December 4th 1872: Mary Celeste found
On this day in 1872, the American ship the Mary Celeste was found unmanned in the Atlantic Ocean by the British brig Dei Gratia. The ship seemed to be abandoned (one lifeboat was missing), despite the fact that the weather was fine and the ship was still seaworthy, with no sign of a struggle. There was over six months worth of food and water on board and the personal belongings of passengers and crew were still there. All of the ship’s papers were missing, except for the captain’s logbook. Many possible explanations have been suggested, but the mystery of the Mary Celeste remains unsolved. The Mary Celeste is thus considered the archetypal ‘ghost ship’.
December 2nd 1988: Bhutto sworn in
On this day in 1988, Benazir Bhutto was sworn in as Prime Minister of Pakistan, becoming the first woman to head the government of a Muslim state. Bhutto was a democratic socialist and the 11th Prime Minister of Pakistan. As Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto’s tough stance with trade unions earned her the nickname ‘Iron Lady’. Her government was dismissed in 1996 by President Leghari on charges of corruption. In 2007, Bhutto returned to Pakistan having received amnesty from President Musharraf. On December 27th of that year, while campaigning for the general election, she was assassinated.
November 30th 1993: Brady Bill signed
On this day in 1993, US President Bill Clinton signed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (the Brady Bill) into law. The law provides for federal background checks on gun purchases. It was named for James Brady, Ronald Reagan’s Press Secretary who was shot by John Hinckley Jr in an attempted assassination of then President Reagan in 1981. Brady was paralyzed and he and his family became active members of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
20 years ago today
November 28th 1919: Astor elected
On this day in 1919, Nancy Astor was elected as a Member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, making her the first woman to sit in the House of Commons. Lady Astor represented the Conservative Party and was the wife of Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount Astor. She sat in Commons from 28th November 1919 to 5th July 1945. She worked to bring more women into the civil service, the police force, education reform, and the House of Lords.
November 26th 1922: Tutankhamun’s tomb opened
On this day in 1922, archaeologist Howard Carter and his financer Lord Carnarvon became the first people to enter the tomb of Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun in over 3000 years. On 26th November, Carter made the famous “tiny breach in the top left hand corner” of the doorway, and was able to peer into the antechamber by the light of a candle and see that many of the gold and ebony treasures were still in place. When Carnarvon asked “Can you see anything?”, Carter replied: “Yes, wonderful things.” The first item was removed from the tomb on December 27th and on February 16th 1923, the Burial Chamber was oficially opened, where the team found the sarcophagus and the mummified remains of Tutankhamun.
November 24th 1859: ‘On the Origin of Species’ published
On this day in 1859, Charles Darwin published his ground-breaking book ‘On the Origin of Species’. The book introduced the idea that organisms evolve through natural selection. Darwin included evidence he gathered on the Beagle expedition in the 1830s, where he traveled widely recording his encounters. The concept of evolution revolutionised science, and was very unpopular at its time for its supposed ignoring of God’s role in man’s history. His ideas were widely ridiculed and satirised, however now his theory is the foundation of modern scientific thinking.
November 22nd 1963: JFK assassinated
On this day in 1963 in Dallas, Texas, the President of the United States John F. Kennedy was shot and killed. Also injured was Texas Governor John B. Connally who was in the motorcade with the President. Kennedy was killed by a shot to the head, and was pronounced dead at hospital at 1pm. Conspiracy theories persist as to who the killer was, but the common story is that it was Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald never stood charge as he was killed by Jack Ruby whilst in custody two days later. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as President aboard Air Force One hours after the assassination. Kennedy’s assassination devastated the world, as he was symbol of hope and optimism in a troubled time.
50 years ago today
November 20th 1945: Nuremberg Trials begin
On this day in 1945, the Nuremberg Trials against 23 Nazi war criminals started at the Palace of Justice at Nuremberg. The trials were held by the victorious Allied forces of World War Two. This set of trials lasted until October 1st 1946 and dealt with the surviving major war criminals such as Reichsmarschall and Commander of the Luftwaffe Hermann Göring, Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess and Minister of Armaments Albert Speer. 12 were sentenced to death, 7 imprisoned (3 for life), and 3 acquitted. Some, such as Göring, committed suicide before their execution, following people such as Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels who committed suicide at the end of the war.
"Opening the first trial in history against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility. The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating that civilisation cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated”
- The opening words of Chief Prosecutor, US Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson’s, indictment
December 3rd 1894: Robert Louis Stevenson dies
On this day in 1894, the author Robert Louis Stevenson died aged 44. Stevenson was best known for his works ‘Treasure Island’, ‘Kidnapped’ and ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde’. He is considered one of the greatest authors of the 19th century. Stevenson died on the evening of 3rd December 1894. He was talking to his wife and trying to open a bottle of wine when he said “What’s that!” and asked his wife “Does my face look strange?”. He then collapsed and died a few hours later from what was most likely a cerebral hemorrhage.
On Stevenson’s tomb is inscribed his ‘Requiem’:
"Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.”
December 1st 1955: Parks refuses to give up seat
On this day in 1955 Rosa Parks, a black seamstress from Alabama, refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white man. She was subsequently arrested for defying the state’s racial segregation laws. Segregation laws had been in place since the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court ruling in 1896 which declared racial segregation constitutional under the doctrine of “separate but equal”. Through this act of defiance, Parks sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott which gave impetus to the growing Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Rosa Parks became an influential and symbolic figure in the Civil Rights Movement, which came to a head in the 1960s, and was one of the leaders of the movement, alongside such figures as Martin Luther King Jr.
"People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day…No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in”
November 29th 1972: Pong released
On this day in 1972, the game Pong was released by Atari Incorporated, and went on to become the first commercially successful video game. Pong is one of the earliest arcade video games. The aim is to defeat the opponent in a simulated table tennis game. After its release, other companies began trying to make similar games, forcing Atari and other companies to innovate. Thus the video game industry was born.
November 27th 1978: Milk and Moscone assassinated
On this day in 1978, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated by Dan White. White was angry that Moscone had refused to re-appoint him to the Board of Supervisors and that Milk lobbied against his re-appointment. White went to San Francisco City Hall to meet with Moscone and make a final plea for his re-appointment. When Moscone declined, White pulled a gun and shot him. White ran into Milk on his way to his former office and shot and killed him. The bodies were found by Supervisor, and current US senator, Dianne Feinstein. Milk was the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States, making his death a symbolic blow to the gay rights movement but also making him a martyr for the gay community.
35 years ago today
November 25th 1984: Band-Aid recorded
November 23rd 1963: Doctor Who debuts
On this day in 1963, the first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast by the BBC. The original series starred William Hartnell as the protagonist known only as ‘the Doctor’, a Time Lord who travels through time in his blue police telephone box called the TARDIS with his companions. Since Hartnell, there have been 10 other actors who have played the iconic role, the current being Matt Smith. Doctor Who is the longest running science fiction drama in the world. It remains an immensely popular show, and an integral part of British culture. Today at 7.50pm on BBC One a 50th anniversary special will air.
50 years ago today
November 21st 1694: Voltaire born
On this day in 1694, the French Enlightenment writer and philosopher Voltaire was born. His full name was François-Marie Arouet, and he was born in Paris. He chose the name ‘Voltaire’ because it is an anagram of ‘Arovet Li’, which is the Latin spelling of his surname and and the initial letters of ‘le jeune’. He adopted the name after his imprisonment in the Bastille for criticising the government. He is best known for his writings promoting civil liberties and his overall writings amount to over 2000 books and pamphlets. His work influenced the thinkers of the American and French Revolutions.