Daily Archives: 15 June 2014

June 15, 1829 (a Monday)

Charles Darwin by G Richmond.

On this date, Charles Darwin had records of insects published in Stephen’s Illustrations of British Entomology.

While he was an undergraduate at Cambridge, Darwin had sent records of insects that he had captured to James Francis Stephens, and some of these were published in Illustrations of British Entomology. He refers to the pleasure that he got from seeing his name in print against his records of beetles in his autobiography (Life and Letters, Vol. I, p. 51) although he gets both the title of the work and the method of citation wrong:

But no pursuit at Cambridge was followed with nearly so much eagerness or gave me so much pleasure as collecting beetles. It was the mere passion for collecting, for I did not dissect them and rarely compared their external characters with published descriptions, but got them named anyhow. I will give a proof of my zeal: one day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as well as the third one.

I was very successful in collecting and invented two new methods; I employed a labourer to scrape during the winter, moss off old trees and place [it] in a large bag, and likewise to collect the rubbish at the bottom of the barges in which reeds are brought from the fens, and thus I got some very rare species. No poet ever felt more delight at seeing his first poem published than I did at seeing in Stephen’s Illustrations of British Insects the magic words, “captured by C. Darwin, Esq.”

Stephens’ classic work was published in parts between 1 May 1827 and November 1845, with a supplement in August 1846. The following is a short description of it:

Illustrations of British Entomology; or, a synopsis of indigenous insects etc. 8vo, 245 mm, 11 vols, 80 coloured plates, Baldwin and Cradock for the author, London [1827-]1828-1835[-1845]; supplement, vi + 32 pp, 15 coloured plates, 1846.

Stephens, J. F. 1829-1832. Illustrations of British Entomology, or, a Synopsis of Indigenous Insects.

The main work is divided into four volumes of Haustellata and seven of Mandibulata. The beetles occur in the first five volumes of the latter, and there are about thirty records bearing Darwin’s name, the earliest being in an appendix to Volume II, which is dated June 15, 1829. The localities include Cambridge, North Wales and Shrewsbury. There is one further record which is earlier than this. In Haustellata, Volume II, p. 200, Darwin records the occurrence of the common noctuid moth Graphiphora plecta at ‘Cambridge’, and the date of this part is June 1, 1829. The modern scientific name of this moth is Ochropleura plecta (L.), and its common name the flame shoulder. In most cases these records are given in quotation marks, and therefore represent the earliest genuine publications by Darwin in a book.


June 15, 1215 (Julian calendar/old style: a Monday)

A scan of The Magna Carta.

On this date, following a revolt by the English nobility against his rule, King John put his royal seal on the Magna Carta, or “Great Charter.” (Contrary to popular belief, the Magna Carta was not signed by King John; he was illiterate.) His uncontrollable barons had had enough of his high taxation and arbitrary decisions. The document, essentially a peace treaty between John and his barons, guaranteed that the King would respect feudal rights and privileges, uphold the freedom of the church, and maintain the nation’s laws. The Magna Carta contained no new rights or privileges, but only put in writing old laws. The barons needed John to make explicit what was already implicit.

The origin of the barons’ rebellion came about from the moment when John came to the throne in 1199. John had inherited the crown from his brother Richard I, or to be correct, seized it from the legitimate heir, his nephew, Prince Arthur. The French King Philip II supported Arthur’s claim, not only to the throne of England, but to French lands in Normandy and Anjou, which had been held by Richard. King Philip summoned John to appear before him and when John refused, confiscated his French lands and allocated some of them to Arthur and some to himself. John responded by sending an army to defend his lands in Normandy, thus bringing about a minor but costly war.

In order to defray the cost, John instituted a series of taxes, including Forest Law, a set of regulations regarding woodlands, which were difficult to obey in their entirety, easily broken, and raised a great deal of money in fines. John also started an Income Tax, which raised him enough to pay for his wars and more besides. Naturally, the barons were unhappy at this state of affairs and a group of them joined together in rebellion. They captured London, forcing John to leave the city, and then rounded on him at Runnymede, where, at the point of a sword, he sealed The Magna Carta.

As might be expected, the text of the Magna Carta bears many traces of haste, and is clearly the product of much bargaining and many hands. Most of its clauses deal with specific, and often long-standing, grievances rather than with general principles of law. Some of the grievances are self-explanatory: others can be understood only in the context of the feudal society in which they arose. The precise meaning of a few clauses is still a matter of debate.

Although more a reactionary than a progressive document in its day, the Magna Carta was seen as a cornerstone in the development of democratic England by later generations. Thus, it can also be considered the first British constitution, setting down the relationship between citizens and state. The document was remarkable in that it implied there were laws the king was bound to observe, thus precluding any future claim to absolutism by the English monarchy. Of greatest interest to later generations was clause 39, which stated that “no free man shall be arrested or imprisoned or disseised [dispossessed] or outlawed or exiled or in any way victimised…except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.” This clause has been celebrated as an early guarantee of trial by jury and of habeas corpus and inspired England’s Petition of Right (1628) and the Habeas Corpus Act (1679).

The complete text can be read here.

June 15, 1989 (a Thursday)

‘Execution’ by Beijing artist Yue Minjun

On this date, a Chinese court in Shanghai accused three men of starting a riot in Shanghai and sentenced them to death, the first execution orders since Chinese troops opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing on June 3-4, crushing a 7-week-old reform movement. Television said the three men sentenced to death were charged with setting a train on fire and beating security officials who tried to extinguish the blaze.

The train incident occurred June 6 when six protesters were killed as they stood at a barricade on the tracks near the Shanghai train station and a train from Beijing did not stop in time. People in a large crowd set fire to the train and fought with firefighters and police who came to put it out, injuring 21. The three condemned men “frenziedly smashed the railway carriages and set fire to police motorcycles and the carriages” during the attack, the official New China News Agency reported. “They also prevented firefighters from extinguishing the fire and beat them cruelly.” They were given three days to appeal.

An article in the New York Times on 22 June 1989 reported, in part:

The Chinese authorities staged a public execution today of three young men who were accused of taking part in a violent political protest in Shanghai…

The three young men in Shanghai were presumably executed in the Chinese way, with a bullet fired in the back of the head at close range…

The three men in Shanghai – Xu Guoming, an employee of a Shanghai brewery; Bian Hanwu, who is unemployed, and Yan Xuerong, a worker at a radio factory – were sentenced to death last Thursday but had appealed.

They were accused of helping to set fire to a train on June 6 and then attacking firefighters who arrived to put out the fire. No one was killed, but some firefighters were beaten up and nine rail cars were burned, forcing the closing of the rail line for two days.

The Government has not mentioned the circumstances in which the crowd attacked the train. The crowd had gathered to block the rail line, in protest of the killings of hundreds of students and workers in Beijing two days earlier by the army. A train rammed its way through the human blockade, killing six people who lay on the track, and only then did the outraged crowd attack the train and set it afire.

It is not known what evidence existed against the three men, who appeared to be in their 20′s or perhaps early 30′s, or even exactly what role each was accused of having played in the incident. Nor have the authorities indicated how they caught the three, who were apparently arrested several days later rather than on the scene…

Soon after, people in Beijing, Shandong, Sichuan, Hebei, and Hubei were sentenced to death. Throughout the country, there were tens of thousands of detentions and arrests. Approximately one thousand people were executed, and many others were investigated and harassed. These people were additional victims of the June 4 Massacre.


  • Jiang Qisheng (江棋生).  An Independent Report on the Situation of the June 4 Massacre Victims (1989年六四镇压受害者状况民间报告).   Released online by Human Rights in China (HRIC), 3 June 2010 and accessed at http://www.hrichina.org/content/406 on 20 June 2012.