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

The Sunday Section: This Week in History - May 17-23

May 17

1590 – Anne of Denmark becomes Queen consort of Scotland, England, and Ireland at the age of 15 following her marriage to James VI and I in 1589.

Anne of Denmark

1630 – Niccoló Zucchi, an Italian Jesuit, astronomer and physicist may have been the first to see the belts on Jupiter.

Niccoló Zucchi

1642 – Montreal is founded by French settlers who name it Ville-Marie de Montréal.

1727 – Death of Catherine I, Empress of Russia, aged 43, in St Petersburg.

Catherine I

1792 – Twenty-four New York merchants sign an agreement, the culmination of a secret meeting they had had 2 months earlier to discuss ways to bring order to the securities business.  The Buttonwood Agreement, named after their traditional meeting place, a buttonwood tree, calls for the signers to trade securities only among themselves.  This would become the New York Stock Exchange.

1881 – Frederick Douglass, a former slave who became known as a social reformer, abolitionist orator, writer and statesman, is appointed recorder of deeds for Washington DC.  After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement, known for his dazzling oratory.  Many Northerners found it difficult to believe that he had been a slave.  He was proof against slaveholders’ arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.  Douglass was a firm believer in the equality of all people.

Frederick Douglass

"I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."

1884 – Alaska becomes a US territory.

1899 – The foundation stone for the Victoria and Albert Museum is laid by Queen Victoria.

1974 – Three bombs have exploded in Dublin during rush house, and a 4th in Monaghan 90 minutes later.  33 civilians are killed, including a full-term unborn child, and almost 300 are injured.  Although most of the victims were young women, the ages of the dead ranged from 5 months to 80 years.  The bombings were clearly co-ordinated, yet it wasn’t until 1993 that the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) claimed responsibility.  No one has been convicted.

Dublin and Monaghan Bombings - car bomb at South Leinster Street, Dublin

1980 – Miami is engulfed in race riots.  By the time order is restored, 18 people are dead, 350 are injured, including children, and 600 are arrested.  Property damage is estimated to be over $100 million.  The riots were sparked by the acquittal of police officers who had been charged with the brutal beating of Arthur McDuffie, which resulted in his death.  McDuffie, an insurance salesman and ex-Marine who happened to be black, had been pulled over for speeding on his bike.  Whether the police were stressed with the ever-increasing crime in the area, or for whatever unknown reason, they surrounded McDuffie and began to beat him, holding him down and repeatedly hitting him with batons and flashlights.  His skull was cracked in half, he was taken to hospital where he slipped into a coma and died 4 days later.  The officers claimed that McDuffie had sustained his injuries after falling off his bike.

Arthur McDuffie

1990 – The World Health Organisation takes homosexuality off its list of mental illnesses.


1803 – The uneasy truce created by the Treaty of Amiens ends after only 1 year when Britain declares war on France.  The British were angered by Napoleon’s restructuring of the international system in Western Europe, especially with, what they saw as, his meddling in Switzerland, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.

1897 – ‘Dracula’, a novel by Bram Stoker, is published.

1944 – The 2nd Polish Corps capture Monte Cassino in their second attack which started the day before.  They were under constant artillery and mortar fire from the strongly fortified German positions, and had little natural cover for protection.  The fierce fighting also included hand-to-hand combat.  With their supply lines threatened, the Germans withdrew and the Poles took Monte Cassino, opening the road to Rome.

2nd Polish Corps at the Battle of Monte Cassino May 1944

1969 – The launch of Apollo 10.  It was the first flight of a complete, crewed Apollo craft to operate around the moon.  It also transmitted images back to Earth.

Apollo 10 launch

1973 – Death of Jeannette Rankin, aged 92, in California.  She was the first woman to be elected to Congress.  A lifelong pacifist, she was among the 56 members of Congress who voted against entry into World War I in 1917, and was the only member to vote against declaring war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbour.

Jeannette Rankin

1980 – Mount St Helens erupts resulting in the deaths of 57 people.  Hundreds of square miles are destroyed in over a billion US$ in damage, and thousands of game animals are killed.  The mountain is left with a crater on its north side.

Mount St Helens

1994 – Israel withdraws from the Gaza Strip.

1995 – Death of Alexander Gudonov, Russian dancer and actor, aged 45, in California.

Alexander Gudonov in 'Witness'

1995 – Death of Elizabeth Montgomery, aged 62, in California.

Elizabeth Montgomery


1536 – Death of Anne Boleyn, beheaded at the Tower of London.

1643 – Delegates from 4 New England colonies – Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Harbour – meet in Boston to form the United Colonies of New England.

1780 – In what came to be known as the ‘Dark Day’, near-total darkness descends on much of New England about midday.

1845 – HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, with a combined crew of 133, set out from England to find the Northwest Passage, a sea route from the Western Atlantic to the Eastern Pacific which would allow European merchants a quicker, easier access to the Orient without having to sail around South Africa or the Americas.  The expedition was led by Sir John Franklin, an experienced explorer who had already led 2 land expeditions to find the Passage.  The expedition was expected to last 3 years, but after a sighting by 2 whaling ships in July, both ships and their crew were never seen again, despite search-and-rescue missions.

1864 – Death of Nathaniel Hawthorne, aged 59, in New Hampshire.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

1884 – The premiere of the official Ringling Brothers travelling circus in Wisconsin.

1898 – Death of William Ewart Gladstone, aged 88, in Wales.  He not only served as prime minister 4 times, he was also the Chancellor of the Exchequer 4 times, and was the oldest prime minister, resigning for the final time when he was 84.

William Ewart Gladstone

1900 – Opening of the Simplon Tunnel, linking Switzerland and Italy.  At the time, it was the world’s longest tunnel.

1907 – Death of Benjamin Baker, aged 67, in Berkshire.  An English engineer, he helped develop London’s underground railway with Sir John Fowler, but is best known for his work on the Forth Bridge.  He later helped design and build the Aswan Dam.

Benjamin Baker

1910 – For the first time, Halley’s Comet is photographed as it passes by Earth.  The Earth actually passes through the tail of the comet, causing near-panic.

1930 – White women win voting rights in South Africa.

1935 – Death of T.E. Lawrence, aged 46, in a motorcycle accident in Wareham, Dorset.  6 days earlier, he’d been riding his motorcycle close to his cottage, Clouds Hill; a dip in the road obstructed his view of 2 boys on their bicycles.  He swerved to avoid them, lost control and was thrown over the handlebars.

T.E. Lawrence

Hugh Cairns, the neurosurgeon who attended Lawrence, later began a study of the unnecessary loss of life by motorcycle dispatch riders through head injuries.  His research led to the use of crash helmets by motorcyclists.

Hugh Cairns

1967 – The Soviet Union ratifies an agreement banning nuclear weapons from outer space.  The Unites States, Great Britain, and several other nations had already signed and/or ratified the Outer Space Treaty.

1971 – USSR launches an unmanned space probe, Mars 2, as part of their Mars programme.  The descent module malfunctioned, and the probe crashed, making it the first man-made object to crash on Mars.

1994 – Death of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, aged 64, in Manhattan.

Jacqueline Onassis


1217 – The Second Battle of Lincoln, fought at Lincoln Castle, during the First Barons’ War, between the forces of the future Louis VIII of France and Henry III.  A relief force under the command of William Marshal attacked Louis’ forces, and the Comte du Perche, commanding the French troops, was killed.  Louis was then expelled from his base in the southeast of England.  The citizens of Lincoln had been loyal to Louis, so Henry’s forces sacked the city; because of this, the battle is also known as ‘Lincoln Fair’.

1310 – For the first time, shoes were made for left and right feet.

1471 – Death of Henry VI, aged 49, at the Tower of London.

1498 – Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer, arrives at Calicut in India, the first European to reach India by sea.

Vasco da Gama

1506 – Death of Christopher Columbus, aged about 54, in Spain.

1840 – York Minster is badly damaged by fire.

York Minster fire

1873 – Jacob Davis, a tailor in Reno, Nevada, approaches Levi Strauss in the hopes that the latter will secure the necessary patents for Davis’ invention – canvas pants with copper rivets to reinforce the stress points.  In exchange for his idea, Strauss made Davis his production manager.  When Strauss switched from using canvas to heavyweight blue denim, the now-legendary ‘blue jeans’ were born.

Jacob Davis (L) and Levi Strauss

1916 – A tornado hits the town of Codell in Kansas.  On the same date in 1917 and 1918, Codell is also hit by tornados, with the last being the most destructive; the town never fully recovered after that.

1942 – For the first time, the US Navy permits black recruits to serve.

1956 – The US conducts the first airborne test of an improved hydrogen bomb, dropping it from a plane over the island of Namu in the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.  The successful test proved hydrogen bombs to be viable airborne weapons, and the arms race took another leap forward.

1990 – The Hubble Space Telescope sends the first photographs from space.

Hubble Space Telescope

Hubble's first image

1996 – Death of Jon Pertwee, aged 76, in Connecticut.

Jon Pertwee


1420 – Following the English victory at Agincourt, the Treaty of Troyes is signed, stating that Henry V and his heirs, through his marriage to Katherine de Valois, would inherit the throne of France upon the death of her father, Charles VI of France.

1471 – Edward IV enters London after his victory at the Battle of Tewkesbury.

1804 – The Lewis and Clark Expedition begins.

1819 – The first bicycles, or ‘swift walkers’, in America are introduced in New York.

1881 – The American Red Cross is established by Clara Barton.  A teacher, she’d also been a hospital nurse in the Civil War.  It was during a trip to Geneva in 1869 that she was introduced to the Red Cross, and was later asked to be the American representative.

Clara Barton

1916 – British Summer Time is introduced, established by the Summer Time Act 1916.

1919 – The US House of Representatives passes an amendment allowing women to vote.

1927 – Charles Lindbergh, in his plane, the ‘Spirit of St Louis’, lands at Le Bourget Airport in Paris 33.5 hours after leaving Roosevelt Airport in New York.  He had completed the first solo crossing of the Atlantic.  The challenges Lindbergh and the ‘Spirit’ faced included, skimming over storm clouds as high as 10,000ft, wave tops as low as 10ft; fighting ice; flying blind through fog for hours; and navigating only by the stars, and then only when they were visible, and dead reckoning before landing at 22:22.  The airfield was not marked on his map; all he knew was that it was about 7 miles NE of Paris.  At first he thought the airfield was a large industrial complex because of the bright lights spreading out in all directions.  In fact, the lights were the headlights of thousands of cars driven by excited spectators caught in “the largest traffic jam in Parisian history”.

Charles Lindbergh and the 'Spirit of St Louis'

1946 – Death of Louis Alexander Slotin, aged 35, at Los Alamos National Laboratory.  He was a Canadian physicist and chemist who worked on the Manhattan Project, a research and development project that produced the first atomic bombs during World War II.  9 days earlier, he had accidentally started a fission reaction, which released a burst of hard radiation.  He received a lethal dose of radiation and died of acute radiation syndrome.  The accident ended all hands-on critical assembly work at Los Alamos.

Louis Slotin

1991 – Death of Rajiv Gandhi, prime minister of India, aged 46.  He was assassinated while on the campaign trail.  A woman approached, greeted him and detonated a belt laden with explosives tucked under her clothing.  The explosion killed Gandhi, his assassin, and at least 25 other people.  The assassination was caught on film in the camera of a local photographer; he died in the blast but his camera was undamaged. 

Rajiv Gandhi

1998 – Indonesia’s second president, Suharto, has resigned after ruling for 31 years, following the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, which hit Indonesia the hardest.  Seen as the source of the country’s mounting economic and political crises, calls for his resignation grew following the killing of 4 demonstrators by security forces.  The rioting and looting that followed resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 people, and the destruction of countless buildings.

Suharto reading his address of resignation


1455 – Death of Henry Percy, the 2nd Earl of Northumberland, aged 62, at the First Battle of St Albans, the opening battle in the War of the Roses.  His father was Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, and his grandfather, also called Henry Percy, was the first Earl of Northumberland.  Both men initially supported Henry Bolingbroke (who would become Henry IV) against Richard II, but then grew disillusioned and rebelled against the new regime.  ‘Hotspur’ was killed by the future Henry V at Shrewsbury in 1403, and young Henry Percy was brought up by his grandfather who’d been pardoned.  After subsequent political hardships, Henry was finally allowed to take the title of ‘2nd Earl of Northumberland’ by Henry V, who realised it was in his best interests to have the Northumberland family on his side.

Henry Percy was travelling with the king, Henry VI, and the Duke of Somerset to a council in Leicester when they were intercepted by Richard, Duke of York, and the Neville brothers, including Richard, Duke of Salisbury.  The battle was a total victory for the Yorkists, with the king captured, and Somerset and Northumberland killed.  A contemporary chronicler suggested that the true purpose of the battle had been to settle personal scores, for once York and Salisbury had killed Somerset and Northumberland respectively, the battle was over; modern-day historians support this view.

1802 – Death of Martha Washington, aged 70, in Virginia.  The first ‘First Lady’, she was married at age 18 to Daniel Custis, a rich planter 2 decades her senior.  When he died, she was left a wealthy widow at 25, with independent control of her inheritance; she capably ran the 5 plantations he’d left her.  They’d had 4 children, 2 of whom survived into young adulthood.  She married George Washington, also a wealthy landowner, when they were both 27.  They did not have children, but raised her 2 children together.

Martha Washington

1849 – Abraham Lincoln received a patent for a device to lift a boat over shoals and obstructions; he is the only US president to be granted a patent.

1885 – Death of Victor Hugo, aged 83, in Paris.

Victor Hugo

1892 – Dr Washington Sheffield invents the toothpaste tube.

Washington Sheffield

1897 – The (original) Blackwater Tunnel under the River Thames in east London is opened by the Prince of Wales.

1906 – The Wright brothers patent their method of controlling a glider, which incorporates the simultaneous use of roll control (with wing-warping) and yaw control (with a rear rudder).

1933 – The Loch Ness monsters is, for the first time, reportedly sighted by John Mackay.

1946 – A WAC Corporal rocket, fired from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, has reached 50miles, the first US-designed rocket to reach the edge of space, according to the US definition of the edge of space at the time.

1962 –Continental Airlines Flight 11, en route from Chicago to Kansas City, has exploded near Centerville, Iowa.  The Boeing 707 crashed in a clover field, killing all 45 crew and passengers.  During the subsequent investigation, FBI agents discovered that one of the passengers, Thomas Doty, a married man with a 5-year-old daughter, had purchased a $150,000 life insurance policy, in addition to another $150,000 in insurance and death benefits.  He’d been arrested for armed robbery and was waiting on the preliminary hearing.  The agents established that he had purchased 6 sticks of dynamite, which he detonated in the lavatory of the plane, hoping that his wife and daughter would then be able to collect the $300,000 of life insurance.  But as Doty’s death was ruled a suicide, the policy was voided and his wife was only able to get a $3 refund.

1990 – Death of Rocky Graziano, aged 71, in New York.

1998 – A federal judge has ruled that US Secret Service agents can be compelled to testify before a grand jury in the Lewinsky scandal, concerning the sexual relationship between President Bill Clinton, and 22-year-old White House employee, Monica Lewinsky.

Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton at the White House, 1995


1430 – The capture of Joan of Arc.  In an attempt to alleviate the Siege of Compiégne, Joan of Arc planned a surprise assault against the attacking Burgundians, with the assistance of Compiégne’s captain, Guillaume de Flavy.  Unfortunately, the city gate was closed before all the French defenders could return.  The reason for this is still unclear – it could have been done to prevent any Burgundians entering the city, or it could have been an act of betrayal by de Flavy.  The Burgundian scholar and poet, Georges Chastellain, described Joan of Arc’s final moments as leader of the French forces – “Then the Maid [Joan of Arc], surpassing the nature of a woman, took on a great force, and took much pain to save her company from defeat, remaining behind as the leader and as the bravest of the troop.  But there fortune permitted for the end of her glory and for the last time that she would ever carry arms.  An archer, a rough and very dour man, full of much spite because a woman, who so much had been spoken about, should have defeated so many brave men, as she had done, grabbed the edge of her cloth-of-gold doublet, and threw her from her horse flat to the ground.

1568 – The Netherlands declare their independence from Spain.

1660 – Charles II returns from exile, sailing from Scheveningen in the Netherlands to England.  He had been living in The Hague since 1648, the home of his sister, Mary, and her husband, William II, Prince of Orange.

1701 – Death of Captain William Kidd, hanged in London after being convicted of piracy, and of the murder of William Moore.  He had turned from a buccaneer into a privateer captain in British service, and was sent to pillage French settlements in the West Indies.  In 1696, he had set off from London and, about a year later, reached Madagascar.  He then thought it would be profitable to turn pirate, he set about capturing several merchant ships.  His crew, however, were on the verge of mutiny, and in a fit of rage, Kidd struck the ship’s gunner, William Moore, with an iron-bound bucket, fracturing Moore’s skull; he died within 24 hours.  Kidd then discovered the government had proclaimed him a pirate, and he sailed for Boston to plead his innocence to the British governor there.  But he was arrested and sent back to England, where he was tried for the murder of Moore, and for piracy.  After he was hanged, his body was gibbetted over the River Thames for 3 years, as a warning to would-be pirates.

Captain William Kidd

1813 – Simón Bolivar, the South American independence leader, enters Mérida, leading the invasion of Venezuela, and is proclaime El Liberator, ‘The Liberator’.

Simón Bolivar

1868 – Death of Kit Carson, aged 58, in Colorado.  An American frontiersman, his other jobs included mountain man, wilderness guide, Indian agent, and an American army officer.  He became a legend in his own lifetime through biographies and news articles.

Kit Carson

1934 – Death of Bonnie Elizabeth Parker, aged 23, and Clyde Chestnut Barrow, aged 25.  Outlaws and robbers from the Dallas area who travelled the central US with their gang, they were ambushed and killed near the town of Sailes, Louisiana, by law officers.  The gang was believed to have killed at least 9 police officers and several civilians.  Although she had been present at over a hundred felonies in her 2 years as Barrow’s companion, Parker was not the machine gun-wielding killer the press made her out to be.  Her reputation as a supposed cigar-smoking gun moll grew out of a snapshot found by police at an abandoned hideout.  But, although she chain-smoked cigarettes, she did not smoke cigars.  That, and other photos found, led to the glamorization of the outlaws.  According to historian Jeff Guinn, “ John Dillinger had matinee-idol good looks and Pretty Boy Floyd had the best possible nickname, but the Joplin photos introduced new criminal superstars with the most titillating trademark of all – illicit sex.  Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were wild and young, and undoubtedly slept together …

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow

The 'infamous' photo of the 'cigar-smoking gun moll'

1940 – Spitfires of 54 Squadron are the first to shoot down Messerschmitt Bf 109s on the coast of northern France.

1945 – Death of Heinrich Himmler, Gestapo leader, aged 44.  After his capture, he was taken to the headquarters of the 2nd British Army in Lúneburg, where a medical exam was conducted.  As the doctor attempted to examine the inside of Himmler’s mouth, the prisoner jerked his head away, bit into a hidden cyanide pill, and collapsed.  He was dead within 15 minutes.  He was buried in an unmarked grave, the precise location of which remains unknown.

Heinrich Himmler

1945 – William Joyce, better known as Lord Haw-Haw, is arrested at the Danish boundary.

1960 – David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s prime minister, announces the capture of Adolf Eichmann to the Knesset (parliament).  Having learnt that Eichmann was in Argentina, Ben-Gurion had ordered the secret service, Mossad, to capture him.  The agents seized him near his home in Buenos Aires on 11 May.  Near midnight on 20 May, Eichmann was sedated and dressed as a flight attendant.  He was flown out of Argentina on board the same aircraft that had, a few days earlier, carried Israel’s delegation to the anniversary celebration of Argentina’s independence from Spain.

The Sunday Section: This Week in History - May 10-16

May 10

1497 – Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian navigator, leaves for his first voyage to the New World.

1534 – Jacques Cartier, the French navigator, reaches Newfoundland.

Jacques Cartier

1801 – America experiences its first foreign war when Barbary pirates in Tripoli declare war on the United States.

1818 – Death of Paul Revere, aged 83 in Boston.

Paul Revere

1857 – Beginning of the Indian Mutiny with the uprising of sepoys in Meerut.

1863 – Death of General Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, aged 39 at Guinea Station, Virginia after the Battle of Chancellorsville.  Jackson and his staff were mistaken for a Union cavalry force and were fired on by the 18th North Carolina Infantry regiment.  Jackson was hit by 3 bullets, and several of his men were killed, including many horses.  His left arm had to be amputated.  His doctors thought he was safe but he had already developed pneumonia, and died of complications.  On his death bed, he remained spiritually strong, saying, “It is the Lord’s Day; my wish is fulfilled.  I have always desired to die on Sunday.” 

His doctor, Hunter McGuire, recorded Jackson’s final hours and words: “A few moments before he died he cried out in his delirium, ‘Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks …” then stopped, leaving the sentence unfinished.  Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face, and he said quietly, and with an expression, as if of relief, ‘Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.’

When Robert E. Lee learned of Jackson’s death, he told his cook, “William, I have lost my right arm … I’m bleeding at the heart.

General Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson

1869 – The ceremonial ‘Golden Spike’ is driven by Leland Stanford at Promontory Point, Utah, to join the rails of the First Transcontinental Railroad, connecting the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads.  It was later thought that the lack of Chinese workers in the official portrait was due to racism, but their absence was due to the fact that many of the Chinese workers were dining in a boarding car, being honoured by the Central Pacific Railroad management.

'The Last Spike' ~ Thomas Hill

1904 – Death of Henry Morton Stanley, Welsh journalist and African explorer, aged 63 in London.

1915 – A zeppelin drops 100 bombs on Southend-on-Sea.  One person was killed, Mrs Whitwell.  The air raid coincided with the sinking of the ‘Lusitania’, and the publication of the Bryce Report into German atrocities in Belgium.  As a result, there was rioting against several German-run businesses in Southend-on-Sea.  The police had to call in the army to help restore order.

1922 – Dr Ivy Williams is the first woman to be called to the English Bar.

Dr Ivy Williams

1924 – J. Edgar Hoover is appointed head of the FBI.

1933 – Nazis stage public book burnings in Germany.

Book burning in Berlin

1940 – Winston Churchill succeeds Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister.

1977 – Death of Joan Crawford, aged 73 in New York.

Joan Crawford

1994 – Nelson Mandela is sworn in as South Africa’s first black president.

Nelson Mandela being sworn in as president


330 – Byzantium is renamed Nova Roma during a dedication ceremony, but is more popularly referred to as Constantinople.

1310 – 54 members of the Knights Templar are burned at the stake in France as heretics.

1812 – The waltz is introduced in ballrooms in England, where some observers declare it disgusting and immoral.

1812 – Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, aged 49, is assassinated by John Bellingham in the lobby of the House of Commons.  Not only was Perceval the only Solicitor General to have been made prime minister, he is also the only prime minister to have been assassinated.  Ironically, the descendants of both men were later elected to Parliament at the same time.

Spencer Perceval

John Bellingham

1813 – William Lawson, Gregory Blaxland and William Wentworth lead an expedition westwards from Sydney.  Their route opens up inland Australia.

William Lawson

William Wentworth

Gregory Blaxland

1820 – The launch of ‘HMS Beagle’, with a young Charles Darwin on board.

HMS Beagle

1871 – Death of John Herschel, aged 79 in Collingwood, Kent.  A polymath, mathematician, astronomer, chemist, inventor, and experimental photographer, he catalogued the southern hemisphere stars, named 7 moons of Saturn, and 4 moons of Uranus.  Apart from making contributions to the science of photography, he also investigated colour blindness, and the chemical power of ultraviolet rays.

John Herschel

1891 – The Otsu incident, an assassination attempt on Prince Nicholas (who would become Tsar Nicholas II) while visiting Japan.

1941 – The first Messerschmidt 109F is shot down above England.

1949 – The country of Siam renames itself Thailand.

1960 – Death of John D. Rockefeller Jr, aged 86 in Arizona.

John D Rockefeller Jr.

1981 – Death of Bob Marley, aged 36, of brain and lung cancer, in Miami.

Bob Marley

1988 – Death of Kim Philby, aged 76 in Moscow.


1215 – English barons serve an ultimatum on King John, which leads to the signing of the Magna Carta.

1789 – William Wilberforce makes his first major speech in the House of Commons on the abolition of the slave trade, arguing that it is morally reprehensible.

1792 – A patent is issued for a toilet that flushes itself at regular intervals.

1814 – Death of Robert Treat Paine, a Massachusetts lawyer and politician, aged 83 in Boston.  He signed the Declaration of Independence as the representative of Massachusetts, and served as Massachusetts’ first Attorney General.

Robert Treat Paine

1864 – Death of General James Ewell Brown ‘JEB’ Stuart, aged 31 at Richmond, Virginia, having been injured at the Battle of Yellow Tavern.  On horseback, shouting encouragement, and firing his revolver at Union troopers, he was shot by a dismounted Union private, John Huff.  The bullet struck Stuart in the left side, sliced through his stomach and exited his back, one inch to the right of his spine.  He was taken to the home of his brother-in-law, Dr Charles Brewer, to await his wife’s arrival, but he died before she got there.  His last words were, “I am resigned; God’s will be done.”  His death was another blow to Robert E. Lee, after the death of Stonewall Jackson the year before.  Like his close friend, Jackson, Stuart was considered one of the greatest cavalry commanders in American history.

General JEB Stuart

1890 – The start of the first official County Championship cricket match.

1908 – Nathan B Stubblefield patents his Wireless Telephone.

Nathan Stubblefield and his Wireless Telephone

1926 – The airship ‘Norge’ is the first vessel to fly over the North Pole, and the first aircraft to fly over the polar ice cap between Europe and America.  The expedition was the idea of expedition leader, Roald Amundsen.

The 'Norge'

1937 – The coronation of George VI at Westminster Abbey.

Coronation of George VI

1941 – In Berlin, Konrad Zuse presents the Z3, the world’s first working programmable, fully automatic computer.

Konrad Zuse and the reconstructed Z3

1942 – The Nazi U-boat, U-507, sinks the ‘SS Virginia’ in the mouth of the Mississippi, killing 26 sailors.  On this, her second voyage, she was easily able to pick her targets, starting with the unescorted shipping between Cuba and Florida before making her way up the coastline along Western Florida and Alabama.  By the time she swung south into the Caribbean, she had sunk 9 ships.

SS Virginia

1949 – Appointment of the first woman accredited as ambassador to America, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit.  She was the sister of Jawaharlal Nehru, the aunt of Indira Gandhi, and the grandaunt of Rajiv Gandhi, all of whom served as India’s Prime Minister.

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit


1568 – At the Battle of Langside, the 6,000 Catholic troops of Mary Queen of Scots are defeated by a confederacy of Scottish Protestants under James Steward, the regent of her son, King James VI of Scotland.  The battle was fought in the southern suburbs of Glasgow.  A cavalry charge routed Mary’s forces, and they fled.  Three days later, Mary escaped to England where she sought protection from her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.

Mary Queen of Scots

1573 – Death of Japanese warlord, Takeda Shingen, known as the ‘Tiger of Kai’.

Takeda Shingen

1643 – At the Battle of Grantham, Oliver Cromwell, in his first independent action as a Parliamentarian cavalry commander, leads a charge that drives the Royalists from the field.

1930 – A farmer in Lubbock, Texas, is killed by hail.

1930 – Death of the Norwegian explorer, Fridtjof Nansen, aged 68 in Norway.  He was also a scientist, diplomat, humanitarian, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.  A champion skier and skater in his youth, he led the team that made the first crossing of the Greenland interior in 1888.  In 1921, he was appointed as the League of Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of the displaced victims of the First World War.  Among his initiatives was the ‘Nansen passport’ for stateless persons, a certificate that is now recognised by more than 50 countries.

Fridtjof Nansen

1961 – Death of Gary Cooper, aged 60 in Los Angeles.

Gary Cooper

1969 – Following the general elections, sectarian violence breaks out in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, mainly between the Malays and Chinese.  The Chinese have been increasingly dissatisfied with the higher status that had been granted to the Malays following independence in 1957, and the election results have shown growing support for the new Chinese political parties.  Violence erupted at the victory parade and celebrations held by the Chinese and Malays.  A state of emergency was declared, and Parliament was suspended.  Officially, the number of deaths was played down, but Western diplomatic sources put the toll at close to 600, with the majority of the victims Chinese.

Kuala Lumpur riots

1981 – Pope John Paul II has been shot, and is critically wounded.  He was shot 4 times as he blessed the crowds in St Peter’s Square.  2 bullets struck him in the stomach, one in his right arm, and the fourth hit his little finger.  Police have arrested the assailant, a 23-year-old man, Mehmet Ali Agca.

Pope John Paul II after shooting (Daily Mail)

Mehmet Ali Agca


1264 – At the Battle of Lewes in the Second Barons’ War, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, defeats Henry II.

1607 – Colonists, including Captain John Smith, sent by the Virginia Company of London, choose Jamestown Island for their settlement in accordance with their instructions to select a location that could be easily defended from attacks by other European states.  Jamestown served as the capital of Virginia until 1699.

John Smith

1643 – Louis XIV becomes King of France at the age of 4.  Of the House of Bourbon, he was known as Louis the Great, and also the Sun King; his reign of 72 years and 110 days is the longest of any monarch of a major country in European history.

Louis XIV

1796 – Edward Jenner has administered the first inoculation against smallpox, using pus from a sore of a cowpox-infected milkmaid, Sarah Nelmes.  He has applied it to a few small scratches on the arm of an 8-year-old boy, James Phipps, who has not contracted smallpox or cowpox.

Edward Jenner

Edward Jenner performing first inoculation on James Phipps ~ Ernest Board

1842 – The world’s first illustrated weekly newspaper, the ‘Illustrated London News’, begins publication.

Illustrated London News, first issue

1919 – Death of Henry John Heinz, the founder of the HJ Heinz Company, aged 74 in Pennsylvania.

Henry John Heinz

1939 – Lina Medina from Lima, Peru has become the youngest confirmed mother in medical history, giving birth at the age of 5 years and 7 months.  Her parents had taken her to hospital, worried about her increasing abdominal size.  At first doctors suspected she had a tumour, but tests showed she was 7 months pregnant.  Medina has a condition known as ‘precocious puberty’, when puberty occurs at an unusually early age.

Her son grew up healthy, believing Medina to be his sister, but found out the truth when he was 10.  He died in 1979, aged 40.

It has been claimed that the whole thing is a hoax, but a number of doctors, over the years, have verified it based on biopsies, X-rays of the foetal skeleton in-utero, and photographs taken by the doctors whose care she’d been under.  Medina herself has never divulged the identity of the father, or how she got pregnant, and has consistently refused to give interviews.  She is married with a second son.

1955 – The Warsaw Pack is signed by the Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Romania.

1973 – The launch of ‘Skylab’, the space station operated by NASA, and America’s first space station.

1987 – Death of Rita Hayworth, aged 68 in New York; she’d been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Rita Hayworth

1998 – Death of Frank Sinatra, aged 82 in Los Angeles.

Frank Sinatra


1252 – Pope Innocent IV issues the papal bull, ‘Ad extirpanda’, which authorises, but also limits, the torture of heretics in the Inquistion.

1672 – The first copyright law is enacted by Massachusetts, passed by the General Court in Boston.  The penalty for violating the law is triple the cost of the paper and the printing.

1718 – James Puckle, a London lawyer, inventor and writer, patents the world’s first machine gun, which resembles a large revolver.

James Puckle

Puckle's gun

1730 – Robert Walpole becomes Britain’s first prime minister.  He was First Lord of the Treasury, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons.  He effectively shared power with his brother-in-law, Lord Townshend, who was Secretary of State.  By this time, the political power of the monarchy was diminishing while that of the ministers was on the rise.  Walpole and Townshend clashed over foreign policy, and when the latter resigned on this day, it marked the start of Walpole’s unofficial tenure as prime minister.

1858 – The Royal Italian Opera opens in Covent Garden, the third and present theatre on the site.

Royal Italian Opera House 1861

1886 – Death of Emily Dickinson, aged 55.

Emily Dickinson

1902 – Lyman Gilmore is supposedly the first person to fly a powered craft.  The steam-powered airplane that he built and claimed to have flown required a heavy boiler, and depended on coal as a power source, making flights unsustainable.  Records and evidence relating to his claim were lost in a fire in 1935.

Lyman Gilmore

1905 – Las Vegas is founded by ranchers and railroad workers.

1930 – Ellen Church becomes the first airline stewardess, flying for Boeing Air Transport (BAT).  She was a registered nurse and pilot.  BAT would not hire her as a pilot, but took on her suggestion to have nurses on board to calm the public’s fear of flying.  They then hired her as head stewardess, and she recruited 7 others.  BAT’s ‘sky girls’, as they were called, had to be registered nurses.

Ellen Church

1945 – The Battle of Poljana, the final skirmish in Europe, is fought near Prevalje, Slovenia, between soldiers of the Yugoslav army and retreating Germans.

1971 – Elizabeth Hoisington, director of the Women’s Army Corps, and Anna Mae Mays, Chief of the Army Nurse Corps, are named by President Nixon as the first women to be selected for promotion to brigadier general.

(L ro R) Anna Mae Mays, Mrs D Eisenhower, Elizabeth Hoisington

1972 – The island of Okinawa, under US military governance since its conquest in 1945, reverts back to Japanese control.


1703 – Death of Charles Perrault, aged 75 in Paris.

Charles Perrault

1911 – Remains of a Neanderthal man have been found on the Channel Islands, in Jersey.

1920 – Joan of Arc has been canonised a saint.

1943 – ‘Operation Chastise’, an attack on German dams, which later became known as the ‘Dam Busters’ raid, is carried out over 2 days by RAF No. 617 Squadron, using a specially developed ‘bouncing bomb’ invented and developed by Sir Barnes Willis.  The targets are Móhne and Edersee Dams, both considered to be of important strategic importance.  In the attack, both dams were breached, causing disastrous flooding of the Ruhr valley, and of villages in the Eder valley.  Hydroelectric power stations were either destroyed or damaged, as were factories and mines.  An estimated 1,600 people drowned.  But the damage was mitigated by rapid repairs by the Germans, and production was back to normal by September.


1957 – Death of Eliot Ness, aged 54 in Pennsylvania.  A federal agent, he was famous for his efforts to enforce Prohibition in Chicago, and was the leader of a legendary team of agents, nicknamed ‘The Untouchables’.

Eliot Ness

1974 – Helmut Schmidt becomes West German Chancellor.

Helmut Schmidt

1988 – C Everett Koop, the US Surgeon General, reports that nicotine is as addictive as heroin or cocaine.

C Everett Koop

1988 – In ‘California v. Greenwood’, the US Supreme Court decides that the 4th Amendment does not prohibit the warrantless search and seizure of garbage left for collection outside the environs of a home.

1990 – Death of Jim Henson, aged 53 in New York.

Jim Henson

1990 – Death of Sammy Davis Jr., aged 64 in Beverley Hills.

Sammy Davis Jr.

1991 – Queen Elizabeth II becomes the first British monarch to address the US Congress.

Queen Elizabeth II addressing joint session of Congress

The Sunday Section: This Week in History - May03-09

Apologies for not getting this up yesterday; was away for the weekend, and didn’t have time to post it.

May 03

1152 – Death of Matilda of Boulogne, wife of Stephen, King of England.  She was her husband’s strongest supporter in the civil war against Empress Matilda.


1765 – The first US medical school was proposed at the College of Philadelphia.

1906 – The Ottoman Porte, the central government of the Ottoman Empire, formally transfers the administration of the Sinai to Egypt, which was under the control of Britain.

1940 – Death of Henry Ossian Flipper, aged 84, the first African American to graduate from West Point in 1877.  The former slave earned a commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the US Army.

Henry Ossian Flipper

1945 – Sinking of the SS ‘Cap Arcona’, a German ocean liner being used as a prison ship.  She was transporting prisoners from concentration camps when the RAF sank her as part of general strikes on shipping in the Baltic Sea.  About 5,000 people died, the biggest single-incident maritime loss of life in WW2.


1471 – Battle of Tewkesbury, one of the decisive battles in the Wars of the Roses, one of the last that was genuinely York against Lancaster.  Edward IV and his Yorkist army beat the Lancastrian troops of Margaret of Anjou, the wife of Henry VI.

1799 – Death of Tippoo Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore, at his fortress-city of Seringapatam in Mysore.  Fearing an invasion of India by Napoleon, the British sent soldiers to take Mysore.  Surrounded by the British army, and despite the odds, Tippoo Sultan fought bravely.  Wounded, he was killed by an unidentified British soldier for his jewellery.

1859 – The Cornwall Railway opens, linking Plymouth in Devon to Falmouth in Cornwall.  The passenger trains will run across the newly constructed Royal Albert Bridge.

Royal Albert Bridge

1896 – First publication of the ‘Daily Mail’ at a cost of halfpenny compared to other London dailies, which cost 1 penny.

1904 – Charles Stewart Rolls meets Frederick Henry Royce at the Midland Hotel in Manchester; they would go on to form Rolls-Royce Limited later in the year.

Charles Stewart Rolls (L) and Frederick Henry Royce

1932 – Al Capone begins serving his 11-years federal prison sentence at Atlanta Penitentiary, having been convicted of income tax evasion.

1942 – The Luftwaffe bomb Exeter as part of what came to be known as the Baedeker raids, referencing the eponymous popular travel guides.  These raids were in response to the RAF’s bombing offensive, which started with the bombing of Lúbeck in March 1942; so began a campaign of tit-for-tat bombing by the RAF and the Luftwaffe.  Exeter had already been bombed twice in April, followed by the bombing of Bath.  This coincided with the RAF’s offensive against Rostock.  After attacking Norwich and York, the Luftwaffe returned to Exeter, this time causing heavy damage to the city and 164 deaths.  “Exeter was the jewel of the West … We have destroyed that jewel, and the Luftwaffe will return to finish the job” – German radio report h May 1942.

Exeter after bombing

1942 – The Battle of the Coral Sea, a major naval battle in the Pacific, between the Japanese navy, and the naval and air forces of America and Australia.  If Japan had been victorious, they would have captured New Guinea, thus isolating Australia from Allied help and leaving it more open to a Japanese attack.  This was the first naval battle to be fought entirely by planes; no ship on either side made visual contact or fired directly upon the other. Both sides publicly claimed victory – Japan because of the extensive damage it had inflicted on the American navy; the Allies because they had succeeded in forcing the Japanese navy to abandon its objective.

Battle of the Coral Sea - explosion aboard USS Lexington

1945 – Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery takes the unconditional military surrender of German forces “in Holland, in northwest Germany including the Frisian Islands and Heligoland and all other islands, in Schleswig-Holstein, and in Denmark … include[ing] all naval ships in these areas …

1979 – Margaret Thatcher becomes Britain’s first woman prime minister after the Conservatives win the general election.

Margaret Thatcher - 4 May 1979 (Daily Telegraph)

1982 – HMS Sheffield has been hit by an Exocet missile, fired from an Argentinian fighter plane, in the Falklands War.  The destroyer was on a scouting mission off the Falklands Islands.  The missile did not detonate, but instead severed the high-pressure fire main on board.  The resultant fire ignited diesel oil from the ready-use tanks in the engine room.  20 of her crew died, and HMS Sheffield is now a recognised war grave.

HMS Sheffield on fire

1989 – NASA launches the ‘Magellan’ probe to map the surface of Venus.  It was the first interplanetary mission to be launched from a space shuttle, the Atlantis.

'Atlantis' with 'Magellan' on board (NASA)


1260 – Kublai Khan becomes ruler of the Mongol Empire.

Kublai Khan

1809 – Mary Dixon Kies becomes the first woman to be granted a patent by the US Patent and Trademark Office, for a technique of weaving straw with silk and thread.

1821 – Death of Napoleon Bonaparte, aged 51, on the island of St Helena, off the coast of Africa, where he’d been exiled.  Longwood House, where he stayed, was in disrepair, damp, and unhealthy; his personal physician warned London that this was adversely affecting Bonaparte’s health.

Longwood House

1865 – The first US train robbery took place in North Bend, Ohio.  About a dozen men tore up the tracks to derail the train, then robbed over 100 passengers at gunpoint before blowing open the safes.  They fled across the Ohio River into Kentucky, and were never caught.

1891 – The ‘Music Hall founded by Andrew Carnegie’ has its official opening in New York, with a concert conducted by Walter Damrosch, and Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky.  2 years later, the hall is renamed Carnegie Hall after board members persuade Andrew Carnegie, who funded its construction, to allow the use of his name.

Carnegie Hall 1890s

Andrew Carnegie

1893 – The New York Stock Exchange crashed in the ‘Panic of 1893’.  The economic depression witnessed a series of bank failures, brought about by the overbuilding and insecure financing of railroads.

1930 – Amy Johnson sets off from Croydon on a solo flight to Australia.  She landed in Darwin on the 24th May, a flight distance of 11,000 miles, becoming the first woman to fly alone to Australia.

1950 – Bhumibol Adulyadej is crowned King of Thailand.  Also known as Rama IX, his reign began in June 1946; he is the world’s longest serving current head of state, having already served for 68 years.

Bhumibol Adulyadej 1950

1961 – Alan Shepard becomes the second person, and the first American in space.  His flight, aboard the Freedom 7, lasted 15 minutes 28 seconds.

Alan Shepard

Alan Shepard during 'Freedom 7' flight

1981 – Death of Bobby Sands, aged 27, in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland, after 66 days on hunger strike.  Sands had joined the Provisional IRA in 1972, and had already served a prison sentence.  He initiated the 1981 Irish hunger strike, then decided other prisoners should join the strike at staggered intervals.  The hunger strike centred on 5 demands – the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners; the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel each week; and full restoration of remission lost through the protest.  The prisoners wanted to be declared political prisoners, not criminals.

Bobby Sands


1859 – Death of Alexander von Humboldt, Prussian geographer, naturalist and explorer, aged 89, in Berlin.

Alexander von Humboldt

1862 – Death of Henry David Thoreau, aged 44, in Massachusetts.

Henry Thoreau

1864 – General William T. Sherman begins advancing his Union troops to Atlanta, Georgia, the start of the Atlanta Campaign.  "War is cruelty and you cannot refine it ... we are not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hand of war ... We cannot change the hearts of those people of the South, but we can make war so terrible ... make them so sick of war that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it."

General William Tecumseh Sherman

1910 – George, the Prince of Wales, becomes King George V, following the death of his father, Edward VII.  He became Edward’s heir after the unexpected death of George’s elder brother.  George wrote in his diary, “I have lost my best friend and the best of fathers … I never had a [cross] word with him in my life. I am heart-broken and overwhelmed with grief … May God give me strength and guidance in the heavy task which has fallen on me.

King George V

1937 – The German passenger airship, LZ 129 ‘Hindenburg’, caught fire and was destroyed as it attempted to dock with its mooring mast at Lakehurst, New Jersey.  35 of the 97 people on board were killed, including 1 worker on the ground.


1940 – John Steinbeck is awarded the Pulitzer Prize for ‘Grapes of Wrath’.

1945 – Hermann Goering is captured by the US Army.  He’d been placed under house arrest by Hitler, who mistakenly suspected Goering of treason.  Having escaped, Goering made his way to the American lines, preferring them to the Russians.

Hermann Goering 1945

1954 – Roger Bannister, a 25-year-old medical student, has broken the 4 minute barrier, running a mile in 3min 59.4seconds.

Roger Bannister

1966 – Ian Brady and his lover, Myra Hindley, have been sentenced to life imprisonment for the Moors Murders.  They were tried for the killing of Edward Evans, 17, Lesley Ann Downey, 10, and John Kilbride, 12.  The bodies of the children were found on Saddleworth Moor in the Pennines.  Brady, aged 28, was given 3 concurrent life sentences; Hindley, 23, was given 2, having been found not guilty of the killing of John Kilbride.

Edward Evans

Lesley Anne Downey

John Kilbride

1970 –Yuichiro Miura becomes the first man to ski down Mount Everest.  He was not allowed to ski from the summit, but took off from South Col, a slightly lower pass.

Yuichiro Miura

1992 – Death of Marlene Dietrich, aged 90, in Paris.

Marlene Dietrich

1994 – Opening of the Channel Tunnel, linking Kent to northern France.  The rail tunnel runs beneath the English Channel at the Strait of Dover, and, at its lowest point, is 250ft deep.

Channel Tunnel

1997 – The Bank of England has been given independence from political control by Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, 4 days after Labour’s election win.  This is the most significant change in the bank’s 300-year history.


1663 – Opening of the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.

Theatre Royal

1895 – Alexander Stepanovich Popov, a Russian physicist, presents a paper on his own invention, a wireless lightning detector that detects radio noise from lightning strikes.  He is regarded as the inventor of the radio in Russia and eastern European countries, and this day is celebrated as ‘Radio Day’ in the Russian Federation.

Alexander S. Popov

1915 – RMS Lusitania, en route from New York to Liverpool, has been torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, 11 miles off Kinsale, County Cork.  She sank in 18 minutes, resulting in over 1,000 deaths, over 100 of them American, and 761 surviving.  The sinking turned public opinion against Germany, and played a significant role in America entering the First World War. 

1945 – The German Instrument of Surrender is signed by representatives of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (‘Supreme Command of the Armed Forces’), the Allied Expeditionary Force, and the Soviet High Command, with the French representative signing as witness.

1954 – After a 57-day siege, the French have been defeated by Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh forces at the French stronghold at Dien Bien Phu, signalling the end of French colonial influence in Indochina.

1954 – US, Great Britain and France reject Russian membership in NATO.

1958 – USAF Major Howard Johnson sets a world aircraft altitude record in a F-104 (Lockheed Starfighter) at 27,810 meters.

1960 – Leonid Brezhnev is selected as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, the Soviet equivalent to the presidency.

Leonid Brezhnev


1847 – Robert William Thompson, the Scottish inventor of the pneumatic tyre, patents his invention.

Robert W. Thompson

1873 – Death of John Stuart Mill, the philosopher, political economist and civil servant, aged 66.  His conception of liberty justified the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state control.

John Stuart Mill

1902 – Mount Pélee, an active volcano in Martinique, erupts, wiping out the town of Saint-Pierre, about 4 miles south of the summit.

Remains of Saint-Pierre

1919 – Edward George Honey, an Australian soldier and journalist, proposes the idea of a moment of silence to commemorate the Armistice.  This leads to the creation of Remembrance Day.

1945 – VE Day in Europe, after Germany signs an unconditional surrender and the end of the Second World War is announced.

VE Day Picadilly Circus

1958 – The release of ‘Dracula’, starring Christopher Lee as the count, and Peter Cushing as van Helsing.

1980 – The World Health Organisation announces the eradication of smallpox.

1984 – The Thames Barrier, built to stop flooding in London, is officially opened by the Queen.

The Thames Barrier

1988 – Death of Robert A. Heinlein, aged 80, California.

Robert Heinlein

1994 – Death of George Peppard, aged 65, in Los Angeles.

George Peppard


1386 – The Treaty of Windsor is signed between Portugal and England.  This diplomatic alliance, which is still in force today, is the world’s oldest recorded allegiance between 2 nations.

1671 – Colonel Thomas Blood, an Anglo-Irish officer, attempts to steal the Crown Jewels.  Captured and taken before Charles II, he was inexplicably pardoned; the reasons for the king’s pardon remain unknown.

Thomas Blood

1904 – The ‘City of Truro’ steam locomotive becomes the first steam engine to exceed 100mph.

1945 – The Channel Islands are liberated by the British.

1962 – A laser beam is successfully bounced off the moon for the first time.

1978 – Death of Aldo Moro, aged 61.  Kidnapped by the Red Brigade on March 16th, they eventually murdered him as the government refused to negotiate.

1986 – Death of Tenzing Norgay, aged 71, in Darjeeling, India.  He and Sir Edmund Hillary were the first 2 people known to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Edmund Hillary (L) and Tenzing Norgay