Posts tagged Malta

A tale like Terry Pratchett's "Jingo"

But its most controversial manifestation followed the 1831 eruption, when the sea boiled and bubbled and a column of smoke was visible from Sciacca on the Sicilian coast, where the pervasive stink of brimstone turned the silverware black. When a basalt-like chunk of land rose above the waves and stayed there, no less than four European countries rushed to claim the island, strategically located in the Strait of Sicily between that island and the coast of Tunisia [5].

What followed reads like the motif of one of the opéras comiques that were so popular at the time. On Aug. 2, 1831, with the world’s newest island still hot from the oven, Capt. Humphrey Fleming Senhouse of the British warship the St Vincent planted the Union Jack on what was henceforth to be called Graham Island, one day’s sail west of the British colony of Malta.

On Aug. 17, an emissary of King Ferdinand II of Both Sicilies [6] cut down the British colors and replaced them with those of his sovereign, renaming the island Ferdinandea in his honor. On Sept. 29, a French scientific mission planted France’s tricolore on the island, which they named Julia. The Spanish then claimed the island as Corrao [7], but it is unclear whether they did any actual flag-planting.

Would-be claimants weren’t the only visitors: for five brief months, the island was the world’s coolest tourist hangout. A select procession of adventurous visitors — Sir Walter Scott among them [8] — came to inspect Ferdinandea’s black beaches and its two salt lakes, and to dance on the edge of the volcano’s sulphur-leaking crater, 200 feet above sea level. There was even talk of building a hotel.

But the material spewed out by the volcano turned out to be particularly susceptible to erosion. At its greatest extent, Ferdinandea had a circumference of over 15,000 feet and an area of 2.5 square miles, but as the eruption subsided, it quickly crumbled back into the sea. On Dec. 17, two Sicilian observers filed a missing island report: Ferdinandea was gone — and with it, the diplomatic headache of adjudicating a four-way claim over a newly emerged island.

… and in 1986, the USA bombed it.  (Follow link for details.)

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Posted at 12:24 PM 30 May 2012