Posted on | March 29, 2012 | Comments Off
One day while playing Victoria II (a strategy game presented, like many, on a world map) I chanced upon a small island about 50 miles north of Germany, south-west of Denmark. The island was quite unremarkable and would have escaped notice but for one thing – it was colored a pinkish red. “By Godfrey!” I proclaimed, my monocle popping out as my eyes widened in surprise, “can such things be?”
For you see, that particular shade of red was the color reserved by the game for highlighting the Queen’s Dominions, those parts of the world over which the Union Jack flies proud and whose inhabitants we impress for service in our lucrative and vital Marmite quarries. Naturally a good portion of the known world was shaded British, as well it should be, but outposts in the North Sea – and a mere Kaiser Roll’s throw from the frightful Hun, at that… surely some mistake had been made? Clicking on said island with my electro-pneumatic hand-rodent revealed the offending land masses’ name: British Heligoland, a moniker so dubious as to be underlined in red by all respectable spellchecking apparatus.
Scratching my pith helmet in befuddlement I resolved to consult the Encyclopædia Wiki on the matter. Sure enough from 1807 to 1890 the island was indeed British territory, it being first captured during the Napoleonic Wars and in 1814 ceded by Denmark to the United Kingdom. During the early period of British sovereignty one gets the impression that Heligoland was a sort of Mos Eisley Cantina, a den of rogues, pirates, and fugitives which the British were happy to tolerate inasmuch as it constituted a thorn in Napoleon’s side and offered a convenient staging area for espionage against Continental Europe. It then became a popular health spa for a time, popular among artists and émigrés, until the British traded it for cessions in Africa from Germany in 1890. Despite being used as a bombing range after World War II, the island is today once again inhabited and something of a holiday resort – although bombs are still being unearthed.
Above is from Chart of the North and Baltic Seas &c. by John Thomson (1816) hosted at the David Rumsey Map Collection.