Most readers probably anticipated that after slogging through Manly Places, Even More Manly Places, and Ladylike Places, that the next in this series would be Even More Ladylike Places. That seemed absolutely necessary in my mind so I could create symmetry and closure. However I’d written a variation on this theme already with the recently-published Ladysmith. I tried to keep things on the more obscure side this time around, sidestepping better known ladies by design.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef offered a case in point. I noticed a couple of different islands that fit this topic. Lady Musgrave Island (map) took its name from the wife of a colonial administrator, Sir Anthony Musgrave. He served as governor of South Australia 1873–1877 and then of Queensland 1883–1888. From those dates, Lady Musgrave must have been his second wife, Jeanie Lucinda Field. I don’t know how she ended-up in Australia. She was born in New York City.
Another spot along the reef became Lady Elliot Island (map). This one featured a roundabout derivation. Lady Elliot definitely existed although I don’t think she ever set foot in Australia. She married Sir Hugh Elliot, governor of Madras, 1814–1820, then a crown colony on the Indian subcontinent. I’m going to go out on a limb and say she was probably Margaret Jones, his second wife, because his first marriage ended in divorce long before his diplomatic career took off.
However, the name of Lady Elliot Island didn’t come from Lady Elliot directly. It came from the name of a ship. Captain Thomas Stuart, commanding a ship registered in India and named for the lady in question, first spotted the island in 1816. Later, on the return voyage, the ship struck a reef farther up the coast. It sank and everyone died. That dangerous feature also got its name at that time, Lady Elliot Reef (map).
Namibia’s highest point of elevation occurred at the Königstein (King’s Stone) on Brandberg Mountain. The mountain hid a secret, the renowned White Lady. Indigenous people, probably bushmen and probably living two or more thousand years ago, drew representations of their world in thousands of images. Much of their artwork survived in remote, dry, desolate corners of the Namib Desert (map).
One image in particular caught the imagination of archaeologists and then tourists after its rediscovery in 1918. It showed what appeared to be a shaman in white, in an energetic ritual dance. Researchers noticed its similarity to depictions that came from Egypt and the Mediterranean during a similar time period, although that proved to be coincidental. Nonetheless the White Lady continued to captivate many who gazed upon it. Ironically, later interpretations seemed to demonstrate pretty conclusively that the lady was actually a man.
A little village in Ireland’s County Wexford got its name, Our Lady’s Island, hundreds of years ago in reverence to the Virgin Mary. As the village explained,
Tradition has always existed that Our Lady’s Island was founded by St Abban, nephew of St Ibar, in the sixth century and its reputation as a place of pilgrimage and of devotion to Our Lady was established by or before the year 600 A.D.
However, I decided to focus on the lake (map) where the little village — now connected to the mainland — grew and prospered. Perhaps not too creatively, it came to be known as Lady’s Island Lake. The lake more properly qualified as a "back-barrier seepage lagoon." Various sources on the Intertubes claimed only one other lake in Ireland fit that same definition. I couldn’t prove it so I’ll just leave it at that.
The lake doesn’t have a natural outlet although water seeps into it from the ocean, creating brackish conditions. It offered a great environment for birds such as Sandwich Terns and Roseate Terns. Occasionally the barrier between sea and lake must be breached.
Breaching of the barrier, which has been carried out since at least the 17th century, is needed to relieve flooding of farmland and also the pilgrimage route around Lady’s Island. The cut is made in Spring when water levels are highest and the water level then falls until the lake becomes tidal for variable lengths of time. The practice has become contentious, however, because water levels sometimes fall too low, allowing predators to cross over the exposed bed of the lake to the important tern nesting sites.
I’m surprised they hadn’t figured out a way to accommodate both the birds and the pilgrims.
I could look for ladies in other languages, too! Dames seemed reasonable. I probably could have written an entire article on the hundreds of places and features named Notre Dame ("Our Lady," for the Virgin Mary). It might have featured the university in Indiana, the cathedral in Paris or the island in Montréal.
Instead I focused on Dame Marie (map) in Haiti. Twelve Mile Circle included very little Haitian coverage so this offered a rare opportunity for me to add a pushpin to my Complete Index Map. Otherwise I found very little information about Dame Marie. It fell pretty much at the end of the road, about as far west on Haiti as one could travel. Unfortunately Hurricane Matthew damaged it rather extensively in October 2016. Hopefully Dame Marie will recover.
Something needed to be done about the clutter. My list of potential topics grew to unmanageable proportions once again so I decided to keep pruning. I discovered an island theme as I sorted through the pile so I lumped a few items together. Nothing much unified them except that they involved islands with unusual twists. Twelve Mile Circle didn’t really need any more than that to get things going.
My mental island journey began with the Lord Howe Island Group first (map). They sat within the Tasman Sea off of the eastern coast of Australia, unknown until spotted by Henry Lidgbird Ball in 1788 as he sailed towards Norfolk Island to establish a penal colony. He named the tallest of the islands, a jagged volcanic peak rising mightily into the sky, Ball’s Pyramid. He named one of the more dramatic peaks on the main island Mount Lidgbird. His legacy secured, he decided to suck-up to his superior by naming the main island after Lord Howe. Richard Howe, First Earl Howe, was the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time.
Ball claimed the island group for Britain. Whalers began using it as a convenient place to replenish provisions. A permanent settlement followed soon thereafter. The group became part of Australia as that nation formed. It’s now an unincorporated area of New South Wales. Few people live there though — only 360 residents as of the 2011 Census — and the government limits tourism because of the fragile ecosystem of such a small place. Given that, a maximum of about 800 people occupy the space at any given time.
The Twist: Lord Howe Island made a credible claim to being located within the world’s least populated time zone. This island group uniquely occupied Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) +10.5. Fewer than a thousand people ever set their watches to observe this time zone at any given moment. That contrasted with UTC +8 (the one with China) with a population of 1.7 billion.
I remained in Australia momentarily, focusing on the coast of Queensland near Mackay. There I found the Smith Islands (map), the site of a national park of the same name. Those unspoiled islands offered very few amenities other than their natural beauty. People traveled there by boat, private or charter, for fishing, diving and wildlife excursions. They needed to be self-reliant during these excursions. Visitors might be completely isolated with little help available anywhere around them should any difficulties arise. Nonetheless, the park attracted a certain type of adventurer who relished unspoiled experiences and abundant solitude.
The Twist: While I never discovered who named the islands or how they chose the theme, they did follow a consistent pattern. Imagine every kind of smith — skilled metal workers — and it had its own island named for it. I saw Ladysmith, Blacksmith, Silversmith, Coppersmith, Goldsmith, Anchorsmith and Tinsmith. Some readers may remember the 12MC article I called Ladysmith, and yes that’s how I found this island group. I liked Blacksmith Island most of all, however. Nearby stood Hammer Island, Anvil Reef, Forge Reef and Pincer Island, enough tools to create an entire blacksmith shop. Other features figured into the general theme as well, including Ingot Island and Bullion Rocks.
Ada-Kaleh on Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain
Ada Kaleh experienced a convoluted history. This small island sat in the Danube River between modern-day Romania and Serbia, just downstream from Orșova (map). It became a strategic point along the river, a place taken and retaken repeatedly by the Austrian and Ottoman empires starting in the 17th Century. The name of the island itself came from a Turkish word, Adakale, meaning Island Fortress.
The real weirdness started in 1878 when the Ottomans lost control of the surrounding area as a result of losing the Russo-Turkish War. Everyone just sort-of forgot about Ada Kaleh during the peace talks so it became a Turkish exclave. It transformed into something of a lawless territory, a haven for smuggling and other nefarious activities. The situation remained that way for about a half-century when another treaty corrected the error. However, even afterwards it retained its distinct Turkish attributes and culture even though if fell within the physical confines of Romania.
The Twist: Ada Kaleh no longer exists. The waters of the Danube rose considerably along this stretch of the river after construction of the Iron Gates Dam in 1972. Most of the island’s residents chose to relocate to Turkey rather than remain in Romania.
In east London the River Thames took quite a curve, enclosing a small area on three sides (map). Technically this wasn’t an island at all so it probably shouldn’t even be on my list. I found it while Marking the Meridian. The Isle of Dogs wasn’t that distant from the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, and the meridian came oh-so-close to crossing through it. Despite its name, somehow it attracted commercial enterprises in the modern era particularly for banking and finance.
The Twist: Well, other than the fact that it wasn’t actually an island, nobody knew how it became the Isle of Dogs. East London History said,
The original name for the island was Stepney Marsh or Stebunheath. It is thought that the Isle of Dogs name originated in the 16th century. Nobody really knows where this name came from, but there are plenty of theories. Some say that the name was given to the area because of the number of dead dogs that washed up on its banks. Others think that the modern name is a variation of other names given to the area, such as the Isle of Dykes or the Isle of Ducks.
Dogs or Dykes or Ducks (or others). Take your pick.
A visitor landed on Twelve Mile Circle from Surprise. That was the actual name of the town; Surprise, Arizona. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised because more than a hundred thousand people lived there, yet I’d never heard of it. I also learned during my search that Surprise was a surprisingly common designation with 238 surprises lurking in the Geographic Names Information System alone. They included mountains, lakes, mines, basins, beaches, and of course populated places as well as just about every other feature imaginable. I picked a select few for further exploration and then moved on to a couple of international examples.
Naturally I wondered how a town could become a Surprise (map) and fortunately it provided a handy explanation.
Our city of over 120,000 people was just one square mile of farmland back in 1938 when Flora Mae Statler founded it. So why did she call us Surprise? According to Statler’s daughter Elizabeth Wusich Stoft, her mother once commented "she would be surprised if the town ever amounted to much." With our success, she would indeed be surprised and proud!
Surprise became one of the fastest growing cities in Arizona, a state already noteworthy for its remarkable growth. The US Census Bureau reported only thirty thousand residents as of 2000. Its recent growth could only be described as explosive.
A name like surprise offered opportunities for puns and odd juxtapositions. For instance the town held an annual Surprise party that wasn’t actually a surprise party. It was always announced ahead of time (December 4-5 this year). They also had a Surprise Women’s Heritage Trail. In most places, surprising women on a trail might become a matter for the police instead of a recognition of women’s history.
Events unfolded in a less pleasant surprise for the Surprise in Nebraska. It started well enough in the 19th Century according to Virtual Nebraska.
It wasn’t until 1881 that George Miller and several members of his family decided to built a dam on the small, spring-fed stream not far from the headwaters of the Big Blue River. They hoped to be able to impound enough water to operate a grist mill. It is said that Miller was not only pleased, but also quite surprised to get enough water power for such an enterprise, so he gave his mill the name "Surprise."
The settlement grew into a nice town (map) a few years later when the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad Company laid tracks through the area and built a depot there. Then Surprise began to suffer like much of the Great Plains with a slow outward migration of its residents. Peaking with a population above three hundred, Surprise declined with every Census starting in 1910, leaving only 43 souls at the 2010 Census.
I shifted to a larger geographic footprint for the third example, a 70 by 10 mile (112 by 16 kilometre) area in northern California called Surprise Valley, sandwiched between the Warner and Hayes mountain ranges (map). It encompassed several rural towns in Modoc County, including Cedarville, Eagleville, Fort Bidwell and Lake City.
The local Chamber of Commerce described how the area came to be settled.
A bad drought that occurred in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys in 1864 caused much of the livestock there to perish. Owners offered up to half their cattle herds to anyone who would take the animals into the high country to grass and water. Men who saw this as an opportunity to have their own ranches and herds recalled the big grassy valley they had passed through while on the wagon train to California.
I also found a Bureau of Land Management brochure that offered an explanation for the name. Prospectors heading towards the California goldfields suffered immense hardships as they trudged overland through the hostile Great Basin. "It was a welcome and unexpected surprise to see the trees, good water and grassy meadows in the valley below the high mountains we now call the Warners."
I found plenty of other surprises outside of the United States including Mount Surprise (map) in Queensland, Australia. It was a mountain, for sure, as well as a nearby town with the same name. They were set pretty much in the middle of nowhere, with the town becoming a home for fewer than two hundred. Tourists traveled there for fossicking. I had no idea what fossicking entailed so I looked it up. It was an Australian term for prospecting, much to my disappointment. People liked to search for gemstones at Mount Surprise. If not, they could explore lava tubes at nearby Undara Volcanic National Park.
Mount Surprise is a historic rail town in the Gulf Savannah. Its name comes from the surprise the Aboriginal people felt when they were resting at the base of the mountain and the loud white people of Ezra Firth’s pioneer party arrived in 1864.
That seemed more than a little bogus to me although I couldn’t find a better explanation.
I didn’t want 12MC readers in Canada to feel left out in the cold so I selected a surprise there, too. Surprise, Saskatchewan (map) barely existed although the Canadian Geographical Names Data Base still included an entry for it. The Rural Municipality (RM) of Enterprise No. 142 had only 160 residents and most of them lived in Richmound ("The Town With U In It"). Surprise? Maybe just a few buildings, mostly overgrown by prairie. The video I found claimed that the original settlers were surprised to find a complete lack of trees which surprised me because the prairie wasn’t exactly known for trees.
This Surprise shouldn’t be confused with the Rural Municipality of Surprise Valley No. 9, located farther south in Saskatchewan along the US Border.