World History 1879

About the history of the world in 1879, Thomas Edison invents the light bulb, the British fight the Zulus, the War of the Pacific begins.



* Thomas Edison, 32, invented the light bulb independently of and at about the same time as Joseph Swan, 51, of England. Later the twin fathers of the light collaborated to turn out "Ediswan" electrical lamps.

Jan. 12-Sept. 1 British colonial forces destroyed the Zulu army in South Africa at a cost of pound 5.25 million and over 1,300 in British casualties. Contrary to Prime Minister Disraeli's express orders, Sir Bartle Frere; the British high commissioner of South Africa, goaded Zulu chief Cetewayo into armed conflict with the ultimatum that he unilaterally disarm his warriors. At the passing of Frere's arbitrary dead line, the South African field force, under the command of Lord Chelmsford, marched into Zululand confident of easy victory over the spear-throwing natives. Chelmsford soon learned, however, that he had underestimated his foe. Ten days after his arrival, he led a large contingent away from his unguarded camp at Isandhlwana to pursue a Zulu feint into the brush. On Jan. 22, when the British force had been lured far enough away from the camp, over 20,000 Zulus poured down on the garrison, crying, "Gwas umhlongo! Gwas inglubi!" ("Stab the white men! Stab the pigs!") This they did in what was one of the most humiliating defeats in British military history. Although the Zulus also suffered heavy casualties, 52 British officers and 1,277 of lesser rank were killed and disemboweled. Chief Cetewayo beamed at the news and said, "A spear has been thrust into the belly of a nation." His assessment seemed accurate, for when word of the massacre reached London on Feb. 11, the British public turned on Disraeli. Sucked into a war he did not want, the prime minister felt he had no choice but to roll out of the big guns. Cavalry, artillery, wagonloads of supplies, and five infantry battalions streamed into Zululand through Natal. To heighten British embarrassment at the hands of these "savages," the prince imperial of France, the only son of Napoleon III, who had been serving as a volunteer with the British in Africa, was killed by a small band of Zulus while on a routine reconnaissance mission. Inevitably, the superior firepower of the colonial forces prevailed in the end. On July 4, they smashed the Zulu army at Ulundi. Later they captured Chief Cetewayo and exiled him to Cape Town. To ensure subjugation of the Zulus, Britain splintered their homeland into tiny principalities, each with its own chief. As for Disraeli, his Conservative party toppled at the polls in 1880, partly because of public disenchantment with the Zulu War.

Feb. Bolivian Pres. Hilarion Daza reneged on a contract allowing a Chilean company to extract nitrate deposits in his country, thereby precipitating the five-year War of the Pacific. Chile promptly declared war on Bolivia and, when Peru refused to promise neutrality, declared war on that nation, too. Chilean land and sea forces overwhelmed both countries. In separate peace treaties, Chile landlocked Bolivia through the acquisition of its only coastal territory and annexed the southern tip of Peru.

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