Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Trivia Tuesday


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Marie Curie's notebooks:

Marie Curie, the first famous woman scientist in the modern world, was the first person to win a Nobel prize and the first person to win a Nobel prize in 2 disciplines (physics and chemistry). Her research, however, uncovered radioactive elements that ultimately took her life. She and her daughter contracted leukemia due to the radioactive exposure, her research notebooks being exposed to so much radiation that they still cannot be safely handled. Her writings had commented on how pretty she had found the blue-green colours given off by the radioactive isotopes she frequently carried around in her pockets. When they were not in her pockets, she simply kept them in desk drawers. 
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Military blunders:

In 1857, Indian troops known as “sepoys” in the employ of the British East Indian Company mutinied. The mutiny turned into a rebellion against British colonisation that took nearly 2 years to quash and it has been referred to by some as the First War of Indian Independence. The insurrection resulted in the dissolution of the East India Company, the end of the Mughal Empire after the British exiled Emperor Bahadur Shah to Burma and the beginning of the Raj, a British governor general (or "Viceroy" as he was known when representing the British crown) who ruled India. He in turn reported to the secretary of state for India, a member of Prime Minister's cabinet. 

What touched off the rebellion by the sepoys is fascinating.

The sepoys had been issued with new 1857 Enfield rifles that were superior to the Brown Bess rifles with which they had been previously armed. Nonetheless, the loading process remained the same, not changing until the introduction of metallic, one piece cartridges decades later. The procedure for loading the Enfield was to bite open a cartridge, pour the gunpowder from that cartridge down the barrel, then stuff the cartridge down as wadding, wrapped around the ball. 


An Enfield cartridge

Cartridges were made from paper coated with grease to make them waterproof. The introduction of the new rifles gave rise to a belief amongst the sepoys that the issued cartridges for the new rifles were treated with lard and tallow, cow and/or pig fat. The great bulk of the sepoys were either Hindus, for whom cows were sacred, or Mohammedans, to whom pigs were unclean, hence an unwillingness to handle, much less bite, the cartridges. Opinion as to whether the cartridges were actually covered in cow and/or pig fact is divided but the belief by the sepoys was that they were, fostered (perhaps even started) by the Indian princes. The British military denied the rumours, told the sepoys that they could make their own greased cartridges and that they could open them in ways other than biting them.  All such proposals were unacceptable to the sepoys.  When the British dealt harshly with some of the recalcitrant sepoys, the rest mutinied, touching of a rebellion that involved the civilian population and Indian royalty as well. Although there were atrocities on both sides, stories and images such as sepoys being tied to the front of cannon which were then fired remained in Indian consciousness. The rebellion led to the Indian independence movement that ultimately gave rise to Gandhi. 


One final comment: the sepoys had no reluctance during the rebellion in biting the cartridges for use against the British.

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