20 October: On this day in history

What events happened on 20 October in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…

On this day_Numbers_orange20

20 October 1720: Luck runs out for notorious pirate gang

‘Calico Jack’ Rackham, Anne Bonny and Mary Read are captured on the orders of the governor of Jamaica

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On the night of 20 October 1720, Jack Rackham’s luck ran out. With his black flag showing a skull above two crossed cutlasses, ‘Calico Jack’ was one of the most wanted men in the Caribbean. A pirate who famously sailed alongside two fierce women, Mary Read and Anne Bonny, Rackham had for weeks been cruising along the coast of Jamaica, attacking fishing vessels with impunity. But on this evening he made his fatal mistake.

Having anchored his ship, the William, in Dry Harbour Bay, Rackham spent the evening boozing with his men before falling asleep. He probably never heard Captain Jonathan Barnet’s sloop gliding towards him. The first he knew of it was when Barnet shouted out an order to surrender.

Rackham ordered his men to fire, but it was all much too late. Barely had the William begun to move off than armed British sailors were swarming aboard. It was all over in moments: according to legend, the only casualty was one of Rackham’s men, shot by Mary Read for cowardice in the face of the enemy.

As the British sloop sailed back towards Port Royal, Rackham must have known what was coming. Tried a few weeks later, he was hanged on 18 November and his body displayed on an island known today as Rackham’s Cay. Anne Bonny – who, like Mary Read, escaped the noose by revealing that she was pregnant – thought he had only himself to blame. “If he had fought like a man,” she reportedly said, “he need not have been hanged like a dog.”

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Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries…

20 October 1632

Architect, mathematician and astronomer Christopher Wren was born in East Knowle in Wiltshire. Evidence of his prodigious talent can be seen in the fact that before taking a degree at Wadham College, Oxford, he had already designed an air pump, an instrument for writing in the dark, numerous astronomical devices and a beehive. At the age of only 25 he was appointed professor of astronomy at Gresham College, London. Four years later, he became Savilian professor of astronomy at Oxford. The first building he designed was a chapel for Pembroke College, Cambridge.

20 October 1740

Maria Theresa became archduchess of Austria and queen of Hungary and Bohemia after the death of her father, holy Roman emperor Charles VI. Her succession was disputed and almost immediately led to European war.

20 October 1818

An Anglo-American treaty establishes the 49th Parallel as the border between the USA and Canada and allows for joint occupation of the Oregon territories for ten years. 

20 October 1827 

Sir Edward Codrington blows Ibrahim Pasha’s Turco-Egyptian fleet out of the water at Navarino.

20 October 1859

Birth in Vermont of the outspoken psychologist, philosopher, teacher and activist, John Dewey. He was a keen supporter of women’s suffrage and founder member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

20 October 1891

Birth of English physicist James Chadwick. In 1935 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics for his discovery of the neutron. During the Second World War Chadwick led the UK’s work on the atom bomb. He was knighted in 1945.

20 October 1968

Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of the murdered US president John F Kennedy, astounds the world by marrying the Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis

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