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Posted in Cars, Historical articles, History, Leisure, Transport, Travel on Friday, 7 March 2014
This edited article about the Edwardians first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 583 published on 17 March 1973.
A noisy new motor car frightening villagers and their horses by Richard Hook
It has been said that the Victorians made the money, and the Edwardians spent it! A new phrase to describe the young Edwardian descendants of their manufacturing forefathers was “the idle rich”. And idle a great many of them were; inheritors of huge fortunes which it was their pleasure to spend on all the wonders of the new age, and on one wonder in particular – the motor-car, the “horseless carriage”, a new-fangled monster which quite serious thinkers at the turn of the century condemned as a passing craze which would soon appear only in museums and would never displace the horse.
It was in a Daimler that the King made history by driving from Sandringham to Newmarket in Suffolk to enjoy a day’s horse racing. At 30 miles-an-hour the Monarch, followed by a cloud of dust, came speeding through the main street of Downham to the dusty cheers of his loyal subjects. The legal speed limit was then twelve miles an hour, but no Norfolk bobby would flag down his king.
Edward was always in the forefront of the merriest forms of progress. Before the advent of the “horseless-carriage” he followed – rather than set – the craze for the bicycle. Thanks to the inflatable tyre devised by a Belfast vet named Boyd Dunlop the bicycle became the thing, and there went Edward, knickerbockered, upon his own machine.
Late Victorian England regarded the new-fangled motor-car with the greatest distrust. It lacked elegance, it gave forth a vile smell, and it was a menace to chickens and old ladies who were often drawn by cartoonists of the time toddling away in terror at the approach of a Benz, a Darracq or a Daimler.
In 1896, the Red Flag Act, which had required a man with a red flag to walk in front of every motor car and warn people of its approach, was repealed. To celebrate the event 33 motorists set off on a drive from London to Brighton, some steam-propelled, the majority petrol-driven, and most of them “foreigners”. The manufacturers of these Mercedes’s, Darracqs, Delauney-Bellevilles, Benz’s and Daimlers, having had no “Red Flag Act” to contend with, had the edge over the early British ‘motormakers’, such as a Mr Morris of Oxford and a Mr Austin of Birmingham. Of the 33 starters only thirteen made the grade, but they had started something – the annual London-Brighton run for veteran cars. Five years later, in 1901, 65 cars assembled in London’s Hyde Park to start a gruelling 1,000 mile test course to prove the merits of petrol versus steam, horizontal versus vertical engines, the two cylinders versus four, air versus water, cooling belt transmission versus chain and sprocket drive.
The test run was a national sensation. Scarcely a road in the country was other than a dust-track in the summer and a mud-bath in the winter. The early motorist was scarcely a popular figure as he trundled through the countryside raising behind him a dust cloud 20 feet high and a mile long. In tweed hats with ear-flaps, heavy goggles (because there were no windscreens) and long “dust-coats” these gentry are portrayed as “road-hogs”, terrorising the chickens which fled squawking before them, frightening villagers and, above all, raising panic among horses. They outraged the “carriage-folk” whose age of elegance was under threat and whose coachmen whenever they had the chance lashed out with their whips across the faces of any motorist rash enough to pass close to them.
But there was no doubt about it – the motor-car had arrived. In 1904 nearly 9,000 private vehicles were on the roads. Ten years later the figure had risen to 132,000. 1903 was the year when, for the fee of £1, the motorist was required to register his diabolical machine and to pay a further two guineas for a licence to possess such a thing. A driving licence cost five-shillings, though whether a man or a woman was able to drive did not concern the authorities. The early cars, of course, were eternally breaking down, likewise the first motor-buses. These, especially in London, were greeted with hatred and derision by the drivers of the horse-drawn buses.
In 1905, there were still 4,000 four-wheeler horse cabs plying for hire. In London alone there were 3,500 horse-buses and 7,000 hansom cabs, those superbly elegant carriages made for two which had been described as the “gondolas” of London. But then came 240 motor-buses to revolutionise public transport and the petrol-driven taxi, which made its first appearance in that year. By 1910, the year of the King’s death, there were over 6,000 of them.
A year later the very last horse-bus to clip-clop through the London streets had disappeared.
It was fairly early in Edward’s reign when motor-cars of English manufacture began to push the Continentals out of supremacy. The Austin, the Morris, the Arrol-Johnson, the Swift, the Humber, the Napier, and, mightiest of them all, the Rolls-Royce reigned supreme. The moment when the Honourable C. S. Rolls, an intrepid racing driver and car-dealer, met a meticulous engineer from Manchester named Henry Royce, was, in its way, the greatest moment in the history of the motor-car. Already Henry Royce had been manufacturing small, twin-cylinder cars of ten horse-power. The “little Royce” was extremely popular. But Rolls, the intuitive sales and publicity man, knew a genius when he saw one. Royce would make the best car in the world, and Rolls would sell it as just that. “The Best Car in the World” was, and still is, the simple slogan under which Rolls-Royce have traded, almost unchallenged, for some 65 years.
And what a sensation it was, this “Silver Ghost”, which appeared at the Paris Motor-Show of 1908. The long, sleek bonnet with its distinctive radiator, the almost silent 40 horse-power, six-cylinder engine beneath it, the gleaming coachwork. The entire car had an overall air of confident good breeding.
The great Montague Napier whose six-cylinder car had already beaten the cream of the Continentals, could not equal Henry Royce’s masterpiece, even though it had already averaged 65 mph for 24 hours over the first motor-racing circuit in Britain – Brooklands.
“British and Best” was the war-cry of the Edwardian motor-makers. Not only did they prove it with cars by Royce, Napier and Lanchester, but in the eccentric “drive it to death” stunt of tyre-maker Harvey du Cros. In 1904 he drove his little Ariel car up the track of the mountain railway to the top of Snowdon, the last half-a-mile of it being a gradient of one in five. There on the summit, stood the Ariel, seeming to say to the world: “That’ll show you.”
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 Aviation, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Wednesday, 5 March 2014
This edited article about pioneering balloon flight first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 579 published on 17 February 1973.
Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes flew over Paris for 25 minutes in a hot-air balloon made by the Montgolfier brothers, by Wilf Hardy
They were only a few miles from the French coast, but it seemed certain that their historic trip was destined to end, not in a blaze of glory but in the waters of the English Channel. They had hoped to be the first men to cross the Channel by air, but their leaking balloon was lowering them steadily towards the waves.
The two men were Jean-Pierre Blanchard, a famous French balloonist, and an American doctor called John Jeffries, and the extraordinary thing about their adventure was that it happened as far back as 1785. We tend to think of flying as very much a 20th century achievement, and that only in our own times have men been able to look down on the Earth from above. Yet the balloon age began on November 21, 1783.
On that great day, Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes flew over Paris for 25 minutes in a hot-air balloon. It had been made by the Montgolfier brothers, Joseph and Etienne, who were French paper-makers by trade. They got their idea after noticing how open paper bags floated into the air after being thrown on a fire.
They made a balloon of linen and paper and lit a fire under it, and its pull was so strong that it needed eight men to hold it. Suddenly, it shot up to 6,000 feet and came down a mile away.
The first passengers were a chicken, a duck and a sheep. Then came the first manned flight.
It was a dangerous one, because a brazier was fixed to the neck of a new balloon and the two “aeronauts” were ordered to keep the fire stoked after the balloon had been “blasted off” by a fire under the launching platform. During the five mile flight, the two had to keep putting out fires that started in the inflammable painted cloth of the balloon, but they survived.
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Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, London, Travel on Wednesday, 26 February 2014
This edited article about Daniel Defoe first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 570 published on 16 December 1972.
Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, was put in the pillory three times because he disagreed with the government, by Ron Embleton
The Magistrate signed the warrant with a flourish and within minutes Constables were given instructions for the arrest. Once more a writer who had dared to offend the Government would pay the penalty, for in this year of 1703 the freedom of the press did not exist. Pamphlets, papers and even books which criticised those in power were printed with great secrecy and constant changes of address and secret hideouts were needed by author and publisher alike.
This time, however, the Constables were quite sure for whom they were looking. The man’s name was Daniel Defoe, and the warrant described him carefully. “A middle-sized spare man about forty years old of a brown complexion and wears a wig; a hooked nose, a sharp chin, grey eyes and a large mole near his mouth.”
Later that day Defoe was arrested and lodged in Newgate Prison. His crime had been to write a satirical pamphlet on one of the issues that aroused fierce quarrels for almost the whole of his life – whether people who were not members of the Church of England could hold public office. The issue is not relevant today, but in 1703 the Government was determined to punish “Dissenters” like Defoe. The House of Commons ordered that copies of the work should be burned and when Defoe appeared at the Old Bailey he was fined 200 marks, ordered to spend three days in the pillory and sentenced to a period of imprisonment.
This savage sentence made Defoe even more determined to make his voice heard. He continued to write from prison and soon he found he had become a popular hero. For when the time came and he was taken out to stand in the pillory the people came forward to provide him with a guard of honour. They covered the pillory with flowers, drank his health and generally made merry during what was supposed to be part of his punishment. Daniel Defoe had come to a turning point in a strange career which varied from wealth to poverty, from fierce independence to service as a Government agent and from being the king of journalists to prominence as a successful novelist. His story is as turbulent and extraordinary as the times in which he lived.
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Posted in Aviation, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Wednesday, 26 February 2014
This edited article about aviation pioneers first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 570 published on 16 December 1972.
The first man to fly: Otto Lilienthal
“Hold it Herr Lilienthal! Just one moment!” cried the photographer from beneath his voluminous black cloth. Fifty feet above him a strange moth-like shape swung in the air.
“I am doing my best, mein herr,” shouted its pilot. “but I don’t rule the wind you know!” Even as Otto Lilienthal spoke, the breeze dropped and his flimsy glider soared away towards the foot of the hill.
“OK, I have the picture!” the photographer shouted in triumph – but nobody was listening. Otto Lilienthal was busy making a safe landing while the gaggle of journalists who had gathered to see some real flying were now rushing down the hill to interview the greatest man in the aviation world.
They reached Lilienthal as he was extricating himself from the glider. The year was 1895 and Lilienthal had proved that man could at least glide, even if nobody had as yet managed to build a flying machine with an engine.
“Herr – herr Lilienthal,” said the first of the journalists to reach the glider. “Tell me about this wonderful machine of yours.”
Otto Lilienthal smiled at his eager audience.
“This is my biplane, so called because it has two wings one above the other. I have given it the number 13. I have made three biplanes so far, with wing areas of 18, 10.5 and 20 square metres. They are very stable, which came as a surprise to me, and I have flown in winds of about 25 m.p.h., as you yourselves saw. Ah, here comes, our photographer! I hope your picture is a success mein Herr. As I was saying, when the wind is strong my glider seems to remain stationary. But there are many more problems to solve.”
Otto Lilienthal was a quiet and rather humble man, though he was ever eager to spread his discoveries around and perhaps encourage other people to experiment. Many men before him had tried to fly. Many had died or at least suffered injury, but Otto Lilienthal was a new type of “aeronaut.” He approached the subject carefully and slowly with a scientific mind, though this care in no way dampened his fanatical determination to fly.
Ever since he had been a boy back in the 1850′s Otto Lilienthal had longed to fly. He and his brother even made a six wing ornithopter which was supposed to fly by flapping its wings like a bird. It failed, but right up to his death Lilienthal believed he could build a flying machine that would flap its way into the air. Fortunately for himself, and for the science of aviation, Otto decided to learn as much about flying by gliding as he could.
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Posted in Adventure, Historical articles, History, Religion, Travel, War on Tuesday, 25 February 2014
This edited article about John of Plano Carpini first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 566 published on 18 November 1972.
Friar John marches through the blinding snow
On Easter Sunday, 1245, when Friar John da Pian del Carpine left Lyon at the start of a long journey, he was by no means sure he would live to see another Easter day. And the farther he travelled, the less sure he became.
Snow covered him like a white blanket, as he crossed Poland and Russia. Icy winds numbed his bones and chilled his limbs, so that at the end of the day he could hardly crawl out of the sledge in which he travelled. But it was not this which caused his growing feeling of horror. It was the devastated countryside all around him. The cities he passed were in ruins, some with hardly a building left standing. There were few people, but there were human skulls and skeletons littering the roads.
The devastation was the work of ruthless Mongol invaders, and it gave Friar John no consolation at all to reflect that he was on his way to visit the leader of these savage hordes, with a letter from the Pope.
Just over thirty years earlier the Mongols, fierce nomads, united under the leadership of Genghiz Khan, had swept out of the steppe lands into Central Asia, smashed through the Great Wall of China and conquered the country, and then overrun Persia.
Genghiz Khan was a savage conqueror, born in a savage age. His enemies might find themselves boiled, burned or skinned alive, or nailed to wooden horses. Conquered cities were often levelled to the ground, so that no trace of them remained, and their inhabitants massacred. Any who hoped to save their lives by offering to join the Mongol army were likely to be summarily executed as they entered the Mongol camp.
In 1237 the Mongols, led now by Genghis Khan’s son and successor, Ogedei, turned on Europe, unleashed a reign of terror. Just when it seemed that nothing could save Christendom, Ogedei died. The throne was elective, the election required the presence of all the Mongol nobles and still undefeated, the Mongol army poured back into Mongolia to elect a new leader.
At this stage, Pope Innocent IV decided to send a mission to the Mongol leader demanding that their attacks cease. For this mission, he chose Friar John da Pian del Carpini.
There could hardly have been a more surprised man than Friar John. There was nothing in his past to suggest that at the age of sixty odd he was the ideal man to go adventuring into an unknown, inhospitable land where no Westerner had ever been before.
Born in the little Italian village of Pian del Carpine about 1180, He had joined the Order founded by St Francis and risen to become warden of the friary of Cologne. Whatever his duties, they did not consist of riding from dawn to dusk in all weathers, converting heathen hordes, exploring unknown territory, or spying, one or all of which would have stood in him good stead for the task the Pope had in mind, which was to convert the Mongols, or, failing that, to bring back details of their military strength and their future plans for attacking Europe.
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Posted in America, Aviation, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Travel on Thursday, 13 February 2014
This edited article about aviation first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 551 published on 5 August 1972.
Charles Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis in which he flew solo across the Atlantic, by Ron Embleton
In 1919, the year of the legendary’ Alcock and Brown trans-Atlantic flight, Raymond Orteig, a New York hotel owner, offered a prize of 25,000 dollars for the first crossing made between New York and Paris in a heavier-than-air machine. By the middle of the 1920′s many aviators were intent upon achieving this feat. Several attempts were made by well-known flyers. None was successful and some resulted in tragedy; a machine financed by the American Legion crashed on take-off and the two pilots Woster and Davis were killed and two brave Frenchmen who set off from Le Bourget, Paris, in their plane, the “White Bird” were never seen again.
In May 1927 three planes were ready in New York to try for the prize. The first two were a tri-motor plane built by the Fokker Company and a Wright-Bellanca, both were piloted by experienced men, Byrd and Chamberlin. The third aircraft was a single-engined monoplane. “The Spirit of St. Louis” built to the specifications of Charles A. Lindbergh, a young and little-known airman. The planes were grounded due to unfavourable weather conditions and the pilots waited impatiently.
The forecast was more favourable on the evening of May 19th and Lindbergh drove to Curtiss Airfield and had “The Spirit of St. Louis” prepared for a take-off on the following morning. He returned late that night to his hotel to snatch a brief couple of hours’ sleep before setting out once more for the airfield. He had decided that the Curtiss Field runway was not long enough for a take-off with his plane fully loaded with fuel – he had even abandoned his parachute considering the extra fuel he could carry instead to be more vital – and had her towed to the nearby Roosevelt Field.
He was the only one of the three contenders who thought the conditions good enough for an attempt and at 7.30 a.m. on 20th May “The Spirit of St. Louis” took off and for the next 33 ½ hours the world held its breath. When Lindbergh touched down at Le Bourget thousands of people ran to congratulate him – he had achieved his dream.
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Posted in America, Boats, Historical articles, History, Ships, Transport, Travel on Thursday, 6 February 2014
This edited article about steamboats first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 546 published on 1 July 1972.
Some boats were floating palaces equipped with every luxury that their owner-captains could afford. Others were virtually armoured gunboats ready for action against Indians on the upper Missouri. All of them looked impressive as their paddles flashed in the sun and the smoke poured out of their tall funnels.
For 60 glorious years these steamboats of the Mississippi, Missouri, their tributaries, and other Western rivers were as glamorous as they were important. Passengers, businessmen and ordinary Westerners depended on them for so many things, including travel, transporting cotton and other goods and even bringing the wounded back from Indian fights.
The steamboat era began on the Mississippi when Nicholas Roosevelt’s New Orleans started trading between Natchez and New Orleans in 1811. Seven years later, the first steamboat slowly puffed its way up part of the Missouri. By 1840, the Steamboat Age had reached its peak to decline in the 1870s when the railways finally conquered the boats. Today, modern barges carry freight on the rivers and a very few carefully preserved steamboats carry tourists.
At their height, the steamboat kings were a different breed from other successful businessmen, simply because there were so many more of them. The majority of captains owned their boats and by any standard they were kings of the Western rivers.
These men thought nothing of spending some £150,000 – in terms of today’s money – on furnishing their ships. After all, they could recover that much in a single season on the river.
The captains were more than just skilled rivermen. They acted as bankers and merchants. They were men to whom a plantation owner would hand over his entire stock of sugar or cotton and sell it for him later at the highest market price. They were men that Western farmers and ranchers could trust.
They had to cope with the best of men and the worst of men, everyone from respectable travellers, soldiers and politicians to riverboat gamblers and outright criminals. Before organised “showboats” appeared, and even after, they provided entertainment for the passengers. The captains of showboats had to combine navigation with a knowledge of show business, and give performances not only aboard but in towns and villages along the banks.
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Posted in Adventure, America, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Wednesday, 5 February 2014
This edited article about America first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 543 published on 10 June 1972.
When a band of Sioux attacked the stage on the Nebraska plains that summer morning in 1865, the passengers were alarmed but not surprised. The Civil War, recently ended, had badly affected stage line operations, and the Indians, taking advantage of the fact that most soldiers had been recalled to fight in the East, had made things even worse.
What was surprising perhaps was that the man riding shotgun (guard) on top of the coach, the man who saw to it that the Sioux, armed only with bows and arrows, kept their distance and finally gave up, their ponies being no match for the coach’s horses, was the head of the stage line himself, Ben Holladay.
Yet it was not really so surprising. Holladay, like the other stagecoach kings who dominated Western land transportation until the 1890s, long after a transcontinental railroad had been completed back in 1869, believed in leading his “troops” from the front from time to time. On this occasion he was out to prove that now the war was over, operations could commence once again in earnest.
Except when there were rivers – and some of them were unsafe to navigate – the stagecoach was the best means of transportation in that vast, untamed area, the best and the safest. The badmen who held up stagecoaches – “road agents,” as they were called – could never guarantee to succeed against a coachload of as many as eighteen people, some of them heavily armed, who could be crammed into and on to that queen of the prairies, the Concord coach, along with baggage, mail and sometimes gold.
There was nothing comfortable about the journey, even if there was not a full load. As the “Omaha Herald” noted on October 3, 1877, “Don’t imagine for a moment that you are going on a picnic. Expect annoyances, discomfort, and some hardship.” That was an understatement!
The first stage coach king, before Holladay, before Henry Wells and William Fargo, was John Butterfield, who, after a minimum of schooling, rose from driving a stage in New York State in the 1820s to becoming the biggest man in staging in the East, with interests in packet boats and steamboats as well.
In 1857, having founded the American Express Company, he gained a sensational contract from the U.S. Government, being given the task of organising the first transcontinental stage line.
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Posted in Africa, Aviation, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Tuesday, 4 February 2014
This edited article about aviation first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 540 published on 20 May 1972.
An early flight on the North African route
“Down there!” the navigator shouted. “Try down there!”
The pilot of the Corsair flying boat looked at the River Dangu as it wound its way across what, in those pre-war days was known as the Belgian Congo. Sure enough, there was one comparatively straight stretch on which it might just be possible to get a flying boat down. He decided to have a go.
Flying boats were among the most comfortable aircraft ever invented, but they had snags, one of these being a total lack of brakes. There was absolutely no way of avoiding the mud bank that loomed ahead of the Corsair once she had touched down. There was a slithering crash and then a crunch as her hull caved in. Water poured through, and an aircraft that in those days cost the astronomical sum of £50,000 sank quietly in a few feet of water. Unhurt, the passengers made their way to a native village a few miles away, leaving the crew to tramp through swamp and bush until they came to a telegraph post from which it was possible to contact London.
Imperial Airways, the great company which developed Britain’s air routes across the globe before the formation of the British Overseas Airways’ Corporation, were not amused. Of course a brand new aircraft could not possibly be left in the river! In fact, a team of engineers would be flown immediately to the nearest landing ground, which happened to be some 200 miles away. The Corsair would be salvaged forthwith.
It was easy enough to say, but it did not work out quite as smoothly as that. For one thing, there were no roads from the airfield, and the engineers had to tramp on foot through the bush. When they arrived at their destination they stared aghast at the sight that awaited them. How did one refloat an aeroplane?
“It’s not really a plane,” someone pointed out at last. “It’s a flying boat. Maybe we’d better build a dry dock.”
So with the aid of local labour they built the dock and managed to haul the aircraft on to the river bank, where the hull was repaired. Then the question arose: how to get her airborne again. For if the straight stretch of river had been too short for her to get down, it was obviously not long enough for a take off. Eventually a stake was driven into the ground and the Corsair was tied to it with ropes while the engines were started up. When they were running flat out the ropes were cut and the flying boat shot off like an arrow from a bow – straight into a rock.
With the hull holed again, more repairs followed and by the time these were completed the dry season had started and there was even less water in the river than there had been before. At last an organising genius named Jock Halliday decided that there was nothing for it; they would just have to construct a dam. Because once they had that, they would have made themselves a lake.
A dam needed a big labour force and Halliday first had to build a village to house his native workmen, then make a road along which he could haul his timbers. But in the end, after nine months of back-breaking work, the job was done. This time the Corsair rose triumphantly into the blue sky, leaving behind her a new lake, a dam, a road and a brand new village which bore the appropriate name of “Corsairville.”
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