The Pig War border confrontation began when Lyman Cutlar shot a British-owned pig on San Juan Island.
The archipelago of which San Juan Island is part lies between Washington State on the United States mainland and Vancouver, in what was then British North America. The 1846 Oregon Treaty had established a boundary along the 49th parallel along ‘the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver’s Island’. The problem was that San Juan Island itself lies in the middle of the channel, leading both countries to claim sovereignty over it.
By 1859 the British Hudson’s Bay Company had established a sheep ranch on the island. A small number of American settlers had also arrived under the terms of the Donation Land Claim Act, even though the ownership of the land was disputed.
On 15 June 1859 a free-roaming black pig owned by the Hudson Bay employee Charles Griffin began rooting through American settler Lyman Cutlar’s potato patch. Cutlar shot the pig. Although the exact details of what happened next are unclear, a number of sources claim that Cutlar offered $10 compensation while Griffin demanded $100. Whatever the truth, Griffin reported Cutlar to the British authorities who threatened to arrest him. In response the US General William S. Harney sent 66 soldiers from the 9th Infantry, which the British governor responded to by sending three British warships.
By 10 August a force of 461 Americans and five British ships with over 2,000 men were caught in a tense standoff. However, the arrival of British Rear Admiral Robert L. Baynes heralded a de-escalation of tensions after he refused to ‘involve two great nations in a war over a squabble about a pig.’ An international commission eventually ruled in 1872 that America should control the island.
The Arab Revolt began fully on June 10th 1916 when Grand Sharif Hussein bin Ali, the guardian of the holy city of Mecca, ordered his troops to attack the Ottoman Caliphate’s garrison in the city. Hussein’s troops, drawn from his tribe, significantly outnumbered the Ottoman soldiers but were considerably less well equipped. Consequently, despite impressive initial gains, Hussein’s troops were unable to win the battle until Egyptian troops sent by the British arrived to provide artillery support.
Through correspondence with Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner of Egypt at the time, Hussein had become convinced that the Revolt would be rewarded with an independent Arabian empire stretching through the Middle East. The British supported the Revolt as it distracted tens of thousands of Ottoman troops from joining other fronts in the First World War.
Captain T. E. Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia for his involvement in the Revolt, did not join with the Arab forces until October 1916. Although he was just one of many British and French officers who worked closely with the Arabs during the Revolt, newspaper reports of his guerrilla tactics and close relationship with Hussein’s sons Faisal and Abdullah earned him fame.
The Revolt was an enormous success, but the outcome was not what was agreed in the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence. The British and French instead divided the land according to the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement that they had negotiated between themselves in 1916. Hussein was given the Hejaz region in the Arabian Peninsula, but was defeated in 1925 by Ibn Saud.
The 6th June 1944 saw the largest seaborne invasion in history, when the Allied forces of the Second World War launched Operation Neptune – more commonly known as the D-Day landings. The amphibious landings in Normandy marked the start of the Allied invasion of Nazi-held Western Europe.
The invasion was focused on a 50-mile long stretch of Normandy coastline that had been divided into five codenamed sections known as Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches. German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, nicknamed the Desert Fox for his leadership of Italian and German forces in the North African campaign, commanded the Nazi defence along what was known as the Atlantic Wall.
Prior to the landings, an airborne force of 24,000 Allied troops had been dropped behind enemy lines to seize or destroy features such as bridges, crossroads and key gun batteries. Despite this, the work of the first seaborne divisions was still difficult as they fought to clear the beaches under heavy fire from the numerous smaller gun emplacements that overlooked them. Rommel had previously identified the Normandy beaches as a possible invasion point and so had installed a range of obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, mines, and anti-tank devices that slowed down the Allied landing.
The Allies failed to achieve all their objectives on the first day and suffered at least 10,000 casualties. However, they did successfully establish a foothold on the continent that was gradually expanded over the next few months and led to the liberation of France and the defeat of the Nazis in the West.
On the 31st May 1669, Samuel Pepys wrote the final entry of his famous diary. He stopped writing due to fear that he was losing his eyesight, but went on to live for another 34 years without developing any eye problems.
Pepys began writing his diary in January 1660, and since it was first published it has become an important source for historians studying the period of the Restoration. It is also invaluable for its detailed eyewitness accounts of key events in London’s history such as the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London.
That Pepys recorded even the smallest and seemingly trivial pieces information is what makes his diary so enormously useful to historians. His is the most complete and detailed record of daily life that we have access to, and Pepys’ frankness – presumably because he never intended for the diary to be published – exposes elements of life that professional memoirs would normally try to ignore.
This isn’t to say that Pepys’ diary is perfect. He was, after all, a member of the upper-middle class and became one of the most celebrated and important civil servants of his time. But his detailed observations on life have seen him referred to by many as the greatest diarist of all time.
By the time Pepys stopped writing his diary on the 31st May 1669, he had written over a million words of shorthand that were bound into six volumes. They are now housed alongside the rest of Pepys’ library containing 3,000 books at Magdalen College, Cambridge.
Operation Dynamo, better known as the evacuation of Dunkirk, began.
Applauded by the British press as a heroic and miraculous rescue, Operation Dynamo saw an armada under the command of the Royal Navy successfully evacuate over 338,000 Allied troops from the beaches around the French port of Dunkirk.
The German army had invaded France on 10 May, and within just two weeks had cut off and surrounded a combined force of British, French and Belgian troops. Referred to by the recently-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill as ‘a colossal military disaster’ the only hope was to retreat to the port of Dunkirk and evacuate as many soldiers as possible.
Operation Dynamo was overseen by Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay who reputedly worked in a room within the cliffs of Dover that once housed an electrical dynamo, though there is no reliable evidence for this claim. The order to begin the operation was received at 18:57 on 26 May, less than a week after planning began.
The operation is famous for the flotilla of ‘little ships’ that sailed from Britain to assist the evacuation. Most of these were used to ferry soldiers from the beaches to the large navy ships that would sail across the Channel, although the majority of soldiers boarded ships directly from the stone and concrete mole that protected the harbour.
The evacuation took place amidst ferocious attacks from German aircraft and artillery. In response the Royal Air Force sent all available aircraft to protect the operation. Churchill later praised the fact that hundreds of thousands of soldiers had been evacuated from Dunkirk, but in a speech on 4 June needed to warn the public that ‘Wars are not won by evacuations.’
On the 23rd May 1915, Italy entered the First World War on the side of the Triple Entente and declared war on Austria-Hungary. Italy was actually Austria-Hungary’s ally under the terms of the Triple Alliance, but the Italian government had initially opted for neutrality before being persuaded to join with its theoretical opposition. Under the terms of the Triple Alliance, Italy was well within its rights not to provide military assistance to Germany and Austria-Hungary since the treaty was entirely defensive. Since Austria-Hungary had instigated hostilities against Serbia, Italy argued that the alliance was void.
Italy therefore remained neutral for the first nine months of the war. However, behind the scenes Prime Minister Antonio Salandra and his minister of Foreign Affairs, Sidney Sonnino, were investigating which side would be the best to join. In a secret agreement signed on 26th April in London, Italy agreed to leave the Triple Alliance, join the Triple Entente, and declare war on Austria-Hungary and Germany. Assuming they won, Italy would in return receive large areas of territory from the Central Powers such as Italian-populated areas of Austria-Hungary and in the region of the Adriatic Sea.
Italy duly entered the war against Austria-Hungary on 23rd May 1915. Despite superior numbers, the Italians struggled against Austria-Hungarians. However, they did emerge victorious and so Premier Vittorio Emanuele Orlando went as the Italian representative to the Paris Peace Conference. However, the offers of land were not as much as Italy had hoped for and so he left the Conference in a boycott.
The secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France, formally known as the Asia Minor Agreement, was ratified.
The agreement was designed to deal with the future of the Ottoman Empire, which had been known as ‘the sick man of Europe’ in the preceding years due to its declining power. After the Ottomans joined the First World War on the side of the Central Powers, the Allies began discussing policy towards their territory.
Britain and France had already agreed to Russia’s claim to Constantinople and the Straits of Dardanelles by the time representatives from the two countries began discussing further questions of territorial control in November 1915. The British diplomat Mark Sykes concluded negotiations with his French counterpart François Georges-Picot in March 1916 and the agreement was ratified in May, having secured Russian assent at the end of April.
The Sykes-Picot Agreement carved up the Ottoman Empire into spheres of influence that conflicted directly with the promises Britain had made to Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca, to secure Arab support against the Ottomans. When the secret agreement was published in November 1917 following the Bolshevik Revolution, Sir Henry McMahon who had negotiated the Arab deal with Hussein resigned.
Over a century after its creation, the Sykes-Picot Agreement continues to be the focus of significant debate due to its lasting impact on the Middle East. It is often criticised for establishing ‘artificial’ borders in the region that ignored ethnic and sectarian characteristics, and which have caused almost continuous conflict in the region.
On the 13th May 1787, the eleven ships of the “First Fleet” set sail under Captain Arthur Phillip from Portsmouth, England, to establish a penal colony in Australia. As well as over 1,000 convicts who had been sentenced to transportation, the ships also carried officers, crew, marines and their families.
It took 252 days for the six convict ships, three store ships, and two Royal Navy escort ships to complete the journey. The route involved the ships sailing first from Portsmouth to Tenerife, and then to Rio de Janeiro where they restocked their provisions and took livestock on board to establish the new settlement. They then sailed via Cape Town to Australia. This route ensured optimal usage of the prevailing winds to speed up the journey.
Despite the lengthy voyage and numerous dangers en route, the entire fleet of eleven ships arrived safely in Botany Bay. Going ashore to investigate Captain Cook’s proposed site for the penal colony, Captain Phillip quickly chose to instead find a different location because the soil was poor quality and there was limited access to fresh water. After further exploration, 6 days later he moved the fleet a few kilometres north to Sydney Cove, and the British flag was raised. 48 people had died on route, but over 1,400 people survived to establish the first European outpost in Australia on the 26th January 1788, the date which still marks Australia Day.
The Indian Mutiny, also known as the First War of Indian Independence, began in Meerut.
By the middle of the 19th century, the British East India Company ruled two thirds of the Indian subcontinent on behalf of the government. The remainder paid tribute to the British, but there was increasing discontent among native rulers about their rapidly declining position. For ordinary Indians there were also concerns about the pace of Westernisation that threatened local traditions and ignored religious practices.
Against these undercurrents of hostility the East India Company relied on its sizeable army to maintain order. Although figures vary between sources, by 1857 up to 300,000 Indian sepoys had been recruited to the army alongside approximately 50,000 European troops. While this meant the Company relied on local troops to maintain control, this presented few problems until the introduction of the Enfield P53 rifle in 1856.
The new rifle required soldiers to bite the end off a pre-greased cartridge to release the powder and load the weapon, but rumours began circulating that the grease was made from cow and pig fat. The former was offensive to Hindus, while the latter was offensive to Muslims. On 9 May 1857, 85 seepoys of the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry were court marshalled in the garrison town of Meerut, 40 miles northeast of Delhi, for refusing to use the new cartridges.
Sentenced to up to ten years’ imprisonment, their comrades broke them out of jail the next day. They killed a number of Europeans, as well as up to 50 Indian civilians, before marching to Delhi from where the uprising spread throughout northern India. The response from the British was brutal, but it still took them more than 18 months to regain control.
On the 9th May 1887, Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show opened in London at the American Exhibition in West Brompton. This was the first time Buffalo Bill had travelled to Britain, and marked the first time that many Europeans had seen the fabled ‘Cowboys and Indians’.
Over 100 performers had travelled from New York aboard the steamship State of Nebraska, including members of a range of indigenous tribes who staged a very scripted and stage-friendly version of life on the Great Plains. Alongside the performers were a further 200 animals including horses, buffalo, elk, donkeys and deer and an original Deadwood stagecoach that was used in a scene depicting an attack by hostile tribes.
Alongside such choreographed scenes, the show also included demonstrations of so-called ‘cowboy skills’ such as lassoing galloping animals and sharp-shooting. The famous exhibition shooter Annie Oakley and her husband, Frank E. Butler, featured heavily in the show with Annie famously shooting a cigar from her husband’s mouth.
One of the reasons for the show’s success was the early support of Queen Victoria. The Queen, who was celebrating her Golden Jubilee the same year, was present at a command performance two days after the show opened and also went to visit the show again 6 weeks later. The royal seal of approval was a publicity coup for the show, which went on to play to over two and a half million people before it closed 6 months later.