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This Day in History - 13th December


1577 Francis Drake set sail from Plymouth with his flagship Pelican, plus 4 other ships and 160 men, on an expedition to the Pacific. His other ships were lost or returned home shortly after the voyage began but the Pelican, renamed the Golden Hind, pushed on alone up the coast of Chile and Peru. Continuing northwards, the California coast was claimed in the name of Queen Elizabeth. He crossed the Indian Ocean, rounded the Cape of Good Hope and eventually returned to Plymouth on September 26th 1580 with treasure worth £500,000. He became the first Englishmen to sail around the world and the Queen knighted him aboard his ship at Deptford, on the river Thames.

1847 Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (under the pseudonym Ellis Bell) was published, as was Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë (under the pseudonym Acton Bell). In choosing to write under pseudonyms, the sisters drew an immediate veil of mystery around them, and people speculated as to the true identity of Currer Bell (i.e. Charlotte Brontë), and Ellis and Acton Bell. 

1867 Twelve people were killed when Irish terrorists blew up the outer wall of Clerkenwell Prison, London in an attempt to rescue a jailed colleague.

1904 The first electric train came into service on London's Metropolitan Railway.

1909 The British Polar explorer Ernest Shackleton was knighted by King Edward VII.

1939 The Battle of the River Plate, the first naval battle in the Second World War and the only episode of the war developed in South America. Action by Royal Navy cruisers HMS Exeter, HMS Ajax and HMNZS Achilles of the New Zealand Division, drove the great German battleship Admiral Graf Spee to seek shelter off Montevideo in Uruguay for repairs to its fuel system. Captain Hans Langsdorff of the Graf Spee scuttled his damaged ship rather than face the overwhelmingly superior force that the British had led him to believe was awaiting on his departure. On 19th December, he committed suicide, over the Graf Spee's ensign, as a symbolic act of going down with his ship.

1972 More than 300 British victims of the Thalidomide drug were offered a compensation deal said to be worth £11.85m. A year later the 11 year battle over Thalidomide compensation ended with a £20 million court settlement.

1973 The British Government ordered a 3 day working week following an Arab oil embargo and industrial action by the country's miners.

1976 The first oil was brought to Britain, by tanker, from the North Sea Brent Oil Field , located 116miles north-east of Lerwick in the Shetland Islands.

1989 A deaf choir from South Wales gave what was claimed to be the first concert using sign language. Performed in unison with a leading male voice choir, it enabled members of the audience who were deaf, to enjoy the concert at the Gwyn Town Hall in West Glamorgan.

1995 Hundreds of black and white youths went on the streets of Brixton, in south London attacking police, ransacking shops and burning cars after the death of a black man (Wayne Douglas, aged 26. ) in police custody.

2002 The enlargement of the European Union. It was announced that Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia would become members from 1st May 2004.

2013 Prince Harry and his 'Walking With the Wounded' team reached the South Pole. Among those was Sgt Duncan Slater who lost both his legs in a blast in Afghanistan in 2009. The expedition's director said 'We came down here, determined to get 12 men and women, all injured in conflict, to the South Pole, and this is what we have done. The feeling is incredible.'

2014 Earls Court Exhibition Centre in London, a conference and events venue since 1887, closed for the last time. The final concert was by the Bombay Bicycle Club, an indie rock band from London.

2019 Yesterday's general election, the first in December for almost 100 years, led to a win for Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party. There were massive losses for Labour, in areas that had been Labour strongholds for decades. Labour's leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said that he would not stand as Labour leader in another general election. The Lib. Dem. leader, Jo Swinson, lost her seat to the SNP and stepped down as their leader.