This Week in History: 26th January – 1st February.

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26th January, 1788:  First penal colony established in Australia.

For most of the 18th century, prisoners exiled from Britain were usually shipped off to America but this was no longer possible with the US victory in the War of Independence in 1788.  It was decided that Australia would be the new home of unwanted criminals and 736 of them landed in Botany Bay on the 26th January that year.  The voyage itself took six months and clamed the lives of 10% of the transportees, a figure that turned out to be low compared to later voyages. 

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The general belief at the time in high society was that criminals were inherently defective so rehabilitation was not seen as an option.  As prisons were expensive, it was believed that the best option was to ship them off to the far corners of the world.  Far from being hardened criminals, the majority of men and women transported were convicted of non-violent crimes such as petty theft or prostitution.  Over the next 60 years, around 50,000 people were sent to Australia away from there homes, friends and families, many never to return.

27th January, 1975:  FBI and CIA investigated for criminal behaviour.

The Senate began an investigation against the CIA and the FBI that would last until November the 20th, with Senator Frank Church of Idaho heading the investigating committee.  When realised, the report found both agencies guilty of illegal surveillance of hundreds of thousands of American citizens.  The CIA were further charged with plotting to kill foreign leaders such as Salvador Allende, the elected president of Chile, who was killed in 1973 in a coup partly organised by the CIA.  The CIA were also accused of secretly stockpiling poisons that had had been ordered destroyed by the president. 

28th January, 1986:  Space shuttle Challenger explodes.

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The space shuttle, Challenger, exploded just after lift-off killing the seven astronauts aboard, including civilian teacher Christa MacAuliffe.  Despite warnings of potential malfunctions from engineers, NASA hierarchy lanced the ill fated shuttle at 11:39 a.m. The problems began straight away when an O-ring seal on the solid rocket booster failed.

This caused flames to damage the external fuel tanks and within 73 seconds, the shuttle began falling apart and fell into the ocean.  The Rogers Commission, set up to investigate the disaster, found both NASA and Morton Thiokol, the company that designed the solid rocket boosters, failed to act even though they were aware of the design problems.

29th January, 1820:  King George III died.

King George ascended to the thrown of Great Britain and Ireland in 1760, at the age of 20.  After losing the American colonies George was a largely unpopular monarch and retired from active participation in Parliament in 1784.  In 1788, he began to suffer from a mental illness, possibly an hereditary illness of the blood called porphyria.  By 1810 he was forced to retire from public service as the illness left him permanently insane.  His son, the Prince of Wales became regent and was later crowned King George IV on his fathers death.

30th January, 1948: Gandhi assassinated.

Nathuram Godse, a 39 year old terrorist hired by a right-wing Hindu militia group, shot Mohandas Gandhi as he made his way to lead a prayer meeting.  Gandhi had upset the right-wing group with his efforts to bring peace between Muslims and Hindus, who were fighting a civil war over the forming of Pakistan following British withdrawal from India. 

Gandhi twice went on hunger strike in 1947 and early 1948 in a successful attempt to bring the two warring sides together for peace talks but some believed that he was selling out his own nation. 

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An attempt was made on his life by the same group on 20th January, 1948 but they stopped short of killing him as they feared bystanders would be killed.  Godse, the assassin, tried to kill himself after the murder but was arrested before he had the chance.  He had no remorse for his crime and was hanged on the 15th November the following year, despite appeals from Gandhi’s sons, who believed the punishment went against everything their father had believed in.

31st January, 1865:  13th Amendment to the American Constitution Passed.

The 13th Amendment was passed by the House of Representatives abolishing slavery in the US.  It stated, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude…shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”.   An earlier attempt to abolish slavery in 1864 had passed the House but had been blocked by the Democrats who believed they were protecting the rights of individual states.  After the election of 1864, the Republicans, led by Abraham Lincoln, had a majority in both houses.  The 13th amendment was passed by Congress 119 to 56 votes in March of the same year and became law the following December.

1st February, 1893:  First movie studio built.

On the 1st February, 1893, Thomas Alva Edison completed the building of the first movie studio.  Built on his own property in West Orange, New Jersey, it was a frame cabin covered with black roofing paper and was built on a pivot so that at any time of day it could be turned to face the sunlight.  The project cost Edison $638 and he called the studio a ‘revolving photographic building’.

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