27 November 2018

1905 - in art, science, films, Canadian confederation, Bengal partition and Russian revolution

I normally think of the Edwardian era as time of culture, literature, science, medicine and peace. But 1905 began with a series of strikes and demonstrations in the Russian streets. In Jan a protest march in St Pet­ersburg was led by a workers’ organ­isation, the Assembly of Russian Factory and Plant Workers. c200,000 mar­chers moved to the Wint­er Palace to present pet­itions to the Tsar, but soon 1,000 protest­ors lay shot dead that Bloody Sunday. Anger spread throughout Russia with more strikes and mar­ches. In March the universities were shut down by radicals. In July, sailors on the battleship Potemkin mutinied in Odessa and avoided death only when the firing squad seized the ship instead. Odessa’s citizens turned out to support the sail­ors and many were massacred on the steps leading to the wharf.

Albert Einstein 1905

In St Petersburg Leon Trotsky set up a Soviet Workers’ Council to organise opposition to the Tsar. But Trotsky and his supp­or­ters were soon imprisoned. A revolutionary spirit arose, but it lacked the necessary central organis­at­ion to overthrow the government. After the lim­ited reforms of 1905 when a political amnesty was granted, Lenin briefly returned to Russia from Geneva, then left again when the Tsarists cracked down on dissid­ents.

Any protest was met with a brutal resp­onse and anti-Semitic pog­roms increased. In Odessa c2,500 Jews were killed in a single day; Kishinev had two pogroms; in Mariupol, 21 Jews died and their shops were destroyed.

Bloody Sunday 1905
St Petersburg

Tsar Nicholas II had to head off a revolution. He promised to allow the creation of a state Duma-assembly but the proposed Duma limitations led to further protests. In Oct 1905 a gen­er­al strike was called. Reluct­antly Nicholas drafted the October Manifesto, a ser­ies of proposed ref­orm measures that granted civil rights, free political parties, universal voting provis­ions and the estab­lishment of the Duma as the nat­ional assembly.

In late 1905 the mystic Grigori Rasputin (1869–1916) was in­tro­duced by the Tsar's cousins and quickly be­came a trusted advisor to Emperor Nicholas II and a loved confid­ante to his Empr­ess. Rasputin used his miraculous faith-healing powers in the Rom­anov family home.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) and Mileva Marić married in 1903 and had their first son in 1904 in Switzerland. But it was 1905 that was a frantic, miracle year for the young scientist. He published four papers, form­ulated the theory of special relat­iv­ity and expl­ained the photo-electric effect. In April he worked on the spec­ial theory of relat­iv­ity. He pub­lished his paper "On a heuristic viewpoint con­cerning the pro­duction and transformation of light" in May. Here he ex­plained the photo-electric effect and submitted his doctoral diss­ert­ation On the Motion of Small Part­icles.

In June Einstein published an article On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies where he publicly revealed his theory of special relativity. He soon submitted his paper "Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?" Albert Einstein never won a Nobel prize for the theory of rel­ativity. Instead, when he was given the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics, he received it for his explanation of the photoelec­t­ric effect. But note he developed both his theories in the same year: 1905.

By the late 1890s movies could be projected onto a screen. In 1896 the Edison Company launched the era of commercial movies. The earliest vaudeville theatre owners had to purchase films from factories via mail order, rather than renting them, which made it expensive to change shows often. Then in 1905 c450 people attended the world's first nickelod­eon, in Pittsburgh Penn. Dev­eloped by showman Harry Davis, the storefront theatre had 96 seats and charged each patron only 5c to see the silent film The Great Train Robbery. The first nickelodeon could off­er both live vaude­ville acts and short films, so oth­ers quickly set up in converted shopfronts, with flashy posters and ornate facades to attract patrons. Nickel­odeons remained the main outlet for films from 1905 on.

Detroit nickelodeon, 1905

Nickelodeons drastically altered the leisure-time habits of Americans, showing continuous performances of short films. Called disreputable by some municipal agencies, the crude, ill-ventilated nickelodeons with hard wooden seats were replaced later by more comfortably furnished theatres.

With the start of Canadian Confederation in 1867, only four provinces emerged - Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Whereas in Australia all the states were federated on the same day, in Canada the rest of the provin­ces came on board in different years: 1870: Manitoba, NW Territories; 1871: Brit­ish Columbia; 1873: Prince Edward Island; 1898: Yukon; 1905: Alberta, Saskatchewan; 1949: Newfoundland and Labrador; and 1999: Nunavut.

The two Canadian provinces that were
confederated in 1905

Note that the original bord­ers of Yukon Territory were chang­ed, gaining area from the North-West Territ­or­ies. Import­antly for us the econ­omy of the southern areas had changed. From just fur, Alberta and Saskatchewan now included farm­ing, logging, mining and railway. Many people were arriving, people who believed they deserved the same kind of government and services as in other provinces. In 1905, Alberta and Saskatch­ewan were carved out of the NW Territ­ories and confederated.

Fauvist artists pres­ented their first Paris exhibit at 1905 Salon d'Automne, displaying their lurid colours and wild execution. Henri Matisse’s portrait of his wife showed her with a face blotched with colours under a bright hairdo, as well as a giant purple hat and feathers. André Derain’s port­rait of Matisse had half the face in coloured streaks in the beard, while Maurice de Vlaminck’s trees were blazing pink.

Henri Matisse, 1905, 
Woman with a Hat, 
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The Salon d’Automne had been established to encourage experim­ental artists, but the Fauve paintings worried the Salon’s liberal jury and shocked everyone else. Fortunately the hang­ing committee ensured that the Fauve entries were included, and that they were hung together, increasing their impact. Paris saloniers Leo and Gertrude Stein saw the Fauvist exhibition in Paris and bought up Matisses, thus encouraging Fauvism at a crucial point in their salon.

Partition of Bengal
press to expand image

In 1905 it was decided by the Viceroy of India Lord Curzon that the 80 million people of Bengal would be partitioned i.e the Muslim majority eastern areas would be separated from the Hindu majority western areas. The Hindus of West Bengal were furious at what they believed was a divide and rule policy, where the colonising Britons turned the native population against itself for overall control and administrative ease. There was a growing belief among Hindus that East Bengal would have its own legal system.

Partition also created a sense of political awareness among the Muslims of East Bengal, leading to creation of fervent Islamic nationalism. So it didn’t last. In order to appease the Hindus, Bengal was reunited by Lord Hardinge in Dec 1911 but the Muslims were indignant. The administrative capital of British India was moved from Calcutta to New Delhi and  the entire experience predicted a tragic future for partition.


Deb said...

A peaceful era? I don't think so!

What about the horrible Russo-Japanese war of 1905?

Hels said...


The Russo-Japanese War was a military conflict fought between Japan and the Russian Empire, but the reason I didn't include it in the blog was because it started in 1904! The Russo-Japanese War was both land based (in NE China) and sea-based (Korea).

Now I am thinking this war SHOULD have been included! Even though the fighting was far from Europe, it really did predict elements of WW1.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hels - lots here for us to absorb ... so much happening in different parts of the world - thanks for updating us succinctly with these historical events playing out (only) 115 years ago ... I'm still learning so much about all these things - cheers Hilary

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, Between researching and collecting, I am often astonished at how events we don't necessarily link in our minds occurred simultaneously. Although you didn't mention too much about literature, many of my favorite writers were active in 1905. I checked, and that seemed to be an in-between year for most of them, one major exception being Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. Somehow, all of these 1905 events were products of the same world forces.

Hels said...


yes, 1905 was so recent that my grandparent were born already. I heard more stories from them than I read in the history books.

But we still have so much to learn. For example, I know a great deal about the final partition of India and Pakistan, but the 1905 partition of Bengal was almost a "hidden secret" in Indian history.

Hels said...


1,000 words per post is my limit, and I just ran out of words. But I could have easily created links back to some of the most famous and long lasting English literature from 1905, including your recommendation:

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle by Beatrix Potter

The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

and Where Angels Fear to Tread by EM Forster.

Andrew said...

My Indian history knowledge is not too bad, but I didn't know about the early partition. Very much divide and rule, by the sound of it.

Hels said...


I did History of the British Empire at school and uni, but always from the perspective of the colonising power. Only as middle aged people did it occur to us that history could be written by the victors OR the losers, and those two perspectives may be VERY different from each other.

Those two expressions are still useful:
1. Winners divide and rule, and
2. History is written by the victors.

bazza said...

Wow! This is a masterpiece of an eye-opener Hels. Historical perspective is such a subjective thing but the picture of the world and the way future events were being flagged is a wonderful view!
The Russian Revolution seems to have been an inevitable event from this distance...
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s platitudinous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Mike@Bit About Britain said...

Fascinating - nice piece of research; enjoyed that. I didn't realise that 1905 was such a year! Yes, in general, the Edwardian era seems full of big hats and parties. A tiny part of the story, of course. The reality in the UK were undercurrents of radicalism and clamours for long overdue change.

Hels said...


inevitable and long overdue, I would say.

That the Russian Revolution didn't turn out how people hoped was a lesson we have learned from other, well intentioned changes in society!

Hels said...


I agree of course. British working class families lived in crowded poverty, below the survival income. No wonder disease was so rampant.

But after the catastrophic battles in Crimea and the two Boer Wars, there was an absolute certainty that peace and learning would reign in the Edwardian era.