January 31st 1606: Guy Fawkes executed


Guy Fawkes (1570-1606)


On this day in 1606, Guy Fawkes (or Guido Fawkes) was executed for plotting against the British Parliament and King James I. Fawkes and his gang planned to assassinate the King and restore a Catholic monarch by blowing up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament, attended by the monarch. The group leased a cellar beneath the House of Lords and Fawkes stockpiled gunpowder there. The authorities were alerted by an anonymous letter, and arrested Fawkes on 5th November 1605, who was questioned and tortured and finally revealed their plans.



Fawkes discovered under the House of Lords


Fawkes was hanged on 31st January. His failure has been commemorated in England ever since when every 5th November, people gather to burn his effigy and observe a fireworks display.



The execution of Guy Fawkes

Recently, Fawkes has become something of an international emblem for political protestors. The ‘Guy Fawkes mask’ is worn by members of the group Anonymous and was a regular image of the Occupy protests. Fawkes was indeed a radical in his day, and it is interesting to see the resurgence of interest in him. He has become a symbol of the ability of the populace to affect political change, albeit his plan was rather violent and drastic. However it begs the question, would he be remembered this way if he had been successful? Even as a failure, he was still traditionally a hated figure. Bonfire Night now is about fireworks and sparklers but it was originally a day to celebrate his failure. Today we even still burn his effigy, though with less malice than in the past. Had he been successful he would have been an even more hated figure in the UK. Regicide is a grave crime, and had he succeeded he would have destroyed one of London’s most treasured landmarks: the Houses of Parliament. I generally support the actions of the protestors, but I do have to wonder what they would be wearing had Fawkes been successful. It seems it was his failure that makes him an icon, and had he succeeded he would not be upheld in this way.


January 30th 1948: Gandhi assassinated


Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948)


On this day in 1948, Indian pacifist and leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse. Gandhi was famous for his non-violent struggle for Indian independence, instead using mass civil disobedience to secure India’s independence. His goal was achieved a year before his death. Gandhi is referred to as ‘Mahatma’ (meaning ‘Great Soul’) and ‘Bapu’ (‘father’) in India, as he is remembered as the ‘Father of the Nation’.



Gandhi lies in state


He was shot at point-blank range whilst walking to a platform to address a prayer meeting by Godse, a Hindu nationalist who felt Gandhi was sympathetic to Muslims and held him responsible for weakening India by insisting on payment to Pakistan. Gandhi was mourned nationally, and is still revered today and considered a martyr. Supposedly, his last words were “Oh God”.



The crowd at Gandhi’s funeral procession

January 29th 1845: ‘The Raven’ published


Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)


On this day in 1845, the poem ‘The Raven’ by American writer Edgar Allan Poe was published in the New York Evening Mirror. The poem made Poe famous and established him as a popular writer. ‘The Raven’ remains one of his best known works today. It tells the story of a raven who comes to a man who has recently lost his beloved. The raven perches on a bust of Pallas and distresses the man by repeating the word “Nevermore”. Despite being a poetry philistine, I personally think this is a wonderful poem. Its chilling tone and musicality make it an exemplary work by Poe.


edgar raven

Gustave Doré’s interpretation of the poem’s final lines


“And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
            Shall be lifted – nevermore!”

(read the full poem here)

January 28th 1393: Bal des Ardents


The Bal des Ardents in a 15th century work


On this day in 1393, the French King Charles VI was almost killed at a masquerade ball when the dancers caught fire; the event has since become known as the ‘Bal des Ardents’ or ‘The Ball of the Burning Men’. The fire broke out because of a flame torch, and killed four of the dancers. Charles VI, sometimes known as Charles the Mad, was in trouble as his insanity was jeopardising his legitimacy as a ruler. He had been on the throne thirteen years at the time of the ball, having ascended to power when he was only eleven. This incident did not help his reputation  as it seemed emblematic of the decadence of Charles’s court.

January 27th 1832: Lewis Carroll born


Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832 – 1898)


On this day in 1832, the English writer Lewis Carroll was born. His birth name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson  but he took Lewis Carroll as his pseudonym. Carroll studied at Rugby School and Oxford University. He is most famous as the author of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ (1865) and its sequel ‘Through the Looking Glass’ (1871). Carroll’s writing is an example of literary nonsense, and displays his aptitude with word play and logic. His works are still widely enjoyed today by adults and children alike.



Title page of the original ‘Alice in Wonderland’

January 26th 1788: First Fleet arrives


‘The First Fleet Entering Port Jackson on January 26, 1788’ by E. Le Bihan


On this day in 1788 the British First Fleet, led by Captain Arthur Phillip, sailed into Port Jackson, Australia. The New South Wales region of Australia had been ‘discovered’ by Captain James Cook in 1770 but the first attempt to settle the area came a few years later. The Fleet of 11 ships carried 1,500 convicts and settlers on the arduous, 252 day journey from England. They arrived at Botany Bay on January 18th 1788 but as it lacked a fresh water supply they continued to look for a site for permanent settlement. On January 26th they sailed into Port Jackson and found it to be perfect conditions for settlement. Philip named the site Sydney Cove after the British Home Secretary Lord Sydney. Port Jackson is now Sydney Harbour, home to the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

“How grand is the prospect which lies before this youthful nation!”
– The now Governor Phillip’s February 7th address


australia day

‘The Founding of Australia’ painting by Algernon Talmadge 1937

Initial relations with indigenous people were amicable, however conflict soon began and there was increasing encroachment on indigenous lands by European settlers. Whilst this day is commonly celebrated as Australia Day, it has also become symbolic of the adverse affects of British colonisation on the native population. It is thus also remembered as ‘Survival Day’ or ‘Invasion Day’.

January 25th 1924: First Winter Olympics


Poster for the Games


On this day in 1924, the first Winter Olympic Games began in Chamonix, France. At the time, the event was called ‘International Winter Sports Week’ but it was later retroactively called the Winter Olympics. The sports included speed skating, figure skating, ice hockey, bobsleigh and skiing. Only 16 nations took part in the first Winter Olympics, but the event steadily gained more recognition. The most recent Winter Olympics, in Vancouver in 2010, saw 82 participating nations.



Flag-bearers for each of the 16 participating nations


1924 also saw  the Summer Olympic Games in Paris. However in 1994, the rules were changed so the Winter Olympics take place two years after the Summer Olympics. Hence this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi occur two years after London hosted the Summer Games.



A medal from the 1924 Winter Games


The 2014 Winter Olympics promise to be a controversial one. There are considerable fears of terrorist attacks striking the Games in Sochi, Russia. There is mounting unrest in the region, and terrorist threats have  been made. The nearby city of Volgograd has been struck three times in recent months, adding to fears about the safety of Sochi. There have also been calls the boycott the Games due to the repressive policies of Vladimir Putin. His political legitimacy is called into question, and his regime has provoked international outrage with its treatment of political protestors (such as the band Pussy Riot) and its anti-homosexual laws. When the Games open on February 7th, the world will be watching.

January 24th 1984: First Mac goes on sale


The first Apple Macintosh


On this day in 1984, the first Apple Macintosh PC went on sale. It was introduced by Steve Jobs, and was the first commercially successful PC with a mouse and interactive, graphical interface. The first Macintosh had a 128KB memory. The computer went on sale for $2,495 and sold well, reaching 70,000 on May 3rd 1984. It was first introduced by the famous ‘1984’ advert by Ridley Scott, which aired on January 22nd.



Steve Jobs’s signature engraved in the case of the first Macintosh


Apple’s influence and sales decreased in the 1990s, as the PC market became dominated by Microsoft. However, Apple saw a resurgence with the 1998 iMac and the 2001 iPod. Apple now dominate the digital music business, with their wide range of iPods and the iPhone, and the iMac model continues.



The current Macintosh

The first Macintosh was released 30 years ago today and Apple remains a dominant force in the technology industry. Whilst Steve Jobs died three years ago, his legacy lives on in the continued success of his company. The iPhone in particular has revolutionised mobile phone technology and ushered in the age of smartphones; they have become a staple piece of technology. 

January 23rd 1828: Saigō Takamori born


Saigō Takamori (1828 – 1877)

On this day in 1828, the famous Japanese samurai warrior Saigō Takamori was born in Kagoshima. He went on to lead troops of the Satsuma region as they fought their rivals Chōshū, and opposed the opening and modernising of Japan in the Meiji Restoration of 1868, and the ruling Tokugawa Bakufu. He was a leader of the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion against the Meiji Government. Takamori was fighting against Western encroachment and strove to maintain the ‘old ways’.


Statue of Takamori in Kagoshima City

Takamori is perhaps best known as  the basis for Ken Watanabe’s character in the 2003 film ‘The Last Samurai’. It’s a great film and whilst understandably not historically accurate, it does give an insight into the idea of the ‘last samurai’. Takamori was striving to keep what he thought was a defining feature of Japanese national identity: the samurai. The samurai were the last bastion of an era of isolation which left Japan untouched by foreign powers for hundreds of years. The moment Commodore Perry’s boat arrived in Japan, the samurai saw the beginning of the end. Whilst they failed, and the Meiji Restoration abolition of samurai endured, the samurai remain an intrinsic part of Japanese history and culture. When examining Japanese attitudes to battle in World War Two, and even modern debates over land ownership with China, we can see the residue of the samurai mentality.

January 22nd 1924: MacDonald becomes Prime Minister


Ramsay MacDonald (1866 – 1937)

On this day in 1924 Ramsay MacDonald became the first ever Labour Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. MacDonald came to power in 1924, having earned public respect for his opposition to the First World War. His first government had a minority in Parliament and thus relied on support of the Liberals. His government lasted nine months, and was defeated in the 1924 General Election. MacDonald returned to power in 1929, and faced the challenges of the Great Depression. His party was divided over the issue, and in 1931 MacDonald formed a National Government, with a majority of Conservative MPs. Therefore MacDonald was expelled from the Labour Party for his ‘betrayal’.



Labour Party logo

Since MacDonald, the Labour Party have established themselves as a major party in the UK; Labour Prime Ministers have included Clement Attlee, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The current leader of the Labour Party is Ed Miliband, and the party is preparing for the 2015 election in the UK. This election will demonstrate the popularity of the current governing Coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. At this stage, despite how much the news media will speculate (though nothing compared to the 2016 speculation in the US!), it really could go either way. One of the major issues of the election will be concerning Britain’s membership in the European Union and immigration. The Conservatives have promised a referendum on EU membership should they win, mostly in response to the rise of the Eurosceptic UKIP challenging the Tories from the right. Anyway, I digress, today’s anniversary is the ascendancy of the first Labour government in British history. Maybe in 2015 we will see another Labour government, this time under Miliband rather than MacDonald.