Archive for June, 2012

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In 1964 America’s greatest race, ‘The Indy’, was won by Britain’s Jim Clark

Posted in America, Cars, Historical articles, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Thursday, 28 June 2012

This edited article about Jim Clark originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 743 published on 10 April 1976.

Clark wins the Indy, picture, image, illustration

Jim Clark winning ‘The Indy’ by James E McConnell

No Briton had won America’s great race, the Indianapolis ‘5000’ until Jim Clark, in his Lotus car, decided that a British victory was long overdue

An inferno of blazing fuel killed two American drivers in that 1964 Indianapolis ‘5000’. This halted the race for an hour and 45 minutes. When it was over, Scottish driver Jim Clark in his English Lotus car, raced into the lead at the 47th lap.

Burning tyres cost him the race. But next year he was back and became the star of the race. When he drove into the pits on his 66th lap, he was well in the lead.

Even after 150 laps, Clark was so far ahead he could relax and give his rivals a few seconds.

It’s history now. Clark won, the first British driver to do so at Indianapolis since the race began in 1911.

In 1968, Clark paid the price of his dangerous career. He died when his Lotus 48 crashed in a Formula II race at Hockenheim, West Germany.

He was the greatest Grand Prix driver of all time with more than 24 world championship race victories and was twice world champion (1963 and 1965).

Jonathan Swift won literary fame but desperately wanted a bishopric

Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Politics, Religion on Thursday, 28 June 2012

This edited article about Jonathan Swift originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 743 published on 10 April 1976.

Gulliver's Travels, picture, image, illustration

A scene from Gulliver’s Travels by Dean Swift (inset). Picture by John Keay

In the narrow, overhanging streets, sedan chairs conveyed haughty women to meet their friends and gossip. In busy coffee houses, men discussed the topics of the day.

This was London of the early eighteenth century. The reign of Queen Anne was blossoming with romance and intrigue.

One day a writer stepped into the centre of the current political squabbles. His name was Jonathan Swift. Seldom has a writer wielded so much power as did Swift, in London from 1710 to 1713.

He launched violent criticism against the policies of Prime Ministers, Secretaries of State and the Duke of Marlborough, Britain’s hero after his victory at Blenheim, who had since grown greedy for power.

The country was fascinated by Swift’s outbursts. The Whigs lost their power; the Tories took over; the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough lost their influence at Queen Anne’s court. In each case the pen of Swift had been the vital weapon.

Swift was born in Dublin on St. Andrew’s Day, 1667. His parents were English but he was to spend most of his life in Ireland.

Although a famous writer, he was also a devout churchman and in 1700 he became the Vicar of Laracor, with a congregation of about fifteen ‘most of them gentle and all simple.’

He soon produced his first satires – ‘The Battle of the Books’ and ‘A Tale of a Tub’.

When ‘A Tale of a Tub’ reached England the Archbishop of York suggested to Queen Anne that the book was blasphemous. So Swift’s hopes for a bishopric were shattered.

But more was soon heard of the Vicar of Laracor. While in London in 1710 he met the great letter writers of the day – Addison and Steele – in coffee houses seething with discussion.

Soon his pen was scratching sharp attacks on Marlborough and the Whigs.

The country responded to his articles in a journal called the ‘Examiner’ and Marlborough fell from office. The Tories rejoiced. Swift was the hero of the hour.

But Swift’s campaign did not win him the bishopric he still craved. He became the Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

The publication of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ in 1726 was greeted with frenzied interest in England and Europe.

The story about the giant and the midgets became a great favourite with children, who enjoyed its fantasy. But this is not what Swift intended. The book was a satire, in which Gulliver looked down on the follies of the human race.

The last ten years of Swift’s life were made miserable by illness. He died in 1745 at his Deanery.

Syracuse and her allies turned the tide of Athenian expansion

Posted in Ancient History, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, War on Thursday, 28 June 2012

This edited article about the Siege of Syracuse originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 743 published on 10 April 1976.

Spartan warriors, picture, image, illustration

The Spartan relief force was led by their greatest general, Gylippus

Few cities suffered more sieges in ancient and mediaeval times than the city of Syracuse, in South-east Sicily, and the successful resistance it put up to some of its attackers was of the deepest importance to the history of the world. The Syracusans’ triumphant repulse of the great Athenian expedition was of particularly wide-spread and enduring importance.

A city built close to the sea, like Syracuse, could be considered almost impregnable, except against the combined operations of a superior fleet and army. Syracuse, backed by sizeable military and naval resources, had always considered itself secure from a successful attack. But by the Spring of 415 B.C., the Athenian navy dominated much of the Mediterranean Sea. The Athenian army had defeated the armies of Syracuse and had cooped them up within the city walls. Now the Athenians were building a wall of their own, which would cut the Syracusans away from any help from the interior of Sicily, leaving them completely at the mercy of the Athenian generals.

The Athenians were gambling the flower of their forces and the accumulated fruits of seventy years of glory on one bold throw for the domination of the Western world. If they failed, they would have to pause in their career of conquest, and sink from being an imperial republic to ruin and subservience.

To understand why the Athenians were willing to do this, it is necessary to know something about the race. All republics in history that have acquired supremacy over other nations, ruled them selfishly and oppressively. The Athenians were no exception, but at least they were honest about it. They stated frankly that their empire was based on tyranny, and that to be safe, it was necessary for Athens to have an unbounded empire. Over a number of years this policy had succeeded. With relatively few exceptions, the islands of the Aegean Sea, and many Greek cities, paid tribute to Athens. This dominant city had colonies in Sicily and South Italy, and their galleys were exacting tribute from the western seas. To have achieved so much with a State whose members of an age fit for service never numbered more than thirty thousand, Athens had relied almost entirely on its navy, which was an enormously powerful one, for the reason that every Athenian was trained to be a sailor.

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Irish legends ignore the geological facts about the Giant’s Causeway

Posted in Geography, Geology, Legend, Myth on Thursday, 28 June 2012

This edited article about the Giant’s Causeway originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 743 published on 10 April 1976.

Giant's Causeway, picture, image, illustration

The Honeycombs, the Giant’s Causeway

The coasts of Ireland offer many scenes of beauty and interest. None is stranger than the Giant’s Causeway, the remarkable rock formation near Benbane Head, on the north coast.

The old Irish story which tells how it got this name is told in several forms, but in all of them the chief figure is the great hero Finn MacCoul.

The simplest version of the legend tells how MacCoul had been defied by a certain Scottish giant. In order to meet his rival, MacCoul proceeded to build a causeway all the way over the sea to the Hebrides. Eventually, the Scottish giant came striding across the causeway to put the Irishman in his place – only to find MacCoul more than a match for him, and to suffer utter defeat.

In reality, forces far more powerful than any legendary hero built this natural masterpiece on the Antrim shore. Fifty million years or more ago, immense subterranean pressures and disturbances forced rivers of molten lava to the surface. Flowing out through fissures in the earth’s crust, the larva cooled to form a layer of dark, close-grained rock.

The process went on for a considerable time. There were evidently two periods of eruption, with a long interval between. Evidence of this is seen in a stratum of a different rock which formed between the volcanic layers.

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Lockheed’s massive C-130 Hercules has a distinguished flying record

Posted in America, Aviation, War on Thursday, 28 June 2012

This edited article about the Lockheed Hercules originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 743 published on 10 April 1976.

Hercules C-130, picture, image, illustration

The Hercules C-130 flew many missions during the Vietnam War, by Graham Coton

Designed as both a freight and a personnel carrier the C-13OK Hercules first flew 22 years ago and was put into production two years later.

It went into use with over 12 air forces, including the R.A.F. One of the assets of this American-built plane from the past was its short take-off and landing capability, which enabled it to operate from the flight deck of a carrier.

Had it been required for war use, it could have delivered troops to battle zones in restricted areas, for it needed a runway of only 300 yards (nearly 280 metres).

The Hercules C-13OK was designed as a tactical transport with a crew of five. It could carry 92 troops or 64 paratroops. Alternatively, it could operate as an ambulance plane with 74 stretchers.

It was as a mercy plane that it was flown by an R.A.F. crew over the peaks of the Himalayan mountains along the northern boundary of India. Anxiously, the airmen peered at the rocky terrain below.

Then they saw what they were looking for – a cluster of homes, patches of parched, unyielding soil and wiry, brown-skinned people looking up at the sky keenly.

At a word of command from the pilot, the cargo doors of the plane were opened and sacks of grain, dangling at the end of parachutes, began dropping to the starving people below.

The Hercules was well-suited to such missions as this and, like many other fine planes of earlier years, it is still proving its value as a plane of the past with a place in the present.

Did William of Orange sanction the Massacre of the MacDonalds at Glencoe?

Posted in Famous crimes, Historical articles, History, Religion, Royalty, Scotland on Thursday, 28 June 2012

This edited article about Glencoe originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 743 published on 10 April 1976.

Massacre of Glencoe, picture, image, illustration

The Massacre of Glencoe by Peter Jackson

There were nine of them gathered around the fire that bleak February morning, sipping drams of whisky to ward off the bitter cold, when suddenly the soldiers burst into the room. Some rushed through the door, others thrust their muskets through the windows, and a chill of fear gripped the unarmed nine as they stared in amazement at the intruders.

The soldiers were led by Sergeant Robert Barber, who had been a guest in the house for the past thirteen days; but that did not stop his men from firing their muskets until the room was filled with gunsmoke. Some fell dead at once, others, only wounded, pretended to be dead, while Barber grabbed his ex-host, MacDonald of Achnocone, and leered: “Are you still alive, then?”

“I am alive,” he replied, “and if I am to be killed, I would rather it were not beneath my own roof.”

“I have eaten your meat,” laughed Barber, “so I’ll do you the favour of killing you outside.”

So the soldiers prepared to shoot him as he stood against his own house, their muskets almost touching his body, but he was too quick for them, flinging his plaid over their heads and running into the darkness of the morning. Others – men, and women and children – were less lucky on that dreadful day in Glencoe, the infamous 13th February, 1692.

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Hundreds of wagons on the Oregon Trail had to cross the treacherous River Platte

Posted in Adventure, America, Historical articles, History, Travel on Thursday, 28 June 2012

This edited article about the Oregon Trail originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 743 published on 10 April 1976.

Wagon train, picture, image, illustration

Indians watched the wagon train moving out West by Ron Embleton

It was a mile wide and an inch deep, according to the great American humorist, Mark Twain, while another wit said it was “too thick to drink and too thin to plough”. But it was really deeper than this and the Platte River, which split in two at its forks in Nebraska, could be mean and treacherous, as successive wagon trains on the 2,000 mile (approx. 3,200 km.) journey to Oregon found to their cost.

“The river bottom is a shifty quicksand,” wrote one 1866 emigrant, who related how swiftly a wagon could get stuck fast in the sand. When that happened, shouts and yells rent the air, whips cracked and the driver and his friends urged the oxen, mules or horses to get clear.

The “Great Emigration” to Oregon of 1843, whose fortunes we are mainly following in this series, reached the first Platte crossing on June 29th on its long journey to Oregon’s fertile Willamette Valley, which was to make the area American not British. It took the pioneers, who had started out from a rendezvous near Independence, Missouri, on May 22nd, until July 25th to cross the river.

Some of the 1,000 or so travellers in their 200 wagons turned their “prairie schooners” into boats, covering the wagon box tops by sewing together buffalo hides and stretching them across the top. The sun dried the skins and made a raft for goods, the children and womenfolk, while the husband guided the oxen over, often wading alongside.

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Brunel’s ‘Great Eastern’ was a jinxed Leviathan which became an amusement park

Posted in Engineering, Historical articles, History, Sea, Ships, Transport, Travel on Thursday, 28 June 2012

This edited article about the Great Eastern originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 743 published on 10 April 1976.

Great Eastern, picture, image, illustration

The Great Eastern by John S Smith

‘The Crystal Palace of the Sea,’ ‘The Floating City,’ these were two names given to Brunel’s last and biggest ship, Leviathan Years ahead of her time in concept and size, she became a magnificent failure, though it is possible that she might have been a success on her intended service to India.

The vessel came into being because the Eastern Steam Navigation Company had failed to obtain mail contracts to the East, and had therefore cancelled plans to build several 2,000 ton steamers. In their place, Brunel proposed to construct very large ships, to run to Ceylon, where their cargoes could be transferred to smaller vessels and then delivered to Indian and Australian ports.

Brunel, already renowned for his bridges, as an engineer of the Great Western Railway, and as designer of the famous ships, Great Western and Great Britain, decided to give his greatest venture both paddle and screw propulsion as well as sails.

At least 50 years ahead of anything yet thought of, her phenomenal hull became the dominating feature of Millwall on the Thames, during the three years she was being built. Started in 1854 and ready for launching in 1857, the 700 feet (212 metre) long giant was too long for conventional launching, and it was proposed, therefore, to ease her into the water by means of cradles and winches.

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Both the Loot and the Treasure of Lima are buried on Cocos Island

Posted in Adventure, Historical articles, History, Mystery, Ships on Thursday, 28 June 2012

This edited article about treasure hunters originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 743 published on 10 April 1976.

Mary Dear's captain Thompson, picture, image, illustration

Captain Thompson and his mate made a run for it and escaped the Spaniards by C L Doughty

The popular idea that pirates were in the habit of going off and burying their plunder on some lonely island is one that dies hard, even though common sense dictates that any pirate in his right mind would prefer to spend it on riotous living before ending up, as was always more than likely, with his throat cut or dangling at the end of a rope.

Pirate treasure has certainly been found, but only in small amounts, and then generally by accident. But the gold hunters have continued to search for it, led on by myths and legends which have taken them inevitably to some deserted island. A typical example is Cocos Island in the Pacific, an isolated and volcanic island populated by birds, insects, rats and landcrabs.

At first sight it would seem an unlikely place to find pirate gold. Located some 300 miles (480 km) from the coast of Costa Rica, it is a forbidding-looking spot, rising to a height of 3,000 feet (910 m.) and covered in parts with an impenetrable tropical jungle growth.

But it was at least an island where freebooters could rest and careen their ships in perfect seclusion on two good sandy beaches, backed by cliffs honeycombed with caves. As such it became a favourite haunt for the few buccaneers who knew of its existence.

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Edmund Spenser – the greatest poet of the Elizabethan Age

Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Language, Literature, Royalty on Wednesday, 27 June 2012

This edited article about Edmund Spenser originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 742 published on 3 April 1976.

Prince Arthurs kills giant, picture, image, illustration

Prince Arthur kills Orgoglio the giant in a scene from The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser

Around an open grave in Westminster Abbey stood a small group of sad men, dressed in the fashion of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. They included Sir Walter Raleigh, William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and half a dozen other famous Elizabethans who had come to pay their last respects to their friend Edmund Spenser.

As the coffin was lowered into the Abbey floor on that bleak January day in 1599 those great men of letters dropped their pens and their poems into the grave as a sign of homage to their friend. And at that glorious time when English literature had reached a pinnacle never known before or since, someone remarked: ‘He will be remembered as the greatest poet of our age.’

No doubt as William Shakespeare himself walked out of the Abbey into the cold, his greatest fame still ahead of him, he agreed with that view.

The fame of Shakespeare, as we all know, overtook that of Spenser; nonetheless, Edmund Spenser ranks among the world’s greatest poets for his mammoth work ‘The Faerie Queen’.

To appreciate this long poem – so long that Spenser planned that it should fill twelve books – we must first realize that the poetry of his age never dealt with real human life and personality: instead, it was all fanciful and concerned with dream-like creations of the mind.

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