As part of the Ivens database, I have been tracking key historical events to better understand the times my ancestors lived in.
It throws up some interesting juxtapositions:
1688: William of Orange (William III) lands in Torbay with 15,000 mercenaries, meanwhile Edward Lloyd opens a coffeehouse which eventually becomes Lloyds of London.
1692: The Campbells slaughter 38 MacDonalds at Glencoe, meanwhile the Salem witch trials begin in Massechusetts.
1693: William Penn proposes European Federation, meanwhile Mt Etna erupts causing earthquake that devastates parts of Sicily and Malta.
1701: Jethro Tull invents a drill for planting seeds in rows, meanwhile Captain Kidd is hanged for piracy in London.
1703: The Company of Quenching of Fire (i.e., a fire brigade) is founded in Edinburgh, meanwhile the Great storm of 1703 kills up to 15,000, and, by the way, The Man in the Iron Mask dies in the Bastille.
1709: Great Frost of 1709: Extremely cold winter, temperatures as low as −12 °C (10 °F) on 5 January. Floating ice enters the North Sea, meanwhile ten ships leave London for the New York Colony, carrying over 4,000 people.
1715: A total solar eclipse is seen across southern England – the last total eclipse visible in London for almost 900 years, meanwhile a Spanish treasure fleet of 10 ships leaves Havana for Spain. Seven days later, nine of them sink in a storm off the coast of Florida.
1720: The English stock market crashes with dropping prices for stock in the South Sea Company (The South Sea Bubble), meanwhile Jonathan Swift begins Gulliver’s Travels.
1729: Completion of the first (wooden) Putney Bridge as the only fixed crossing of the River Thames between London Bridge and Kingston, meanwhile Bexhill-on-Sea struck by a waterspout (tornado) that came ashore.
1737: An earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 9.3 occurs off the shore of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. Tsunamis up to 60m (200 ft) high followed in the Pacific ocean, meanwhile a tropical cyclone strikes Bengal, India killing approximately 300,000.
1741: The population of China reaches c. 143 million, meanwhile Irish Famine (1740–41): where somewhere between 310,000 and 480,000 people starve in Ireland due to cold weather affecting harvests.
1755: A Dictionary of the English Language is published by Samuel Johnson, meanwhile Lisbon is destroyed by a massive earthquake and tsunami, killing 60,000–90,000 people. Cornwall was struck by a 10 ft (3.0 m) wave.
1779: Captain James Cook is killed on the Sandwich Islands on his third and last voyage, meanwhile The Iron Bridge is erected across the River Severn in Shropshire, the world’s first bridge built entirely of cast iron.
1783: The Kingdom of Great Britain acknowledges the independence of the United States of America, meanwhile the volcano Laki in Iceland begins an 8-month eruption starting a chain of natural disasters, including sulphurous gas suffocating more than 10,000 in Britain, followed by about 8,000 deaths in winter.
1787: Captain Arthur Phillip leaves Portsmouth in England with the eleven ships of the First Fleet carrying around 700 convicts and at least 300 crew and guards to establish a penal colony in Australia, meanwhile the original Lord’s Cricket Ground in London holds its first cricket match; Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) founded.
1789: The French Revolution (1789–1799) begins with the Storming of the Bastille, meanwhile Fletcher Christian leads a different mutiny on the British Royal Navy ship HMS Bounty, and, by the way, George Washington is unanimously elected the first President of the United States.
1802: Marie Tussaud first exhibits her wax sculptures in London, having been commissioned during the Reign of Terror in France to make death masks of the victims, meanwhile Ludwig van Beethoven publishes his Piano Sonata No. 14 (the “Moonlight”) in Vienna.
1807: The Swansea and Mumbles Railway in South Wales, at this time known as the Oystermouth Railway, becomes the first passenger-carrying railway in the world, meanwhile Napoleon attacks Russia.
1815: Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies erupts, killing upwards of 92,000 and causes snows in June and July in the northern hemisphere, widespread crop failures, and subsequently famine, which is why 1816 is later known as the Year Without a Summer, meanwhile Napoleon Bonaparte escapes from Elba leading to the Battle of Waterloo.
1818: The Christmas carol “Silent Night” is first performed in Oberndorf bei Salzburg in Austria, meanwhile Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is published anonymously in London.
1829: Robert Peel establishes the Metropolitan Police Service in London, meanwhile The Oxford University Boat Club wins the first inter-university Boat Race, rowed at Henley-on-Thames.
1831: Charles Darwin embarks on his historic voyage aboard HMS Beagle, meanwhile a Cholera pandemic: Part of the 1829–51 cholera pandemic, beginning in London, 55,000 die in outbreaks across England and Wales.
1836: First monthly part of Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers published in London, meanwhile Davy Crockett arrives in Texas. The Battle of the Alamo begins.
1843: Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol is first published, in London. Released on December 19 it sells out by Christmas Eve, meanwhile The first major wagon train headed for the American Northwest sets out with one thousand pioneers from Elm Grove, Missouri on the Oregon Trail.
1845: Potato blight (in Ireland) devastates food sources, resulting in starvation and disease that kills somewhere around a million people, meanwhile Elizabeth Barrett receives a love letter from the younger poet Robert Browning on May 20.
1851: First protected submarine telegraph cable laid across the English Channel, meanwhile, Victor Hugo uses the phrase United States of Europe in a speech to the French National Assembly, while the population of UK reaches 21 million of which 6.3 million live in cities of 20,000 or more in England and Wales.
1854: An epidemic of cholera in London kills 10,000, meanwhile in the Battle of Balaclava, the allies gain an overall victory, except for the disastrous cavalry Charge of the Light Brigade.
1858: The “Wedding March” by Felix Mendelssohn becomes a popular wedding recessional, meanwhile 4-year-old peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes has a vision at the grotto of Massabielle.
1862: General Ulysses S. Grant gives the United States its first victory of the American Civil War, meanwhile Charles Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll) extemporises the story that becomes Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
1863: American Civil War: Battle of Gettysburg, meanwhile the Ffestiniog Railway in North Wales introduces steam locomotives into general service.
1872: The Tichborne case is decided in London against the claimant Arthur Orton, meanwhile The Mary Celeste sets sail from New York; bound for Genoa, Italy. A month later, the now-crewless American ship Mary Celeste is found (still seaworthy) by the British brig Dei Gratia in the Atlantic.
1876: Alexander Graham Bell makes the first successful telephone call, saying “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you”. meanwhile vast numbers of Native Americans in the United States move north to an encampment of the Sioux chief Sitting Bull in the region of the Little Bighorn River, creating the last great gathering of native peoples on the Great Plains.
1880: Bushranger Ned Kelly hanged in Melbourne Australia, meanwhile The first successful shipment of frozen mutton from Australia arrives in London aboard the SS Strathleven.
1881: Alexander II of Russia is killed near his palace when a bomb is thrown at him; President James A. Garfield is shot by lawyer Charles J. Guiteau in Washington, D.C. and Billy the Kid is shot and killed by Pat Garrett outside Fort Sumner.
1883: Robert Louis Stevenson’s children’s pirate adventure novel Treasure Island is first published in book format, in London, meanwhile a rush for treats in a concert hall in Sunderland, England, results in 183 children being asphyxiated.
1886: John Pemberton begins to advertise Coca-Cola (in The Atlanta Journal); Yorkshire Tea is established in Harrogate, UK; and Scotch whisky distiller William Grant & Sons is founded.
1887: Construction of the foundations of the Eiffel Tower starts in Paris, France, meanwhile Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show opens in London.
1889: Charlie Chaplin is born in London. Adolf Hitler is born at Braunau am Inn in Austria-Hungary – just 4 days later on April 20th.
1891: The Great Blizzard of 1891 in the south and west of England leads to extensive snow drifts and powerful storms off the south coast, with 14 ships sunk and approximately 220 deaths attributed to the weather conditions, meanwhile The British steamship SS Utopia, carrying Italian migrants to New York, sinks in the inner harbor of Gibraltar after collision with the battleship HMS Anson, killing 564.
1894: Winter of 1894–95 in the United Kingdom: Conditions were such that many people died of hypothermia or respiratory conditions, meanwhile Blackpool Tower is opened.
1895: French officer Alfred Dreyfus is stripped of his army rank and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island, meanwhile Oscar Wilde is arrested in London for “gross indecency”.
1900: The second Modern Olympic Games opens in Paris as part of The Paris World Exhibition, meanwhile The Boxer Rebellion: An international contingent of troops, under British command, invades Peking and frees approximately 20,000 Europeans taken hostage.
1904: 80,000 demonstrators gather in Hyde Park, London, to protest against the importation of Chinese labourers to South Africa by the British government, meanwhile Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly, with a background theme of Japan–United States relations, debuts at La Scala in Milan to no great acclaim.
1906: Mount Vesuvius erupts and devastates Naples, meanwhile San Francisco earthquake (estimated magnitude 7.8) on the San Andreas Fault destroys much of San Francisco, California, killing at least 3,000, with 225,000–300,000 left homeless.
1912: British polar explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott and a team of four become the second expeditionary group to reach the South Pole, meanwhile White Star liner RMS Titanic departs from Southampton with 2225 passengers and crew on her maiden voyage bound for New York.
1914: Gavrilo Princip assassinates Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, triggering World War I, meanwhile Charlie Chaplin’s second film, the Keystone comedy ‘Kid Auto Races at Venice’, is released in which his character of The Tramp is introduced.
1919: The Treaty of Versailles is signed, formally ending World War I, meanwhile British Foreign Office official St John Philby and T. E. Lawrence arrive in Cairo for discussions about Arab unrest in Egypt.
1923: Prince Albert, Duke of York (later George VI) marries Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother), meanwhile Vladimir Lenin suffers his third stroke, which renders him bedridden and unable to speak, AND Hyperinflation in Germany sees the number of marks needed to purchase a single American dollar reach 353,000 – more than 200 times the amount needed at the start of the year.
1925: John Logie Baird successfully transmitted the first television pictures with a greyscale image, meanwhile London’s first enclosed double-decker buses were introduced.
1928: The River Thames floods in London; 14 drowned and thousands made homeless. On January 7 the moat at the Tower of London (drained in 1843 and planted with grass) is completely refilled by a tidal wave. meanwhile The Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia commences operations.
1930: The first frozen foods of Clarence Birdseye go on sale, meanwhile Mahatma Gandhi sets off on a 200-mile protest march towards the sea with 78 followers to protest at the British monopoly on salt, and, by the way, Georges Simenon’s detective character Inspector Maigret makes his first appearance.
1935: Night of the Long Knives in Nazi Germany, meanwhile American outlaws Bonnie and Clyde are ambushed and killed by police in Bienville Parish, Louisiana.
1936: The Summer Olympics open in Berlin, Germany, and mark the first live television coverage of a sports event in world history, meanwhile Billy Butlin opens his first Butlins holiday camp, Butlins Skegness, officially opened by Amy Johnson of Hull (the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia)
1938: A brilliant aurora borealis described variously as “a curtain of fire” and a “huge blood-red beam of light” startles people across Europe and is visible as far south as Gibraltar, meanwhile Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds is broadcast, causing panic in various parts of the United States.
1944: 76 Royal Air Force prisoners of war escape by tunnel “Harry” from Stalag Luft III (The Great Escape), meanwhile 155,000 Allied troops shipped from England land on the beaches of Normandy in northern France.
1946: Right after WWII, blizzards block roads and cause blackouts, resulting in industrial stagnation. Followed by heavy flooding in March, causing £250–375 million of damage, meanwhile David Lean’s Great Expectations, based on the Charles Dickens novel, and featuring John Mills, Valerie Hobson, Martita Hunt and Alec Guinness is released.
1952: The European Coal and Steel Community is established, meanwhile A “killer fog” descends on London, termed the Great Smog.
1954: Food rationing in Great Britain ends with the lifting of restrictions on sale and purchase of meat, meanwhile Bill Haley & His Comets record “Rock Around the Clock”, thus starting the rock and roll craze.
1956: British spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean resurface in the Soviet Union after being missing for 5 years, meanwhile British diver Lionel Crabb (working for MI6) dives into Portsmouth harbour to investigate a visiting Soviet cruiser and vanishes.
1958: The European Economic Community (EEC) is founded, meanwhile Sputnik 1 (launched on October 4, 1957) falls to Earth from its orbit and burns up.
1959: In Cuba, rebel troops led by Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos enter the city of Havana. Fidel Castro arrives in Havana. Meanwhile, a chartered plane transporting musician Buddy Holly, goes down in foggy conditions near Clear Lake, Iowa, killing all four on board.
1962: The beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis: A U-2 flight over Cuba photographs Soviet nuclear weapons being installed, meanwhile The Beatles’ first single in their own right, “Love Me Do”/”P.S. I Love You”, is released in the U.K.
1963: Assassination of John F. Kennedy in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas, meanwhile The Great Train Robbery takes place in Buckinghamshire, England.
1966: The Aberfan disaster when a huge coal slag descends on a school in Aberfan, meanwhile The hit song “Paint It Black” by the Rolling Stones was released.