This Day in History – April 29th

1770 – Captain James Cook arrives at and names Botany Bay, Australia – Today, Botany Bay is the site of Sydney, Australia’s bustling cargo seaport, and has two runways from the city’s airport extending out into it. But it was on this date over 240 years ago, in 1770, when British Captain James Cook became the first European to set eyes on the area. Early in his military career, Cook fought French forces in Canada during the Seven Years’ War and, in the 1760s, drew up one of the first in-depth maps of Newfoundland’s coast. His superiors took notice of his skills, and he was next sent to conduct exploratory voyages in the Pacific. It had long been thought that there must be some other continent in the South Pacific to balance out the masses of land in the northern hemisphere, but the hypothetical “Terra Australis” or “South Land” had never been found by European explorers. After charting New Zealand in late 1769, Cook sailed west, where he became the first European to reach Australia’s east coast. On this date in 1770, Cook and his crew made their first landfall on the continent. In his notes, he originally called the area Stingray Bay, but later crossed it out and wrote in Botany Bay for the unique plant specimens retrieved by the botanists in his crew. This area was also where the Captain first made contact with an aboriginal tribe, whom he described as “Savages of the East” in his journals. Though he made two more voyages to the Pacific, he never returned to Australia. He was killed by Hawaiians in February 1779 at the age of 50.

1903 – In the mining town of Frank, Alberta a massive landslide kills 70 people – About two years before Alberta officially became a province, there were around 1,000 people residing in the town of Frank in Crowsnest Pass, southwest of Calgary. Frank was founded Sept. 10, 1901 by American coal mining entrepreneurs Sam Grebo and Henry Frank, located between the Canadian Pacific Railway and Turtle Mountain, where the mine was located. Within two years, the booming town had a two-story brick school, a post office and about two dozen other businesses. Late on the night of April 28, 1903, 20 miners made their way up the mountain to begin their late shift. Just after 4:00 am on this date, what would amount to a 30-million cubic metre landslide began, instantly killing three of the miners who had gone to the surface to take their lunch break, and trapping the others. Survivors recalled hearing what sounded like cannon fire echoing through the mountains. It all lasted less than two minutes. Several businesses and houses were also destroyed and, in all, about 70 people died. The remaining miners knew of a coal seam they could access that reached higher up the mountain and, 13 hours later with a dwindling air supply, they finally dug their way out to freedom. The mine closed permanently in 1917, and today only about 200 people live in Frank, which has been amalgamated into the Township of Crowsnest Pass. The Frank Slide remained the worst landslide in North American history until a slide in Veracruz, Mexico killed at least 600 people in 1920. The story of the Frank Slide is preserved at an Interpretive Centre in the village.

1945 – The German Army in Italy signs a formal surrender on a very eventful day in World War II history – While Canadian pilots from Ontario were taking part in the first flight of Operation Manna, to air drop food over the famine-struck, German-occupied Netherlands, many other notable events were taking place elsewhere on this date in 1945. For instance, the British frigate HMS Goodall was torpedoed by a U-Boat in the Barents Sea north of Russia, becoming the last ship of the Royal Navy sunk in the European theatre of World War II. In their bunker in Berlin on this date, Adolf Hitler married his longtime partner Eva Braun, and Hitler designated Admiral Karl Dönitz as his successor to head of the German State. Both Hitler and Braun would commit suicide the following day. The Dachau Concentration Camp in southern Germany, the first Nazi concentration camp to be organized in 1933, was liberated on this date by American forces, who freed its 30,000 prisoners. There were 32,000 documented deaths at Dachau during its operation, and thousands more that went undocumented. Finally, at the Royal Palace of Caserta in Northern Italy, German troops signed the surrender of Caserta, which proclaimed that German forces in Italy were to lay down their arms on May 2. They weren’t the only Germans to surrender on May 2 though; that also happened to be the day Russian Marshal Georgi K. Zhukov accepted German surrender in Berlin.

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rodney king1992 – The acquittal of police officers charged with beating Rodney King leads to riots in Los Angeles – “There was a riot on the streets, tell me where were you? / You were sitting home watching your TV / While I was participating in some anarchy.” These are some lyrics from the song “April 29, 1992” by the Long Beach, California rock group Sublime. The rioting on the streets of Los Angeles on this date came as a result of the decision to acquit four white police officers accused of beating African American motorist Rodney King. A video depicting the beating incident in March 1991 was widely shown in the media. It showed the officers beating, kicking and clubbing the prone King, an unemployed black man, for 81 seconds as other officers looked on. The four accused officers argued they acted in self-defense, saying King had resisted arrest. The decision, made by an all-white jury, provoked widespread anger in the predominantly black neighbourhoods of south-central L.A. A mob of people chanting “Guilty!” attempted to storm the LAPD headquarters, before setting fire to and looting shops. Other motorists were dragged from their cars and beaten, cars were overturned and set on fire, and gun violence was rampant. Governor Pete Wilson declared a state of emergency. The riots lasted three days, with over 50 people being killed and about 2,000 more injured, while around 12,000 were arrested. Property damage amounted to about $1 billion. A civil rights trial later found two of the officers guilty; each served two years in jail. In a civil suit, King won $3.8 million damages from the City of Los Angeles.

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