Happenings 17th to 23rd March in days gone by

17th March 1897 was the day that Englishman Bob Fitzsimmons became heavyweight boxing champion of the world when he defeated ‘Gentleman’ Jim Corbett at Carson City in Nevada. This took place in the first open-air arena built especially for boxing and Bob won by knockout in the 14th round. A reporter at the fight described the knock-out blow: ‘Fitz sidestepped one of Corbett’s blows and, seeing an opening, came in with a left hand to the stomach and, without changing the position of his feet, shot the same hand to the jaw.’ Corbett hit the canvas and stayed there – and the ‘solar plexus blow’ was born. Bob did no boxing for the next two years – travelling the USA with a theatrical group and making a considerable amount of money.  On a different level entirely – this day in 1919 saw the birth of one of the smoothest singers I’ve ever heard – Nat ‘King’ Cole.

18th March 1834 saw six leaders of farm workers who had formed a trade union in west Dorset each sentenced to seven years transportation for taking an oath of secrecy. The 1832 Reform Act had extended the right to vote for many men across England but had fallen well short of universal suffrage. As a result of this limitation the six farm-workers in Tolpuddle in Dorset had founded a Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers to protest against falling wages. Their transportation caused a major campaign across the country and in 1836 five of the six were set free. James Hammett had a previous criminal record – for theft – and was not released until 1837. The five freed me returned to England to significant rejoicing. Having disembarked at Plymouth they soon moved on to Essex and then across the Atlantic to Canada. On his release Hammett returned to Plymouth and stayed for the rest of his life in Dorset – dying in the Dorchester Workhouse in 1891.

19th March 1821 saw the birth of Richard Burton. It’s pretty obvious that this is not the one we saw on the films and became Mr Elizabeth Taylor. This one was Sir Richard Francis Burton, to give him his full title, an English explorer, linguist and diplomat. He went to Trinity College in Oxford; matriculated in 1840 but did not graduate because his parents left England. In 1842 we find him as a cadet in the Indian Army and then an ensign in the 18th Regiment of the Bombay Native Infantry. He was back in England in 1849; serving in Crimea in 1855 before setting off with Speke to discover sources of the Nile. In his later years he produced a complete translation of The Arabian Nights.

20th March 1727 saw a great man pass away. In 1855 one D Brewster, in editing a ‘Memoirs of … our great man’ finds our man recording that: ‘I know not what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea shore, and diverting myself in, now and then, finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.’ Who was that ‘Great Man’? He was none other than Sir Isaac Newton.

21st March 1999 proved quite a shock to me when I was trawling for snippets to write. Why? Because it was on this day that the first non-stop round-the-world balloon flight was completed. It was a two-man balloon and one was Bertrand Piccard – no real surprise there. It was the other that amazed me because his name was Brian Jones! I just do not remember doing this flight – and I certainly would remember it because I just have NO head for heights! I think I need learn more about this man with my name.

22nd March 1888 saw the English Football League being founded at a meeting at Anderton’s Hotel in London’s Fleet Street. 45 years later, on this day in 1933, Sir Malcolm Campbell set a new land speed record of 272 mph on Florida Daytona Beach in his car ‘Blue Bird’. I’ll leave you to consider which – if either – was the more important event.

23rd March 1771 was the day when Johann Hasse wrote that ‘Young Mozart is certainly prodigious for his age (he was 12 at the time) and I love him infinitely. His father, as far as I can see, is equally dissatisfied everywhere; here, to, he used to make the same complaints. He idolizes his son, and therefore does his utmost to spoil him, but I hold such a good opinion of the boy’s natural good sense that I have hopes that, despite his father’s flatteries, he will not be spoilt, but will grow into a worthy man.’ If we now roll forward to 23rd March 1968 at number one in the pop music charts we find the ‘Legend of Xanadu’ performed by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich. They’ll be knocked of the top next week by ‘Lady Madonna’ – accompanied by some Beatles. In the privacy of your own mind you may wish to rank these three (a group can be counted as on) in terms of their impact on the wider world.

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