This Week in History: May 9th to 15th

This Week in History UPPER

Bright comets in the night sky, cowboys, famous artworks, wars of American nations, airship rides across the North Pole, bloody massacres, and the rights of children . . . plenty of material for a fabulous Steampunk novel, and also this week in history.

Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show

On May 9th, 1887, Buffalo Bill Cody‘s Wild West Show opened in London as part of the American Exhibition, which coincided with the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, requested a private preview of the Wild West performance; he was impressed enough to arrange a command performance for Queen Victoria. The Queen enjoyed the show and meeting the performers, setting the stage for another command performance on June 20th, 1887 for her Jubilee guests. Royalty from all over Europe attended, including the future Kaiser Wilhelm II and future King George V. These royal encounters provided Buffalo Bill’s Wild West an endorsement and publicity that ensured its success. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West closed its successful London run in October 1887 after more than 300 performances, with more than 2.5 million tickets sold. The tour made stops in Birmingham and Manchester before returning to the U.S. in May 1888 for a short summer tour.

National Gallery London

The National Gallery in London opened to the public on May 10th, 1824Unlike comparable museums in continental Europe, the National Gallery was not formed by nationalizing an existing royal or princely art collection. It came into being when the British government bought 38 paintings from the heirs of John Julius Angerstein, an insurance broker and patron of the arts, in 1824. After that initial purchase the Gallery was shaped mainly by its early directors, notably Sir Charles Lock Eastlake, and by private donations, which comprise two-thirds of the collection. The resulting collection is small in size, compared with many European national galleries, but encyclopaedic in scope; most major developments in Western painting “from Giotto to Cézanne are represented with important works. It used to be claimed that this was one of the few national galleries that had all its works on permanent exhibition, but this is no longer the case.

Mexican–American War

In 1844 James K. Polk, the newly-elected president, made a proposition to the Mexican government to purchase the disputed lands. When that offer was rejected, troops from the United States were moved into the disputed territory of Coahuila. These troops were then attacked by Mexican troops, killing 12 American troops and taking 52 prisoners. These same Mexican troops later laid siege to a US fort along the Rio Grande. This would lead to the conflict that resulted in the loss of much of Mexico’s northern territory. On May 11th, 1846President James K. Polk asked for and received a Declaration of War against Mexico, starting the Mexican–American War.

Norge Airship

The Norge was a semi-rigid Italian-built airship that carried out what many consider the first verified overflight of – and the first verified trip of any kind to (see below) – the North Pole on May 12th 1926. It was also the first aircraft to fly over the polar ice cap between Europe and America. The expedition was the brainchild of polar explorer and expedition leader Roald Amundsen, the airship’s designer and pilot Umberto Nobile and American explorer Lincoln Ellsworth, who along with the Aero Club of Norway, financed the trip which was known as the Amundsen-Ellsworth 1926 Transpolar Flight.

Great_Comet_1861 680

The Great Comet of 1861 is a long-period comet that was visible to the naked eye for approximately three months. It was discovered by John Tebbutt of Windsor, New South Wales, Australia, on May 13th, 1861, with an apparent magnitude of +4, a month before perihelion (June 12th). It was not visible in the northern hemisphere until June 29th, but it arrived before word of the comet’s discovery. The comet may have interacted with the Earth in an almost unprecedented way. For two days, when the comet was at its closest, the Earth was actually within the comet’s tail, and streams of cometary material converging towards the distant nucleus could be seen. By the middle of August the comet was no longer visible to the naked eye, but it was visible in telescopes until May 1862. An elliptical orbit with a period of about 400 years was calculated, which would indicate a previous appearance about the middle of the 15th century, and a return in the 23rd century.

NSPCC kids

On a trip to New York in 1881, Liverpool businessman Thomas Agnew (1834–1924) visited the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He was so impressed by the charity, that he returned to England determined to provide similar help for the children of Liverpool. In 1883 he set up the Liverpool Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (LSPCC). Other towns and cities began to follow Liverpool’s example, leading in 1884 to the founding of the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (London SPCC) by Lord Shaftesbury, Reverend Edward Rudolf and Reverend Benjamin Waugh. After five years of campaigning by the London SPCC, Parliament passed the first ever UK law to protect children from abuse and neglect on May 14th 1889. The London SPCC was renamed the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in 1889, because by then it had branches across Great Britain and Ireland.

Torreón massacre 680

The Torreón massacre was a racially motivated massacre that took place on May 13th to May 15th, 1911 in the Mexican city of Torreón, Coahuila. Over 300 Chinese residents were killed by the revolutionary forces of Francisco I. Madero. A large number of Chinese homes and establishments were looted and destroyed. Torreón was the last major city to be taken by the Maderistas during the Mexican Revolution. When the government forces withdrew, the rebels entered the city in the early morning and began a ten-hour massacre of the Chinese community. The event touched off a diplomatic crisis between China and Mexico, with the former demanding 30 million pesos in reparation. At one point it was rumored that China had even dispatched a warship to Mexican waters (the cruiser Hai Chi, which was anchored in Cuba at the time). An investigation into the massacre concluded that it was an unprovoked act of racial hatred.


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