Prince Edward Islands

See here for a brief introduction to the Gateau Method.

In September 1979, a US Vela Hotel satellite detected a possible nuclear detonation near the Prince Edward Islands, between South Africa and Antarctica—perhaps South African, French, Israeli or Indian, although not even the blast’s existence has ever been verified.

Truth be told, though, nuclear false alarms aren’t that uncommon (just ask Stanislav Petrov) and the islands themselves are much more interesting than the blast that may or may not have happened nearby.

The Dutch discovered the islands in 1663, but the world forgot about them until French explorer Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne attempted to make landfall in 1772, thinking them to be part of the as-yet hypothetical Antarctic landmass. Although his mission was ostensibly to return a Tahitian named Ahu-toru from Mauritius to Tahiti, the Tahitian died of smallpox shortly after leaving port, leaving du Fresne free to expand the French empire through discovery.

Several months later, du Fresne would be killed and eaten in a misunderstanding with Maori tribesmen in New Zealand. His second-in-command Jules Crozet took the helm, claimed the entirety of New Zealand for the French crown and set course for home in France. On the return journey, Crozet stopped in Cape Town and casually mentioned the Prince Edward Islands to one James Cook, who set off to explore the islands for himself during his last sub-Antarctic expedition aboard the HMS Resolution.

(Coincidentally, Cook was also ostensibly on a mission to repatriate a Tahitian, Omai, but in fact hoped to discover the fabled Northwest Passage from its western end. Several years later, whilst still on his Third Voyage, Cook stopped to harbour in the Sandwich—now Hawaiian—Islands, where the natives killed, disemboweled and baked him as the result of a diplomatic misunderstanding. Let it not be said that history lacks a sense of humour.)

The eastern side of Marion Island is one of the cloudiest and rainiest places on Earth. Marion Island was also home to an enormous number of feral cats, their population exploding from five in 1949 to around 3,400 in 1977. Its native wildlife includes seabirds and seals—the Islands’ natural resources included fur and guano—and penguins. In fact, South African zoologists once observed a seal trying to mate with a penguin on Marion Island—talk about a tight-knit ecosystem.

Of course, when the subject of penguins comes up, it’s not Batman that springs immediately to my mind: it’s Edgar Allan Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. And indeed, Poe consulted accounts of Cook’s Antarctic journeys whilst writing Pym.

Surely, Pym’s isle of Tsalal can’t be too far away, with its notorious, black-toothed Negroids, and an entrance to Hollow Earth farther to the south? What if, in the 1830s and 1840s, Portuguese slavers took Tsalal captives, smuggling them into the Americas? Maybe a few were erroneously repatriated to Liberia in the wake of La Amistad, but a small, obscure community—now known as Sallies—remains in the swamps of the Carolinas, shunned by their Gullah neighbours and dreaming of home in the extreme antipodes?

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