14 November: On this day in history

What events happened on 14 November in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…

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14 November 1770: James Bruce reaches the Blue Nile’s source

The Scottish explorer fulfils his mission to find the river’s origin

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For the Scottish explorer James Bruce, it was a moment of exquisite vindication. After years of dreaming and weeks of trudging, he was a few hundred yards from his goal, the source of the Blue Nile in the mountains of Ethiopia – then believed to be the Nile’s main point of origin.

Yet now, when the prize was almost in sight, Bruce’s guide, Woldo, decided to cut up rough. He was feeling ill, he said, and could not go on. Bruce knew what Woldo really wanted. He untied his fine silk sash and handed it to the guide. “Come, come,” Bruce said, “we understand each other; no more words; lose no more time, but carry me to Geesh and the head of the Nile, directly.”

Gratefully clutching the sash, Woldo pointed to the spot, a hillock in the midst of a watery marsh. Bruce kicked off his shoes and began running, and eventually he came to an “island of green turf, which was in the form of an altar”. It was 14 November 1770, and he had found it.

Emotion overcame him. “Though a mere private Briton,” Bruce later wrote, “I triumphed here, in my own mind, over kings and their armies.” He took out a cup made from a coconut shell, which he had bought in Arabia, and filled it with water from the spring. Then, at last, he drank a toast “to His Majesty King George III, and a long line of princes”.

Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries…

14 November 1687

Eleanor ‘Nell’ Gwyn, former mistress of Charles II, died at Pall Mall, London. She was buried at St-Martin-in-the-Fields. Because of the rebuilding of the church in the 1720s the exact location of the grave is lost.

14 November 1940

The Luftwaffe launched a 12-hour overnight bombing raid on Coventry. Over 500 people were killed and three-quarters of the city centre destroyed, including its historic cathedral.

14 November 1941

The day after being torpedoed by German submarine U-81, British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal sank off Gibraltar.

14 November 1983

The first US cruise missiles arrive at the Greenham Common air base near Newbury in Berkshire. More than 90 others will follow in the coming months.

14 November 1889: Nellie Bly races around the world

The journalist aims to beat the fictional 80-day record set by Phileas Fogg

At the age of 24, Nellie Bly was one of the best-known journalists in the United States. Her exposé of conditions inside a New York asylum, Ten Days in a Mad-House, had made her a celebrity, and she needed a good follow-up. In the summer of 1888, she picked up Jules Verne’s book Around the World in Eighty Days. By the time she had finished it, she knew what she was going to do.

At first, people scoffed at her claim that she could beat Phileas Fogg’s fictional 80-day record. “In the first place you are a woman and would need a protector,” she was told, “and even if it were possible for you to travel alone, you would need to carry so much baggage that it would detain you in making rapid changes.” But Bly stuck to her guns, and The New York Worldeventually agreed to sponsor her.

A year later, at 9.40am on the morning of 14 November 1889, Nellie stepped onto the Augusta Victoria, a steamer belonging to the Hamburg America Line, for the ocean crossing to Southampton. She brought only the clothes she was wearing – a sensible dress and thick overcoat – as well as a small bag. But she carried most of her money around her neck, the newspaper having issued her with £200 in English pounds, the equivalent of at least £100,000 today.

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As Bly travelled east, the newspaper breathlessly reported her progress. Across the Atlantic, then across the Channel; down through France, where she met Jules Verne; through Italy, across the Mediterranean and through the Suez Canal. Readers were invited to guess the exact time she would return; hundreds of thousands of entries poured in. She visited a leper colony in China and bought a monkey in Singapore. And at 3.51 on the afternoon of 25 January 1890, her train pulled into Jersey City. Nellie had done it – and it had taken her just 72 days.

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