On this day in history : 27th January 1916 – The British government passes a legislation which introduces conscription in the United Kingdom….
Known as the Military Service Act the Bill had been introduced by Prime Minister H.H.Asquith and came into force on the 2nd of March 1916…. It was only ever enforced in England, Scotland and Wales due to the political situation in Ireland….
Before conscription the government had relied on volunteers….now all single men between the ages of 18-40 years old were liable to be called up for military service…. There were exclusions – widowed men with dependent children and ministers of religion…. However, there was also a system of Military Service Tribunals which examined claims of exemption…. Claims such as performing civilian work of national importance, domestic hardship, health issues and conscientious objection were all taken into consideration – although the latter with very little sympathy….
By the end of June 1916 748,587 men had applied to tribunals – whereas some 770,000 had joined up…. In the beginning married men had been exempt but this changed in June 1916…. The age limit was raised to 51 in 1918 – and there were changes made to laws in recognition of work of national importance. Towards the end there was even support to call up clergy…. Conscription ended in 1919….
On this day in history : 26th January 1788 – The British First Fleet sails into Port Jackson, led by Arthur Phillip, to establish Sydney – the first permanent European settlement in Australia….
On the 6th of December 1785 orders had been given for the establishment of a new penal colony in New South Wales, on land claimed for Britain by the explorer James Cook, in 1770…. Convicts had originally been transported to the Colonies in North America – but after the American War of Independence the United States refused to take any more of Britain’s convicts….
Eleven ships left Portsmouth on the 13th of May 1787, to set sail for Australia…. The Fleet comprised of two Royal Navy vessels ~ ‘HMS Sirilus’, a 10-gun ship and ‘HMS Supply’….six convict transport ships ~ ‘Alexander’, ‘Charlotte’, ‘Friendship’, ‘Lady Penrhyn’, ‘Prince of Wales’ and ‘Scarborough’ ~ and three store ships…. The Fleet carried seamen, marines and their families, government officials and a large group of convicts, including women and children (some of which were born on the voyage)….
The Fleet, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip arrived at Botany Bay between the 18th and 20th of January 1788…. Immediately it was obvious that Botany Bay was not suitable for a new settlement ~ it was not quite as James Cook had described it…. The Bay was unprotected, the water too shallow to allow ships to anchor close to shore, there was a lack of fresh water available and the soil was poor….
Arthur Phillip decided to explore further afield…. On the 21st of January he and some of his officers travelled 7.5 miles north to Port Jackson, to see if it was more suitable…. They stayed for a couple of days, getting a ‘feel for the place’ and even making contact with the local Aboriginal people…. Phillip named it ‘Sydney Cove’ – after the Home Secretary, Thomas Townsend the 1st Viscount of Sydney….
The scout party returned to Botany Bay to rejoin the other ships and Phillip gave the order for the whole Fleet to move to Sydney Cove the following day, the 24th of January…. Unfortunately a huge gale raged the next day and so the departure had to be delayed…. The 25th of January saw little improvement in the weather but the Fleet attempted to leave anyway…. Only ‘HMS Supply’ managed to leave the bay; on board were Captain Phillip, a few officers, some marines and about 40 convicts…. They sailed on ahead leaving the other vessels to catch up when they finally managed to get out of the bay….
‘HMS Supply’ arrived at Sydney Cove and anchored – and the next morning, on the 26th of January, Phillip was rowed ashore and took possession of the land in the name of King George III…
Meanwhile, back at Botany Bay…. ‘HMS Sirilus’ had managed to clear the bay – but the other ships were having a few problems…. ‘Charlotte’ had nearly been blown on to rocks – ‘Friendship’ and ‘Prince of Wales’ had become entangled together, losing sails and booms…. ‘Charlotte’ and ‘Friendship’ then collided…. ‘Lady Penrhyn’ almost ran aground….
But eventually all eleven ships made it to Sydney Cove….the last one limping in around 3pm on the 26th of January….
Formal establishment of the new settlement did not actually happen until the 7th of February 1788 – when the formal proclamation of the colony and Arthur Phillip’s governorship was read out….not the 26th of January as many believe…. However, the 26th is the day that every year Australians celebrate ‘Australia Day’….
On this day in history : 25th January 1858 – The marriage of Princess Victoria – eldest daughter of Queen Victoria – and Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia takes place at St. James’s Palace….
Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa was born on the 21st of November 1840 and was the eldest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert – born nine months after their wedding…. Vicky was christened on their first wedding anniversary and on the 19th of January 1841 she was made ‘Princess Royal’….
Vicky first met her future husband Frederick (Fritz) when she was just 10-years-old….he was approaching 20. Fritz was the son of William of Prussia and Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach….and was second inline to the Prussian throne after his father – who was expected to succeed his childless brother….
Vicky and Fritz were introduced when he came to London with his family to visit the Great Exhibition in 1851…. Despite the age difference the pair got on well, although he spoke little English Vicky was fluent in German. She acted as his guide at the Exhibition….
Fritz spent quite a bit of time with the royal family during his four-week stay in England – and once he had returned to Germany began to regularly correspond with Vicky…. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were delighted as they wished to forge a closer alliance with Prussia…. If Vicky and Fritz were to marry two important powers would be united, Britain and Prussia, Germany’s main principality….
In 1855 Fritz visited Vicky and her family at Balmoral Castle….she was 15 by then. Vicky was not a classic beauty – her mother worried Fritz might find her too plain….but there was no need to worry because there was an instant spark between them…. After just three days Fritz asked Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for permission to marry their daughter…. Of course, they were thrilled – but because of Vicky’s young age made the condition that they would have to wait until after her 17th birthday….
The engagement was publicly announced on the 17th of May 1856…. The news was not generally well-received in either country…. Many in Britain criticised the Kingdom of Prussia for its neutrality during the Crimean War…. Whereas, in Germany there were those of a more conservative mind who wished their Crown Prince to marry a Russian grand duchess – those more liberally minded welcomed a union with the British Crown….
The day of the wedding dawned as a bright, crisp Winter’s day…. After breakfast Queen Victoria invited her daughter to her rooms – and they dressed together and had their hair styled…. Vicky wore a gown of white silk moire over a flounced lace petticoat adorned with wreaths of orange and myrtle blossoms…. A matching wreath held her veil in place and she had white satin ribbons upon her train…. For jewellery she wore diamond earrings, necklace and brooch…. Queen Victoria wore lilac silk moire with a velvet train, her outfit completed with the Crown diamonds….
Thousands of people lined the short route of the procession from Buckingham Palace to St. James’s Palace…. They were treated to a delightful spectacle….18 carriages, over 300 soldiers and 220 horses…. In one carriage rode three of her sisters, Alice, Helena and Louise (Beatrice, not yet being a year old, did not attend) and all were dressed in white lace over pink satin…. Another carriage carried her brothers, Bertie, Alfred, Arthur and Leopold, attired in Highland dress….
To trumpet fanfares and drumrolls the last coach in the procession, carrying Queen Victoria and Vicky, made its way to the Royal Chapel at St. James’s Palace…. There had been some discrepancy as to who should host the wedding – the Germans felt as Fritz was a future Monarch it should take place in Berlin. However, Queen Victoria had other ideas…. “The assumption of it being too much for a Prince Royal of Prussia to come over to marry the Princess Royal of Great Britain in England is too absurd, to say the least…. Whatever may be the usual practice for Prussian Princes, it is not everyday that one marries the eldest daughter of the Queen of England”…. Needless to say, Queen Victoria got her way….
Vicky was escorted down the aisle by her father and Godfather, her great-uncle, Leopold I of the Belgians…. Her groom was waiting for her and wore the dark blue tunic and white trousers of the Prussian Guard and was carrying his shining silver helmet….
It was a romantic wedding, one of love – unlike so many of the arranged royal weddings of the time…. The service was conducted by John Sumner, Archbishop of Canterbury – who was so nervous he left several parts out…. Queen Victoria later wrote in her journal that she was pleased “Vicky and Fritz spoke plainly”….
After the service the bride and groom walked out of the chapel to Felix Mendelssohn’s Wedding March. Although it had been composed 16 years before it was the first time it was played at a royal wedding….and so there after it has become a popular choice at weddings ever since….
On this day in history : 24th January 1969 – Students at the London School of Economics go on the rampage with crowbars, sledgehammers and pickaxes – in protest at the installation of steel security gates….
This was just one incident in a long period of student unrest during the 1960s – not just in the UK but in some European countries and North America too….
For the LSE problems had begun a couple of years previously when Dr. Walter Adams had been appointed LSE Director…. It had sparked a series of protests and sit-ins, as Dr. Adams had formerly been the Principal of the University College of Rhodesia…. It was felt that he had not shown enough resistance to Ian Smith’s regime – and students disagreed with his appointment as Director….
As a result of these earlier protests seven sets of steel gates had been erected in and around the university….Dr. Adams said they had been installed to improve security and so that areas of the building could be closed off in times of protest…. Students and staff claimed the gates made the place look like a concentration camp – they were described as ‘anti-student and anti-freedom’….
A week after the installation of the gates a meeting was held to discuss their removal…. Francis Keohane, the then Student Union president, wanted a solution to be found through negotiation – but when put to the vote his motion failed….
Within half an hour the gates were down…. Led by a lecturer apparently yelling “this way comrades” students took to the gates with pickaxes, sledgehammers and crowbars…. Francis Keohane and treasurer Roger Mountford immediately resigned from their posts as they could not condone the violence….
The police were called and over 100 officers arrived and closed off the area around Aldwych….25 arrests were made and the protestors taken to Bow Street Police Station…. More than 200 students responded by marching, nine abreast, to the police station and then sat outside chanting “release our colleagues” …. Extra police had to be drafted in to protect the police station….
The protests continued for the following few days and as a result the LSE closed for more than three weeks. Legal action was brought against a total of 13 people, 3 of which were members of staff and believed to be the ring leaders – two lost their jobs…. The charged students were banned from college for a month and were only permitted to return if they promised not to cause any more damage and not to interfere with management decisions…. Other students faced disciplinary action for disrupting lectures….
On this day in history : 23rd January 1893 – The death of Dr. William Price – the eccentric physician who set a legal precedent for cremation in Britain….
Price was born on the 4th of March 1800 near to Caerphilly, Glamorganshire – he was the son of a priest, who wanted his son to either go into the Church or become a solicitor…. But William Price had other ideas….he wanted to be a doctor….
At the age of 13 he was apprenticed to Dr. Evan Edwards, a local surgeon. In 1820 his apprenticeship came to an end and he went to London and managed to get himself enrolled in to St. Bart’s…. Within just 12 months he had passed his exams and had become a member of the Royal College of Surgeons….
He had considered travelling to India – but instead in 1821 returned to live and work in Wales…. He was an eccentric character – a 19th Century ‘Hippie’…. He liked to wear unorthodox clothing – baggy tunics, green trousers, waistcoats – and a headdress made from a fox pelt, its legs and tail dangling over his shoulders…. His long hair was tied into plaits – and he liked to run naked over the hills at Pontypridd….
He was also unorthodox in his approach to medicine…. He shunned the usual methods of the day….the purging, bleeding and leeches – preferring to prescribe a vegetarian diet to all his patients instead of medicine…. Price ate no meat himself – and drank mainly Champagne….he also refused to treat anybody who smoked tobacco….
He was also extremely unconventional for the time in his beliefs…. He thought marriage enslaved women and practised ‘free love’ – fathering several illegitimate children in the process…. The way he lived his life caused him to fall out of favour with the Church on more than one occasion….
It was during the late 1830s that he became involved with Chartism…. The Chartist Movement being the first major push by the working classes to gain equality – the idea that all men had the right to vote. It fought for a secret ballot, annual parliamentary elections, equal sized constituencies and the abolishment of the requirement to own property in order to become a Member of Parliament…. It also demanded that MPs should be paid…. Many Welsh Chartists took up arms to fight for the cause….and Price helped them obtain them….
Price was made leader of the Pontypridd and District Chartist Group…. A report said that by 1839 he had acquired seven pieces of field artillery – no doubt to be used in the 1839 Newport Uprising – when the Chartists rose up against the authorities, resulting in several being killed by soldiers…. Price had realised there was going to be a crack-down on the protesters and so had not been present at the rebellion…. Fearing arrest he fled to France….
Price resided in Paris for several years….returning to Wales in 1846 – only to find himself in trouble again after refusing to pay a fine…. Once more he fled to Europe….
It was whilst in France that he developed a fascination with old Druid rites and when he eventually returned to Wales, five years later, he set about forming his own Druid group…. It didn’t take long for him to gain a number of followers….and he managed to infuriate the Church once more when he attempted to build his own Druid temple….
In his later years Price got himself a housekeeper – 16-year-old Gwenllian Llewelyn – and he took her as his mistress….he was 83! The couple had a child and named him lesu Grist – which is Welsh for Jesus Christ….
The baby died five months later, on the 10th of January 1884…. On the evening of Sunday the 13th of December Price made a pyre on a hillside overlooking Llantrisant – and dressed in his Druid robes embarked on the cremation of his infant son…. He had planned the ceremony to coincide with the Sunday evening chapel service – and as the congregation left and discovered what was happening – went wild…. Price was attacked and the baby’s body, which had not yet been engulfed, pulled from the flames….
Price was arrested; a post-mortem was carried out on the body of the child and concluded death had been from natural causes…. Price was charged with performing a cremation….
At his trial in Cardiff, Price argued that the law did not say that cremation was legal – but it was not illegal either…. He did not believe in burial because he thought it polluted the earth…. Justice Stephens, who was presiding over the trial, acquitted Price…. Almost directly after the trial the decision was made by Parliament to pass the Cremation Act….making cremation legal in Britain….
William Price went on to father two more children – and eventually died on the 23rd of January 1893…. On the 31st of January, on the same hillside where he had attempted to cremate his son, Price himself was cremated…. A crowd of nearly 20,000 gathered to watch as his body burned upon a pyre of two tons of coal….just as he had requested in his Will….
Portrait of William Price in 1861 Joseph Jacquier – Public domain
Statue in the Bull Ring, Llantrisant Image credit: picturingponty via Flickr