It’s Hump Day Wednesday! Did You Know…
* 1914 – The Komagata Maru Arrives in Vancouver with 396 Sikhs on board.
For many Canadians, the name Komagata Maru means little. But what happened on that crowded ship in 1914 has become, for many scholars, emblematic of an entire period of Canadian history characterized by xenophobia, racism, and exclusionary immigration policies.
Simply put, more than 350 people were denied entry to Canada and sent back across the Pacific Ocean — some of them to their deaths — because they weren’t the right color or religion. Here’s a primer on what happened.
The Komagata Maru was a coal-transport steamship that had been converted into a passenger ship by Hong Kong-based businessman Gurdit Singh. It set off from Hong Kong in April 1914, reaching Vancouver’s harbor a month later with 376 people on board, most of them Sikhs like Singh.
The Komagata Maru was, in a sense, designed as a test of Canada’s increasingly strict immigration policies. Among the most cumbersome requirements for new arrivals was the Continuous Passage regulation, instituted by the Canadian government in 1908. It stated that immigrants must “come from the country of their birth, or citizenship, by a continuous journey” and using tickets “purchased before leaving the country of their birth or citizenship.” That means if you were born in India, went to China, and then continued on to Canada, you were illegal.
The trouble was, no steamships traveled directly between Calcutta and Vancouver. Even if an Indian national had somehow managed to make a continuous journey, another law stated that they needed $200 in their pockets in order to be welcomed into Canada.
The policies were specifically designed to curb the flow of Indian immigrants in the early 20th century, who were coming to Canada seeking work.
They weren’t the only people who faced an uphill battle to get here. A few years before, a $500 entry tax for all Chinese immigrants was put in place, which is what led companies short on laborers to turn to India in the first place.
White, Christian migrants from northern Europe and America were seen as far more desirable. Singh knew about these preferences and policies but argued that because the passengers on the Komagata Maru were British subjects, they should be able to move to another Commonwealth nation like Canada freely.
Canadian officials disagreed, and the ship was denied docking by the authorities. Just 20 returning Canadian residents, plus the Komagata Maru’s doctor and his family, were allowed to disembark.
Eventually, after a two-month standoff in the waters just off Vancouver, the ship was escorted back out to sea by the Canadian military. During the span of time it sat in the harbor, the Komagata Maru became something of a media sensation and drew plenty of attention from the public at large.
The steamship eventually ended up back in India, where, according to scholars at Simon Fraser University who have studied the incident, 19 of the passengers were killed by gunfire upon disembarking. Others were imprisoned.
* 1934 Police kill famous outlaws Bonnie and Clyde
On this day in 1934, notorious criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are shot to death by Texas and Louisiana state police while driving a stolen car near Sailes, Louisiana.
Bonnie Parker met the charismatic Clyde Barrow in Texas when she was 19 years old and her husband (she married when she was 16) was serving time in jail for murder. Shortly after they met, Barrow was imprisoned for robbery. Parker visited him every day, and smuggled a gun into prison to help him escape, but he was soon caught in Ohio and sent back to jail. When Barrow was paroled in 1932, he immediately hooked up with Parker, and the couple began a life of crime together.
After they stole a car and committed several robberies, Parker was caught by police and sent to jail for two months. Released in mid-1932, she rejoined Barrow. Over the next two years, the couple teamed with various accomplices to rob a string of banks and stores across five states–Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, New Mexico and Louisiana. To law enforcement agents, the Barrow Gang–including Barrow’s childhood friend, Raymond Hamilton, W.D. Jones, Henry Methvin, Barrow’s brother Buck and his wife Blanche, among others–were cold-blooded criminals who didn’t hesitate to kill anyone who got in their way, especially police or sheriff’s deputies. Among the public, however, Parker and Barrow’s reputation as dangerous outlaws was mixed with a romantic view of the couple as “Robin Hood”-like folk heroes.
Their fame was increased by the fact that Bonnie was a woman–an unlikely criminal–and by the fact that the couple posed for playful photographs together, which were later found by police and released to the media. Police almost captured the famous duo twice in the spring of 1933, with surprise raids on their hideouts in Joplin and Platte City, Missouri. Buck Barrow was killed in the second raid, and Blanche was arrested, but Bonnie and Clyde escaped once again. In January 1934, they attacked the Eastham Prison Farm in Texas to help Hamilton break out of jail, shooting several guards with machine guns and killing one.
Texan prison officials hired a retired Texas police officer, Captain Frank Hamer, as a special investigator to track down Parker and Barrow. After a three-month search, Hamer traced the couple to Louisiana, where Henry Methvin’s family lived. Before dawn on May 23, Hamer and a group of Louisiana and Texas lawmen hid in the bushes along a country road outside Sailes. When Parker and Barrow appeared, the officers opened fire, killing the couple instantly in a hail of bullets.
All told, the Barrow Gang was believed responsible for the deaths of 13 people, including nine police officers. Parker and Barrow are still seen by many as romantic figures, however, especially after the success of the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde, starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty.
* 1960 Tsunami hits Hawaii
A tsunami caused by an earthquake off the coast of Chile travels across the Pacific Ocean and kills 61 people in Hilo, Hawaii, on this day in 1960. The massive 8.5-magnitude quake had killed thousands in Chile the previous day.
The earthquake, involving a severe plate shift, caused a large displacement of water off the coast of southern Chile at 3:11 p.m. Traveling at speeds in excess of 400 miles per hour, the tsunami moved west and north. On the west coast of the United States, the waves caused an estimated $1 million in damages but were not deadly.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning System, established in 1948 in response to another deadly tsunami, worked properly and warnings were issued to Hawaiians six hours before the wave’s expected arrival. Some people ignored the warnings, however, and others actually headed to the coast in order to view the wave. Arriving only a minute after predicted, the tsunami destroyed Hilo Bay on the island of Hawaii. Thirty-five-foot waves bent parking meters to the ground and wiped away most buildings. A 10-ton tractor was swept out to sea. Reports indicate that the 20-ton boulders making up the seawall were moved 500 feet. Sixty-one people died in Hilo, the worst-hit area of the island chain.
The tsunami continued to race further west across the Pacific. Ten thousand miles away from the earthquake’s epicenter, Japan, despite ample warning time, was not able to warn the people in harm’s way. At about 6 p.m., more than a day after the earthquake, the tsunami struck the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. The crushing wave killed 180 people, left 50,000 more homeless and caused $400 million in damages.
* 1701 Captain Kidd walks the plank
At London’s Execution Dock, British privateer William Kidd, popularly known as Captain Kidd, is hanged for piracy and murder.
Born in Strathclyde, Scotland, Kidd established himself as a sea captain before settling in New York in 1690, where he bought property and married. At various times he was commissioned by New York and other American colonies to rid the coast of enemy privateers. In 1695, while on a trip to London, the recently appointed governor of New York commissioned him to defend English ships from pirates in the Red Sea. In 1696, Kidd sailed to New York aboard the Adventure Galley, enlisted men for the mission, and set sail for the Indian Ocean. The expedition met with little success and failed to capture a major prize until February 1698, when the Quedagh Merchant, an Indian vessel allegedly sailing under a French pass, was taken. Word of Kidd’s capture of the boat, which was loaded with gold, jewels, silk, sugar, and guns, aroused significant controversy in Britain, as the ship had an English captain.
Suspicions that he had turned to piracy were apparently confirmed when he sailed to St. Mary’s, Madagascar, an infamous pirate haven. From there, he traveled to the West Indies on the Quedagh Merchant, where he learned of the piracy charges against him. Intending to clear his name, he sailed to New York and delivered himself to the colonial authorities, claiming that the vessels he had attacked were lawful prizes. He was arrested and taken to London.
In 1701, he was tried on five charges of piracy and one charge of murdering a crewman. The Tories used the trial as a political opportunity to embarrass his Whig sponsors, and the latter chose to give up Kidd as a scapegoat rather than back his possibly correct claims to legitimacy. Convicted on all counts, he was executed by hanging on May 23, 1701. In later years, a colorful legend grew up around the story of William Kidd, including reports of lost buried treasure that fortune seekers have pursued for centuries.
* 2015 Ireland legalizes same-sex marriage
On May 23, 2015 thousands of LGBTQ activists celebrated as Ireland became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage through referendum.
The referendum passed with 62% (1,201,607 people) voting yes. The vote attracted a large turnout, with 60.5 % of eligible voters—and an unprecedented amount of young people—making their way to the polls. Support was overwhelming. All but one of the 43 parliamentary constituencies voted in favor, and approval never really in doubt.
When the polls closed, Dublin Castle, a major Irish government complex, became a sea of color and bodies. Roughly 2,000 activists gathered to celebrate. The crowd cheered, rainbow flags were waved, tears were shed and couples kissed, as Ireland hit the pivotal point in its history.
The journey was slow. After all, Ireland, a traditionally conservative Catholic country, only decriminalized homosexuality in 1993. Campaigning for the referendum began almost immediately after the date for the vote was announced on February 19 of that year. For the first time, social media played a role in influencing people. Both sides had TV ads, billboards, and pamphlets encouraging people to go to the polls to fight for their side. On the day of the vote, people used #hometovote to remind and encourage young Irish people living abroad to come home in time to vote. Thousands returned, and tickets from London to Ireland were sold out the night before.
Many politicians welcomed the result. Minister for Health Leo Varadkar publicly revealed he was gay for the first time during the campaign and called the win a “historical day.” The Minister for equality, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the win made him proud to be Irish.
The Catholic Church, however, was not as happy with the decision. Archbishop Eamon Martin said the church felt a sense of “bereavement” after the passing, and Cardinal Pietro Parolin called it a “defeat for humanity.”
The first same-sex couple was married on November 17, 2015, almost six months after the vote. The couple, Richard Dowling and Cormac Gollogly, both 35, had been together for 12 years when they were finally allowed to be legally married.
Same-sex marriage is now legal in 20 nations and 37 American states.
* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php
* Global News https://globalnews.ca/news/2708235/what-was-the-komagata-maru-incident-and-why-does-it-matter/
* This Day In History – What Happened Today http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/
9 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… May 23rd”
I knew nothing of the Komagata Mari. Very sad. And I did not know the backstory of Captain Kidd. Thanks, John!
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It is amazing how brazenly racist and intolerant our western societies were one hundred years ago. These problems persist, but they are not socially acceptable – at least until the Great Enabler was elected. I’ll point out the Roseanne incident yesterday – her blatant racist comment on Twitter caused an uproar and ended her TV show… notice her biggest fan, the Great Enabler, had nothing to say…
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I loved your comment to Opher. This is one site where Trump bashing is a priority.
The actual Bonnie & Clyde death car was on display at Gold Ranch Casino in Verdi, Nevada when I worked there as a bartender many years ago. I’ve heard it is in Las Vegas now. The number of bullet holes is truly staggering, and you can discern the different caliber weapons which were used. No one in that vehicle had any chance of survival.
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Unbelievable. Those were two cop killers dispatched for the cost if a few hundred bullets. Thanks, Bob.
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I saw that car at Whiskey Pete’s casino which is about 40 miles outside Vegas. I was so shocked to see it there of all places, since my husband and I had just stopped there for a quick bite on our way home one time!
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Yeah, Whiskey Pete’s! Thanks, M.B.
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Racist policies on immigration! Whatever next! You don’t see that very often do you? Should I mention Trump?
Another great set John.
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I know!! Back then it was socially acceptable and public policy. Unfortunately not all of us have outgrown such views. Sure, you can bash Trump here! Thanks, John.