25 May 1659

Richard Cromwell resigns as Lord Protector. He had been unable to reconcile the differences between the Protectorate parliament and an army in which, unlike his father, he had no personal influence.


25 May 1812

Some 92 miners lost their lives in an explosion at the Felling Colliery near Gateshead. The disaster was a major impetus in the search for a safer way of lighting coal mines and led both George Stephenson and Humphry Davy to design safety lamps.

25 May 1850

Obaysch, the first hippopotamus to be seen in Europe since ancient Rome and the first in Britain since prehistoric times, was delivered to London Zoo. He had been captured on an island on the White Nile and was exchanged by the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt for some English greyhounds and deerhounds. His appearance doubled attendances at the zoo and Queen Victoria herself came to inspect him. In 1854 Obaysch was joined by a female, Adhela, and in 1871 she gave birth to the zoo's first baby hippo.

25 May 1857

Captain Auguste Protet of the French West African Squadron claims Dakar for France.

25 May 1878: HMS Pinafore enthrals audiences

Gilbert and Sullivan’s latest musical is a storming success on both sides of the pond

More like this

At the end of 1877, the composer Arthur Sullivan was on holiday in France when he had a letter from his chief collaborator, the writer WS Gilbert. The two men had just signed a deal to produce a new light opera for the impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte, and Gilbert had good news. He already had an outline of the new opera’s plot: a love story on a Royal Navy ship, brimming with silliness. “I have very little doubt whatever but that you will be pleased with it,” he assured Sullivan. “There is a good deal of fun in it which I haven’t set down on paper.”

HMS Pinafore opened at London’s Opera Comique on 25 May 1878 and was an immediate sensation, with reports of “eager playgoers pushing and praying for seats or at least for standing room”. The critic of The Era wrote he had rarely “been in the company of a more joyous audience, more confidently anticipating an evening’s amusement than that which filled the Opera Comique in every corner”. It was “a hit, a palpable hit”.

In just 18 months, 150 unauthorised productions of HMS Pinafore were put on in the United States, while it played for night after night in London to enthusiastic houses. And it remains a cultural touchstone today: you can find its songs in everything from Star Trek and Raiders of the Lost Ark to Family Guy, The West Wing and even The Simpsons. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

25 May 1868

The Australian Aboriginal Cricket Team, the first Australian team to tour England, takes the field for its first match – a two-day game against a Surrey XI at Kennington Oval.

25 May 1895: Oscar Wilde is convicted

The Irish writer’s reputation is left in tatters as he is jailed for gross indecency

Oscar Wilde’s decision to launch a libel action against the Marquess of Queensberry, who had accused him of “posing somdomite [sic]”, was the most unfortunate he ever made.

The trial opened on 3 April 1895 and almost immediately it was obvious that Wilde was in deep trouble. When the defence announced that they had found several male prostitutes who would testify that they had had sex with Wilde, the playwright dropped the case – but, even as he left the courtroom, the authorities were drawing up a warrant for his arrest on charges of gross indecency.

At Wilde’s first trial, which opened on 26 April, the jury was unable to reach a verdict. Three weeks later, a second trial began at the Old Bailey, prosecuted by the Liberal government’s solicitor general, Sir Frank Lockwood. Wilde wrote later that Lockwood had issued an “appalling denunciation – like something out of Tacitus, like a passage in Dante, like one of Savonarola’s indictments of the popes of Rome”. This was an exaggeration: by the standards of the day, Lockwood’s closing statement was remarkably restrained. But it is easy to understand why Wilde was so distraught.

On 25 May, the foreman announced the jury’s verdict: guilty. There were cries of “Shame!” from the gallery, and Wilde turned grey with horror. “It is no use for me to address you. People who can do these things must be dead to all sense of shame, and one cannot hope to produce any effect upon them. It is the worst case I have ever tried,” said Mr Justice Wills, who sentenced Wilde to two years of hard labour. It was, he added, “the severest sentence that the law allows.
In my judgment it is totally inadequate for a case such as this.” | Written by Dominic Sandbrook


25 May 1961

President John F Kennedy announced before a special joint session of the US Congress his goal to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade and asked for an additional $1,700m to fund the project.

Browse more On this day in history