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Archive for November, 2013

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The ‘Royal Charter’ sailed 11,000 miles from Melbourne only to sink off Anglesey

Posted in Disasters, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Ships on Saturday, 30 November 2013

This edited article about maritime disasters first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 470 published on 16 January 1971.

The Shipwreck, picture, image, illustration
Rev. Stephen Roose Hughes, rector of Llanallgo, whose exertions in finding and identifying the bodies were reported by Charles Dickens, by C E Reinhart

Captain Taylor of the ‘Royal Charter’ should have received a testimonial from his passengers for their swift trip from Australia. As it turned out, he and nearly everyone else on board perished a few miles from their journey’s end. Only a few survivors staggered ashore.

Exactly two months to the day since she had left Melbourne, Australia, the iron ship Royal Charter rounded The Skerries, a lonely outcrop of rocks lying just off the nort-west tip of the Isle of Anglesey. Though her single screw was driven by an engine of no more than 200 horse-power and she was of 2,719 tons displacement, she had made remarkable time. In fact, her passengers were so pleased with the swift passage – some 11,000 miles in just over 60 days – that they had drawn up a testimonial of their esteem for the master of the ship, Captain Taylor, and collected sufficient money among themselves to be able to make a presentation to him on arrival at Liverpool, their destination.

A foolhardy captain might have tried to save time on the last short lap of the voyage by steaming between The Skerries and Carmel Head. But not Captain Taylor: he was a veteran employee of the company, Gibb & Bright of Liverpool, who owned the vessel, and was not a man to take risks. What is more, as the ship swung eastwards beyond The Skerries he realized that this final lap, of some 60 sea-miles, would be in the teeth of an east-north-easterly gale. But his 200-h.p. engine was functioning well and he still had plenty of coal in his bunkers. He would give the north coast of Anglesey a wide berth, raise all the steam he could in his boilers, and with luck tie-up in Liverpool Docks inside eight hours, or ten hours at most.

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Norwich is a fine old city with an historic rebellious streak

Posted in British Cities, Historical articles, History, Religion on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about Norwich first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 470 published on 16 January 1971.

Kett leading Norfolk peasants, picture, image, illustration
The twenty-seven day King of Norwich, Robert Kett, leading a peasants' revolt by C L Doughty

The young man was in the dumps as he strolled across Mousehold Heath above Norwich. He was fed up with his job in the lawyer’s office and spent more time studying languages than the law books which he should have been reading. He was rudely shaken out of his thoughts by a young gypsy who accosted him and claimed to recognise him from a meeting when they had been boys. It was only when the gypsy described the earlier meeting that the young clerk recalled the events.

As if reading the young man’s thoughts the gypsy declared, “Life is sweet, brother.”

“Do you think so?” replied the disgruntled clerk.

“Think so! There’s night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon and stars, brother, all sweet things; there’s likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die?”

Those words, in his fictional autobiography, Lavengro, were to become among the most famous that George Borrow wrote. They expressed his own feelings when later he left his job with the lawyer and, after a brief spell in London, set off on a journey that took him through Europe and which ended in Russia where he supervised the translation of the Bible into Manchu. He went on to travel through Spain selling bibles and then went on that walk through Wales which formed the basis for his book, Wild Wales, one of the books that blew through the stuffy Victorian rooms and tempted people to try out their own legs and go walking in the country.

The Heath and the old city of Norwich had known many rebels.

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Doctor Barnardo was the first great champion of British children living in poverty

Posted in Historical articles, History, Institutions, London, Medicine, Philanthropy on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about Victorian philanthropy first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 470 published on 16 January 1971.

Dr Barnardo, picture, image, illustration
Thomas Barnardo, the Irishman who acted on his conscience

During the 18th and early 19th centuries great changes took place in the way people lived in Britain. These changes were the result of what has become known as the Industrial Revolution. At the beginning of the period most of the goods which people required, their clothes, pottery, furniture, and so on were produced not in factories as they are today, but in the homes of the people themselves. With the coming of iron and steel, and power-driven machines, however, human muscle was not needed. The harnessing of steam brought the spread of railways, and many places which had previously been small villages became large towns. During this period, too, the population increased from about six million to more than twenty million.

The tremendous upsurge in industrial output did not bring with it the kind of prosperity and happiness which the people who had created the wealth might have expected, and some of the new industrial cities were ugly places indeed. While some people grew immensely wealthy, thousands of others lived in conditions of poverty so terrible that it is hard to imagine how they managed to survive at all – in fact many of them did not survive. Lack of food, bad housing and inadequate medical services all took their toll, and many people died at a comparatively early age.

In London, these extremes of wealth and poverty were more marked than in smaller cities. Well-to-do families lived a life of leisured ease in the West End of the capital, with servants to attend to their everyday needs and nurses to care for their children. In London’s East End, life was very different indeed. The 60 years since 1800 had transformed the lower reaches of the River Thames from a peaceful waterway flowing through green countryside, to a bustling shipping highway. Near the huge docks, dingy warehouses sprawled, and ill-lit squalid streets led to slum dwellings which were the homes of thousands of poorly paid workers.

Labourers earned a few shillings a week if they were able to find work, while even skilled craftsmen were little better off. There were periods when unemployment was high and these were days long before any “dole money” was paid. Average families were much larger than they are today and, under such conditions of poverty, children suffered terribly.

Thousands of homeless waifs roamed the streets scavenging for food from rubbish dumps. Few of them had more than a few wretched rags with which to clothe themselves and many were driven to petty crime, stealing food or money to keep themselves alive.

It was into this London of grimy squalor that a young man named Thomas John Barnardo came in the spring of the year 1866. The son of a Dublin businessman, he already had some experience of what poverty could do to human beings, for conditions in Ireland at that time were almost as bad as they were in Victorian England.

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Dr Johnson owes his literary ‘Life’ to the vanity and friendship of James Boswell

Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, London, Scotland on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about English literature first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 470 published on 16 January 1971.

Boswell and Johnson, picture, image, illustration
Dr Johnson and the indefatigable Boswell in a Soho coffee shop

Coach doors slammed shut and lanterns were trimmed as the portly men descended from their padded seats and hurried across the dark pavement into the Turk’s Head, Gerard Street, in London’s Soho quarter.

Inside, the clock struck seven and supper began at a long table in a private room. The diners talked cheerfully and loudly and their talk was full of anecdotes and philosophies. Most of them were already famous; the rest would soon be so. There was Sir Joshua Reynolds, the painter and founder of this Literary Club, as it was called; Edmund Burke, the politician; Oliver Goldsmith, the playwright; David Garrick the actor, and many others.

And there was one hulk of a man, massively tall and broad, with a face scarred and disfigured by disease. By his side sat a Scotsman of pleasant looks who seemed to take most careful note of everything the other said.

Indeed, when the big man spoke, the Scotsman concentrated his whole attention upon him; “his eyes goggling with eagerness, he leaned his ear almost on the other’s shoulder, his mouth dropped open to catch every syllable, and he seemed to listen even to his breathings, as though they had some mystical significance.”

The speaker who commanded all this attention was Dr. Samuel Johnson, most celebrated of all the Literary Club’s members, and the enraptured listener was James Boswell, whose fame rests on his brilliant biography of Johnson.

At the time of the Literary Club’s formation in February, 1764, Johnson’s election to membership was chiefly through his literary skill. He had proved himself as a magazine writer and as the author of speeches for politicians. In 1738 he published a poem called London, and followed it with a play called Irene and a biography of a friend named Richard Savage. In 1747 he put up an idea for an English Dictionary, a scheme he had been nurturing for some time, which eventually took him seven years to complete.

Today none of these works are read, and they are scarcely known outside academic circles. Why, then, do we remember Johnson?

The answer is that as a conversationalist he was unrivalled in any age, and his eloquence is immortal. We owe the record of it to Boswell’s Life of Johnson.

Boswell was a man of absurd vanity who craved the indulgence of the famous. Once he wrote to Lord Chatham, the Prime Minister, “Could your lordship find time to honour me now and then with a letter? To correspond with a Chatham is enough to keep a young man ever ardent in the pursuit of virtuous fame.” All was redeemed, however, by his abundant good humour; few men could laugh more loudly at themselves than Boswell.

Johnson met Boswell in 1763, and for the rest of the doctor’s life the young Scotsman shadowed his master everywhere, noting everything he said and did, and recording it for Johnson’s immortal biography.

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The fearless Apaches were incensed when their own families were massacred

Posted in America, Historical articles, History, War on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about the Apache first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 470 published on 16 January 1971.

Mexicans attack Apaches, picture, image, illustration
In 1858, two troops of Mexican cavalry attacked the Apaches' camp, butchering scores of women and children by Severino Baraldi

Early in the 16th century Spanish explorers began to probe the interior of the North American continent. They had destroyed the great Inca and Aztec civilizations and a vast stream of gold was pouring into the treasury of Spain. Great galleons travelled back and forth between Europe and South America, stripping the New World of its wealth. Explorers brought back tales of great cities on the North American Continent – cities so rich in gold and precious stones that the Aztec Empire would be insignificant by comparison.

In 1540 Francisco Vasquez Coronado set out to find these legendary cities – the Seven Cities of Cibola, but the expedition was a failure. He found only the mud dwellings of the settled tribes built into high cliffs in terraces for protection against the wilder, nomadic tribes. They looked like great cities from a distance, but the inhabitants were poorer than the poorest of Spanish workers.

In the wake of Coronado’s ill-fated venture other Spanish expeditions probed into California and Florida, establishing missions and enslaving the Indians. They were ruthless conquerors. Armed resistance meant the loss of the right hand or foot. Disobedience could mean 20 years of slavery or the lash. The Indios Bravos – the wild Indians of the Southwest who remained outside Spanish jurisdiction – became even wilder. They burned and looted the Missions and retaliated by handing out barbarous justice to any unfortunate Spaniard who fell into their hands. Coronado called them Querecho, others Coyotero. The Zuni Indians called them Apache – enemy. It was a name that was to become the terror of the Southwest.

Throughout the Spanish occupation the Apache remained wild and untamed, constantly raiding along the borders. When Mexico won its independence and took over the Spanish territories it inherited the savage enemy, and when the United States occupied the Southwest in the 19th century it, too, found itself enmeshed in a series of bitter wars with the Apache, unchanged and as warlike as ever.

In the 200 years since their first contact with the European the Apache had adapted himself well to his harsh environment. Water and vegetation were scarce and few white men could survive in the nightmare landscape of volcanic rocks and blistering deserts. He had become pitiless and crafty. He was cunning and distrustful, and war was his business. He raided for loot and for slaves. The young men of the tribe underwent a rigid initiation into the ranks of the warriors. They learned to stand and face the older men who fired arrows at them. They learned to dodge them – or died. When the sun was at its height their mouths were filled with water and they were forced to run a course of several miles through difficult country. At the end of the run they spat out the water to show that they had not weakened and swallowed any. They learned to vanish like a will o’ the wisp in country that seemed to offer no cover, and to strike where the enemy least expected them.

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Bishop Fisher refused to take the oath of the Act of Succession

Posted in Historical articles, History, Religion, Royalty on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about Bishop John Fisher first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 470 published on 16 January 1971.

John Fisher is beheaded, picture, image, illustration
The Bishop of Rochester was beheaded in 1535 by Paul Rainer

It was 1534. The king’s bailiffs swaggered through the stuffy, dusty rooms of the bishop’s palace at Rochester, a little clerk tagging behind them with a sheaf of papers in his plump hand. Everything they saw, from the mattress in the bedchamber to the marmalade in the study, was carefully listed in the clerk’s neat hand. It was not a long list, for the bishop whose possessions they were seizing was a man of simple tastes. His name was John Fisher. And he had just been sent to the Tower of London.

Fisher was a deeply pious man, a conscientious bishop, a patron of learning and a brilliant theologian. But when he thwarted Henry VIII’s design to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, in order to marry Anne Boleyn, his fame at home and abroad could not save him.

Henry VIII had married Catherine, his brother’s widow, in 1509, receiving special permission – called a dispensation – from the Pope to do so. But Catherine failed to give Henry a son and in 1527 he tried to put her aside and marry again. He claimed that the papal dispensation for his marriage was illegal and therefore he should be allowed to divorce Catherine and marry Anne. Fisher was asked for his opinion.

He studied the case carefully and concluded that there was nothing amiss with the pope’s dispensation, that Henry and Catherine were truly man and wife in the eyes of the Church, and that therefore the king could not marry again. Notwithstanding Henry’s wrath, he actively opposed the divorce and openly defended Queen Catherine. His activities infuriated his opponents and his assassination was planned, but the plot failed.

In 1532 and 1533 a series of measures were passed which brought about the Reformation in England and the breach with Rome. Henry’s divorce could now be legally settled in his own realm. His marriage to Catherine was declared void and in June Anne was crowned Queen.

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Some Norman children enjoyed the usual advantages of wealthy parents

Posted in Castles, Historical articles, History on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about home life first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 470 published on 16 January 1971.

Normans at home, picture, image, illustration
A Norman family at home by Peter Jackson

‘And if thy children be rebel and will not bow them low,
If any of them misdo, neither curse nor blow;
But take a smart rod and beat them in a row,
Till they cry mercy and their guilt well know.’

- Anon.

We are in England some time in the 14th century when it was considered that all children were by nature evil and chock-full of “original” sin. Mothers and fathers were bidden first to have their offspring baptised as soon as possible, and thereafter walloped as much as seemed necessary. And this, children being children, was fairly frequent. The “rod” was the readiest means of changing one kind of yelling for another, and was a part of every English home. Not only did Father wield it diligently upon his youngsters, but pretty often upon Mother as well. Nobody seems to have grumbled unduly. It was accepted as part of family life.

Like the rule of Rome; that of the Norman Conquest brought about great changes in community and family life. In the very first place William the Conqueror immediately stopped the slave trade of English children, and in the second introduced a far more decorative and amusing way of living – at least, so far as the ruling classes were concerned.

Now, whether you were the child of a well-to-do Norman family, or of an Anglo-Saxon serf you had first of all to be born. If your family were serfs, birth, like death, was a pretty down-to-earth business. The home of your parents and your older brothers and sisters was probably one large room built of wattle-and-daub around a timber frame and thatched with reed, rushes or straw. The floor was earthen, strewn with rushes and straw, and upon the floor all the family slept, covered with blankets made of coarse wool roughly woven by “Mother.” This “hodden-grey” as it was called was just about the only material available to the poor both for warmth by night, and clothing by day.

A basket of rushes would have been prepared against your arrival, and, even before your birth your sex would have been predicted according to whether your mother was accustomed to sleep upon her left, or her right side. A left-hand sleeping mother-to-be expected a daughter, and a son if she slept upon the right side. Needless to say, every effort would be made to “sleep right,” since sons, as always, were the more greatly to be desired.

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Duplicitous Nana Sahib sent European women and children to gruesome death

Posted in Famous battles, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, War on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about India first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 470 published on 16 January 1971.

Massacre at Cawnpore, picture, image, illustration
The Europeans were soon under relentless attack and the defenders of Cawnpore were doomed, by C L Doughty

On 20th September, 1857, the city of Delhi was strangely silent. Within its shattered red walls, which only a few hours before had been defended by the remnants of 40,000 mutineers, British soldiers now walked like men in a dream, picking their way carefully through streets littered with debris and corpses. Over the city a pall of black smoke hung like a giant smoke signal announcing to the outside world that after three long weary months of siege, the city was once more in the hands of the British.

The days which followed the capture of Delhi should have been ones of quiet pride for those who had breached its walls. But instead, those days were to be remembered only with shame by those who did not take part in what followed. Quickly recovering from their stunned relief that the battle was over, the British soldiers went on an orgy of looting and murder. Defenceless civilians who had not even taken part in the mutiny, were shot down or hanged, or else were robbed of everything they possessed in the way of portable valuables. Most of the officers, who should have been trying to control the men, were in the newly established headquarters mess, chatting idly among themselves.

After the orgy of looting and murder had died down and order had re-established itself, the British brought to trial Badahur Shah, the last of the Mogul Emperors whose support of the mutineers had given them fresh heart at a time when they might have wavered in their resolve to put Delhi to the sword. His defence at this trial was that he was an old man, so bowed down by his age and infirmities that he had had no other choice than to be a passive tool of the mutineers. The tribunal was not impressed, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

In truth Badahur Shah was a poor enough conspirator, whose claim that he had been swept along by a series of events outside his control, had some truth to it. Certainly, he cannot claim to be the arch villain of the Indian Mutiny. This role, in actual fact, had already been taken by another Indian, the Maharaja of Bithur, better known as Nana Sahib, who was responsible for the most hideous of all the incidents of the Indian Mutiny – the massacre of Cawnpore, which had taken place while Delhi was in rebel hands.

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H M Stanley’s last African adventure was to find the endangered eccentric ruler, Emin Pasha

Posted in Adventure, Africa, Exploration, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about exploration first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 470 published on 16 January 1971.

Emin Pasha and Mr Stanley, picture, image, illustration
Meeting of Emin Pasha and Mr Stanley at Kavalli, 29 April 1888

“Doctor Livingstone, I presume.”

This is perhaps the most famous greeting ever spoken in the history of the world. The occasion was the famous meeting at Ujiji in Central Africa, between the Scottish missionary, David Livingstone and the Welsh-born American newspaperman, Henry Morton Stanley.

Stanley’s expedition, sponsored by The New York Herald, brought much-needed supplies to the marooned missionary. Livingstone continued his work in Africa until he died, 18 months later. The newspaperman returned to Europe with his news.

He received official gratitude and honour for the success of his mission but scorn and disbelief from the public. The truth of the matter was that British patriotic feelings had been hurt by the fact that an American, and a newspaperman at that, had found the famous British missionary.

It is this journey, his first in Central Africa, upon which rests Stanley’s fame. Yet this was merely an incident in his varied and exciting life. Prior to his African adventures, he had been a cabin-boy, served on both sides in the American Civil War, joined the United States Navy, was shipwrecked off Spain, saw the Indian Wars and made a fruitless attempt to explore Asia. As a newspaper reporter, his first scoop was a report on a war in Abyssinia, followed by a report on the building of the Suez Canal, a rebellion in Crete, revolution in Spain and a dozen other events around the world.

The year after Livingstone’s death, Stanley was commissioned by The New York Herald and The Daily Telegraph to make a journey of exploration across Africa and to solve the mystery of the Lualaba River that had so baffled the Scottish missionary. Stanley set out from Zanzibar on the east coast of the dark continent and travelled inland. He circled Lake Victoria by boat, was greeted by the immensely powerful Kabaka of Uganda, Mutesa I (the grandfather of the late King “Freddie”) and, after immense hardships, travelled the full length of the Lualaba and discovered it to be the mighty river that flowed out into the Atlantic Ocean as the Congo.

Yet again, little notice was taken of his great achievement except by King Leopold of the Belgians. The king had a grand idea to set up the Congo as a free trading state, open to all nations. He chose Stanley to take a great expedition to set up camps, depots and bases along the mighty Congo river, to build roads and jetties for river steamers that were to ply its length. It was Stanley, now an explorer and nation-builder, with his newspaper days far behind him, who laid the foundations for that vast region of Africa to emerge from cannibalism to become at first a prosperous Belgian colony and then, after a terrible relapse into savagery and bloodshed, one of the largest and potentially wealthiest of African nations.

Stanley was to cross the dark continent once more. This was in the course of a disastrous adventure to rescue Emin Pasha, a strange, picturesque character, who ruled a large region of the Southern Sudan, from a complicated political situation.

Ironically, this costly exploit, during which he travelled from the Congo to Zanzibar, won him acclaim in London and Europe.

After this it was a quiet but busy life for Stanley. In 1895 he was elected Member of Parliament for North Lambeth and died of a stroke in 1904 at the age of 62.

100 mph gales caused a lifeboat to capsize off the Cornish coast

Posted in Boats, Disasters, Historical articles, History on Friday, 29 November 2013

This edited article about maritime disasters first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 469 published on 9 January 1971.

The lifeboat from St Ives, picture, image, illustration
The lifeboat from St Ives, Cornwall, the John and Sarah Eliza Stych, was itself almost shipwrecked in 1939, by Ken Petts

The first vital requirement of a lifeboat is that she shall be stable enough to remain on an even keel in the roughest water; the second is that, if she should overturn in abnormal conditions, she should automatically right herself. Such lifeboats are known as “self-righters.” St. Ives, on the gale-swept Atlantic coast of Cornwall, one of the most dangerous in the British Isles, possessed a lifeboat of this type, the John and Sarah Eliza Stych.

Shortly after midnight on 24th January, 1939, distress-signals were reported a mile out to sea off the Pendeen Light. It was a night of phenomenally bad weather even for a coast accustomed to Atlantic gales. The anemometer at the St. Ives coastguard station that night recorded a wind speed in excess of 100 miles an hour. It was blowing directly on shore, from the nor’-nor’-west. No ship in distress lying off shore that night could hope to survive. So, the St. Ives boat was called out.

She carried a crew of eight, with Coxswain Thomas Cocking in command. On that night, however, one crew member was on sick leave, and his place was taken by a volunteer, Will Freeman. It was the first time he had ever served aboard a lifeboat. So furious was the wind that it took more than 70 men to launch the lifeboat, even in the partial shelter of St. Ives Point. Coxswain Cocking steered her boldly out into St. Ives Bay in order to clear the headland before turning due west along the coast to search for the distressed ship, believed to be about 12 miles distant. He had confidence in the powerful engines installed in his lifeboat, but so formidable was the gale into which he was now headed that he wondered whether they could master it.

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