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  • That Was Genius Team

Episode 72 - The Glorious Losers Marching Band (Lost Lands Week)

Tom's Notes; Phantom Islands

An awesome suggestion; there is plenty for us to work with and it’s a really fun topic where history merges into adventure, fantasy and myth.

I’ve been looking at Phantom Islands which are islands that at some point in history were thought to exist, but it turns out, they either didn’t or they did exist and they disappeared. There are lots of Phantom Islands that date from the period of European exploration; so late Middle Ages and Early Modern Period. And of course this is because Europeans were documenting their travels into new corners of the globe (or at least new for Europeans).

Often these travellers would whizz past a place in their ship, not have enough time to stop off and take a good look, and report back inaccurate information that was later proven incorrect. A good example of this would be Banks Peninsular that lies the south of Christchurch in New Zealand; I’ve driven, cycled and walked around this area of the world on many occasion. When Captain Cook first sailed past this extinct volcano in the late 18th century, he assumed it was an island.

Many sighting on islands in far flung places may have been accurate, but after being sighted, these islands may have been destroyed by volcanic eruptions or other tectonic activity. In 1578, Francis Drake named an island off the tip of South America as Elizabeth Island on his circumnavigation of the globe. Drake’s ship was the third to achieve this and he was the first man to achieve the circumnavigation the whole way as captain. Anyway, Drake spent a few days on Elizabeth Island collecting supplies (wood etc. not from the local 7/11; I’d like lots of mentos please!). The island was never seen again and it has been suggested that this Island was later destroyed by a volcano.

Phantom islands could also have been mirages, or very large breakers, or even totally made up! It’s thought that Crocker Land was made up by an explorer called Robert Peary because he wanted to cosy up to one of his main financiers, Mr Crocker, in the hope that he’d fund more expeditions. Crocker Land was apparently right up in the Northern part of Canada, although it sounds like a great name for a Gold Coast crocodile-themed theme park. “Welcome to Crockerland! Where all your gator dreams come true! We’ve got Australia’s largest crocodiles in Australia’s smallest water tanks! Come and watch these magnificent animals going stir crazy and occasionally killing their naïve handlers!”

PIRATE ACCENT; Now I’m going to get a bit more specific and I’m going to talk about the Isle of Demons, the Island of Devils and the Isle of the Seven Cities.

These three islands are sort of interconnected, so I’ve grouped them together. They were all postulated to exist somewhere in the north, North Atlantic, sort of off the coast of Newfoundland.

The Isle of Demons appeared on maps at the beginning of the 16th century and was thought to be inhabited by monsters and demons who attacked anyone who veered too close. Legend has it that a French noblewomen, Marguerite de La Rocque, was marooned on this island (although as the island never existed, she was probably on some small island in Newfoundland). She was certainly marooned on an island somewhere off the coast of Newfoundland and her story is a brief but interesting one: She was on her way to New France in 1542 (at this time the British and French were fighting for control of North America and Spain were in control of areas of the south of what is now the USA). The ship she was on was under the control of a relative of hers, Roberval, who was Lieutenant General of New France. Marguerite fell in love with a young man on the journey, a man who is not named but was probably also a noble and she may have fell pregnant on the voyage. How dare she! For her sins, she was marooned on the Isle of Demons with her servant and her new lover. It’s is also quite probable that Roberval, an unscrupulous social climber with a lavish lifestyle, wanted her inheritance. She was the only one of the three to survive on this remote island, she even apparently gave birth on the island, on her own, but the child did not survive. She was also left with a gun and managed to shoot a bear and use its fur as a coat. She was eventually picked up two and a half years later by some Basque fishermen and she eventually found her way home to France. There is a nice ending to this story though, Roberval, who left a pregnant women on a remote island thought to be haunted by demons, left alone to give birth and attempt to keep alive an exceptionally vulnerable baby, left alone because he wanted to shag and party away her inheritance, was beaten to death by a mob at the age of 60.

The Satanazes, also called the Island of Devils, is very similar to the Isle of Demons and was thought to be in a similar locations to the Island of Devils. It’s first recorded in 1424 and disappears before the start of the 16th century. Possibly being merged with the Island of Devils. Now please bear in mind, Colombus rediscovered the Americas in 1492. Please also remember how Icelandic Sagas recorded that Leif Erikson arrived in the Americas close to 500 years earlier! We discussed this in episode 3. Hilariously, when Leif Erikson arrived on Vinland, one of the first things he discovered was some shipwrecked Scandinavians; DANISH VOICE: “Hey, we are just enjoying some sun, would you like to take off all your clothes and sunbathe with us? Here, have some Carlsberg and some fage. If you are lucky, we might eat some lutefish (that’s dried fish) whilst listening to ABBA. The lutefish will make you a super-pooper, bowels are going to empty, squatting on the floor, grimacing and shouting no more, lutefish is the dish we adore!”

Anyway, where was I, it’s quite possible that the Island of Devils is the result of Irish, Norse, Iberian and possibly even Arab Chinese whispers, indicating a knowledge of a land to the west. The Arabs had legends of a giant hand that emerged from the sea and grabbed ships, pulling them under the waves. This would appear to have become mixed up in the legend of the Island of the Devils too. What about the devils? Well they are very possibly the Skrealings; the indigenous inhabitants of Greenland and north, North America. So to summarise, the myth of this island suggests pre-Colombus knowledge of the Americas.

My final phantom island, often placed near the two I have already discussed, is Antillia. This too has been used as evidence that people knew North America existed before Colombus because it is present on maps before 1492. As legend has it, 7 Visigoth bishops fled to the seas in the aftermath of the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century. They eventually landed on an island, called in Antillia and founded 7 cities. Incidentally, the Antilles are named after Antillia. This myth of the Isle of the Seven Cities probably evolved into the Spanish myth of the Seven Cities of Gold during the Conquistador period of history. When the bishops, and their congregations, arrived on this island, they burnt their ships. However, a young couple eloped, presumably on a fishing boat or something, and found their way back to Iberia where they told the tale of Antillia; described as a utopian island. There are tiny suggestions in historical sources that Spanish and Portuguese sailors had seen Antillia prior to Colombus’s voyage. After Colombus’s discovery of the Americas, the island of Antillia grew smaller and smaller, was shifted around a bit, then finally disappeared as people realised it did not exist (or more likely, it semi-existed, being a story that evolved out of sightings of the Americas, the Canary Islands, the Azores and Madeira).

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