Archive for December, 2013

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Happy 2014/1914

Posted in Absurd, Anniversary, Christmas on Sunday, 22 December 2013

Here, as our way of wishing you a Happy 2014, are a number of New Year’s cards for 1914, including one that is a little odd.

Best wishes from everyone at Look and Learn!

The Amsterdam, pride of the East Indies fleet, was enveloped in Pevensey’s quicksand

Posted in Disasters, Historical articles, History, Ships, Trade on Saturday, 21 December 2013

This edited article about maritime disasters first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 500 published on 14 August 1971.

The Amsterdam, picture, image, illustration

Survivors from the Amsterdam, a Dutch merchant ship, beached a few miles west of Hastings, England in January 1749 by Graham Coton

On a Sunday afternoon in January, 1749, while the local population was in church, the Amsterdam, a Dutch merchant ship, was beached a few miles west of Hastings. For six days she had drifted, rudderless, in the choppy English Channel, after striking a sand bank in Pevensey Bay. At almost low tide the 329 men on board scrambled ashore, taking with them what valuables they could carry.

When the populace came out of church, the wisdom of this act was revealed, for the same people who had been worshipping only a little while before began to ransack the stranded vessel. English soldiers had to be sent to guard the wreck.

But worse was in store for the captain of the Amsterdam, Willem Klump. Within a few days it was realised that he had unwittingly beached his magnificent new ship, the biggest Dutch ship of the day and the pride of the East India Fleet, on quicksand! She began to disappear more and more with each tide, as she took in sand and water. After eight days she had sunk 20 ft., and the lower deck and hold, where the cargo was stored, had been enveloped by quicksand before they could be unloaded. Only the top deck and rigging remained visible.

So there she stayed, resting on the bottom, but with the quicksand swirling around her. She is still there today, preserved in very good condition. The mollusc Teredo Navalis, which would normally have completely devoured the submerged wooden hull, has been, because of the quicksand, unable to damage it. The lower hold of the ship still contains stores in a remarkable state of preservation. This is the only 18th century merchantman known to be so preserved anywhere in the world. Much of value has recently been recovered from the hull, including cannon, French table wine still in bottles, silver cutlery and candlesticks. The remains of the vessel and its contents, which are the property of the Dutch Government, may still be seen at low tide to the west of Hastings, saved from vandals by the quicksand in which it rests.

The notorious bandit Jesse James famously ‘died with his boots on’

Posted in America, Famous crimes, Historical articles, History, Law on Saturday, 21 December 2013

This edited article about the Wild West first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 500 published on 14 August 1971.

Jesse James, picture, image, illustration

Jesse James 'wanted' poster by John Keay

The most daring train robbery on record! screamed the headline. Below it there was a lurid account of how five heavily-armed men had robbed a train at Gadshill, Missouri, then sped off south.

This was a newspaper story with a difference, though. The leader of the gang had tossed it into the engineer’s cab as the robbed train set off again, shouting as he rode away: “Give this to the newspaper. We like to do things in style.”

The outlaw with style enough to write his own press notices in advance was Jesse James, who, with his elder brother Frank and a handful of other desperadoes, conducted a 16-year reign of terror and violence in America’s mid-West, until Jesse was betrayed and murdered by one of his own men for a huge reward.

Jesse James, who was a legend in his own lifetime and ever since, was America’s Robin Hood, despite the fact that he was a vicious killer who, as far as is known, never gave a cent to the poor.

Though it does not excuse him, the time and place in which he grew up partly explains him. Born a parson’s son in Missouri in 1847, he was surrounded by violence all his life. For a decade before the Civil War broke out in 1861, Missouri and Kansas were torn apart by rival factions. Kansas was declared a “Free” state without slavery, Missouri a slave state, and rival gangs of killers erupted into each other’s territory to show what they thought of each other’s views. Then came the Civil War.

Now things became worse. The murderous gangs became licensed to kill as guerrilla fighters, and soon one of the worst of them was the 16-year-old Jesse, who rode with such choice specimens as Charles Quantrill, claimed as the “bloodiest man in American history,” and certainly a disgrace to the Southern cause, and another living nightmare of a man, “Bloody Bill” Anderson.

Jesse soon proved himself a born leader as well as a killer. At the war’s end he found himself on the losing side. Like many guerrillas, he could not settle down; besides he had old scores to repay. Hatred in Missouri and Kansas was as ferocious as ever.

The James band varied in number, but its basic strength was Jesse, Frank, four years older and less dashing, and the brothers, Cole, Jim and Bob Younger.

They first went into action on 13th February, 1866, when at Liberty, Missouri, they pulled off what was probably the first daylight bank robbery in peacetime America. Other robberies followed rapidly and innocent men went down under a hail of bullets.

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The end of the Hundred Years War was a blessed relief to England and France

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Royalty, War on Saturday, 21 December 2013

This edited article about the Hundred Years War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 500 published on 14 August 1971.

Henry VI and Talbot, picture, image, illustration

Henry VI, King of England, presenting a sword to John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury

The clerk, entering his office at Westminster, pulled a face as he caught sight of the parchment rolls piled on his desk. Somewhere among those copies of letters, petitions, orders and treaties, all written in the course of the wars with France, was the document he required. He pulled out a roll at random and looked at its date – 1338, the 12th year of the reign of King Edward the Third, and the year in which the war had begun. It was an order addressed to the king’s subjects in Bordeaux. The clerk sighed; that was over a hundred years ago. Now, in 1453, the capital of Aquitaine was occupied by the French; not even John Talbot had been able to save it.

In 1435 England had suffered two major reverses in France – and they were not on the battlefield. First, the Duke of Bedford had died and the young King Henry VI had thus lost his able regent in France. The king now took over the direction of affairs there himself – with disastrous consequences. Henry was a gentle and pious man, lacking the craft and ruthlessness of his father, and he was dependent on the advice of a series of favourites. So many men had the managing of his state, wrote Shakespeare, “that they lost France and made his England bleed.”

The second blow was the loss of the alliance with Burgundy which had proved so essential to the maintenance of English supremacy in France. The Duke of Burgundy, by a series of stealthy diplomatic manoeuvres, had coolly changed sides and had become an ally of the French; his support was to be of more value to Charles VII than that of Joan of Arc herself. England suffered a third blow soon after, when her old allies in Flanders also joined the French side. Without this support, it seemed that England’s cause in France was lost.

Yet for a time the English held on through many successful battles. This was largely due to the military skill of one man, John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury. He was an old man, but also a veteran soldier. Nevertheless he conducted a series of operations in which his small forces scored success after impudent success against overwhelming French numbers. Whether he was leading his men in white cloaks across snow-covered ground to storm a well-defended town from an unsuspected direction or crossing the ice-covered moat around Paris in an audacious attempt to win that city back from Charles, Talbot was always in the thick of the fighting and his reputation quickly spread through France. His name was invoked as a threat to naughty children as often as those of Marlborough or Wellington in later centuries; but he never really achieved honour in his own country.

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The god of all the Greek gods was mighty Zeus

Posted in Ancient History, Legend, Myth, Religion on Saturday, 21 December 2013

This edited article about Greek mythology first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 500 published on 14 August 1971.

Zeus, picture, image, illustration

The statue of Zeus at Olympia

Zeus was chief of all the Greek gods; the Romans knew him as Jove or Jupiter. The course of all human affairs was directed by him, and his throne and the seat of the rest of the gods was on Mount Olympus. He was lord of the winds and rain and of thunder and lightning, and he is usually portrayed holding thunderbolts and with a crown of leaves. There are innumerable stories about him and his wife Hera, who was jealous of his interest in other goddesses and mortal women. Zeus knew everything and saw everything, and the Greeks regarded him as a kindly ruler who was often capable of pity as well as wrath. He was the god of the family, of friendship and the god-protector of all Greece.

The terrifying punishment of King Tantalus gave a new word to the world

Posted in Ancient History, Interesting Words, Language, Legend, Myth on Saturday, 21 December 2013

This edited article about Greek mythology first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 500 published on 14 August 1971.

Tantalus, picture, image, illustration

The punishment of King Tantalus

Everyone has been tantalised in their time, including the man who was first to suffer – Tantalus! He was a king who had been invited to dinner with the gods on Mount Olympus, where he rashly stole their nectar and ambrosia. For this and other tactless crimes, including serving up his own son as a dish for the gods to test their divinity – he was put waist-deep in a lake with delicious fruit above him that he could never reach. And when he wanted to drink, the water always receded. Meanwhile, his son was returned to life by the gods and was exactly as before except for a portion of a shoulder that an absent-minded god had nibbled. It was replaced by ivory! Meanwhile his father went on being tantalised.

The beautiful Medusa’s looks were ruined by jealous Athene

Posted in Ancient History, Heroes and Heroines, Legend, Myth on Saturday, 21 December 2013

This edited article about Greek mythology first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 500 published on 14 August 1971.

Perseus, picture, image, illustration

Perseus and the Medusa

Medusa was a beautiful maiden, famous for her hair, who loved Poseidon and, as a punishment, had her hair turned to serpents by Athene; her face was made so ugly that anyone who looked at her became stone. She was also given wings and brazen claws. She was the leader of the Gorgons, women who had suffered the same fate. A young hero named Perseus was sent to fetch Medusa’s head. Fortunately for him, the goddess Athene gave him a polished shield so he would only see Medusa’s reflection, and Hermes gave him a sickle and other aids, including winged sandals. He flew to the Gorgons’ lair and beheaded Medusa. From her body sprang the winged horse Pegasus and the warrior Chrysaor. Perseus escaped in an invisible helmet.

The eleventh of the Twelve Labours of Hercules

Posted in Ancient History, Heroes and Heroines, Legend, Myth on Saturday, 21 December 2013

This edited article about Greek mythology first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 500 published on 14 August 1971.

Hercules, picture, image, illustration

Hercules in the Garden of the Hesperides by Walter Crane

As a punishment for murder, the invincible hero Hercules was forced by the Oracle of Delphi to perform 12 labours. The 11th was to fetch the golden apples of the Hesperides, which grew on Mt. Atlas, where Atlas himself held up the world. Accounts vary, but one has the hero persuading Atlas to fetch the apples while Hercules held up the world! When Atlas brought the three apples back he did not feel like resuming his burden! Hercules managed to trick him into taking the world back and escaped with the apples. Another version has him killing a dragon to get the apples. On the way home he killed a giant. For the record the Greeks called him Heracles, but Hercules is his better known Roman name.

Jason’s extraordinary voyage on the Argo to find the Golden Fleece

Posted in Ancient History, Heroes and Heroines, Legend, Myth on Saturday, 21 December 2013

This edited article about Greek mythology first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 500 published on 14 August 1971.

Jason and Golden Fleece, picture, image, illustration

The Legend of the Golden Fleece by Roger Payne

Jason was the leader of an expedition which set out in a ship called the Argo to find the Golden Fleece. Among the Argonauts who accompanied him were Orpheus and Hercules. After many adventures they came to the Kingdom of Aeetes, who admitted he had the Fleece but refused to give it up unless Jason performed two dangerous tasks. Luckily for Jason, the King’s daughter Medea fell in love with him and, being a marvellous magician, helped him. So Jason and Medea reached the Fleece and he slew the ferocious dragon that guarded it and seized the trophy. Jason and Medea lived happily for ten years, but he fell in love with someone else, which is another legend!

George Washington had the first great American dream – Independence

Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Revolution, Royalty, War on Saturday, 21 December 2013

This edited article about America first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 500 published on 14 August 1971.

Washington becomes President, picture, image, illustration

George Washington being sworn in as the first President of America in New York, by Peter Jackson

Have you ever thought why part of North America calls itself the United States? Or, for that matter, how those states first came to be united?

Before George Washington burst his way into world history some of North America was a British colony, other parts were claimed by France and Spain.

The United States as we know it today just did not exist. It was George Washington who, in the last half of the 18th century, led America to Independence and then became the first President of the United States.

It took a war to shake off British rule. And that war became inevitable after the Stamp Act of 1765.

In London, 3,000 miles away, the British government decided that it would extract a little extra tax from the colony across the Atlantic.

The bill was passed (and repealed in 1766) and no one really thought any more of it – until reports of riots and pillaging started to pour in.

The seeds of unrest were sown. George Washington, the man who was to reap the harvest of that discontent, was at that time living the life of a gentleman at his 15,000 acre estate at Mount Vernon.

He had served in the army for several years and surrendered his commission just before his marriage to a very wealthy widow.

Washington grew tobacco which was shipped to England and sold there for low prices – a fact which did not increase his affection for the English.

Still he himself led a comfortable existence. But he believed what few of his countrymen believed – he thought of himself as an American.

And even in those early days he had a vision of a great united America, independent and free.

Then came another spark to fire the spirit of revolution. In 1773 a group of men boarded ships of the East India Company in Boston harbour and threw their cargo of tea into the far from boiling waters.

This action, later referred to as the Boston Tea-Party, was another protest against what the Americans considered to be unfair taxation on their own tea supplies.

Two years later mass revolt broke out and the War of Independence really began.

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