Author: Christine Ro

Christine Ro is nervous about having an online presence, which she realizes makes her a dinosaur. If she were a dinosaur, she'd be a sauropod, as she's also a herbivore with strong hind legs. If you speak a different dialect, that's "AN herbivore with strong hind legs". Stuff she writes lives at

Hasty Hostilities

Zanzibar, an island nation that is now part of Tanzania, has been a contested territory for centuries. Starting in the 15th century, interested parties from Portugal, Oman, Germany, and Britain vied for the right to settle in Zanzibar and to decide whether to continue or abolish its slave trade.

In 1890, Zanzibar was declared a protectorate of the British Empire. And three years later, the Britain-friendly sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini came to power. Sultan Hamad died unexpectedly on 25 August 1896; his young cousin, Khalid bin Bargash, was suspected of having poisoned him. Young Khalid thumbed his nose at the British by swiftly moving into the palace without their permission, and ignoring a warning from the British consul to cease and desist. Instead, Khalid mobilized nearly 3,000 soldiers and civilians in the palace square, as well as a variety of military equipment that the British had gifted to the previous sultan.

The British, in response, readied warships in the harbor and delivered ultimatums demanding that Khalid leave the palace. Khalid remained defiant.

At 9:00am on 27 August 1896, three British ships opened fire on the palace. By 9:02am Khalid had fled, and most of his weaponry had been destroyed. The open fire ended at around 9:40am. A new (British-approved) sultan was in place by the afternoon.

Unsurprisingly, given that the British commanded the most powerful navy in the world, the war was a lopsided one. While approximately 500 Zanzibaris were killed, only a single British sailor was wounded. As the Anglo-Zanzibar War lasted between 38 and 45 minutes in total, it remains the shortest war in history.

Of Earwax and Ethnicity

One way of determining a person’s likely ethnicity is looking inside their ears. Simply put, there are two kinds of earwax: dry and white, or wet and brownish. Genetic research shows that Caucasians tend to have the sticky type, while East Asians generally have the dry kind. This is due to a variant of the ABCC11 gene, which also affects the chemical that produces body odor. Koreans, Japanese, and others of East Asian descent typically have un-sticky earwax and un-smelly bodies due to the same gene.

No Country For Ye Olde Men

The year was 1721. The ship was called the Prince Royal, its destination the American colonies. And the cake—the cake was gingerbread.

The British crew shouldn’t have been surprised to find the metal file in the cake. Its stasher, James Dalton—a notorious thief and escape artist—had been shuttled involuntarily between Britain and America more times than a trans-Atlantic diplomat. Unluckily for Dalton, this particular mutiny fell apart as soon as the cake did. Luckily for Dalton, there would always be a next time. After all, as a convict who’d been sentenced to the punishment of “transportation” multiple times, Dalton had mutinied before.

Poor Execution

Jack Ketch was a man in need of a career change. As the official executioner during King Charles II’s 17th-century reign, Ketch handled a number of political executions. However, he lacked a knack for the job. He frequently required as many as five swings before successfully beheading a prisoner. His butchery of the politician William Russell was so messy and reviled that Ketch took it upon himself to write a pamphlet after the execution, apologizing for his poor performance and blaming it on Russell’s inability to hold still.

At Ketch’s most high-profile assignment, the execution of the rebel Duke of Monmouth, the duke mentioned Ketch’s earlier bungling of the Russell execution. This made Ketch nervous, and his three shaky axe strikes failed to complete the severing. Pleading, “I can’t do it,” Ketch attempted to flee the site, but the sheriffs forced him to return and finish the job. It took several more hacks with the axe and the assistance of a knife to successfully separate Monmouth’s head from his body.

Due to his notoriety, “Jack Ketch” became a generic term in the UK for executioners and Satan.

The Prince of Icebergs

In October 1977, the city of Ames, Iowa hosted the International Conference on Iceberg Utilization. The conference was sponsored by the Saudi prince Mohammed al Faisal, whose company was called Iceberg Transport International. Prince Faisal and other attendees had big ideas for making use of the massive blocks of ice, including towing bergs to the Arabian peninsula (estimated to cost a cool $100 million) or Southern California (only a $30 million job).

While the prince expected the iceberg hauling operation to be underway within three years, these plans never materialized. However, the dream has never disappeared. Work continues on finding cost-effective and logistically feasible ways of using icebergs to slake thirst in water-parched regions. One such project is being supported by Georges Mougin, an engineer who was part of Prince Faisal’s Iceberg Transport International team in the 1970s.

Into the Bewilderness

alphabetical An Christine in introduction is order: Ro. Welcome

Waterton capturing the cayman, by his friend Captain Edwin Jones
Waterton capturing the cayman, by his friend Captain Edwin Jones

Charles Waterton was born in Yorkshire, England in 1782, to an aristocratic Catholic family whose ancestors included members of several royal families. The life of an idle nobleman didn’t appeal to him, however. From a young age, he displayed a passion for studying and interacting with animals in a very hands-on way.

An inveterate tree-climber, Waterton was grateful for the wide array of bird species found on his family’s estate. He was so much of a birdbrain that teachers complained of his “vast proficiency in the art of finding birds’ nests” distracting him from his studies. Like his teachers, Waterton’s classmates noticed his fondness for being amongst animals. He was the one called upon when the boys wanted someone to tame an angry goose, or to ride a cow for their entertainment. He was even appointed rat catcher at his Jesuit boys’ school.

Waterton’s youthful interest in trapping the animals around him evolved into a specialist desire to understand less common animals. This being the Victorian era, and Waterton having the time and money to devote to his preoccupations, his obsessions prompted amusement in the readers of his prolific writings, rather than consternation. For instance, he once described a dissection of a vulture’s nose as “beautiful.” And he was an expert on how a variety of tropical animals, from the howler monkey to the toucan, tasted. The former, apparently, is not dissimilar to goat, while the latter should be boiled for best results.

This type of contradiction—being moved by animals, yet also scientifically dedicated to studying them by killing and preserving them in scientifically novel ways—would be a theme throughout Waterton’s life. The man clearly had complex feelings about his relationships with animals. Perhaps the most significant of these feelings was the desire to transcend the divisions within the animal kingdom: divisions between animals, but also ones separating himself and the creatures he loved.

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