When Patagonia invaded the United Kingdom

Map of Patagonia and South Atlantic islands by J.H. Colton (1855) [Courtesy of Yahoo Patagonia History Group].

This history begins in France in the late 1850s, with an ordinary lawyer from the Dordogne region and a declaration halfway between fantasy and utopia. Antoine de Tounens (1825–1878), a lawyer from Périgueux, proclaimed himself King of Araucania and Patagonia under the name Orélie-Antoine I. This imaginary kingdom was created by a decree on November 17, 1860, with a minimum or symbolic support of some mapuches of the Araucania region (Chile). This state was never recognized, and the authorities of Chile took care of sending Antonio back to France inmediatly. Orélie-Antoine I tried to back on three different opportunities, from 1868 to 1876, but in all the cases was deported both from Chile and Argentina. Finally, His (imaginary) Majesty died in misery on September 17, 1878, in Tourtoirac, France.

His Majesty Orélie-Antoine I [source: Wikipedia].

The history of the kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia do not finished in 1878, but it has extended into the 20th century. After the death of Orélie-Antoine I, there were many other people who have raised the flag of the uthopic kingdom and have kept it alive to the present days. Different French citizens, without any family relationship with Antoine de Tounens (he had no children), have declared themselves pretenders to the throne of the kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia, from 1878 to the present day. Of course, if there are throne pretenders then also there are ministers, secretaries and many other public officiers; and also there are international conflicts, as described below.

Flag of the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia

In 1982, the Malvinas war between Argentina and the United Kingdom was fought. These islands, illegally occupied by the United Kingdom from 1833, were recaptured by Argentina on April 2 of that year and, after a 74-day war, were recovered by British forces on June 14, 1982. As this tragic war evolved, which left almost 1,000 dead and a sovereignty dispute that still has no solution, there was a strange claim that went unnoticed by almost everyone. An unknown Council of Patagonia released an “official” statement about the war that was sent to the Agence France-Presse and the embassies of Argentina and United Kingdom, whose first lines are as follows:

“The Government of His Majesty Orelie-Antoine I, King of Patagonia, meeting in extraordinary Council in Puerto Hambre, in the Strait of Magellan, has examined the situation in the Malvinas Islands with the most rigorous attention and wishes to remind England and Argentina that they must not claim the slightest sovereignty over some islands that constitute part of the national territory of the Kingdom of Patagonia, since this kingdom was created on 18 November 1860.”

“Consequently, His Majesty’s Government orders the English and Argentine fleets to withdraw from the territorial waters of Patagonia within fifteen days, from 7 April to midnight.”

Jean Raspail, “Adiós, Tierra del Fuego”

The kingdom of Patagonia and Araucania had risen from the ashes of the XIX century with an official statement claiming sovereignty over the islands, arguing that they were an indivisible part of the kingdom and that neither Argentina nor Great Britain had the right to their occupation. As expected, there was no response from either side. They were too busy to respond to the claim of a non-existent kingdom. In the absence of a response, the officials of the Patagonian kingdom devised a audacious plan: to occupy a portion of British territory in order to ensure that their claim is heard.

Article in the newspaper ABC (Spain) of 15 April 1982, in which the warning made by the Council of Patagonia to the United Kingdom is reported. At the same time, the Malvinas Islands conflict evolved to a complete war.

On May 24, 1984, Jean Raspail, a French traveler and explorer, in his role as General Consul of Patagonia, sent a letter to the british ambassador in the English embassy in Paris. The letter, in brief, was an ultimatum from the kingdom of Patagonia and Araucania, which stated that if the British armed forces did not evacuate the Falkland Islands in seven days, Patagonia would invade, as a measure of retaliation, a portion of British territory, whose name and possession would not be revealed. Let this story be told by Jean Raspail himself, as he does in his book “ Adiós, Tierra del Fuego”:

“The Falkland Islands were not evacuated. I even doubt that my letter has reached the ambassador, probably was blocked by a simple secretary who just smiled. On May 31, an hour before dawn, while it was still night on the silent Chausey islands, two small anchored ships raised their anchors (a cutter and a sloop) and slid down the northwest pass, leaving the rocks of La Massue to port and the banks of La Déchirée to starboard. The weather was very good. The luck had embarked with us. At dawn, we sailed with a beautiful breeze over an empty sea, without witnesses, friends or enemies. Moscato, salami, coffee. As corsairs that we were, when our pilots estimated that we had left the French waters for the English waters of the Minquiers islands, we proceeded in both boats to change the flags, lowering the tricolor blue, white and red to replace it with the blue, white and green Patagonian flag. It was a very nice moment. The fleet of His Majesty Orélie-Antoine I, at full speed, leaving behind it the ordinary world, had entered the land of dreams where there are still territories to discover and kingdoms to be conquered.”

Jean Raspail, “Adiós, Tierra del Fuego”
Minquiers’ nautical chart, a real nightmare for sailors [source: Association des Plaisanciers de Herel]

The unusual, or incredible, Patagonian fleet had invaded the Minquiers Islands. These islands constitute an uninhabited and uninhabitable archipelago that remains almost completely underwater during high tides, and when the tide comes down it exposes hundreds of sharp rocks and sandbanks that are the nightmare of sailors. The only piece of land that always stays out of the water is a small rocky plateau called Maîtresse, where there is a small village made up of a few houses that are occasionally occupied by fishermen from the island of Jersey. But no one, in his sanity, resides there permanently, it is only used in emergencies. This small archipelago is very close to the French coast, barely ten kilometres from the Chausey Islands (France), but belongs to England. This is the place where the singular expedition went on May 31, 1984. No one was found at the site, although they were careful to leave someone watching in case the Jersey Island Marine Patrol appeared. The rest of the crew disembarked on Maîtresse Island, and made a brief reconnaissance. In the middle of the plateau was a mast of about fifteen meters, with the British flag flying high, so that…

“The weather forecast worsened, with a severe northwest depression predicted for the next thirty-six hours. We had a little time left. First, to take possession. Since the right to conquest is no longer recognized and causes general disapproval, the tradition of this type of ceremonies was lost. We had to innovate, inspired by the 18th century, as Her Majesty’s nobles and ships. In the King’s factories we had manufactured an immense Patagonian flag which unfolded its colours at the top of the mast, while, aligned in the right order and standing at attention, we saluted the blue, white, and green flag in the cloudy sky of the island Maîtresse of the Minquiers, called from now Port Tounens for eternity”.

Jean Raspail, “Adiós, Tierra del Fuego”
View of the island Maîtresse [source: Traveler].

The unusual ceremony continued with the placing of a marble plaque at the base of the mast, where it was declared in the name of H.M. Orélie-Antoine I that the Minquiers archipelago became part of the kingdom of Patagonia. Speeches and the humming of a hymn without words completed the scene, making the act itself so credible that the “invaders” themselves almost believe it. One of them was named, identified by the acronym A.S., as civil and military governor of Port Tounens, as well as apostolic curator of the archipelago (according to Jean Raspail, General Consul of Patagonia, the official religion of the kingdom is Catholic). His speech was brief and concrete:

The Minquiers have become Patagonian lands. They will remain so.

After that act, the Names Commission of the Patagonian Geographic Institute proceeded to make some changes in the toponymic denominations of the geographical accidents of Minquiers Islands. Names such as Port Pikkendorff, the Small Northern Horn, the Northern Wollaston Islands and others were incorporated into the Patagonian toponymy. Once the ceremonial part was finished, before returning to the continent, a last matter was discussed:

“Finally, the question arose as to what to do with the British flag, our spoils of war. Gallant war: we were magnanimous, we put it back on top of the mast, not without first removing some significant pieces with our Opinel, with honour, on the only rope, but under the glorious blue, white and green that was a meter higher…

The English didn’t like it.”

Jean Raspail, “Adiós, Tierra del Fuego”

Before the evening, the expeditionary group returned to the continent. A strong northwest wind threatened to make difficult the navigation, which happened effectively soon after and for three consecutive days. At dawn of the following day, letters were distributed to the main press agencies, which spread the news without even verifying it: Agence France Press, Reuters, Radio France Manche, Times, Figaro, Daily News, etc. It was not until June 4 that the Jersey Island patrol boat was able to approach and verify the invasion. Thatcher was interpellated by the affair, and there was some diplomatic commotion.

The challenge of the imaginary kingdom of Orelie-Antoine I and his successors and adherents of the late 20th century did not end here. The invasion was repeated twelve years later, on August 30, 1998. This time the General Consul Raspail did not participate directly in the operation, but was left on land waiting for the results. The expedition not only raised the flag of the Kingdom of Patagonia, but also brought back, as a war trophy, the British flag. As the previous time, the flag was returned with honour, but on condition that Raspail himself was received by a high-ranking representative of the English embassy. On September 3rd, the plenipotentiary minister and political adviser to the British embassy in Paris, Sherard Cower-Coles, received Raspail at the embassy. The news made the front page of the Times for three consecutive days, and there was an interesting commotion. The flag was returned, salutations were exchanged, and Cower-Coles asked Raspail what Patagonia plans to do in the future…

“Nothing urges us at the moment,” answered Raspail. “We have claimed our sovereignty in the Minquiers for twenty-four hours and that is enough for our king, who has the eternity ahead of him. But in fourteen years we will land again, and perhaps longer.”
Mr Cower-Coles was surprised: “Why fourteen years?”
Raspail told him: “1984, 1998, 2012, a cycle of fourteen years. In 2012, Mr Cower-Coles will have abandoned the career, he will have forgotten all history, just like the British government, I’m probably no longer in this world, but I’m willing to bet that tradition will be respected. The royal patagonian flag, blue, white and green will recover its place in the wind, in Port Tounens, in 2012. There is a risk that there will be enough people in the ranks of the crews. I know a number of people who are already preparing, who make plans, sketch boats…”
“And why not 2026, 2040, 2054… That is how legends are born and grow. You never know… they are Patagonian things”

Jean Raspail, “Adiós, Tierra del Fuego”
The invasion of English territory by the kingdom of Patagonia caught the attention of newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic, and in several languages [source: Bahía Sin Fondo].

The year 2012 was over and the kingdom of Patagonia did not invade British land again, or at least if it did, it did not announce it. That does not mean that they will not try it again at another time. This is an historical moment where there are no more lands to discover (at least on our planet), and Patagonia still has that mythical aura of Terra Incognita that gives rise to dreams and enterprises of the 19th century. The ghost of Orelie-Antoine I is still flying over those lands today, and it is only a matter of time to see the legendary (and inexistent) Patagonian fleet sail again.

[An spanish version of this article can be read in Bahía Sin Fondo]

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