Sandy Island does exist - on a 1908 chart
Auckland librarian spots early citation of contentious isle
A librarian at Auckland Museum has shed a little bit of light on the possible origins of the “island that isn’t there”.
The difficult-to-eradicate Sandy Island, which isn’t in the Coral Sea between Australia and New Caledonia, drew attention last week when an Australian scientific expedition sailed to the chart-marked location to find open ocean. As Vulture South noted at the time, the latest voyage seemed to replicate an “undiscovery” of the island in 2000 by a group of radio amateurs.
Auckland Museum’s Greg Meylan writes that a pictorial librarian at the institution, Shaun Higgins, has located a 1908 edition of a Pacific Ocean chart first compiled in 1875 that seems to be the earliest in the museum’s collection to record Sandy Island.
The chart, which indicates a too-big-to-miss landmass more than 30 km long (considerably larger than it appeared to be in last week's stories), states that the island was discovered on an 1876 voyage by a vessel called Velocity. However, the chart also cautions that its source information might not be reliable:
“Caution is necessary while navigating among the low lying islands of the Pacific Ocean. The general details have been collated from the voyages of various navigators extending over a long series of years. The relative position of many dangers may therefore not be exactly given”.
The Register expects the next move for historians will be to try and work out whether Velocity’s logs are preserved anywhere, to see if the vessel mis-recorded an island it encountered, or merely compiled an earlier error into its maps.
Auckland Museum has images of the chart in its Flickr account, here.
It's easiest to spot the island on this 2000x1600 image. To do so, click on the link above, click on the resulting image to enlarge near the northern tip of New Caledonia. Next, cast your gaze about 7cm to the left, and 1.5 cm up. You'll soon see Sandy Island to the right of Brompton Reefs.
The discovery of the older chart seems to put paid to one theory for the presence of the island on online maps, that it was a digitisation error.
In that story, Sydney University geologist Sabin Zahirovic makes the good point that the Coral Sea, so familiar and nearby to Australians, is poorly-explored. ®
Sandy Island = R'lyeh!!
In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming....
Beware!! In the search for knowledge, some doors should not be opened!!!!
What they are saying is that the island appeared on ONE navigational chart.
From the article, the island was included in this specific Hydrographic Office chart of the South Pacific sometime between 1876 and 1908 (we only have the 1908 chart), and it was included based on the reports of the ship "Velocity". The master of the "Velocity" reported that an island of ABC description was at XY Lat-Long, and on this basis was included with the disclaimer that some parts of the map wasn't accurate (officially surveyed) but based on hearsay. That is what this article says.
We also have to look at the source of the report. My Internet research found out that the "Velocity" wasn't a hydrographic survey vessel, or a research vessel, it was a whaling ship that frequented the Coral Sea area. Not to say that the island was invented or or it's location incorrectly placed, or the island confused with another one, as it may be the whaler was completely accurate. I'm just saying it wasn't surveyed by a hydrographic service with accurate scientific equipment.
The Otago Daily Times (Issue 4615, 30 November 1876, Page 2) reports on the hydrographic information supplied by the officers of "HMS Barracouta" (1851 paddle sloop on the Australian station) on their return from a patrol of the South Pacific/Coral Sea islands. From the newspaper report we can see that in addition to the data gathered by the "Barracouta", the officers gained verbal information from the masters of the "Velocity" and the "Ripple", including information from the "Velocity" regarding "a line of sand islands" running N to S at 159.57 E and 19.7 S to 19.20 S. Note that this is the location of Sandy Island in the 1908 chart!
It isn't AN island, it is several low-lying islands probably barely above sea level, just as you surmised.
The inclusion of Sandy Island in the South Pacific charts must have stopped some point after this 1908 revision. Why? The only reasons that I can think of is either:
A) The standard required to include hydrographic features was raised by the Hydrographic Office and a speculative report by a whaler 30 or more years earlier was no longer sufficient,
or B) A hydrographic ship surveyed the area at some point after 1908 and the island was not at the reported position, and the island removed from the charts.
Icon: For the Internet sleuthing through the "Trove" archive of the NLA (http://trove.nla.gov.au/) and the "Paperspast" archive of the NLNZ (http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/), not the insulting sentiment.
Re: The key may be in the name.
"Being a SANDY island, could it be that it comes and goes depending on prevailing tides and weather washing the seabed around?"
Doesn't sound at all likely since the Australians say the ocean is 1400m deep at X marks the spot.