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Archive for March, 2013

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The C18 convicts who travelled over 4000 miles to freedom

Posted in Australia, Boats, Historical articles, History, Law, Travel on Thursday, 28 March 2013

This edited article about Australia originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 215 published on 26 February 1966.

Bryant family's escape, picture, image, illustration

Eight men, one woman and two small children faced dangers on the voyage such that they could scarcely hope to survive — but the horrors and hardships of the life they were fleeing from made any risk worth taking, by Bill Lacey

The boat was old and leaky. In it were eight men, one woman and two small children. The dangers of the voyage were such that they could scarcely hope to survive – but the horrors and hardships of the life they were fleeing from made any risk worth taking

Among the thousands of convicts who were transported to the Australian penal colony at Botany Bay at the end of the eighteenth century was a young Cornish smuggler named William Bryant.

When William arrived in Australia, he married a young and pretty female convict named Mary. Her crime, for which she had been banished to the other side of the world, had been the theft of a cloak.

The Bryants found life in the colony more grim than they had ever expected. Bullied by guards, they had to work from sun-up to sun-down, and they knew that the slightest break of the strict discipline would mean cruel punishment.

Not only was the life hard because of the “crimes” the convicts had committed in England, but natural conditions made it worse. Crops failed, and at night raiding parties of natives would drive off cattle meant to support the unhappy settlers.

William decided that he could not endure the life any longer.

“There is no hope left in this land,” he said to his wife. “If only we could escape back to Mother England.”

“How can we?” Mary said. “England is over twelve thousand miles away.”

But the idea of returning to England took hold of Bryant. He dreamed about it at night, and whispered to his friends about it by day. Most of them shrugged.

Still he would not give up. When a Dutch schooner anchored in Sydney harbour, Bryant managed to see the captain secretly. He offered him money for an old, leaky six-oared boat which he saw on the deck. In the colony money had no value, the real currency being food and tobacco, and because of this Bryant still had all the money he had brought out with him. The captain accepted it for the boat, and, not being a mean man, threw in two hundred pounds of rice an old musket, and a compass.

With these stores and eight gallons of water, the Bryants, with the two children they now had, and seven male convicts, rowed away from the colony under cover of darkness on the night of March 28, 1791.

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Charles I spurned the Spanish Infanta for Henrietta Maria

Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Religion, Revolution, Royalty on Thursday, 28 March 2013

This edited article about Henrietta Maria originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 215 published on 26 February 1966.

Charles I and his family, picture, image, illustration

Henrietta Maria watches her husband, Charles I, say farewell to their children as tragedy engulfs the royal family by Clive Uptton

It was seven o’clock on a cold, wet Sunday evening in 1623, when young Henrietta Maria, the daughter of the King of France, first set foot on English soil. Her voyage from Boulogne had been arduous, and had lasted a whole day. She was tired, and a little frightened because of the unusual purpose of her visit.

At the inexperienced age of fifteen, Henrietta had married a man she had scarcely seen – Charles I, the twenty-five year old ruler of England. The marriage had taken place by proxy in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, without Charles being present. Now he and his bride were to get to know each other for the first time.

As she nervously acknowledged the greetings of the crowd gathered at Dover, Henrietta looked vainly around for her husband. He was nowhere to be seen, and she was told that she would not meet him until the following morning. The night would be spent in Dover Castle, which would enable her to recover from the voyage, and be fresh and cheerful again.

Charles had become interested in Henrietta during the previous year when he stopped briefly at the French court while travelling to Spain. He was on his way to woo the Spanish Infanta, whom he was bound by treaty to marry. The treaty, however, was later repudiated, and Charles was free to choose another bride for himself.

The wooing of Henrietta was in fact initially conducted on Charles’s behalf by Lord Kensington, who visited her and her parents in Paris. He liked the little girl very much, and sent enthusiastic letters back to Charles calling her “a lovely sweet young Creature.” What was more, she thought Charles would make her an excellent husband.

But despite Henrietta’s approval, the wedding did not proceed smoothly. Her father, Henry VI, was a Catholic, and he refused to give his consent to the match until the English Catholics were granted freedom from persecution. Once this was guaranteed, he considered his daughter as good as married.

It was not until some months later that this condition was fulfilled. The marriage treaty was signed in Paris, and in London gun salutes were fired, church bells rung, and bonfires lit in the streets as the citizens obeyed the “publike commaundment” to rejoice.

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Queen Victoria was a symbol of Britain’s people and her Empire

Posted in Historical articles, History, Royalty on Thursday, 28 March 2013

This edited article about Queen Victoria originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 215 published on 26 February 1966.

Queen Victoria, picture, image, illustration

A photograph of Queen Victoria taken in 1887 on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee

We now come to the Queen herself who gave her name to a most important period of British history.

This was a remarkable achievement, for the heritage to which she succeeded was certainly not an easy one. The first four Georges had been extremely unpopular, and deservedly so. William IV, the Queen’s uncle and immediate predecessor on the throne, was only a little better. Victoria raised the prestige of the crown to a greater height than for several hundred years.

We have seen that the Victorian Age was very far from being one of uniformity, and as it recedes into the historical background it is easier to distinguish the lights and shades on the canvas. There was a world of difference between the men and women of 1837 and those of 1901, and of this transformation the Queen herself was the outward and visible sign. When she was a child she had known the contemporaries of George Washington and Napoleon; when she died Sir Winston Churchill was already a Member of Parliament. Not only were the material changes during the period immense, but there had been a revolution in outlook. When she came to the throne her subjects were much what they had been under her grandfather, George III; when she died the first whisperings had been heard of the Welfare State.

By the end of the reign the Queen had become a legend, but there had been occasions when she was very unpopular. It was freely stated at the time of her Coronation that this would be the last of such events, and that the country would become a republic. Victoria completely reversed this tendency, and left the monarchy stronger than it had been for a very long time. She was, too, a very different woman when she ascended the throne from what she was when she died, and the change was due to Albert, Prince Consort.

Of the Queen’s devotion to him there can be no question, and she was broken-hearted when he died in 1861. “It was the first grief he caused me,” she used to say in later years; and as she herself lay dying her last words were a cry of “Albert, Albert, Albert.” Yet she was almost alone in her affection for him. He was a man of high ideals and many intellectual interests, and he did much to promote science, learning, philanthropy and public decorum. To too many English people, however, he was an insignificant German princeling, wholly unworthy to marry a Queen of England, and his manners were unhappily stiff and reserved.

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Victorians had an insatiable appetite for news

Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Industry, Literature, News, War on Thursday, 28 March 2013

This edited article about the Victorian popular press originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 214 published on 19 February 1966.

Archibald Forbers reports, picture, image, illustration

Archibald Forbes was the peerless war reporter for the Daily News during the Franco-Prussian War

The development of the daily newspaper was one of the great achievements of the Victorian Age, and it was not possible until 1840. In that year publication of the proceedings in the Houses of Parliament was for the first time officially allowed.

The Morning Chronicle is said to have been the first paper to employ a regular staff of Parliamentary reporters working in relays in the gallery of the House of Commons. It was the Morning Herald which first established correspondents in the chief European capitals, as well as in large cities in the British Isles.

Circulation in those early days was extremely small, for a very large number of people could not read. At the beginning of the Queen’s reign the total sale of the six leading London daily papers was only about 75,000, and of these The Times accounted for 50,000.

During the earlier part of the Victorian Age journalism in Great Britain was dominated by The Times under the proprietorship of various members of the Walter family, and especially under the editorship of John Delane, who succeeded to the position at the age of twenty-three, and remained from 1841 to 1879. Perhaps it gained its greatest influence during the Crimean War when Delane organized war correspondents on a scale never before attempted, and ruthlessly exposed the faults in the conduct of the campaign and the deficiencies in the equipment of the troops. It was mainly through William Howard Russell’s articles that Florence Nightingale was stimulated to undertake her nursing mission. The Times raised a large sum of money to assist her.

In 1855 the stamp duty on newspapers was repealed, and six years later the duty on paper went as well. This paved the way for new and low-priced newspapers, as this was just the time when the number of people who could read was rapidly increasing.

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NASA and the USAF developed the X-15 Rocket Plane

Posted in Aerospace, Aviation, Space, Technology on Thursday, 28 March 2013

This edited article about aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 214 published on 19 February 1966.

X-15 rocket plane, picture, image, illlustration

X-15 Rocket Plane by Wilf Hardy

The sun glinting on its metal fuselage, the giant B-52 bomber scored eight vapour trails across the purple sky. Hanging beneath its port wing was a sharp-nosed rocket plane, the X-15, looking like something out of a science fiction story, with its huge wedge-shaped fins and short stub wings.

It was July 17, 1962, and sitting in the cockpit of the rocket plane, wearing a silver pressure suit that was in fact a full space suit, was Major Robert White, a test pilot for the United States Air Force. In a few minutes he would be released from the B-52 and propelled by rocket beyond the earth’s atmosphere.

All the X-15’s complex machinery was working satisfactorily, the big XLR-99 rocket engine was primed and ready to go and the jet fighter chase planes that would help guide the rocket back to base after the flight were in position. The X-15 suddenly dropped away from the bomber’s wing and as the rocket engine exploded into life, a thirty-foot flame, laced with white diamond-shaped shock waves, shot from the tail.

For eighty-four seconds White endured the thunderous roar from the rocket that propelled him to 314,750 ft. above the earth. There he hung in space, at the top of a long curving arc, before skilfully piloting the X-15 back home to Edwards Air Force Base, Southern California.

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Alessandro Volta invented the battery

Posted in Historical articles, History, Science on Thursday, 28 March 2013

This edited article about Alessandro Volta originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 214 published on 19 February 1966.

Alessandro Volta, picture, image, illustration

Alessandro Volta demonstrates his ‘Pile’, prototype of the battery

Next time you switch on your electric torch, remember Alessandro Volta, who was born at Como, Italy, on February 18, 1745. It was Volta who discovered how the action of chemicals on metals could be made to give an electric current; and from his discovery developed the electric cell used in torch batteries, and a host of other devices.

Until Volta turned to the problem of producing a continuous current, the only way to “make” electricity was by rubbing together two substances such as sealing wax and flannel, or glass and silk. This produced static (stationary) electricity, which was useless for any practical purpose.

Volta spent eight years vainly trying to produce an electric current, and then he hit on the idea of his famous Pile. This consisted of a layered sandwich of zinc and copper discs separated from each other by cardboard soaked in acid.

When the plates at the ends of the pile were connected by a wire, an electric spark resulted. The sparks were continuous, and the flow of sparks was, in fact, an electric current.

Volta carried his invention a stage further. He suspended strips of copper and zinc in a jar filled with acid. When the two metals were joined by a wire, he got an electric current. This was the first electric cell.

By joining a number of such cells together Volta was able to obtain quite a strong current.

Volta came to the conclusion that current in a wire was induced by some kind of pressure. Later experimenters proved his theories to be correct, and in his honour the unit of electrical pressure that drives an electric current through a conductor is called the “volt”.

Howard Carter discovers the Tomb of Tutankhamen

Posted in Ancient History, Archaeology, Art, Arts and Crafts, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Superstition on Thursday, 28 March 2013

This edited article about Tutankhamen originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 214 published on 19 February 1966.

Tutankhamen, picture, image, illustration


Peering into the stone-walled room by the light of their torches that morning of February 16, 1923, Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter gasped at the mass of treasures. Their torch beams played over gold-painted couches carved in the shapes of animals. There was a golden throne, and gold-plated chariots; vases, caskets, and a profusion of rich furnishings.

All these were valuables which the Egyptians had buried with a Pharaoh whose reign ended in 1355 B.C.

At the far end of the room, twin statues of the long-dead Pharaoh flanked a door which opened into another room. This was the burial chamber and it was almost filled with a huge gold-sheathed shrine. Within the shrine was the mummy of the Pharaoh, in a case of solid gold set with precious stones.

Opening off the burial chamber was another treasure house of golden shrines, chests, statues of ivory and delicately carved models of all the things the Pharaoh had known and used during his lifetime.

Few archaeological discoveries have so electrified the world as did the finding of the tomb of Tutankhamen. The tombs of greater Pharaohs had been discovered in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes, but they had been stripped of their treasures by vandals centuries previously.

For Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon, the discovery was the reward for seventeen years of patient work. When they began their search in 1906, in the Valley of Kings, archaeologists thought that nothing more of importance remained to be unearthed.

The Campbells were reviled for the Massacre of Glencoe

Posted in Famous crimes, Historical articles, History, Politics, Royalty, Scotland on Thursday, 28 March 2013

This edited article about Scotland originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 214 published on 19 February 1966.

Glencoe massacre, picture, image, illustration

The Massacre of Glencoe by Peter Jackson

When William III succeeded to the Kingdom of England and Scotland in 1688, many of the Highland clans continued to support the deposed Stuarts. Civil war smouldered in the Highlands. Gradually, William brought the rebellion under control. In 1691 he promised a pardon to all rebels who before December 31, 1691, swore allegiance to his Government.

Among William’s opponents were the Maclans of Glencoe, a branch of the Clan Macdonald. On December 30, 1691, their chief went to Inverary to swear on their behalf before a magistrate, but bad weather prevented him from getting there until January 6, 1692. He then took the required oath.

William’s affairs in Scotland were being administered by the Dalrymple family. Viscount Stair, head of the Dalrymples, was President of the Court of Session. His son, the Master of Stair, was Secretary of Scotland. Both saw in the late signing of the oath an opportunity to settle old scores.

Reporting to the King that Maclan had not taken the oath, the Master of Stair asked that, as the Macdonalds were still in rebellion, their chiefs should be brought to trial. King William signed an order to that effect, but did not realize that all the Macdonalds were to be exterminated as well.

The order was to be carried out by the Campbells. Arriving in Glencoe on February 13, 1692, supposedly to discuss the end of the feud, the Campbells were received by the Macdonalds. That night they fell on the Macdonalds, killed nearly all the menfolk, burnt their houses and stole their cattle. A few survived to escape to the mountains.

Sir John Falstaff won the Battle of Roverai

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Shakespeare, War on Wednesday, 27 March 2013

This edited article about the Hundred Years War originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 213 published on 12 February 1966.

Falstaff, picture, image, illustration

Sir John Falstaff by Gerritt Vandersyde

The Hundred Years War between England and France was raging and since the summer of 1428 an English army under the Earl of Suffolk had been besieging Orleans, which was holding out for the King of France. Month after month, the siege dragged on, and as the surrounding countryside was hostile to the English and refused them supplies, Suffolk’s troops were becoming worse off for food than the French locked up in Orleans.

Early in February, a convoy of five hundred wagons loaded with food and military stores and escorted by a force of three thousand troops was sent from Paris to the besieging English army. The expedition was commanded by Sir John Fastolfe, one of the bravest and most experienced English generals. He was later created a Knight of the Garter by Henry VI, but he is better known as the original Falstaff in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor.

King Charles of France discovered that the relief convoy was on its way to Orleans and sent a force of four thousand men under the Count of Claremont to cut it off.

The French came up with the English convoy at Roverai, a few miles from Orleans. The English commander ordered his men to make a barricade of the wagons, behind which he waited for the attack.

When the French arrived, they made a mass charge against the barricade, but were received with such a deadly hail of arrows from the English archers’ long-bows that they were thrown into complete confusion. Fastolfe then ordered some of the wagons to be drawn aside and sword in hand swept through the gap with his cavalry to annihilate the French. Only a small remnant of the French troops escaped and these fled back the way they had come.

Although this English victory was fought and won at Roverai, it is more often called the Battle of the Herrings from the fact that a large part of the provisions comprised barrels of salted herrings.

Unlucky Edward Hargraves struck gold in Australia

Posted in Australia, Famous news stories, Geology, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 27 March 2013

This edited article about Australia originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 213 published on 12 February 1966.

Australian Gold Rush, picture, image, illustration

The Australian Gold Rush by Barrie Linklater

Like many Australians, Edward Hargraves had gone to California to seek his fortune in the gold rush of 1849. But he came back poorer than when he left.

Struggling through the scrubland at the foot of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, on February 10, 1851, something struck him as being familiar. The ground was very similar to that of the gold bearing hills of California. His training as a prospector was aroused and he started to dig. In a few hours he had found gold: and gold in unbelievably rich ore.

That was the beginning of the great Australian gold strike. News of Hargraves’s discovery swept through Australia like a bush fire and within a few weeks the whole way of life in New South Wales was shaken.

Thousands of men came to stake claims in the new gold fields. Shops, offices and factories soon found themselves without staff. In the harbours wharves were deserted and crews walked off their ships. Stockmen left their flocks and herds unattended while they searched for gold.

Within a few months of Hargraves’s discovery, even richer deposits of the precious metal were found in Victoria. Reports of fabulous nuggets being found spread throughout the world. Soon fortune hunters were pouring off hundreds of ships at every Australian port. After the gold seekers came tradesmen and shopkeepers to supply their needs.

Within two months the Australian gold fields had produced nearly £2,000,000 worth of the precious metal. But even more remarkable was the increase in the country’s population.