On Saturday evening, 3 December 1864, about nine o’clock in the evening, the bill-broker, money exchanger, and bullion merchant, Baum, Sons and Co. was locked up and closed until Monday morning. Baum, Sons and Co. was located at 58 Lombard Street in London, and Mr. Peter Frederick Baum had been in business some 40 years. The business was a partnership between Baum, his three sons — Joseph, Godfried, and Noa — and his oldest son Adolphus. In addition, a clerk, a porter, and a young boy worked there. Continue reading
Seeing dead bodies for free became an entertaining fad in Paris in the nineteenth century, but before it was a fad, one grammarian of the seventeenth century, defined morgue as an old French word that meant “face.” With that in mind, it was claimed that prisons formerly had small rooms near the entrance where “prisoners were first locked up in order that the goalers might take a good look at their morgues or faces, and recognize them in case of escape.” In addition, supposedly the word morgue came from the French word morguer, which meant to stare, have a fixed gaze, or look at solemnly, and, thus, the word morgue came to have its more modern meaning as a place to store corpses and as a place where the living identified the dead. Continue reading
One of the most audacious and successful nineteenth century swindlers, or as the French say, chevaliers d’industrie, was Anthelme Collet, a man described as a rather “ill-favoured looking fellow.” Collet was born on 10 April 1785, in Belley, a commune in the Ain department in eastern France. By the time he was 35 years old, Collet had served 8 years of a 20 year sentence. His adventurous career had been terminated at Mons when he was arrested “for some obscure and insignificant infraction of the laws.”
The swindler Antheleme Collet was the son of Jean-Baptiste Collet, a cabinet-maker, and a seamstress named Claudine Bertin. When Collet was nine, his father died. His father had been serving as a volunteer captain in the 1st battalion of volunteers of Ain and was killed at Piedmont. Collet’s maternal uncle, a priest, took over Collet’s care, but the uncle was too busy to ensure that Collet got a proper education. So, at the age of 15½, Collet returned to France. His care was then entrusted to a paternal uncle, a former captain who had become a battalion commander and participated in Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign. Continue reading
Jean-Sylvain Bailly was born 15 September 1736 in Paris at the Louvre. He was the son of Jacques Bailly, an artist and supervisor of the Louvre. As Bailly’s family was involved with the arts, it was only natural he would follow in their footsteps, which he initially did, showing talent in poetry and letters. However, the intellectual Bailly, described as tall, serious, and firm in character, found he was more attracted to astronomy having been introduced to the field by the French astronomer Nicolas Louis de La Caille (sometimes spelled Lacaille). It was after this introduction that Bailly became enamored with everything related to astronomy. Continue reading
French physician Pierre Fauchard is widely credited as being the “father of modern dentistry.” He joined the navy in the late seventeenth century and quickly became interested in dental ailments due to scurvy affecting most sailors on ships. After leaving the navy, he began to practice at the University of Angers Hospital where he pioneered scientific oral and maxillofacial surgery, so that by the first decade of the 1700s Fauchard was considered one of the most skilled surgeons among his peers. Continue reading
In 1765, newspaper headlines screamed of a monstrous creature that became known as la bête de Gevaudan (The Beast of Gévaudan). The beast made its first appearance 20 December 1764, when it devoured a little girl herding cattle at St. Flour in Provence. The second attack occurred a week later on the 27th of December. This time a woman (19 or 20 years old) was “torn to pieces … at Bounesal, near Mende. The next day [the beast] appeared in the woods of St. Martin de Born, and was about to spring upon a girl of twelve years.” It would have eaten her too, if not for her father. He was nearby and kept the animal at bay until some horned cattle came along and scared the beast away. Continue reading
The first idea of a balloon being filled with hydrogen was made by Joseph Black, a nineteenth century Scottish physician and chemist. His idea later helped to bring about the first recorded manned flight in a balloon belonging to the Montgolfier brothers on 21 November 1783. This flight left from the garden of the Château de la Muette in the Bois de Boulogne with pilots, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes, and covered about 5½ miles in 25 minutes.
Rozier decided to leave the ground again on 23 June 1784. This time he was accompanied by Joseph Proust, an actor and a French chemist. The June flight involved a modified version of the Montgolfier’s first balloon, and it was christened La Marie-Antoinette after the French Queen. The balloon took off in front of the King of France and King Gustav III of Sweden. It flew north at an altitude of approximately 1.8 miles and traveled over 32 miles in 45 minutes. The cold and turbulence forced the balloonists to descend just past Luzarches, which is near the Chantilly forest. However, the flight was still amazing because it set records for speed, altitude, and distance traveled. Continue reading
On 5 April 1793 French General Charles-François Dumouriez, Dumouriez defected to Austria. He did so because of an incendiary letter he sent to the National Convention that threatened he would march on Paris if the National Convention did not accede to his wishes. At the time, France was not only threatened by foreign armies and dealing with revolts in Vendée, but also dealing with rumors that foreign plotters would overthrow the revolutionary government from within. Dumouriez’s letter made it seem plausible. Continue reading
There are all sort of heroes but one unusual hero was a nineteenth century farmer named Richard Hoodless who was living near the Grainthorpe coast of Lincolnshire. When he was not farming, he was “said to devote himself to the noble duty of saving human life.” His job was saving mariners from drowning, and he did so “without any of the usual apparatus for succoring ships in distress.” Rather, Hoodless accomplished his remarkable missions using nothing but courage and his horse.
Hoodless lived on a small piece of land that had been “rescued from the sea, and almost cut off from the adjacent country by the badness of the roads.” When stormy weather approached, it was a call for Hoodless to go to the top of his dwelling and peer through his telescope. There, whether it be night or day, he would watch approaching vessels, and when lifeboats could not be launched, he would come to the aid of those struggling at sea. Continue reading
Louis-Charles was the second son of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI and a precocious, forthright, and frank child. People who knew him claimed he developed “a sort of childish fondness which charmed all who approached him.” Demonstrative of this is the following anecdote. Apparently, from an early age he was attracted to the plight of orphans, and nearly every time his mother went to visit them, he accompanied her. One day his father found him counting out gold coins and placing them in a box. The King asked, “How is it Charles … that you are scraping money together like a miser?” He blushed and then responded, “‘I am scraping my money together, but it is for those poor [orphan] children. If you were to see them I am sure you too would have pity on them.’ The King embraced him, and said, ‘If that is the case … I will gladly help you to fill your box.'” Continue reading