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<   No. 4533   2021-06-09   >

Comic #4533

1 Mate: The storm is blowing over, cap’n!
2 Ponsonby: Good. Get a fix on our position. Where are we?
3 Mate: Off Montserrat, I’d say.
3 Ponsonby: How can you be so sure?
4 Mate: The huge volcanic eruption is kind of a giveaway.

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Montserrat is an island in the Leeward Islands of the West Indies, currently administered as a British Overseas Territory. It was settled in 1632 by Irish settlers, who were antagonistic to the English and actually invited France to claim the island in 1666. Oddly, the French declined to take them up on the offer, and in 1667 the Treaty of Breda established the English as controllers of the island.

France briefly attacked Montserrat in 1712, however again they didn't really bother pushing ahead with an invasion and occupation.

They had another go during the American Revolutionary War, during which France was an ally of the USA against England. In 1782 France attacked and captured Montserrat as part of an effort to support the US against the English. But once again, France wasn't really seriously interested in owning the island, and agreed to return it to England as part of the agreements in the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War.

Why was France so reluctant to take control of Montserrat? One might speculate a supernatural prescience of the events of 1995, when the Soufrière Hills volcano complex in the southern half of the island erupted violently. The eruptions lasted until 1999 and destroyed the capital city of Plymouth, as well as several other towns and the island's only airport. 19 people were killed, and around 7000 people, representing two-thirds of the population of the whole island, evacuated, never to return. Over half the island is still uninhabitable and officially off-limits, for safety reasons. The island required an enormous relief package from the UK and the local tourism-based economy collapsed. The much reduced population now lives in the relatively untouched northern third of the island.

There is evidence that the last previous eruption of Montserrat was some time in the 16th century. A little too early for this comic, but let's assume that perhaps in this history Montserrat is as infamous for destructive vulcanism as it is in our modern world.

The photo of the volcanic eruption is not of Montserrat, but actually of Tavurvur on the island of New Britain, in Papua New Guinea. The photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence by Taro Taylor, from Wikimedia Commons.

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