John’s Believe It Or Not… May 13th

John Fioravanti Stands at the front of his classroom in 2006

It’s Blessed Saturday! Did you know…

* 1787 Arthur Phillip sets sails with 11 ships of criminals to Botany Bay, Australia. (The First Fleet is the name given to the 11 ships that left England on 13 May 1787 to found the penal colony that became the first European settlement in Australia. The Fleet consisted of two Royal Navy vessels, three store ships, and six convict transports, carrying between 1,000 and 1,500 convicts, marines, seamen, civil officers and free people (accounts differ on the numbers), and a vast quantity of stores. From England, the Fleet sailed southwest to Rio de Janeiro, then east to Cape Town and via the Great Southern Ocean to Botany Bay, arriving over the period of 18 to 20 January 1788, taking 250 to 252 days from departure to final arrival. Convicts were originally transported to the Thirteen Colonies in North America, but after the American War of Independence ended in 1783, the newly formed United States refused to accept further convicts. On 6 December 1785, Orders in Council were issued in London for the establishment of a penal colony in New South Wales, on land claimed for Britain by explorer James Cook in his first voyage to the Pacific in 1770. The cost to Britain of outfitting and despatching the Fleet was £84,000 (about £9.6 million as of 2015).)

Website reveals secrets of convicts sent to Australia | Penal colony, South wales and Arthur phillip
Website reveals secrets of convicts sent to Australia | Penal colony, South Wales and Arthur Phillip (Courtesy of Pinterest)

* 1846 President Polk declares war on Mexico. (On May 13, 1846, the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly votes in favor of President James K. Polk’s request to declare war on Mexico in a dispute over Texas.Under the threat of war, theUnited States had refrained from annexing Texas after the latter won independence from Mexico in 1836. But in 1844, President John Tyler restarted negotiations with the Republic of Texas, culminating with a Treaty of Annexation. The treaty was defeated by a wide margin in the Senate because it would upset the slave state/free state balance between North and South and risked war with Mexico, which had broken off relations with the United States. But shortly before leaving office and with the support of President-elect Polk, Tyler managed to get the joint resolution passed on March 1, 1845.Texas was admitted to the union on December 29.While Mexico didn’t follow through with its threat to declare war, relations between the two nations remained tense over border disputes, and in July 1845, President Polk ordered troops into disputed lands that lay between the Nueces and the Rio Grande rivers. In November, Polk sent the diplomat John Slidell to Mexico to seek boundary adjustments in return for the U.S. government’s settlement of the claims of U.S. citizens againstMexico and also to make an offer to purchase California and New Mexico. After the mission failed, the U.S. army under Gen. Zachary Taylor advanced to the mouth of the Rio Grande, the river that the state of Texas claimed as its southern boundary.)

Map of disputed area + reasons for the war.
U.S. President Polk declared Mexico had shed American blood on American soil. Mexican President Parades could have claimed vice versa. May 13, 1846: U.S. Congress declared war on Mexico. (Courtesy of SlidePlayer)

* 1981 Pope John Paul II is shot. (Pope John Paul II is shot and wounded at St. Peter’s Square in Rome, Italy. Turkish terrorist Mehmet Ali Agca, an escaped fugitive already convicted of a previous murder, fired several shots at the religious leader, two of which wounded nearby tourists. Agca was immediately captured. Agca claimed that he had planned to go to England to kill the king but couldn’t because it turned out there was only a queen and “Turks don’t shoot women.” He also claimed to have Palestinian connections, although the PLO quickly denied any involvement. Detectives believed that his confession had been coached in order to throw investigators off track. The motive behind an alleged Soviet-inspired assassination must be viewed in the context of the Cold War in 1981. Pope John Paul II was Polish-born and openly supportive of the democratic movement in that country. His visit to Poland in 1979 worried the Kremlin, which saw its hold on Eastern Europe in danger. Although the exact extent of the conspiracy remains unknown today, Agca reportedly met with Bulgarian spies Sergei Antonov, Zhelio Vassilev, Todor Aivazov, and Bekir Celenk in Rome about assassinating Lech Walesa, the Polish labor union leader. However, this plan was abandoned when Agca was offered $1.25 million to kill the Pope.)

A gun appears from the crowd as Pope John Paul II addresses crowds in St Peter's
A gun appears from the crowd as Pope John Paul II addresses crowds in St Peter’s (Courtesy of BT.com)

* 1973 First Battle of the Sexes. (On May 13, 1973, during the early years of the women’s liberation movement, tennis stars Bobby Riggs and Margaret Court face off in a $10,000 winner-take-all challenge match. The 55-year-old Riggs, a tennis champion from the late 1930s and 40s who was notoriously skeptical of women’s talents on the tennis court, branded the contest a “battle of the sexes.” The match, which was played on Mother’s Day and televised internationally, was held on Riggs’ home turf, the San Vincente Country Club in Ramona, California, northeast of San Diego. Proceeds were promised to the American Diabetes Association. Bobby Riggs had originally proposed a male-female match-up to Billie Jean King, whom he dubbed the “leading women’s libber of tennis.” King ignored the offer, but Australian Margaret Court, who had won 89 of her last 92 matches and was the leading money-winner on the women’s professional tour, accepted. Leading up to the match, Riggs loudly and consistently belittled women’s tennis and its players to the media while Court, occupied with raising her one-year-old son, said little. Court was a serve-and-volley player, known for her tough play at the net. By contrast, Riggs was a baseliner, and it later became known that he had the court resurfaced to slow the game, giving him time to wind up and put more power into his stroke. The slow surface immediately put Court at a disadvantage. Riggs lobbed Court’s shots back to her, breaking the rhythm she was accustomed to on the hard-hitting women’s tour. Rattled, she lost the match, 6-2, 6-1. The moment the match ended, Riggs again challenged Billie Jean King. She accepted, and their $100,000 winner-take-all match—dubbed by some “the libber vs. the lobber”—took place on September 20, 1973, in front of a sold-out Houston Astrodome crowd. The 29-year-old King prevailed, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. At a news conference after the match, Riggs explained the loss: “She was too good, too fast. She returned all my passing shots and made great plays off them… I was trying to play my game, but I couldn’t.”)

First Battle of the Sexes Photo as Filming Begins
First Battle of the Sexes Photo as Filming Begins (Courtesy of ComingSoon)

* 1985 A raid is set for MOVE headquarters. (In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, police begin evacuating people from their Osage Avenue homes in order to prepare for an operation against MOVE, a radical cult group that had assembled a large arsenal. By the end of the confrontation, 11 people were dead and 61 homes had been burned down. The roots of the 1985 incident date back to 1978 when a confrontation between MOVE and the police left Officer James Ramp dead. Several innocent MOVE members were convicted of murder, enraging other members. Leader John Africa began a counterattack on Christmas Eve, 1983. At the MOVE headquarters at 6221 Osage Avenue, members set up several loudspeakers and began shouting profanities at their neighbors. Even more ominously, MOVE began assembling a cache of weapons and building bunkers in their row house. Everything came to a head in May 1985 when Mayor W. Wilson Goode ordered police to raid the MOVE headquarters. Authorities soon realized that there was very little they could do to remove MOVE members from their entrenched position. At about 5:30 p.m. on May 13, a small bomb was dropped on the roof of the building in an attempt to destroy their bunker. This proved disastrous, as the roof was covered with tar and gas, and a blistering fire broke out. It took the fire department an hour to begin extinguishing the fire. By this time, it was raging out of control. In the ensuing chaos, six adults and five children inside the MOVE home were killed. By the time the fire had been contained, nearly an entire block of homes in Philadelphia had burned down. Much like the Waco, Texas, raid of the Branch Davidians eight years later, the government came under heavy criticism for their harsh handling of the confrontation. In 1986, a jury awarded $1.5 million to three survivors of the MOVE raid.)

In this May 1985 photo, scores of row houses burn in a fire in the west Philadelphia neighborhood. Police dropped a bomb on the militant group MOVE's home on May 13, 1985 in an attempt to arrest members, leading to the burning of scores of homes
In this May 1985 photo, scores of row houses burn in a fire in the west Philadelphia neighborhood. Police dropped a bomb on the militant group MOVE’s home on May 13, 1985, in an attempt to arrest members, leading to the burning of scores of homes (Courtesy of http://www.phillymag.com)

Acknowledged Sources:

* On This Day – History, Film, Music and Sport        http://www.onthisday.com/

* This Day In History – What Happened Today    http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/

* Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Fleet

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Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

11 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… May 13th”

  1. The sending of the convicts to Australia is very interesting to read about, John. There is a fictional book called Morgan’s Run which is about a man who is sent to Australia on the convict ships and about the terrible trials and tribulations they faced. It also details the very minimalistic crimes these people were convicted of, usually stealing food for their starving families.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m sure that’s true, Robbie. We have been struggling with the reality of crime for many millennia – I wonder if we’ll ever get that one right. When you think about the costs of crime: the original damage, court costs, incarceration, rehabilitation… it is staggering.

          Liked by 1 person

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