Sabrina Island: The Little Island That Just Couldn’t

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About a third of the way across the North Atlantic Ocean, from the European side, there is an archipelago owned by Portugal called the Azores. The Azores are roughly 1,643 km/1,021 miles west of Lisbon and all together have a population of about 250,000. One of the islands to be included in the Azores archipelago was Sabrina Island.

The islands themselves were created by volcanic eruptions and because of its location near where three tectonic plates meet, earthquakes are very common in the area. There have been 28 volcanic eruptions recorded in the Azores since the 15th century, about half above water and half below, the last major one occurring in 1957.

In the early months of 1811, there’d been more volcanic activity in the Azores area than usual. On June 10th, 1811, there was a major eruption below the ocean’s surface, causing a cone-shaped chunk of earth to force its way out of the water, its highest point at about 300 feet up and measuring about 700 meters wide. Thick smoke poured off the island for at least a few days.

Seeing the smoke, The HMS Sabrina, an 18-gun Royal Navy sloop, headed for what the crew thought to be smoke signals of distress or a battle. They arrived on June 12th (pictured above).

About a month later, the volcanic activity had calmed down a bit, enough for Captain James Tillard to make his way onto the island, have a look around, plant a flag and claim the island for Britain, naming the island after his ship. (Super original, I know.)

Understandably, the Portuguese weren’t too impressed. The Azores archipelago was Portugal’s territory and Sabrina Island was very close to the largest and most populated Azores island, São Miguel. Portugal and Britain were allies against France at the time (Napoleon was causing something of a hubbub in Europe during this time), making the whole situation incredibly uncomfortable for everyone.

Not that the island was that impressive. It was barren, covered in cinders and ash and made banging sounds that the Sabrina crew compared to gunfire.

However, the disagreement between allies ended suddenly a few months later when the island crumbled back into the sea, possibly due to an earthquake, another volcanic eruption or just the wearing away of the ocean currents.


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Written by

Jillianne Hamilton is a history enthusiast, author, graphic designer, paper crafter and artist living on Canada's beautiful east coast.

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