On the 12th August 1865 Joseph Lister carried out the world’s first antiseptic surgery using the chemical phenol, otherwise known as carbolic acid. Lister is remembered among the greats of medical science for being the first person to identify the link between clean hospital conditions and infection rates.
To understand the importance of Lister’s achievement, it’s important to remember that in the 19th Century up to 50% of all hospital patients died of infection. This often occurred after surgery, during which time patients developed ‘ward fever’ – a non-specific range of secondary infections caused through poor hospital hygiene where surgeons weren’t required to wash their hands or even their stained operating gowns.
Having read the work of the Frenchman Louis Pasteur regarding the spread and growth of bacteria, Lister became interested in finding a way to remove infection-causing micro-organisms from hospitals. Germ theory of disease was only just becoming more widely accepted, but after discovering that carbolic acid, now referred to as phenol, had successfully been used to reduce the smell of raw sewage Lister began experiments using it as what became termed an ‘antiseptic’.
On the 12th August Lister used a piece of lint covered in carbolic acid to cover the compound fracture wound of a seven-year-old boy, and found that over a period of six weeks the wound healed without developing gangrene. Developments in surgical hygiene followed. As well as surgeons wearing gloves, they began to wash their hands in carbolic acid, as well as washing their instruments in Lister’s 5% solution and spraying it liberally around the operating theatre.
On the 8th August 1963, a gang of 15 men attacked a Royal Mail train heading from Glasgow to London and stole over £2.6million in cash. Worth £50million today, the vast majority of the money was never recovered.
A core team of five men with backgrounds in organised crime planned the robbery over a number of months before drafting in support from another group of criminals with experience in train robberies. Central to the plan was information about the amount of money carried on Royal Mail trains, and this was supplied by a Salford postal worker known to the gang as ‘The Ulsterman’.
On the night of the robbery, the gang tampered with the signal at ‘Sears Crossing’ in Ledburn, Buckinghamshire in order to stop the train. Having overpowered the driver and the second crew member, the gang drove the train half a mile to a location where they could load the stolen bags of money onto a waiting Austin Loadstar truck.
Forcing their way in to the High Value Packages coach, the gang met only little resistance from the five postal workers inside the carriage and so ordered them to lie down on the floor in the corner while the bags of money were removed.
Having set themselves a time-limit of 30 minutes to carry out the robbery, 8 bags were left behind on the train when the gang drove to their hide-out at Leatherslade Farm. Here the loot was divided up, and the robbers dispersed before the police could find them. However, the majority were later arrested and convicted.
On the 1st August 1834, the Slavery Abolition Act came into force in the United Kingdom, although it had received royal assent a year earlier. The Act outlawed slavery throughout the British Empire, although there were some exceptions such as in areas controlled by the East India Company.
Although Parliament had outlawed the slave trade itself in the Slave Trade Act of 1807, that Act only served to stop the creation of new slaves. It did not address the issue of existing slaves working in the colonies. It was these existing slaves that the new Act sought to address, and although it did abolish slavery the impact took a long time to be felt.
A key problem facing the government was what to do with the former slaves. The Act addressed this issue by stating that former slaves over the age of six became ‘apprentices’ and continued to work on largely the same plantations in largely the same conditions as before. Many of them were only fully emancipated six years later in 1840.
The former slave owners themselves were also dealt with in the Slavery Abolition Act. It’s important to remember that the Act effectively stripped slave-owners of their property. The logic therefore went that the slave-owners needed to be compensated for their loss of property, so the Act established the Slave Compensation Commission who awarded the equivalent of £17bn in today’s money – funded by the taxpayer – to 46,000 slave owners. A searchable online database of every slave-owner who was awarded compensation is available to view at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/
On the 28th July 1858 William Herschel, a British Magistrate in West Bengal in India, made the first modern use of fingerprints for identification. Although records of finger and palm prints being used as early as the year 300 were subsequently found in China, Herschel was the first westerner to routinely take advantage of the unique nature of a person’s prints to sign contracts. It was only later that their use in criminal investigations began.
Herschel had been interested in fingerprinting for a number of years but, having paid in advance for an expensive contract in which local businessman Rajyadhar Konai agreed to build a new road, chose to take the full hand print of the contractor as his commitment to honour the construction. Herschel himself later admitted, in his 1916 book “The Origin of Fingerprinting” that he simply wished to scare the contractor away from disowning a written signature.
The success of the first print led Herschel to routinely use prints to authenticate legal documents, with his increasing collection and further reference to his own fingerprints leading him to publicly state his belief that a person’s print pattern was unique, permanent and unchangeable. Having studied thousands of prints, he later realised that he could even stop taking a full handprint and instead take prints of just two fingers.
However it was another 34 years before fingerprints were used to solve a crime, in an Argentinian case where a mother murdered her two sons and left her bloody hand print on a door post.
On the 24th July 1927, the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing was unveiled in the Belgian city of Ypres. The memorial is one of four memorials to missing British and Commonwealth soldiers from the First World War in the area around the Ypres Salient, and features more than 54,000 names. Every evening at 8pm the Menin Gate is the location for a ceremony in which buglers from the city’s fire brigade sound the Last Post.
Ypres occupied a strategic position throughout the First World War that came about as a result of its location on the route of Germany’s Schlieffen Plan. Although the Allies successfully defended the city during the First Battle of Ypres in autumn 1914, they were surrounded on three sides and suffered artillery bombardments throughout the rest of the war that virtually flattened the city. Meanwhile the surrounding area was the location for four more major battles including the Second Battle of Ypres where Germany successfully used poison gas for the first time, and the Battle of Passchendaele.
After the war Ypres was rebuilt using reparations money from Germany, while the Commonwealth War Graves Commission constructed the memorial. The Menin Gate lies on the east side of the city, close to the route that allied soldiers would have taken in order to reach the front.
The fact that the memorial was too small to contain the names of all the missing demonstrates the scale of the destruction. The 34,000 missing soldiers killed after the arbitrary cut-off of 17th August 1917 are inscribed on the Tyne Cot Memorial 10km away.
Archibald Brown was murdered by his son, who placed an anti-tank grenade under the seat of his bath chair.
47 year old Archibald Brown had required the use of a bath chair, a luxurious type of wheelchair, since a motorcycle accident more than twenty years earlier had caused him to lose the use of both of his legs. After inheriting a large amount of money from his own father, Archibald employed three nurses to provide care for him at home in Rayleigh in Essex. Meanwhile he subjected his wife, Doris, and their sons Eric and Colin to years of torment and abuse.
Eric was called up to the 8th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment in October 1942, where he was trained to use the Number 75 Hawkins grenade that would detonate when a vehicle drove over the pressure plate on top. While at home on leave he grew increasingly angry at the way his father treated his mother. Deciding that the only way to end the situation was for his father to die, Eric placed an adapted stolen Hawkins grenade under the seat of his father’s bath chair.
When Nurse Doris Mitchell went to collect the bath chair to take Archibald for a walk around the local area, she was surprised to find the door locked. After a few moments a nervous Eric brought the chair out and Archibald was placed on his seat.
About a mile into the walk, Archibald shifted his weight to retrieve a packet of cigarettes. Nurse Mitchell lit one for him before resuming pushing the chair, but after just a few steps there was an enormous explosion. Archibald and most of the chair were blown to pieces and scattered over a wide area by the anti-tank grenade. Mitchell suffered injuries to her legs but survived.
Shortly afterwards Eric was charged with murder. He was found guilty, and was sentenced to a psychiatric hospital where he stayed until 1975.
On the 22nd July 1706, the foundation for the establishment of the Kingdom of Great Britain was laid when commissioners from England and Scotland agreed the Acts of Union. Although both countries had been under the same monarch since King James I and VI, it took over a century for the two countries to be united as Great Britain.
Previous attempts to unite Scotland and England had taken place since James came to the throne, but each had resulted in failure. However by the start of the 18th century each country found itself in a position where political union would be advantageous. Scotland would benefit from the economic security of union, while England hoped to remove Scotland as a ‘backdoor’ for French attacks or a possible Jacobite restoration.
The 31 English and 31 Scottish commissioners chosen to carry out negotiations for union first met at the Cockpit, a government building at Whitehall in London, on 16th April. As well as their demands, each side also had a bargaining card: England would grant Scotland freedom of trade and access to colonial markets, while Scotland would agree to Hanoverian succession after Queen Anne.
The demands and compromises lined up incredibly well with each other, and after just three days the commissioners had agreed on the basic principles of union. However, it took three months in total to draw up the detailed treaty before it could go to the Scottish and English Parliaments to be ratified. Royal assent was given on the 6th March 1707, and on May 1st the Acts went into effect.
Napoleon Bonaparte voluntarily surrendered to British Captain Maitland on board the Royal Navy ship HMS Bellerophon.
Napoleon’s return from exile on the island of Elba in March 1815 heralded the start of the Hundred Days which saw Napoleon seek to re-establish his position as Emperor of the French. On 18 June his army was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo by British and Prussian armies of the Seventh Coalition, prompting Napoleon to abdicate two days later.
Having been warned to leave Paris, Napoleon moved first to the Château de Malmaison and then to the southwestern port of Rochefort from where he hoped to escape to the United States. By this time, however, British Royal Navy warships had begun a blockade of French ports to prevent Napoleon leaving. Consequently unable to either remain in France, or flee across the Atlantic, Napoleon was forced to surrender to the British.
On 14 July Captain Maitland of HMS Bellerophon was informed that Napoleon would surrender on board his ship the next day. The former Emperor duly boarded the brig Épervier on the morning of 15 July and made his way to the Bellerophon. In order to avoid Napoleon being received by Vice-Admiral Henry Hotham on board HMS Superb, which was also off the coast of Rochefort, Maitland sent a barge to meet him.
Shortly before 7am Napoleon and his General Henri Gatien Bertrand arrived at the Bellerophon and announced that ‘I am come to throw myself on the protection of your Prince and your laws.’ He was subsequently taken to England, from where he was exiled to the remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic. He died there on 5 May 1821.
On the 10th July 1553, Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed queen of England after her first cousin once removed, the 15-year-old King Edward VI, died of an unknown respiratory problem. However, the Privy Council proclaimed Edward’s older sister Mary as queen just nine days later and imprisoned Jane in the Tower of London. She was tried on charges of high treason, found guilty, and beheaded the following February.
The Third Act of Succession was passed by Parliament in July 1543 and restored Henry’s daughters – Mary and Elizabeth – to the line of succession after his son Edward and any children he might have. Jane was the grandniece of Henry VIII through her grandmother, Mary Tudor, Queen of France, who was Henry’s sister. The Third Act of Succession stated that the throne would pass to her line if his own children did not have any descendants.
Despite all Henry’s planning, Edward VI chose to restrict the succession further. As he lay on his death bed, he nominated the Protestant Jane Grey as his successor rather than his older Catholic sister Mary. Historians disagree over how much influence Edward’s chief minister, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and the father of Jane’s husband Lord Guildford Dudley, had on this decision.
Whatever the role of Northumberland in the succession, when he left London after Edward’s death to intercept his sister Mary the Privy Council switched their allegiance and proclaimed Mary as queen on 19th July. Parliament later declared Jane a usurper, and she was found guilty of treason for having signed documents as “Jane the Queen”.
The North Pacific Fur Seal Convention, the first international treaty that dealt with wildlife conservation issues, was signed.
Archaeological evidence indicates that seals have been hunted for their pelts, their flesh and their fat for over 4,000 years. By the end of the 19th century, however, industrialisation of hunting had brought a rapid decline in the seal population of the Bering Sea.
The USA had purchased Alaska and the surrounding islands in 1867, leading the American government to claim authority over the sealing industry in the region. This led to an increase in offshore or pelagic sealing that further reduced the seal populations.
Through arbitration Great Britain and the USA agreed to jointly enforce a series of hunting regulations designed to preserve the seal herds. It soon became clear that the terms of the agreement were not stringent enough to allow the seal populations to recover. Fearing the possibility of extinction if the situation was not dealt with, a joint commission of scientists from Britain and the USA advised on the creation of a new treaty.
Having been heavily influenced by the efforts of the young artist and environmentalist Henry Wood Elliott, the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention banned all pelagic seal hunting north of the 30th parallel in the Pacific Ocean. Management of on-shore commercial seal hunting within the region was also placed under the jurisdiction of the United States. As the treaty’s signatories, Britain, Japan, and Russia were guaranteed a payment or a minimum quota of seal furs in return.
The treaty stayed in place until the Second World War, but the restoration of peace saw the creation of new international agreements that regulated hunting in the interests of wildlife conservation.