The Great Cat Massacre: A History of Britain in 100 Mistakes
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In 1914, a train pulled into a provincial British railway station. The porter, a curious chap, asked the regiment of soldiers where they were from. "Ross-shire," one called down, but the porter heard "Russia." And so began a rumor that led to Germany losing World War I. Often the history we learn at school is only half the story. We hear of heroic deeds and visionary leaders, but we never hear about the people who turned up late for court and thereby changed the law, or who stood in the wrong queue at university and accidentally won a Nobel Prize. The Great Cat Massacre: A History of Britain in 100 Mistakes demonstrates that the nation is as much a product of error as design. Through chapters on religion, law, culture, war, science, and politics, it reveals such things as how an edict from Pope Gregory IX helped spread the Black Death, how the sister of cricketer John Willes invented overarm bowling, and how, had a letter not been lost, Disraeli might never have become prime minister. This book is history told through human failings, schoolboy errors, bad luck, and extraordinary consequences; a history of mishearing, misdiagnosis, and misinterpretation—a history that you won’t find in the textbooks.
a plantation in the West Indies that it possessed. But, most of all, Britons tolerated it because they simply didn’t hear about it all that much. Luke Collingwood, as captain of the slave ship Zong, was about to change all that. In 1782 Collingwood was on his way from Africa to the Jamaican colonies, carrying 400 slaves. But he was an inexperienced trafficker and had overloaded his ship. Down in the hold, the cargo were dying so he decided to throw the ill slaves overboard. Of course, each one
APPRECIATE THE SENTIMENT – QUEEN VICTORIA PUTS HERSELF IN THE LINE OF FIRE, 1882 Other than a massive number of Indians, few people wanted Queen Victoria dead. There were some, though – as demonstrated by the fact that at least seven people tried to shoot her dead over the years. Most would-be assassins missed, two failed to load their guns and one doesn’t seem to have been taking the whole thing seriously at all. But perhaps the most interesting of them was the last one, because both his
Bribery was more common than ordering biscuits, figures were simply made up and changed from time to time as the company felt like it; pages had been torn out and entire books burned. In the wake of the scandal, there was a run on the Bank of England. The terrified response from its managers was to instruct the cashiers to make things as difficult as possible for anyone trying to take money out. The cashiers therefore only paid out in sixpences, and frequently ‘forgot’ where they were so had to
yet the belief that it was all too much for him and mounting debts had driven him to suicide. Placing a revolver to his temple, he pulled the trigger. But the gun misfired and no bullet appeared. Although he tried again, once more nothing happened. ‘It appears I am destined for something. I will live,’ he announced. Just how a number of generations of Indians felt about what he was destined for is open to question, but he ended up as governor of Bengal with a personal fortune worth perhaps £5bn
throwing her frail body under the fascist hooves of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby on 4 June 1913, forcing her cause onto the front pages for weeks. Only she probably never meant it at all. In 1986 Davison’s personal effects, which had been kept by her family solicitor, came to light. They included a return train ticket from the race. Even at the time the jockey who ended up on top of her, Herbert Jones, said he thought it was an accident. He often told how he was haunted by the look of