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Archive for April, 2013

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Rolier and Bezier blew 2000 miles off course with vital dispatches

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, picture, image, illustration

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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Living fossils hold clues to the evolution of insects

Posted in Biology, Insects, Nature, Prehistory, Wildlife on Monday, 29 April 2013

This edited article about insects originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 234 published on 9 July 1966.

Primeval forest, picture, image, illustration

Huge dragonfly-like insects lived in prehistoric forests

Two questions which will probably occur to anybody who looks at insects in all their variety are: “Why are there so many of them?” and “Where did they come from?”

Study of the lives of insects gives us an idea as to why there should be so many, for every different sort does a particular job which is not done by anything else in the area in which it lives. The large numbers of different species can be accounted for by the limited abilities of each one, for there are few “Jack-of-all-trades” among insects.

To discover how insects came into being is much more difficult, for in the animal kingdom are many related creatures. Spiders and crabs, for example, both have jointed legs attached to a hard skeleton outside the body. But these are cousins, not ancestors, to the insects.

We know what the ancestors may have looked like, however, through the discovery of a “living fossil” type of animal, known from many tropical parts of the world. This is called Peripatus, or Velvet Worm, because its body is covered by a huge number of tiny bumps which look like plush.

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C18 finds at Herculaneum lead to the discovery of Pompeii

Posted in Ancient History, Archaeology, Disasters, Geology, Historical articles, History on Monday, 29 April 2013

This edited article about Pompeii originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 234 published on 9 July 1966.

Pompeii, picture, image, illustration

Pompeii by Ron Embleton

On August 24, A.D. 79, Pompeii, a city on the coast near Naples very popular with the wealthier class of Roman, was buried in a few hours by an eruption of the nearby volcano Vesuvius. Destruction was caused not by lava but by volcanic debris hurled through the air by the violence of the explosion.

First came a heavy bombardment of boulders and pebbles, then a thick cloud of fine, white ash. Finally a torrential rain, probably caused by condensing steam, fell to mix with the ash and form a kind of plaster. This plaster was to give a unique but gruesome gift to archaeologists of the future.

The rediscovery of Pompeii occurred in a roundabout fashion. In 1719, builders quarrying marble on the other side of Vesuvius found a treasury of statues. They had stumbled upon Herculaneum, a city destroyed by the same eruption as that which destroyed Pompeii: unlike Pompeii, it had been engulfed in a flow of mud which subsequently turned to a layer of stone 85 feet thick.

The finds were rich, for the people of Herculaneum had been unable to remove their possessions, but the difficulty of working in the solid stone discouraged all but the most dedicated treasure-seekers.

The discovery of Herculaneum reminded men of the existence of Pompeii, however, and search began on the probable site beneath obliterating vines and mulberries growing in the fertile, ashy soil to the south of Vesuvius. It was immediately successful and, because excavating was easier there than at Herculaneum, interest was gradually transferred to Pompeii.

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‘Paley’s Watch’ revealed God the Creator as a cosmic watchmaker

Posted in Historical articles, History, Philosophy, Religion on Monday, 29 April 2013

This edited article about William Paley originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 234 published on 9 July 1966.

Paley, picture, image, illustration

William Paley, clergyman and philosopher

Clergymen, lawyers, writers and all other educated men in England at the beginning of the 18th century liked to think that they were, above all, reasonable men. Many of them were convinced that Christianity was a reasonable religion, and even those who disagreed with them felt it only right to do so in a reasonable fashion.

Gone were the bitter disputes of Tudor and Stuart times. With political affairs now more securely settled than they had been for two centuries, feeling ran far less high in the affairs of both Church and State. Life was more serene and stable. Difficult questions of belief, no less than problems of government, could surely be solved by polite discussion. It was the self-styled “Age of Reason”.

The “reasonable” men of those days, whose thinking and writing were intended to spread and strengthen the Christian faith in Britain, are scarcely remembered today. Their answers to life’s awkward questions seem far too easy to be true. They were not great thinkers, and have been well described as “little men asking big questions”.

Many of them claimed that it was possible to prove the existence of God by reasonable arguments. They did not think it necessary for God to “reveal” Himself, as the Bible claimed He had done. Those who held this view were called “Deists” (Latin Deus=God). They particularly disliked any display of emotion in connection with religion, and contemptuously called this “enthusiasm”. (The words “Down with enthusiasm” were even found engraved on a church bell made early in the 18th century!) They preferred to try to show, from the wonders of the universe, of which they were becoming increasingly aware, that God was a reasonable being who had made a reasonable world, of which they themselves were the most reasonable product. To us, looking back, they appear rather pleased with themselves.

Best remembered of those who wrote in this way is William Paley, an Anglican clergyman who lived in the second half of the 18th century, by which time the “age of reason” was well established. The title of one of his books clearly shows the way he thought. It is called: Evidence of the Existence of the Deity collected from the Appearances of Nature. Paley’s most celebrated argument suggested that if he were out for a walk and found a watch lying on the ground, this would prove to any reasonable person that a watch-maker existed, and that such a thing as a watch did not simply “happen”. He went on to argue that the whole universe requires the existence of a Maker far greater than the maker of a watch. He concluded that “Under this stupendous Being we live.”

This was the kind of religious view in favour during the Age of Reason. Most of the writings of the Deists are forgotten today, but “Paley’s watch” became a popular argument for the existence of God, and is perhaps the only one which ever had lasting appeal.

The Seven Weeks’ War ended at the Battle of Sadowa in 1866

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, War on Monday, 29 April 2013

This edited article about the Seven Weeks’ War originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 234 published on 9 July 1966.

Battle of Sadowa, picture, image, illustration

Wilhelm I, King of Prussia and first German emperor, greeting his son at Sadowa in 1866, by Carl Rohling

One of the shortest wars in history ended on July 3, 1866, when the Prussians utterly defeated the Austrians at the Bridge of Sadowa.

For some years, Bismarck had been increasing Prussia’s influence amongst the German-speaking states of Europe. Many of these states, including Bavaria, Hanover and Baden were allied to Austria. Fearing that Austria stood in the way of the unification of the German states in a Prussian empire, Bismarck determined to destroy Austrian influence.

On June 14, Bismarck seized upon a long-standing quarrel over Schleswig-Holstein to declare war on Austria.

Prussia opened the war by invading Saxony and Bohemia. Austria, who had expected an attack through Silesia, was taken completely by surprise and her army was compelled to retire along the line of the Elbe. The Austrians were hotly pursued by the Prussians, and the two armies met at the Bridge of Sadowa, near Koniggratz, a town now in Czechoslovakia. The Austrians were slowly driven back. By nightfall they were totally defeated.

Prussia’s resounding victory was due chiefly to the newly-invented needle rifle, which was very similar to the modern rifle. With it, the Prussian infantry were able to fire five rounds a minute and could hit their targets at a range of 700 yards. This was about twice the rate of fire and nearly double the range of the weapons with which the Austrian infantry were armed.

Stamford Raffles and the shrewd acquisition of Singapore

Posted in Historical articles, History, Trade on Monday, 29 April 2013

This edited article about Raffles originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 234 published on 9 July 1966.

Raffles, picture, image, illustrations

Stamford Raffles

Thomas Stamford Raffles, born on July 5, 1781, became a clerk in the London offices of the East India Company. He became fascinated by everything to do with the East Indies, and studied the Malay language. In 1807 he was sent to Penary as secretary and interpreter to the governor. In 1818 became governor of Sumatra.

When Java was ceded to the Netherlands at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Dutch aimed to get complete control over the East Indies and destroy all British trade there. In 1819, Raffles ended the Dutch dream of a great Asian Empire by occupying Singapore island on behalf of the East India Company.

Singapore lies at the tip of the Malay Peninsula, midway between India and China, and by its command of the Malacca Strait controlled the great trade route to the Far East.

The East India Company was not at all pleased with its new acquisition. Raffles was recalled to London to explain why he had acted without consulting the Company. And as a result of the inquiry, he was ordered to pay £10,000 towards the cost of acquiring Singapore.

But Raffles knew better than his masters. Under British rule, Singapore developed from an obscure fishing village into the chief commercial centre of southern Asia.

Besides being a great administrator, Raffles was also a keen naturalist. He formed a collection of Asian animal life which was the foundation of the London Zoo. He died on July 5, 1826, which was his birthday.

Elias Howe invented and patented his lock-stitch sewing-machine

Posted in America, Engineering, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Inventions on Monday, 29 April 2013

This edited article about the sewing machine originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 234 published on 9 July 1966.

Elias Howe,picture, image, illustration

Elias Howe, inventor of the sewing machine

Elias Howe, a mechanically-minded farm boy who was born at Spencer, Massachusetts, on July 9, 1819, is often described as the inventor of the sewing-machine.

This is not strictly true, because the idea of the sewing-machine had been thought of long before Howe’s day. What Howe did was to produce the first practical machine fitted with a feed movement and shuttle that made lock-stitching possible.

As early as 1755, Charles Weisenthal had patented a sewing-machine using a double-pointed needle with the eye in the centre, but he did not have sufficient money to develop his idea.

The first sewing-machine to be used on a large scale was that invented in 1820 by Barthelemy Thimonnies, a Paris tailor. His machine so impressed the French War office that in 1829 he received a large contract to make army uniforms, and opened a factory in which 100 of his machines were installed. But the hand-tailors feared that sewing-machines would put them out of work and wrecked his factory.

Elias Howe patented his sewing-machine in 1846. It was a greatly improved version of previous machines and, with various modifications, is the sewing-machine we know today. It involved, for the first time, a needle moving with a shuttle to make lock-stitches, and a device to give the thread the tension essential to even stitching.

Howe died on October 3, 1867, having made a huge fortune from his invention.

Canada became self-governing after America won independence

Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Institutions, Politics on Monday, 29 April 2013

This edited article about Canada originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 233 published on 2 July 1966.

Canada, picture, image, illustration

The beaver is the emblem of Canada

On July 1, 1867, the British North America Act came into effect and the former colonies of Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were united as the self-governing Dominion of Canada.

Canada had had a long and not always peaceful struggle to win self-government. Since the French first settled in Canada in the sixteenth century, and for many years after the Treaty of Paris ceded the territory to Britain in 1763, Canada was governed in a despotic and arbitrary manner.

It was the American War of Independence that set Canada on the road to self-government, for, curiously enough, the men who began to work for Canadian Independence were the loyalists who, at the end of the American War, flocked across the border to Canada.

They had been accustomed in the American colonies to a fairly advanced type of democratic government and, resenting the despotic rule of the British government in their new home, began agitating against it. In 1791, the Canadians were allowed to elect popular assemblies, but their powers were so limited that a number of rebellions broke out.

Following a particularly serious rebellion in 1837, British statesmen realised that, so far as Canada’s domestic affairs were concerned, she must be allowed self-government.

For all practical purposes, Canada was already self-governing when the Act of 1867 gave her official independence and Dominion status.

The pillory literally held a person up to ridicule

Posted in Customs, Historical articles, History, Interesting Words, Language, Law on Monday, 29 April 2013

This edited article about crime and punishment originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 233 published on 2 July 1966.

pillory, picture, image, illustration

The pillory by Peter Jackson

We sometimes say that a person held up to ridicule has been “pilloried”. That expression had a very real meaning in England until June 30, 1837, when the punishment of standing in the pillory was abolished by Act of Parliament.

The pillory consisted of a wooden post surmounted by a wooden frame with holes through which the head and hands of the culprit were thrust. The frame was in two parts, an upper and lower, which were closed over the neck and wrists and then locked.

First used to punish a variety of petty crime, a law of 1266, called the Statute of Pillory, laid down that it was to be the punishment for perjury, forgery and for shopkeepers who gave short weight.

A pillory was usually set up in some public place, like a market square, and the crowd were at liberty to pelt the victim with rotten eggs, and decayed vegetables.

Under the Stuart Kings, the pillory became the usual punishment for anyone who criticised the king or the government. Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, was, in 1703, sentenced to stand for an hour in the pillory in Cheapside for writing a pamphlet pleading for religious toleration. The public were in sympathy with his ideas, and threw flowers and garlands.

The last person to be pilloried in London was Peter Bossey, who stood outside the Old Bailey for an hour on June 22, 1830, for perjury. The pillory continued to be used in some country districts until it was abolished altogether in 1837.

Christ’s Hospital is known as the Blue Coat School

Posted in Education, Historical articles, History, London, Religion on Monday, 29 April 2013

This edited article about Christ’s Hospital school originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 233 published on 2 July 1966.

Christ's Hospital school, picture, image, illustration

Blue coat boys at Christ's Hospital School by Peter Jackson

When the order of monks called the Grey Friars came to London in the 13th century, they set up their first church and monastery in what is now Newgate Street and called it Christ’s Church. They often provided food and shelter in the monastery for homeless children.

When the monasteries were dissolved by Henry VIII, that of the Grey Friars passed with the rest to the Crown. But on June 20, 1553, the 16-year-old Edward VI, son of Henry VIII, heard a sermon by the famous Bishop Ridley, describing the terrible conditions of London’s homeless children. Six days later, on June 26, the young king signed a charter granting the old Grey Friars monastery to the City of London, and instructing the Lord Mayor to establish it as a hospital for poor and needy children.

Before long, Christ’s Hospital was looking after more than 400 children, providing them with food, shelter and a good education. The boys were taught a trade and the girls were trained for domestic service.

Christ’s Hospital boys were provided with a uniform which consisted of a long blue coat, breeches, yellow stockings, and two linen flaps or “bands” at the neck, like those worn today by barristers. This was the usual dress of apprentices in Tudor times, and is still worn by the boys of Christ’s Hospital School.

In 1778, the girls’ section of the school was moved to Hertford, and in 1902 the boys’ school was transferred to Horsham.