11 March 1864

The Great Sheffield Flood kills 238 people in Sheffield, England.

Between 1859 and 1864, work continued on the dam, and by late February 1864, only a few finishing touches were required to complete the embankment. The reservoir was now almost full – the water level being just a few feet below the overflow weir. On Friday the 11th. March 1864, at around 5.30 p.m., a local workman, William Horsefield, whose place of employment was close to the dam, was crossing the embankment on his way home after finishing work. The weather was quite stormy, as it had been for most of the day, so he crossed a little way down the embankment slope to avoid the heavy winds, and the spray that was being whipped over the top of the dam. A little way along, he noticed a crack running across the embankment. The ‘crack’ was only wide enough to enter one’s fingers, but it was of such a length to cause him some alarm. He immediately scurried off to inform some of his work colleagues – who were not yet quite out of sight; and ultimately, the Waterworks’ chief engineer, John Gunson, was sent for. Gunson, who lived next door to the Waterworks’ offices in Division Street, near Sheffield centre, some eight miles away, collected one of his contractors, John Craven, who lived nearby, and the two mounted the gig that was to carry them through the abysmal weather to the Dale Dyke reservoir.

It was around 10 p.m. when they eventually arrived at the dam. After an initial inspection, Gunson concluded that the crevice was merely a surface crack – probably brought about by frost damage, or slight settlement of the new embankment; but to be on the safe side he decided to lower the water in the reservoir until such time as a more extensive investigation could be carried out. He discovered that the navvies had already opened the drain valves in an attempt to achieve this, but it was evident that this method would take several days to lower the water to a ‘safe’ level, so he instructed them to place some gunpowder, and blow a hole in the side of the by-wash, thus quickly draining off a large amount of water. Several attempts with the gunpowder were made, but the rain and persistent spray thrown up by the increasing winds prevented its ignition. The time reached 11.30 p.m. and water was being liberally blown over the top of the dam. Gunson made his way back across the embankment to inspect the crack once more – it did not appear to have worsened, but as he glanced up to the top of the dam he was shocked to see ‘water running over like a white sheet in the darkness’. He later declared that it went ‘right under my feet and dropped down the crack’. He edged his way down to the valve house, located near the bottom of the embankment, to see if he could get some idea of the quantity of water passing over, which initially was ‘no great current’. As he arrived, one of his colleagues, suspecting something was seriously wrong, called down to him to ‘get out of the way’. Gunson looked up to see a breach appearing in the top of the dam. Feeling a sudden, violent, vibrating of the ground beneath his feet, he quickly scampered up the side of the embankment, luckily just in time, as a few seconds later there was a total collapse of a large section of the dam, unleashing a colossal mountain of water which thundered down the valley and on to the unsuspecting population below. For two hundred and fifty people who lived in Sheffield and the hamlets in the valley below the dam, this was to be their last night on Earth. Six hundred and fifty million gallons of water roared down the Loxley valley and into Sheffield, wreaking death and destruction on a horrific scale.

‘Individual experiences were infinitely tragic, pathetic, and sometimes bizarre. The first to drown was a two-day-old baby boy, the oldest a woman of eighty-seven. Whole families were wiped out; one desperate man, trapped upstairs in a terrace house, battered his way through five party walls to safety collecting thirty-four other people as he went; a would be suicide, locked in a cell, decided, as the flood poured in, that he no longer wished to die; one poor old man drowned alongside his sleeping companion – a donkey; a husband put his wife and five children on a bed on which they floated until the water went down.’

11 March 2006

Michelle Bachelet is inaugurated as first female president of Chile.

On January 15, 2006, Michelle Bachelet became Chile’s first woman president-elect. Bachelet came in first in the December 2005 election but did not manage to win a majority in that race, so she faced a runoff in January against her nearest opponent, billionaire businessman, Sebastian Pinera. Earlier, she was minister of defense in Chile, the first woman in Chile or all of Latin America to serve as a minister of defense.

Bachelet, a Socialist, is generally considered a center-leftist. While three other women have won presidential elections in the Americas, Bachelet was the first to win a seat without first becoming known through a husband’s prominence.

Her term in office ended in 2010 because of term limits; she was reelected in 2013 and began serving another term as president in 2014.

Michelle Bachelet was born in Santiago, Chile, on September 29, 1951. Her father’s background is French; her paternal great-grandfather emigrated to Chile in 1860. Her mother had Greek and Spanish ancestry.

Her father, Alberto Bachelet, was an air force brigadier general who died after being tortured for his opposition to Augusto Pinoche’s regime and support of Salvador Allende.

Her mother, an archaeologist, was imprisoned in a torture center with Michelle in 1975, and went into exile with her.

In her early years, before her father’s death, the family moved frequently, and even lived in the United States briefly when her father worked for the Chilean Embassy.

Michelle Bachelet studied medicine from 1970 to 1973 at the University of Chile in Santiago, but her education was interrupted by the military coup of 1973, when Salvador Allende’s regime was overthrown. Her father died in custody in March of 1974 after being tortured. The family’s funds were cut off. Michelle Bachelet had worked secretly for the Socialist Youth, and was imprisoned by the Pinochet regime in 1975 and held in the torture center at Villa Grimaldi, along with her mother.

From 1975-1979 Michelle Bachelet was in exile with her mother in Australia, where her brother had already moved, and East Germany, where she continued her education as a pediatrician.

Bachelet married Jorge Dávalos while still in Germany, and they had a son, Sebastián. He, too, was a Chilean who had fled the Pinochet regime. In 1979, the family returned to Chile. Michelle Bachelet completed her medical degree at the University of Chile, graduating in 1982.

She had a daughter, Francisca, in 1984, then separated from her husband about 1986. Chilean law made divorce difficult, so Bachelet was unable to marry the physician with whom she had her second daughter in 1990.

Bachelet later studied military strategy at Chile’s National Academy of Strategy and Policy and at the Inter-American Defense College in the United States.

Michelle Bachelet became Chile’s Minister of Health in 2000, serving under socialist President Ricarco Lagos. She then served as Minister of Defense under Lagos, the first woman in Chile or Latin America to hold such a post.

Bachelet and Lagos are part of a four-party coalition, Concertacion de Partidos por la Democracia, in power since Chile restored democracy in 1990. Concertacion has focused on both economic growth and spreading the benefits of that growth throughout segments of society.

After her first term as president, 2006 – 2010, Bachelet took a position as the Executive Director of UN Women.