May 11

Published in On this Day listing

  • 1971 Seán Lemass (71), revolutionary, founding member of Fianna Fáil and taoiseach (1959–66), died.
  • 1917

    Above: Dr David Walker’s photograph of the Fox, captained by F.L. McClintock in 1857–9, one of the earliest taken in the Arctic

    Belfast-born Dr David Walker (80), surgeon, naturalist and photographer on Captain F.L. McClintock’s expedition to the Arctic (1857–9) which discovered the remains of Sir John Franklin and his crew, died in Portland, Oregon. Though barely twenty years old at the time and with no nautical experience, Walker acquitted himself with distinction on McClintock’s famous expedition. Apart from looking after the crew, protecting them from scurvy, he conducted numerous scientific observations and experiments, using instruments provided by the Royal Society, and collected a huge quantity of flora, fauna and geological specimens. He also took some of the earliest photographs of the Arctic, using the captain’s primitive camera. On his return he was much honoured. Elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the Linnean Society, he also wrote the scientific appendix for McClintock’s best-selling account of the voyage. And then, just a few years later, he totally disappeared from that world. In 1865, after an expedition to British Columbia to collect flora specimens, he crossed the border and signed up as an army surgeon with the US Cavalry, then engaged in the Indian Wars on the north-west frontier. Fourteen years later he left the army and became resident doctor and US government land registrar in the infamous Californian gold-mining town of Bodie, and ten years after that moved to Portland, Oregon, where he continued as a doctor. There was no mention of his passing in the British or Irish press. His funeral was private, the local newspaper recording that he had often asked that no display of any sort be made ‘after the sunset call came and his soul passed out to sea’.

  • 1916 ‘It is the first rebellion that ever took place in Ireland where you had the majority on your side. It is the fruit of our [the Irish Parliamentary Party’s] life work … now you are washing out our whole life’s work in a sea of blood …’—John Dillon, Irish Parliamentary Party MP for East Mayo, in a speech condemning the executions of the 1916 insurgents to a hostile House of Commons.
  • 1917 Belfast-born Dr David Walker, who served as surgeon, naturalist and photographer on Captain F.L. McClintock’s 1857–9 expedition to the Arctic in search of Sir John Franklin, died.
  • 1971 Seán Lemass, founder member of Fianna Fáil and taoiseach (1959–66), died.
  • 1745 During the War of the Austrian Succession, the French, under Marshal de Saxe, defeated a British and Allied force in the Battle of Fontenoy. Though rendering distinguished service on such famous battlefields as Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet, Fontenoy marked the crowning moment of France’s Irish Brigade, with Lord Clare’s late charge turning imminent defeat into total victory.
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