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3 December: On this day in history

What events happened on 3 December in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…

Published: December 3, 2021 at 6:05 am
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3 December 1926: Agatha Christie vanishes

Living out the plot of one of her books, the mystery writer disappears for 11 days


At the end of 1926, 36-year-old Agatha Christie was one of the country’s most promising popular writers. Having published seven books, most recently The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Christie was flying high. But then, in a textbook example of life imitating art, something utterly unexpected happened.

On the evening of 3 December, Christie was at home in the Berkshire stockbroker belt. She went upstairs to kiss her seven-year-old daughter goodnight. Then she got into her Morris, started the engine – and disappeared.

What followed was a media sensation. Amid a blizzard of headlines, the police mobilised a thousand officers to help with the search, while volunteers chartered aeroplanes to scour the countryside. Christie’s rival, Dorothy L Sayers, visited her house to look for clues, while Sir Arthur Conan Doyle consulted a medium. One Daily Express front page captured the tone: “CLUES IN THE RIDDLE OF MRS CHRISTIE – Hatless Woman Met on the Downs – 5AM INCIDENT – Helped By A Man To Start Her Car.” Not even Christie herself could have invented a better mystery.


The denouement was bizarre indeed. On 14 December Christie turned up in the elegant Swan Hydro Hotel in Harrogate under an assumed name. For days she had joined in with the hotel’s bridge and dancing programme, and when she was finally recognised, she claimed to have lost her memory. The really weird thing, though, was that she had checked in under the name Theresa Neele. For as it turned out, her husband had been having an affair – with a woman whose surname was Neele.

Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries

3 December 311
Roman emperor Diocletian died in his palace at Salona (Split in modern-day Croatia). He was one of the few emperors of the third and fourth centuries to die naturally, and the first emperor to retire voluntarily.
3 December 1642
Parliament gave detailed instructions for the conversion of Winchester House, the large Southwark residence of the bishop of Winchester, into a prison to house captured and arrested royalists.
3 December 1779
Actress Mary Robinson performed the role of Perdita in A Winter's Tale before a captivated 17-year-old Prince of Wales (later George IV) and subsequently became his mistress for nearly a year.
3 December 1810
The French surrendered the island of Mauritius to a British naval force under the command of Vice-Admiral Albemarle Bertie.
3 December 1838
The birth in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, of social reformer Octavia Hill. She will actively campaign for improved housing for working people and for the retention of urban open spaces. In 1895 she will be one of the co-founders of the National Trust.
3 December 1967
Christiaan Barnard carries out world's first human heart transplant.

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Dominic SandbrookHistorian and presenter

Dominic Sandbrook is historian and presenter, and a regular contributor to BBC History Magazine


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