Last week you might have heard about the non-discovery of an island called Sandy that appears on Google Maps. There has been a lot of fun had at the expense of Google Maps for showing an island in the Coral Sea that doesn't actually exist but today I can reveal the true villain of this mapping error:
Captain J W Robinson, captain of the brig Velocity in 1876
The Back Story
Last week scientists from the University of Sydney revealed that they had sailed to where Google Maps shows a Pacific island called Sandy and had found no island and just a whole lot of sea.
Today the Auckland Museum revealed that a trawl through their huge collection of historical maps turned up a 1908 map which shows the island. According to the map the island was discovered by the Velocity in 1876.
Searching on the National Library of Australia website I discovered that the Velocity was a whaling brig. Amazingly the library actually has photos of the ship. This one was taken at dry dock in 1870, six years before she 'discovered' Sandy.
Even more amazingly the library has a photograph of William John Maguire (see the top of this post), described as a 'sailor on the brig Velocity'. The photo is dated to 1870, so it is quite possible that Mr Maguire was actually on board Velocity in 1876 when it 'discovered' Sandy. However Mr Maguire is not the villain of our mapping error, that award must go to the captain of the Velocity, who in 1876 was one J W Robinson.
Here is a newspaper report from The (Hobart) Mercury, dated 11th March 1876, which names the Velocity's captain:
"THE whaling brig Velocity returned from an unsuccessful voyage yesterday. She brings 3 tuns of sperm oil. Captain Robinson reports that he sailed from this port on the 12th March 1875, and proceeded to Cato's Bank. After cruising there for some time without success he proceeded to the Middle Ground. Had seen only three whales during the voyage, one of which, a small one, yielded the quantity which constitutes the Velocity's take".
Sandy Island was not the only island 'discovered' by Captain Robinson. Captain Robinson also 'discovered' Heard Island. This island also features on Google Maps and actually seems to exist and is clearly visible in Google Maps satellite view.
The (Hobart) Mercury reported in 1929 that Captain Robinson, "in exploring, discovered that there was an island previously uncharted here, and named it Heard Island." Unfortunately however this seems to be another unfortunate 'discovery' for J W Robinson. According to Wikipedia Heard Island was actually discovered by an American sealer, Captain John Heard, who sighted the island on 25 November 1853 and had the island named after him.
The History of Velocity
Whilst researching Velocity I have managed to put together a brief history of the ship. The ship was originally built at Haldon, Devonshire, UK in 1827. In its early life it seems to have plied its trade carrying cargo back and forth between Britain and the Americas.
In 1830, when returning from the Americas with a valuable cargo, the ship was boarded and captured by a Portuguese ship. The Portuguese captain who took over the ship was one Maurico Jose-Alves. Another British captain approached the Velocity only to be met by a hostile reception. He reported that Maurico,
"made use of the most abusive and insulting language and ... the officer then threw a square kettle, which struck me with great force on the head."
Sometime after this date the Velocity sailed to Australia. The Australasian Chronicle has a report dated the 24th November 1841 that says the Velocity 'has arrived from England'. This may have been its first arrival in Australia.
As well as operating as a whaling brig the ship had a less illustrious career as a 'blackbirder'. Blackbirding was the recruitment of people through trickery and kidnappings to work as labourers. The Blackbird website says that "blackbirding in Australia began with the first acknowledged Blackbirder Captain William Boyd in 1847 when his schooner Velocity landed sixty-five men from the New Hebrides."
It appears that the Velocity was bringing cheap (forced) labour from the Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Rotuma, Gilbert and Ellice Islands to Australia. It is in this general vicinity of the Pacific that in 1870 that the Velocity 'discovered' and mapped Sandy Island.
The ship was eventually bought at auction on the 28 August 1885, to be broken up. It was sunk at her moorings in the River Derwent, Tasmania.