The Sunday Section: This Week In History - May 24-31

This will be the last segment of ‘This Week in History’.  Unfortunately, it takes too much of my time, researching and verifying the facts – I realised that I cannot just assume that simply because these facts are either in books or on the internet, that they are all correct.  I’ve had to go back and correct some of the earlier entries as they’ve been wrong.  So I double-check each fact to make sure they are correct, and that takes time.  I would love to be able to continue because I enjoy finding out obscure bits of information, and learning about people and facts that I thought I knew, only to discover that there’s so much more waiting to be discovered.  

But, thanks to a certain someone not playing ball, there are upcoming court dates and related paperwork to wade through, which means I need to focus my time and energy elsewhere.  I might start this section up again, either later in the year or maybe pick it up again next year … no promises.  I will still be posting, just not the 'History' segment.

Even though the posts don’t generate many comments, they do get loads of page hits, and I hope people have enjoyed dipping into history as much as I have enjoyed putting these posts together.  To wrap things up, this week will include next Sunday to finish off the month of May.  And because it’s the last one, I may well have gone just a tiny little bit overboard … you have been warned ;)

May 24

1830 – ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ is published by a Boston publishing firm.  Of 19th century origin, it was an original poem by Sarah Josepha Hale, and was inspired by a true incident; young Mary Sawyer did indeed keep a pet lamb, which she took to school one day.

Sarah Josepha Hale

1844 – Samuel Morse taps out the first telegraph message – “what hath God wrought” – from the Supreme Court chamber in Washington DC to the B&O Railroad Depot in Baltimore, Maryland.

1854 – Lincoln University, the first black college in the US, is founded.

1856 – John Brown and a band of abolitionist settlers kill 5 settlers north of Pottawatomie Creek in Kansas following the sacking of Lawrence by pro-slavery forces.

1862 – The opening of Westminster Bridge.

Westminster Bridge

1883 – Brooklyn Bridge is opened by President Chester Arthur, and Grover Cleveland, the governor of New York.  It is the first bridge to be built across the East River, linking New York City and Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Bridge 1883

1901 – Deaths of 78 miners in the Caerphilly pit disaster in Wales.

1921 – The Bulhoek Massacre of Israelites in South Africa.  Their leader, Enoch Mgijima, a lay preacher, moved away from the Wesleyan Methodist Church of his upbringing, gained his own following, and called them ‘Israelites’.  Having had numerous visions already, his most significant one came in early 1919, the result of which people started to go to Ntabelanga, his village, to await the Lord’s coming.  Eventually, 3,000 people arrived, which caused serious problems with the authorities – the Israelites were erecting houses on government land without first registering themselves, or paying taxes.  After a year of failed negotiations, Mgijima’s followers and the police clashed.  About 200 Israelites were killed, over 100 wounded, and 141 arrested, including Mgijima.  Sentenced to 6 years hard labour, he served 2, and died in 1929.

Enoch Mgijima

1951 – Racial segregation in Washington DC restaurants are ruled illegal.

1974 – Death of Duke Ellington, aged 75 in New York.

1986 – Margaret Thatcher becomes the first British prime minister to visit Israel.

1999 – Slobodan Milošević is indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which sits in The Hague.

Slobodan Milosevic


1659 – Richard Cromwell resigns as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, having succeeded his father, Oliver Cromwell, who had died 264 days previous.  Richard, unfortunately, lacked his father’s authority.

Richard Cromwell

1720 – The ship ‘Le Grand St Antoine’ reaches Marseille, bringing the plague; it is Europe’s last major plague outbreak, which kills 80,000.

1915 – The Second Battle of Ypres, which marked the first use of gas on the Western Front, ends with losses estimated at 59,000 British troops, 10,000 French, and 35,000 Germans.  The high Allied loss was down to the Germans’ use of chlorine gas.

Ruined market square of Ypres

1935 – At the Big Ten track meet in Ann Arbor, Jesse Owens gives the world a preview of things to come at next year’s Olympic Games in Berlin by setting 3 world records and tying a h in under an hour.  His achievement has been called “the greatest 45 minutes ever in sport”, and has never been equalled.

Jesse Owens

1946 – The Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan (which would become Jordan) gains independence from Britain; Abdullah bin al-Hussein becomes king and rules until his assassination in 1951.

Abdullah I 

1954 – Death of Robert Capa, the Hungarian-born photojournalist, aged 40 in Vietnam.  He covered 5 wars – the Spanish Civil War, the 2nd Sino-Japanese War, WW2 (London, North Africa, Italy, the Battle of Normandy, the liberation of Paris), the Arab-Israeli War, and the 1st Indochina War.  He was one of the founders of ‘Magnum Photos’, the first cooperative agency for worldwide freelance photographers.

Although he had said he was done with war, Capa agreed to accompany a French regiment along with 2 Time-Life journalists.  As they were passing through a dangerous area, Capa left the jeep to walk ahead to photograph the regiment’s advance, but stepped on a landmine.  Despite losing his left leg, and with a serious chest wound, he was still alive, but by the time he arrived at a field hospital, he was dead.  He is buried in New York.

Robert Capa

1977 – The US theatrical release of ‘Star Wars’ (Part IV)

1979 – The US theatrical release of ‘Alien'.


735 – Death of Bede in Northumbria.  He was also known as Saint Bede, or the Venerable Bede.  His most famous work, ‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’ (‘The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) gained him the title ‘The Father of English History’.

Bede translating

1647 – Death of Alse Young, hanged in Hartford, Connecticut, the first person to be executed as a witch in the American Colonies.

1703 – Death of Samuel Pepys, aged 70, in Surrey.

Samuel Pepys

1828 – Kaspar Hauser is discovered wandering the streets of Nuremberg, bearing a letter for a Captain von Weesenig.  First thought to be half-wild, subsequent conversations revealed that he’d been held captive by a stranger for as long as he could remember.  Despite the attention and interest he received, over time people came to doubt his credibility.  In December 1833, he claimed he’d been attacked, which the deep wound in his chest seemed to prove; he died on 17 December 33.    But inconsistencies in his account led to the belief that he’d concocted the story, and stabbed himself in a bid to revive public interest, but had ended up wounding himself more deeply than he’d intended.

Kaspar Hauser statue in Ansbach, Germany

1896 – Coronation of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia.

1913 – Miss Emily Duncan becomes Britain’s first female magistrate when she is sworn in at West Ham.

Emily Duncan

1941 – The German battleship, Bismarck, is sighted by aircraft from HMS Ark Royal, the first ship to be planned and built as an aircraft carrier.

Ark Royal

1987 – Sri Lanka launches Operation Liberation, an offensive against the Tamil rebellion in Jaffra.  By the time it ends on 31 May, over 1,000 will have died, and 2,000 arrested.

1989 – The Danish parliament allows same-sex marriage.


1508 – Death of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, aged 55, as a prisoner of the French.

Ludivico Sforza

1541 – Death of Margaret Pole, the 8th Countess of Salisbury.  Arrested in November 1538, she had initially lost her title and lands.  6 months later, evidence was produced by Thomas Cromwell, supposedly showing her support of Roman Catholicism, and the rule of her son, Reginald, and Henry VIII’s Catholic daughter, Mary.  Coming 6 months after her arrest, the evidence was most likely a fabrication, but she was sentenced to death.

On the morning of her execution, when she was told she to die, she replied that she had not been charged with a crime.  It made no difference.  She was taken to her place of execution within the Tower of London.  Despite her age, 67, she was not going without a fight – after being dragged to the block, she refused to lay her head on it, and was forced down.  Because of her struggles, the inexperienced executioner struck her shoulder instead of her neck.  No more than a “blundering youth”, it took him 10 blows before he finally managed to complete the execution.  Lady Margaret was buried in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower.

1679 – The Habeus Corpus Act is passed, enshrining the ancient writ of habeas corpus, a procedural device to force the courts to examine the lawfulness of a prisoner’s detention, to safeguard individual liberty and prevent unlawful or arbitrary imprisonment.

1703 – St Petersburg is founded by Peter the Great.

1896 – The first major tornado to strike urban America – St. Louis, Missouri – kills 255, and leaves thousands homeless.

1905 – The Battle of Tsushima, a major naval battle fought during the Russo-Japanese War with the Japanese fleet destroying more than half the Russian fleet.  It is naval history’s only decisive sea battle fought by modern steel battleship fleets, and the first naval battle in which the radio played a vital role.

1921 – After 84 years of British control, Afghanistan achieves sovereignty.

1940 – The start of the Dunkirk evacuation, code-named Operation Dynamo (also known as the Miracle of Dunkirk), which ended on h June 1940.  The operation, to evacuate Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, France, was decided upon when large numbers of British, French, and Belgian troops were cut off and surrounded by the German army. 

Dunkirk evacuation

1941 – Having sunk the British battlecruiser HMS Hood, and damaged the battleship Prince of Wales, the German battleship Bismarck was pursued for 2 days by ships and aircraft of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.  Her steering gear crippled by a torpedo bomber attack, she was finally engaged in battle.  Rather than risk her being captured, the first officer ordered the men to abandon ship, instructed the engine room crews to open the watertight doors and prepare the charges.  Two British ships managed to rescue 100 sailors from the sinking ship before a U-boat alarm caused them to abandon the scene, leaving the majority of the 2,200 crew still in the sea.


Admiral John Tovey, responsible for orchestrating the pursuit and destruction of the Bismarck, said, “The Bismarck had put up a most gallant fight against impossible odds worthy of the old days of the Imperial German Navy, and she went down with her colours flying.

Admiral John Tovey

1949 – Death of Robert L. Ripley, aged 55, in New York.  He was an American cartoonist, entrepreneur, and amateur anthropologist, best known for ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!’

Robert Ripley

1951 – Death of Sir Thomas Blamey, aged 67, in Victoria, Australia.  He was an Australian general of both world wars, and the only Australian to gain the rank of field marshal.  He signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on behalf of Australia at Japan’s ceremonial surrender in Tokyo Bay on 2nd September 1945, and later personally accepted the Japanese surrender at Morotai.

General Sir Thomas Blamey

1964 – Death of Jawaharlal Nehru, aged 74, in New Delhi.  Independent India’s first prime minister, he had been tutored by Mahatma Gandhi, and ruled India from its 1947 independence until his death.

Jawaharlal Nehru

1994 – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has returned to Russia after 20 years in exile in the US.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

1995 – Christopher Reeve has been left paralyzed from the neck down after falling from his horse in a riding competition in Virginia.

Christopher Reeve

1997 – A 22-woman British relay expedition has reached the North Pole after a 620-mile trek across shifting pack ice.


1863 – The 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, one of the first official African-American units in the US during the Civil War, leaves Boston.

1900 – A total solar eclipse occurs.

1923 – The Attorney General says it is legal for women to wear trousers anywhere.

1934 – The birth of the Dionne quintuplets, just outside Callander, Ontario, to Elzire, and her husband, Oliva-Edouard.  The 5 sisters were the first quintuplets to survive to adulthood; only 2 are still living.

Dionne quintuplets

1937 – Neville Chamberlain becomes prime minister of Britain.

1959 – A pair of female monkeys – Able, a rhesus monkey, and Baker, a squirrel monkey – are sent into space on a Jupiter missile.  They became the first living creatures to be retrieved from a space mission.  Both successfully withstood forces 38 times the normal pull of gravity, and were weightless for almost 10 minutes.  Although unharmed after their 15-minute space flight, Able died from the effects of the anaesthesia given for the removal of the electrodes that had been implanted; Baker survived her operation.

Able and Baker

1964 – The Palestine Liberation Organisation is founded.

1971 – Death of Audie Murphy, aged 46, in a plane crash in Virginia.  He was the 7th of 12 children in a sharecropping family.  His father abandoned the family, and his mother died when he was a teenager.  Murphy left school in the 5th grade to work and help support the family, and his skill with the hunting rifle helped with food supplies.  His older sister helped him falsify documentation about his birthdate so he would meet the minimum age requirement for enlisting in the military.  Turned down by the Navy and the Marine Corps, he enlisted in the army, and would become one of the most decorated American combat soldiers, receiving every military combat award for valour the US Army had available, including French and Belgian awards for heroism.  He received the Medal of Honor at the age of 19 after single-handedly holding off an entire company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in France in January 1945, then leading a successful counter-attack while wounded and out of ammunition.

After the war, he enjoyed an acting career that would last 21 years.  But the war had taken its toll; he suffered from what would today be diagnosed as PTSD – he slept with a loaded handgun under his pillow, and took sleeping pills.  The plane he was in crashed in conditions of cloud, rain, fog and zero visibility.  He was interred with full military honours at Arlington National Cemetery.

Audie Murphy

1987 – The USS Monitor, a Civil War warship, has been discovered by a deep sea robot.

Wreck of the USS Monitor


1453 – The Fall of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, captured by an invading army of the Ottoman Empire commanded by their 21-year-old sultan Mehmed II.  The capture of the city ended a 7-week siege that had begun on h April.

1500 – Death of Bartolomeu Dias, aged 48 or 49, off the Cape of Good Hope.  The Portuguese explorer was one of the captains of the second Indian expedition, headed by Pedro Álvares Cabral.  Four of the ships, including Dias', ran into a huge storm off the Cape of Good Hope, and were lost.

Bartolomeu Dias

1727 – Peter II becomes Tsar of Russia aged 11, until his death in 1730, aged 14, from smallpox.

Peter II

1829 – Death of Humphry Davy, aged 50, in Geneva.  A chemist and inventor, he invented the Davy Lamp for use in coal mines to reduce the danger of explosions from the presence of methane and other flammable gasses.

Sir Humphry Davy

1912 – 15 young women are fired by Curtis Publishing for dancing the ‘Turkey Trot’ during their lunch break.

1919 – Charles Strite files a patent for the pop-up toaster.  He was a master mechanic in a plant in Minnesota during WW1, and decided something needed to be done about the burnt toast that was served in the company cafeteria.  To do away with the need for constant human attention, Strite incorporated springs and a variable timer, and the pop-up toaster was born.

Charles Strite

1953 – Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, part of the 9th British Expedition to Everest, are the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

1973 – Death of P. Ramlee, aged 44, from a heart attack, in Kuala Lumpur.  The talented Malaysian was not only an actor, he was also a director, singer and songwriter, composer and producer.

P Ramlee

1979 – Death of Mary Pickford, aged 87, in California.

Mary Pickford

1985 – Stephen Charles ‘Steve’ Fonyo Jr., who lost his left leg to cancer at the age of 23, has completed a cross-Canada marathon, which he started on 31st March 1984, aged 18.

Steve Fonyo

1999 – The Space Shuttle Discovery has become the first shuttle to dock with the International Space Station.

Launch of Discovery


1431 – Death of Joan of Arc, aged 19.  Burned at the stake, her remains were cast into the river Seine.

1593 – Death of Christopher Marlowe, aged 29, in Deptford.  He was stabbed to death by Ingram Frizer in the home of Eleanor Bull; the circumstances surrounding his death remain a mystery.

Christopher Marlowe

1640 – Death of Peter Paul Rubens, aged 62, in Antwerp.

Peter Paul Rubens

1806 – Andrew Jackson has killed Charles Dickinson in a duel after Dickinson had accused Jackson of cheating on a horse bet before insulting Jackson’s wife, Rachel.  Both men were rival horse-breeders, and their mutual hatred was a long-standing one.  Jackson, having already served in Tennessee’s Senate, and practicing law at the time, had been described as argumentative, violent and fond of duelling.

At the start of the duel, Dickinson drew first blood when his bullet hit Jackson in the chest, next to his heart.  Putting his hand over the wound, Jackson stayed standing long enough to fire his gun.  Dickinson’s second claimed that Jackson’s shot misfired.  According to the etiquette of duelling, that would have signalled the end of the duel.  But Jackson re-cocked his gun and fired again, killing his opponent.  Jackson was not prosecuted for murder, neither did the duel affect his 1829 presidential campaign.  He recovered from his wound but it caused him chronic pain for the rest of his life.

1842 – John Francis has attempted to assassinate Queen Victoria for the second time.  His first attempt had been the day before, when the Queen and Prince Albert had made the short trip from Buckingham Palace to the chapel at St James Palace.  After pointing his pistol at the carriage, he had hesitated then fled but was seen by 3 people, including Albert.  The royal couple decided to ride out today in a bid to flush him out.  Half an hour before their return, PC William Trounce spotted Francis, but instead of seizing the would-be assassin as the carriage approached, Trounce was torn between his duty to protect his monarch and his desire to show her due respect.  Choosing loyalty, he turned to salute, and was deafened as Francis fired at the queen at close range.  Luckily for Trounce, Francis was unsuccessful.

John Francis

1896 – The Khodynka Tragedy, a human stampede that occurred on Khodynka Field in Moscow during the festivities following the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II.  The previous night, rumours had spread that there would be gifts of bread rolls, sausages, pretzels, gingerbread, and commemorative cups.  By the morning, several thousand people had gathered on the field.  More rumours filtered through the crowd that there wasn’t enough food, and that each cup contained a gold coin.  The police force, vastly outnumbered, were unable to maintain order.  In the resultant crush, and panic to flee the scene, over 1,300 people were trampled to death, with about the same number injured.  Despite this, the festivities continued, such was the vastness of the field, with many people remaining oblivious to the tragedy.

1948 – A dike along the flooded Columbia River has broken.  Vanport, Oregon has been destroyed, with 15 people dead and tens of thousands left homeless.

1960 – Death of Boris Pasternak, aged 70, in Russia.  The Russian poet and novelist, best known for his novel, ‘Doctor Zhivago’, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958.

Boris Pasternak


1279BC – Ramesses II becomes pharaoh of Ancient Egypt.

Ramesses II

1495 – Death of Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, aged 80, at Berkhamstead Castle.  She was mother of 2 kings, Edward IV and Richard III.

Cecily Neville

1578 – Martin Frobisher sails from Harwich to Frobisher Bay in Canada on his third expedition.  He was the first European to visit the area during his search for the Northwest Passage in 1576, and the bay is named for him.  He eventually shipped ore to Britain in July, which proved to be worthless fool’s gold; it was used as road metal in London.

Sir Martin Frobisher

1669 – Samuel Pepys records the last event in his diary, because of poor eyesight.

1884 – Dr John Harvey Kellogg files for a patent for “flaked cereal and process of preparing same”.

1902 – The Treaty of Vereeniging, which ended the Second Boer War, with the Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State agreeing to come under the sovereignty of the British Crown.

1910 – Death of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman physician, aged 89, in Hastings.

1916 – Battle of Jutland, a naval battle fought near the coast of Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula, by the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet, under the command of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, against the German High Seas Fleet, commanded by Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer.  It was the largest naval battle, and the only full-scale clash of battleships in the war; and the third-ever battle between steel battleships.  As the German naval force was insufficient to openly engage the entire British fleet, it was the High Seas Fleet’s objective to lure, trap and destroy a portion of the Grand Fleet.  It was part of a larger strategy to break the British blockade of Germany, and to allow German mercantile shipping to operate.  The Royal Navy’s strategy was to engage and destroy the High Seas Fleet; failing that, to keep the German fleet contained and away from Britain’s shipping lanes.  At the end of the battle, 14 British ships and 11 German ships had been sunk, with a total loss of life of over 9,000 men; the British losses stood at over 6,700, and the Germans at just over 3,000.  There was no decisive outcome; both the Grand Fleet and the High Seas Fleet had failed to secure their respective objectives.

1955 – Britain proclaims an emergency crisis due to a rail strike.

1968 – James ‘Jimmy’ Stewart has retired from the US Air Force after 27 years of service.  He was drafted into the army in 1940, rejected for being underweight, and was subsequently accepted by the Army Air Corps.  Starting with the rank of private, he eventually flew combat operations over Nazi-occupied Europe.  He was twice awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross; the Air Medal three times; and the Croix de Guerre from France.  He was later promoted to Major General.

James Stewart receiving Croix de Guerre 1944

1983 – Death of William Harrison ‘Jack’ Dempsey, heavyweight boxing champion and 1920s cultural icon, aged 87, in New York.

Jack Dempsey