On this day, May 14

A truly wicked pope; gold found in the Ohrigstad River area; Hitler escapes death again; Israel declares independence; and mountaineer walks up Everest despite having no legs

A soldier bows his head on Armistice Day. The idea of two minutes of silence to commemorate the fallen is South African. Picture Brenton Geach

Published May 14, 2024


964 Said to have been the “most wicked of popes”, John XII, dies, aged 29. His pontificate was infamous for depravity and worldliness and his lifestyle more suited to the secular prince that he was. He was depicted as a coarse, immoral man in the writings which remain about his papacy, and his life was such that the main papal residence was referred to as a brothel.

1607 Colonists establish Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America, unaware that they had landed amid the worst drought in 800 years.

1796 Edward Jenner administers the first smallpox inoculation.

1800 The process of moving the US capital from Philadelphia to Washington, DC, begins.

1804 The Lewis and Clark Expedition begins its historic journey to explore and chart the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase territory.

1853 Gail Borden, newspaper publisher and inventor, patents condensed milk.

1873 The Ohrigstad River area in the Lydenburg district is proclaimed a gold field after the discovery of gold in the Selati River.

1918 Following the death of his eldest son, Reginald, on the Western Front, Cape Town Mayor Sir Harry Hands inaugurates the Two-minute Silence to honour the loss of life in conflict. Impressed, Sir Percy FitzPatrick, who wrote Jock Of The Bushveld, writes to Lord Milner about it and the idea is taken up after Armistice Day in London in 1918. It has been part of the Armistice Day memorials around the world, ever since.

1944 German generals Rommel, Speidel and von Stülpnagel attempt to assassinate Hitler. The failed attempt costs them their lives. In all, there were 42 assassination plots against Der Führer, none of them successful.

1948 Israel is declared an independent state, but the next day, Arab states attack it.

1961 The Freedom Riders (US civil rights activists who rode buses into segregated areas) have their bus fire-bombed in Alabama, and are beaten by an angry mob.

1973 Patrick Laurence, a journalist from The Star, is charged after publishing a statement by Robert Sobukwe.

2004 A plane crashes in the Amazon rainforest near Manaus, Brazil, killing 33 people.

2018 Using specially designed artificial legs, Chinese double amputee Xia Boyu, who was crippled on the world’s highest peak 40 years before, summits Mt Everest on his fifth attempt.

2023 Cyclone Mocha makes landfall on the Rakhine coast, Myanmar, near the southern border of Bangladesh with at least 400 killed. It is the second-strongest storm on record in the North Indian Ocean.

May 12, 2024, Graphics show birthdays and anniversaries on each day for the week. This week features Narendra Modi of India, the first Giro d’Italia cycling tour, the wedding of Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, North London football team Arsenal, the first Sino-Soviet summit in 30 years, same-sex marriages in the U.S. and Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France