For amateur historians and trivia collectors everywhere

Location: Masterton, New Zealand

I survived school history despite the best efforts of the education system to bore me to death. Many years later, I discovered Treaties, dates, the movement of nations, are mere context. The fascination is in the details.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

William F. Cody, better known as "Buffalo Bill", was born this day in 1846.
As the people of Cody, Wyoming know, there was much more to the man than buffalo hunts and a Wild West Show.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Today has been a shared birthday, 200 years apart, for two men who have left their mark on American politics - each in his own unique way.
George Washington, (1732), and Edward Kennedy (1932).

Monday, February 20, 2006

Edinburgh, February 20, 1807 - Sir Walter Scott to Miss Seward.
"As for poetry, it is very little labour to me; were all the time I wasted on the "Lay (of the Last Minstrel)" put together, I am sure it would not exceed six weeks. The last canto was written in three forenoons when I was lying in quarters with our yoemanry. I leave it to yourself to guess how little I can have it in my most distant imagination to place myself upon a level with the great bards you have mentioned, the very latchets of whose shoes neither Southey nor I are worthy to unloose.
My admiration of Chaucer, Spenser and Dryden does not blind me to their faults, for I see the courseness of the first, the tediousness of the second, and the inequalities of the last, but, my dear Miss Seward, 'in those days were giants in the land,' and we are but dwarfs beside them."

Sunday, February 19, 2006

So the much-advertised 'Sunday'(TV1) investigation into the Mikhail Lermontov sinking in February 1986 turned out to be a non-event. Almost no new evidence was presented while well-known facts were rehashed. Couldn't believe my ears when the reporter claimed to have "discovered" that the head of the preliminary enquiry was (pilot) Captain Jamison's best man. This was common knowledge soon after the event and stated clearly in the Preface to Michael Guerin's book "The Mikhail Lermontov Enigma" (1998).

An opportunity to shed new light on the subject was wasted. I'm not a conspiracy nutter, but there are too many unanswered questions here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Irish Polar explorer Ernest Henry Shackleton was born this day in 1874.

Odd fact - Shackleton rewarded some of the people who donated money to one of his expeditions with stuffed Emperor penguins. I know of two in this area. Does anyone know of more? How many penguins died to provide souvenirs for Shackleton's patrons?
Leave a comment or contact me through the email link on my website.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

After the Battle of Trafalgar, Sir Henry Blackwood was given command of H.M.S. Ajax, a 74 gun Third Rate ship of the line. In 1807, Ajax joined a British naval expedition under Duckworth and Smith to the Dardanelles.

"On the night of February 14, while the squadron lay at anchor off the Dardanelles waiting for a fair wind for the straits, the Ajax took fire. .....
'She was burnt,' wrote Blackwood to his wife, 'in the most extraordinary rapid way that I believe was ever witnessed. From the moment of alarm, exactly at nine o'clock, when all (except sentinels and those on watch) were in bed, till she was in flames from the main to the mizzen rigging, sails and all, did not exceed twenty minutes. ....
Before I could reach the quarterdeck the flames burst out of the hatchway; I therefore found all attempts to get boats hoisted out useless, and I desired all about me - whom I could only feel in the smoke and not see - to save themselves as well as they could....'."
Nelson and His Captains, W.H. Fitchett, 1902.

The Ajax drifted ashore on the island of Tenedos and blew up. 250 from her compliment of 630 were lost.
The British Woodlands Trust has a novel way of commemorating this ship, and others, with a newly planted forest in County Durham

Thursday, February 09, 2006

On this day, 1861, in Montgomery, Alabama, Jefferson Davis was elected President of the Confederate States of America.
Read some of the lesser known facts about the man, including the reasons why he wasn't tried for treason after the Civil War, and follow the events that led to secession.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

"Charles Dickens, the most popular novelist of the century, and one of the greatest humorists that England has produced, was born at Landport, in Portsea, on Friday, the seventh of February, 1812."
The Life of Charles Dickens by John Forster.

I have been known to label Dickens the master of the half-page sentence but he could be short and to the point when it suited him. Take this description of an American train in 1842 -

"There are no first and second class carriages as with us; but there is a gentlemen's car and a ladies' car; the main distinction between which is that in the first, everybody smokes; and in the second, nobody does. As a black man never travels with a white one, there is also a negro car; which is a great, blundering, clumsy chest, such as Gulliver put to sea in, from the kingdom of Brobdingnag. There is a great deal of jolting, a great deal of noise, a great deal of wall, not much window, a locomotive engine, a shriek, and a bell."
American Notes.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Waitangi Day,
when New Zealanders celebrate, commemorate or mourn (depending on their point of view) the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, which has become known as the founding document of their nation.
E.J. Wakefield, a pioneer and propagandist for the New Zealand Company, jealous of Government and missionary intentions, had this to say when the treaty arrived at Wellington in April 1840 -

On the 19th April, the Rev. Henry Williams had arrived from the Bay of Islands, in the Ariel schooner.
It appeared that one of the first measures of Captain Hobson, after his arrival in January, had been to acquire some territory over which he might extend his dominion. He had accordingly assembled some two hundred natives living at or near the Bay, and about one hundred Europeans, including missionaries and officers of his suite; and had proceeded to ask the chiefs, through Mr. Williams as interpreter, to give the Queen the power to protect and restrain them. And a document had been read and interpreted to them; which, after a good deal of hesitation and opposition, thirty or forty chiefs had signed on the next day. We understood that by this document the chiefs had ceded their sovereignty to the Queen of England; but we remained in ignorance of any of its other provisions.
Now it just oozed out, that Mr. Williams was charged to procure the assent of the chiefs in Cook's Strait to a similar cession of their sovereignty, in order to make the document a secure foundation on which to build the assumption of the sovereignty by the English Crown.
Adventure In New Zealand, 1845.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Adolescent Mind
from 'Youth, Its Education and Hygiene' (1907)
by Dr. G. Stanley Hall.

In regard to the faults, lies and crimes of children, the greatest fact we learn is that to collect masses of children and cram them with unassimilated facts is not education, and that youthful crime is an expression of educational failure.
Educators have, no doubt, vastly over-estimated the moral efficiency of the three R's, and have forgotten that character in infancy is all instinct; that in childhood it is slowly made over into habits; while at adolescence, more than at any other period of life, it can be cultivated through ideals.
Although pedagogues make vast claims for the moralising effect of schooling, I cannot find a single criminologist who is satisfied with the modern school, while most bring the severest indictments against it for the blind and ignorant assumption that the three R's, or any merely intellectual training, can moralise.