What happened today, back in the day
1497 In the teeth of a howling gale, Vasco da Gama’s little squadron of four ships rounds the Cape of Good Hope, becoming the first recorded people to do so, while searching for a sea route to India. (It’s possible that the Phoenicians and Chinese did so earlier).
1718 The notorious Blackbeard, arguably the best-known figure from the Golden Age of Piracy – which stretched from the late 1600s to the mid-1720s – meets a gruesome end at the hands of British naval Lieutenant Robert Maynard, who had been sent to hunt him down. After a close-quarters battle, Blackbeard’s headless body is pitched overboard. Some accounts have it that the top half of his skull was later turned into a punch bowl that was “enlarged with silver, or silver plated,” and used for a time at one of the taverns in Williamsburg, Virginia. If this, in fact is true, the grisly artefact is lost, for it has not turned up since.
1869 In Dumbarton, Scotland, the clipper Cutty Sark is launched. She is one of the last clippers built, and the only one surviving.
1899 During the Anglo-Boer War Battle of Willow Grange in KZN, two British soldiers and two burghers are knocked unconscious by lightning, while a burgher and six horses are killed near Brynbella, not far from Mooi River.
1900 Paul Kruger, exiled president of the Boer Republic, is given a rousing welcome when he lands in Marseilles, France.
1917 A German Zeppelin airship starts a flight from Bulgaria to Khartoum carrying much-needed supplies to General von Lettow’s troops campaiging in East Africa.
1942 Adolf Hitler orders Rommel’s Afrika Korps to fight to the last man.
1942 General Friedrich Paulus sends Adolf Hitler a telegram saying that the occupying German 6th Army is surrounded in Stalingrad. The gruelling 5-month Battle of Stalingrad (Volgograd today) racks up 2.2 million casualties and is the bloodiest battle ever. The Germans lost because they seriously underestimated Russian resolve and reserves.
1963 US President John F Kennedy is assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald while in an open-topped motorcade in Dallas, Texas.
1986 ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson, 20, becomes the youngest heavyweight boxing champion.
1988 A submersible finds the black box of the SAA Boeing 747, Helderberg off Mauritius.
1995 Toy Story is released as the first feature-length film created completely using computer-generated imagery.
2017 ‘Butcher of Bosnia’ Ratko Mladic is jailed for life by the International Criminal Tribunal.
2018 The Leaning Tower of Pisa’s tilt is reduced by 4cm after a 20-year project to stabilise it.
2019 In a speech at the Anti-Defamation League’s summit, actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen condemns Facebook’s ethics by saying that if the platform had existed in the 1930s, it would have run Adolf Hitler’s ads on his ‘solution to the Jewish problem.’
2022 The UK's King Charles hosts his first state visit - welcoming President Cyril Ramaphosa at Buckingham Palace.