Born in 1936 in Bridgetown, Barbados, Garfield St. Auburn Sobers grew up to be a great sportsman representing the island at golf, football, table-tennis and even dominoes, but it was as a cricketer that he became best known. A talented bowler and batsman, he played his first test match against England in 1954. In 1968, he moved to England to play for the county side Nottinghamshire.
On 31st August 1968, Sobers captained his side in a County Championship match against Glamorgan, at St. Helen's in Swansea. He won the toss and elected to bat first. Sobers, batting at seven, faced an over from the left-arm medium pace bowler Malcolm Nash. The West-Indian hit all six bowls for maximum scores. Roger Davis caught the fifth ball but then fell over the boundary rope making it a six. Sobers hit the sixth ball out of the ground and down a nearby street where it was picked up by a young boy. At the end of the over, the unfortunate bowler said to Sobers, "We've gone into the record books, and you couldn't have done it without me." Nottinghamshire went on to win the match by 166 runs.
Never before had every ball in an over been hit for six in first-class cricket - a feat that has only been repeated four times: by Ravi Shastri for Bombay against Baroda in a West Zone Ranji match in 1985; by Herschelle Gibbs in a One Day International match for South Africa against the Netherlands in 2007; and, also in 2007, by Yuvraj Singh in a 20Twenty International match for India against England.
31 August 2008
Born in 1936 in Bridgetown, Barbados, Garfield St. Auburn Sobers grew up to be a great sportsman representing the island at golf, football, table-tennis and even dominoes, but it was as a cricketer that he became best known. A talented bowler and batsman, he played his first test match against England in 1954. In 1968, he moved to England to play for the county side Nottinghamshire.
30 August 2008
On August 30th 1800, a group of slaves from Henrico County, Virginia, marched on Richmond. The slaves had planned the insurrection for months, under the leadership of Gabriel Prosser. They managed to secure weaponry such as clubs and swords for the revolt. Once in the city the slaves intended to capture more arms, and spark a general slave insurrection.
They were prevented from reaching Richmond by a storm that washed out the bridges and made the roads impassable. Governor Monroe promptly responded, having already been made aware of the plot after two slaves alerted the authorities of what was planned. Monroe called out more than 600 troops and contacted every militia commander in the state. The authorities arrested many of the slaves but Prosser escaped. Of those captured 35 suffered the death penalty. Following his capture in late September, Gabriel Prosser refused to talk and was also executed.
To learn more about the revolt read Herbert Aptheker's account, an extract from his book American Negro Slave Revolts (1943) hosted on the World History Archives site.
29 August 2008
By the mid-sixties, the Beatles had become the biggest popular music group in the World. The fanatical response of their fans - particularly young females - who screamed through their concerts became known as Beatlemania. John, Paul, George, and Ringo became increasingly disenchanted playing live music that nobody could hear, consequently their concerts became shorter and shorter.
1966 marked a turning point for the band. During their world tour of that year, the Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, turned down an invitation to meet Imelda Marcos, the wife of the Dictator of the Philippines. In response the Philippine authorities withdrew the group's police protection and released details of the snub to the media resulting in the band being harassed as they left the country. This was nothing compared to the storm that broke when they arrived in America.
In March, the London newspaper the Evening Standard printed an interview with John Lennon in which he made controversial comments about Christianity. In response, some religious groups in America burnt Beatles records and merchandise. The group also received death threats.
The last date of the tour was at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, on the 29th August 1966. Little did the screaming fans know, but this was to be their last ever paid concert. From then on the band would focus on studio work and occasional public performances.
You can read the controversial Evening Standard article, "How Does a Beatle Live? John Lennon Lives Like This", in full.
28 August 2008
In 1826, two Baltimore bankers, Philip E. Thomas and George Brown, visited England to investigate rail transportation systems. In the year since the Erie Canal opened, providing a new transportation route from mid-western cities to New York, Baltimore had been losing business. The two bankers hoped a railroad would redress the situation by providing faster transportation of goods to the east coast.
The following February, the two held a meeting with prominent Baltimore merchants and fellow bankers resulting in the chartering of the Baltimore and Ohio Rail Road Company (B&O), which was formally incorporated in April 1827, the first in the United States. In July 1828 work began on the first section, which opened in to the public in January 1830 - the mile and a half journey cost nine cents. In May the railroad stretched thirteen miles to Ellicott's Mills.
Initially, horses hauled the trains, but the industrialist Peter Cooper decided that steam power was preferable. He challenged the owners of the B&O to a race between one of their horses and his steam locomotive, Tom Thumb - the first to be built in America. The challenge was accepted and the date for the race was set for 28th August 1830.
Beast and machine were each hitched to carriages containing passengers. The locomotive took a commanding lead from the start, but a mechanical failure resulted in a loss of power and the horse won the race. Nevertheless, the directors of the B&O saw the superiority of steam power and organised a competition for steam engine designs held in 1831. The winning designer, Phineas Davis, adapted some of Cooper's ideas in the locomotives that eventually entered service.
27 August 2008
On the 27th August 1896 the shortest war in history was fought between the United Kingdom and Zanzibar. Three days earlier the pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwain died, resulting in a power-struggle in which Hamad bin Thuwain's nephew Khalid bin Bargash took the reigns of power by force, as befitted the custom of the time. While he had widespread support of businessmen and landowners, Khalid did not have the support of the British who preferred a man they felt more amenable to their anti-slavery policy: Hamoud bin Mohamed, a nephew of the former Sultan of Oman.
After negotiations failed, the British issued an ultimatum to Sultan Khalid bin Bargash, demanding that he give up the throne. When the ultimatum passed on 9.00am, the British commander, General Lloyd Mathew, ordered the hastily assembled fleet of warships to start a bomabardment of the royal palace and the Sultan's fleet. Forty minutes later the shelling stopped - the Zanzibarian navy was sunk, the palace was aflame, and the Sultan had fled to the German embassy. In all around five hundred Zanzibarians died in the war, with one British injury.
The following day, Hamud bin Muhammed was crowned Sultan, but was little more than a puppet of the British. Khalid bin Bargash went into hiding, until British troops captured him in Dar es Salaam in 1916. Soon released he lived out the rest of his life in exile.
To read two very different accounts of the war see the BBC website page on 'The Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896' and the 'Zanzibar Courage' page on the Zanzibar Unveiled site.
24 August 2008
Matthew Webb was born at Dawlish, Shropshire, on 18th January 1848 to a country doctor of the same name and his wife, Sarah. By the age of eight, Webb had learnt to swim in the River Severn below Ironbridge. He continued to swim after joining the merchant navy gaining a reputation for strength and stamina.
After reading a newspaper report about an unsuccessful attempt to swim the English Channel, Webb gave up his career in the merchant marine and dedicated himself to swimming full-time. Webb spent months training on the south coast developing his slow and steady breaststroke before making his first attempt to swim the Channel on 12th August. He made it over halfway across before rough seas forced him to abandon the attempt.
At just after 1pm on 24th August 1875, Webb dived off of the Admiralty Pier at Dover at set off. Cheered on by the passengers and crews of passing ships, he finally arrived near Calais after spending nearly twenty-two hours in the water swimming a zig-zag course of around 39 miles. He returned to Britain as a hero.
Fame brought fortune to Webb, but his generosity resulted in him returning to swimming. He took part in endurance races, but the strain was beginning to tell. In 1880 he embarked on another great stunt, swimming across the Niagara downriver from the Falls; unfortunately, the current proved too strong and Webb was drowned.
23 August 2008
During the eighteenth century, the demand in Britain for Chinese luxury goods, such as porcelain, silk and tea, created an enormous trade deficit because the British lacked any profitable product that they could export to China. In 1773, the East India Company found a solution by monopolising opium buying in Bengal, north-east India. In spite the Chinese law banning the importation of opium, British traders carried the narcotic to the coast of China where they passed it on to Chinese merchants who smuggled it into the country, bypassing the trade regulations that required all foreign cargo to be unloaded at Canton.
By the beginning of nineteenth-century, the Qing government in China, alarmed by the spread of addiction and the reversal of the trade deficit, attempted to halt the opium trade by making a decree in 1810. Yet, the vastness of the Chinese Empire made it difficult for the government to implement its laws, especially regarding the highly profitable opium trade, which continued to grow. Over the next ten years the amount of Bengali opium imported to China increased to nine hundred tons per annum (in 1773 it was seventy tons).
Finally, the Chinese government began to implement tougher policies - from 1838 native drug smugglers faced the death sentence. That same year the Emperor appointed a commissioner, Lin Zexu, with the moral zeal to stamp out the opium trade. He arrested around 1,700 Chinese opium dealers, demanded that foreign traders hand over their supplies of the drug, and that they promise not to deal in opium again on pain of death. The British trade commissioner Charles Elliot acquiesced to the first of these demands, persuading British traders to hand over about a quarter of a million pounds of opium, but would not accept that British subjects could be tried under Chinese law.
When negotiations between the Chinese and British failed, Elliot ordered the withdrawel of British traders from Canton, prohibited trade with China, and prepared for war. Having been thrown out of Macau by the Portuguese, at the request of the Chinese government, the British needed a new base of operations. On 23rd August 1839, the British occupied the then largely barren island of Hong Kong.
The conflict between Britain and China, known as the First Opium War raged for the next three years resulting in a decisive British victory. As part of the Treaty of Nanking, which marked the end of the war, the Chinese opened up more of their ports to foreign trade, compensated the British government and traders to the tune of over twenty million dollars, and ceded Hong Kong to the British Crown "in perpituity." In 1898, the two parties signed a new convention that changed the terms of the cessesion to a ninety-nine year lease, which ended in 1997 when soverignty of the island transferred back to China.
In 1839, Commisioner Lin wrote a letter about the opium trade in China to Queen Victoria, which she never received. The text of the letter is available on the Modern History Sourcebook site.
22 August 2008
At the time of the Storming of the Bastille in Paris, the French territories on the island of Hispaniola, known as Saint-Domingue, produced forty per cent of the world's sugar utilising slave labour. As well as slaves, there were many free men of mixed European and African descent in Saint-Domingue, collectively known as the gens de coleur, who called for an end to the rigidly stratified society and for equal rights in the years before the French Revolution. Following the events of 1789, particularly the Declaration of the Rights of Man, these calls became louder.
Julian Raimond, a rich indigo planter of mixed-race, travelled to France to make an appeal to the National Constituent Assembly for full civil equality. Meanwhile, a colleague of Raimond's, Vincent Ogé, returned to Saint-Domingue, to demand the right to vote. Ogé responded to to the Colonial Governer refusal by leading a revolt against the colonial authorities.
The revolt failed and Ogé along with other insurgents were publicly tortured and executed in February 1791. A few month's later, the Assembly passed legislation granting the right to vote to non-whites in the colonies. Yet, the colonial authorities on Saint-Domingue continued to resist, alienating the gens de coleur.
On 22nd August 1791, thousands of slaves in Plaine du Nord at the north of the colony rose in revolt. While the efforts of Raimond and Ogé were not directed at liberating slaves - in fact, Raimond himself owned slaves - the leaders of the slave revolt cited the treatment of Ogé as a key factor in their decision to revolt. Within two weeks the slaves took control of the northern province. As the revolt spread across the island, the slaves killed thousands of Europeans and burnt their plantations.
It took the invasion of British troops and the promise of the end of slavery to end the revolt. The former slave and leader of the revolt, Toussaint Louverture, defected to the side of the French Republic bringing many of the slaves with him. After defeating the English and local rivals, he ended the revolt and restored the colony to titular French control. Nevertheless, Toussaint effectively ruled the former colony as an independent state, paving the way for the full independence of Haiti in 1804.
See the excellent Louverture Project wiki for more information.
21 August 2008
In January 1968, Alexander Dubček became First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. Dubček was previously leader of the party in Slovakia, where he had implemented a programme of liberalisation. His application of the same reforms to the whole country resulted in criticism from hard-liners and the Soviet leadership in Moscow.
The leaders in Russia and other Warsaw Pact nations tried to persuade the Czechoslovak party to limit their reforms. These leaders met with Dubček at Čierna nad Tisou, near the Slovak-Russian border, where he assured them that while he remained allied to the Russia and other Eastern Bloc nations, the reforms he implemented where an internal matter. Unimpressed, the Soviets returned to Russia and hatched a plan to bring the reforms to an end.
On 21st August 1968, 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops armed with 200 tanks swept across Czechoslovakia and took control in Prague. The troops, who crossed the border a little before midnight on the day before, included regiments from USSR, Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland. Dubček urged the Czechoslovak people not to resist the invasion; yet, 72 were killed and around 700 injured during the invasion.
Having secured the airport in Prague, and confined the Czechoslovak armed forced to barracks, the invading forces captured Dubček and other reformers and put them on a plane to Moscow. While there, all but one of the Czechoslovak reformers were impelled to accept and sign the Moscow protocols, effectively ending the liberalisation programme despite the non-violent protests in support of reform back in Czechoslovakia. The Soviets allowed most of the reformers to return home on 27th August, but Dubček's days were numbered: he was forced to resign his position in April 1969.
The Prague Life website includes more details about the reform programme known as the Prague Spring.
20 August 2008
Hugh O'Connor was born in Dublin in 1732 into an aristocratic family. Like many contemporary Irish Catholics of the day, Hugh saw no future for himself in his homeland, which he left in 1750 to serve the Spanish King. His cousin, Alexander O'Reilly, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Spanish army obtained him a commission in the Hibernia Regiment.
After serving during the Spanish invasion of Portugal, O'Connor (by then known as Hugo Oconór) was transferred to Cuba, where he rose to the rank of Sergeant Major. In 1765, following his promotion to Major, he moved to Mexico to serve with the colonial administrators. Two years later he went to Texas to investigate alleged corruption and became acting governor.
France's defeat in the Seven Year's War resulted in her giving up her North American colonies: Canada went to Britain; Spain received Louisiana and renamed it New Spain. In 1772, the King of Spain gave Oconór the commission to strengthen the borders of his North American territories. Three years later, Oconór reached the land now known as Arizona and decided to relocate the local garrison to a presidio (fort) in a more northern position.
On 20th August 1775, Hugo Oconór signed the official documents establishing the new fort at a place known as San Agustin del Tucson - the present location of the city known by that name. Oconór then campaigned against the Apache and Comanche tribes in the area, but his failing health forced him to request a less onerous position. He received the governorship of the Yucatán province where he died in 1779.
19 August 2008
In the summer of 1968, a group of anti-war protesters centred on the University of Buffalo in New York State began to engage in draft resistance. Fearing arrest, a number of them sought sanctuary in the Unitarian Universalist Church on Elmwood Avenue. They remained for twelve days attracting a group of supporters, while the Unitarian minister mediated between the activists and the F.B.I agents, U.S. Marshals and city police who surrounded the building.
The mediation failed: on 19th August the Federal Marshall's stormed the church, which they forcefully cleared using blackjacks (or according to some accounts, chains), making eight arrests on charges including draft evasion and assault on federal officers. Those arrested were William Berry, Bruce Beyer, and Bruce Cline of the Buffalo Draft Resistance Union; Vietnam veterans Ray Malak, James McGlynn and Thomas O'Connell; Carl Kroneberg of the Peace and Freedom Party; and Jerry Gross, Chairman of Youth Against War and Fascism. Following an investigation, they later also arrested Bill Yates, an organiser for Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
In February 1969, the first federal trial of the nine began in a U.S. Courthouse besieged by protesters from the University of Buffalo and elsewhere. After the judge sentenced Beyer to three years imprisonment the nine became a cause célèbre on campus attracting even more support from students and faculty members. A group of students formed the Buffalo Nine Defense Committee and published a newsletter, Liberated Community News, the offices of which were violently raided by the city police much to the disgust of the ACLU. The inability of the jury to reach a verdict on the other defendants' cases necessitated another trial, which became a political circus. Berry, Malak and Yates gave raised fist salutes when introduced and, in contempt of court, Malak and Yates remained seated when the judge left for a recess, actions that probably played a part in their convictions and sentences of three years each. Berry and Kroneberg were acquitted, and the government decided to drop Gross' case after the jury, again, couldn't reach a verdict.
The Bauffalonian website hosts a reprint of a 1977 article by Elwin H. Powell, Promoting the Decline of the Rising State, a personal reflection on the anti-war protest movements in the city between 1965-76.
18 August 2008
In 1851, the United States government signed a pair of treaties with the Dakota Sioux who ceded much of their land in the Minnesota Territory in return for goods and money. The Dakota neither received the full compensation nor all of the annuity payments: that which wasn't stolen by corrupt officials of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was often paid straight to those traders with whom the Dakota had run up debts. Incursions onto their reservation and destruction of the ecosystem they relied on to survive left the Dakota impoverished and angry - anger that spilled over when the Federal government, distracted by the Civil War, was very late making the 1862 payment.
When the funds finally arrived in Minnesota, it was already too late. On 18th August, 1862, Little Crow, chief of the Mdewakanton Dakota Sioux, led a large party of braves in an attack on the Lower Sioux Agency, a settlement populated by Andrew Myrick ,the Indian agent, and various other government officials. The braves killed ten people including Myrick, into whose mouth they stuffed grass as revenge for his response to their earlier request for assistance: 'Let them eat grass.'
The day before the attack, four Dakota braves killed five european settlers and stole food from them. The likelihood of violent reprisal against the Dakota persuaded Little Crow of the necessity of waging war on the settlers to drive them from the Minnesota River valley. The Dakota made further attacks until they suffered an overwhelming defeat at the Battle of Wood Lake in September, 1862.
Following their surrender, many of the Sioux faced a military tribunal without explanation of what was happening. With some trials lasting less than five minutes, 303 Sioux received a death sentence, although President Lincoln later commuted the majority of these. The US government forced the remaining Dakota Sioux from the Minnesota Valley to reservations in South Dakota.
The University of Missouri-Kansas School of Law site hosts a set of pages on the Dakota Conflict Trials 1862, which includes transcripts and analysis.
17 August 2008
In the early sixteenth century, Portuguese explorers arrived in Indonesia seeking a source of spices that would break the monopoly of Muslim traders and their Venetian agents. Over the next five-hundred years the Portuguese established forts, trading posts and missions on eastern islands of the archipelago by developing alliances with those local rulers who were amenable and by conquering those who were not. Nevertheless, by the end of the century the Portugal's trading interests shifted elsewhere giving other nations scope to move into Indonesia.
In 1602 the States-General of the Netherlands granted a 21-year monopoly for colonial activity in Asia to a joint stock trading company, the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC (the Dutch East India Company). Over the next two-hundred years the VOC established a colonial-empire known as the Dutch East Indies on the islands of Sumatra, Java, New Guinea and Borneo. In 1800, the VOC became bankrupt, and following a short period of British rule the Dutch state government took the reigns of power in Indonesia.
In spite of a more ethical colonial policy, a nationalist independence movement emerged in the early twentieth-century, which the Dutch suppressed. Yet, following their invasion and occupation of the Dutch colonial territories during the Second World War, the Japanese encouraged Indonesian nationalism in return for support from the leaders of the independence movement, Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta, for the Japanese war effort.
In March 1945, the Japanese organised the Badan Penyelidik Usaha Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia (BPUPKI), an organising committee for granting independence to Indonesia. This committee, including Sukarno and Hatta, drew up a constitution and received a promise from the Japanese that independence would be granted on 24th August. But, before this could happen, the Japanese surrendered - two days later, on 17th August 1945, the committee's leaders declared Indonesian independence.
The Dutch, with British support, tried to restore their rule. But, following a four year campaign international pressure resulted in the Netherlands recognising Indonesian independence in December 1949 as a federal republic. On 17th August 1950, five years after the declaration of independence, the dissolution of the last federal states created the unitary Republic of Indonesia.
A more detailed story of Indonesian independence is told on the Network Indonesia web site.
16 August 2008
In spite of victory, the Napoleonic Wars left Britain with chronic economic problems. The Government's response, the Corn Laws, resulted in famine and unemployment, which only served to politicise the poorer echelons of society who joined with the political radicals of the middle classes to demand parliamentary reform. Radicals formed organisations to promote their cause, with many being formed in the growing industrial towns in the English midland and northern counties, which were relatively poorly represented in the House of Commons.
In March 1819, a group of Lancashire radicals formed the Manchester Patriotic Union Society to call for reform of Parliament. In the summer of that year, the leaders of the society organised a public meeting for the whole of the county at St. Peter's Fields. They invited some of Britain's leading radical speakers including Major Cartwright, Henry 'Orator' Hunt and Richard Carlile, to make speeches to what they hoped would be the largest assembly ever seen in their county.
Fearing that the meeting might develop into a riot, the local magistrates arranged for around 1500 soldiers to be deployed in Manchester on the day of the meeting, 16th August 1819. Before the meeting, the magistrates gathered in Mr Buxton's house, which overlooked the field, where they became increasingly nervous as the crowd grew - one magistrate estimating that 50,000 people had arrived by midday. The magistrates ordered the special constables to clear a path between their Mr Buxton's house and the stage should they need to disperse the crowd.
When the invited radicals started to speak, at around 1.30pm, the magistrates decided that "the town was in great danger" and ordered the constables to arrest the speakers. The deputy constable, Joseph Nadin, replied that he needed military aid to do so. The chairman of the magistrates, William Hulton, wrote two letters instructing the military commanders to assist the constables.
The Manchester and Salford Yeomanry entered the field on horseback, and began to ride along the path cleared by the constables. Seeing what was intended, members of the crowd linked arms to prevent the soldiers reaching the stage and closed the pathway. In response, some of the yeomanry began to slash at the crowd with their sabres to force their way to the hustings, where they arrested not only the speakers and the organisers, but also the newspaper reporters who had gathered there. Fearing that the crowd was attacking the yeomanry, Hulton then sent in the 15th Hussars to rescue the yeomanry by clearing the crowd. By 2pm the soldiers had cleared most people from the field where eighteen people died and around five-hundred suffered injury, inlcuding about one-hundred women.
The actions of the magistrates and miltary commanders disgusted moderate reformers in Manchester and beyond as reports of the massacre (now called 'Peterloo', a reference to the battle of Waterloo) appeared in the press. Conversly, the government responded by congratulating the magistrates and passed legislation to prevent mass-meetings from taking place again. The organisers and speakers faced trial in March of the following year: four men were found guilty and sentenced to between one and two-and-half years in prison; four others were acquitted.
To learn more about Peterloo and the radical reform movement see the recollections of one of those arrested at the meeting: Samuel Bamford's Passages in the Life of a Radical (1893) at gerald-massey.org.uk.
11 August 2008
On 11th August 1968 a special train set off from Liverpool Lime Street station on a return trip to Carlisle. The train, known as the 'Fifteen Guinea Special' because of the cost of the fair, was the last steam-hauled passenger service on British Rail's standard gauge tracks. The next day saw a start of a ban instituted by British Rail management, from then on only diesel and electric locomotives were to be used.
Around 450 enthusiasts set off at 9:10 am on the 314-mile round trip, and thousands more gathered at the stations and other points along the route to wave at the train as it passed. Four locomotives were used to haul the train over various stages: on the first leg, between Liverpool and Manchester, the LMS Stanier Class 5 locomotive 45110 was used; between Manchester Victoria and Carlisle, the BR standard class 7 70013 'Oliver Cromwell' provided the power; from Carlisle back to Manchester two more Class 5s - 44781 and 44871 - were used; 45110 hauled the final leg back to Lime Street where it was greeted as it steamed in at just before 8 pm by a large crowd.
10 August 2008
On 4th March 1675, King Charles II issued a royal warrant appointing John Flamsteed as his 'astronomical observator' - a position later known as Astronomer Royal. The warrant detailed his dual role to further scientific knowledge by 'rectifieing the Tables of the motions of the Heavens, and the places of the fixed stars' and to improve British trade by working 'out the so much desired Longitude of places for the perfecteing the Art of Navigation' for which Flamsteed received an annual salary of one-hundred pounds. To aid him in these tasks, the king issued another royal warrant in July of that year commissioning an observatory to be built.
The site chosen for this, the first purpose built scientific building in England, was on a hill in the royal park at Greenwich, then a town outside London. Robert Hooke started work on a design for the observatory, possibly consulting Christopher Wren with whom he collaborated on several projects (and who is identified as the designer of the observatory in some accounts). On 10th August 1675, work was ready to begin and Flamsteed laid the foundation stone for the observatory.
Successive, royal astronomers used this building, later known as Flamsteed House, as the point from which they measured the longitude (distance east or west in degrees) of various places. In the nineteenth-century, an international convention agreed that the building should mark the Prime Meridian, that is zero degrees longitude. The Royal Observatory also became the 'home' of Greenwich Mean Time, initially the standard time for all British naval ships, and later the standard by which all clocks were set with variations according to time-zone.
The Royal Observatory is now a World Heritage Site administered by the National Maritime Museum.
9 August 2008
In 1899 Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Baden-Powell published Aids to Scouting, a manual of reconnaissance skills based on his military experiences in South Africa. That same year, Baden-Powell commanded a force of European and African irregulars who were loyal to Britain during the seven-month Siege at Mafeking, where he witnessed the role of a group of a cadet corps of young boys.
He returned to England in 1903 to find that he was a national hero and consequently Aids to Scouting had become a best-seller. Noting that some teachers and youth-group leaders made use of the manual in training their young charges, Baden-Powell decided to rewrite his book aiming it at a younger audience. Drawing on his experience as officer in the Boy's Brigade, influenced by the American youth-organisation the Woodcraft Indians, and extolling the virtues of the cadet corps at Mafeking, Baden-Powell began work on Scouting for Boys.
To test the applicability of the content of the book, Baden-Powell took a group of twenty-one boys from mixed backgrounds on a camping expedition on Brownsea Island, in Poole Harbour, off the south coast of England. Between the 1st and 9th August 1907, the boys developed a variety of skills in camping, cooking, boating, tracking, woodcraft and first-aid. The training also involved an ideological element, Baden-Powell extolled the virtues of chivalry, honour, unselfishness, courage, and patriotism.
The first installment of Scouting for Boys appeared in 1908, with five more fortnightly installments following. That same year, Baden-Powell opened an office for his Boy Scouts movement in London to administer the troops that sprang up across the country. In spite of teething troubles caused by personality clashes within the organisation, the movement quickly grew and developed with the creation the Girl Guide movement in 1910 and establishment a section for younger boys - the 'Wolf Cubs' - six years later. By 1950, there were five-million scouts in fifty nations.
To read more about the 1907 Brownsea Island camp see 'Johnny' Walker's article at his Scouting Milestones site.
8 August 2008
In the mid-eighteenth century the Swiss aristocrat and naturalist Horace-Bénédict de Saussure became a regular visitor the French town of Chamonix, which sits at the foot of Mont Blanc, the alpine peak that spans the French-Italian border. He became obsessed with the mountain, wanting to reach the summit in order to carry out experiments. After making an unsuccessful attempt to reach the summit, in 1760 he offered a reward for anyone who can find a route to the top in the hope that the money would inspire the local guides.
De Saussure's reward proved popular with the mountain guides who tried a variety of routes to reach the summit. One of the most successful was an Italian chamois hunter named Jacques Balmat, who managed to find a route to the summit over a number of solo expeditions, but he was forced back each time. On 8th August 1786, he set off again, but this time he had a companion, Michel-Gabriel Paccard.
Paccard, another Italian, was a doctor in Chamonix and friend of de Saussure who had also made a number of attempts on the summit with other alpine guides. At 6.23 p.m. the two made it to the summit of Mont Blanc at an altitude of 4,810 metres (15,781 ft). During the descent Paccard suffered from snow-blindness and Balmat had to lead him by hand back down the mountain.
De Saussure presented the reward to Balmat, who also received the honourary title 'le Mont Blanc' from the king of Sardinia. The next year, De Saussure finally made it to the top of the mountain himself following Balmat's route. The interest caused by the ascent and the first use of many pieces of equipment mean that Balmat and Paccard's climb heralded the start of the modern era of mountaineering.
For another version of the story of the ascent, which places Dr. Paccard in the lead role, see Per Jerberyd's article The First Ascent of Mont Blanc.
7 August 2008
In the early 1940s, a Norwegian ethnographer called Thor Heyerdahl proposed that the peoples of Polynesia originated in the Americas rather than Asia. In order to test his theory, he decided to attempt to sail to Polynesia from Peru in a traditional Inca pae-pae raft. Heyerdahl and his team constructed the craft - called Kon-Tiki, the ancient name of the Inca sun god Viracocha - from balsa wood and other indigenous materials, basing the design on the descriptions and illustrations produced by the Spanish conquistadors.
Heyerdahl and his five-man crew set out from Callao, Peru, on 28th April 1947. A tugboat towed the raft around fifty miles from shore into the Humboldt Current, from where they sailed westward. In late July the crew sighted land for the first time when they sailed past the atoll of Puka-Puka. A few days later the inhabitants of the island of Angatau rowed out to greet them, but the tides swept the Kon-Tiki onwards.
Finally on 7th August 1947, after a journey of approximately 3,770 nautical miles (nearly 7000 km) lasting 101 days, the Kon-Tiki struck a reef on the windward side of Raroia and sank. The crew made it safely to a nearby islet where they stayed for a week before some inhabitants of Raroia found them and took them back to their village. Heyerdahl's team managed to locate and salvage the Kon-Tiki, which they towed to Tahiti with the help of the crew of a French schooner.
To learn more about Heyerdahl, his theories and expeditions visit the Kon-Tiki Museum website.
6 August 2008
On 6th August 1806, the Austrian Emperor Francis II gave up the title of Holy Roman Emperor effectively disestablishing a political union founded a millennium earlier by the crowning of Charlemagne. The dissolution of the Empire was one of the terms of the Treaty of Pressburg signed in December 1805 following Austria's defeat by Napoleon's armies at the battles of Ulm and Austerlitz. The other terms of the treaty included Austria's withdrawal from the Third Coalition of nations allied against France, and the loss of Austrian territory across Europe.
Two years earlier, Francis established the Austrian Empire in a response to Napoleon's declaration of the First French Empire. Thus he continued to be known as Emperor Francis I of Austria. To fill the political vacuum in Germany caused by the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, Napoleon established the Confederation of the Rhine, run by an assembly of German nobles and bishops who allied themselves with France.
The text of the Treaty of Pressburg is available on the Naploeonic Series website.
5 August 2008
In June 1578, Sir Humphrey Gilbert - soldier, Member of Parliament, and explorer - secured letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I, which entitled him to claim any lands not already possessed by a Christian prince for a period of six years. He and his heirs could then occupy these lands for eternity wielding legislative and jurisdictional powers. Gilbert did not use these letters patent himself, instead he tried to sell his privileges to others but this scheme ran into difficulties with the privy council.
The privy council also scuppered his next scheme. In 1582, he entered into a contract with a group of Roman Catholics to help them set up a colony in the New World to escape the harsh laws applied to anyone who was not a member of the Church of England. These same laws required that any Catholics leaving the country had to pay a large fine, which thwarted Gilbert's plans.
With the period of his letters patent about to expire, Gilbert decided to lead an expedition to the Americas himself. On 11th June 1583, he set sail from Plymouth with a fleet of five ships - the Bark Ralegh, the Delight, the Golden Hind, the Squirrel, and the Swallow - funded by a Southampton-based joint-stock mercantile company. A lack of supplies resulted in the Bark Ralegh returning to England within two days, but the rest of the fleet sighted the Newfoundland coast by the end of July.
On 5th August 1583, Gilbert claimed the harbour of St. John's and all lands with two-hundred leagues' radius in the name of Elizabeth; England's first colony in the New World. Two days prior he imposed his authority the local fisherman by waving his letters patent around; although, the fact that he crew was made up of pirates and criminals probably helped. Gilbert secured a promise of rents from the fishermen for the lease of lands that were now his, and then he set off to explore his domain.
On 20th August he set out with three ships on a reconnaissance mission; the sailors on the Swallow refused to take part because they wanted a swift return to England. Nine days later the Delight struck aground and sank resulting in the sailors insisting that they return home. Gilbert acquiesced and the fleet set sail for England, but as they approached the Azores the fleet encountered a violent storm that consumed the Squirrel with Gilbert on board.
The Yale Law School website has the full text of the letters patent granted to Gilbert.
4 August 2008
In the course of the evening of 4th August 1789, less than a month after the storming of the Bastille, the deputies of the National Constituent Assembly swept away centuries of tradition. Two noble deputies of liberal inclination, the Duke d'Aiguillon and the Viscount de Noailles, initiated the swathe of reforms when they proposed an end of personal servitude and the feudal rights of aristocrats. The nobles hoped that these reforms would mollify the peasants who had engaged in a spate of vengeful attacks on the rural nobility.
In the spirit of what was later characterised as patriotic intoxication, France's élite sacrificed their feudal privileges one-by-one. This spirit was often far from altruistic, as the urban nobility denounced the rights enjoyed by their rural cousins and vice versa. Enmities between the estates of the realm also became visible; in response to the bishop of Chartres' proposal that game-laws be abolished, the duke du Châtelet suggested that the clergy give up their tithes.
The cull of feudal rights continued through the night. Following the ending of the individual privileges of the nobility and clergy, the assembly turned to the issue of the collective rights abolishing the privileges of certain regions, towns, civic corporations and companies. The next morning the French people awoke in a nation transformed.
3 August 2008
Richard Arkwright, pioneer of industrialisation, was born on 23rd December 1732 in Preston, Lancashire. The son of a poor tailor, Richard had no formal education and became an apprentice barber. At the age of eighteen, he moved to Bolton-le-Moors to work for a peruke (wig) maker. In 1762 he invested a portion of a legacy his second wife received to take over the Black Boy public house; however, when this venture failed he returned to wig-making and also branched out into dentistry and other medical services.
In 1767, Arkwright made the acquaintance of a clockmaker called John Kay, who had an idea about spinning cotton on rollers. Arkwright persuaded Kay to produce a model of the mechanism, which, Kay later admitted, was based on a system used by a neighbour who he had worked for. Nevertheless, it was Arkwright who took the design forward producing a prototype in 1767 that he tried to sell in Manchester and then Preston.
Since no buyers were forthcoming, Arkwright and Kay, who was now his employee, moved to the traditional textile producing town of Nottingham. To promote his machine, Arkwright secured investment and managed to patent the machine, albeit with a great deal of difficulty. In 1771, Richard Arkwright and Co. founded a factory beside the River Derwent at Cromford in Derbyshire.
Arkwright used the flow of the river to power the machinery, which consequently became known as the 'water-frame'. Despite its reliability and economy the water-powered machinery attracted little attention. Undeterred Arkwright continued to develop his machines and expand the business.
Because most of his designs were copies, Arkwright lost most of the patents; yet, he invested his profits wisely and achieved social acceptance in the East Midlands, making him one of the first gentleman industrialists. In 1786, he received a high accolade when King George III knighted him. Six years later, on 3rd August 1792, Richard Arkwright died leaving an immense fortune of around £500,000.
Answers.com has a collection of biographies of Arkwright.
2 August 2008
For over six-hundred years a series of Shogun dynasties had dominated Japanese politics, with the Emperor reduced to a largely symbolic role. Yet, in 1866, the leaders of two feudal domains in Japan, Satsuma and Chōshū, formed an alliance to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate and restore the Emperor to power. While it was often uneasy, the Satsuma-Chōshū Alliance was strong enough to defeat the Shogun's forces in the Boshin War.
European ideals influenced the restoration of Emperor Meiji, resulting in marked changes in Japanese society and politics. An oligarchy took up the reigns of power on behalf of the Emperor and began instituting a programme of reform and modernisation. As such, on 2nd August 1869* the Emperor abolished the feudal caste system or Shinōkōshō.
The Shinōkōshō divided the populace into various castes: the samurai or military aristocrats; the farmers; the artisans; the merchants. The peasants and members of the Imperial court existed outside this system, which followed Confucian thinking: the wise ruler at the top; directly beneath him is the farmer who produces wealth; then the artisan who transforms the wealth; and lastly the merchant who merely distributes it. The oligarch's programme of modernisation resulted in the development of Japan as a capitalistic industrialised power with imperial ambitions.
To learn more see Bill Gordon's essay Tokugawa Period's Influence on Meiji Restoration at the Wesleyan University website.
* By the traditional Japanese calendar the date was 25th June 1869.
1 August 2008
In March 1807, as a response to the growing popularity of the abolitionist movement the British Parliament passed An Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, which made the buying and selling of slaves illegal across the British Empire. Any British ship caught carrying human cargo was fined £100 per slave, resulting in some slave traders throwing slaves overboard when pursued by Royal Navy ships to reduce the fine. In response, in 1827 the British Government redefined slavery as a form of piracy, which was punishable my death.
While this legislation criminalised the sale of new slaves, it did nothing for existing slaves. The existing slaves had not been forgotten by the abolitionists who stepped up their campaigning during the 1820s for a complete ban. In 1823, the veteran abolitionists William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson founded the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery Throughout the British Dominions. This organisation, particularly its younger more radical members, travelled around the country drumming up support to pressure the government to enact legislation to outlaw the ownership of slaves.
Ten years after its foundation, the society achieved its aim, albeit with some compromises. On 28th August 1833, King William IV gave royal ascent to An Act for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies; for promoting the Industry of the manumitted Slaves; and for compensating the Persons hitherto entitled to the Services of such Slaves. By terms of this act slavery would be banned in all dominions of the British Empire (except in territories of the east India Company, and the islands of Ceylon and Saint Helena).
The Act came into effect on 1st August 1834, when all remaining slaves within most of the British Empire were effectively emancipated. Nevertheless, they were still not fully free as all slaves had to continue working for their former owners as 'apprentices', with the period of indentured servitude lasting between four and six years depending on their classification. The Act also provided for twenty million pounds to be used to compensate slave owners.
Peter Davis' excellent HMS Surprise website has many historical sources about the Royal Navy, including the full text of the 1833 Act along with other British legislation pertaining to slavery.