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31 October 2011

On this day in history: Work finished on Mount Rushmore sculpture, 1941

During the early 1920s, the state historian of South Dakota, Doane Robinson, promoted his idea of commissioning giant sculptures of key figures in the history of the West, such as Chief Red Cloud, Lewis and Clark, and 'Buffalo' Bill Cody. For a while Robinson's ideas captured the public imagination resulting in many arguments for and against the plan, but the plans came to nothing until Robinson managed to enlist the support of the state's Senator, Peter Norbeck. Senator Norbeck enjoyed the sort of political influence that could move the project forward and he suggested that Robinson find a sculptor capable of undertaking the work.

In August 1924, Robinson contacted Gutzon Borglum who accepted the commission but did not wish to focus his attentions on local figures; rather, he wished to produce a work that was national in scope. After surveying possible sites, the sculptor chose Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills as the location and four key presidents as his subject matter. The presidents in question where George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt.

Senator Norbeck and the Congressman for South Dakota, William Williamson, arranged the passage of the required federal legislation to allow for the carving of the mountain. Following the passage of an equivalent Bill through the State legislature the work of raising funds could begin. Donations proved difficult to find until President Calvin Coolidge spent an extended vacation in the Black Hills, during which Borglum and Norbeck persuaded him to participate in the formal dedication of the work.

During his speech at the dedication ceremony, on 10th August 1927, President Coolidge pledged federal financial support for the project. After hearing the speech, Borglum climbed to the top of the cliff and made the first six drill holes. Over the next fourteen years, around four-hundred locals worked on-and-off to complete the project: constructing roads and infrastructure, dynamiting and then drilling, and sharpening thousands of drill bits.

A series of set-backs seriously reduced the scope of the project: the outbreak of the Second World War, Borglum's death from an embolism in March 1941, and the drying up of funds ended plans for a great vault behind the sculpture which was also scaled back. Borglum's son, Lincoln, continued his father's work until 31st October 1941. In all, the project cost slightly less than one million dollars and, surprisingly for a construction of that scale, it cost no lives.

Borglum's scale model demonstrating the full scope of the project.

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Michelangelo began work on his sculpture of David: 13th September 1501
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30 October 2011

On this day in history: Coronation of George I, King of the Hellenes, 1863

In October 1862, following a power struggle that had lasted nearly two decades, King Otto of Greece lost his throne following a constitutionalist coup while he visited the Peloponnese. Ambassadors from the most powerful European countries persuaded Otto not to resist and he went into exile in Bavaria. The Greeks set up a regency council to rule, which called a national convention to decide the fate of the nation.

The Greeks rejected the heir presumptive, Otto's brother Leopold, as their new king with many preferring Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Alfred was son of Queen Victoria of Great Britain, who opposed his nomination along with the representatives of France, Great Britain and Russia at the London Conference of 1832, where they decided that no member of the Royal families of their three nations should rule in Greece. Nevertheless, the Greeks insisted on holding a plebiscite in which Alfred received 95% of the votes.

The plebiscite revealed that the vast majority of Greek people wanted to keep a monarchy, so a new candidate had to be found. Eventually, the foreign diplomats and Greek leadership decided upon the seventeen-year-old Prince Wilhelm of Denmark. Prince Christian Wilhelm Ferdinand Adolf Georg (as he was christened) was the second son of Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (later King Christian IX of Denmark).

The Greek Assembly unanimously elected Prince Wilhelm as King George I. He received the title 'King of the Hellenes', as opposed to 'King of the Greeks', the title that Otto had held. Seven months later, on 30th October, George I arrived in Athens for his coronation.

During his early reign George was instrumental in bringing the debates about the constitution to a conclusion. While Greece became a constitutional monarchy in name, political instability often resulted in George imposing minority governments on the people, leading to accusations that he was engaged in absolutism. Nevertheless, his reign lasted for fifty years until his assassination at Thessaloniki in March 1913.

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Ivan the Terrible crowned Tsar, 16th January 1547
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29 October 2011

On this day in history: Sir Walter Raleigh beheaded, 1618

Born in Devon in 1552 into a Protestant, Walter Raleigh served in Ireland during the suppression of the Desmond Rebellions between 1580 and 1581. He received forty-thousand acres of land seized from the Irish and became a major landlord in Munster. By this time Raleigh had embarked on a career at the royal court that resulted in him quickly becoming a favourite of Queen Elizabeth.

Following the death of half-brother, Humphrey Gilbert, Raleigh decided to continue Gilbert's plans for the New World. In 1585 (the year Raleigh received a knighthood) he received letters patent to set up colonies in North America and sent two expeditions across the Atlantic: the first to set up a base for privateering on Roanoke Island; and the second to establish a farming community. Both expedition ended in failure and Raleigh focused his energies on writing.

In 1591, Raleigh secretly married "Bess" Throckmorton, one of the queen's ladies-in-waiting, resulting in his disgrace. Elizabeth ordered Raleigh's imprisonment and expelled his wife from court. After his release he retired to his estate at Sherborne in Dorset and became a Member of Parliament, representing three different counties during his political career.

In 1595 he led a naval exploration of South America; took part in the capture of Cadiz, a year later; and, explored the Azores in the following year. By 1600, he had regained royal favour as demonstrated by her giving him the governorship of the Channel Island of Jersey. This restoration of his fortunes ended with the death of Elizabeth in March 1603.

Prior to the queen's death Raleigh had made an enemy of Sir Robert Cecil, who had been charged with a smooth transition to the new monarch, King James I, for whom he became a trusted advisor. Two months into his reign, James stripped Raleigh of his offices and monopolies. In July 1603 Raleigh was taken into custody and in November he faced trial for treason for being part of a plot against the new king.

Found to be guilty, he languished in the Tower of London until 1616, when he was released to embark on an expedition to Venezuela to find the legendary city of El Dorado. During the expedition, some of Raleigh's men sacked a Spanish outpost on the Orinoco river. The failure of the mission and the furious response of the Spanish gave James the excuse he needed to have Raleigh executed.

Following a number of failed attempts to escape and an investigation by a special commission, Raleigh faced the Privy Council where he was accused of treason and wishing to ferment war with Spain. The commissioners found him guilty and on 29th October 1618 Raleigh mounted the scaffold at Whitehall. After being shown the executioner's axe he remarked, "This is a sharp Medicine, but it is a Physician for all diseases and miseries."

Project Gutenberg hosts a copy of Raleigh's The Discovery of Guiana - an account of his 1595 expedition.

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First execution in Salem witch trials: 10th June 1692
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Louis XVI executed: 21st January 1793
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28 October 2011

On this day in history: Mino-Owari earthquake, 1891

At just after half-past-six on the morning of 28th October 1891 an earthquake shook the provinces of Mino and Owari, on the Nōbi Plain, Japan, the effects of which were felt felt as far away as Tokyo and Osaka. Modern geologists believe that the epicentre of the earthquake was on the Neodani Fault-line in the Gifu Prefecture. They calculated that the earthquake would have registered between magnitude 8.0 and 8.5 on the Richter Scale making it the most powerful quake to have an epicentre under the Japanese mainland, and one of the most powerful earthquakes in history.

While the Gifu and Aichi prefectures bore the brunt of the quake, the residents of Shiga and Fukui prefectures also suffered damage. The ground along the fault line tore apart resulting in vertical uplifts of up to 20ft (6m) in some places and the uprooting of trees on the mountains near the epicentre. The city of Gifu suffered a great deal of destruction, made worse by the many fires that broke out after the quake; however, the older buildings made in the traditional way fared better than the modern structures built using western methods.

Records show that the disaster caused 7,273 deaths and 17,175 casualties. The loss is marked on the 28th day of every month in a Buddhist memorial service at the Earthquake Memorial Hall. The Prefecture of Gifu marks the anniversary of the tragedy as "Prefectural Earthquake Disaster Prevention Day", during which residents are helped to prepare for future quakes.

The Baxley Stamps web-site includes digital images of plates from The Great Earthquake of Japan, 1891 (circa 1892) by John Milne and W.K. Burton with Plates by K. Ogawa.

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Last recorded eruption of Mount Fuji: 16th December 1707

27 October 2011

On this day in history: Southern Rhodesians chose not to join the Union of South Africa, 1922

In 1889, The British South Africa Company (BSAC) received a charter granting it the right to administer the territories between the Limpopo River and Lake Tanganyika in south-east Africa. The southern part of these territories was originally called South Zambezia, but in 1901 it became known as Southern Rhodesia - named after Cecil Rhodes, who founded the BSAC. By that time the colony was governed by the Southern Rhodesian Legislative Council, which initially consisted of four elected delegates and five nominees of the BSAC.

Over the years the Council grew, with increased democratic representation. The Council of 1920, included six BSAC nominees and thirteen elected members, the majority of which were part of the Responsible Government Association (RGA). The RGA wanted autonomous government for the colony within the British Empire, forming an alliance with the Labour Party to oppose one group which proposed that Southern Rhodesia become part of the Union of South Africa, and another group which wanted continued government by the BSAC.

The following year, a British Commission reported that the colony was prepared for responsible government, and that the electorate should decide whether Southern Rhodesia have their its own government or become part of the Union of South Africa. Even though the British government, the BSAC, and the South African government all favoured union, when the referendum was held on 27th October 1922, 59.4% of the votes supported responsible government, with a turnout of 78.5%. The following year, BSAC control of the colony ceased and in April 1924, the first elections were held for the Southern Rhodesian Legislative Assembly.

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26 October 2011

On this day in history: French National Convention dissolved, 1795

In September 1792 the French National Convention met for the first time. It replaced the Legislative Assembly, which created it in order to draw up a new republican constitution. Their first order of business, however, was the trial and execution of Citizen Louis Capet, formerly King Louis XIV.

On 24th June 1793, the Convention adopted the first republican constitution of France. Yet, the pressures of war against an alliance of European monarchies and fears of counter-revolution resulted in the constitution never being implemented. Instead France was effectively governed by the Committee of Public Safety under the control of the Maximillien Robespierre and the Jacobins, in a period known as the Reign of Terror.

Following the fall of Robespierre in July 1794, the Convention had to deal with a royalist resurgence. They crushed suppressed an émigré force that landed by the British. The Convention delegates so feared that royalists would gain power that when it came to ratifying a new constitution, they first passed a Two Thirds Law requiring that only one thirds of the seats in the first election of the new government would be open to new members, ensuring that existing members of the Convention were in the majority.

The Convention ratified the new constitution on 22nd August 1795, and submitted it and the Two Thirds Law to the primary regional assemblies. In spite of widespread opposition, the Convention declared that 1,057,000 votes had been cast in favour of the new constitution, and only 49,000 against. Suspicions of vote rigging resulted in around 25,000 royalist insurgents, including National Guardsmen, from Paris marching on the Convention on 5th October. They were defeated by regular troops, including a young artillery general called Napoleon Bonaparte.

On 26th October 1795, the National Convention dissolved itself. Under the terms of the new constitution it was replaced by a bicameral legislature consisting of the the lower house called the Council of Five Hundred, responsible for drawing up legislation, and a 250 member Council of Ancients, which could accept or reject laws but not draw up their own. The Council of Ancients elected a five man executive called the Directory, which gave its name to the new government.

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Meeting of the French Estates-General: 5th May 1789
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Parisian women brought Louis XVI back to Paris: 6th October 1789
Paris celebrates la Fête de la Fédération: 14th July 1790
Louis XVI executed: 21st January 1793

25 October 2011

On this day in history: Peoples Republic of China admitted to United Nations, 1971

The Nationalist government of the Republic of China (ROC) was one of the founder members of the United Nations in 1945. Following their declaration the People's Republic of China (PRC) in October 1949 the victorious Communists drove the Nationalist forces from mainland China. Despite the ROC only comprising the island groups of Formosa (now Taiwan) and the Pescadores, the Nationalist government retained its membership of the UN, as well as a permanent seat on the Security Council as the recognised government of the whole of China.

During the 1960s, various nations that were friendly to the PRC put pressure on the UN to replace the ROC representatives with those of Communist China. Each year the People's Republic of Albania moved a resolution to do as much. But on every occasion the allies of the Nationalists, taking their lead from the United States, managed to secure enough support to defeat the resolution.

As the decade progressed, the admission of new nations to the UN resulted in a shift of sympathies towards Communist China. This, coupled with President Nixon's desire to normalise relations with the Beijing government, removed the barriers to the adoption of a resolution admitting the People's Republic of China. Consequently, on 25th October 1971, the UN General Assembly passed resolution 2758: 'Restoration of the lawful rights of the People's Republic of China.'

Two-thirds of the General Assembly supported the resolution, including all of the members of the Security Council except - unsurprisingly - the ROC. The resolution recognised the PRC as the legitimate government of China, granted them a place in the UN General Assembly and permanent membership of the Security Council, whilst expelling the delegates of the ROC. Since then, the Taiwanese have sought the restoration of their membership of the United Nations, but opposition from the PRC, which has the right of veto, has prevented this from happening.

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Declaration of the People`s Republic of China: 1st October 1949
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24 October 2011

On this day in history: Last commercial Concorde flights, 2003

During the late 1950s, aircraft manufacturers around the world started working on designs for supersonic passenger jets. The costs for such projects were so prohibitive that few of them progressed beyond the design stage. In the early 1960s, the British Aircraft Corporation, which had inherited the Type 223 supersonic transport (SST) project from the Bristol Aeroplane approached the French Sud Aviation, who were working on the Super-Caravelle SST, with an offer to co-operate on a joint project.

The result of this co-operation was Concorde, which made its maiden flight in 1969. By this time, Concorde only had one compettitor, the Russian Tupolev Tu-144, but cold war tensions and the crash of a Tu-144 at the 1973 Paris Air show meant that it was Concorde that attracted orders from the major airlines. Nevertheless, the oil crisis of late 1973, environmental concerns about nervousness about sonic booms (the noise the aircraft made as it broke the sound barrier) resulted in the cancellation of all the orders except those from the national airlines of France and the United Kingdom. These orders for ten aircraft each still required substantial government subsidies to keep the project alive.

In spite of these setbacks, Air France and British Airways (BA) started scheduled flights using Concorde in 1976. Although other airlines occasionally leased the aircraft, the high operation costs meant that supersonic travel was only feasible for the most profitible routes. Nevertheless, to continue running the services required high ticket prices, the continued government funding in the case of Air France and the sale of the British fleet of aircraft to BA at a knock-down price.

All this changed following the crash of a Concorde near Paris in July 2000. The year long grounding of all the Concordes contributed to the decision taken by both airlines to withdraw the aircraft. On 27th June 2003, an Air France Concorde flew for the last time and on 24th October that same year three BA Concordes made the last commercial flights by the aircraft: G-BOAG flew from New York to London; G-BOAE made a return flight to Edinburgh; G-BOAF flew around the Bay of Biscay. All three circled over London before landing within minutes of each other at Heathrow Airport.

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Maiden flight of Boeing 747: 9th February 1969

23 October 2011

On this day in history: First appearance of the Smurfs, 1958

In 1947, the Belgian comics artist Peyo (real name Pierre Culliford) started writing the Johan strip about a medieval royal servant. The stories first appeared in Le Dernière Heure and then in Le Soir newspaper between 1950 and 1952. In September 1952, Johan moved to the comics magazine Le Journal de Spirou.

Two years later a greedy dwarf joined Johan in his adventures and, to reflect this, the strip became known as Johan et Pirlouit (translated in English as Johan and Peewit). In the story published on 23rd October 1958, called La flûte à six trous ('The Six Hole Flute'), the two became allies with a group of small sky-blue creatures in Phrygian caps called Les Schtroumpfs, known in English as the Smurfs. The Smurfs proved so popular that they appeared in their own strip in the following year.

The Smurfs in Johan and Peewit

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Disney`s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs released: 4th February 1938

22 October 2011

On this day in history: Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, 1685

During the second half of the sixteenth century, France was torn apart by religious conflict caused by a power vacuum created by the death of Henry II in 1559. In 1589, the Bourbon King Henry III of Navarre became King Henry IV of France. With his conversion from Protestantism to Catholicism in 1593, Henry healed the divisions and ended the conflict, famously declaring that Paris vaut bien une messe ("Paris is well worth a Mass").

Five years later Henry issued the Edict of Nantes, which granted substantial rights to the French Protestants, commonly known as Huguenots. The four texts of the edict included articles guaranteeing the safety of French Protestants from the Inquisition while traveling abroad; Huguenots were also granted places of safety in France and the right to maintain fortifications for their protection there. Nevertheless, the edict reaffirmed that Catholicism was the state religion and that the Protestants must observe Catholic holidays and pay religious tithes.

Over the following decades the French crown slowly reduced Protestant enclaves to only two by 1622, La Rochelle and Mountauban. Following another religious civil war in 1629, the Protestants lost all military independence. For the remainder of the reign of King Louis XIII and while his son, Louis XIV, was still in his minority the Protestants stilled received a degree of religious toleration, although this varied depending on internal politics and France's relations with her Catholic and Protestant neighbours.

On 22nd October 1685, Louis XIV (grandson of Henry IV), revoked the Edict of Nantes in his own Edict of Fontainebleau. This edict declared Protestantism to be illegal in France and ordered the destruction of the Huguenot churches and schools. The declaration followed years of official persecution of French Protestants. The implementation of this policy, known as the dragonnades, involved the forced conversion of Huguenots to Catholicism.

The revocation did not result in another religious civil war; rather, many Huguenots elected to leave their country and seek asylum mostly in Protestant nations but some emigrated to more tolerant Catholic states. Estimates vary, but Louis XIV himself declared that the vast majority of Huguenots left France in the year following his edict: out of 800,000 to 900,000 Protestants only 1,000 to 1,500 remained.

During the French Revolution protestants were granted a degree of religious toleration culminating with Napoleon's Organic Articles of 1802 that granted full freedom of conscience to the Huguenots.

The Internet Modern History Sourcebook includes the full text of the Edict of Fontainebleau.

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21 October 2011

On this day in history: First English school in South-East Asia founded, 1816

On 21st October 1816 Rev. Robert Sparke Hutchings established the Penang Free School in George Town on the island of Penang in the Malay archipelago. The island had been leased to the British East India company by the Sultan of Kedah since 1786. At the beginning of the nineteenth-century the British authorities founded schools to educate Europeans and the children of government officials.

Worried by the lack of education for orphans and the children from poor families, the chaplain to the presidency, Rev. Hutchings petitioned the authorities to establish a school. They managed to recruit a teacher, James Cox, who had previously taught in Madras. The school's first intake was twenty-five boys who not only received an education in their native tongue (and English if they so desired), but were also fed and clothed if they needed it.

Only those families that could afford it were required to pay any fees, but all the boys required a nomination to be admitted. A year later, the school was in a position to admit girls after recruiting Cox's wife as a teacher. That same year, management of the school passed to an elected Board of Directors, which actively created links between the school and the local community.

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20 October 2011

On this day in history: Jackie Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis, 1968

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier married Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy in September 1953. In 1961, JFK became president and Jackie Kennedy, his glamorous first lady. Ten years after their marriage, he was assassinated and five years later, in 1968, John's brother, Bobby, suffered the same fate.

Jackie suspected that the enemies of the Kennedys were targeting members of the family. Fearing for the safety of her children she decided to leave the United States. This may go some way to explaining her marriage of convenience to the Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis.

The two married on 20th October 1968 in a ceremony held on his private island of Skorpios. The marriage suited both parties: Jackie gave Aristotle access to the world of celebrity; he provided her with the financial support and protection she felt she needed. The couple stayed married, despite often living apart, until Aristotle's death in 1975.

Jackie O (as she was then known) died on 19th May 1994. Robert D. McFadden's New York Times obituary for her is available on the newspaper's web-site.

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19 October 2011

On this day in history: Black Monday, 1987

On Monday, 19th October 1987, the world economy was rocked by a series of stock market crashes. The economic meltdown began when the Hong Kong stock exchange opened and share values began to plummet. As the other exchanges opened around the world they all suffered the same fate, resulting in the largest ever percentage decline in share values in a single day, which quickly became known as 'Black Monday'.

Over the previous year, the rapid economic growth of the mid-1980s began to slow culminating in small falls in the value of shares over the week before the crash. By the end of the month stock markets around the world were counting the cost of the meltdown: the Dow Jones Industrial Average in the United States fell by 23%; shares on the Financial Times Stock Exchange Index in the UK lost 26% of their value; the Spanish stock market saw a 31% decline; in Australia the collapse was 42%; the Hong Kong market suffered a loss of 46%; the New Zealand stock market was particularly badly by the crash that wiped away 60% of the value of shares.

To learn more see Mark Carlson's report "A Brief History of the 1987 Stock Market Crash with a Discussion of the Federal Reserve Response" (2007), a pdf file produced by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

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18 October 2011

On this day in history: First commercial transistor radio announced, 1954

In December 1947, Walter Houser Brattain and H. R. Moore demonstrated a germanium transistor to colleagues at the Bell Labs by using it as an amplifier. This was the culmination of a collaboration between Brattain, John Bardeen and William Shockley, who jointly received the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics for their invention. Their development of the transistor owed much to the work of the Austro-Hungarian physicist Julius Edgar Lilienfeld who had patented the field effect transistor in 1925, although his invention was not given a commercial application.

In the early 1950s, various companies started producing prototypes of all-transistor radios but their performance was not on a par with vacuum tube based models. Nevertheless, in May 1954, Texas Instruments (TI) developed a prototype transistor radio, which they hoped that established radio manufacturers would be interested in developing. TI Executive Vice President Pat Haggerty hoped that the radio would create a market for the company's transistors.

None of the major radio manufacturers showed any interest; however, the Regency Division of Industrial Development Engineering Associates (IDEA) of Indianapolis, Indiana showed interest. They decided to go into partnership with TI to develop the radio. The result was the Regency TR-1, which they announced on 18th October 1954.

The TR-1 went on sale the following month priced at $49.95 - quite a sum in those days, but enough for the venture to be profitable. The AM receiver was also expensive to run since it was powered by a 22.5v battery. Nevertheless, the novelty appeal of the TR-1 resulted in over 100,000 being sold.

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17 October 2011

On this day in history: London Beer Flood, 1814

At about 6pm on Monday 17th October, 1814, an explosion rocked the West-End of London. A giant vat full of fermenting porter (a dark coloured malt based beer), on top of the Meux's Brewery Co Ltd, violently burst releasing over half-a-million litres of liquid. This started a domino-effect as the other vats in the brewery also exploded. A flood of over one-million litres of beer consumed the nearby slum streets of the parish of St. Giles.

The deluge demolished two houses and damaged the Tavistock Arms public house on Great Russell Street, resulting in the death of 14-year-old barmaid Eleanor Cooper. Another eight people also lost their life in the disaster, most of them drowned, some of them died from injuries inflicted by the torrent, and one later died of alcohol poisoning. Tragically, many bereaved families were so impoverished that they exhibited their dead in return for a fee.

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16 October 2011

On this day in history: Rodney Riots, 1968

On 16th October 1968, the students of the University of West Indies (UWI) in Jamaica became the latest to join the worldwide student protests of that year. The spark that lit the flame, in this case, was the Jamaican government's decision to bar Dr. Walter Rodney, a Guyanese national, from returning to the country to continue his job as a lecturer at the university. Rodney, an influential left-wing historian of Africa and vocal participant in the Black Power movement, had been attending a conference in Montreal, Canada, but when he returned to Jamaica the authorities would not let him disembark from the plane. They claimed that he had been identified as a prohibited immigrant as a result of his visits to the USSR and Cuba.

When the students of UWI heard of Dr. Rodney's plight they caused such disruption on the campus that the university was forced to close. They then took their demonstrations onto the streets, marching first to Prime Minister Hugh Shearer's residence and then on to the parliament in Kingston. As the students marched other demonstrators joined in and the protests became increasingly violent and spread throughout the city leaving several dead and millions of dollars worth of damage to property.

After a short visit to Cuba, Dr. Rodney became a lecturer in Tanzania gaining a reputation as a leading Pan-Africanist. He returned to his native land in 1974, having been offered the job of Professor of History at the University of Guyana, but the government blocked his appointment. He became a fervent opponent of the ruling People's National Congress party until his assassination in 1980.

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15 October 2011

On this day in history: First day of Gregorian calendar, 1582

Throughout the medieval era concerns grew about problems with the Julian calendar. The vernal equinox occurred on later dates each year, which had a knock-effect for the calculation of the date of Easter and other movable feast days. After decades of discussion, on 24th February 1582, Pope Gregory XIII [pictured] issued the papal bull Inter gravissimas, which ordered the 'restoration' of the calendar. The Pope later received a manuscript called Compendiuem novae rationis restituendi kalendarium ("Compendium of the New Plan for the Restitution of the Calendar") from Antonio Lilius, brother to Aloysius, an Italian scholar and author of the treatise, who had died six years previously.

Lilius' plan, slightly modified by the German Jesuit scholar Christopher Clavius, required a reduction in the number leap-years. Centennial years (such as 1700 and 1900) would no longer have an extra day unless they were a multiple of 400 (e.g. 1600 and 2000). The reformation also required an adjustment by ten days.

The papal bull required the adoption of the new calendar in all Catholic countries. Consequently, in much of Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the Commonwealth of Polish-Lithuania Thursday 4th October 1582 was followed by Friday 15th October, the first day of what became known as the Gregorian calendar. Poor communications resulted in the Portuguese and Spanish colonies following suit later in the year, as did some Protestant nations.

Over the next two centuries the remaining Protestant nations in Western Europe adopted the reformed calendar, except the Swiss canton of Grisons which held out until 1811. In the twentieth-century the nations of eastern Europe followed suit by which time countries on the other continents had also adopted the Gregorian calendar.

The text of Inter gravissimas is available on the Blue Water Arts site.

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Foundation stone of Royal Greenwich Observatory laid: 10th August 1675
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14 October 2011

On this day in history: Jim Hines won Olympic 100m final, 1968

Born in Dumas, Arkansas, and raised in Oakland, California, Jim Hines earliest sporting ambition was to be a baseball star, but his running ability caught the eye of a track coach who persuaded him to become a sprinter. Later, while attending Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas he joined their track team and took part in the Amateur Athletic Union's 1968 national championships in Sacramento, California. During a semi-final heat of the one-hundred metres, Hines finished in a time of 9.9 seconds (measured manually) making him the first man to run the distance in under ten seconds.

Unsurprisingly, Hines was picked for the US team for the Mexico Olympics. He made it through the heats and lined up with the other contestants for the 100m final, which notably was the first ever Olympic final in which every competitor was black. Hines won the race and after some dispute his official time was recorded as 9.95 seconds (measured electronically) - the first sub-ten-second 100m in an Olympic final, and a world record that stood until Calvin Smith's 9.93 seconds in 1983.

Hines nearly didn't compete at all. There were calls for African-American athletes to boycott the games in protest of the inclusion of an Olympic team from South Africa, in spite of that country's policy of apartheid, and to highlight the issue of racial tensions at home. Two days after Hines' victory, Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave a raised fist 'Black Power' salute on the medal podium after finishing first and third respectively in the 200m final - one of the iconic images not only of the Mexico Olympics but also of that most troubled of years.

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13 October 2011

On this day in history: Prince Murat executed, 1815

Born in La Bastide, Gascony in 1767, Joachim Murat was the son of an innkeeper who enlisted into the cavalry at the age of twenty. During the French Revolution he was a devoted republican, which may have played a role in his promotion to officer in 1792. Three years later, he played an important role in Napoleon Bonaparte's defence of the National Convention against a counter-revolutionary mob. He arrived in the nick of time with artillery that he had managed to safely collect from a Parisian suburb.

Murat served as Général Bonaparte's aide-de-camp during his campaign in northern Italy, before receiving promotion to commander of cavalry for Napoleon's campaigns against the Austrians and their allies, and for the Egyptian expedition. After returning to France with Napoleon, Murat married the Général's sister, Caroline, in 1800.

Four years later, Bonaparte became Marshall of France and a year later, in 1805, he made his brother-in-law a Prince of the Empire and bestowed further honours upon him over the next few years. In August 1808, Emperor Napoleon (as he had become) named Murat as King of Naples and Sicily. Nevertheless, following French defeat at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, Murat allied himself with the Austrian Empire in order to protect his position as king.

When Murat learnt that the European Powers intended to restore the pre-Napoleonic monarchs to their thrones he moved north to attack the Austrian forces but suffered a defeat in the Battle of Tolentino in May 1815. He fled to Corsica after the fall of Napoleon and was arrested by forces of Ferdinand IV of Naples while trying to ferment revolt in Calabria. On 13th October 1815, Joachim Murat former King of the Two Sicilies and Grand Duke of Berg and Cleves was executed by firing squad at the Castello di Pizzo, Calabria.

To learn more see the web-site of the Friends of Murat Museum, which is based in his birthplace - the inn that his father ran in Labastide Murat (as it was renamed in his honour).

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12 October 2011

On this day in history: Iron lung used for first time, 1928

In 1928, Philip Drinker and Dr. Louis Agassiz Shaw, of the Harvard School of Public Health, invented a machine to treat those suffering from coal gas poisoning. The device, called a negative pressure ventilator, was an air-tight container into which the patient was placed. By varying the air pressure within, the device enabled the patient to breathe and as a result the machine become known popularly as the iron lung.

At Boston Children's Hospital on 12th October 1928, an eight-year-old girl suffering from respiratory failure due to paralysis of the diaphragm brought about by polio became the first person to be treated using the iron lung. A local tinsmith had constructed the tank, and two vacuum cleaner pumps were used to vary the air pressure. The patient's head remained outside this early version of the iron lung, but despite it's basic construction the machine's effects were dramatic: within seconds the girl was breathing again.

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11 October 2011

On this day in history: First university inaugurated in Australia, 1852

In an 1848 meeting of the New South Wales Legislative Council, the Australian politician William Charles Wentworth mooted a plan to expand Sydney College into a university. He suggested that a state university was a necessary step along the road to self government, a cause that he advocated. The council resisted the scheme for two years, but finally in October 1850, they signed into law An Act to Incorporate and Endow the University of Sydney, the first institution of its kind in Australasia.

The following February, the governing body of the university, called the Senate, met for the first time and the institution began operations in rooms that are now part of Sydney Grammar School. One of these rooms, the Big Schoolroom, was the location of the university's inauguration ceremony held on 11th October 1852. Following this ceremony, the Faculty of Arts began teaching its three year degree that included teaching in Greek, Latin, Maths, and Science.

The National Archives of Australia have made scans of the University of Sydney Act 1850 available. To learn more about the history of the oldest university in Australasia see the University of Sydney site.

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10 October 2011

On this day in history: The Great Hurricane, 1780

On 10th October 1780, the deadliest recorded Atlantic hurricane reached the island of Barbados, pounding the island with two-hundred mile per hour winds. Over the next week it left a swathe of destruction on the Windward Isles, the Leeward Isles, Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola before turning north-east and heading back into the Atlantic. The direct effects of the hurricane killed an estimated twenty-two thousand people: 9,000 in Martinique; 4,500 in Barbados; and, 4,500 in St. Eustatius.

The British naval officer Lord Rodney wrote to his wife describing the destruction on Barbados:

The strongest buildings and the whole of the houses, most of which were stone, and remarkable for their solidity, gave way to the fury of the wind, and were torn up to their foundations; all the forts destroyed, and many of the heavy cannon carried upwards of a hundred feet from the forts. Had I not been an eyewitness, nothing could have induced me to have believed it. More than six thousand persons perished, and all the inhabitants are entirely ruined.

Rodney was commander-in-chief of the Leeward Islands, commanding the British fleet in naval engagements against the French and Spanish as part of the American War of Independence. The hurricane destroyed eight of his twelve ships while they were moored off the island of St. Lucia, killing hundreds of sailors. One of these ships destroyed the hospital at Port Castries when the weather hurled the ship on top of it.

The French suffered even greater losses. A fleet of forty ships transporting men to fight in the war sank with the loss of around 4,000 lives. The hurricane also destroyed nineteen Dutch ships at Grenada.

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9 October 2011

On this day in history: France abolished death penalty, 1981

In March 1981, François Mitterrand [pictured] announced that his opposition to the death penalty while campaigning as the French Socialist Party presidential candidate. His party adopted the policy as 53rd proposition in its electoral programme, 110 Propositions pour la France ('110 Propositions for France'). In the second round of voting on 10th May, Mitterrand defeated the incumbent president, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, by the narrow margin of 3.52%.

In August the Council of Ministers approved the plan to abolish capital punishment in France. Robert Badinter, the Minister of Justice and campaigner against the death penalty, presented the bill to the Assemblée Nationale on 17th September. The next day the bill the assembly voted 363 to 117 to pass the bill.

The assembly rejected a number of amendments to the bill made by the Sénat (Senate of France), and both houses voted to pass the bill at the end of September. On 9th October 1981, the law was promulgated and France became the last western European nation to abandon capital punishment. Consequently, Hamida Djandoubi became the last person to be executed in France - guillotined at Baumettes Prison in Marseille on 10th September 1977 after being found guilty of torture and murder.

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8 October 2011

On this day in history: San Marino adopted a written constitution, 1600

The Most Serene Republic of San Marino is a country in the Apennine mountains completely surrounded by Italy. The landlocked country takes its name from a Christian stonemason called Marinus (later made a saint) who, according to legend, founded what is probably the world's older republic in the fourth century. At various times the rulers of surrounding territories claimed the enclave as a fiefdom; however, San Marino's independence was confirmed by Papal decree in 1291.

On 8th October 1600, the country adopted a written constitution, the oldest of any country still in use. Written in latin it is called Statuta Decreta ac Ordinamenta Illustris Reipublicae ac Perpetuae Libertatis Terrae Sancti Marini. The constitution comprises six books: the first details the power of the councils, courts and other official positions; the second sets the salaries of civil servants, contains the procedures of civil law, and includes statutes regarding minors and their education; the third contains articles of criminal law and includes a formula for punishment to make it proportional to the crime; the fourth codifies the appointment of judges and other matters of jurisprudence; the fifth and sixth books deal with a variety of topics from weights and measures to the role of the father as head of the family.

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7 October 2011

On this day in history: Miramichi Fire, 1825

On 7th October 1825, after over two month drought, a multitude of forest fires broke out across New Brunswick, Canada. South-westerly winds connected these small fires together into a massive conflagration, and soon these fires approached areas of human habitation. While the troops and men of Fredericton fought a blaze near the house of the Commissioner of Crown Lands the fire reached the town and set it ablaze.

Governor Douglas ordered the troops and men to return to the town but when they arrived they realised they were too late: strong wins fanned the flames that quickly consumed the wooden buildings. Fortunately the wind changed direction saving most of the town. Other settlements were not so lucky: in Newcastle only 12 buildings out of 260 survived; in the village of Douglastown only six of the original seventy escaped the blaze; the people of Moorefield, Napan, and Black River suffered similar losses.

Residents of towns and villages along the Miramichi River took to the water for refuge, taking their livestock with them. Around 160 people were not so fortunate being caught by the fires. In all the flames consumed approximately 6,000 square miles (16,0000 square kilometres) of forest.

The Charlotte Taylor: Her Life Her Times website includes several contemporary accounts on the "Miramichi Fire of 1825".

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6 October 2011

On this day in history: Parisian women brought Louis XVI back to Paris, 1789

A few months after the storming of the Bastille, a large crowd of women that gathered at the Hôtel de Ville - the city hall of Paris - on 5th October to complain about the price of bread and other necessities. They forced their way into the building and threatened to set fire to the official papers, saying that they were all the city council had busied themselves with since the revolution. One of the vanquishers of the Bastille, Stanislas Maillard, arrived and attempted to persuade the women to meet with the council to discuss their grievances; but instead, they chose to take their complaints to the National Assembly in Versailles.

During the march the crowd of women - now six or seven thousand strong, many of whom carried weapons - sang about how they would remove King Louis XVI from the foreign influences of the court (particularly those of his wife and her favourites) and bring him back to Paris. When the women arrived at Versailles, hundreds of them invaded the National Assembly, disrupting the proceedings by hurling abuse at the clerical deputies. Following some way behind the women were a contingent of the National Guard led by The Marquis de Lafayette.

Many of the women marchers and guards were angered by rumours that foreign troops had abused the symbols of the revolution. After dark a group of these broke into the Palace, killed two of the Royal bodyguards, and ransacked Marie Antoinette's chambers while she escaped through a secret passage. The crowd gathered outside and demanded that she show herself, which she did. Impressed by her bravery, the crowd's abuse turned to acclaim.

That night, a small deputation of women met with the king who agreed to return with them to Paris the following day. So, on the 6th October 1789, a long procession set off from Versailles to Paris comprising the king and his family, the delegates of the National Assembly, the National Guard and, in pride of place, the women of Paris, who sang “We Have the Baker, the Baker’s Wife, and the Baker’s Son. We Shall Have Bread.” The baker was the king who had ordered that the royal supply of flour be brought back to Paris as part of the procession.

The Liberty, Fraternity, Equality pages on the George Mason University web-site includes Stanislas Maillard's testimony of the Women’s March to Versailles.

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5 October 2011

On this day in history: Police baton-charge civil rights marchers in Derry, 1968

In the late 1960s, a civil rights movement appeared in Northern Ireland. Borrowing language and tactics from the American Civil Rights Movement, organisations such as the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) and the Campaign for Social Justice (CSJ) began campaigning for civil rights for various groups, particularly for Catholics who felt discriminated against by a Stormont government dominated by Protestant Unionists. They called for an end to the gerrymandering of election wards that preserved Unionist rule; the end of unequal allocation of housing and discrimination in employment; and repeal of the Special Powers Act, which gave the Royal Ulster Company (RUC) repressive powers.

Local groups also formed to protest against particular problems, such as the Derry Housing Action Committee, which sought to draw attention to the plight of the homeless and tenants of unscrupulous landlords by organising peaceful protests. In September 1968, this committee planned a march through the city on behalf of the NICRA to be held on Saturday 5th October 1968. On the 1st October, the Apprentice Boys of Derry, a Protestant fraternal society, announced that they would also be marching on the same day, along the same route, at the same time.

The Home Affairs Minister, William Craig, decided to ban the civil rights march, but around four-hundred demonstrators defied the ban, including members of both Stormont and Westminster parliaments. As the protesters gathered to set off the RUC broke-up the march with a baton charge. In the melee many marchers received injuries including some of the MPs.

The violent prevention of the march angered Catholic communities not only in Northern Ireland but also around the world following the transmission of television footage of the police action. Some residents of Nationalist areas in Derry were so incensed that they took to the streets in three days of riots. Elsewhere in the province, the baton-charge radicalised civil-rights supporters setting the scene for over thirty years of sectarian violence.

The University of Ulster web-site includes information about the Derry March.

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4 October 2011

On this day in history: First higher-education institute in Texas opened, 1871

In July 1862 the U.S. Congress signed the Morrill Act into law. First proposed by Representative Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont in 1857, the Act provided the legislative framework for the providing Federal land to be auctioned in order to create funds for the foundation of Land-Grant Colleges - institutions to provide higher education particularly in agriculture and mechanical engineering. The plan originated with Professor Jonathan Baldwin Turner of Illinois College, who suggested that the funds be divided equally between the states; however, the Morrill Act allocated land in proportion to the number of delegates they sent to Congress.

In April 1871, the Texas state legislature established the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, the first higher-education institute in the state. The legislature provided the funds for the construction of the college buildings, and invested money made available by the sale of federal lands to create a permanent endowment. Over the next few months the campus was built on land donated by Brazos County, through which wild animals continued to roam.

On 4th October 1871, the college officially opened and the six professors started teaching their first forty students. By the end of the first academic year over one-hundred students were in attendance. The college did not admit female students, and required those attending to join the Corps of Cadets to receive military training.

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3 October 2011

On this day in history: German Reunification, 1990

Following their defeat of Germany in 1945, the Allied Powers occupied different parts of the country that remained after they granted a number of eastern German provinces to Poland. The French occupied the south-west, the British occupied the north-west, the United States took control in the south, and the Soviet Union controlled the east. They also divided the city of Berlin into different occupied zones, although it was surrounded by the Russian zone.

At the Potsdam Conference, the Allies agreed that Germany should remain a single economic entity albeit one with decentralised political power. As tensions increased between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R these plans failed to materialise. In 1948 the Russians announced that they would no longer take part in the quadripartite administration of Germany and halted road access to the French, British and American sectors of West Berlin meaning that any supplies had to be brought into these areas by air.

In May 1949, the American, British and French unified the zones they occupied to create the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland - BRD), and five months later the Soviets followed suit creating the German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik - DDR). In 1961 the East Germans constructed a wall around West Berlin to prevent their citizens crossing into the West. Over the following decades relations improved between the two Germanies as reform movements appeared in the Eastern Bloc.

The results of 1989 local elections in the DDR led to widespread protests and a dramatic increase in requests for exit visas. When the Hungarian relaxed their border controls there was a flood of emigration from East Germany to the BRD. Rather than employ the repressive measures of earlier times, the government in the DDR started planning a peaceful transition from socialism to capitalism and the from communist party dominance to free elections.

In November 1989 the Politburo of the DDR announced the opening of border checkpoints in the Berlin Wall. The following March the East German people voted in democratic elections, effectively ending communist rule in their country and opening the way for German reuinification. That summer, negotiations took place between the two German governments and those of the four occupying powers resulting in The Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, signed in Moscow in September.

On 3rd October 1990, the five re-established federal states of the former DDR and the new city-state of Berlin joined the Federal Republic of Germany. The involved parties had rejected the alternative option of writing a new constitution to create a new German state, rather the constitution of West Germany had been amended to permit Berlin, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia to join. The anniversary of the re-unification is celebrated every year as the Day of German Unity (Tag der deutschen Einheit), a national public holiday.

The full text of The Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany is available on the U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Germany's web site.

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2 October 2011

On this day in history: Tlatelolco Massacre, 1968

In the months leading up to the start of the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, students from around the country gathered in protest as they had done elsewhere in the world that year. The Mexican government responded to these demonstrations with repressive measures: students were subject to indiscriminate arrest and beatings and the army occupied the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Undeterred the students staged their largest demonstration so far at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the Tlatelolco section of the city on 2nd October 1968, ten days before the Games' opening ceremony.

Around fifteen thousand students marched through the city wearing red carnations to protest the military occupation of the university before gathering at the Plaza. As the sun set the military and armed police surrounded the square and opened fire on both demonstrators and bystanders. The indiscriminate killing continued through the night, with nearby residences also subject to attack in house-to-house raids.

Between two- and three-hundred men, women and children died that night at the hands of the authorities. Witnesses claimed that the bodies were later removed in garbage trucks. The government explanation for the massacre was that armed demonstrators had fired down on the police and army from the surrounding buildings first, and that their forces responded in self-defence.

The National Security Archives pages on the George Washington University site include a number of articles about the massacre as well as the text of related document.

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1 October 2011

On this day in history: Declaration of the People`s Republic of China, 1949

From 1927 Mao Zedong had endeavoured to establish communism in a China ravaged by nearly a century of foreign domination and internal strife. His army of workers and peasants fought against the nationalist government, which secured control of the country following the collapse of the last monarchical dynasty and against the Imperial Japanese who invaded in the early 1930s alongside the nationalists. In the Huahai campaign of 1948/9, the communist People's Liberation Army defeated the National Revolutionary Army spelling the end of the eleven year civil war.

Since the the nationalist forces were no longer a threat, the road was now clear for the victorious communists to take control of the country. On 1st October 1949, Mao proclaimed the creation of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in front of a crowd of 300,000 people gathered in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. The Communist Party of China had appointed Mao its leader in 1945, in 1954 he became Chairman of the PRC, a position that he held until his death in 1976.

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