The Sunday Section: This Week in History - April 12-18

April 12

1606 – The Union Jack becomes England’s official flag, following James VI of Scotland inheriting the English and Irish thrones in 1603 as James I, uniting the crowns of England, Scotland and Ireland.  The present design follows the union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801.

Union Jack of 1606

1817 – Death of the French astronomer, Charles Messier, who made a list of nebulae known as the Messier catalogue.

Charles Messier

1861 – Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbour faces the first shots of the Civil War.  Following South Carolina’s secession from the Union, Major Robert Anderson occupied the unfinished fort in December 1860.  On learning of President Lincoln’s plans to resupply the fort, Confederate General PGT Beauregard fired on the fort.  The subsequent exchange of artillery fire would last about 34 hours and end with Anderson and his men, numbering about 80, surrendering the fort the next day.

'Battle of Fort Sumter' ~ Currier and Ives

1945 – Death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, aged 63, after suffering a stroke.  No stranger to adversity, Roosevelt was left crippled by poliomyelitis at the age of 39 after 11 years in the Senate.  Despite being forced into temporary retirement, he went on to serve his country as president from 1933 until his death.

Franklin Roosevelt (April 11 1945)

1954 – Bill Haley and the Comets record ‘Rock Around the Clock’.

1961 – Major Yuri Gagarin has become the first man in space.  It took him 108 minutes to complete the single orbit of the earth in the ‘Vostok-1’.


1975 – Death of Josephine Baker, aged 68.  Born in Missouri, she later became a French citizen, and was fluent in both English and French.  After France declared war on Germany, she was recruited by French military intelligence.  Her task was to collect what information she could from officials she met at parties.  Her fame and charm enabled her to mingle freely with German officers, Japanese officials, Italian bureaucrats, gathering information without arousing suspicion.  When the Germans invaded France, she left Paris for her home in the south of France, and continued to help the Free French effort.  After the war, she was awarded the Croix de Guerre, the Médaille de la Résistance, and was made a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur by Charles de Gaulle.

Josephine Baker in uniform

1981 – Death of Joe Louis, the US and world heavyweight boxing champion, aged 66.

1981 – The Columbia space vehicle is launched today from Kennedy Space Centre.  The reusable ‘space shuttle’ is launched in the usual way, but on re-entry, it is designed to land on a runway like a conventional aircraft.

Launch of Columbia

1989 – Death of Sugar Ray Robinson, welterweight and middleweight boxing champion, aged 67.


1742 – ‘Messiah’, the new choral work by George Frideric Handel, has had a triumphant premiere in Dublin.  Mr Handel conducted the performance himself.

1829 – The House of Commons passes the Catholic Emancipation Act.

1882 – The anti-Semitic League is founded in Prussia.

1912 – The Royal Flying Corps is founded by George V.

1960 – In the 3rd Grammy Awards, Ray Charles wins Best Male Vocalist for ‘Georgia on my Mind’, and Ella Fitzgerald wins Best Female Vocalist for ‘Mack the Knife’.

Ray Charles

Ella Fitzgerald

1980 – Severiano Ballesteros becomes, not only the first European to win the US Masters, but also the youngest ever champion at 23.

Severiano Ballesteros (1980)

1990 – After 50 years of deception, the Soviets have finally admitted they were responsible for the Katyn massacre.  In 1943, the German army discovered mass graves of over 4,000 Polish officers in Katyn Forest, near Smolensk in Russia.  The Germans claimed the Russian secret police were responsible, but the Russians retaliated that the massacre was carried out by the Germans.  Because Russia was considered an ally during the war, the Allied forces discounted Germany’s accusation.  It was only during the Cold War that the Russian version began to be questioned.  After Germany attacked Poland in September 1939, Russia also invaded Poland; Polish officers and senior NCOs were captured by the Red Army and deported to Russia.  Apart from military officers, those captured included members of the police, officials of state, and intellectuals.  Stalin approved the execution proposal, and the number of victims is estimated at about 22,000.

Katyn massacre (


1471 – The Yorkists, led by Edward IV, defeat the Lancastrians, led by Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, in the Battle of Barnet; Neville is killed in battle.

Battle of Barnet - Edward IV on left, wearing circlet

1759 – Death of George Frideric Handel, aged 74.

George Frideric Handel ~ Balthasar Denner

1860 – The Pony Express delivers mail for the first time.  The firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell, wanting a mail contract from the government, set out to prove that it was possible to have a fast-mail delivery system overland.  Under the name of The Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company, the firm established the Pony Express mail service.  It was announced that a rider would leave St. Joseph, Missouri (the eastern terminus) and Sacramento (the western terminus) on 3rd April, and deliver the mail in a record 10 days.  Johnny Fry was the first rider who left St. Joseph, and Harry Roff, from Sacramento.  Riders arrived in both, St. Joseph and Sacramento, with the mail, 10 days later.

1865 – President Abraham Lincoln has been shot in the back of the head at point-blank range.  The President and Mrs Lincoln were at a performance of ‘Our American Cousin’.  His assailant, John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate fanatic, ran out of the theatre, jumped on a horse and galloped away.  A manhunt has been launched to bring him to justice.

1903 – Dr Harry Plotz has discovered the typhus vaccine.

Dr Harry Plotz

1925 – Death of John Singer Sargent, aged 69.

John Singer Sargent (self-portrait)

1931 – Britain gets its first Highway Code.

1935 – The ‘Black Sunday’ dust storm, one of the worst dust storms to hit the plains states.  Although most severe in the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles, the surrounding areas also felt the effects.  Cattle farming, sheep ranching, poor soil management, and over-farming have left the soil dehydrated.  Also the lack of rainfall has dried out the top soil in the farming regions, leaving it unanchored and easily whipped into the air by wind.  “People caught in their own yards grope for the doorstep.  Cars come to a standstill, for no light in the world can penetrate that swirling murk … The nightmare is deepest during the storms.  But on the occasional bright day and the usual gray day we cannot shake from it.  We live with the dust, eat it, sleep with it, watch it strip us of possessions and the hope of possessions.” – Avis D. Carlson.

Black Sunday dust storm

1951 – Death of Ernest Bevin, aged 70.

Ernest Bevin

1956 – The first videotape is demonstrated in Chicago.

1986 – Death of Simone de Beauvoir, aged 78.

Simone de Beauvoir


1755 – Dr Samuel Johnson publishes his ‘Dictionary’.

Dr Samuel Johnson

1764 – Death of Madame de Pompadour, aged 42.  She was the powerful mistress of King Louis XVI of France.

Madame de Pompadour ~ Maurice Quentin de La Tour

1793 – The Bank of England issues the first £5 notes.

1865 – Following the death of Abraham Lincoln, aged 56, nine hours after he’d been shot, Andrew Johnson is sworn in as president.

Andrew Johnson

1912 – The ‘Titanic’ has sunk after hitting an iceberg shortly before midnight; travelling at near-maximum speed, she was unable to turn in time.  The glancing blow was enough to damage 5 of her 16 watertight compartments, causing almost immediate flooding.  A combination of lack of lifeboats, and poor management resulted in the deaths of over 1,500 people.

1966 – ‘Time’ magazine has declared London the city of the decade.

1986 – The US has bombed the presidential palace of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in reprisal for Libya’s bombing of the ‘La Belle’ nightclub in West Berlin on 5th April, which killed 3 and injured over 200.  Forewarned by a telephone call, Gaddafi and his family fled the palace minutes before the bombing commenced.

1989 – The worst stadium-related disaster in British history, the Hillsborough disaster, has resulted in the deaths of 96 people with over 760 injured.  Fans of Liverpool and Nottingham Forest were at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield for the FA Cup semi-final match.  In an attempt to ease the dangerous overcrowding outside the ground, Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield made what would be a disastrous decision to open an exit gate.  This gate led directly to 2 already overcrowded enclosures.  Whereas in previous years, the tunnel would have been closed off by police once the 2 enclosures were full, this time the tunnel was left unmanned.  As more and more fans piled in, supporters were being crushed.  Moments after kick-off, a crush barrier broke, and fans began to fall on top off one another, and the game was stopped.

Hillsborough memorial at the stadium

1990 – Death of Greta Garbo, aged 84, in New York after almost half a century of self-imposed isolation.

Greta Garbo (1932)


1515 – Roman Catholic mass is banned in Zurich following the Lutheran reformation.

1746 – Battle of Culloden Moor, the last pitched battle to be fought on British soil, was fought between the Jacobite forces of Charles Edward Stuart, known as ‘Bonny Prince Charlie’, and loyalist troops under the Duke of Cumberland.  The battle was quick and bloody, lasting barely an hour.  No match for the Duke’s troops, the Jacobites were routed and driven from the field, ending any hope of ousting the House of Hanover, and restoring the House of Stuart to the British throne. 

1797 – British naval personnel mutiny at Spithead, near Portsmouth, over poor conditions and low pay.

1828 – Death of Francisco de Goya, aged 82.  Deafness changed the nature of his work, which was usually macabre and menacing.

Francisco de Goya.jpg

Francisco de Goya

1850 – Death of Madame Marie Tussaud, aged 88.  When the French Revolution broke out, she was art tutor to Louis XVI’s sister, Élisabeth.  After a period of imprisonment, she was given the unpleasant task of making death masks from heads freshly severed by the guillotine, including Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette, and Robespierre.  In 1802, she left Paris for London with one of her 2 sons to present her collection of portraits.  Because of the Napoleonic Wars, she was unable to return to France; instead she toured Britain with her collection.  After her other son joined her, she set up a permanent exhibition in Baker Street.

Madame Tussaud

1896 – Gold is discovered in the Yukon.

1917 – Vladimir Lenin returns to Russia after 3 years of exile in Zurich.

1953 – The royal yacht ‘Britannia’ is launched.


1990 – Nelson Mandela was at a packed Wembley stadium to publicly thank the world for its support during his 26-year imprisonment.  50 top British, American and African stars were on hand to pay him tribute and entertain the people.


1421 – Over 100,000 people are drowned at Dort in Holland when the sea breaks through the dikes.

1790 – Death of Benjamin Franklin, aged 84.

"In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes" - Benjamin Franklin

1960 – Death of Eddie Cochran, aged 21.  He’d been touring in England, and was in the back seat of a speeding taxi the day before, which blew a tyre; the driver lost control and crashed into a lamp post.

Eddie Cochran

1961 – The Bay of Pigs invasion, carried out by the CIA-sponsored Brigade 2506, and with the consent of President John Kennedy, was intended to overthrow the Communist government of Fidel Castro.  The invading force was defeated within 3 days by Cuba’s armed forces, under Castro’s direct command.  The failed invasion only served to reinforce Castro’s position, and strengthen his ties with the USSR.

1964 – The Rolling Stones release their first LP, ‘The Rolling Stones’.

1970 – Johnny Cash performs for President Richard Nixon in the White House.

Johnny Cash

1980 – Rhodesia becomes independent Zimbabwe.

1984 – Death of Yvonne Fletcher, aged 25, a police officer, when a gunman inside the Libyan embassy in London opened fire on a peaceful demonstration in St James’ Square.

Yvonne Fletcher


1689 – Death of George Jeffreys.  Known as ‘The Hanging Judge’, he rose to the position of Lord Chancellor during the reign of James II.

George Jeffreys

1775 – Paul Revere rides from Charleston to Lexington to warn militiamen of the British advance.  Revere was employed as an express rider by the Boston Committee of Correspondence.  He was charged with riding to Lexington, Massachusetts, to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock of advancing British troops who were on their way to arrest the 2 men.

Paul Revere's ride

1791 – William Wilberforce’s parliamentary campaign to abolish the slave trade has been defeated in the House of Commons.

1906 – San Francisco is hit by a violent earthquake at 05:12.  The fires that broke out lasted for several days.  Over 80% of the city was destroyed, and over 3,000 people died, although the final number was never confirmed as some deaths, like those in Chinatown, were ignored and not reported.

San Francisco 1906 - photo taken by Arnold Genthe

1934 – The first laundrette, JF Cantrell’s ‘Washateria’, opens in Fort Worth, Texas.

1949 – The Republic of Ireland Act comes into operation.

1955 – Death of Albert Einstein, aged 76, at Princeton Hospital; he passed in his sleep.  He renounced his German citizenship when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, and went to America.

Albert Einstein

1968 – An American tycoon has bought London Bridge for £1million, confusing it with Tower Bridge.

London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona