The Sunday Section: This Week in History - Feb 01-07

February 01

1650 – Death of René Descartes, the ‘father of French philosophy’.

1790 – The US Supreme Court meets for the first time.

1893 – Thomas Edison opens the first film studio in New Jersey.

Thomas Edison

1901 – The body of Queen Victoria is brought to mainland Britain, on board the royal yacht ‘Alberta’, from the Isle of Wight, where she’d died at Osborne on 22 January.  A naval escort led the ‘Alberta’ into Portsmouth Harbour as guns fired in salute from a phalanx of British and foreign battleships.

1924 – Britain’s first Labour government recognises the Soviet government.

1958 – ‘Vanguard’, the first US satellite, is launched.

1966 – Death of Buster Keaton, the silent screen actor.

Buster Keaton

1979 – Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s religious leader, returns to a frenzied welcome at Tehran airport, ending 16 years of exile.

1990 – FW de Klerk, South Africa’s president, announced to parliament that it is time to get rid of the cornerstones on which the apartheid system is based.  He also announced the end of the 30-year ban on the African National Congress, and other anti-apartheid organisations, and promised that Nelson Mandela would be free within a fortnight.


1665 – New Amsterdam, the centre of the Dutch colony in North America, is to become New York after being captured by a British fleet.  The British force outnumbered and outgunned the Dutch garrison, and the governor, Peter Stuyvesant, was under pressure from civilians not to open fire; he surrendered without a fight.  The new name, New York, is in honour of its new governor, the Duke of York, who is the younger brother of King Charles II.

1709 – A castaway sailor, Alexander Selkirk, has been rescued after spending 4 years alone on a desert island on one of the uninhabited islands off the coast of Chile.  He could hardly speak English when found by Captain Woodes Rogers.  Selkirk had been left on the island after an argument with the master of his privateer ship, the ‘Cinque-Ports’, and had survived with the aid of a musket, a hatchet, a knife and a flint to strike a flame.  Captain Rogers plans to help Selkirk publish a report of his solitary sojourn. 

Daniel Defoe based his ‘Robinson Crusoe’ on Selkirk’s experience.

Alexander Selkirk

1801 – Ireland is represented in the British parliament for the first time.1852

– The first public convenience for men opens in Fleet Street, London.

1870 – Press agencies, Reuters, Havas and Wolff, sign an agreement which enables them to cover the whole world.

1914 – The first pack of Cub Scouts is formed in Sussex, England.

1915 – Germany begins U-boat blockades of British waters.  The US warms Germany against attacking American ships.

1943 – The German Army offers its surrender to the Soviet Army at Stalingrad.

Soviet soldier waving the Red Banner in Stanlingrad 1943

1972 – The British Embassy in Dublin is burned down by protesters as revenge for the ‘Bloody Sunday’ shootings in Londonderry last weekend, when British troops killed 13 Catholic youths and wounded another 17.  The angry crowd would not let firemen approach the burning building until the roof had fallen in.

1979 – Death of Sid Vicious, punk bassist of the Sex Pistols, of a heroin overdose at a party in New York; he was 21.

Sid Vicious

1989 – The end of the Soviet Union’s 9-year military occupation of Afghanistan.


1399 – Death of John of Gaunt, father of Henry IV.

John of Gaunt

1468 – Death of Johann Gutenberg.  Despite developing the letter-press printing method and oil-based inks, he has died in obscurity.  In 1450, he borrowed a large amount of money from Johann Fust to develop his system of movable type.  5 years later, Fust foreclosed on the loan and took possession of the type and presses; he and his son-in-law went on to mass-produce copies of the Bible, making a fortune from Gutenberg’s techniques.

Johann Gutenberg

1488 – Bartholomeu Diaz, the Portuguese explorer, becomes the first European to land on African soil.

1730 – The London ‘Daily Advertiser’ published the first stock exchange quotations.

1919 – The League of Nations holds its first meeting in Paris, chaired by US president Woodrow Wilson.

1931 – New Zealand is struck by an earthquake which kills 216.

1963 – ‘Reminiscing’, Buddy Holly’s posthumous LP, is released to rave reviews, 4 years after the 22-year-old singer and guitarist died in a plane crash.

Buddy Holly

1966 – ‘Luna IX’, a Soviet unmanned spacecraft, achieves the first landing on the moon.

1969 – Yasser Arafat becomes the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Yasser Arafat

1969 – Death of English actor, Boris Karloff, aged 82.

Boris Karloff

1970 – British police seize Andy Warhol’s film, ‘Flesh’, on grounds of obscenity.

1989 – PW Botha quits as South Africa’s ruling party chief.


1793 – Slavery is abolished in all French territories.

1861 – President Abraham Lincoln loses southern states when delegates from 7 of them met in Alabama to draft a separate constitution for what they are calling the Confederate States of America.  The states, which have formally broken ties with Washington in the last 3 weeks, are South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas.

1911 – Rolls Royce commissions their famous figurehead, ‘The Spirit of Ecstasy’, from Charles Sykes.

1925 – Death of Robert Koldewey, the German archaeologist who excavated Babylon.

Robert Koldewey

1928 – Josephine Baker, the black American dancer, performing in Vienna, has drawn angry complaints from Austria’s Nazis, accusing her of public indecency.  It is not the amount of Miss Baker’s skin on view that they find offensive, but its colour.

Josephine Baker

1948 – Ceylon gains independence from Britain.

1976 – An earthquake in Guatemala kills over 22,000.

1983 – Death of Karen Carpenter from anorexia nervosa.

Karen Carpenter

1987 – Death of Liberace, officially of a brain tumour, although the real cause is rumoured to be AIDS.



1782 – Spain captures Minorca from British troops.

1920 – Germany has said it cannot afford to pay its war debts.  The month-old agreement the country signed stated it would pay £10 billion to its former enemies over the next 40 years as reparations for the Great War.  The government’s refusal to pay echoes German popular feelings of “indignation” over the conditions imposed as part of the Peace of Versailles.

1935 – Boxing authorities in New York rule that no fight can exceed 15 rounds.

1945 – General Douglas MacArthur and US troops enter Manila.

1953 – Walt Disney’s ‘Peter Pan’ goes on general release.

1957 – Bill Haley and the Comets arrive to a riotous reception in London.

1958 – Parking meters are introduced in Mayfair to ease the city’s endemic traffic congestion.  The meters were first used in America in 1935.  [The first parking summons was earned by William Marshall in 1896 after leaving his car awkwardly parked on a London street.]

1974 – Patti Hearst, the 19-year-old granddaughter of multi-millionaire William Randolph Hearst, is kidnapped.

Patti Hearst

1989 – Rupert Murdoch launches Sky TV.


1493 – Maximillian I of Germany takes the title Holy Roman Emperor.

1515 – Death of Manutius Aldus, the first publisher of paperbacks and the inventor of italics.

Manutius Aldus

1804 – The first locomotive converted from a steam-hammer power source runs on a line near Merthyr Tydfil, Wales.

1804 – Death of Joseph Priestley, a clergyman who was also the discoverer of oxygen.

Joseph Priestley

1840 – Britain reluctantly annexes New Zealand, primarily for the protection of all concerned, Maoris and settlers.  Britain has done so to forestall French settlement in South Island, and to protect the fierce but unsophisticated Maori tribes from unscrupulous Westerners, namely escaped English convicts from Australia.  But the settlers are refusing to accept the treaty, and the Maoris are doubtful as to whether they can trust the British government.

1865 – Robert E Lee becomes commander of the Confederate Armies.

Robert E Lee

1917 – British women aged over 30 get the vote.

1928 – The arrival of a 25-year-old woman in New York claiming to be the youngest daughter of the murdered Tsar of Russia.  Anastasia Chaikovsky has said she is the only member of the Romanov family to survive.

1952 – Death of King George VI.

King George VI

1958 – 7 members of the Manchester United football team are killed in a plane crash. The team were returning home from Munich via Belgrade when their plane crashed on its second attempt to take off from a snowbound runway.  Other players and officials, including their manager, Matt Busby, are gravely injured.

1983 – Nazi fugitive, Klaus Barbie, known as ‘the Butcher of Lyon’, was charged in Lyon today with crimes against humanity.


1301 – The son of King Edward I becomes the first English Prince of Wales.

1685 – Death of Charles II, the ‘merry monarch’.

Charles II

1845 – A drunken visitor to the British Museum, William Portland, blundered into and smashed the Portland Vase, shattering it into more than 200 pieces.  The vase, dated 25 BC, belonged to the Roman Emperor Augustus.

1886 – George Walker, an English carpenter, struck gold today in the Transvaal while building a cottage for a prospector.

1894 – Death of Adolphe Sax, the Belgian musical instrument maker.

Adolphe Sax

1950 – The powers of the East and West have backed rival factions in the French colony of Vietnam. In response to the Soviet Union granting formal recognition to the provisional government of the communist guerrilla leader Ho Chi Minh, the US and Britain today endorsed the French-backed government of Emperor Bao Dai.

1959 – Death of Daniel Malan, prime minister of South Africa (1948-54), and the architect of apartheid.

Daniel Malan

1964 – The Beatles arrive at Kennedy airport for their first-ever visit to the US, to be greeted by 25,000 fans.

The Beatles arriving in the US

1971 – Switzerland finally allows women to vote.

1986 – Haiti today is marking the end of the 28-year rule of the bloody Duvalier dynasty, when Jean Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier fled the island last night, bound for exile in France.  Though Haiti is one of the world’s poorest countries, Duvalier accumulated a fortune of over £100 million, at the people’s expense, and has taken the money with him.

1989 – A violent storm in Australia has caused updraughts, resulting in a rain of sardines over the town of Ipswich.

1991 – The IRA fired 3 mortar bomb at No.10 Downing Street, but nobody was seriously hurt.