Magazine

Looking for another World

There were stories of incredible riches in the deep south in the Bible (Kings III) In the 6th Century BC, Pythagoros talked about the Earth being round: Eratosthenes (276-194 BC) determined its circumference incredibly precisely defining it as 39,375 km, when it fact it measures 40,075 km. The globe was thus drawn up with the hot zones, polar caps and the temperate areas. This meant that the planet could be explored by going across land and sea, which led to the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus, and the voyage around Africa to India by Vasco de Gama. But there was also the idea that there must be a counterbalance in the south, the equivalent to the Arctic.

A merchant from Honfleur, Binot Paulmier de Gonneville saw that in Lisbon, riches could be seen because of the trade route opened by Bartholomew Diaz. Was this also the route to the Southern lands that Aristotle talked about? In 1503, the merchant from Normandy sailed L’espoir to find his fortune, but his navigator died when they were approaching the Southern Ocean and they faced a huge storm. He finally ended up discovering a land with natives welcoming him enthusiastically…

From the Indies of the South, he set off again for Europe with the son of King Arosca and lost all his riches, when attacked by pirates in the English Channel. Gonneville had in fact reached Brazil, but his reports led others to attempt to find new lands. The map school in Dieppe contributed to chartering this southern area, Great Java, and the German cartographer, Johann Schonër decided it must be a continent in 1520. It looked like Antarctica, except he thought there were trees there…

Half a Century later, the historian La Popelinière encouraged the French to explore these latitudes, believing that there must be riches down there. But it was not until 1738 that the Breton, Jean-Baptiste Bouvet de Lozier convinced the Lorient India Company to look for these southern lands. Aboard L’Aigle, he encountered icebergs, fog and storms and on 1st January 1739 noticed some high ground that had been hidden by the fog. After trying for twelve days, Bouvet was unable to go ashore near a cape he named Circoncision. At 54° S and 3° W, Bouvet island with its surface area of only just 10 sq.km with an 800m high glacier (now Norwegian territory), was one of the first islands in the Southern Ocean to be discovered. In fact the Portuguese already knew Desolation Island…

In 1500, the Portuguese fleet got caught in a violent storm off Tristan da Cunha: Bartholemew Diaz died without rounding again the cape that was to become the Cape of Good Hope that he had identified in 1488… Six years later, Tristão da Cunha commanding a fleet of 15 vessels came across some land by chance further south: Gonçalo Álvares had just spotted Gough Island.  To the west of South Africa, these desolate islands are part of the Nightingale and Inaccessible group in Tristan da Cunha.

Eruptions and explosions

Only Tristan da Cunha had been inhabited since 1810 when Jonathan Lambert and two Americans tried to grow vegetable and wheat there and breed pigs, while selling fresh water and wood to the Portuguese whaling ships. Great Britain took possession in 1814 in order to set up a stopover point for merchant vessels. But the garrison was only operational for three years. William Glass, his wife, two children and 5 bachelors colonised the 207 sq.km island with its 2062 m high peak, Queen Mary’s Peak. The Americans carried out nuclear test in the area in 1958 (operation Argus) and another test (Israeli?) was said to have taken place a few years ago in the area…

The constitution of Tristan da Cunha only has one article: “No one here will be above another.” But the quiet life of the 246 inhabitants was shattered in 1961 with a volcanic eruption followed by a string of quakes. After spending time in Britain, the inhabitants did not manage to adapt and returned to their island two years later led by Willie Repetto. In 2006 a 6000 tonne oil rig ran aground here, when it was being towed between Brazil and Taiwan.

 

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