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Archive for January, 2012

War in the East – 31 Jan 1855


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This is another excerpt from “The War” by William Howard Russell – War Correspondent to The Times Newspaper, its a daily account from the battlelines during the Crimean War (157 years ago).  It makes for grim reading with food, shelter and warm clothing in short supply.

A Spy in the Trenches – 31st January 1855 

by William Howard Russell – War Correspondent to The Times Newspaper

Wednesday – 31st January 1855

To-day, a spy walked through some of our trenches, counted the guns, and made whatever observations he pleased besides, in addition to information acquired from the men with whom he conversed.  He was closely shaven, and wore a blue frockcoat buttoned up to the chin, and he stopped for some time to look at Mr. Murdoch, of the “Sanspareil”, “bouching” the guns, or putting new vents into them.  Some said he was like a Frenchman, others that he “looked like a doctor,” no one suspected he was a Russian till he suddenly bolted away down the front of the battery towards the Russian picquets, under a sharp fire of musketry, through which he had the singular good luck to escape unscathed.

Strict Orders have been issued, in consequence of this daring act, to admit no one into the trenches or works without a written permission from the proper authorities, and that all persons found loitering about the camp shall be arrested and sent to divisional head-quarters for examination.  I stated some time ago that the French have been in the habit of sending out working parties through our lines, towards the Valley of Baidar, to cut wood for gabions and fuel, along the sides of the romantic glens which intersect the high mountain-ranges to the south-east of Balaklava. They have frequently come across the Cossack picquets, and as it is our interest not to provoke hostilities with them, a kind of good fellowship has sprung up between our allies and the men of the Russian outposts.  The other day the French came upon three cavalry horses tied up to a tree, and the officer in command ordered them not to be touched.  On the same day a Chasseur had left his belt and accoutrements behind him in the ruined Cossack picquethouse, and naturally gave up all hope of recovering them but on his next visit he found them on the wall untouched.

To requite this act of forbearance, a French soldier, who had taken a Cossack‘s lance and pistol, which he found leaning against a tree, has been ordered to return them and leave them in the place he found them. The next time the French went out, one of the men left a biscuit in a cleft stick, beckoning to the Cossacks to come and eat it. The following day they found a white loaf of excellent bread stuck on a stick in the same place, with a note in Russian, which has been translated for them in Balaklava, to the effect that the Russians had plenty of biscuit, and that, though greatly obliged for that which had been left for them, they really did not want it; but if the French had bread to spare like the sample left for them, it would be acceptable.

Excerpt from The War 1855 by W H Russell – Correspondent to The Times.

This volume contains the letters of The Times Correspondent from the seat of war in the East – The Crimean War – the first war with war correspondents.


Further Reading and External Links

Maps, Plans and Pictures of the Crimean War

William Howard Russell on Wikipedia

Bolton and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal – 1772


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A recent news article about the Leeds and Liverpool canal being drained, prompted us to delve into our library to see what gems history holds.  Here’s an excerpt on its relation to the township of Bolton from the book Histories of Bolton and Bowling [townships of Bradford] by William Cudworth 1891.

Bolton and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal – 1772

The movement, originated in [1770], for connecting the town of Bradford with the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, materially affected Bolton, as a considerable length of the Bradford Canal runs through the lower portion of the township. The first sod was cut on the 1st February, [1772], this being the earliest inroad made into the precincts of Bolton by anything approaching to the nature of public works. The subsequent fouling of the water, the closing of the navigation in [1867], and its re-opening in [1872] (just one hundred years after it was commenced), are matters of recent occurrence.

The Act for making a New Cut or Canal from Bradford to join the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Windhill, under the title of ‘The Company of Proprietors of Bradford Navigation’ was obtained in [1771]. The Act for constructing the Leeds and Liverpool Canal was obtained in [1770]. The Bradford Cut was designed to start from Hoppy Bridge, Broadstones (the site of which is not far from the centre of Forster Square), passing through the townships of Bolton and Idle, till a junction was effected with the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Windhill.

In May, [1772], an agreement was entered into by Abraham Balme, acting for the Canal Company, and John Rawson, of Bolton, for the purchase of land required from the estate of the latter for the construction of a portion of the canal. The price fixed upon for the ground required was after the rate of £60 an acre, Mr. Rawson to have a ‘pack and prime’ way thereon to and from Bradford and to and from Frizinghall Mill.

The first portion of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal was opened for traffic in [1777], and about the same time the branch from Windhill to Bradford was opened under the title of the ‘Bradford Navigation.’ It is somewhat remarkable to what an extent the scheme of navigation from Leeds to Liverpool was indebted to the enterprise and capital of Bradford men. From a list of proprietors before us we gather that not fewer than 210 shares were held by forty-six persons in Bradford. John Hustler, the Quaker, of Bolton House, was the moving spirit. Mr. Hustler prepared a pamphlet in explanation of the plan of the canal, published in 1788, showing the commercial value of the navigation, the compilation of which was an evidence of his practical knowledge of such matters.

Excerpt from Histories of Bolton and Bowling [townships of Bradford] by William Cudworth 1891


Further Reading and External Links

BBC News – Leeds and Liverpool Canal Video News Clip


James ‘Rajah’ Brooke – 1838



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James Brooke was the first White Rajah of Sarawak. After inheriting £30,000 in 1833 he invested it in the schooner ‘The Royalist’ and sailed for Borneo; he made a diversion to Sarawak to deliver a letter, and had great success suppressing piracy in the area. In 1841 he became the Rajah of Sarawak. Below is an excerpt from a book in our library called Rajah Brooke by Sir Spenser St John published in 1899; this piece covers the beginning of his voyage and adventures when leaving England in 1838.


First Voyage to Sarawak – 1838

James Brooke Rajah of Sarawak 1847BROOKE sailed from Devonport on December 16, [1838], in the Royalist, belonging to the Royal Yacht Squadron, which, in foreign ports, admitted her to the same privileges as a ship of war, and enabled her to carry a white ensign. As the Royalist is still an historic character in the Eastern Archipelago, I must let the owner describe her as she was in [1838].

‘She sails fast; is conveniently fitted up; is armed with six six-pounders, and a number of swords and small arms of all sorts; carries four boats and provisions for four months. Her principal defect is being too sharp in the floor. She is a good sea boat, and as well calculated for the service as could be desired. Most of the hands have been with me for three years, and the rest are highly recommended.’

Whilst the Royalist is speeding on prosperously towards Singapore, and calling at Rio Janeiro and the Cape, let me sum up in a few words the object of the voyage.

The memorandum which Brooke drew up on the then state of the Indian Archipelago [1838], shows how carefully he had studied the whole subject. He first expounds the policy which England should follow if she wished to recover the position which she wantonly threw away after the peace of [1815] ; he then explains what he proposed to do for the furtherance of our knowledge of Borneo and the other great islands to the East. Circumstances, however, as he anticipated might be the case, made him change the direction of his first local voyage.

The Royalist arrived in Singapore in May [1839], and remained at that port till the end of July, refitting and preparing for future work. There Brooke received news which induced him to give up for the present the proposed voyage to Marudu Bay, the northernmost district of Borneo, and visit Sarawak instead. Rajah Muda Hassim, uncle to the Sultan of Brunei, was then residing there, and being of a kindly disposition, had taken care of the crew of a shipwrecked English vessel, and sent the men in safety to Singapore. This unlooked-for conduct on the part of a Malay chief roused the interest of the Singapore merchants, and Brooke was requested to call in at Sarawak and deliver to the Malay prince a letter and presents from the Chamber of Commerce.

This was a fortunate diversion of his voyage, as at that time Marudu was governed by a notorious pirate chief. The bay was a rendezvous for some of the most daring marauders in the Archipelago, and nothing could have been done there to further our knowledge of the interior.

All being ready, and the crew strengthened by eight Singapore Malay seamen, athletic fellows, capital at the oar, and to save the white men the work of wooding and watering, the Royalist sailed for Borneo on the 27th of July, and in five days was anchored off the coast of Sambas. All the charts were found to be wrong, so that every care had to be taken whilst working up the coast. A running survey was made, and on then 11th August Brooke found himself at the mouth of the Sarawak river.


Excerpt from Rajah Brooke, published in 1899 by Sir Spenser St John


Further Reading and External Links

James Rajah Brooke on Wikipedia

Britannia Bridge – 1846


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Robert Stephenson (1803-1859) was a civil engineer famous for his locomotive and railway works, however he was also a bridge builder.  Here is a piece on his building of the Britannia Bridge over the Menai Straits, connecting the isle of Anglesey with mainland north Wales.  Sadly the bridge was destroyed by fire in 1970 and had to be completely rebuilt.

The Britannia Tubular Bridge Across the Menai Straits

Britannia Tubular BridgeRobert Stephenson, so prominently identified with the early history of the locomotive, applied this principle to bridge building.

The Tubular Bridge. A suspension bridge at Conway failed and Stephenson applied to Parliament in [1846] for permission to build a bridge of a new design of which he was the inventor. The permission was secured and in [1847] the Conway Tube bridge was begun.  It was made of boiler iron plates four to eight feet long, about two feet wide, and five eighths inch thick, put together and riveted by hand, forming a tube 412 feet long, 14 feet wide, and 25 feet high in the middle. It weighed 1300 tons, gave satisfaction, and is still in use. The Victoria bridge at Montreal was Stephenson’s masterpiece. This is a quadrangular tubular bridge 16 feet by 22 feet in cross section and 1 1/4 miles long. It was completed in [1859] and cost about $7,000,000.

The tubular bridge served its purpose but it is now known that a different arrangement of the metal will give greater strength for the same weight. The amount of material and workmanship required render them the most costly of all structures, and both the Britannia and the Victoria bridge ruined the companies that built them.

Excerpt from The Marvels of Modern Mechanism and Their Relations to Social Betterment – Jerome Bruce Crabtree – 1901


Further Reading and External Links

Anglesey History

Railways of North Wales and Britannia Bridge

BBC News Report of Britannia Bridge Fire

Elephant Island Rescue – 1916

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A few days ago we covered the rescue of 22 men (of Ernest Shackletons Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition) stranded on Elephant Island in 1916 – there is much more material on this subject in our library – and we found the story so compelling we decided to publish another press clipping on the rescue.  This excerpt was published in Nature magazine taken from the Daily Chronicle 5th September 1916.

The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-1917) – Rescue

Ernest Shackleton – Ice FieldGREAT satisfaction is felt by everyone in the news published in the Daily Chronicle on September 5 that Sir Ernest Shackleton had succeeded in rescuing the twenty-two members of his Antarctic expedition marooned on Elephant Island since April 15.

Three previous attempts to reach the island were unsuccessful, but with characteristic persistence Sir Ernest continued his efforts to relieve the men, and sailed from Punta Arenas on August 26 in the Yelcho, a small Chilian steamer. On August 30, after steering in a fog through numerous stranded bergs, he reached Wild’s camp at 1 p.m., and at 2 p.m. the vessel was homeward bound.

On September 3 Punta Arenas was reached, and the message “All saved. All well,” was dispatched to the Daily Chronicle, from which the following summary of Mr. Frank Wild’s report is taken:

“On April 25, the day after the departure of the boat, the island was beset by dense pack-ice. The party was confined to a narrow spit of land, 250 yards long and 40 yards wide, surrounded by inaccessible cliffs and ice-laden seas. We were forced to abandon our ice-hole, which was made untenable by the snow.  We made a dwelling of our two boats, supported by rocks, and set up as far as practicable from the sea. The weather continued appalling.  In May a heavy blizzard swept much valuable gear into the sea.  Fortunately, owing to the low temperature, an icefoot formed on the seashore, and this protection was the means of saving us from total destruction.  From June onwards the weather was better as regards wind, but we were under a constant pall of fog and snow.  At the beginning of August we were able to collect seaweed and limpets, which formed a valuable change in our diet, but the deep water, heavy seas, and ice prevented us from fishing.  On August 28 the gale drove the ice-pack from the island, and on August 30, through the lifting fog, we caught sight of the Yelcho steering through a maze of stranded bergs.  An hour later we were homeward bound.”

Sir Ernest Shackleton has announced the safe return of the party in a telegram to the King, who has replied:

“Most heartily rejoice that you have rescued your twenty-two comrades all well. Congratulate you on the result of your determined efforts to save them, and that success crowned your third attempt. I greatly admire the conduct of their leader, Frank Wild, which was so instrumental in maintaining their courage and hope. I trust you will soon bring them all safely home. – GEORGE R.I.”



Further Reading and External Links

Nimrod Expedition   The Endurance Expedition    Ernest Shackleton

Discovery Expedition   The Terra Nova Expedition   Robert Falcon Scott

Memoirs of Sir Henry Keppel – 1869


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Below is the twelfth installment in our series on Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry Keppel, GCB, OM (14 June 1809 – 17 January 1904). He was a British admiral and son of the 4th Earl of Albemarle. “A man might achieve great legislative results, do great deeds, and be a most useful member of society, but unless he possessed the gift of personality he would be to the general public as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.”  Henry Keppel undoubtedly possessed that gift.


On October 31, 1869, came the end of Keppel’s naval career in China.

Henry KeppelAt Hong Kong every honour was paid him, and, contrary to all precedents, salutes were fired, though all his uniforms were packed up. The ‘Galatea‘ manned yards, and the ‘Little Admiral,’ rigged up in a Norfolk jacket, with his boy Colin clinging to his hand, passed the pier and embarked on the ‘Galateas‘ barge, manned by His Royal Highness and wardroom officers and steered by the Commodore, to take him off; while another barge was manned by the gunroom officers to take his wife and children. Colin, however, refusing to quit his hold of him, partook of the honour of being so conveyed. Never was such a demonstration for an admiral on his leaving his station. His Royal Highness came into his cabin on deck, and there presented him with a gold watch as a souvenir; which he said would do afterwards for Colin, who seized the case containing the watch and insisted that it had been given to him. Harry, however, was never without it till his death.

On shoving off the Prince and his crew gave three more parting cheers. The ‘Salsette’ screwed ahead to the eastward, and having gained room, turned round, passing again through the ships, when the cheering was repeated by the foreigners as well as our own men-of-war; even the invalids from the hospital-ships caught the kind infection.

At Singapore a great dinner was given to him. His old friend, Mr. W.H. Read, who is still alive, on taking the chair, came at once to the toast which had brought them together, and went into a long detail of the ships in which he had served and commanded on this station, beginning with the ‘Magicienne.’ A laugh was raised when he alluded to the Tumongong of Muar offering Keppel the hand of his daughter. ‘Then,’ Read said, ‘there was the “Dido.” I remember her well, with her taut spars, sky-sail poles, flying kites, and graceful hull, dashing about the station in every direction, and always in for a fight when one was to be had. The “Maeander” with Sir James Brooke; his merits recognised, the K.C.B. installation took place here. The “Raleigh,” in which 50-gun frigate he sailed into this beautiful harbour from the westward to show his confidence in its safety, and the wisdom of the P. and O. in taking his advice when he told them of its existence in [1849]. Fatshan, “the smartest cutting-out affair of modern times,” Last comes the “Rodney,” of which vessel I can only say we have seen too little; but we endorse the verdicts of Hong Kong and Yokohama: he never undertook what he did not carry out, and a better passport to posterity after such a stirring life no man need possess.’ Read concluded his speech by asking them to drink ‘Long life and prosperity to the gallant Admiral, with three times three and don’t be afraid of bringing the roof down!’

Excerpt from Sir Henry Keppel – Admiral of the Fleet – by Sir Algernon Edward West – 1905


Further Reading and External Links

Henry Keppel on Wikipedia

The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition – Rescue


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Excerpt from The Outlook 13th September 1916 – about the plight and rescue of the men of The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-1917) – also know as the Endurance Expedition – stranded on Elephant Island.

The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-1917) – Rescue

Welcome news came from Chile last week, of the success of Sir Ernest Shackleton in rescuing the twenty-two men of his party who have been isolated on Elephant Island, in the South Shetland group, since last April.

This was the fourth attempt made by their commander to save these men from starvation.  Previous attempts failed because of the impossibility of finding a suitable ship; the first was actually made in an eighty-ton whaling vessel.  Finally, the Chilean Government lent Shackleton a small Government steamer, the Yelcho, and he sailed in her on August 26 from Punta Arenas, on the Strait of Magellan, the southernmost town in the world.  The sea and ice must have been favorable, for a week sufficed for the rescue and return voyage.  Great fear had been felt for the lives of the men, who had only five weeks rations when Sir Ernest left them on the island.  The chief hope for sustaining life was that they might kill penguins; and that not very palatable bird, in fact, saved their lives.

The story of the early disasters which had befallen both sections of the Shackleton expedition to the Antarctic continent has already been told in The Outlook, as also of the terrible crushing in the ice of Sir Ernest’s own ship, the Endurance, its abandonment, the distressing journey in small boats driven through raging seas and dragged over ice to the inhospitable little bit of land called Elephant Island, and the further journey of Shackleton and five men in a single boat from Elephant Island to the coast of South Georgia to seek for help. 

When the full story is narrated, it will assuredly form one of the most thrilling tales of hardship, courage, and adventure in all the annals of polar exploration.

Excerpt from The Outlook 13th September 1916


Further Reading and External Links

Nimrod Expedition   The Endurance Expedition    Ernest Shackleton

Discovery Expedition   The Terra Nova Expedition   Robert Falcon Scott