27 February 380

After years of theological disagreement, the emperors Theodosius I, Gratian and Valentinian II issued the Edict of Thessalonica, ordering Roman subjects to worship “the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity” and to reject the ideas of “foolish madmen”.


27 February 1729

The parliamentary committee tasked with the investigation of conditions in Britain's jails began its tour of inspection at the Fleet prison. It was led by James Oglethorpe, who later found the colony of Georgia for the 'worthy poor' of Britain.

27 February 1807

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, poet and author of The Song of Hiawatha, was born in Maine.

27 February 1812

Lord Byron made his maiden speech in the House of Lords, opposing the Frame Breaking Act, which enabled people convicted of machine breaking to be condemned to death.

27 February 1881: British routed at Majuba Hill

Surprise attack on rebels in First Boer War goes badly wrong

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“It was the first time I had been under fire,” wrote Thomas Fortescue Carter, “and I confess that the sensation was not a pleasant one.”

Carter had signed on as a war correspondent to cover the rebellion of the Boer-dominated Transvaal, in southern Africa, against the British empire. But after fighting broke out in December 1880, the campaign went badly. Both sides were pretty small, with battles involving hundreds rather than thousands. But the Boers had the best of it, and in mid February 1881, negotiations for a ceasefire began.

Then events took a twist. With hundreds of reinforcements newly arrived from the south, the British commander, Sir George Colley, decided to mount a surprise attack on the Boers that would force them to agree to Britain’s terms. On the night of the 26th, his troops climbed Majuba Hill, above the main Boer camp. Then, at first light, the firing began.

As Colley had anticipated, the battle was a walkover – but for the wrong side. As the Boers charged up the hill, taking cover in the long grass, British resolve faltered. Suddenly, wrote young Thomas Carter, men started running. “Five, six, seven, eight more men broke from the ranks in front of us and fled,” he wrote. “The rest wavered, and... the whole lot went rushing wildly over us down into the bottom of the basin.” And as Boer gunfire echoed around the hill, Carter admitted, “it was not long before I was on my feet and running with the rest”.

By now, Colley was dead, shot by a Boer sniper as he tried to rally his men. He was one of 92 killed, while dozens more were captured, among them Thomas Fortescue Carter. For the British, it was a disaster; at the ensuing peace conference, they were forced to recognise the independent Transvaal Republic. But they never forgot Majuba. And two decades later, they got their revenge. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

27 February 1933

In Berlin the Reichstag, seat of the German parliament, was gutted by fire. The Nazi regime blamed the German Communist Party and used the fire to justify the imposition of its first restrictions on personal liberty.


27 February 1940

Martin Kamen and Sam Ruben of the University of California discovered the radioactive isotope Carbon-14. Its presence in organic matter has enabled the radiocarbon dating of organic remains from archaeological sites.

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