Death of Darwin's Tortoise
Occasionally you discover a connection that makes the past seem less distant. For example, my father met an old man in the 1950s who clearly remembered his grandfather, a veteran of the Battle of the Trafalgar (1805). Likewise, the last known American Civil War widow only died in 2004 - Alberta Martin had married the Confederate veteran, William Jaspar Martin, in 1927 when she was 21 and he was 81.
As I listened to Radio 4 last night (as I often do before going to sleep) I heard that Harriet the Tortoise had died after a short illness at her home in Australia Zoo, Queensland (owned by that irritating TV crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin). Tradition says that she was one of three tortoises taken from the Galapagos Islands by Charles Darwin during his 1835 voyage aboard the HMS Beagle. There are reasons to doubt the accuracy of this story, but DNA confirms Harriet's remarkable age - 176, making her the oldest animal in captivity (until yesterday)!
When Harriet was born in 1830 William IV succeeded George IV as King of Great Britain, Louis Philippe became King of France, Andrew Jackson was US President, Berlioz wrote his Symphonie Fantastique, Pius VIII was Pope and the Catholic Hierarchy hadn't yet been re-established in England and Wales (in fact, Catholic Emancipation was only passed the previous year)!
Luckily she remained blissfully ignorant of the way the world had changed beyond recognition since then - spending her decades happily munching grass and posing for photographs. According to the BBC, 'her keepers put her longevity down to a stress-free life.'