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Answer 70. Captain James Cook had just returned from his second voyage of discovery.


Cook held the Admiralty spellbound with his account of the journey. He had witnessed a human sacrifice in Tahiti and had disproved the myth of a continental-sized land mass somewhere south of Australia. He had also used a version of John Harrison’s new chronometer to calculate longitude so exactly that his charts of the southern Pacific were still being used in the 20th century.

Cook also baffled scientists with the number of hitherto unknown biological specimens that he brought home from his two voyages. Kangaroos, koalas, wallabies… How could so many animals, from so many different places, have fitted into Noah’s Ark? The scientists began to wonder if there might be a different explanation, one that had nothing to do with the Bible.

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Charles I statueThis equestrian statue of King Charles I stands on the site of the original Charing Cross, the official centre of London. It looks from Trafalgar Square to Whitehall, where the King was beheaded (see Questions 29 and 30).

Cast in 1633, the statue was sold to a metal dealer after Parliament’s victory in the Civil War. Instead of breaking it up, as ordered, he hid it until the restoration of the monarchy. The statue has stood on its present site since 1675.

On 13 October 1660, Charles I’s son King Charles II came here to witness the execution of Major-General Thomas Harrison. Samuel Pepys came too. Both watched as the executioner begged Harrison’s forgiveness for what he was about to do.

‘I do forgive thee with all my heart,’ Harrison told him. ‘Alas poor man, thou doeth it ignorantly. The Lord grant that this sin may not be laid to thy charge.’

After giving the man all his money, Harrison was hanged for several minutes before being cut open. He then apparently leaned across and hit the executioner, who promptly cut off his head. His entrails were removed and burned on the fire.

HISTORIC LONDON: X MARKS THE SPOT. Question 71. Poor Major-General Harrison! What had he done to deserve such treatment?

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