The Wonderful World of Completely Random Facts — Issue 61
The Island That Appeared and Disappeared
There was only water in a spot off the southwestern coast of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea before 1831, but something strange happened in July of that year. Sicilian fishermen began to notice that dead fish were rising to the surface in that area that reeked of sulfur.
It was not known what was going on until July 10, 1831, when sailors saw that a mouth of a volcano had appeared above the surface, spewing ash and lava. By August, the once wholly water-only area had an island in its place.
The new island was about a half mile wide (800 meters) and 200 feet tall (60 meters).
It wasn’t long before governments began eyeing the island, as it sat in the middle of European shipping routes in the Mediterranean. France wanted it, as did the United Kingdom, Spain, and Sicily, which it was closest to. But the quest to claim this island by these countries became moot. Within five months, the island retreated back under the sea. Some dubbed it “L’isola che non c’è,” the island that isn’t there, or “L’isola che se ne andò,” the island that went away.
The short-lived island eventually became known as Graham Island or Isola Ferdinandea in Italian. It was part of the underwater volcano Empedocles that sits south of Sicily, about 19 miles (30 km) off the coast. Italy was not a unified nation at the time, and Sicily was part of a state with Naples called the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. It was ruled by King Ferdinand II, which was who the island was named after in Italian, and who claimed the island for the kingdom.
The French also claimed it, calling the island Ile Julie, since it appeared in July. The French even had a geologist land on the island along with an artist who painted it. On August 1, 1831, a Royal Navy captain claimed the island for the British and called it Graham Island after the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir James Graham. Spain also made a claim to the new island.