Twelve Mile Circle explored the Ends of the Earth recently, including the southernmost tip of Bangladesh. However, more accurately, the article reached the end of mainland Bangladesh. In the course of my research I found a spot even farther removed in the Chittagong Division, a place called Saint Martin’s Island (map). I never knew it existed until then. It could have belonged to Myanmar (Burma) just as easily. In fact the island fell closer to Myanmar than to its own nation.
About That St. Martin Name
How odd to find another island of Saint Martin. It shouldn’t be confused with that weirdly divided island in the Caribbean. I enjoyed exploring that one a few years ago in person, recording border markers between French Saint-Martin and Dutch Sint Maarten. I’d also experienced the weirdly bifurcated Saint Martin Parish in Louisiana. Apparently things with that name attracted geo-oddities. Who knew?
The same saint underpinned both the Caribbean island and the Louisiana parish. They honored St. Martin of Tours. Christopher Columbus spotted the Caribbean instance during his second voyage in 1493. It happened to coincide with the saint’s feast day, November 11, thus the name. I saw earlier that certain locations discovered on December 25 sometimes came to be called Christmas so it didn’t surprise me to see a similar naming convention here. The same could be said for Easter Island too, I supposed. The European discovery in the Caribbean fell on St. Martin’s Day and Columbus named it accordingly
As for Louisiana
Similarly, Saint Martin of Tours inspired the name of the parish in Louisiana, albeit in a roundabout way. The town of St. Martinville, the seat of local government for the parish, described what happened in 1765:
[Charles-Philippe] Aubry had also sent a French priest, Fr. Jean Louis Civrey, to accompany the Acadians and serve the Attakapas district, where he became the first resident curate. In his records, Civrey refers to his new home as "la Nouvelle Acadie". He calls his new parish "l’Église des Attakapas (Attakapas Church)" and later, "l’Église St-Martin de Tours (St. Martin de Tours Church)", for which it is said St. Martinville is named.
St. Martinville predated the parish, which then adopted the town’s name upon its creation in 1807.
Did Saint Martin’s Island in Bangladesh memorialize the same saint? Honestly, I never found out. It seemed likely. The Anglican Communion venerated St. Martin of Tours too. He would have been a familiar figure to British adventurers who named the island.
Saint Martin lived during the Fourth Century and became a conscript in the Roman army. He converted to Christianity as a young adult around the time it became legal to do so in the Empire. The most well-known story recounting his pious acts involved an incident during his time as a soldier. A beggar dressed in rags on the verge of freezing to death sat by the side of the road. Martin removed his tunic, sliced it with his sword, and gave half of it to the beggar. That night God came to him in a vision and set him on a course that would guide him for the rest of his life. Martin became a conscientious objector, founded a monastery and eventually became Archbishop of Tours (now a city in France).
I’ll take a moment for an interesting tangent. The portion of the cloak retained by St. Martin became an important relic to the early Christian church and to the Frankish kings. In the Latin language a cloak of this type was called a "cappella." The priest in charge of guarding the cloak became a cappellani. The modern English words chaplain and chapel both descended from the people and places designated to protect this sacred cloak. Indirectly, the musical style "a cappella" (in the manner of the chapel) descended from the same etymology.
He became the patron saint of an eclectic group of people, both soldiers and conscientious objectors, as well as the poor, tailors and winemakers. The Basilica of St. Martin in Tours, France marked his tomb (map) and became a place of pilgrimage.
Nobody lived on the Bangladeshi island of St. Martin’s until about 250 years ago when Arabian sailors occupied it. The British came soon thereafter and took control. It wasn’t a large place, just 8 square kilometres (3 square miles) at high tide and a good bit less at low tide. It was also the only coral island in the entire nation of Bangladesh. St. Martin’s became its English name, of course. In Bengali it went by a phrase that translated into something like Coconut Island.
Most people who moved there became fishermen. They prospered quite nicely until recent decades. Since then, a number of tourist hotels and resorts opened, stressing the island ecology and the coral reefs around it. Fish populations declined. The reefs began to erode. The island began to shrink. Still it seemed to be a mostly idyllic place where tourists came to escape a hectic pace found elsewhere. Ferries crossed from Cox’s Bazar on the mainland, a two hour ride away. Electricity didn’t exist except for the generators at some of the larger hotels. No motorized vehicles were allowed, the only mechanized transportation being pedal-powered rickshaws. Wikitravel noted "not even a hint of nightlife."
Even farther south, the true southernmost tip of Bangladesh, culminated at an area called Chera Dwip (or Chera Dip, or Chera Deep). At low tide Chera Dwip attached to St. Martin’s Island. At high tide it separated and formed its own distinct island. Tourists enjoyed the area although they needed to be careful to keep from being stranded there when the tide rolled in.
Unbelievably, the island included Google Street View coverage! Someone carrying a backpack recorded it in October 2015. I noticed something peculiar, however. The same man appeared in every single Street View image. He wore a uniform. He didn’t seem to be wearing a military uniform, although he might have been a policeman, a crewman from a ferryboat or a tourism official. I couldn’t tell. Regardless, he escorted the Street View camera all over the island. The day warmed up and he removed his tie. He got bored and talked on his mobile phone. Occasionally he helped himself to a bottle of water that he carried around in a red translucent plastic bag. Then he carried a different bag. Then he wore a different shirt, I think because filming probably took place over a couple of days. Was it weird that he followed the camera or that I tracked him obsessively from the other side of the world?
He probably appeared in hundreds of distinct images, sometimes right by the camera and sometimes lurking in the shadows, our own South Asian Where’s Waldo. I finally found an image of him where Google forgot to blur his face. I figured I’d give him a little Intertubes recognition. He deserved it.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Triangle, a name on a road sign that I pondered as I sat stuck in traffic on a drive back from Richmond, Virginia. I also noticed another exit on this fateful trip as I slogged through miles of gridlock. The sign said Ladysmith and my mind began to wander. I figured it didn’t refer literally to a Smith by its occupation, i.e., a skilled metal worker. However, who was this lady Smith and why did she deserve a place name?
I passed Ladysmith about halfway between Richmond and Fredericksburg. The community sat just west of Interstate 95, at the intersection of Ladysmith Road and Jefferson Davis Highway (map). I didn’t bother to stop. My trip had been delayed long enough already.
The answer had to await until I got home. It required more searching than I expected although I finally found something in the Fredericksburg Star, "From Ladysmith to Ladysmith." The article recounted how Ladysmith in Virginia reached out to Ladysmith in Wisconsin in the aftermath of a tornado a few years ago. It also discussed the unusual name.
…Clara Smith, the daughter of Sally Collins Smith and Civil War Capt. C.T. Smith, named the community. Her father donated land for one of the Caroline’s first public schools in the hope that the town would grow up around it. Clara Smith most likely named the town after her mother, although the daughter is the more celebrated of the two ladies Smith in Caroline.
That solved the mystery. It also opened a new door to a different Ladysmith in Wisconsin.
The details actually came easier in Wisconsin. Ladysmith became the seat of government for Rusk County so historians wrote about it. The whole thing involved someone trying to curry favor for a business transaction. The town began in 1885 at the intersection of two railway lines on the Flambeau River. The owner of a local logging company, Robert Corbett named the town after himself. It became Corbett. Then it became Warner because of a railroad station located there.
James Gates, a local land speculator, wanted to make a tidy profit. He knew that Charles Robinson Smith of Menasha Wooden Ware considered opening a manufacturing plant in Warner. If that happened then people would move to the area and buy Gate’s land. Gates probably wanted to hasten that along so he suggested a new name for the town, Ladysmith (map). This honored Charles Smith’s recent bride, Isabel Bacon Rogers Smith.
This lady Smith was an interesting character. Her first marriage ended in divorce and she secretly married Charles Smith before announcing it publicly. She seemed to be quite the socialite, living in high society and frequenting the theater. Smith died a few years later, leaving Isabel with a fortune so she moved into a fancy Park Avenue apartment in New York City. There she met and married Orrin Johnson, a Broadway star and silent movie actor. Eventually she returned to Wisconsin along with her third husband after his acting career faded.
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Interestingly, an alternate theory emerged independently in Virginia and Wisconsin. A few sites I consulted listed the town of Ladysmith in South Africa as the source of their names (map). It was much in the news at the turn of the last century. British forces broke a Boer siege of Ladysmith in 1900. This explanation didn’t seem as compelling as the actual ladies Smith that lived in Virginia and Wisconsin so I doubted it. However, I followed the trail to KwaZulu-Natal anyway.
The lady Smith in question went by a rather elaborate name, Juana María de los Dolores de León Smith. She grew up as Spanish nobility, later orphaned as a result of the Peninsula War. The British army sacked her home town during the Siege of Badajoz and one of the British officers helped protect her. Then he married her. The officer rose in ranks over the years, becoming a Brigadier-General and a knight, Sir Harry Smith. Later he became the Governor of the Cape Colony in South Africa. Lady Smith followed along faithfully on his military adventures and the town name honored her devotion.
This Ladysmith might be remembered in modern times less for the Second Boer War than for the musical group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They formed in 1960 and received worldwide acclaim when singer Paul Simon partnered with them in the 1980’s. The name came from:
…the hometown of Shabalala’s family, Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal; the black ox, considered to be the strongest farm animal; and mambazo, which means "axe" in the Zulu language, and is symbolic of the choir’s ability to "chop down" the competition.
Lady Smith might have been surprised to see the relevancy of her name a century later.
It didn’t stop there, however. Ladysmith on Vancouver Island, British Columbia actually did name itself after the siege and battle in South Africa.
Ladysmith was an "instant town", founded by coal baron James Dunsmuir. Oyster Harbour, as the area was previously called, became the shipping port for Dunsmuir’s coal mine at Extension, about 12 km to the north. The townsite was planned in 1899 as a tidy grid pattern facing the bay. Streets were named after British Officers of the Boer War, victorious in recapturing the town of Ladysmith, South Africa, in the year 1900.
The streets retain those names today: Symons; French; Buller; Baden Powell; Methuen, and so on (map).
A Merry Christmas to everyone in the Twelve Mile Circle who is celebrating today. A Happy Holiday or well wishes to everyone else as well. Every once in awhile the 12MC publishing schedule falls on Christmas day. A Christmas theme felt appropriate even with a diminished audience. Ironically, most people with enough time to read today probably don’t celebrate Christmas. Nonetheless I’m going to stick with it and plow forward anyway.
For sure, Christmas Island needed to appear first on the list (map). Amazingly, even though the island fell not too distant from heavily-populated Java, Christmas Island remained unknown until the 17th Century. Various mariners spotted it during that time although it remained without a permanent name until 1643. Captain William Mynors of the English East India Company sailed within eyesight on Christmas day that year. Not being terribly original, Captain Mynors called it Christmas Island and the name stuck. Nobody set foot on the island for another several decades. A permanent population didn’t arrive until the 1880’s. Now Christmas Island belongs to Australia as a territory with around two thousand residents.
I’d always been fascinated by its incredible red crab migration. The wet season begins near the end of October. Then tens of millions of crabs leave their burrows in the forest and make their way to the shoreline to spawn in alignment with the cycles of the moon. Afterwards they return to the forest and life goes on. These waves of roving crabs cover every patch of available earth as they approach their destination. Officials literally shut down roads during peak periods to prevent tragedy to the local crab population. It’s supposed to be an amazing spectacle and a big tourism draw. I’d love to see it in person someday.
Nobody really knew how Christmas Common (map) near Watlington, England got its name. Theories pointed to "a 1643 Christmas Day truce between combatants in the English Civil War, local holly tree coppices, or the Christmas family, which had local connections." People seemed to be guessing.
Christmas Common sat within the Chiltern Hills, a picturesque chalk escarpment designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty by Natural England. This entire area recently experienced the successful reintroduction of Red Kites, a bird of prey, in the 1990’s.
Red kites were driven to extinction in England by human persecution by the end of the nineteenth century. A small population survived in Wales, but there was little chance of these birds repopulating their original areas. Between 1989 and 1994, kites from Spain were imported and released into the Chilterns by the RSPB and English Nature (now Natural England). Red kites started breeding in the Chilterns in 1992 and now there could be over 1,000 breeding pairs in the area.
A local entrepreneur also capitalized on Christmas Common by opening a Christmas tree farm, the Tree Barn. The farm included about a hundred acres of Nordmann Fir, Norway Spruce and other varieties. It claimed to provide the Christmas tree for 10 Downing Street for several years. I corroborated that with a quick search of the Intertubes. The Tree Barn supplied a Rocky Mountain fir native to Arizona for 2015. Unfortunately it did not win the contest in 2016.
The United States featured several Christmas towns. I selected one in Florida. Each year a steady stream of people travel to this little hamlet to get their Christmas cards stamped at the local post office. It added a little touch of merriment, I supposed.
The Christmas name traced back to events long before the town existed. The United States staged a series of military actions against the native Seminoles, driving them farther south by force and by treaty. The Seminole chieftain Osceola resisted these incursions, sparking what would become the Second Seminole War. In response, the U.S. Army constructed a series of forts within the disputed area to protect its settlers. One of these rose in eastern Orange County in 1837, a simple log stockade designed as a supply depot. Construction began on Christmas day and it became Fort Christmas as a result (map). The Army abandoned it a few months later when the Seminoles left the area.
The town took its name from the remote outpost that once stood there.
Lake County, Oregon included a community called Christmas Valley, situated in a valley of the same name near Christmas Lake (map). They all got their names from the same source, a local pioneer named Peter Christman.
So it would seem that Peter’s Creek and nearby Christman Lake were named after Major Peter Christman. Sometime between 1873 and 1877 people started calling Christman lake "Christmas." It is yet to be discovered exactly how the "s" came to replace the "n", but maps bearing the name "Christmas Lake" would go into the hands of every homesteader that would come to the valley.
The Christmas Valley community developed after the Second World War. It repeated the earlier mangling of the surname.