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The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies and Blunders on Maps

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The Phantom Atlas is an atlas of the world not as it ever existed, but as it was thought to be. These marvellous and mysterious phantoms, non-existent islands, invented mountain ranges, mythical civilisations and other fictitious geography - were all at various times presented as facts on maps and atlases. This book is a collection of striking antique maps that display the most erroneous cartography, with each illustration accompanied by the story behind it. Exploration, map-making and mythology are all brought together to create a colourful tapestry of monsters, heroes and volcanoes; swindlers, mirages and murderers. Sometimes the stories are almost impossible to believe, and remarkably, some of the errors were still on display in maps published in the 21st century. Throughout much of the 19th century more than 40 different mapmakers included the Mountains of Kong, a huge range of peaks stretching across the entire continent of Africa, in their maps - but it was only in 1889 when Louis Gustave Binger revealed the whole thing to be a fake. For centuries, explorers who headed to Patagonia returned with tales of the giants they had met who lived there, some nine feet tall.
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    [image: front]

  [image: Images]

      [image: image]

      Pieter Goos’s grand Nieuwe Werelt kaert, 1672.



    To Emma and Franklin

    Where would I be without you? [image: image]


      [image: image]

      Americae Sive Qvartae Orbis Partis Nova Et Exactissima Descriptio, by Diego Gutiérrez (1562).





  Strait of Anian



  Aurora Islands

  Australia’s Inland Sea


  Bradley Land

  Buss Island

  City of the Caesars

  Sea Monsters of the Carta Marina

  Island of California


  Crocker Land

  Croker’s Mountains

  Davis Land

  Isle of Demons

  Dougherty Island

  Earthly Paradise

  El Dorado

  Flat Earth


  Formosa (of George Psalmanazar)


  Gamaland and Compagnies Land

  Great Ireland

  Great River of the West


  Hy Brasil

  Java La Grande

  Juan de Lisboa

  Lost City of the Kalahari

  Mountains of Kong

  Korea as an Island

  Lost Continents of Lemuria and Mu

  Maria Theresa Reef


  Mountains of the Moon

  Lands of Benjamin Morrell


  Creatures of the Nuremberg Chronicle Map

  Patagonian Giants

  Pepys Island

  Territory of Poyais

  Kingdom of Prester John

  Rhipaean Mountains

  Rupes Nigra

  St Brendan’s Island

  Sandy Island, New Caledonia

  Sannikov Land


  Saxenburgh Island

  Sea of the West


  Terra Australis


  Sunken City of Vineta


  Phantom Lands of the Zeno Map

  Select Bibliography


  Acknowledgements and Credits


  So Geographers in Afric-maps

  With Savage-Pictures fill their Gaps;

  And o’er uninhabitable Downs

  Place Elephants for want of Towns.

  Jonathan Swift

  As the sun climbed the June sky, the vessel Justo Sierra cast off. Its mission: to scour the Gulf of Mexico for the elusive 31-sq. mile (80-sq. km) isla; nd known as ‘Bermeja’. The crew were following the guidance of, among others, the cartographer Alonso de Santa Cruz, who charted the island in his 1539 map El Yucatán e Islas Adyacentes; and the more precise positioning provided by Alonso de Chaves in 1540, in which the writer described the land mass as ‘blondish or reddish’.

  Finally, they reached the given coordinates – and there they found nothing. Only open, unbroken water, as far as the eye could see. There was no trace of an island certified on countless navigational charts. The mariners were thorough and swept the area, taking extensive measurements and soundings, but to no avail. Bermeja, it turned out, was a phantom. Just like that, an established fact became fiction. But what is particularly surprising about this sixteenth-century ghost territory is the lifespan it enjoyed – because the Justo Sierra wasn’t a ship from antiquity – the crew was a multidisciplinary team of scientists put together by the National Autonomous University of Mexico. The year was 2009.

  This is an atlas of the world – not as it ever existed, but as it was thought to be. The countries, islands, cities, mountains, rivers, continents and races collected in this book are all entirely fictitious; and yet each was for a time – sometimes for centuries – real. How? Because they existed on maps.

  Historically, cartographic misconceptions have commonly been disregarded. Perhaps this is because, viewed as mere errors, there is a tendency to dismiss them as insubstantial. But one need only glance at, say, the charts confidently proclaiming California to be an island, the mysterious, black magnetic mountain of Rupes Nigra at the North Pole or the depictions of Patagonia as a region of 9ft (2.7m) giants to realize that these invented lands are crying out for exploration. How did these ideas come about? Why were they believed so widely? And how many other equally strange examples are there to find?

  One might assume that these ghosts have little bearing today, but, as the story of Bermeja demonstrates, a fascinating characteristic of many of these misbeliefs is their remarkable durability. Indeed, there are those that survived into the nineteenth century and beyond: Sandy Island, for example, in the eastern Coral Sea, was first recorded by a whaling ship in 1876 and thenceforth marked on official charts for more than a century. It finally had its nonexistence established in November 2012 – 136 years after it was first ‘sighted’ (and a whole seven years after Google Maps was launched). These phantoms were considered a plague on navigational charts, frequently leading ships astray on fruitless confirmation missions. It was only as the ocean highways grew busier, and global positioning more accurate, that the methodical purging of these anomalies increased in efficiency. In 1875, for example, no fewer than 123 nonexistent islands (marked E.D., or ‘Existence Doubtful’) were cleared from the British Royal Navy’s chart of the North Pacific.

  But what caused the recording of these nonexistents in the first place? Naturally, the further back we go the more superstitions, classical mythology and careful adherence to religious dogma have a role to play. The complex mappae mundi of Medieval Europe, for example, of which the Hereford Mappa Mundi (c. 1290) is the largest extant example, serve as giant curiosity cabinets of history and popular belief. These immense, intricate collages were for the benefit of visiting pilgrims unable to read. Usually Jerusalem-centric, the maps were more to illustrate the scale of God’s works, with transcription errors abounding, as well as depicting the more outrageous phenomena reported by Pliny, such as the Sciapodes – a species of man said to exist in the land of Taprobana, who used their one giant foot to shade themselves from the midday sun.

  Mirages and other visual phenomena have also proven instrumental in manifesting the immaterial on maps. At sea, formations of low clouds were mistaken for land so often that sailors took to referring to them as ‘Dutch Capes’. The Fata Morgana in particular is a complex form of superior mirage that, from a ship’s bow, appears as a band of territory on the horizon. The name gives some indication of how contemptuously, and fearfully, it was held by mariners: the term comes from the Italian for Morgan le Fay, the Arthurian trickster enchantress. Most often seen in polar regions, the optical illusion is a prolific culprit in the perpetration of false land sightings – it is accused, for example, of being the implement of disaster in Baron von Toll’s 1902 expedition to find Sannikov Land in the Arctic Ocean.

  And then, of course, there is the honest error, which is usually rooted in educated guesses of ‘wishful mapping’ or the limited ability of contemporary measurement systems. Coordinates were rough and imprecise, until John Harrison’s invention of an accurate marine chronometer in the eighteenth century provided a long-sought solution to the problem of measuring longitude. Errors were copied, and discoveries even frequently ‘remade’. Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, for example, during an 1838 survey of the Tuamotos, discovered an island at 15°44'S, 144°36'W. He named it King Island, in honour of the lookout who had spotted it. It wasn’t until later that it was learnt the island had, in fact, been sighted several years earlier, in 1835, by Captain Robert Fitzroy of the Beagle, and named Tairaro.

  Sometimes, phantoms even appear out of sheer whimsy. In his Cosmography (1659), Peter Heylyn tells the story of Pedro Sarmiento’s capture by Sir Walter Raleigh, who subsequently interviewed the Spanish explorer about curious entries on his maps of the Strait of Magellan. Raleigh questioned his prisoner about one particular island, which seemed to offer potential tactical advantage. Sarmiento merrily replied:

  that it was to be called the Painter’s Wife’s Island, saying that, whilst the Painter drew that Map, his Wife sitting by, desired him to put in one Countrey for her, that she in her imagination might have an island of her own. His meaning was, that there was no such Island as the Map pretended. And I fear the Painter’s Wife hath many Islands and some Countreys too upon the Continent in our common Maps, which are not really to be found on the strictest search.

  Also to blame are the low-down, dirty liars: those who make the calculated and committed decision to invent an entire island or country for dishonourable and self-serving purposes. The impostor George Psalmanazar, for example, was a Frenchman on a mission to hoodwink the eighteenth century. He pretended to be a resident of Formosa (Taiwan) in a deception of depth and detail that fooled many. His book, An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, was filled almost entirely with fantastic details pulled straight from his fertile imagination.

  Wild tales sold books and earned popularity. Adventurers cast themselves in heroic light, seducing funds from backers for future expeditions. Benjamin Morrell, known commonly as ‘the biggest liar in the Pacific’, returned from voyages breathless with tales of newly discovered lands (emblazoned with his name wherever possible) that no one else could find, with travel accounts that are clearly and liberally plagiarized. But lord of liars has to be the Scotsman Gregor MacGregor, an exaggerator and fantasist of breathtaking audacity. The corvine-eyed con-artist strode into London presenting himself as the ‘Cazique of the Territory of Poyais’, and proceeded to commit the greatest fraud of the nineteenth century, if not of all time.

  Cartographers themselves have even indulged in minor deceptions for protection, devising their own fictitious geographies to use as copyright ‘traps’ in the same way as lexicographers have included fictitious entries to prove rivals have stolen their material. This isn’t a solely antiquated practice, either. In 2005, a representative of the Geographers’ A–Z Street Atlas revealed to the BBC that the London edition of their map book at that time contained more than 100 fabricated streets.

  Investigating geographic ghosts can also lead to the discovery that their labelling as such can be too hastily applied: in volcanically active regions, the sudden creation and destruction of islands can be relatively common occurrences. Among cultures in these areas there are stories passed down out of oral tradition that act as records of such islands’ existence: in Fiji, for example, there is the story of the inhabited island of Vuniivilevu, which one day vanished into the depths of the Pacific Ocean. To this day, when fishing boats pass over its supposed former location, the custom is to fall respectfully silent. Sometimes, the record of such disaster is a map: in the Icelandic waters there were Gunnbjörn’s skerries, a group of islands home to eighteen farms that, according to a note on Johannes Ruysch’s 1507 map, were ‘completely burned up’ by volcanic action in 1456.

  However certain we are of the world around us, it seems there is always more to the story. How many other phantoms, I wonder, are hiding in plain sight, printed so assuredly on wall maps around the world? What island, what mountain, what work of imagined nation is masquerading as fact, enjoying its quiet nonexistence, just waiting to be undiscovered?

  [image: ] STRAIT OF ANIAN

        48°29'N, 124°50'W


        Also known as Strete of Anian



      [image: image]

      Willem Barentsz’s landmark 1598 map of the Arctic region, drawn from his observations made during his 1596 voyage. It is decorated with sea monsters, ships, whales and the mythical ‘Estrecho de Anian’ in the top right corner.



  One of the greatest obsessions in the history of European exploration was the search for the Northwest Passage. Uncovering a trade route through the crushing pack ice of the Arctic to reach Asia and her endless riches – as an alternative to the gruelling and dangerous route around South America – would bring incalculable wealth to the nation that found the way. For centuries such a way was purely theoretical, willed into mythical existence through sheer mercenary desire. It wasn’t until 1850 that a true Northwest Passage was discovered by Robert McClure, and until 1906 that the sea route was successfully navigated by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. But, in the centuries before this, a variety of legendary inlets and waterways potentially leading to this crossing were rumoured, depicted and pursued at great cost. The grandest of these was the Strait of Anian.

  Rumours of this strait between northwestern North America and northeastern Asia (similar to the Bering Strait) that could possibly be the western end of an Arctic passage began to appear on maps in the mid-to late fourteenth century, and inspired voyages by explorers including John Cabot, Sir Francis Drake, Gaspar Corte-Real, Jacques Cartier and Sir Humphrey Gilbert. The name ‘Anian’ is thought to originate from the thirteenth-century stories of Marco Polo: in Chapter 5, Book 3 of his Travels, the explorer mentions a gulf that ‘extends to a distance of two months’ navigation along its northern shore, where it bounds the southern part of the province of Manji, and from thence to where it approaches the countries of Ania, Tolman and many others already mentioned’. He describes its geography in detail, before concluding: ‘This gulf is so extensive and the inhabitants so numerous, that it appears like another world.’

      [image: image]


    The earliest printed map to focus solely on North America, and the first to show the Strait of Anian (Streto de Anian), separating America and Asia. It was by Paolo Forlani and Bolognino Zaltieri, Venice (1566).


  Here Polo is referring to the Gulf of Tonkin, off the coast of northern Vietnam, and, although clearly suggesting it to be located a good deal farther south, it is easy to understand how cartographers searching for information on the area grabbed the name ‘Ania’ to fit reports of a strait in the general vicinity. It first appeared in a work by the Italian cosmographer Giacomo Gastaldi in 1562, and was then adopted by the mapmakers Bolognini Zaltieri and Gerardus Mercator in 1567. The dream of the Strait of Anian was held onto tightly by explorers and cartographers over the next few hundred years, because of its theoretical instrumentality in finding the elusive Northwest Passage. European trade with Asia was booming but it was a demanding task, for goods had to be carried over land or sailed around the Cape of Good Hope. The latter, an especially terrible risk to shipping, was originally named ‘Cabo das Tormentas’ (‘Cape of Storms’) by the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias in 1488.

      [image: image]


    Adam Zuerner’s Americae tam Septentrionalis quam Meridionalis in Mappa Geographica Delineatio (c.1707), with the ‘Fretum Anian’ drawn just below the cartouches of the Native American hunters.


  The Greek seaman Juan de Fuca (1536–1602) was one of several men who claimed to have sailed the Strait of Anian. Under the orders of the viceroy of New Spain, de Fuca launched two expeditions to find the fabled way. The first, consisting of three ships carrying 200 men, is recorded as failing in the early stages when the crew took the ship to California after a mutiny over the captain’s ‘malfeasance’. A second attempt was made in 1592, when the viceroy ordered de Fuca to return to the region with two ships; it was supposedly more successful. According to the merchant Michael Lok, de Fuca:

  came to the Latitude of fortie seven degrees, and that there finding that the land trended North and northeast with a broad inlet of sea, between 47 and 48 degrees of Latitude; he entered thereinto, sayling therein more than twenty days, and found . . . very much broader Sea than was at the said entrance, and that he passed by divers lands in that sayling . . .

  De Fuca recorded the opening of the strait as guarded by a large island with a towering rock spire; he then returned jubilant to Acapulco in the hope of gaining a reward for his findings, but none was offered.

      [image: image]

      Decorative example of Ortelius’s map of the Tartar kingdom in 1598, with the ‘Stretto di Anian’ drawn just east of centre.




      [image: image]


    Cornelis de Jode’s 1593 depiction of the west coast of North America.


  Because the sole written source for de Fuca’s travels is that of Lok, an Englishman who claimed to have met the sailor in Venice (and who was a keen promoter of the search for the passage), there is some doubt as to whether de Fuca ever actually existed – some scholars have deemed him as legendary as his findings. And yet, if he was fictitious, there are curiously accurate elements to his geography. In 1787, a fur trader named Charles William Barkley discovered a strait on the west coast of North America at Cape Flattery and, although a full degree (roughly 69 miles/111km) farther north than de Fuca had claimed, he recognized it as the waterway de Fuca had reported by spotting the pinnacle the sailor had described (which is now known as the De Fuca Pillar). De Fuca’s alleged discovery of the Anian Strait was backed up by the Spanish navigator Lorenzo Ferrer Maldonado, who claimed to have sailed the waterway in the opposite direction in 1588, four years before de Fuca. (Although Maldonado’s account is clearly fabricated, and achieved little recognition at the time, its rediscovery in the late eighteenth century gave the strait renewed fame.) This waterway that Barkley discovered was named the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but it was merely a 95-mile (153km) long passage that functions both as the Salish Sea’s outlet to the Pacific and as the starting point of the international boundary between America and Canada.

  The desperate hunt for a transcontinental passage meant that the Strait of Anian haunted maps for hundreds of years. A 1719 map by Herman Moll suggests it as a bay 50° north of the Island of California (see relevant entry here). The 1728 edition of a map by Johannes van Keulen also places it here, accompanied by the note: ‘They say that one can come through this strait to Hudson Bay, but this is not proven.’ In 1772, Samuel Hearne travelled over land from Hudson Bay to Copermine River and back – an extraordinary voyage of more than 3600 miles (5800km) – in search of the channel, but no Strait of Anian was found. For all but the most hopeful, this was sufficient to lay the myth to rest.

  [image: ] ANTILLIA

        33°44'N, 54°55'W


        Also known as Antilia, Isle of Seven Cities, Ilha das Sete Cidades, Sept Citez



  In 711, the Islamic Moors of north Africa crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and invaded the Iberian peninsula. Led by the general Tariq ibn Ziyad, this massive force waged an eight-year campaign, crushing the Visigothic Christian armies and bringing most of modern Spain and Portugal under Islamic rule. The Moors continued their rampage across the Pyrenees, eventually falling to the Franks led by Charles Martel at the Battle of Poitiers in 732; but before that a strange legend emerged from the rubble of their Spanish invasion. It told of a group of seven Christian bishops who managed to flee the Muslim forces by ship across the Atlantic, eventually taking refuge on a distant island known as ‘Antillia’. There, the holy men decided to set up residence, and each built for himself a magnificent golden city. This gave the island its other name: ‘Isle of Seven Cities’.

  How the bishops fared on the island is unknown, for no mention of Antillia is made for another seven centuries, until it began to appear on maps such as the c. 1424 portolan (sailing instructions) chart of the Venetian cartographer Pizzigano, which shows several of these legendary Atlantic Islands. Here, Antillia is depicted as a large, rectangular block, with seven cities adorning its coasts: Asay, Ary, Vra, Jaysos, Marnlio, Ansuly and Cyodne. Supposedly, the vast island was located in the North Atlantic, 750 miles (1200km) west of Portugal in the latitude of Gibraltar. The origin of its name is equally mysterious, but is thought to derive from anteilha, roughly ‘opposite isle’, possibly because it was thought to lie across from the Portuguese coast. (The name would later be applied to the Antilles Islands.)

  The considerable size of the island made it attractive to explorers: Portugal’s Prince Henry (1394–1460), better known as Henry the Navigator, dispatched a captain named Diogo de Teive and the Spanish nobleman Pedro de Velasco in 1452 to sail from the island of Fayal in the Azores, and make southwesterly and northwesterly sweeps in search of Antillia. The men reached as far as the latitude of southern Ireland, without so much of a glimpse of the Antillian shore. The mission wasn’t a total loss, however: during their journey they discovered Corvo and Flores, two outer islands of the Azores. In a letter to Ferman Martins in 1474, the Italian astronomer Paulo Toscanelli stated his certainty that the island of Antillia could be found 50 degrees east of Cipangu (Japan), and recommended it as a convenient waypoint when journeying to Cathay (China). Then, in 1486, King João II gave permission to Fernão Dulmo, captain of the northern territory of Terceira (one of the larger islands of the Azores), to locate and claim the Isle of Seven Cities in his name. Dulmo launched a search party in March but found nothing but terrific storms.

      [image: image]

      The portolan chart by Albino de Canepa (1489), with Antillia featured as a rectangular island to the far left.



      [image: image]

      Antillia marked as ‘Sept Citez’ on Hondius’s 1631 map of the world.



  Columbus, too, believed in the existence of Antillia, and reckoned the island a useful stopping-off point en route to the Indies. Entries in his travel journal of 1492 suggest he expected to find it at 28°N. This would have been based on the position given by Martin Behaim, who that same year had made the first cartographic mention of the island on his ‘Erdapfel’ (literally ‘earth-apple’) globe, with the note:

  In the year 734 after the birth of Christ, when all Spain was overrun by the African heathens, this island of Antillia, called also the Isle of Seven Cities, was peopled by the Archbishop of Porto with six other bishops, and certain companions, male and female, who fled from Spain with their cattle, property and goods. In the year 1414 a Spanish ship approached very near this island without danger.

  In 1508, additional Antillian detail was supplied by Johannes Ruysch on his map, with the inscription:

  This island Antilia was once found by the Portuguese, but now when it is searched, cannot be found. People found here speak the Hispanic language, and are believed to have fled here in face of a barbarian invasion of Hispania, in the time of King Roderic, the last to govern Hispania in the era of the Goths. There is one archbishop here and six other bishops, each of whom has his own city; and so it is called the island of seven cities. The people live here in the most Christian manner, replete with all the riches of this century.

  Hernando Colón, son of Columbus, was also fascinated by Antillia. He suggests convincingly in his Historia del Almirante (1571) that the exodus of the bishops took place in 714, not 734, which would line up closer with the two-year rule of King Roderic in 711. He also writes that the holy men burnt their ships on arrival at Antillia, lest they should ever consider returning to Hispania. So how did the story of the exiled bishops find its way to the mainland? Colón relates the story that, during the rule of Prince Henry, a wayward ship blown off course by a storm landed at Antillia. The crew explored the island, greeted the locals and attended a church service before hurrying back to Portugal to report the experience. However, when they were ordered to return to the island for confirmation, the entire crew disappeared. Elsewhere, the French sailor Eustache de la Fosse heightened the mystery by warning that Antillia was protected by a spell placed by one of the bishops ‘knowing the art of necromancy’, and predicted that the island would not be found again until ‘all Spain should be restored to our good Catholic faith’. De la Fosse also claimed that sailors passing the invisible island had reported shore birds flying over their vessels, although these were also invisible ‘because of the said enchantment’.

  Antillia next crops up in Antonio Galvão’s The Discoveries of the World (1563), in which the chronicler shares an account of a Portuguese ship from the Strait of Gibraltar encountering an island of seven cities. The inhabitants, who spoke Portuguese as their native tongue, enquired as to whether Spain was still ruled by the Moors, from whom they had fled after the death of King Roderic. Upon returning to Lisbon, the ship’s captain gave a sample of the island’s soil to a goldsmith for analysis, who declared the earth to be composed of two parts soil, one part gold. (This last detail, however, is a common addition to expeditionary stories to stir up interest, and it is clear from Galvão’s distanced tone that he was wary of the tale). To Galvão, it was evident that Antillia had been confused by sailors with the Caribbean Antilles far to the west. This conclusion was supported by other geographers of the period, and the island began to be cleared from maps, although one finds it occasionally included on later works, such as Hondius’s stunning 1631 map of the world.

  [image: ] ATLANTIS

  35°09'N, 39°48'W

      [image: image]

      A map of Atlantis by Bory de St-Vincent, taken from Sur les Canaries (1803).



  All missing islands of the past pale in scale to the largest and most famous fugitive of all: the island of Atlantis – ‘larger than Libya and Asia put together’, according to Plato, whose two dialogues, Timaeus and Critias describe the land in detail. Written by the philosopher c. 360 BC, the works serve as the earliest record of the tale – ‘not a fiction but a true story’ – in which is discussed a massive war between the ancient Athenians and the Atlanteans waged 9000 years before Plato’s time. Plato uses the story of Atlantis as an allegory for the arrogance of powerful nations, drawing inspiration, it is thought, from the volcanic destruction of the island of Thera (Santorini) that occurred in the mid-second millennium BC. Aristotle dismissed it as fiction, but the Greek academician Crantor ardently defended it as historical truth. Debate then raged (and, in some quarters, still does) as to whether the tale has factual basis.

      [image: image]

      A map by the seventeenth-century scholar Athanasius Kircher, placing Atlantis equidistant between Africa and America.



  In Timaeus, Plato writes of a mighty island power ‘situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Heracles’ (the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar) that launched an unprovoked attack on the whole of Europe and Asia. In response, the state of ancient Athenians:

  shone forth, in the excellence of her virtue and strength, among all mankind. She was pre-eminent in courage and military skill . . . she defeated and triumphed over the invaders, and preserved from slavery those who were not yet subjugated, and generously liberated all the rest of us who dwell within the pillars. But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island.

      [image: image]

      Atlantis in its prime, from W. Scott-Elliot’s The Story of Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria (1925).



  The allegory of the superiority of Plato’s ideal state was lost among the assurances of veracity made by its author, and the intoxicating excitement that ensued. Atlantis slowly came to represent all the lost worlds and utopias ever rumoured, amalgamated with myths across cultures. ‘It was a legend so adapted to the human mind that it made a habitation for itself in any country,’ wrote Dr Jowett, the renowned nineteenth-century translator of Plato. ‘It was an island in the clouds, which might be seen anywhere by the eye of faith . . . No one knew better than Plato how to invent a noble lie.’ As such, there have been a plethora of academic (and less-than-academic) theories offered as to the real location of the disappeared race, including Peru, the West Indies, Antarctica, the Canary Isles, Cuba, Indonesia, Nigeria, Morocco, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Sardinia, North America and the English Channel.

  The maps here are rare instances of the legend committed to cartography – Athanasius Kircher follows Plato’s description to depict it in the centre of the Atlantic Ocean. The German scholar included it in his extraordinary book Mundus Subterraneus (1665), which also features other mythical identifications: such as the ‘Mountains of the Moon’ as the source of the Nile (see Mountains of the Moon entry here); discussions on the buried remains of giants; and a commentary on the creatures of the underground world, including dragons. It is a work perhaps most famously known for the illustration Systema Ideale Pyrophylaciorum, a study of the Earth’s volcanic system, a planet ‘not solid but everywhere gaping, and hollowed with empty rooms and spaces, and hidden burrows’, with terrible volcanoes being ‘nothing but the vent-holes, or breath-pipes of Nature’.

      [image: image]

      And here Scott-Elliot maps Atlantis in its ‘decadence’.



  The myth of Atlantis endured, albeit pushed past the border of the scholarly into the realm of the obsessed and eccentric. In Reflections of a Marine Venus (1953), Lawrence Durrell writes about discovering a list of diseases as yet unclassified by medical science, ‘and among these there occurred the word islomania, which was described as a rare but by no means unknown affliction of spirit. There are people . . . who find islands somehow irresistible. The mere knowledge that they are on an island, a little world surrounded by the sea, fills them with an indescribable intoxication. These born “islomanes” . . . are direct descendants of the Atlanteans.’

      [image: image]

      Athanasius Kircher’s 1665 depiction of the ‘fire canals’, or volcanic system, of the subterranean world.



  There has certainly been a specific islomania pertaining to those seeking Atlantis, which took an especially strange form in the creation of the ‘Principality of Atlantis’ by a group of Danish Atlantomanes led by John L. Mott in 1917. To escape war-torn Europe, the men claimed they had settled on a group of islands 200 miles (320km) southwest of Florida, eight degrees north of the Equator and 3 miles (5km) offshore of Panama and Costa Rica, which they declared their ‘private Dynasty . . . or Principality of Atlantis Kaj Lemuria’. These details come to us from a US government file containing two decades of correspondence between the US State Department and various persons on the subject of the Atlantis principality between the 1930s and 1950s. This includes one document bearing the letterhead ‘Government of Atlantis and Lemuria’, in which the governor-general of the principality, a Miss Gertrude Norris Meeker, warns the US State Department that ‘any trespassing in these islands or Island Empire is a prison offence’; while another letter in the file, from 1957, advises the government to respect the sovereignty of the principality: ‘Believe me,’ writes Leslie Gordon Bell, legal counsel of the new Atlanteans, ‘this is not a figment of somebody’s imagination.’

  [image: ] AURORA ISLANDS

  52°37'S, 47°49'W

  In 1762, the Spanish merchant ship Aurora, captained by José de la Llana, was on its way home to Cádiz from a mission to Lima when the crew sighted a pair of islands midway between the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. Traffic was increasing in this region due to its proximity to the route taken by European trade vessels to round Cape Horn and so, unsurprisingly, the Auroras were confirmed by a succession of crews on trading missions: the frigate San Miguel spotted them in 1769, as did the Aurora again in 1774, followed by the Perla in 1779 and the Dolores in 1790, marking the coordinates using dead reckoning, which is essentially skilful guesswork.

  In 1790, the Princessa of the Royal Philippine Company, ferrying goods from Spain, also reported passing the islands on its voyage to Lima – Captain Manuel de Oyarvido provided precise coordinates, and recorded the existence of a third, which he named ‘Isla Nueva’. The Spanish explorer José Bustamente Guerra was then instructed to chart the ‘islas Aurora’, and in 1794 he found an island at 52°37'S with a snow-covered eastern side, and a western side dark with snow spreading through its ravines. His ship, the Atrevida, cruised alongside the island making observations from only 1 mile (1.6km) offshore, before continuing on its way. Four days later, he came across a second island, and from ‘a moderate distance’ noted a snow-covered southeast side. Satisfied that the islands were now placed with geographic precision, Bustamente proceeded to Montevideo. His charts were handed to the Royal Hydrographical Society of Madrid, where they were studied and filed away; and for a time no more was thought of them.

  Over twenty years later, in 1820, the British sailor and seal-hunter James Weddell was drawn to the area by Bustamente’s survey. He arrived at the coordinates and found open water. Refusing to believe that so many sailors before him could have made such a major error, he patrolled the area for four days until deciding that ‘the discoverers must have been misled by appearances’, and continued on around the Falkland Islands.

      [image: image]

      The Aurora Islands on George Crams’s 1890 map of South America.



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      Chart from John Ross’s A Voyage of Discovery and Research to Southern and Antarctic Regions (1847).



  Weddell was right – not only are there no islands in this general vicinity, no satisfactory explanation for how the Auroras came into reputed existence has ever been provided. There are plenty of factors to take into consideration: low visibility in difficult Antarctic weather conditions; the desperation to find land on the horizon during long periods at sea; perhaps even destruction by volcanic action. Were the islands in fact giant floating icebergs, or ‘ice-islands incorporated with earth’ as Weddell eventually concluded? Or were they confused with the sealer’s other discovery 620 miles/1000km off the Falkland Islands at 53°33'S, 42°02'W – the Shag Rocks (which were also then given the Spanish name Islas Aurora)? It has also been suggested that the Auroras might have been confused with the Falklands, but for so many skilful mariners to make the same grievous blunder seems most unlikely. The islands pop up on maps into the nineteenth century, inspiring further futile searches by Benjamin Morrell in 1823, and by John Biscoe in 1830. They can also be found on the chart accompanying John Ross’s 1847 A Voyage of Discovery and Research to Southern and Antarctic Regions. By 1856, they had been wiped from official cartographic records. The mystery as to what so many men saw on those waters has never been solved.


  24°54'S, 137°13'E

      [image: image]

      Maslen’s wishful mapping of Australia’s possible inland sea and river system, from The Friend of Australia (1830).



  It had been forty-two years since the British First Fleet, commanded by Captain Arthur Philip, landed at Australia’s Botany Bay and formed the first European colony at Port Jackson. Initially, the new land served as a penal territory, but the British were keen to push deeper into the unmapped Australian interior and get a sense of the potential for further settlement. They knew from experience that following rivers inland usually led to mountains, river systems and fertile land that frequently exceeded expectation, and so it was assumed that the same topographic logic could be applied to Australia – what kind of rich verdant paradise, it was wondered, could be waiting in the heartland?

      [image: image]

      Maslen’s scene of colonists crossing Australia’s possibly bountiful desert river system, with horses transporting tub-like vessels.



  ‘The plan here offered is a practical scheme’, announces the English writer Thomas J. Maslen in The Friend of Australia (1830), ‘and not a vain theory which could not be put into practice; and it will serve equally well as a guide and book of reference, to a numerous or a small party of explorers.’ Maslen, a retired officer of the East India Company, wrote his book to encourage colonial expansion efforts. It provides detailed instructions for how to conduct surveys and inland exploration (for the latter, he recommended the use of camels). It seemed most unlikely to Europeans that a country the size of Australia would exist without the same abundant water systems as that of other continents. Maslen, therefore, used his book to exhibit his educated guess of a water-rich Australian interior. Today, The Friend of Australia is considered the ultimate monument to speculative geography.

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      Maslen’s flag design ‘Respectfully submitted for the consideration of Government for the adoption of the Colony of New South Wales’.



  The map shown here is the one that accompanied the book, and which contributes to the rare work’s modern reputation as a curiosity (only 250 copies were printed, and even those failed to sell out at the time). The theory of a vast, undiscovered Australian system of rivers and lakes had been popular for years, but it was Maslen who ran away with the idea in spectacular fashion. In the appendix, he describes the thinking behind the creation of his ideal ‘atlas of Australasia a desideratum’, supposing there to be a succession of hills stretching from the west coast towards the interior. These perhaps enclosed a high table of land, ‘from whence other streams might direct their course to the dead level, and perhaps form one or more sheets of water, as the formation of lakes is one of nature’s great features in Australasia’. The river network portrayed is a wonderfully elaborate and generous fantasy, crowned by a great lake the size of a small sea that is placed plum in the desolate centre of what is now known as the Simpson Desert.

      [image: image]

      How an expedition with camels through Australia’s deserts might look.



  Though the hydrographic ambition seemed to ignore everything known about Australia’s aridity, explorers were, nonetheless, inspired to investigate. Charles Sturt was one such water-hunter, who led expeditions in 1829–30, certain that the western-flowing waterways would lead him to a giant inland sea, not unlike the large ‘Delta of Australia’ drawn by Maslen – but he returned disappointed. Sturt, eventually, solved the mystery with the discovery that the western channels were, in fact, tributaries to the Murray, Australia’s longest river. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the inland sea myth had finally dried up.

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      Transporting canoes across the countryside, for use on the theoretical inland sea.



  [image: ] BERMEJA

        22°33'N, 91°22'W


        Also known as Vermeja



  There is a curious phenomenon in marine law known as a ‘Donut Hole’. Donut Holes are legal loopholes created by the passing of a 1982 UN convention on the Law of the Sea, which essentially states that the area of water within 200 miles (322km) from the coast of a country is the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), or nautical sovereignty, of the respective nation. The Donut Holes appear when the perimeters of the EEZs of two countries don’t quite meet – accordingly, these no-man’s lands are deemed pockets of international water.

  In the Gulf of Mexico, several of these Donut Holes, or ‘Hoyas de Donas’, were formed, and quickly became a point of contention between the United States and Mexico for one reason: oil. The gulf’s oil fields are especially bountiful, and crucial to both countries – a current fact sheet from the US Energy Information Administration records the area as providing 17 per cent of America’s total crude oil production. In this rush to clarify rights to the fields, antique maps of the region were suddenly called upon to play a crucial role in an international debate that would result in substantial wealth for the victor. Since the sixteenth century, it was discovered, charts showed a small Mexican island named ‘Bermeja’ nestled deep in the gulf – its existence, though, had never been proven. The Mexicans realized that, if the island could be found, it would dramatically extend their EEZ, and qualify their claim to oil rights in the region.

  Bermeja first appeared on Alonso de Santa Cruz’s 1539 map El Yucatán e Islas Adyacentes, and through to the nineteenth-century maps of the Gulf of Mexico insisted that the island could be found off the north coast of the Yucatán peninsula. Alonso de Chaves was the first to record an exact location in his Espejo de navegantes (Seville, c.1540), describing the island from a distance as seeming ‘blondish or reddish’. No confirmed sighting was reported after that, but it remained on charts into the nineteenth century, when several British maps recorded the island as having sunk mysteriously. Its last appearance is found in the 1921 edition of the Geographic Atlas of the Mexican Republic.

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      A Map of the United States of Mexico (1826) by Henry S. Tanner, showing Bermeja floating in the centre of the Gulf of Mexico.



  In 1997, as the United States and Mexico prepared to negotiate a treaty to divide the ‘Hoyas de Donas’ region, a Mexican Navy vessel was sent on a discovery mission, but was unable to find any sign of it after surveying the Yucatán waters. Mexico went on to sign the treaty in 2000, but the Mexican government never lost hope that Bermeja would one day be found, and so in 2009 a team of experts from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) left the Mexican coast on the research vessel Justo Sierra to search the Mexican gulf for the 31-sq. mile (80-sq. km) island. The UNAM team arrived at the coordinates and studied the area with extended sweeps; they even deployed personnel to scan the area from above with aircraft. They found nothing but sediment-covered ocean floor.

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      ‘Vermeja’ on Tardieu’s Amerique Septentrionale (1809).



  Various theories have been suggested as to Bermeja’s ‘disappearance’. Some blame climate change and rising sea levels, others an undersea earthquake, although, in 2010, a group of Mexican senators released a statement pointing out that such ‘a force of nature does not take place without anyone noticing, and much less so when it is sitting in an area with more than 22 billion barrels of oil reserves’.

  Another popular theory is that the entire island was destroyed by the US Central Intelligence Agency to ensure US hegemony over the oil fields. In November 2000, six senators from Mexico’s governing party of Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) voiced ‘plentiful suspicions’ on the senate floor that the island may have been purposefully vanished. The conspiracy theories flared stronger than ever in 1998 when one of the politicians, PAN party chairman José Angel Conchello, was driven off the road and killed by an assailant who was never caught, shortly after demanding further investigation into the possibility of Bermeja’s existence. Conchello had warned about a secret plan by the Zedillo government to give up exploration rights to US companies.

  So what has been concluded? Jaime Urrutia of UNAM and Saul Millan of the Instituto Politecnico Nacional decided that to obliterate an island of Bermeja’s size a hydrogen bomb would be required. Millan suggested that, rather than destroy the island, it could have been hidden under the water, pointing to theories that the US government somehow managed to discreetly shave it down to below sea level.

  Irasema Alcántara, a geographer at UNAM, passionately defended Bermeja’s existence, telling reporters: ‘We’ve encountered documents containing very precise descriptions of Bermeja’s existence . . . On this basis we firmly believe that the island did exist, but in another location.’ Julio Zamora, president of the Mexican Society of Geography, disagreed: ‘Countries making maps in the 16th and 17th centuries published them with inaccuracies to prevent their enemies from using them.’ This fits with the scientific opinion offered by German oceanographer Hans-Werner Schenke, of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven. After the UNAM team returned empty-handed in 2009, Schenke was consulted by a Der Spiegel journalist and delivered the final blow to Mexican hopes, pointing out: ‘If you look at the latest marine maps and data of the earth, there is no indication that there ever has been an island.’

  [image: ] BRADLEY LAND

  SOMEWHERE BETWEEN 84°20'N, 102°0'W AND 85°11'N, 102°0'W

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      Chart of Segment of the Western Arctic North and Northwest of Grant Land from Edwin Balch’s The North Pole and Bradley Land (1913).



  In the spring of 1908, the American surgeon and explorer Frederick Albert Cook left the Greenland box-house he had built upon arriving in the country the summer before, and embarked on a mission to become the first to reach the North Pole. With him as he crossed Smith Sound to Ellesmere Island, an Arctic archipelago north of Canada, were ten Inuit helpers, eleven sledges and 105 dogs. The convoy headed for the Bache peninsula, then followed a fjord to the west. After traversing the frozen Bay fjord they finally reached Cape Thomas Hubbard, located at the northernmost tip of Axel Heiberg Island, another in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. (It was here at Cape Thomas Hubbard two years earlier that Robert Erwin Peary, his former friend and great rival, glimpsed the imaginary Crocker Land; see Crocker Land entry here.) Cook led his group out through the slicing winds and they trudged across the frozen polar sea. Within three days, only two of his Inuit companions, Ahwelaw and Etukishook, remained by his side. They then set off for the North Pole . . . and all three men vanished.

      [image: image]

      Frederick Cook posing in front of an Arctic backdrop for a publicity photograph, c.1911.



  For a year nothing was heard, and it was assumed the journey had met with disaster until, in April 1909, Cook suddenly reappeared. Upon his return to Anoritoq, Greenland, he told his story. He claimed to have reached Devon Island in the archipelago (and the largest unihabited island on Earth) by sledging between the islands Ellef Ringnes and Amund Ringnes. He pushed on, passing the coordinates of Peary’s Crocker Land – the existence of which he refuted – and with great excitement sighted a new land mass, which he called ‘Bradley Land’. The naming was in tribute to John R. Bradley, the wealthy big-game hunter who had funded Cook’s expedition. Bradley Land was a large formation, said Cook, two large masses with a break, a strait or an indentation, between them. In the record of the adventure he was later to publish, My Attainment of the Pole: Being the Record of the Expedition that First Reached the Boreal Center, 1907–1909, Cook included two photographs of Bradley Land, with the description: ‘The lower coast resembled Heiberg Island, with mountains and high valleys. The upper coast I estimated as being about one thousand feet high, flat, and covered with a thin sheet ice.’ Cook sent out telegrams claiming he had achieved his original goal: he had reached the North Pole on 21 April 1908 but had been unable to return to Greenland, and so was forced to take refuge on Devon Island. This news shot around the world and he arrived in Copenhagen to a hero’s welcome, with the packed audience of his first lecture including members of the Danish royal family.

      [image: image]

      Portrait of Robert Peary, 1909.



  Then came a peculiar twist. Just five days later, a furious Robert Peary telegrammed from Labrador, claiming that he had, in fact, been the first person to reach the North Pole, on 6 April 1909. Peary denounced Cook as a liar, and quoted testimony from the two Inuit, Ahwelaw and Etukishook, that Cook had never even left the mainland. There followed the Cook–Peary Controversy, a public debate as to who had first reached the North Pole that lasted for years, and that to this day has never been fully resolved. Certainly, Cook’s case has not been helped by the fact that there is nothing that resembles Bradley Land at the location Cook described.

  Then came further mutterings over Cook’s reliability: the photographs he provided as proof of his visit to the North Pole were found to be cropped pictures of Alaska that he had taken years before. (His pictures of summiting Mount McKinley a year earlier have also been found to be of an entirely different, and much lower, peak.) He was never able to produce his original navigational records to the pole, and the diary of the expedition he provided to Danish experts for examination had clearly been written much later. The American public, who had previously lauded him as a hero and sided with him over Peary, turned against him, and he travelled the world searching in vain for a safe haven from recognition, often in disguise, which he even adopted to attend a lecture of Peary’s in London in 1910. He later became an oil prospector and formed the Petroleum Producers Association, until he was indicted of mail fraud and sentenced to serve five years in federal prison in Leavensworth.

      [image: image]

      Two members of Cook’s expedition standing by an igloo holding a US flag – a picture supposedly taken at the North Pole, 1908.



  Deception, one must reluctantly conclude, was his trademark; for it was later revealed by the two Inuit assistants that even the photographs he claimed to have taken of Bradley Land were, in fact, of the coast of Axel Heiberg Island.

      [image: image]

      Portrait of Frederick Cook in Arctic furs, 1909.



  [image: ] BUSS ISLAND

  58°00'N, 28°00'W

  One man for whom the Northwest Passage was a particular obsession was the English seaman Sir Martin Frobisher, who made three voyages in the late sixteenth century in search of a way through the Arctic. During the first of these expeditions, Frobisher landed at a large inlet (now known as ‘Frobisher Bay’) in the Labrador Sea north of Newfoundland, believing it to be a strait. It was in this area that he discovered a mysterious ‘black earth’ thought to be rich in ore. A sample the size of a loaf of bread was brought back to England, where the rock was tested by four experts – three dismissed it as mere dirt, while one declared it rich in gold. This was enough to raise support for further voyages, and Frobisher made two more journeys to the Arctic, each time filling his ship with giant loads of the earth – which were eventually proven to be worthless. Though the lack of gold was a disappointment, on the return journey of the third voyage, Frobisher’s ship the Emmanuel (a sturdy type of vessel known as a ‘busse’, hence the Emmanuel’s sobriquet ‘The Busse of Bridgewater’) made an altogether different discovery.

      [image: image]

      A Draught of the Island of Buss, from John Seller’s English Pilot (1675).



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      The island of Buss marked on a Dutch naval chart from 1786.



  The report of Frobisher’s finding was published in George Best’s A True Discourse of the Late Voyages of Discoverie of a Passage to Cathaya (1578), in which it is written: ‘The Busse of Bridgewater, as she came homeward, to the Southeast ward of Freseland [see Phantom Lands of the Zeno Map entry here], discovered a great Ilande in the latitude of [erased] Degrees, which was never yet founde before, and sayled three days alongst the coast, the land seeming to be fruitful, full of woods, and a champion countrie.’

  This place of ‘champion countrie’ became known as Buss Island. For fourteen years after this initial discovery, little else is mentioned of Buss, until Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations appeared in 1598 carrying a description of the island given by a passenger named Thomas Wiars. The details provided by Wiars differ somewhat from those of the Emmanuel, describing the island as being largely surrounded by ice and making no mention of its fruits or woods, but adding that it had two harbours at distances of 7 leagues (34km) and 4 leagues (19km) from the southernmost point.

  The English navigator James Hall attempted to find Buss while on his way to Greenland in 1605, but failed. On his second attempt, he reported ‘a great banke of ice’ much further west than Buss was thought to be, but when he tried again to find the island during his fourth voyage, in 1612, it eluded him once more. Henry Hudson, in 1609, also endeavoured to sight the evasive island but he too failed to find it, although he did report a change in water colour indicating shallow depth. Nevertheless, Hudson remained certain that Buss was real, and the southwestern coast of Buss Island appeared on his chart of the North Atlantic, published in 1612.

  The Buss that appeared on the charts in the seventeenth century was an island of considerable size. From north to south, it covered an entire degree of latitude (approximately 69 miles/110km), as it did from east to west, with an unvarying shape. Its omission from several key maps of the period – such as the New Map of 1600, the Map of the World in Speed’s Prospect and Hexham’s (Mercator’s) Atlas of 1636 – is indicative of doubt in its existence. Explorers of the area were also sceptical, but, in 1668, there came word that the island had been sighted by a New England sea captain, Zachariah Gillam, during his voyage to Hudson Bay in the ketch Nonsuch, who reported land between Iceland and Greenland. Then, on 22 August 1671, Captain Thomas Shepard of the Golden Lion (and a former mate on the Nonsuch), also on his way to Hudson Bay, claimed to have seen Buss, reporting that ‘the Island affords store of Whales, easie to be struck, Sea-horse, Seal and Codd in abundance’, and described the island’s topography as ‘low and level southward . . . hills and mountains on the northwest end’. This stirred up further interest, and plans were made for an expedition to explore Buss, with Shepard engaged to lead it, but the captain was discharged for ‘ill-behaviour’ before the voyage got underway and the mission was aborted.

      [image: image]

      Sir Martin Frobisher, c.1535–94.



  Also convinced of the existence of Buss was the royal hydrographer John Seller, who devoted an entire page in The English Pilot (1671) to charting the island, labelling its features with names such as Viner’s Point, Rupert’s Harbour, Shaftbury’s Harbour, Craven Point, Cape Hayes, Robinson’s Bay, Albermarle’s Point. One finds that no fewer than twelve of these labels derive from the names of the Directors in the Charter of Incorporation granted to the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), a newly formed company that, in May 1675, was granted rights of trade and commerce and ownership of the island in perpetuity by Charles II. All this preparation was made despite the fact that no one had yet set foot on the island. But it blossomed in the imagination – there was no time to waste, for who knew what kind of natural riches Buss could hold for the man to plant his flag first on its shores? For the sum of £65 the Company received ‘the sole trade and commerce of all the Seas Bayes Islettes Rivers Creekes and Sounds whatsoever lying within neare or about the said island . . . And all mynes Royall as well discovered as not discovered of Gold Silver Gemmes and Precious stones to bee found or discovered within the Island aforesaid.’ The HBC dispatched Shepard to Buss with an expeditionary party of two vessels to lay their claim, but unable to find the island they were forced to return empty-handed.

  By the eighteenth century, Buss was being treated with deep suspicion. It appeared on several North Atlantic charts, but with maritime traffic increasing in the region the island was conspicuously absent from sightings, and, in 1745, the Dutch cartographer Van Keulen suggested the island had disappeared under the water, with the note: ‘The submerged land of Buss is now nothing but surf, a quarter of a mile long, with a rough sea.’ The ‘Sunken Land of Buss’ was then marked on charts as a navigational hazard. This was confirmed in 1791, when Captain Charles Duncan was hired by the HBC to locate the land of Buss, but after a thorough search Duncan struck its death blow, reporting: ‘I strove as much as the winds would permit me to keep in the supposed latitude of the supposed Buss island, but it is my firm opinion that no such island is now above water, if ever it was.’

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      The very rare woodcut map from Luke Foxe’s NorthWest Foxe, or Fox from the Northwest Passage . . . (1635) showing Buss on the far right.




        46°27'S, 71°31'55W


        Also known as City of Patagonia, Ciudad de los Césares, Elelín, Lin Lin, Trapalanda, Trapananda, the Wandering City



  In 1764, there appeared a book, published anonymously, entitled An Account of the First Settlement, Laws, Form of Government, and Police, of the Cessares, A People of South America. The remarkable work consists of nine letters written by a J. Vander Neck of Salem, Patagonia, to Mr Vander See of Amsterdam between September 1618 and June 1620, describing a legendary race: the people of the ‘Lost City of Caesars’. In the preface, the author attempts to dispel any doubts as to the accuracy of the details within:

  How these Letters of Mr. VANDER NECK fell into my hands, it imports the public but little to know. Some of my readers may perhaps view the following account of the Cessares in much the same light with Sir T. MORE’S UTOPIA, rather as what a good man would wish a nation to be, than the true account of the state of one really existing. I shall leave, for an exercise of the Reader’s ingenuity, the determination of this point, after only mentioning, that if he pleases to consult Ovalle’s Account of Chili in the third volume of Churchill’s Collection of Voyages; Feuillée’s Observations on South America; and Martinière’s Dictionaire Géographique, he will find, that there is really a people called the Cessares, in a country near the high mountains, Cordilleras de los Andes, between Chili and Patagonia in South America, in the forty-third or forty-fourth degree of south latitude.

  Seven years after his death, the book was finally attributed to James Burgh, a Scottish educationalist and writer. The letters were completely invented by Burgh and fooled many at the time, in part because his fiction was inspired by a legend that had held a place in the public imagination for hundreds of years. The City of the Caesars was a legendary lost city, believed to be located on an island in the middle of an Andean lake in an area south of Valdivia in Chile, as well as other parts of Patagonia. Its reputation as a place of immense wealth made it a holy grail for treasure hunters, and inspired the same obsessive searching as El Dorado.

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      Bellin’s Carte reduite de la partie la plus Meridionale de l’Amerique (1750), showing the land of the Cezares, north of the ‘Pays de Patagons’.



  The myth can be traced back to the voyage of the Italian explorer Sebastian Cabot, who sailed through the Strait of Magellan, the passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans off the southern tip of South America, to reach the Mollucas, the spice-rich Indonesian archipelago. In 1528, however, inspired by rumours of a phenomenally wealthy hidden civilization, Cabot sent one of his captains, Francisco César, to lead an expedition party into the deep darkness that was the uncharted South American interior. The party was split into three columns for greater coverage, and entered into the thick jungle – two were never heard from again, most likely because they intruded upon territory of hostile native tribes. César led his group in a northwesterly direction on a three-month journey that covered more than 930 miles (1500km). His official report of the trek is lost; the record we have comes from a Spaniard who passed on the details to an early historian of the River Plate, claiming to have met César in Peru. Likely a story concocted in this Spaniard’s imagination, César was said to have returned to base laden with gold, silver and exotic fabrics, with wild tales of a fabulously wealthy hidden city. If this was indeed the case, then the most likely explanation is that the men stumbled across an outpost of the Incan Empire, although it seems strange that, instead of launching a second expedition to the city, Cabot chose to return to Spain. Regardless, the legend of the City of the Caesars had been brought into being, and caused great public excitement when the story emerged during Cabot’s trial in Seville (for diverting from his mission) that his men had seen ‘great riches of gold, silver and precious stones’, though they were unable to give an exact location.

  The intrigue of the Césares was lent especial vibrancy by the frequent disappearances of men of various expeditions in the perilous region throughout the sixteenth century: Simon de Alcazaba’s voyage, in 1534, saw a large proportion of the Portuguese expedition abandoned in southern Patagonia; and, in 1540, the 150 men aboard the bishop of Plasencia’s flagship were left stranded in the Strait, never to be seen again. One particular report from the Plasencia mission, told to the viceroy of Peru by Cristobal Hernandez and now considered apocryphal, described cities lining a lake 70 leagues (340km) from Córdoba, and of two Spanish survivors who were welcomed into the fold of an Indian tribe, with whom they lived before moving, in 1567, to a fertile land to build a city. It was claimed that these men were the founders of the City of the Césares. The viceroy was won over by the tale and wrote to the king of Spain to request that priests be sent to the area. The search for the city and the lost Spaniards drove several futile expeditions throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the last of which was sent by the governor of Chile in 1791. By the mid-nineteenth century, few were left believing in the city’s existence, although, like all great legends, its golden lure was sufficient to prevent conclusive dismissal for a good while longer.


  Only two known copies exist of Olaus Magnus’s hugely imaginative and influential map of Scandinavia, printed in 1539 on nine panels and measuring a total of 49 × 67in (125 × 170cm). The Carta Marina is a wonder to behold, its waters teeming with beautiful grotesques – some posing as islands, some shattering ships and some carrying off sailors. To engineer his monstrous aquarium, Olaus took his information from mariners’ accounts, medieval bestiaries (such as the Hortus Sanitatis of 1485) and popular folklore; and he usefully accompanied each vignette with labels and an elaborative key. Even more helpful was his Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (‘A Description of the Northern peoples’) printed in Rome in 1555, in which books 21 and 22 provide commentaries on the monsters. Despite the fanciful nature of some of the depictions, Olaus had scientific intentions in presenting an accurate gallery of marine biology – indeed, some of these creatures are recognizable distortions of real animals, while others are purely mythical; but all give an insight into the beliefs and fears that existed in the imagination of the sixteenth-century sailor.


  ‘The benevolence of the fishes called Rockas in Gothic and Raya in Italian: They protect the swimming man and save him from being devoured by sea monsters.’

    [image: image]


  In his Historia, Olaus compares the kindly Rockas, or ray, to the tale told by the German scientist and philosopher Albertus Magnus (c.1200), who writes of helpful dolphins that carry swimmers to shore, although he also mentions that, if they suspect the man has ever dined on dolphin flesh, they eat him. Sebastian Münster changes little of the ray in his art, whereas Ortelius gives it the Dutch name ‘Skautuhvalur’, and jettisons its kindly nature, describing it as: ‘completely covered in bristles or bones. It is somewhat like a shark or skate, but infinitely bigger. When it appears, it is like an island, and with its fins it overturns boats and ships.’

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      A later depiction of the great sea serpent, from The Natural History of Norway by Erich Pontoppidan, 1755.




  ‘A sea snake, 30 or 40 feet long.’

  The coasts of Norway were home to this monster, a blue and grey worm, longer than 40 cubits (about 60ft/18m – 20ft/6m longer than the description in the key to his map), yet as slim as a child’s arm. ‘He goes forward in the Sea like a Line, that he can hardly be perceived how he goes; he hurts no man, unless he be crushed in a mans hand: for by the touch of his most tender Skin, the fingers of one that toucheth him will swell.’ The animal – which sounds very much like an exaggerated eel – had a natural enemy in the crab, the strong pincers of which it could not escape. ‘I oft saw this Worm’, wrote Olaus, ‘but touched it not, being fore-warned by the Marriners.’

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      [image: image]

      Olaus Magnus’s Carta marina et description septemtrionalium terrarum ac mirabilium (Nautical Chart and Description of the Northern Lands and Wonders) (1527–39).




  ‘Ducks being hatched from the fruit of trees.’

  This mythical plant, said to sprout baby birds, seemed to explain the breeding of ducks, a mysterious affair for it was conducted when the birds flew south. Of the Sollendae ducks, often seen near Glegorn, Scotland, Olaus writes: ‘Moreover, [a] Scotch Historian, who diligently sets down the secret of things, saith that in the Orcades [Orkney Isles], Ducks breed of a certain Fruit falling into the Sea; and these shortly after get wings, and fly to the tame or wild Ducks.’ This is a variation on the ‘barnacle goose tree’ myth, of which the archdeacon and historian Gerald of Wales wrote in the twelfth century:

    [image: image]


  Enclosed in shells of a free form they hang by their beaks as if from the moss clinging to the wood and so at length in process of time obtaining a sure covering of feathers, they either dive off into the waters or fly away into free air . . . I have myself seen many times with my own eyes more than a thousand minute corpuscles of this kind of bird hanging to one log on the shore of the sea, enclosed in shells and already formed . . . Wherefore in certain parts of Ireland bishops and religious men in times of fast are used to eat these birds as not flesh nor being born of the flesh.

      [image: image]

      Barnacle Geese growing on a tree, depicted on a medieval manuscript.




  ‘A Polypus, or creature with many feet, which has a pipe on his back.’

  This giant lobster viciously preyed on mariners and swimmers ‘with his Legs as it were by hollow places, dispersed here and there, and by his Toothed Nippers, he fastneth on every living creature that comes near to him, that wants blood. Whatever he eats, he heaps up in the holes where he resides: Then he casts out the Skins, having eaten the flesh, and hunts after fishes that swim to them.’ The Polypus could change his colour to blend in with his environment, something he did to escape his most feared enemy, the conger eel.

    [image: image]



  ‘A whale, a very great fish, and the Orca, which is smaller, his deadly enemy.’

  A Whale is a very great fish about one hundred or three hundred foot long, and the body is a vast magnitude; yet the Orca, which is smaller in quantity, but more nimble to assault, and cruel to come on, is his deadly Enemy. An Orca is like a Hull turned inside outward; a Beast with fierce Teeth, with which, as with the Stern of a Ship, he rends the Whales Guts, and tears his Calves body, or he quickly runs and drives him up and down with his prickly back, that he makes him run to the Fords, and Shores.

  The whales can be seen here by the island of Tile, thought to be Thule (see Thule entry here).

    [image: image]



  ‘A sea monster similar to a pig.’

  Now I shall revive the memory of that monstrous Hog that was found afterwards, Anno 1537, in the same German Ocean, and it was a Monster in every part of it. For it had a Hogs head, and a quarter of a Circle, like the Moon, in the hinder part of its head, four feet like a Dragons, two eyes on both sides of his Loyns, and a third in his belly inkling toward his Navel; behind he had a Forked-Tail, like to other Fish commonly.

  Like several of Olaus’s depictions, the Sea Pig derives from the observations of Pliny, who described a ‘pig-fish’ that grunted when it was caught. Most likely, what is being described here, fantastically, is the walrus.

    [image: image]



  The basis here is, of course, the narwhal, the large tusks of which were often found washed up on beaches. ‘The Unicorn is a Sea-Beast, having in his Fore-head a very great Horn, wherewith he can penetrate and destroy the ships in his way, and drown multitudes of men. But divine goodnesse hath provided for the safety of Marriners herein; for though he be a very fierce Creature, yet is he very slow, that such as fear his coming may fly from him.’

    [image: image]



  ‘The Whirlpool, or Prister, a kind of whale whose floods of waters sink the strongest ships.’

  The species of whale is unidentified, but the description of spouting appears similar to the Balena:

    [image: image]


  The Whirlpool, or Prister, is of the kind Whales, two hundred Cubits long, and is very cruel. For to the danger of Sea-men, he will sometimes raise himself beyond the Sail-yards, and casts such floods of Waters above his head, which he had sucked in, that with a Cloud of them, he will often sink the strongest ships, or expose the Marriners to extream danger. This Beast hath also a long and large round mouth, like a Lamprey, whereby he sucks in his meat or water, and by his weight cast upon the Fore or Hinder-Deck, he sinks and drowns a ship.

    [image: image]


  Olaus advises scaring it away with a ‘Trumpet of War’, as it can’t bear the sharp noise. Failing this, he says, cannons should do the trick.

    [image: image]



  ‘The terrible sea monster Ziphius devouring a seal.’

  Though its name comes from xiphias, the Greek word for sword, this creature is completely separate to what we know as a swordfish. The blade of this owl-faced monster appears to be the sharp dorsal fin on its back:

  Because this Beast is conversant in the Northern Waters, it is deservedly to be joined with other monstrous Creatures. The Swordfish is like no other but in something it is like a Whale. He hath as ugly a head as an Owl: His mouth is wondrous deep, as a vast pit, whereby he terrifies and drives away those that look into it. His Eyes are horrible, his Back Wedge-fashion, or elevated like a sword; his snout is pointed. These often enter upon the Northern Coasts, as Thieves, and hurtful Guests, that are always doing mischief to ships they meet, by boaring holes in them, and sinking them . . .

    [image: image]



  Along with descriptions of the Sea-mouse, the Sea-hare and the Sea-horse are provided details of the Sea-cow, drawn identically to the land animal: ‘The Sea-Cow is a huge Monster, strong, angry, and injurious; she brings forth a young one like to her self; yet not above two, but one often, which she loves very much, and leads it about carefully with her, whither soever she swims to Sea, or goes on Lands . . . Lastly, this Creature is known to have lived 130 years, by cutting off her tail.’

    [image: image]



  Olaus only makes reference to this spotted creature in the key to his map, which states: ‘A monster looking like a rhinoceros devours a lobster which is 12 feet long.’ With such scant information, it has been suggested that this could well be the cartographer succumbing to a bout of Horror vacui, and filling a space with something of his own creation.

    [image: image]



  ‘Seamen who anchor on the back of the monsters in belief that they are islands often expose themselves to mortal danger.’

  Olaus’s whale has a substance on its skin similar to seaside gravel, and so, when it raises its back above the waters, sailors are tricked into thinking the mound is an island. When they reach it, they climb its ‘shore’, drive piles into the surface to which they attach their ships and then kindle fires to cook their meat. The whale, feeling the fire, immediately dives down to the bottom, and all on his back, unless they can save themselves by ropes thrown from the ship, are drowned.

    [image: image]


  Whales of such size that they are mistaken for islands and mountains are quite common in early literature, from Sinbad’s first voyage in the Arabian Nights, to the fourth-century Physiologus (thought to be the source of Olaus’s inspiration here), in which sailors cast their anchor into a giant ‘Aspidoceleon’. In this account, though, the monster is a tool of religious symbolism – the beast is Satan, and readers are warned that: ‘if you fix and bind yourself to the hope of the devil, he will plunge you along with himself into the hell-fire.’ (See also St Brendan’s Island entry here.)

      [image: image]

      Olaus’s sea creatures had significant influence over later works of other cartographers, including this famous map of Iceland by Ortelius from 1590.




  ‘A worm 200ft (60m) long wrapping itself around a big ship and destroying it.’

  There is a Serpent which is of a vast magnitude, namely 200 foot long, and more – over 20 feet thick; and is wont to live in Rocks and Caves toward the Sea-Coast about Berge . . . He hath commonly hair hanging from his neck a Cubit long, and sharp Scales, and is black, and he hath flaming shining eyes. This Snake disquiets the Shippers, and he puts up his head on high like a pillar, and catcheth away men, and he devours them; and this hapneth not but it signifies some wonderful change of the Kingdom near at hand; namely that the Princes shall die, or be banished; or Tumultuous Wars shall presently follow.

  This is the first written account of the sea orm, or Norway serpent. Perhaps, it is influenced by the story of Jörmungandr (‘Great Beast’), a ‘Midgard Serpent’ from Norse mythology, that grew so large in the depths of the ocean that it eventually wrapped itself around the world.

    [image: image]



  ‘Several horrendous whirlpools in the sea.’

  ‘Here is the horror Caribdis’ reads the label on the map accompanying this monster, an ancient myth famously featured in The Odyssey, Jason and the Argonauts and Aristotle’s Meteorologica. Here Olaus draws a ship caught in the terrible whirlpool, and writes:

  Wherefore those that would sail thither from the Coasts of Germany hire the most experienced Marriners and Pilots, who have learned by long Experience, how by steering obliquely, and directing their course . . . they may not fall into the Gulph . . . Also the Sea there, within the hollow Cave, is blown in when the Flood comes, and when it ebbs, it is blown out, with as great force as any Torrents or swift Floods are carryed. This Sea, it is said, is sailed in with great danger, because such who sail in an ill time are suddenly sucked into the Whirlpools that run around.

    [image: image]



  30°00'N, 115°10'W

  European explorers dreamed of the Californian utopia before any had stepped foot on its shores or even confirmed its geography. The fantasy can be traced to a popular Spanish novel published in 1510 by García Ordóñez de Montalvo, called Las Sergas de Esplandián, in which the author writes:

  Know that to the right of the Indies there is an island called California very close to the side of the Earthly Paradise; and its inhabitants were black women, without a single man, for they lived in the manner of the Amazons. They were beautiful and their bodies robust, with fiery courage and great strength. Their island is the most formidable in the world, with its steep cliffs and stony shores. Their weapons are all made of gold, as are the harnesses they use to tame their wild beasts, because there is no other metal on the island other than gold.

      [image: image]

      La Californie ou Nouvelle Caroline . . . by Nicholas de Fer (1720) shows one of the largest and finest depictions of the island of California ever produced.



      [image: image]

      Robert de Vaugondy engraved this in 1770 for the Denis Diderot Encyclopedie, illustrating the various confused states of the island of California.



  The myth drove Hernán Cortés, the Spanish conquistador who brought about the fall of the Aztec Empire, to send expeditions to find the Amazonian island: in 1533, a party led by his cousin Diego de Becerra and Fortun Ximenez landed on the southern tip of Baja California peninsula, believing it to be surrounded by sea on all sides. Their report reached Cortés, who sent further explorations: Francisco de Ulloa tracked the coast northward until, reaching the Colorado river, he discovered the island to be a peninsula; this was then confirmed by the navigator Hernando de Alarcón.

  Soon, California began to appear on maps, making its debut on a 1541 drawing by Domingo del Castillo, shown correctly as part of the mainland. Then, in 1562, it appeared on a printed map for the first time as part of Diego Gutiérrez’s portrayal of the New World. Mercator and Ortelius reproduced it on their works, and for sixty years the Californian peninsula enjoyed accurate representation.

      [image: image]

      Johannes Vingboon’s Map of California as an Island, c.1650.



  But then something strange happened – California was redrawn as an island. The first to render its newly divorced state was Michiel Colijn of Amsterdam, on the title page of Descriptio Indiae Occidentalis in 1622. The island misconception was then reproduced as a matter of course for decades: by Abraham Goos in 1624; by John Speed in 1627; by Henry Briggs in 1625; and Richard Seale in 1650. In fact, 249 maps showing California Island (not including world maps) were identified by the historians Glen McLughlin and Nancy H. Mayo in 1995. For the entire seventeenth century, and for most of the eighteenth, cartographers wrenched California free from the American continent and set it adrift in the Pacific Ocean.

  The mythical reinvention is thought to have originated from the 1602 voyage of Sebastian Vizcaino up the Californian coast, an account of which was written twenty years later by the Carmelite friar Antonio de la Ascensión, who had been on board Vizcaino’s ship. In this journal, Ascensión describes California as being separated from the mainland by the ‘mediterranean Sea of California’. His descriptions were mapped and issued to Spain, but the vessel carrying the records was hijacked by the Dutch, and the misinformation was accepted and adopted by their publishers.

      [image: image]

      Island of California shown on a map by Nicolas Sanson.



  Major cartographers such as Willem Blaeu and Herman Moll fell for the blunder, and lent it credence with their own reproductions. It wasn’t until 1706 that doubt began to be cast. The Jesuit friar Eusebio Kino, who was initially a believer in the island notion, made a series of journeys from Sonora to the Colorado river delta. His realization that it was connected to the mainland is reflected in the map accompanying his personal accounts. Further confirmations were made, and eventually Ferdinand VI of Spain was moved to issue an official decree in 1747, declaring: ‘California is not an island.’ The reports of Juan Bautista de Anza, from his 1774 travels between Sonora and the west coast of California, effectively reattached the island to the mainland, although, strangely, it makes one curious, much later appearance on a Japanese map by Shuzo Sato in 1865.

  [image: ] CASSITERIDES

        50°19'N, 8°13'W


        Also known as the Tin Islands; the Cassiterida



      [image: image]

      Nicholas Sanson’s 1694 map of Great Britain, showing the Cassiterides isles off the southwest coast.



  To the Ancient Greeks the Cassiterides, or ‘Tin Islands’, were the mysterious source of their tin and lead, a collection of islands located somewhere deep in murky western Europe, their specific position a jealously guarded secret of the Phoenicians, who dominated the metal trade at the time.

  Herodotus makes mention of them but admits no knowledge of their position; while Diodorus describes them as islands of tin ‘lying in the ocean over against Iberia’. Strabo (64/63 BC–AD c. 24) provides a few further details, describing them in Geographica (3.5.11) as being ten in number, and grouped north of the haven of the Artabri (a tribe living in Galicia in northwest Spain). One of the islands is a desert, he states, but the others are inhabited by men in black cloaks reaching down to their feet and fastened at the chest, who walk with staves and resemble the Furies from tragic representations. These islanders live off their cattle, and for the most part lead a wandering life. ‘Of the metals they have tin and lead; which with skins they barter with the merchants for earthenware, salt, and brazen vessels.’

  It is also Strabo who describes Rome’s encroachment on the Phoenician trade, mentioning an incident in which the Romans attempted subtly to follow a certain shipmaster in order to discover the source of his goods. On noticing the pursuing ship, the captain deliberately ran his vessel upon a shoal, leading the Romans to do the same with disastrous results. The shipmaster, however, escaped by floating away on a fragment of his vessel, and received from the state the value of the cargo he had lost.

  There have been many theories as to the true identity of the Cassiterides, including: the Cornwall region of Great Britain, the Scilly Isles off the southwest coast of Britain and the British Isles as a whole – as well as Spain and its surrounding islands. Tin-rich Britain is certainly more likely than Spain – a conclusion clearly shared by the French cartographer Nicolas Sanson, who, on the map opposite, depicts the British Isles in the time of the Roman Empire and makes a rare inclusion of the Cassiterides, which appear to be a slightly relocated Scilly Isles. This interpretation of the classical sources as drawn by Sanson was certainly popular, but it is Roger Dion’s proposal in Le problème des Cassitérides (1952) that has been suggested as most likely. He describes the former existence of a number of islands off France’s west coast in a wide gulf beyond the Bay of Biscay, before it silted up, where now one finds the marshes of the Brière, between Paimboeuf and St Nazaire. This would also seem to work with Strabo’s description of the Cassiterides being ten islands in the sea, north of the land of the Artabri in northwest Spain.

  [image: ] CROCKER LAND

  83°00'N, 100°00'W

  In 1906 the American explorer Commander Robert Edwin Peary was making a bid to be the first to reach the North Pole, driving his dogsled relentlessly through biting winds across the rough terrain of the frozen Arctic Ocean. Standing on the northwest summit of Cape Thomas Hubbard, he paused to brush the ice from his eyes and glimpsed an enormous mass of land glittering in the distance. ‘My heart leaped the intervening miles of ice as I looked longingly at this land’, he wrote later in Nearest the Pole (1907), ‘and in fancy, I trod its shores and climbed its summits.’ He named it Crocker Land, in honour of the San Francisco banker George Crocker, who had contributed $50,000 to Peary’s expedition, and built a stone cairn on the spot, leaving inside a written account of his visit. By Peary’s estimation, the land was approximately 130 miles (210km) from the cape at roughly the coordinates given above. However, there is no such island, or indeed any other land formation in that region. Possibly Peary was tricked by a looming type of mirage, but, damningly, in his original diary there is no mention of sighting Crocker Land – in fact, the entry of 24 June 1906 reads: ‘No land sighted’. From this, it seems he inserted the discovery later in his journal out of design to flatter Crocker and secure funding for his next attempt to reach the North Pole.

      [image: image]

      Map of the Crocker Land expedition from the New York Tribune, 11 May 1913.



      [image: image]

      The San Francisco Call painted this scene for its readers on 27 July 1913.



  That expedition was launched in 1908 and, as mentioned in the story of Bradley Land (see relevant entry here), involved Peary becoming entangled in a furious argument with Frederick Cook as to who was the rightful discoverer of the pole. As it turned out, the existence of Crocker Land became a key issue in the Peary–Cook debate – for, in his account, Cook claimed to have passed through the coordinates given by Peary for Crocker Land and found that no such place existed. Those backing Peary’s claim, therefore, determined to find the land mass and prove Cook to be a liar once and for all.

      [image: image]

      Robert Peary in furs, 1907.



  The American explorer and Peary’s former lieutenant Donald MacMillan organized the expedition. MacMillan had started his career as a high school teacher, leading a seamanship and navigation summer camp. During one season he saved nine people from wrecked boats, a story that came to the attention of Peary, who invited him to join his 1905 effort to reach the North Pole during which their friendship was forged. For the mission to defend Peary’s honour, MacMillan secured funding from the American Museum of Natural History (which raised the modern equivalent of 1 million dollars from industrialist backers for the mission), the American Geographical Society and the University of Illinois. A large number of donors were members of the Peary Arctic Club of New York. He also enlisted a small team of academic experts to accompany him. Serving as guide and translator was Minik Wallace, one of six Inuit whom Peary had brought home with him from his Arctic voyage in 1897.* Describing the Crocker Land question as ‘the world’s last geographical problem’, MacMillan announced the mission to the world at a press conference in 1913:

      [image: image]


    Donald MacMillan, c.1910.


  In June 1906, Commander Peary, from the summit of Cape Thomas Hubbard, at about latitude 83 degrees N, longitude 100 degrees W, reported seeing land glimmering in the northwest, approximately 130 miles [210km] away across the Polar Sea. He did not go there, but he gave it a name in honor of the late George Crocker of the Peary Arctic Club. That is Crocker Land. Its boundaries and extent can only be guessed at, but I am certain that strange animals will be found there, and I hope to discover a new race of men.

  On 2 July 1913, the men departed from the Brooklyn naval yard aboard a steamer bound for Greenland. Ill fortune struck the expedition two weeks into the voyage: the steamer’s captain got drunk and steered the ship into an iceberg, wrecking the vessel. The explorers eventually transferred to another ship named the Erik, and continued on their way, landing at north Greenland in August.

      [image: image]

      Minik Wallace in New York in 1897. He was brought to America with his father and other Inuit by Robert Peary, to be studied by staff of the American Museum of Natural History, which had custody. After his father died, museum staff tricked Minik into thinking they had given his father a proper burial – instead they put his skeleton on display to the public.



  After making the necessary preparations, on 11 March 1914 the team of MacMillan, a fresh-faced 25-year-old Navy ensign named Fitzhugh Green, biologist Walter Ekblaw, seven Inuit (who were paid with rifles and biscuits) and their 125 sled-dogs embarked on the 1200-mile (1930km) trek across the polar ice to find Crocker Land, fighting through fierce storms and temperatures that plummeted below -22°F (-30°C). The party eventually reached the Beitstadt Glacier, and spent three days scaling its 4700ft (1433m). The temperature dropped further: Ekblaw suffered extreme frostbite and was taken back to the base camp by several of the Inuit guides. As MacMillan doggedly pushed on, other members of the team abandoned the mission, until finally by 11 April only he, Green and the Inuits Piugaattoq and Ittukusuk were left. Together they crossed the frozen Arctic Ocean on sleds, until on 21 April MacMillan cried out that he could see Crocker Land. ‘There could be no doubt about it,’ he wrote later in his memoir. ‘Great Heavens! What a land! Hills, valleys, snowcapped peaks extending through at least one hundred and twenty degrees of the horizon.’

  Their experienced guide Piugaattoq calmly explained to the American that what he was seeing was, in fact, a common mirage called ‘poo-jok’, meaning mist. MacMillan ignored the native – he had found proof of his friend’s claim! – and gave the order to continue over the treacherous, breaking ice. For five days more the men chased the band-shaped mirage (now thought to be a Fata Morgana), until MacMillan was forced to admit that they were pursuing an illusion. He wrote:

  The day was exceptionally clear, not a cloud or trace of mist; if land could be seen, now was our time. Yes, there it was! It could even be seen without a glass, extending from southwest true to northeast. Our powerful glasses, however . . . brought out more clearly the dark background in contrast with the white, the whole resembling hills, valleys and snowcapped peaks to such a degree that, had we not been out on the frozen sea for 150 miles, we would have staked our lives upon its reality. Our judgment then as now, is that this was a mirage or loom of the sea ice.

  The men turned and headed for land. Concerned that the changing weather would isolate them from their camp, MacMillan ordered Green to take Piugaattoq and search for an alternative route to the west. As the two set off, the weather descended and forced the men to take shelter in a snow cave. For the young and inexperienced Green, the situation was terrifying. As the storm claimed one of their dog teams the cabin pressure intensified. An argument broke out, and in a fit of pique Green took a rifle from the sled and murdered Piugaattoq, shooting him in the back for, he said, failing to follow orders.

  When Green rejoined MacMillan and the others on 4 May, he confessed what had happened, but asked that the Inuit be told that Piugaattoq had been killed by the storm. Green was never prosecuted for the murder, even though it was suspected that there was an ulterior motive to the crime, for it was rumoured that he had developed a sexual relationship with Piugaattoq’s wife (who had also borne two children to Peary).

  Due to adverse conditions, the expedition was then stranded in northern Greenland for a further three years until its members were finally able to return to America with abundant anthropological research, furs, photographs, specimens and blood on Green’s hands – though nothing to support the existence of Peary’s Crocker Land. Ekblaw described the episode as ‘one of the darkest and most deplorable tragedies in the annals of Arctic exploration’.


  * As well as returning with several Inuit, Peary also stole two giant iron meteorites (‘the Woman’ and ‘the Dog’) from the Inuit, who used the rocks to make their tools. The rocks are today housed in the American Museum of Natural History.


  74°22'N, 94°02'W

  In the early nineteenth century, the confusion caused by an illusory mountain range spotted off the eastern coast of Greenland led to acrimonious debate, the public ridicule of a respected British naval officer, and a serious delay in uncovering the Northwest Passage.

  In 1818, three years had passed since the Napoleonic Wars and the British fleet lay idle in dock. This offered a chance to pursue non-martial preoccupations. Reports were coming in from whalers that the ice packs to the east of Greenland were breaking up at an unprecedented rate, and so, under Sir John Barrow, Second Secretary to the Admiralty, efforts were renewed to hunt for a long-sought trade route through the Arctic to Asia. The command of the first expedition was handed to 41-year-old John Ross, a capable Scot who had joined the British Navy aged nine as an apprentice, and spent the following thirty-two years developing an illustrious naval career, including a captaincy in the Swedish Navy.

      [image: image]

      A chart of the track of Ross’s expedition, taken from his A Voyage of Discovery (1818). Croker’s Mountains are drawn on the far west side, apparently walling up Lancaster Sound.



      [image: image]

      John Ross’s sketch of his expedition’s passage through the ice in June 1818.



  In April 1818, Ross and his crew sailed the flagship Isabella down the Thames to the cheers of crowds, and set off to find the passage. Following close behind in the consort Alexander was his second-in-command, Lieutenant William Edward Parry, thirteen years his junior but an expert in Arctic climates from his experiences of the previous few years guarding the whale fisheries of Spitsbergen (now known as the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard).

  After a brief stop in the Shetland Islands, the men sailed on for Greenland. The first leg of the voyage was relatively uneventful: previous discoveries were reconfirmed, and various scientific measurements of tides, ice and magnetism were taken. Ironically, considering what was to come, Ross and his crew even disproved the existence of the sunken land of Buss, passing directly over its location (see Buss Island entry here).

  The Isabella and the Alexander then reached Baffin Bay off Greenland’s southwest coast. They circled in an anticlockwise direction, methodically corroborating observations made of the area by William Baffin two hundred years earlier, and made contact with tribes of Inuit along the northwest coast (referred to by Ross as ‘Arctic Highlanders’). On 30 August, they reached, and entered, the inlet that Baffin had named Lancaster Sound. As they sailed between Devon Island and Baffin Island their excitement grew, for it seemed as though they had discovered a gateway to the Northwest Passage (which, indeed, they had). This was swiftly dashed when, after several miles of easterly sailing, Ross observed there to be a mountain range ahead that apparently sealed off Lancaster Sound as a bay. This range, which he named ‘Croker’s Mountains’ after John Wilson Croker, the First Secretary of the admiralty, would obstruct any further progress. His officers were baffled: they insisted there was no such mountain range ahead, that what he was seeing was a mirage – they must sail on! To their utter frustration, Ross stubbornly ignored both the protests of his men and the weight of responsibility to push forward and find the passage, and made the extraordinary decision to turn the ship around and abandon the mission: ‘To describe our mortification and disappointment’, wrote the outraged purser aboard the Alexander, ‘would be impossible at thus having our increasing hopes annihilated in a moment, without the shadow of a reason appearing.’

      [image: image]

      Ross’s sketch of Croker’s Mountains.



  There is, indeed, no such mountain range at the position of Croker’s Mountains. In his published account of the expedition, A Voyage of Discovery . . . (1818) which was written hastily upon his return to defend himself from the fierce criticism, John Ross describes the sighting:

  I distinctly saw the land, round the bottom of the bay, forming a connected chain of mountains with those which extended along the north and south sides. This land appeared to be at the distance of eight leagues; and Mr. Lewis, the master, and James Haig, leading man, being sent for, they took its bearings, which were inserted in the log; the water on the surface was at temperature of 34. At this moment I also saw a continuity of ice, at the distance of seven miles, extending from one side of the bay to the other, between the nearest cape to the north, which I named after Sir George Warrender, and that to the south, which was named after Viscount Castlereagh. The mountains, which occupied the centre, in a north and south direction, were named Croker’s Mountains, after the Secretary to the Admiralty. The southwest corner, which formed a spacious bay, completely occupied by ice, was named Barrow’s Bay . . .

  Ross even included an exculpatory sketch of the mountains he saw.

  On their return to England, Ross’s officers continued furiously to contest his mountain sighting. Most vehement was William Parry, who was certain Lancaster Sound was a strait (and who was later given command of HMS Hecla for his own – more successful – expedition in 1819). In particular, Ross came under especially harsh criticism from Sir John Barrow, who later commented on Ross’s first expedition with an acidic entry in his own book Voyages of Discovery and Research within the Arctic Regions, from the Year 1818 to the Present Time (1846):

  Among the little irregularities of Commander Ross, it can not escape notice that he addresses all his letters and orders issued during the voyage, and unnecessarily printed in his book, as from John Ross, captain of the Isabella. His promotion to that rank on his return was easily acquired, being obtained by a few months’ voyage of pleasure round the shores of Davis’s Strait and Baffin’s Bay, which had been performed centuries ago, and somewhat better, in little ships of thirty to fifty tons. It is a voyage which any two of the Yacht Club would easily accomplish in five months.

  Ross was pilloried for his apparent stupidity – or worse – cowardice. In a bid to salvage his reputation, he launched a second Arctic expedition in 1829. Out of necessity it was privately funded, underwritten by the London gin magnate Felix Booth, who contributed £17,000 to the £3,000 that Ross himself put up. (Accordingly, when Ross and his men discovered a new peninsula in the northern Canadian Arctic at 70°26'N, 94°24'W, they named it ‘Boothia Felix’.) In contrast to the relatively easy tour of his first voyage, this second expedition was fraught with problems. Ross and his men had to dump their experimental boiler engine overboard and press on by sail alone, and they ended up trapped for four frozen winters in the region as their captain searched relentlessly, and in vain, for the vindication of finding a passage through the ice-packed landscape.

  [image: ] DAVIS LAND

  27°12'S, 91°22'W

  Today, the term ‘buccaneer’ is generally interchangeable for pirate, but in the seventeenth century it was a specific label for the men who attacked and plundered Spanish shipping and settlements in the Caribbean and along the Pacific South American coastline.* The buccaneers operated with a remarkable impunity, for they were regarded by English authorities as an unofficial extension of anti-Spanish operations, and were granted ‘letters of marque’, which authorized them to capture enemy ships and bring them home for sale.

      [image: image]

      J. B. Nolin illustrated Dampier’s ‘long tract of pretty high land’ on his map of L’Amérique (1760), with a French annotation that translates as ‘land discovered by David Anglois in 1685, that he took for part of Terres Australes’.



  The shift in tactics from sacking ships to launching mainland assaults was marked in 1654 by th