it!”
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Posted in Australia, Aviation, Historical articles, History, Transport on Thursday, 11 April 2013
This edited article about Lawrence Hargraves originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 221 published on 9 April 1966.
Hargraves’s box kite resembled this later, more famous, glider flying as a kite near the ground, with Wright brothers Wilbur (left) and Orville (right), in 1901
A small group of people watched with polite interest as Lawrence Hargraves prepared to fly a kite from a field just outside Sydney on the morning of April 6, 1893. Lawrence Hargraves was always flying kites.
But when this one was airborne, they saw that it was a kite with a difference. Instead of being a flat bamboo framework covered with oiled silk, it was shaped like a box, and flew much more steadily than usual.
Hargraves did not think his new kite very important. He did not even trouble to patent it, although a few weeks later he did read a paper about it to the Royal Society of New South Wales. Other people were interested, however, and the Hargraves box kite became the model for later pioneers who built the first biplanes (aeroplanes with two wings, one above the other).
Hargraves himself, always interested in flying, never believed in the fixed-wing type of aeroplane. He thought that planes should have wings that flapped like those of a bird. He built a number of model aircraft on these lines, and several of them actually flew for a few yards.
Lawrence Hargraves was born at Greenwich in 1850, and emigrated to Australia when he was seventeen. He settled in Sydney, where he was trained as an engineer. He was one of the first men to make a serious study of flying machines but, because he was very shy, he never talked much about his work. Nevertheless, he was one of the real pioneers of flying, though other people benefited from his ideas.
Apart from one or two visits to England, Hargraves spent most of his life in Sydney, where he died on July 6, 1915.
Posted in Boats, Engineering, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Inventions, Ships, Transport on Friday, 5 April 2013
This edited article about William Symington originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 219 published on 26 March 1966.
Symington’s steam-powered boat, the ‘Charlotte Dundas’
Every liner at sea is a monument to William Symington, who died in London, poor and forgotten, on March 22, 1831. For William Symington was the inventor of the first practical steam-powered boat.
Symington, who was born in October 1763, at Leadhills, Lanarkshire, became a mechanic at Wanlockhead Colliery in Dumfriesshire. While there he met an engineer, named Patrick Millar, who was experimenting with a small paddle-driven boat. Symington was asked to build a steam engine which would drive the paddles through a system of chains and ratchets.
The engine was a success, but the chain-and-ratchet drive was complicated and unreliable. Symington then built a new boat in which the paddles were driven through a shaft and connecting rod. This was the principle which since then has been used for all paddle steamers.
Symington named his boat Charlotte Dundas after the wife of Lord Dundas, who had financed the building of the boat. The Charlotte Dundas made her maiden voyage in 1790 and amazed a crowd of spectators by towing two heavily laden barges at a speed of nearly four miles an hour!
The Duke of Bridgewater, who was among the spectators, was so impressed that he asked Symington to build eight tug boats for use on the Bridgewater canal. But, because canal engineers said the wash from the paddles would destroy the canal banks, the order was cancelled.
Symington gave up experimenting with steamboats and came to London where he worked as a general mechanic until his death.