Sophie Meyer, Collections Cataloguer at PK Porthcurno unearthed a bit of a mystery during some recent research in our photography archive. It started with Sophie searching for a location noted on the back of an archive photograph, ‘Tern’s egg, Sandy Island’. This led to an ‘undiscovered’ island, a theory about crafty cartographers, and a 120 year mystery.

The development of our online catalogue leads to a mystery

PK Porthcurno is in the process of creating a valuable resource in the form of an online catalogue where users can explore our collections online. In preparation for this, my role as Collections Cataloguer, is to prepare the collections database for the public. I have come across some interesting records during my deep dives into the collection – one of these is a photograph of a ‘Tern’s egg, Sandy Island’ taken around 1900. The photograph was generously donated by a person whose father worked for the Eastern Telegraph Company. When I was going through records tagging locations, I had to do a search for ‘Sandy Island’.

Captain Cook charts Sandy Island in 1774

The island (located near New Caledonia in the South Pacific) is found on maps and charts from as early as 1774 when Captain Cook charted it and was subsequently published in 1776. It is reported again in 1876 when a whaling ship Velocity noted its existence. The French naval and Oceanographic service were the first to take the island off nautical charts, but this was not until 1974, 200 years after it’s supposed discovery.

This is when it became apparent that ‘Sandy Island’ has recently been undiscovered!

Sandy Island, as noted by whaling ship Velocity in 1876, and included on this 1908 map

2012 Australian research ship proves Sandy Island’s non-existence

Since 1974 there was much discrepancy over including the island in maps and atlas. It was not until 2012 that a research ship from Australia proved its non-existence. It is possible the Islands early use in maps was a form of copyright- cartographers often put traps into their work to catch out anyone copying their work – however this does not explain why PK Porthcurno have a photo taken on this undiscovered island.

Which then begs the questions – where was this taken?!

Sophie Meyer, Collections Cataloguer

If you have a theory, we’d love to hear from you, please email sophie.meyer@pkporthcurno.com

Read more about the ‘undiscovery’ of Sandy Island:

South Pacific Sandy Island ‘proven not to exist’ – BBC News


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