Published in Issue 3 (May/June 2019), News, Volume 27




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’.


Leonardo da Vinci (67), Italian polymath of the Renaissance and one of the greatest painters of all time, died at the Château Cloux near Amboise.


Machiavelli, Renaissance writer, playwright and poet, author notably of The Prince (1513), born in Florence.


In the wake of protests from northern Catholic bishops and Taoiseach Éamon de Valera, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced that conscription would not extend to Northern Ireland.


Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s first female prime minister.


Tom Lefroy (93), Limerick-born lawyer and Irish chief justice (1852–66) who had a brief relationship with novelist Jane Austen (1795/6), died.


The 1,776-mile US transcontinental railroad was completed when the Central Pacific Railroad from the west and the Union Pacific Railroad from the east met in Utah.


Two RIC officers, Sgt Peter Wallace and Constable Michael Enright, were killed during the rescue of Seán Hogan by Dan Breen and Seán Treacy, both of whom were wounded, at Knocklong station, Co. Limerick. (See 100 Years Ago, p. 70.)


The first aircraft landed on the new airfield at Rineanna, Co. Clare, later known as Shannon Airport.


West Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany until German reunification in 1990, came into being.


Birth of Queen Victoria, the last British monarch of the House of Hanover, who reigned for 63 years (1837–1901).


Jasper Joly, book collector whose donation to the RDS in 1863 of a collection of 23,000 books and unbound papers and prints, notably on Irish history, topography and biography, is now housed in the National Library, born in Clonsast, Co. Offaly.


Jeremy Corbyn, trade union representative, MP for Islington North since 1983 and leader of the British Labour Party since 2015, born in Wiltshire.


Robert Briscoe (75), Dáil deputy for 38 years and the first Jewish lord mayor of Dublin (1956), died.




Above: Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ, c. 1602. (NGI)


Percival Lee-Wilson (33), RIC district inspector for North Wexford, a marked man because of his brutal treatment of Tom Clarke after the surrender in Easter 1916, was assassinated by the IRA in Gorey. The sudden death of Lee-Wilson, or rather its effect on his young widow, Galway-born Marie Ryan, whom he married in 1914, was a key factor in one of the greatest art discoveries of the twentieth century. In late 1990 Sergio Benedetti, a conservator at the National Gallery of Ireland, was invited to a Jesuit community house in Leeson Street to look over their collection of paintings—all quite routine until he came to The Taking of Christ, attributed to the Dutch painter Gerrit van Honthorst. Benedetti was startled. As a specialist in Caravaggio and his followers, he was convinced that he was looking not at a Honthorst—he painted in the same style—but at Caravaggio’s long-lost original, which he painted in 1602 for his patrons in Rome, the Mattei family. What followed was three years of historical detective work. Working through the Mattei archives, two Italian Ph.D students traced its history from commission to payment to the year 1793, when a careless archivist misattributed it to Honthorst. Ten years after that it was sold—as a Honthorst—along with other paintings to a Scottish landowner, and a century later, having ironically been turned down by the Scottish National Gallery, to an Edinburgh art dealer who sold it, in 1921, to an unknown buyer for the princely sum of £8-8-0d. That buyer was Lee-Wilson’s widow, who qualified as a paediatrician in 1928. A devout Catholic, she had gifted the painting to the Jesuits for their support after her husband’s death. She died in 1971.


Protesters demanding greater democratic freedoms were fired on by police and troops in Tiananmen Square, Beijing. Several thousand were killed.


George Orwell’s Nineteen-eighty-four, mostly written on the Scottish island of Jura when he was seriously ill with tuberculosis, was published.


Birth of Gustave Courbet, French painter—notably of A Burial at Ornans (1850–1)—and pioneer of nineteenth-century realism.


Captain John Alcock and Lt. Arthur Brown completed the first transatlantic flight when their Vickers Vimy biplane landed near Clifden, Co. Galway, after a 2,500km flight from St John’s, Newfoundland.


Harold Alexander, Co. Tyrone-born field marshal who commanded Allied forces in Italy (1943–4) and in the Mediterranean until the end of the war, died.


Robert Stewart, Lord Castlereagh, chief secretary for Ireland who secured the passage of the Act of Union (1800) and played a crucial role at the Congress of Vienna (1815), born in Dublin.


During his brief official visit to Ireland, General Charles de Gaulle hosted a reception in Áras an Uachtaráin for members of the McCartan Clan from County Down—descendants, like himself, of a McCartan who had fled to France in the wake of the Williamite Wars.


RIC District Inspector Michael Hunt was shot dead by Irish Volunteers in Thurles, Co. Tipperary, the most senior RIC officer to be killed up to that date.


William Martin Murphy (75), founder of Independent Newspapers and leader of the Employers’ Federation during the lockout of 1913–14, died.


Kathleen Clarke (Caitlín Bean Uí Chléirigh), widow of executed Easter Rising leader Tom Clarke, was elected lord mayor of Dublin.


The Treaty of Versailles was signed, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which led directly to the outbreak of the First World War.


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