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


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Birth of Arctic Explorer Robert McClure

robert-mcclureSir Robert John Le Mesurier McClure, Irish explorer of the Arctic, is born in Wexford, County Wexford on January 28, 1807.

McClure is the posthumous son of one of James Abercrombie‘s captains, first cousin of Oscar Wilde and spends his childhood under the care of his godfather, General John Le Mesurier, governor of Alderney, by whom he is educated for the army. The McClures are of Highland Scots ancestry, being a sept of Clan MacLeod of Harris. He enters the navy, however, in 1824, and twelve years later gains his first experience of Arctic exploration as mate of HMS Terror in the expedition (1836–1837) commanded by Captain George Back.

Upon his return he obtains his commission as lieutenant, and from 1838 to 1839 serves on the Canadian lakes, being subsequently attached to the North American and West Indian naval stations, where he remains until 1846. Two years later he joins John Franklin‘s search expedition (1848–1849) under James Clark Ross as first lieutenant of HMS Enterprise.

After he returns from the first Franklin search expedition, a new search expedition is launched in 1850, with Richard Collinson commanding the HMS Enterprise and McClure, as his subordinate, given the command of HMS Investigator. The two ships set out from England, sail south on the Atlantic Ocean, navigate through the Strait of Magellan to the Pacific Ocean with the assistance of steam-sloop HMS Gorgon, where they become separated and have no further contact for the rest of their respective journeys.

The HMS Investigator sails north through the Pacific and enters the Arctic Ocean by way of the Bering Strait, and sails eastward past Point Barrow, Alaska to eventually link up with another British expedition from the northwest. Although the HMS Investigator is abandoned to the pack ice in the spring of 1853, McClure and his crew are rescued by a party from the HMS Resolute, one of the ships under the command of Sir Edward Belcher that are sailing from the east, after a journey over the ice by sledge. Subsequently he completes his journey across the Northwest Passage. HMS Resolute itself does not make it out of the Arctic that year and is abandoned in ice, but later recovered. The wood from that ship becomes quite famous later.

Thus, McClure and his crew are the first both to circumnavigate the Americas, and to transit the Northwest Passage, considerable feats at that time. The HMS Enterprise, meanwhile, having arrived at Point Barrow in 1850 a fortnight later than the HMS Investigator, finds its passage blocked by winter ice and has to turn back and return the following year.

Upon his return to England, in 1854, McClure is court martialed for the loss of the HMS Investigator, which is automatic when a captain loses his ship. Following an honourable acquittal, he is knighted and promoted to post-rank, his commission being dated back four years in recognition of his special services. McClure and his crew share a great monetary reward of £10,000 awarded them by the British Parliament. He subsequently is also awarded gold medals by the English and French geographical societies. In 1855 he is elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.

From 1856 to 1861 McClure serves in Eastern waters, commanding the division of the Naval Brigade before Canton in 1858, for which he receives a CB in the following year. His latter years are spent in a quiet country life. He attains the rank of rear admiral in 1867, and of vice admiral in 1873. He dies on October 17, 1873 and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London.

McClure Strait is later named after Robert McClure, as well as the crater McClure on the Moon.

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Birth of Astronaut & Test Pilot Michael Collins

Michael Collins, Irish American former astronaut and test pilot who is part of the Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 missions, is born in Rome, Italy, on October 31, 1930. The Apollo 11 mission includes the first lunar landing in history. His Irish roots can be traced to the town of Dunmanway in County Cork, from which his grandfather, Jeremiah Collins, emigrates in the 1860s.

Collins is born in Rome where his father, United States Army Major General James Lawton Collins, is stationed at the time. After the United States enters World War II, the family moves to Washington, D.C., where Collins attends St. Albans School. During this time, he applies and is accepted to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and decides to follow his father, two uncles, brother and cousin into the armed services.

In 1952, Collins graduates from West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree. He joins the United States Air Force that same year, and completes flight training at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. His performance earns him a position on the advanced day fighter training team at Nellis Air Force Base, flying the F-86 Sabres. This is followed by an assignment to the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing at the George Air Force Base, where he learns how to deliver nuclear weapons. He also serves as an experimental flight test officer at Edwards Air Force Base in California, testing jet fighters.

Collins makes the decision to become an astronaut after watching John Glenn‘s Mercury-Atlas 6 flight. He applies for the second group of astronauts that same year, but is not accepted. Disappointed, but undaunted, Collins enters the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School as the Air Force begins to research space. That year, NASA once again calls for astronaut applications, and Collins is more prepared than ever. In 1963 he is chosen by NASA to be part of the third group of astronauts.

Collins makes two spaceflights. The first, on July 18, 1966, is the Gemini 10 mission, where Collins performs a spacewalk. The second is the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969, the first lunar landing in history. Collins, accompanied by Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, remains in the Command Module while his partners walk on the moon’s surface. Collins continues circling the moon until July 21, when Armstrong and Aldrin rejoin him. The next day, he and his fellow astronauts leave lunar orbit. They land in the Pacific Ocean on July 24. Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin are all awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon. However, Aldrin and Armstrong end up receiving a majority of the public credit for the historic event, although Collins is also on the flight.

Collins leaves NASA in January 1970, and one year later, he joins the administrative staff of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1980, he enters the private sector, working as an aerospace consultant. In his spare time, Collins says he stays active, and spends his days “worrying about the stock market” and “searching for a really good bottle of cabernet under ten dollars.”

Collins and his wife, Patricia Finnegan, have three children. The couple lived in both Marco Island, Florida, and Avon, North Carolina until her death in April 2014.


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Launch of the RMS Oceanic

RMS Oceanic, the White Star Line‘s first liner built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, is launched on August 27, 1870, arriving in Liverpool, England for her maiden voyage on February 26, 1871.

Three sister ships are constructed in rapid succession: RMS Atlantic, SS Baltic, and SS Republic. All are of the same approximate dimensions with differences in tonnage.

Powered by a combination of steam and sail, RMS Oceanic has twelve boilers generating steam for a single four-cylinder compound steam engine. A single funnel exhausts smoke and four masts carry sails. The hull is constructed of iron and divided into eleven watertight compartments. Passenger accommodations are located on the two decks concealed within the hull. RMS Oceanic can carry 166 First Class passengers, referred to as Saloon Passengers in the day and 1,000 Steerage Passengers, along with a 143-man crew. White Star spares no expense in her construction, and the contemporary press describes the ship as an “imperial yacht.”

RMS Oceanic leaves Liverpool for her maiden voyage on March 2, 1871 carrying only 64 passengers, under Captain Sir Digby Murray. Not long after departing, she has to return because of overheated bearings. Her voyage restarts on March 16. From that point onward, RMS Oceanic is a success for The White Star Line.

In January, 1872, RMS Oceanic undergoes a refit, during which a large forecastle is added to help prevent the bow being inundated during high seas. Two new boilers are added to increase steam pressure and thus engine power, and the four masts are shortened.

RMS Oceanic continues sailing with the White Star line on the Liverpool to New York City route until March 11, 1875, when she is chartered to the Occidental & Oriental Steamship Company, for service between San Francisco, Yokohama and Hong Kong. White Star provides the officers, while the crew is Chinese. The ship itself remains in White Star colours, but flies the O&O flag. During the repositioning voyage from Liverpool to Hong Kong, RMS Oceanic sets a speed record for that route. Later, she also sets a speed record for Yokohama to San Francisco in December 1876, and then breaks her own record over that route in November, 1889, with a time of 13 days, 14 hours and 5 minutes.

On August 22, 1888, RMS Oceanic collides with the coastal liner SS City of Chester just outside the Golden Gate. The SS City of Chester sinks, killing 16 on board.

On January 7, 1890, Nellie Bly boards RMS Oceanic in Yokohama to cross the Pacific as part of her voyage Around the World in Seventy-Two Days. She arrives in San Francisco on January 21, 1890, which is a day behind schedule as a result of rough weather.

In 1895, RMS Oceanic is returned to White Star, which plans to put her back into service. She is sent back to Harland and Wolff for re-engining, but when the ship is inspected closely, it is found to be uneconomical to perform all the work needed. Instead, RMS Oceanic is sold for scrap, leaving Belfast for the last time on February 10, 1896, under tow, for a scrapyard on the River Thames.