On this day in history….1st March 1910

On this day in history : 1st March 1910 – The birth of English actor and writer David Niven – who’s many films include Casino Royale, Around the World in 80 Days and The Guns of Navarone….

James David Graham Niven was born in Belgrave Mansions, London, into a military family – he was the youngest of four children and he was named for the day on which he was born – St. David’s Day…. He studied at Stowe School in Buckinghamshire before taking his place at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst – where he gained a Commission as Second Lieutenant in the Highland Light Infantry….

Niven was keen to try his hand at acting – so he left his post in the army and travelled to Hollywood, where he managed to secure several minor roles…. He then appeared as an extra in British film There Goes the Bride in 1932 which subsequently got him more small parts….

At the outbreak of World War 2 he rejoined the army, being recommissioned as a lieutenant…. During this time he made a couple of war propaganda, morale boosting films:- The First of the Few, about the Spitfire aircraft, which greatly pleased Winston Churchill and The Way Ahead in which he starred with Peter Ustinov….

After the War Niven resumed his acting career making A Matter of Life and Death in 1946 before returning to Hollywood to star in the 1947 film The Bishop’s Wife alongside Cary Grant…. Niven had only been back in Hollywood six weeks when tragedy was to strike…. During a party at the Beverley Hills house of American actor Tyrone Power, a game of hide and seek had been taking place…. Niven’s wife, Primula, had opened the door to what she thought was a cupboard – only it was in fact a stone staircase leading to the basement…. She fell and sustained a fractured skull, dying from her injuries…. She was 28-years-old – the couple had two young sons….

In 1948 Niven met Swedish fashion model Hjordis Pauline Tersmeden – he was instantly smitten…. The pair married and had two children – but it was to be a stormy marriage, with her violent temper and his numerous affairs, including a rumoured one with Princess Margaret….

David Niven with his wife Hjordis Tersmeden, 1960 – Public domain

During the late 1940s and early 50s Niven’s career declined for a while…. However, in 1951 he made Happy Go Lovely, a musical with Vera-Ellen which was a big hit at the British Box Office…. He then went on to do a stint on Broadway which landed him a part in the film version of the stage play The Moon is Blue in 1953 – for which he won a Golden Globe….

With his career now well and truly back on track a string of successful films were to come…. One of his biggest roles was as Phileas Fogg in the 1956 hit Around the Word in 80 Days…. With his dry British wit Niven had never been more in demand…. He also did work for television with several TV dramas to his name, even hosting his own drama series The David Niven Show in 1959….

He still continued with light hearted movies such as the 1960 film Please Dont Eat the Daisies with Doris Day, which was highly successful – but he was soon to show his versatility…. In 1961 he starred in the massive film The Guns of Navarone….which was then to see him cast in a run of war movies….

He returned to comedy in 1963 with The Pink Panther…. 1966 saw him in the horror film Eye of the Devil and then in 1967 he played the part of James Bond 007 in Ian Flemming’s Casino Royale….

He carried on working on various films during the 1970s – but by 1980 ill health was beginning to show…. During a couple of TV interviews his slurred speech left audiences wondering if he had been drinking – but it was actually a symptom of his illness, motor neurone disease…. He died at his chalet in Switzerland in July 1983….

As well as being such an accomplished actor Niven also wrote four books…. His autobiography The Moon’s a Balloon in 1971, which was very well received….and in 1975 a collection of humorous reminiscences of Hollywood…. He also wrote two novels and was working on a third at the time of his death….

On this day in history….28th February 1873

On this day in history : 28th February 1873 – The birth of William McMaster Murdoch – the officer in charge of RMS Titanic at the time it struck an iceberg – and who’s death remains a mystery….

William McMaster Murdoch – Public domain

Murdoch was born at ‘Sunnyside’ in Dalbeattie, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland into a seafaring family…. His father was Captain Samuel Murdoch, a master mariner and his mother was Jeannie Muirhead….

After attending school in Dalbeattie Murdoch became an apprentice mariner with Liverpool’s William Joyce & Co – onboard the ‘Charles Cosworth’….

He went on to serve as First Mate on the ‘Saint Cuthbert’ from May 1895 – but it was later to sink off of Uruguay during a hurricane in 1897…. Between the remainder of 1887 until the end of 1889 he served as First Officer on board ships belonging to Joyce & Co, trading between New York and Shanghai….

Murdoch, who had a reputation for being shrewd and a man of good judgement, began working for the White Star Line in 1900…. He served on several of the company’s ships, including the cross Atlantic steamers ‘Arabic’, ‘Adriatic’ and ‘Oceanic’…. It was on an Atlantic crossing in 1903 that he was to meet his future wife – Ada Florence Banks – a 29-year-old school teacher from New Zealand…. They were married in Southampton in the September of 1907….

In May 1911 Murdoch was made First Officer on Titanic’s sister ship RMS Olympic….and then posted to RMS Titanic itself for the maiden voyage in April 1912….

From left to right : Murdoch, Chief Engineer Joseph Evans, Fourth Officer David Alexander and Captain Edward J Smith – onboard the Olympic

First Officer Murdoch was on the bridge as the officer in charge on the 14th of April, when an iceberg was seen at 11.39pm…. Murdoch was reported as giving the order “Hard astarboard” (meaning rudder hard-a-port) – whilst also ordering the engines full astern…. This was the last manoeuvre the Titanic was to make – but it was too late….37 seconds after the sighting of the iceberg Titanic was to strike it….

When the order came from Captain Smith to abandon ship Murdoch was responsible for the starboard evacuation…. He was to oversee the launching of approximately ten lifeboats – the last official sighting of him was as he was trying to launch one of the collapsible lifeboats…. At around 1.15am the officers had met in Murdoch’s cabin and handguns had been issued to them…. Around 2am shots were heard and at 2.15am collapsible ‘Lifeboat A’ floated free…. Murdoch had disappeared, assumed drowned….

RMS Titanic departing Southampton 10th April 1912 – Public domain

However, there were conflicting accounts as to what happened to Murdoch…. Several passengers, including first class passenger George Rheims and third class passenger Eugene Daly, claimed to have seen an officer shoot himself with a revolver at the forward lifeboat station on the starboard side, just before the Titanic went down…. These were statements strongly denied by Second Officer Lightoller, who testified at the later inquiry that he had seen Murdoch being swept into the sea…. However, the inquiry suggested that Lightoller was not in a position onboard at the time to be able to see where Murdoch was…. Perhaps the Second Officer was trying to protect Murdoch’s wife from the reality of her husband’s death ~ if he had indeed taken his own life…. One could hardly blame Murdoch for preferring a quick death as opposed to the unknown alternative…. He had already helped many to take their own chance at survival – and yet there was little hope for his own….

Years later Lightoller apparently admitted he knew of someone who had died by suicide on that night – but he never gave a name…. Was it Murdoch?

Murdoch in his 30s – Public domain

On this day in history….27th February 1678

On this day in history : 27th February 1678 – The 1st Earl of Shaftesbury is freed from the Tower of London after being held in contempt of Parliament….

NPG 3893; Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury after John Greenhill
Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury after John Greenhill, oil on canvas, (circa 1672-1673) – Public domain

Anthony Ashley Cooper was born in Dorset in 1621…. The son of a wealthy landowner, he was educated at Oxford University and then Lincoln’s Inn before entering Parliament in 1640….

At the beginning of the Civil War he initially supported King Charles I but had later switched his allegiance to the Parliamentarians…. However, in protest of Cromwell’s dictatorial methods of rule he resigned in 1655….and joined the campaign to restore the Monarchy….

After the restoration, with the crown now being held by Charles II, Cooper was made Chancellor of the Exchequer…. He was created Earl of Shaftesbury by the King in 1672 – and for his continued loyal support was then made Lord Chancellor….

NPG D11961; Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury by Edward Lutterell or Luttrell, published by John Smith, after John Greenhill
Shaftesbury as Lord Chancellor by Edward Lutterell or Luttrell, published by John Smith, after John Greenhill, mezzotint, (circa 1672-1673) – Public domain

However, after questioning the role of Charles II’s brother, James, he found himself out of favour with the King and was dismissed from his position…. He had argued that a new parliament should be called, one that would guarantee and protect the Church of England – and exclude Catholics…. Unbeknown to him Charles had secretly become a Catholic…. Shaftesbury began to stir up unrest amongst his own supporters….

Parliament met on the 15th of February 1677…. Shaftesbury and three other Peers introduced a motion declaring that no parliament was legally in existence…. The rest of the House of Commons was outraged and rejected their argument…. It was claimed that the four had committed contempt of Parliament and must apologise immediately…. All four refused and were sent to the Tower of London….

The other three apologised and were soon released – but Shaftesbury still refused…. It took a year before he finally made his apology to the King and Parliament….he was released on the 25th of February 1678….

He was reinstated to a position of power, being made President of the Privy Council…. Using his position of advisory power he urged the King to remarry and produce an heir…. but the King wanted his Catholic brother, James, to succeed him…. Angered by Shaftesbury once more Charles dismissed him again….

King Charles II – Public domain

In July 1681 Shaftesbury was arrested and charged with high treason and returned to the Tower of London…. However, he was to be released in November 1681 after the Grand Jury threw out the charges against him…. Deciding not to take any chances, as he feared re-arrest, Shaftesbury fled to the Netherlands – where he died in 1683…. At his request his body was brought back to Dorset….

On this day in history….26th February 1960

On this day in history : 26th February 1960 – An Alitalia DC-7 bound for New York crashes into a cemetery in Shannon, Ireland, shortly after take-off – killing 34 out of the 52 people onboard….img_6044

Italian airline Alitalia flight AZ618 4-engine propellor Douglas DC-7C was on route from Rome to New York and had stopped at Shannon for an unscheduled refuelling stop…. Shannon International Airport, in County Clare between Ennis and Limerick, was at the time a major refuelling stop for transatlantic flights….

After a brief stop of 45 minutes or so the aircraft took off to continue its journey at 1.34am, on a cold but clear Friday morning…. There had been no contact from the ‘plane and it seemed all was well – but about a mile from the airport the DC-7 crashed…. It struck the old graveyard situated beside the ruins of the 10th century Clanloghan Parish Church…. Its port wing-tip hit the wall of the cemetery, damaging some of the headstones on the south eastern side…. Some of the traditional family graves would still have been in use…. The aircraft then ploughed on, ending up in a nearby field before exploding and disintegrating…. After its refuelling stop the DC-7 was laden with some 7,000 gallons of fuel….the explosion was heard 17 miles away….img_6041

Thankfully the ‘plane was not full but out of the 52 onboard 11 of the 12 crew and 23 of the 40 passengers were killed….the other 18 were seriously injured…. The surviving cabin crew member had been seated at the rear of the aircraft…. Wreckage was scattered over a large area – bodies were found up to a mile away….img_6046

The aircraft had failed to gain enough height to clear the hill top…. At the official crash investigation no clear treason could be found as to the cause…. It could only be assumed that the DC-7, which had made its maiden flight in 1958, had rapidly lost height whilst making a steep turn to the left….img_6042

On this day in history….25th February 1914

On this day in history : 25th February 1914 – The death of Sir John Tenniel – the illustrator and satirical artist known for his cartoons in Punch Magazine and illustrations in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland….

Sir John Tenniel – Self portrait c.1889 – Public domain

Tenniel was born in Bayswater, London on the 28th of February 1820…. His father, John Baptist Tenniel, was a fencing instructor and his mother, Eliza Maria Tenniel, a dancer…. He attended the Royal Academy and in 1836, at the age of just 16, submitted a piece of artwork to the Exhibition of the Society of British Artists….

At the age of 20 he was involved in a fencing accident whilst practicing with his father, which cost him the sight in his right eye…. He never let on to his father the severity of his injury – not wanting to make him feel worse than he already did….

It was in 1845 that he submitted a 16 foot cartoon as an entry to a competition for a mural design for decoration in the new Palace of Westminster…. He won a commission for a fresco in the ‘Hall of Poets’ situated in the House of Lords…. He also received £100….

His career with Punch Magazine began in 1850 – working alongside John Leech as a cartoonist, succeeding Richard (Dickie) Doyle after his resignation…. This career was to last over 50 years, gradually he was to take over completely producing the weekly satirical political contribution to the magazine….

‘Dropping the Pilot’ – commenting on the forced resignation of Otto von Bismarck from Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany’s government in 1890 – one of Tenniel’s most well known cartoons for Punch – Public domain

He produced some 2,000 cartoons for Punch – and also worked on other illustration projects, such as Shirley Brooks’s ‘The Gordium Knot’ in 1860, Thomas Moore’s ‘Lalla Rookh’ in 1861 and a collaboration with John Leech and friend George Cruikshank on ‘The Ingoldsby Legends‘ in 1864….

Cartoon criticising the police for their inability to find the Whitechapel murderer….22nd September 1888 – Public domain

Tenniel married Julia Giani in 1854, the daughter of an Italian family from Liverpool…. They lived in Maida Hill – but tragically after only two years of marriage Julia was to die from tuberculosis…. Tenniel was devastated and never remarried….

It was during the 1860s that he produced the illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there’….

Carroll was notoriously fussy about the illustrations for his book and gave Tenniel a long list of instructions and requirements…. When the first 42 illustrations were submitted Carroll only liked one…. When asked to illustrate the second book Tenniel initially refused…. Carroll approached many other illustrators but none met his standards – after two and a half years of persuasion Tenniel finally agreed to illustrate ‘Through the Looking Glass’….

Even with Carroll’s stipulations Tenniel still had freedom to interpret the drawings as he visualised them – and so his style is recognisable in them…. Carroll even recalled the first edition run of his book because Tenniel was unhappy about the print quality of his drawings….

Tenniel was knighted for his artistic achievements by Queen Victoria in 1893…. He retired from Punch in 1901 and died in 1914 at the age of 93….