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Archive for May, 2013

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A Canadian heroine warns her countrymen of an American attack

Posted in America, Bravery, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Thursday, 30 May 2013

This edited article about Canada originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 274 published on 15 April 1967.

Laura Secord, picture, image, illustration

She had no sooner finished milking when the cow kicked over the pail by Ron Embleton

The Americans were invading Canada! Eight million Americans were confronting less than half a million British and French Canadians – and there were less than 5,000 regular troops in all British North America.

In that summer of 1812, things looked black for Canada, but what happened over the next two years was to be the making of the country.

No one was more determined to fight for their country than James and Laura Secord.

Laura’s parents, whose name was Ingersoll, were among the thousands of Americans who had remained loyal to Britain during the American War of Independence. Persecuted for their loyalty to the Crown, they headed north from Massachusetts after the war ended in 1783, with their eight-year-old daughter, to settle in British territory.

Britain had gained Canada from the French 20 years before. The thousands of English-speaking men and women who settled in Canada at this time were known as the United Empire Loyalists.

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Building the Canadian Pacific Railway was a condition imposed on Canada

Posted in Engineering, Historical articles, History, Railways, Transport, Travel on Thursday, 30 May 2013

This edited article about the Canadian Pacific Railway originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 274 published on 15 April 1967.

Canadian Pacfic Railway, picture, image, illustration

Constructing the Canadian Pacific Railway by John Millar Watt

Who said ” . . . this mad project”?

The answer is Henry Labouchere, writing in ‘Truth’ in 1881 about the Canadian Pacific Railway Project.


When British Columbia, the vast province in the West of Canada, joined the Dominion in 1871, one of the terms of the agreement was that the Government would build a railway right across the Continent to the Pacific in the next ten years. The future of the nation depended on a transcontinental railway: with such a railway the West could be opened up and settled, and Canada could become a great and united nation.

But the actual building of the railway was a tremendous task. Enormous sums of money were needed and bitter political troubles split the country before it was raised.

Then, suddenly, everything started to go right. Two brilliant Scots-Canadians, George Stephen and Donald Smith, ran the project, and an American engineering genius, William van Horne, was put in charge of construction.

Starting in 1882 and progressing with extraordinary speed, the rails pushed ahead over endless prairies, past mountains, through swamps and forests and the mighty Rockies. All Canada thrilled to the enterprise. Settlers started swarming into the newly opened-up country. Henry Labouchere’s prophecy about the “mad project”; that the railway would probably never get finished, that Canada itself would collapse under the financial strain, and that English backers of the scheme would lose their money, was proved false.

Yet it was touch and go, for money crises continued; the wheat crop failed in the West; there was a rising of French half-breeds and Indians.

But at last the great moment came. On 7th November, 1885, at Craigellachie in British Columbia, the last spike was driven in by Donald Smith: the Dominion was joined from coast to coast by the C.P.R.

Smith and Stephen later became peers, and the American, van Horne, was knighted.

Many of history’s most important battles were fought at sea

Posted in Boats, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Sea, Ships, War on Thursday, 30 May 2013

This edited article about warships originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 273 published on 8 April 1967.

Salamis, picture, image, illustration

The Battle of Salamis by Andrew Howat

Man, being man, developed ships and then found a means of fighting with them. He went on to improve both. Some of the most important battles in the history of the world have been fought at sea, from Salamis and Actium onwards to the Spanish Armada and the Glorious First of June, the Nile and Trafalgar, and onwards again to Tsushima and Jutland, and the great battles of the United States Navy with its fleets of aircraft carriers against the Japanese in the Pacific during the Second World War.

In the days of long ago until today, to move armies meant fleets of ships. Such ships are vulnerable. To move them in safety means command of the sea. That means war.

First, galleys slugged it out. Battles whose outcome affected the whole course of history were fought at Salamis in Greece 480 years before the birth of Christ, when the last stand of the Greek galleys under Themistocles crushed and destroyed the fleets of the Persian King Xerxes and put a stop to his plan for taking over the Mediterranean; again at Actium, in 31 B.C., when the arrogant and unprincipled Cleopatra fled from the scene of battle, she made possible the rise of the Roman Empire.

Over 1,600 years later in the year 1571, fleets of galleys again decided history at the battle of Lepanto, where the Christian fleets finally and decisively defeated the Moslem Moors and Turks. At Actium, fleets of very large galleys equipped with war machines for hurling anything hot and hurlable and armies of crossbow men and spear-throwers opposed smaller, swifter galleys, which darted in and out among them and finally – when a treacherous Cleopatra pulled her fleet out – defeated them. At Lepanto, galleys had bow-cannon which they aimed by aiming themselves, steering at their targets, their rowers working furiously. Christians had arquebuses, Turks arrows and scimitars. Both had boundless courage. Both were equally determined to win.

Defeat at Lepanto was the end of the Moslem hope of domination. It was the end of great battles by galleys, too, though they survived for another three centuries in the Mediterranean and – oddly enough – in the Baltic. Pirates loved them. Algerine rovers played havoc with them. They could sneak up on ships in calms.

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Frightened Agnes Samwell foolishly confessed to being a witch

Posted in Historical articles, History, Magic, Superstition on Thursday, 30 May 2013

This edited article about Agnes Samwell originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 273 published on 8 April 1967.

Witch, picture, image, illustration

Arresting a witch

Agnes Samwell, on this day of our Lord 4th April, 1593, you stand accused of the frightful crime of witchcraft . . .”

The voice of the clerk echoed through the Huntingdon courtroom and all eyes swivelled to the prisoner, a bent old lady known as Mother Samwell.

As various witnesses gave evidence against her, the members of the grand jury shuddered in superstitious fear. In those days witches were not odd characters in fairy-tale books but – in the minds of most people – persons who had made a pact with the devil, and who could cast spells. Because of this widespread fear of witchcraft, many innocent people suffered.

The case against Mother Samwell was based on the fact that the children of a well-to-do neighbour had developed fits. Doctors could find no reason for this complaint. But their parents began to wonder when one of the children, coming out of a fit, pointed to the unfortunate Mother Samwell and said: “Did you ever see anyone more like a witch than she is?”

Rumours spread that Mother Samwell had bewitched the children. A friend of the family, Lady Cromwell, sent for Mother Samwell, cut off a lock of her hair and threw it into the fire – a practice which in those days was believed to be an antidote to such spells.

Unfortunately Lady Cromwell was taken ill soon afterwards and died. Mother Samwell was blamed. She was taken before the Bishop of Lincoln. Terrified by her arrest and the dreadful things that had been said about her, the old woman broke down and confessed to the Bishop that she was indeed a witch.

Mother Samwell, her husband and daughter were immediately thrown into Huntingdon jail, where the old woman withdrew her ‘confession’, saying that she had been frightened out of her wits and did not know what she was saying at the time.

At the trial one witness stated that he had called Mother Samwell ‘an old witch’ and soon afterwards his horse had died. To him it was obvious that the horse had been bewitched out of revenge.

On such evidence Mother Samwell, her husband and daughter were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.

Nowadays, ‘witchcraft’ is very much a thing of the past. The last ‘witch’ to be executed in Britain was Janet Horne, who was burned at the stake in 1727, in Scotland.

Hans Christian Andersen was a gifted ugly duckling

Posted in Historical articles, History, Literature, Royalty on Thursday, 30 May 2013

This edited article about Hans Christian Andersen originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 273 published on 8 April 1967.

Hans Christian Andersen, picture, image, illustration

Hans Christian Andersen,met King Frederick Vi who took a personal interest in the boy

“Once upon a time . . .” said the old lady to the little boy seated beside her in front of the cottage fire. As she began the folk tale which she had heard when she was a girl, the boy closed his eyes in delight.

In his mind he could see the giants and the fairies and the Beautiful Princess of the story as though they were real people. The half-made puppet on his knee was forgotten as he travelled farther and farther into the world of imagination; for to Hans Christian Andersen this was the highlight of the day.

While he listened to his grandmother’s tales, Hans forgot that he was lonely at school, that his cobbler father was so poor that his mother had to work as a washerwoman to earn enough money to buy their food; and – worst of all – that the other boys laughed at him because he was ugly and gawky.

Hans Andersen was born on 2nd April, 1805, in the town of Odense, in Denmark. He was a shy boy, more at home with his beloved puppet theatre than in the company of his school fellows.

Tragedy came when he was 11 years old. His father died and his relatives decided he must follow a trade.

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The Thousand Year Reich ended in 1945 with Hitler’s suicide

Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, War, World War 2 on Thursday, 30 May 2013

This edited article about Adolf Hitler originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 273 published on 8 April 1967.

Hitler's bunker, picture, image, illustration

Discovering Hitler's bunker in Berlin by Angus McBride

At 10 o’clock on the evening of 1st May, 1945, the radio station at Hamburg in Germany interrupted its programme of music to make an important announcement. “Our Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, fighting to the last breath against Bolshevism, fell for Germany this afternoon in his operational headquarters in the Reich Chancellery.”

In fact Hitler had died the day before, and he had died by his own hand and not as the result of enemy action.

By April, 1945, it was obvious to all except Hitler and a few of his fanatical advisers that the Second World War was ending in a total and terrible defeat for Germany. From each point of the compass, great armies were advancing into the heart of the country – British in the north, French in the south, Americans in the west and Russians in the East.

Hitler’s ‘operational headquarters’ were in a bunker, a series of underground rooms 50 feet deep in the ground. The Chancellery above them was now a burnt-out ruin but the concrete bunker would probably have withstood a direct hit even by one of the most powerful bombs then being used.

It was from the cramped rooms of the bunker that Hitler directed the war during its last days, but, by 20th April, Hitler’s 56th birthday, there was very little directing to be done. Communications were breaking down: hourly there came news of fresh disasters: the Russians were actually in the suburbs of Berlin.

Hitler’s military advisers urged him to leave Berlin, pointing out that, because he had taken over all military control, it was his duty to go where control could be exercised.

But Hitler now was incapable of rational action. Those who survived to report the nightmarish days in the bunker described him as having gone completely to pieces. He would scream into the telephone, ordering non-existent armies to come to the immediate relief of Berlin, or pace up and down, waving a tattered road map of the city, planning assaults upon the huge Russian army.

The lives of those with him hung by a thread. One high-ranking officer was summarily executed for attempting to escape from the bunker. Even those outside the bunker were not safe, for over them hung the threat of death from the still efficient secret police, should they be even suspected of wishing to negotiate with the enemy.

Ten days after his birthday, it was apparent even to Hitler that the end was at hand. The German army was still fighting, but Berlin itself was a ruin and it was obviously only a matter of hours before the Russians themselves would be above the bunker.

On 30th April Hitler committed suicide. Some of his entourage followed suit. The rest fled.

The French explorer Rene La Salle charted the Mississippi

Posted in America, Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Rivers on Thursday, 30 May 2013

This edited article about Rene La Salle originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 273 published on 8 April 1967.

La Salle is shot, picture, image, illustration

The assassination of La Salle in Texas

It was in 1652 during his favourite lesson, geography, that young Rene La Salle, a 12-year-old schoolboy in Rouen in Normandy, first heard of the uncharted country which lay beyond the Great Lakes of North America. Travellers to the region said that there were rivers there which could ‘open the way to China’. And some spoke of a great river which flowed hundreds of miles south to the Gulf of Mexico.

The stories of the exploits of the French settlers and explorers greatly excited Ren√©, and he decided that as soon as he was able to he would join his fellow-countrymen in the New France. Rene’s father, a rich merchant, would have liked him to enter the family business, but in 1663 the would-be explorer sailed to Montreal.

Rene was granted some property on Montreal Island, and so became a seigneur, or overlord. He rented out plots of land and was soon the head of a flourishing and self-supporting community. For most men this would have been achievement enough, but Rene was intrigued by reports of the river which the Indians called Messi-Sipi.

“I want to found a colony, not just a settlement,” he told his followers. “I shall find this Great River and follow it to its meeting with the sea. If it flows to the Gulf of Mexico – Spanish territory! – I shall build forts at various points along its course, and two of the strongest at its mouth, and claim for King Louis all the country through which it flows.”

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Voltaire’s cynical view of Admiral Byng’s controversial execution

Posted in Historical articles, History, Literature, Philosophy, War on Thursday, 30 May 2013

This edited article about Voltaire originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 273 published on 8 April 1967.

Admiral Byng, picture, image, illustration

Admiral Byng is taken from his cell in Portsmouth by Paul Rainer

Who said, “In this country it is thought necessary to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others”?

The answer is Voltaire, in his book ‘Candide’, about the execution of Admiral Byng at Portsmouth in 1757.


Voltaire (1694-1778) was one of the most influential Frenchmen of the 18th century. His views helped bring about the French Revolution, which started 11 years after his death. He was a poet, playwright, philosopher and wit – a champion of the oppressed, and one who hated intolerance and cruelty. His real name was Francois-Marie Arouet.

Voltaire’s father wanted him to be a lawyer, but he preferred writing. He was packed off to the French Embassy in Holland for a while, but on his return he rashly wrote satirical verses about the all-powerful Regent of France – Philip, Duke of Orleans – and was thrown into the dreaded Bastille prison in Paris. He was then 23 years of age. He was released a year later, having written numerous verses in prison between the lines of a book, as he had no paper.

Once free, Voltaire triumphed as a dramatist with his play Oedipus, but it was not long before he was in trouble again. He offended a great nobleman who had him beaten up. Determined to avenge himself, Voltaire took fencing lessons, but the nobleman refused to fight a duel with a mere commoner. Poor Voltaire, not his oppressor, was sent (again) to the Bastille, but this time for only two weeks. After this he was exiled from Paris and spent the next three years (1726-29), in England, where he was delighted to find far more freedom of speech and religion than in France.

For the next 20 years, Voltaire lived in eastern France, carrying out scientific experiments and never ceasing to write. He was now famous. He spent two years at the court of Frederick the Great of Prussia as a sort of resident philosopher, but fell out with the brilliant but despotic monarch and left. Paris was still barred to him, so he lived for a time in Switzerland – and France – crossing the border when things got too hot for him in either country.

He ran a pottery and a clock and watch-making business, bred cattle and horses, and continued to fight injustice everywhere. In 1778, he at last returned to Paris and was hailed as a hero. He died in the same year.

West India Docks, Isle of Dogs, London

Posted in Boats, Historical articles, History, London, Rivers, Ships, Trade on Thursday, 30 May 2013

West India Docks, picture, image, illustration

West India Docks, London

The beginning of the nineteenth century saw a great expansion in the building programme in London’s dockland. By the end of the eighteenth century there had been an unprecedented increase in trade from the West Indies and the sugar plantations in particular. Three docks were designed, and the first of them was opened in 1802. Ships unloaded in the North Dock and were then quickly able to sail down the Thames round the Isle of Dogs to the southern dock, where they were loaded with export goods for the next voyage. They were to be known as the West India Docks, and the valuable goods which passed through them were largely produced by African slaves and their descendants, who continued to labour and suffer until the Slave Trade itself was ended by Parliament after William Wilberforce’s tireless campaign. Our picture was drawn by Augustus Pugin, father of the great Victorian architect and pioneer of the Gothic Revival.

Many more pictures of the London Docks can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

Hamlyn’s Zoological Trading, 221 St George’s Street, London Docks

Posted in Animals, Historical articles, History, London, Oddities, Trade on Thursday, 30 May 2013

Hamlyn's Zoological shop, picture, image, illustration

Hamlyn's Zoological Trading, 221 St George's Street, London Docks

Hamlyn’s Zoological Trading Establishment was established by Mr John D Hamlyn to trade in the exotic wildlife which was being brought to Britain by the thousands of trading ships, naval ships and passenger vessels which anchored in the London Docks. He soon became the doyen of the Wild Beast business in Great Britain. and in 1915 began to publish a popular trade journal called Hamlyn’s Menagerie Magazine, the first issue of which promised the following subjects:

“Gorilla Dealing — Alive and Dead.”

“A true account of the origination of the Wild
Beast Business in Great Britain.”

“The Peculiarities of this Unique Business.”

“My Visit to South Africa.”

“The Advent of the Boxing Kangaroo and the
Wrestling Lion.”

Hamlyn was known as the Monkey Man, and in 1889 was asked to provide an astonishing 1000 monkeys for a customer who was staging a spectacular show at Alexandra Palace to promote Brooke’s Monkey Soap. Hamlyn’s monkey, also known as the owl-faced monkey, was named after him.

Many more pictures of the London Docks can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.