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Posted in Historical articles, History, Travel on Saturday, 15 June 2013
This edited article about Jack Metcalf originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 298 published on 30 September 1967.
Jack Metcalf supervising the making of a road
Jack Metcalf was six years old when a deadly smallpox epidemic swept through the West Riding of Yorkshire. The disease cost him his eyesight, but to the great relief of his parents, Jack did not allow his blindness to blight the whole of his life. Within two months of his recovery, he was ‘feeling’ his way through the streets of his home town of Knaresborough.
By the time he was 12, in 1729, Jack had so much confidence that he acted as a visitors’ guide. The few coppers this brought him was a tremendous help to his labourer father, and it set Jack on a career that was to make him respected throughout Britain.
Although Jack’s activities and enterprises stopped him ever feeling sorry for himself, his mother thought he should be trained in some suitable profession, and she decided that he should learn to play the fiddle. The cost of the cheapest instrument was well beyond his parents’ pocket, but by doing without tobacco, his father was eventually able to buy him a violin.
Jack concentrated on playing the lively jigs and reels popular in the district, and soon he had mastered some fifty tunes.
He became a much sought-after celebrity and was hired by the gentry to play at their homes.
After a time, however, Jack grew dissatisfied with life in Knaresborough. He sought wider horizons and spent several months touring England on horse and foot. He visited London, where his fiddle-playing brought him both money and renown, and it was there that he first met Colonel Liddell, the Member of Parliament for Berwick-on-Tweed.
The colonel, who was about to journey north to relax in the Pump Rooms at Harrogate, offered Jack a seat in his carriage. But Jack turned the offer down. He said that he would rather walk the 207 miles from London to the resort.
“Afoot, say you?” exclaimed the colonel. “Why you would be a month or more upon the way!”
“On the other hand, sir,” countered Jack, “I make so bold as to say that I shall be there before you. On these vile roads a man may walk as fast as a chaise can travel.”
This claim resulted in the colonel wagering 10 guineas that he would reach Harrogate before the ‘stone-blind’ fiddler. So Jack slung his fiddle-case over his shoulder, grasped a stout staff, and set out in pursuit of the colonel and his 16 mounted servants.
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Posted in Adventure, Historical articles, History, Travel on Friday, 14 June 2013
This edited article about mountaineering originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 296 published on 16 September 1967.
A camel caravan camped in the Pamir Mountains on the Silk Road, the trade route that linked Europe to China by Graham Coton
The expedition across the Roof of the World had been under way for two weeks when it came to the ‘snow bridge’ – the first of the obstacles which people said could not be passed. The bridge, a mass of snow and solid ice which had fallen down from the surrounding mountains, was the only means of crossing the foaming river underneath.
It looked anything but safe, and the coolies who carried the expedition’s stores and equipment wanted to turn back. But their leader, Lieutenant-Colonel P. T. Etherton, would not hear of such a thing. He had vowed to complete the ‘impossible’ 4,000-mile journey from northern India to Siberia, and was prepared to risk his life rather than fail at the attempt.
Urging the men to follow him, he set out along the precarious catwalk accompanied by his orderly, Rifleman Sing. Reluctantly the coolies followed after him. The colonel did not blame them for their hesitancy. Only a few hours earlier they had narrowly escaped death when an avalanche crashed down on them, and they were still shaking from the experience.
For the first few feet the bridge held the expedition’s weight. Then, when they were halfway over, there came an ominous ‘crack’. Suddenly the frozen snow broke in two and the men were pitched into the raging water. For a while it seemed that none of them would get out alive. They were repeatedly dashed against jagged rocks, and the coolies were hampered by the baggage they carried.
Somehow they managed to cling on to the boulders which lined the bank, and were then able to scramble ashore. Apart from bumps and bruises, no one was badly hurt, but it was clear to the colonel that the natives’ spirit was broken, and that they would desert him at the first opportunity.
Colonel Etherton and his party had set out on 15th March, 1909, to travel across the Pamir mountains, which the Asians called ‘the Roof of the World’. The 280-mile-long range still lay ahead of them, and they had to pass through ravines where the snow was so steeply banked that it could be brought down by the sound of someone talking.
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Posted in America, Animals, Historical articles, History, Travel on Friday, 14 June 2013
This edited article about Roger Pocock originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 294 published on 2 September 1967.
On the morning of 28th June, 1899, Roger Pocock rode out through the gates of Fort Macleod in Canada on a 3,600-mile journey to Mexico City. His ambition was simple – ‘to make a record in horsemanship, or get killed’.
Pocock, a tall, moustached Englishman, had travelled the world in search of excitement, and had been pedlar, cowboy, scout, prospector and missionary, as well as a trooper in the North West Mounted Police. To his friends he was known as a man who never refused a dare.
As he left the fort, Pocock was accompanied by several of his ‘Mountie’ friends, who escorted him safely through the territory of the fierce Blood Indians. When his friends left him, Pocock continued his journey in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. A few days later, he came across one of the herds of wild stallions which roamed through the district. One of the leading stallions charged boldly at him with its teeth bared. But it was not the man that the angry beast wanted to attack – it was his two frightened pack-horses!
Reaching the Yellowstone National Park, game reservation, Pocock decided to relax beside a gently-running stream. He knew that visitors to the Park were not allowed to use guns, and so he had no defence against the bear which shortly lumbered up to him. Luckily the animal was friendly, but it was very hungry, and Pocock could only look helplessly on while his unwelcome guest gobbled up his supplies of bacon, beans, fruit and flour. The only items which the bear turned its nose up at were coffee and tobacco!
After buying fresh provisions, Pocock rode south from the Park towards the notorious outlaws’ stronghold at Jackson’s Hole. He passed cabins occupied by mean-faced, wary men who regarded him with great suspicion. But once he had assured them that he was not from the sheriff’s office, they treated him as a brother.
The Englishman then crossed into Utah, where he faced a danger more serious than outlaws. He always slept out-of-doors, and one night he awoke to find that a mad skunk had crept close to his sleeping-bag and was about to bite him in the face. The animal was suffering from rabies, and if it had bitten him, he would undoubtedly have died.
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Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Religion, Travel on Friday, 14 June 2013
This edited article about America originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 294 published on 2 September 1967.
Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World in 1492, and blazed the trail for a host of traders, settlers and empire-builders. Spain drew massive wealth in precious metals from South America: French explorers sailed up the St. Lawrence River, founded Quebec and extended their settlements down the Mississippi. John Cabot sailed from England to Newfoundland in 1498 (but nobody followed his example – the climate there was not encouraging).
The first major settlement in the New World was that financed by a group of London merchants, who received a charter from King James I authorising them to settle in the area of Virginia. In 1607, three ships arrived there. Weary after weeks at sea, many men died in the first hard months when food was short and labour unceasing in the blistering heat.
The product that was to make Virginia rich – tobacco – was first planted there in 1612. In a very few years the demand was so great that it was even being planted in the streets of Jamestown, the ‘capital’.
Of all the settlers from England, the most famous were the Pilgrim Fathers. Determined to worship God according to their Puritan ideals, they set out from Plymouth in the Mayflower in 1620. The Pilgrim Fathers landed near Cape Cod and called their settlement New Plymouth. They had reckoned without the harsh winter, for which they were not well prepared. But, although their numbers were drastically reduced, under the firm rule of William Bradford, who governed the colony from 1621 to 1652, it survived. A larger group of Puritans founded a colony at Massachusetts Bay in 1630. Their chief town was Boston, named after Boston in Lincolnshire, from where many of the original settlers had come. Off-shoots of Massachusetts were the colonies of Rhode Island and Connecticut.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Medicine, Travel on Friday, 14 June 2013
This edited article about Lady Mary Montagu originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 293 published on 26 August 1967.
Lady Mary Montagu sees the Turkish method of inoculation
Lady Mary Montagu is remembered for two things – as a traveller and as the woman who introduced the practice of inoculation into England.
The daughter of the Duke of Kingston, she was born in 1689. When she was 23 her father arranged a marriage for her, but she preferred to choose her own husband. Just before the contracted wedding was to take place, she eloped with a Member of Parliament named Edward Montagu. They were married by private licence on 12th August, 1712.
Four years later her husband was appointed Ambassador at Constantinople (now Istanbul) in Turkey. While there she wrote accounts of life in the country for her friends and these were later published to bring her fame as a travel writer.
While in Adrianople (better known today as Edirne), Lady Mary saw people being inoculated against the dreaded smallpox. Having had a mild attack of the disease herself, she was very interested in this method of guarding against it. When she returned to England she organised the first inoculations which were given by the doctor who had been at the Embassy in Turkey. Later she was publically thanked for “saving many thousands of British lives every year”.
In 1739 Lady Mary went abroad by herself, living mainly in Italy but also making various journeys in Europe and Africa about which she wrote in a very vivid style. She died on 21st August, 1762, and her famous letters about her adventures were published 15 years later.
Posted in Adventure, Historical articles, History, Transport, Travel on Wednesday, 12 June 2013
This edited article about Louise Sutherland originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 289 published on 29 July 1967.
On 25th July, 1957, a slightly-built girl pedalled a bicycle through the bustling streets of South London towards the centre of the city. She wore a tropical topee helmet on her head, and behind her cycle bumped a small two-wheeled trailer. It contained all her possessions and on its sides were proudly painted the names of the countries it had crossed.
As Louise Sutherland entered the Strand a smile of satisfaction appeared on her face. After six years of hard travelling, she had achieved her ambition of cycling alone round the world.
Born in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1929, Louise trained as a nurse after she had left school. When she was fully qualified she came to England on a working holiday. As she did not have a lot of money to spare, she decided to see the country on a bicycle. With this end in view, she set off to tour Cornwall, but after a couple of days a continuous headwind dampened her spirits. As she had her passport and £85 with her she turned about and allowed the wind to assist her towards Dover. She would have her holiday on the Continent.
It was after she had landed on French soil that the great idea came to her. Why should she not continue travelling and see the whole world? She had her nursing certificate and when she needed money she could probably get work in hospitals. The fact that she knew no other language than English did not bother her.
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Posted in Adventure, America, Historical articles, History, News, Travel on Tuesday, 11 June 2013
This edited article about ‘Nellie Bly’ originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 285 published on 1 July 1967.
An illustration based on Elizabeth Cochrane's autobiography: a train from Gallup, New Mexico, somehow crossed an unsafe bridge still under repair by Paul Rainer
This week 80 years ago Elizabeth Cochrane lost her purse containing 100 dollars in New York. It represented her entire savings and, as she was out of work, meant she had to get a job fast.
Nervously she walked into the ‘World’ newspaper office and asked to see the editor. As she had no appointment the receptionist tried to turn her away.
For three hours she pleaded with the man behind the desk until he could hold out no longer. “This way, Miss,” he said, defeated by the girl who was destined to become the first great woman journalist in America.
“On the ‘Pittsburgh Dispatch’ I wrote under the name of ‘Nellie Bly’,” she told the editor. “Here is a list of articles I should like to write for you.”
The editor, already impressed by her determination to see him, was even more impressed when he looked at the paper she handed over.
“Try this one,” he said, pointing to a topic. “If you can do it I’ll take you on.”
The idea was that she would pretend she was mad so she could report on life inside a New York mental asylum. Her performance as a person with an unbalanced mind was so convincing that a panel of doctors committed her to the asylum. Here she was horrified at the wretched conditions of the patients.
When her experiences were printed in the ‘World’ there was a public outcry and a Grand Jury was set up to investigate. As a result of its findings the authorities allotted 3,000,000 dollars to improve conditions at the asylum. Nellie Bly was given her permanent job.
Born at Cochrane Mills, Pennsylvania, on 5th May, 1867, Elizabeth grew up to be a shy, slightly built girl with delicate health. After getting her first job with the ‘Pittsburgh Dispatch’ she wrote a series of crusading articles on bad working conditions. She took the pen name ‘Nellie Bly’ from a popular song of the day.
She went from success to success, but her greatest story began when, on 14th November, 1889, she boarded the Augusta Victoria for London. Her assignment was to beat the round-the-world record of the fictional character Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’.
Great public interest was shown in her attempt. Each day the ‘World’ printed a map showing her progress and there was heavy betting on whether she would reach certain points on time.
From London she went to Boulogne, where she took a ship to Brindisi. By 27th November she reached Port Said. Aden was her next stop, then Colombo, where she had to wait five days for a ship. On 18th December she was in Singapore. On the voyage to Hong Kong her ship encountered a terrifying monsoon storm, but by Christmas Day she had reached Canton – on schedule. On 28th December she embarked for Yokohama, thence across the Pacific to San Francisco.
The ‘World’ hired a special train to take her across the continent to New York where she arrived on 25th January, 1890.
Nellie Bly had travelled 24,899 miles round the world in 72 days, six hours and 11 minutes. Jules Verne cabled his congratulations.
She continued her career as a journalist and later married a millionaire industrialist. She died in New York on 27th January, 1922.
Posted in Bible, Historical articles, History, Missionaries, Religion, Travel on Thursday, 6 June 2013
This edited article about George Borrow originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 282 published on 10 June 1967.
Few people, young or old, read the works of George Borrow nowadays. Yet he was one of the most interesting people of his time, as well as being one of the most gifted writers.
Born near Norwich in 1803, Borrow was a wanderer from his youth up to the time he died. He simply could not settle down to work in the office of the country solicitor by whom he was employed. His twin hobbies were languages, of which he knew a dozen by the time he was 18, and the lore of the countryside, in which he was equally expert.
He came to London, and managed to get various minor jobs which enabled him to travel abroad. Much of his time was spent with tramps and gypsies, and from time to time he earned his own living as a tinker! But all the while he was listening and learning, storing up knowledge which he later turned to good account.
As a convinced and earnest Christian, Borrow had long been interested in the Far East. He wanted the Christian message to be heard and read in China in the language of China’s ruling class, the Manchus. He mastered the Manchu language, and, while in Russia during the 1830s, succeeded in translating the New Testament into this little-known tongue.
Back in London in 1836, Borrow tried hard to find Christian people who would support a project for him to go to China himself, and to try and get a hearing there for his message, as well as attention for his book. But he had no success; China seemed too far away and unpromising, while Borrow himself was perhaps rather odd, and not patient enough in explaining his plans. His hope of being a Christian pioneer in China was therefore frustrated, and very few copies of his Manchu Testament ever reached that country.
Instead, Borrow turned his attention to the Gypsies of Europe. These wanderers had always delighted him: he felt at home with them, for at heart he too was a wanderer. In Spain, where he got to know them best, he translated parts of the Bible into their little-known Romany language, and used to read from it to them in their encampments.
George Borrow’s fame lies chiefly in the novels which he wrote about Gypsy life in Britain and on the Continent, but his book ‘The Bible in Spain’ reminds us that he was in spirit a true pioneer Christian, until his death in 1881. The few existing copies of his Manchu New Testament remind us of how earnest his hopes were for the spread of the faith to the ends of the earth.
Posted in Historical articles, History, Sea, Ships, Trade, Transport, Travel on Wednesday, 5 June 2013
This edited article about seafaring originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 280 published on 27 May 1967.
Considering many great steamship lines have been operating since the mid-19th century, and that British tramps for years were doing most of the carrying trade of the world, it is extraordinary how long the deep-sea sailing-ship fought back, and fought back successfully, too.
She had certain advantages and was well suited to trades where delivery dates did not matter. In the Australian trade, the ocean winds suited her, for she could make every voyage a circumnavigation and always have a good chance of favouring winds.
She could do the same thing across the South Pacific – all 6,000 miles of it – by sailing to Chilean ports before the West winds of the Roaring Forties and back again to Australia in warmer latitudes with the SE trade winds. On the North Atlantic, she could go west the simple ‘Columbus’ way and back with the Westerlies of far north, for the currents suited her also this way.
In the Caribbean, the South Seas, the northern Indian Ocean, smaller sailers still had useful work to do until quite recently. In America, big coastwise schooners were developed to move cargoes of coal – four, five, and even six-masters. They were economical to operate, with a crew of one man to each mast, plus a large steam donkey-engine for the heavy hauling. But road haulage, diesel freight trains three miles long, and towed barges, put them out of business finally, though a few were still sailing between the wars.
The culmination of the schooner effort was the huge seven-master Thomas W. Lawson, which could carry 11,000 tons and was 395 feet long. She was perhaps too big and awkward to handle in narrow waters. At any rate, she was lost after a brief life, being wrecked in the Isles of Scilly.
Big schooners and barquentines thrived for a long time in Pacific trade winds, especially on the lumber haul from the west coast of North America to Australia. They were a familiar part of the Antipodean waterfront scene in my youth, but I always preferred the more adventurous appearance of the square-riggers.
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Posted in Boats, Engineering, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Inventions, Trade, Transport, Travel, War on Tuesday, 4 June 2013
This edited article about steamships originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 279 published on 20 May 1967.
Tramp steamers passing a lighthouse by G H Davis
The idea of making use of power to propel ships is surprisingly ancient. The Egyptians used steam to power a small machine on the turbine principle, though they did not use it for ships. It had ‘better’ uses, such as assisting in the ‘magic’ performed by high priests, by making little figures dance as the steam-driven wheel spun. This was most impressive, apparently, but somebody found out how the magic was worked. That appears to have been the end of the priestly ‘turbine’, which was known as an Aeolipile.
In the 7th century, the Chinese had a vessel moved by two sets of paddles – at least there is a drawing of her in a book of the period. In 1543, a Spaniard named Blasco de Garay was driving a 200-ton vessel around Barcelona Harbour by means of a steam engine, though he kept his engine covered. Disbelievers said this was because a group of strong men crouched there turning the paddles by hand! The Barcelona ship did 2 ½ knots.
Nor was invention lacking in Britain, where in 1618 – while the original Mayflower was fitting out – an optimist named David Ramsey put forward an idea ‘to make boates running upon the water as swift in calmes and more safe in stormes than boats full-sayled in great windes’, but nobody would have it. Another inventor was planning a jet-propelled vessel to go along ‘by forcing water . . . through the stern under the surface, into the sea, by proper engines placed within the ship’ – and this was in 1722!
All this led to the first really useful marine steam engine, which was developed by James Watt in 1769. A century later, sailing ships were still racing home from China, and Britain’s fleet still had sails. In those days, seamen were reluctant to accept change – any change.
There was a real iron ship driven by steam by 1821. She was the Aaron Manby, prefabricated at Horsley and assembled so well in London that she was still going strong 50 years later. Britain was the real pioneer in both the marine steam engine and the use of iron and steel for ships. A quiet Scots engineer named William Symington had a successful steam towboat – the famous Charlotte Dundas – working on the Forth and Clyde Canal in 1802, hauling two large barges along at three miles an hour directly against strong winds. She was driven by a sort of paddle-wheel on the stern, operated by a Watt steam engine.
There was a plan to build a small fleet of such towboats, but the other barge operators were able not only to prevent that, but to have the Dundas forbidden to work in the canal.
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