5 April 1621

Under the captaincy of Essex-born Christopher Jones, the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts, on a return voyage to England, arriving back on 6 May.


5 April 1722

The Polynesian island of Rapa Nui was discovered on Easter Sunday by Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen. He named it Paasch Eyland (Easter Island). | Read more about what happened to the people of Rapa Nui

5 April 1769

Birth in Dorset of Thomas Masterman Hardy. He will become first sea lord in 1830 and will eventually die a vice-admiral. He is, however, best remembered as the captain of HMS Victory, Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar in 1805.

5 April 1827

Birth in Essex of pioneering surgeon Sir Joseph Lister.

5 April 1906: Restless Vesuvius blows its top, spreading panic and misery

Vast eruption kills dozens and displaces thousands as it drowns Gulf of Naples in smoke and ash

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While the best-known eruption of Mount Vesuvius was the disaster that consumed Pompeii in the year AD 79, further eruptions were recorded for centuries afterwards. By early 1905, there were signs that the demons inside the great mountain were awakening again. That spring, locals reported heavy lava flows from the crater, and the following January there came reports of increasingly violent explosions. Then, on 5 April 1906, came the climax: a vast eruption that engulfed the surrounding villages and killed hundreds of people.

“Many homes have been abandoned for the open air,” wrote one observer two days later, “although there has been a thick fog all day and the atmosphere has been dense with volcanic ashes and the fumes of subterranean fires. The churches are crowded day and night with people praying for deliverance from an impending peril, manifestations of which are felt in explosions, which resemble a heavy cannonading, and the tremblings of the Earth, which are constantly recurring.”

Although the final death toll is uncertain, there is no doubt the eruption of 1906 wrought horrific damage. The explosion was so fierce that the tip of the volcano was reportedly blown clean off, while ash poured down on the neighbouring villages. And in the city of Naples, crowded with tens of thousands of refugees, there was total panic. “The scene was one of misery and terror,” wrote another witness. “Smoke and ashes made breathing difficult. Slight tremblings of the earth were felt, and frequent flashes of lightning cut through the smoke.” | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

5 April 1900

Birth of US actor Spencer Tracy. One of the screen's most highly regarded actors, his films included Boys Town (1938) and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). He co-starred with Katherine Hepburn in nine films, including Woman of the Year (1942). He died in 1967.

5 April 1958

The summit of Ripple Rock is blown off in what was claimed as the world's largest planned non-nuclear explosion. This submerged mountain in the Seymour Narrows between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia was three metres below the surface, and a major hazard to shipping, claiming 120 vessels in the previous hundred years. In the explosion over 1,000 tonnes of Nitramex explosive are used and 635,000 tonnes of rock are blasted up to 300 metres into the air.


5 April 1943

Some 936 people were killed, including 200 children, when American planes, on a raid to attack a factory being used to repair german planes at Mortsel near Antwerp, accidentally bombed a nearby residential area instead.

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