William Stead’s Campaign ..
Campaigning journalist William Thomas Stead (1849 – 1912) died on board the Titanic on April 15, 1912.. Stead lived at Wimbledon, South-West London, and was Britain’s leading campaigning and investigative journalist in the late 1800s.
He became renowned particularly for his work in exposing the white-slave trade and child sex abuse in London’s brothels by the nation’s upper classes.. The Titanic disaster ended a career that had made Stead a household name many years earlier.
Son of a Congregationalist minister, he wrote for the Northern Echo, Darlington, before coming south to the Pall Mall Gazette in 1880, becoming editor in 1883.
He turned it into a lively, amusing and newsy populist campaigning newspaper.
In 1885 he launched a campaign to oppose child prostitution in London and raise the age of consent at the time from 12.
Stead’s campaign went so far that he ended up in prison.
To publicise the plight of child prostitution, he arranged to buy a young virgin for £5 and then tell the tale in his newspaper.. Helped by Rebecca Jarrett, a former prostitute herself, he convinced the mother of 13-year-old Eliza Armstrong that the girl was simply to be taken into domestic service.
Eliza was taken to a house in Poland Street and chloroformed.. When she awoke, Stead was in the room and she was promptly taken off to Paris while he ran a story in the paper that was said to “set London and the whole country in a blaze of indignation”.. But although he secured massive sales of the paper, he was widely criticised for publishing obscene material.. The missing Eliza was eventually discovered in Stead’s Wimbledon garden and he was convicted of having fraudulently taken her from her parents.. He spent three months in Holloway prison (not then an all-female establishment).. However, his campaign was vindicated when the Criminal Law Amendment Act promptly raised the age of consent from 12 to 16, banning procurement of minors.
The Last Of The Great Scottish-Gaelic Chiefs ..
Simon Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat, was the last aristocrat to be beheaded in Britain.
Aged 77, he had to be helped up to the scaffold by his servants, after which, in the words of one of the thousands of spectators on Tower Hill that April day in 1747, “he was launched by the good grace of a single chop.”
As coolly brave in death as in life, he had told a friend earlier that morning.. “I hope to be in Heaven by one o’clock.”
Most of the Londoners watching that day, and all of the House of Lords which had unanimously pronounced him guilty of treason, would have assumed he was en route to a radically different destination.. For Lovat had supported Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite rebellion, after a lifetime of changing sides, changing religions, undertaking high-level espionage for governments, rebels and foreigners simultaneously.
Lovat was ‘the last of the great Scottish-Gaelic chiefs’, and leader of the 10,000-strong Clan Fraser, who were spread over 500 square miles of northern Scotland.
Empress Dowager Cixi Of China ..
Empress Dowager Cixi of China was the effective ruler of China from the 1860s to her death in 1908, which brought down the curtain on China’s last dynasty, the Qing.
She has customarily been portrayed as another wicked witch of the East.
In 1852, aged only 16, Cixi was chosen as one of the concubines of the Emperor Xianfeng, known as ‘the limping dragon’.
Though she was no great beauty, she had poise, fine skin and expressive eyes, and was picked out from a parade of young women for a place in the dragon’s harem.
And although she rather annoyed her imperial master by giving him advice, she sealed promotion to the number two role in the harem by bearing Xianfeng’s first-born son.. The boy, Tongzhi, succeeded to the throne on his father’s death, and Cixi became the Dowager Empress.. She moved rapidly to eliminate her rivals, ‘bestowing silk’ on two of them – the imperial court’s euphemism for forced suicide.
Long white silk scarves were sent to those who were required to hang themselves, as an alternative to execution in the various horrific ways the Chinese imagination devised.. In her decades of string-pulling and silk-bestowing, Cixi had to negotiate a passage through the choppy waters of China’s decline and dismemberment.
In the late 19th century, a civilisation once sealed against the world found itself having to cope with the technologies and territorial ambitions of other countries.
Not only was Japan a constant menace, but much of the western world was also scrambling for a slice of China.
By the standards of her dynasty, her reign was pretty tolerant.
She tried to alleviate poverty, reformed the education system, began to modernise the infrastructure, and championed women’s liberation.
With a jasmine diadem on her jet-black toupee, rouged cheeks and hands, and dressed in a blue brocade robe adorned with white magnolias, she would sally forth to give her chief eunuchs their instructions for the day, take a couple of pipes of tobacco and then have breakfast, drinking human milk in her tea.
The new century which China entered as Cixi’s dynasty came to its end was full of horror and misery.. Civil wars and the Japanese invasion were followed by Mao’s communist revolution, which led to tens of millions of deaths.
The 21st century offers a brighter future to China, provided that it can find a decent way of governing itself – something at which the Chinese, for all their genius, have never been very good.
( An extract from an article by Chris Patten )