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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Januarius MacGahan, Journalist & Correspondent

januarius-macgahanJanuarius Aloysius MacGahan, American journalist and war correspondent for the New York Herald and The Daily News, is born near New Lexington, Ohio on June 12, 1844. His articles describing the massacre of Bulgarian civilians by Turkish soldiers and irregular volunteers in 1876 creates public outrage in Europe, and are a major factor in preventing Britain from supporting Turkey in the Russo–Turkish War of 1877–78, which leads to Bulgaria gaining independence from the Ottoman Empire.

MacGahan’s father is an immigrant from Ireland who had served on the Northumberland, the ship which took Napoleon into exile on Saint Helena. He moves to St. Louis, where he briefly works as a teacher and as a journalist. There he meets his cousin, General Philip Sheridan, an American Civil War hero also of Irish parentage, who convinces him to study law in Europe. He sails to Brussels in December 1868.

MacGahan does not get a law degree, but he discovers that he has a gift for languages, learning French and German. He runs short of money and is about to return to America in 1870 when the Franco-Prussian War breaks out. Sheridan happens to be an observer with the German Army, and he uses his influence to persuade the European editor of the New York Herald to hire MacGahan as a war correspondent with the French Army.

MacGahan’s vivid articles from the front lines describing the stunning defeat of the French Army win him a large following, and many of his dispatches to the Herald are reprinted by European newspapers. When the war ends, he interviews French leader Léon Gambetta and Victor Hugo and, in March 1871, he hurries to Paris and is one of the first foreign correspondents to report on the uprising of the Paris Commune. He is arrested by the French military and nearly executed, and is only rescued through the intervention of the U.S. Minister to France Elihu B. Washburne.

In 1871 MacGahan is assigned as the Herald‘s correspondent to Saint Petersburg. He learns Russian, mingles with the Russian military and nobility, covers the Russian tour of General William Tecumseh Sherman and meets his future wife, Varvara Elagina, whom he marries in 1873. In 1874 he spends ten months in Spain, covering the Third Carlist War.

In 1876 MacGahan quarrels with James Gordon Bennett Jr., the publisher of the New York Herald, and leaves the newspaper. He is invited by his friend, Eugene Schuyler, the American Consul-General in Constantinople, to investigate reports of large-scale atrocities committed by the Turkish Army following the failure of an attempted uprising by Bulgarian nationalists in April 1876. He obtains a commission from The Daily News, then the leading liberal newspaper in England, and leaves for Bulgaria on July 23, 1876.

MacGahan reports that the Turkish soldiers have forced some of the villagers into the church, then the church is burned and survivors tortured to learn where they have hidden their treasures. He says that of a population of seven thousand, only two thousand survive. According to his account, fifty-eight villages in Bulgaria are destroyed, five monasteries demolished, and fifteen thousand people in all massacred. These reports, published first in The Daily News, and then in other papers, cause widespread popular outrage against Turkey in Britain. The government of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, a supporter of Turkey, tries to minimize the massacres and says that the Bulgarians are equally to blame, but his arguments are refuted by the newspaper accounts of MacGahan.

In the wake of the massacres and atrocities committed by the Ottoman forces during the suppression of the April Uprising, as well as centuries-long conflicts between Russia and Turkey in Crimea, the Russian Government, stirred by anti-Turkish and Pan-Slavism sentiment, prepare to invade the Ottoman Empire, and declare war on it on April 24, 1877. The Turkish Government of Sultan Abdul Hamid II appeals for help to Britain, its traditional ally against Russia, but the British government responds that it can not intervene “because of the state of public feeling.”

MacGahan is assigned as a war correspondent for The Daily News and, thanks to his friendship with General Skobelev, the Russian commander, rides with the first units of the Russian Army as it crosses the Danube into Bulgaria. He covers all the major battles of the Russo–Turkish War, including the Siege of Plevna and the Battle of Shipka Pass. He reports on the final defeat of the Turkish armies and is present at the signing of the Treaty of San Stefano, which ends the war.

MacGahan is in Constantinople, preparing to travel to Berlin for the conference that determines the final borders of Bulgaria, when he catches typhoid fever. He dies on June 9, 1878, and is buried in the Greek cemetery, in the presence of diplomats, war correspondents, and General Skobelev. Five years later his body is returned to the United States and reburied in New Lexington and a statue is erected in his honor by a society of Bulgarian Americans.

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Death of War Correspondent William Howard Russell

william-howard-russellSir William Howard Russell, an Irish reporter with The Times and considered to be one of the first modern war correspondents, dies in London, England on February 11, 1907.

Russell is born in Tallaght, County Dublin on March 28, 1820. As a young reporter, he reports on the First Schleswig War, a brief military conflict between Prussian and Danish troops in Denmark in 1850.

Initially sent by editor John Delane to Malta to cover British support for the Ottoman Empire against Russia in 1854, Russell despises the term “war correspondent” but his coverage of the conflict brings him international renown, and Florence Nightingale later credits her entry into wartime nursing to his reports. The Crimean medical care, shelter and protection of all ranks by Mary Seacole is also publicised by Russell and by other contemporary journalists, rescuing her from bankruptcy.

His dispatches are hugely significant as for the first time the public can read about the reality of warfare. Shocked and outraged, the public’s backlash from his reports leads the Government to re-evaluate the treatment of troops and leads to Florence Nightingale’s involvement in revolutionising battlefield treatment.

On September 20, 1854, Russell covers the battle above the Alma River, writing his missive the following day in an account book seized from a Russian corpse. The story, written in the form of a letter to Delane, is supportive of the British troops and pays particular attention to the battlefield surgeons’ “humane barbarity” and the lack of ambulance care for wounded troops. He later covers the Siege of Sevastopol where he coins the phrase “thin red line” in referring to British troops at Balaclava.

Following Russell’s reports of the appalling conditions suffered by the Allied troops conducting the siege, including an outbreak of cholera, Samuel Morton Peto and his partners build the Grand Crimean Central Railway, which is a major factor leading to the success of the siege.

Russell spends December 1854 in Constantinople on holiday, returning in early 1855. He leaves Crimea in December 1855 to be replaced by the Constantinople correspondent of The Times.

In 1856 Russell is sent to Moscow to describe the coronation of Tsar Alexander II and in the following year is sent to India where he witnesses the final re-capture of Lucknow.

In 1861 Russell goes to Washington, D.C., returning to England in 1863. In July 1865 he sails on the SS Great Eastern to document the laying of the transatlantic telegraph cable and writes a book about the voyage with color illustrations by Robert Dudley. He publishes diaries of his time in India, the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, where he describes the warm welcome given him by English-speaking Prussian generals such as Leonhard Graf von Blumenthal.

Russell retires as a battlefield correspondent in 1882 and founds the Army and Navy Gazette. He is knighted in May 1895 and is appointed a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) by King Edward VII on August 11, 1902.

Sir William Howard Russell dies on Februry 11, 1907 and is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.


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Death of Thomas “Buck” Whaley

Thomas Whaley, Irish gambler and member of the Irish House of Commons commonly known as Buck Whaley or Jerusalem Whaley, dies on November 2, 1800, in England.

Whaley is born in Dublin on December 15, 1766, the eldest surviving son of the landowner, magistrate and former Member of Parliament Richard Chapell Whaley. At the age of sixteen, he is sent to Europe on the Grand tour, accompanied by a tutor. He settles in Paris for some time, maintaining both a country residence and town house, but is forced to leave Paris when his cheque for the amount of £14,000, to settle gambling debts accrued in one night of gambling, is refused by his bankers. Following his return to Dublin, Whaley, at the age of eighteen, is elected to the Irish House of Commons in 1785 representing the constituency of Newcastle in County Dublin.

While dining with William FitzGerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster at Leinster House, wagers totaling £15,000 are offered that Whaley cannot travel to Jerusalem and back within two years and provide proof of his success. The reasoning of those offering the bets is based on the belief that, as the region was part of the Ottoman Empire and had a reputation for widespread banditry, it will be too dangerous for travelers and it will be unlikely that Whaley can complete the journey.

Whaley embarks from Dublin on October 8, 1788. He sails first to Deal, Kent, where he is joined by a companion, a Captain Wilson, and then on to Gibraltar. In Gibraltar, his party is joined by another military officer, Captain Hugh Moore. The party sets sail for the port of Smyrna, although Wilson is prevented from travelling any further due to rheumatic fever. The remaining pair make an overland journey from there to Constantinople, arriving in December.

The British ambassador in Constantinople introduces Whaley to the Vizier Cezayirli Gazi Hasan Pasha. Taking a liking to Whaley, Hasan Pasha provides him with permits to visit Jerusalem. Whaley’s party leaves Constantinople on January 21, 1789 by ship and sail to Acre, Israel. He encounters the Wāli of Acre and Galillee, Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar. Al-Jazzar, notoriously known as “The Butcher” in the region he rules, takes a liking to Whaley and, though he dismisses the documents issued in Constantinople as worthless, he permits Whaley to continue his journey.

Whaley and his companions make their way overland to Jerusalem, arriving on January 28. During his visit, he stays at a Franciscan monastery, the Convent of Terra Sancta. It is a signed certificate from the superior of this institution, along with detailed observations of the buildings of Jerusalem, that provide the proof needed to prove the success of his journey. They stay for little over a month before returning overland to Ireland.

Whaley arrives back in Dublin in the summer of 1789 to great celebrations and collects the winnings of the wager. The trip costs him a total of £8,000, leaving him a profit of £7,000.

Following his Jerusalem exploit, Whaley remains in Dublin for two years and later spends time in London and travelling in Europe, including Paris during the Revolutionary period. Due to mounting debts, he is forced to sell much of his estate in the early 1790s and these financial problems also lead to his departure from Dublin.

Thomas Whaley dies on November 2, 1800 in the Cheshire town of Knutsford, while travelling from Liverpool to London. The cause of death is attributed to rheumatic fever, although a popular story circulated in Ireland is that he is stabbed in a jealous rage by one of two sisters, both of whom are objects of his attentions.


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Birth of British General & Explorer Francis Rawdon Chesney

francis-rawdon-chesneyFrancis Rawdon Chesney, British general and explorer, is born in Annalong, County Down, on March 16, 1789.

Chesney is a son of Captain Alexander Chesney, an Irishman of Scottish descent who, having emigrated to South Carolina in 1772, serves under Lord Francis Rawdon-Hastings (afterwards Marquess of Hastings) in the American War of Independence, and subsequently receives an appointment as coast officer at Annalong, County Down, where Chesney is born.

Lord Rawdon gives Chesney a cadetship at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and he is gazetted to the Royal Artillery in 1805. Although he rises to be lieutenant-general and colonel-commandant of the 14th brigade Royal Artillery (1864), and general in 1868, Chesney’s memory lives not for his military record, but for his connection with the Suez Canal, and with the exploration of the Euphrates valley, which starts with his being sent out to Constantinople in the course of his military duties in 1829, and his making a tour of inspection in Egypt and Syria. In 1830, after taking command of 7th Company, 4th Battalion Royal Artillery in Malta, he submits a report on the feasibility of making a Suez Canal. This is the original basis of Ferdinand de Lesseps’ great undertaking. In 1831 he introduces to the home government the idea of opening a new overland route to India, by a daring and adventurous journey along the Euphrates valley from Anah to the Persian Gulf. Returning home, Acting Lt. Colonel Chesney busies himself to get support for the latter project, to which the East India Company’s board is favourable. In 1835 he is sent out in command of a small expedition, on which he takes a number of soldiers from 7th Company RA and for which Parliament votes £20,000, in order to test the navigability of the Euphrates.

After encountering immense difficulties, from the opposition of the Egyptian pasha, and from the need of transporting two steamers, one of which is subsequently lost, in sections from the Mediterranean Sea over the hilly country to the river, they successfully arrive by water at Bushire in the summer of 1836, and prove Chesney’s view to be a practical one. In the middle of 1837, Chesney returns to England, and is given the Royal Geographical Society’s gold medal, having meanwhile been to India to consult the authorities there. The preparation of his two volumes on the expedition, published in 1850, is interrupted by his being ordered out in 1843 to command the artillery at Hong Kong.

In 1847, his period of service is completed, and he goes home to Ireland, to a life of retirement. However, in 1856 and again in 1862 he goes out to the East to take a part in further surveys and negotiations for the Euphrates valley railway scheme, which, however, the government does not take up, in spite of a favourable report from the House of Commons committee in 1871. In 1868 Chesney publishes a further volume of narrative on his Euphrates expedition.

In 1869, Lesseps greets him in Paris as the “father “ of the canal. Francis Rawdon Chesney dies at the age of 82 in Mourne, County Down, on January 30, 1872.