6. In the 18th century, a Norwegian swashbuckler named Peter Tordenskjold ran out of ammo during a sea battle. So, he sent an envoy to the enemy ship, asking to borrow some ammunition so that they can continue the fight. The enemy ship’s captain declined the request.
Peter Tordenskjold was a Dano-Norwegian flag officer and nobleman who spent his career, serving in the Royal Dano-Norwegian Navy. Known for his courage and audacity, Tordenskjold was one of the most famous naval captains in both Norway and Denmark. He climbed the ranks quite rapidly in his career, and when he died in 1720, he was only 30 years old.
There are countless stories of his heroics and achievements, but the most amusing one took place on 26 July 1714. That day, while flying a Dutch flag on his warship, Løvendals Gallej, Tordenskjold came across a frigate named De Olbing Galley with an English flag near Lindesnes. De Olbing Galley had been equipped in England for the Swedes and was carrying 28 guns. The ship was on its way to Gothenburg and was being commanded by an English captain named Bactmann.
When De Olbing Galley signaled to Løvendals Gallej, Tordenskjold raised the Danish flag. Consequently, the English captain, Bactmann, fired a broadside. A sea battle broke out between the two ships, and Tordenskjold found a tough match in Bactmann. The fight lasted all day, and when De Olbing Galley attempted to escape, Løvendals Gallej set more sails, continuing the duel.
The fight was briefly stopped during nighttime and was renewed the next morning. After 14 hours of fighting, both the ships were heavily damaged, and Tordenskjold was running out of ammunition. So, he sent an envoy to De Olbing Galley, cordially thanking the ship’s English captain for a fine duel, and asked to borrow some ammo so that they can continue the fight. His request was, of course, denied.
7. The longest US presidential inauguration speech was made by William Henry Harrison. He delivered the 8,445 words long speech while the weather was terrible. On March 26, he developed a cold and passed away a few days later.
William Henry Harrison was the ninth President of the United States. His inauguration as president took place on March 4, 1841, when he was 68 years old. Until 1981, he was the oldest person to assume the U.S. presidency.
Harrison made the longest presidential inauguration speech in history. He wrote the entire speech himself and it had 8,445 words. On the day of his inauguration, the weather was terrible. The temperature hovered around 48 °F at noon and it was windy. However, Harrison did not wear an overcoat, hat, or gloves for the ceremony.
A few weeks later on March 26, he developed a cold, and everyone suspected that it was due to the bad weather on the day of his inauguration. Despite their best efforts, doctors failed to cure Harrison’s cold, and he developed pneumonia. Harrison died on April 4, 1841, 31 days into his presidency. He was the first president to die in office, and his presidency was and still is the shortest in American history.
Although experts at the time thought that his illness and subsequent death was caused primarily because of the bad weather on the day of his inauguration, it is now deemed as a misconception. For one, Harrison did not start experiencing symptoms until three weeks after his inauguration. Furthermore, experts now think that he may have developed enteric fever, also known as typhoid, that was caused by contaminated drinking water. (1, 2)
8. The British once sent a spy to China to steal the trade secrets of the tea industry.
In the middle of the 19th century, Britain was something of an unchallenged empire. Nearly a fifth of the world’s surface was controlled by them, and yet, its weakness lied in tea. By 1800, tea had become the most popular drink among Britons.
Unfortunately for them, the tea industry at the time was ruled entirely by China. That meant that Britain could not control the price or the quality of tea. So, sometime in the 1850s, a few British businessmen decided to establish a tea industry in India.
In their effort to control the tea market, the East India Company sent Scottish botanist, Robert Fortune, on a trip to the interiors of China in 1848. As a spy, Fortune had only one task – steal China’s secret of tea production.
Before Fortune, England had to trade opium for tea. However, the Chinese emperor opposed this transaction as it created a nation of drug addicts. So, he had all the opium confiscated and destroyed. Although the British thought of retaliating, they decided to take a different route.
Fortune’s mission was successful. He managed to steal seeds from China and bring them to India. Within his lifetime, India became the world’s largest tea grower, leaving China behind. It was called the “greatest single act of corporate espionage in history.” (1, 2)
9. In 1835, US President Andrew Jackson survived the first assassination attempt on a sitting president. The attacker approached Jackson and fired his pistol, which misfired. He then used a second pistol to fire another shot, which also misfired. Infuriated, Jackson proceeded to beat his attacker with his cane.
Andrew Jackson was the seventh president of the United States. In January 1835, a man named Richard Lawrence tried to assassinate Jackson. It was the first physical attack ever recorded on a U.S. president.
After attending the funeral of Warren R. Davis, a South Carolina representative, Jackson was leaving through the East Portico when Lawrence, who was an unemployed housepainter from England, pointed a pistol at the president and fire a shot.
The gun misfired, and Lawrence quickly pulled out a second pistol to fire another shot, which also misfired. According to experts, the humid weather at the time may have contributed to the gun misfiring.
When the president noticed this, he was so infuriated that he proceeded to beat his attacker with his cane. Soon, others gathered at the scene, and they intervened to disarm and restrain Lawrence. They also feared that the president might beat him to a pulp. (1, 2)
10. After being kidnapped by pirates, Julius Caesar demanded that they increase his ransom.
In the 1st century BCE, pirates were a huge problem in the Mediterranean Sea. The region called Cilicia Trachea was infested with pirates who terrified the Romans. In 75 BCE, a group of Cilician pirates captured 25-year-old Julius Caesar. What was a minor inconvenience for Caesar turned out to be very bad luck for the bandits.
Caesar did not behave like a captive. When the pirates informed him that they had asked for a ransom of 20 talents, he simply laughed and told them that 50 talents would be more appropriate. He then sent his own men to collect the money and got ready to spend time in captivity. The pirates were naturally dumbfounded.
Caesar made himself at home, and he started bossing the pirates around. He would even shush them when they disturbed his sleep! From time to time, he would also threaten the pirates, saying he would crucify them. The pirates took it as a joke, thinking he was just a crazy captive. After 38 days, the ransom was paid and Caesar went free.