Real people, real stories from back in the day
1703 Tokyo is hit by a devastating earthquake, which kills 37 000 people.
1831 The first edition of the Graham’s Town Journal, mouthpiece of the Eastern Frontier settlers,is published. It soon becomes known as the ‘Settlers’ Bible’. Grocott’s Mail is the oldest surviving independent newspaper in South Africa. In 1920 it is bought by, and incorporated into Grocott’s Daily, which exists today at Grocott’s Mail. Since 2003 it has been under the ownership of Rhodes University, with the broad objective to ensure the survival of the paper and to use it for the teaching of journalism students at the university.
1865 Rudyard Kipling is born in Mumbai, India. A British poet, novelist, short story writer, he is best known for his children’s stories, such as The Jungle Book. He won the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature.
1915 The British cruiser HMS Natal explodes in Cromarty, Scotland, killing 405 of her crew. With her hull still visible at low water, it was Royal Navy practice on entering and leaving Cromarty harbour right up to World War II for every warship to sound “Still”, and for the officers and men to come to attention.
1897 Zululand is annexed by the Colony of Natal.
1903 A fire at the Iroquois Theater in Chicago, Illinois, kills at least 605 people.
1916 Russian mystic and advisor to the Tsar, Grigori Rasputin is finally murdered, after several failed attempts, by loyalists.
He is lured to a home, supposedly survives poisoning, is then shot three times, and, supposedly still alive, is bound and dumped in the Neva River, in which he drowns.
But a lot of what is said about him has been distorted over time because, as George Orwell put it, “history is written by the winners”, and is commonly accepted as fact.
Much of the fascination with Rasputin has to lie in the sheer unbelievability of his personal story.
He was born a peasant in a tiny village in a remote part of Siberia, and, by all sorts of ways, managed to make it into the imperial palace and be presented to Nicholas and Alexandra. Exuding charisma, he charms them so utterly that they quickly refer to him as “our friend” and talk of the hours with him as the best parts of their life. It all has a fairy-tale quality to it, but there is no happily ever after.
A much more benevolent figure than is made out, Rasputin tried to have a positive influence on the royals and had they listened, it could have changed history. True, for a while he virtually dictated government policy through the Tsarina while Nicholas was away during World War I, which Rasputin opposed. For that he was vilified as a traitor and once the war got into full swing, the rumour mills and spy mania ripped through society. It’s no surprise, then, that he had plenty of jealous enemies within the palace.
Whether he was, as the Boney M song put it, the “lover of the Russian queen” is doubtful as she was always surrounded by servants who did not corroborate the gossip.
In the end, Rasputin was an easy scapegoat for Russia’s problems and his murder by loyalists did not bring about the hoped for radical changes of the Tsar and Tsarina’s politics, leading up to the start of the Russian Revolution in March 1917.
1922 The USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) is established through the confederation of Russia, Belorussia, Ukraine and the Transcaucasian Federation.
1987 The educated and urbane Robert Mugabe, above, prime minister of Zimbabwe for the previous 7 years, is elected President, due to constitutional reform which allows him to stay on for another 30 years.
“Only God who appointed me,” he said in 2008, “will remove me.” In the end it was the military that did. Nelson Mandela, in conversation with former newspaper editor Allister Sparks, said: “The trouble with Mugabe is that he was the star – then the sun came up.”
2006 Saddam Hussein, the overthrown president of Iraq is hanged so violently that he is decapitated.
2016 A ceasefire brokered by Russia, Iran and Turkey between Syria’s government and opposition groups takes effect. The US was sidelined after years of fruitless discussions between the foreign ministers of Russia and the US over Syria.