2 March 1859

The two-day Great Slave Auction, the largest such auction in United States history, begins.

The “Great Slave Auction” occurred in 1859 at the Ten Broeck Race Course near Savannah, Georgia. This infamous event is often cited as the largest single sale of enslaved people in United States history.

The auction took place over two days, starting on March 2nd, 1859, and was orchestrated by Pierce M. Butler, a wealthy plantation owner who had fallen into financial ruin. Butler inherited a significant number of enslaved individuals but found himself heavily indebted due to mismanagement and lavish spending.

To settle his debts, Butler decided to liquidate his assets, which included the human beings he held as slaves. The sale attracted buyers from across the South, as well as from other parts of the United States. The enslaved individuals up for sale were paraded before potential buyers, who assessed their physical attributes, skills, and health. Families were often separated, and the auction was marked by scenes of heartbreak and despair as people were torn from their loved ones.

The auction was a stark reminder of the dehumanizing cruelty of slavery and the commodification of human lives. It also highlighted the economic foundation upon which slavery rested in the antebellum South. The event drew condemnation from abolitionists and others opposed to the institution of slavery, further fueling the tensions that would eventually lead to the American Civil War.

While the Great Slave Auction is one of the most notorious examples of the buying and selling of enslaved people in the United States, it is just one among countless similar auctions that took place throughout the country during the era of American slavery.

30 June 1859

French acrobat Charles Blondin crosses Niagara Falls on a tightrope.

Charles Blondin, born as Jean-François Gravelet (1824–1897), was a renowned French acrobat and tightrope walker who achieved worldwide fame for his daring and death-defying feats. One of his most famous and memorable acts was crossing the Niagara Falls on a tightrope.

On June 30, 1859, Blondin made his historic tightrope walk across Niagara Falls, which straddle the border between the United States (New York) and Canada (Ontario). The tightrope was approximately 1,100 feet (335 meters) long and suspended about 160 feet (49 meters) above the raging waters.

Blondin’s first crossing of the Falls was a significant event that drew an enormous crowd of spectators. Estimates suggest that as many as 25,000 people gathered on both sides of the border to witness the daring feat. He used a balancing pole to assist him on the rope and performed various tricks and stunts during his journey.

Over the years, Blondin completed several crossings of the Niagara Falls on the tightrope, each time pushing the boundaries of his performances. He performed blindfolded, on stilts, carrying a man on his back, and even cooked an omelette in the middle of the rope. These extraordinary acts not only demonstrated Blondin’s incredible balance and skill but also captivated audiences and solidified his reputation as a master showman.

Blondin’s crossings of the Niagara Falls on a tightrope made him an international sensation and brought him great fame and fortune. His performances attracted attention from all around the world, and he went on to tour extensively, showcasing his talents in various countries, including the United States, Europe, and Australia.

Throughout his career, Blondin continued to perform daring tightrope walks and entertain audiences with his audacious stunts. He became an inspiration to future generations of acrobats and tightrope walkers, leaving a lasting legacy in the world of circus and daredevilry.

Charles Blondin’s crossings of the Niagara Falls remain iconic moments in the history of acrobatics and spectacle. His courage, skill, and showmanship elevated him to legendary status, and his name is forever associated with this remarkable feat of human achievement.

31 May 1859

The clock tower at the Houses of Parliament, which houses Big Ben, starts keeping time.

Big Ben is one of the most iconic landmarks in London, England. However, many people mistakenly refer to the entire clock tower as Big Ben, when in fact, Big Ben refers specifically to the bell housed within the tower. The tower itself is officially known as the Elizabeth Tower, named in honor of Queen Elizabeth II.

Location: The Elizabeth Tower, housing Big Ben, is situated at the north end of the Palace of Westminster, which is the home of the UK Parliament. It stands on the bank of the River Thames and is a prominent symbol of the city of London.

History: The tower was completed in 1859 and was designed by architects Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin in a Gothic Revival style. The Great Bell, which is commonly known as Big Ben, was cast in 1858 by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

Big Ben: Big Ben is the nickname for the Great Bell of the clock, which weighs over 13.5 tons. It is named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the First Commissioner of Works during the time of its installation. The bell’s chime is instantly recognizable and has become an iconic sound associated with London.

Clock: The clock face of the Elizabeth Tower is the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world. Each face has a diameter of about 23 feet (7 meters). The clock mechanism is renowned for its accuracy and is regularly adjusted to maintain precise timekeeping.

Dimensions: The Elizabeth Tower stands at a height of 315 feet (96 meters) and has 11 floors. Visitors can climb the tower’s 334 limestone steps to reach the belfry and enjoy panoramic views of London from the top. However, please note that access to the tower might be restricted at times due to maintenance or security reasons.

Renovations: In recent years, the Elizabeth Tower has undergone significant renovation work. The project, which started in 2017, involves the restoration of the tower’s stonework, as well as the refurbishment of the clock and the Great Bell. The renovation is aimed at preserving the historic structure for future generations

17 May 1859

Members of the Melbourne Football Club codified the first rules of Australian rules football.

Australian Rules Football, commonly known as Aussie Rules or footy, is a unique sport with several distinguishing features:

Origin: Australian Rules Football was developed in the mid-19th century in Australia and is considered one of the oldest football codes in the world. It evolved as a combination of various ball games played in England and Ireland, adapted to suit the Australian conditions and cultural preferences.

Playing Field: The game is typically played on an oval-shaped field, often referred to as an “AFL ground” or “footy oval.” The size and dimensions of the oval can vary, but it is generally larger than a soccer or rugby field. The ground has no fixed dimensions, which allows for variation from one stadium to another.

Ball: Australian Rules Football uses a uniquely shaped ball called a “Sherrin.” The ball is an oval-shaped leather ball that is wider and rounder than a rugby or soccer ball, making it easier to mark (catch) in the air.

Marking: One of the most distinctive features of Aussie Rules is the ability to take a “mark.” If a player catches the ball cleanly, having it traveled a minimum distance (15 meters) from a kick or handball from another player, they are awarded a mark. This provides an opportunity for the player to take a free kick without interference from opponents.

High-Scoring: Australian Rules Football is known for its high-scoring nature. The objective is to kick the ball between the two large goalposts (worth 6 points) or the smaller behind posts (worth 1 point). Goals and behinds are both counted towards the final score, with the team scoring the highest number of points winning the game.

Physicality and Contact: Australian Rules Football is a highly physical and contact sport. Players are allowed to tackle opponents using techniques like bumping and tackling, making it a robust and fast-paced game.

Player Positions: Unlike many other football codes, Australian Rules Football does not have strict player positions. While there are general areas players tend to occupy, such as defenders, midfielders, and forwards, players have more freedom to move around the field. This fluidity allows for dynamic gameplay and strategic versatility.

International Appeal: Although Aussie Rules is predominantly played in Australia, it has gained international recognition and has a growing fan base in various countries. The AFL (Australian Football League) has actively promoted the sport globally, including hosting exhibition matches and establishing international leagues.