The Mystery of Bouvet Island
The Mystery of Bouvet Island
Often people like to use the expression, ‘in the middle of nowhere’ to describe a location that is hard to reach or not near anything of significance. While there are a few places in the world that easily meet this definition, one place that is so remote and so isolated that it’s never been inhabited by humans is the small Bouvet Island. The word desolation barely begins to describe this small island yet Bouvet Island holds a mystery that has haunted researchers to this very day.
Discovered by the commander of the French ships Aigle and Marie, Jean-Baptiste Charles Bouvet de Lozier on January 1st, 1739, the island was the first piece of land that had been spotted south of the 50th parallel south. Searching for a larger southern continent, Bouvet was unable to circumnavigate his discovery nor was he able to make landfall. Bouvet’s plotting of the position of the island was inaccurate and he wasn’t sure if the land was part of a larger landmass of just a small island. Through the fog, Bouvet named the cape he spotted Cap de la Circoncision. James Cook’s second voyage in November 22nd, 1772, set out to find the island but was unable to find the cape.
A glacially covered 19 square mile piece of land in the South Atlantic, Bouvet Island is nearly 1,000 miles away from the next tract of land, a section of Antarctica called Queen Maud Land. The island is 1,400 miles from the nearest inhabited land mass, Tristan da Cunha, another remote island, and is 1,600 miles from South Africa.
From Above, Bouvet Island looks like a giant, flattened snowball. It is a frozen wasteland of rock, ice with almost no vegetation aside from the occasional lichen or moss. Since 1929, the island has been a territory of Norway and in 1977 an automated weather monitoring station was built on the island.
After its first discovery, the island was visited by many different explores, many of whom were unable to land on the island. During this time of early discovery, Bouvet Island was confirmed as an island and uninhabited. Crews were able to accurately fix the position of the island while also dredging around the seabed for geological samples.
On December 10th, 1825, George Norris, master of the Sprightly landed on the island and claimed it for the British Crown and George IV. Norris and his crew also spotted a second island which he placed 72 kilometers north-northeast of Bouvet. The second island was also reported in 1893 but not reported again, nor has it ever been confirmed by anyone else. A 1967 paper suggested that the island was destroyed in a volcanic eruption but in 1997 it was discovered that the ocean was more than 2,400 meters deep in that area. This mystery second island adds another layer to the mystery to the Bouvet Island.
The main mystery of the island, one that has haunted researchers, travelers, and historians alike is something that seems to come out of a fantasy epic. How something so simple could spawn an unexplained mystery is the stuff that nightmares are made of. The entire mystery of Bouvet Island centers on a boat. A simple oar powered rowboat is at the center of a mystery on the Bouvet Island.
In April of 1964, the South African government was looking at constructing a manned weather station on the island. They sent a team there to see if there was enough flat space on Bouvet Island to meet their needs. They determined that the island was growing due to underwater volcanic activity and that there the terraform of the island didn’t suit their needs.
During this 1964 expedition they came across a boat marooned on the island with a pair of oars a few hundred yards away. The boat was in a lagoon that laid within a new landmass formed by the volcanic activity. The boat lacked any identifying markings and, although there was strong evidence that people were on the boat, there was no trace of human remains. Further in the island the explorers found a small copper tank that had never been noted by other explorers.
Where could this boat have come from? There are no accounts of ship wrecks in the area where a person or group would have jumped ship and landed on Bouvet Island. There were no missing persons off ships in that area. Being so remote, it seems highly unlikely that someone could have navigated a rowboat that far on open ocean water. The mystery of the boat seemed totally unexplainable…until the mystery deepened.
A few years later another expedition went to the island to do more research work and look for a better spot to place a weather station. After their work was completed the group went to look for the boat that had been abandoned on the island…the boat was gone, along with the oars and the copper tank. Someone had been to the island and gotten them. It seems highly unlikely that anyone could have survived on the island and sailed away, meaning that somehow, someone must have come back for the boat.
Who could have gotten the boat off the island? Why was the boat there in the first place? There are no maritime records that could give a clue to who owned the boat or what they were doing in such a remote area. With only a copper tank and a pair of oars, who could have survived on the ocean or on the island? London historian Mike Dash took an in-depth look at the questions but came away with nothing even close to a concrete answer.
With over a half-century of time elapsed since the discovery of the boat and not even a clue as to its crew or purpose, it is highly unlikely that we will ever know the story behind the mystery boat of Bouvet Island.
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‘An abandoned lifeboat at world’s end | A Blast From The Past”. allkindsofhistory.wordpress.com. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
Mills, W.J. (2003). Exploring Polar Frontiers: A Historical Encyclopedia 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 96. ISBN 9781576074220. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
Thompson Island”. Global Volcanism Program. Archived from the original on 8 May 2012. Retrieved 21 December 2012.