Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Northeast and sequestered

Chart of the Galapagos / Surveyed in the Merchant-Ship Rattler
and Drawn by Capt. James Colnett of the Royal Navy in 1793, 1794 ; Engraved by T. Foot
Adapted from my post to the Google group Ishmailites back on 7/10/2011:

Far to the northeast of Charles's Isle, sequestered from the rest, lies Norfolk Isle, and, however insignificant to most voyagers, to me, through sympathy, that lone island has become a spot made sacred by the strangest trials of humanity.

So Melville begins (after three fine poetic epigraphs, that is) his tale of "Norfolk Isle and the Chola Widow" from "The Encantadas."  Great prose, bad geography? 

John Woram in chapter 9 of his book Charles Darwin Slept Here (Rockville Press, 2005) points out that Melville's Norfolk Isle "would seem to identify the place known today as Isla Santa Cruz.  But it doesn't....The island with this name actually lies due north of Charles, not far away at all, and certainly not sequestered from the rest." 

However, Woram in these appreciative remarks is not reckoning with the geography or rather cartography of Colnett, one of Melville's principal Galapagos authorities.  Colnett's earliest maps show Norfolk Isle in the same relation to Charles that Melville gives, northeast and apart from the others.

Not the later improved version,

but the older one shown above, drawn in 1793-4 and published in A voyage to the South Atlantic (1798)
Yep, there's lonely little Norfolk Isle sitting there northeast of Charles and appearing, just like Melville says in the sketch, sequestered.

Melville probably knew at least one of the other names for Norfolk Isle, Indefatigable. When and how did Norfolk get the name Santa Cruz? Could Melville have possibly known the name Isla Santa Cruz or Isle of the Holy Cross as an alternative for Norfolk Isle? If so, oh my! Perfect. If not, the current name gives us a wonderful literary coincidence to consider in light of the literal crosses in "Norfolk Isle and the Chola Widow" (cross of sticks over the grave of Hunilla's husband Felipe, the crossed letter X in her brother's name Truxill, Hunilla's worn crucifix, her donkey's cross), and remembering too how Melville introduces the place as "sacred." Maria Felisa López Liquete points out in print that
"if Saint/Holy Cross were the island’s name instead of Norfolk, the tale would start and finish with the same word, 'cross' . . . ." --When Silence Speaks: The Chola Widow, in Melville and Women, page 221.

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