Treasure Island


Treasure Island map
Treasure Island map

The Map

On a rainy day in August 1881, a make believe island map is created by an author with his stepson as they mark in various features and landmarks..

As they do so, the inception of an adventure story takes shape inspiring future generations of readers. Rum Cove, Spy-glass Hill, the infamous ‘X’ marks the spot (for the buried treasure of course!).

Gauging the reaction of his stepson, Robert Louis Stevenson carefully crafts a story around their fictitious island map with a cast of colourful characters including Long John Silver, Jim Hawkins, Billy Bones, and Captain Smollett among others. The pirate map is dated at 1750 and gives directions and coordinates for the secret island with its buried treasure somewhere in the Caribbean.

In retrospect the development of the novel is a tale in itself and certain events played a key role in the story’s development before final publication.

Stevenson initially serialized it in a children’s magazine called Young Folks in 1881 – 1882 titled The Sea Cook: Treasure Island or Mutiny of the Hispaniola and heres the rub – without illustrations – meaning, without the treasure map. The reason according to sources was his relative lack of recognition as an author.

The pirate story only garnered moderate interest but it was sufficient enough to republish as a single volume (as it happens, Stevenson’s intention all along). Even at this stage certain key elements of the story are missing including the final title. But ingeniously, Stevenson realizes the significance of adding illustrations – and importantly – the map with the location of the treasure. While this may appear an obvious inclusion it may not have been as evident at the time.

But as if writing himself into the script, Stevenson’s original map is lost and he is forced to recall it as best he can albeit as an altered version. It resembles an 18th century sea chart with its date of 1754 referencing all the features as we know them today (see map). The first illustrated edition of Treasure Island is published in 1884 through American publishers Roberts Brothers following an English publication without illustrations in 1883 (Cassell and company). It is a critical success bringing him fame and fortune.

William Kidd

Historically, buried pirate treasure is more myth than reality. But one such case actually exits. William Kidd is the only known pirate who is believed to have buried treasure – buried on Long Island before sailing to New York. Indeed Kidd’s story is commonly accepted as the basis for subsequent fictitious pirate tales.

Kidd’s motivation was to negotiate a conviction but he ended up hanged for the crime none the less.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island along with Washington Irving’s Wolfert Webber and Edger Allan Poe’s The Gold-Bug have their origins in William Kidd but also, according to Ralph D. Paine (American author), have commonality in other pirate tales. In The book of Buried Treasure he reveals a key trait where a lone surviving pirate takes possession of the treasure map and transfers it to a person on his deathbed. The map is passed to yet another (person) following thwarted attempts to locate the treasure. And so ‘Dead Man’s Chest’ serves well to dramatise and romanticise the tale of Treasure Island for example.

The remoteness of the places of burial further enhances the formula; far away islands with inaccessible features such as swamps and impenetrable jungle etc. But always a map leading back to the buried ‘loot’ for the pirates’ later retrieval. The mystery draws the reader in tracing the pirates path and motivation. Robert Louis Stevenson’s device, where ‘X’ marks the spot completes the illusion.

Pirate lies:

Christianson, Scott 2012, 100 Diagrams that Changed the World, Salamander Books

Alien Messages

messages from space

The media is littered with eye witness accounts of extraterrestrial encounters and while some seem genuine enough a vast number are discredited.

Of the plethora of sightings two distinctly different recorded accounts are worth mentioning here. Both are especially revealing.

Alphanumerical sequence

On August 15, 1977, an alphanumerical sequence 6EQUJ5 was recorded at the Big Ear radio observatory at the Ohio Sate University. The sequence, emanating from the constellation Sagittarius is regarded as the most persuasive evidence of extraterrestrial communication. A volunteer researcher named Jerry Ehman working at the observatory at the time, circled the sequence with a red pen and wrote ‘Wow’ in the margin. Observatory director John Krauss confirmed the finding and was astonished at the discovery. Lasting approximately 72 seconds the radio signal is known as the ‘Wow Signal’.

Jillian Kass-Ross branded in the night


In 1987 Jillian Kass-Ross woke from sleep at 2 am to a terrifying blinding orange light. The heat and light were extreme and overwhelming & she was unable to open her eyes. A few moments later she fell asleep.

The next day the Australian model saw three vertical pin pricks on her forehead and by the evening her face had swollen dramatically. Later medical examination revealed no known cause. A week later the swelling subsided leaving three triangular brandings on her forehead. Some days later while on holiday in Egypt she would be greeted by locals praying to her on seeing these unusual skin brandings. A former RAAF officer Colin Norris, then President of S.A. UFO research organisation confirmed that her case was one of a spate of skin brandings at the time. He and his associates had photographed at least a dozen cases with identical skin markings in Victoria and South Australia.

Of the numerous documented encounters, these two vastly different cases share the same peculiarity; the message while undecipherable nevertheless seems persuasively real.

So what do we send them? Macabre eating images and rather cliche ‘Star Trek’ style depictions of people tacked onto spacecraft seemingly as an afterthought.

Yes, this is for real:

Courtesy of the NAIC – Arecibo Observatory, a facility of the NSF

Compare Leonardo’s proportions almost 500 years earlier:

The depiction of a human couple was included as part of a plaque attached to the antenna of the 1972 Pioneer 10 & 1973 Pioneer 11 spacecraft. Included on the plaque are symbols for our Solar System, silhouette of spacecraft, hydrogen element and our Sun’s relative position to the centre of the Galaxy and 14 pulsars.

How much public & government consultation occurred for this, our message to the universe? Considering its significance NASA gave astronomers Carl Sagan, Dr. Frank Drae & Linda Salzman Sagan just 3 weeks to complete the task. The 1977 Voyager Spacecraft includes similar symbolic imagery on a Golden Record. In case it is intercepted by alien intelligence, NASA included the bizarre eating image (see link above).

The imagery on Pioneer Plaque has since been widely criticized including the use of ‘arrow’ symbolism (presumably derived from our hunter-gatherer origins), sexual bias in the depiction of the human couple with hand gesture and submissive posturing etc etc. All this leads to the inevitable question: Have we really considered the consequences of communicating with extraterrestrial intelligences? Perhaps they have? And now we’ve sent the messages we cannot undo them.

Since Voyager and Pioneer at least 2000 alien planets have been detected and these discoveries suggest habitable worlds are common throughout the Milky Way galaxy. It is reasonable to assume that intelligent life has had enough time to evolve in our universe of 13.8 billion years. Douglas Vakoch, Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California believes it a reasonable proposition to expect to find intelligent life over the next decade. This is the time needed to search for radio signals from a million stars or more – a number large enough to discover intelligent life.

Jillian Kass-Ross had a recurring dream of bright lights illuminating a building with minarets on her travels following her brandings. Weeks later & to her astonishment she saw the dream played out on the television news as missiles exploded over an identical building in Baghdad. When she discovered a 6 metre circle burnt in her hobby farm she wondered whether these events were somehow related.

..Is anyone out there? 


Terrestial refereces!_signal

John Pinkney 2009, Ultimate Book of Unsolved Mysteries. Five Mile Press

Taste for the Weird

‘A yogi levitates at the Conway Hall’, ‘Golfer is knocked out by his own back-swing’, ‘Tarantulas employed to guard jewellery’.. and the stories keep coming because there seems to be an unlimited appetite for the strangest, weirdest and sensational. 

And why not? ‘A cheating husband reveals lover’s details in sleep’ would be a nightmare right? ’A shop assistant loses $2,700 by misreading price tag’ is ideal for a resume. Who knows, ‘Portrait of a politician sculpted in poo’  may actually be an act of flattery and perhaps ‘A forger’s spelling error’ was a freudian slip (yeah, right).

Observe the seemingly limitless updates in the weird and bizarre categories on sites such as Daily Bhaskar & Daily Picks and Flicks And you weren’t tempted to read beyond the headlines?

Rude tube may satisfy a limited demographic but the benign and ridiculous seem to regularly appear at the end of prime-time, free-to-air news bulletins.

But as is often the case & on closer inspection the formula for this type of news may not be so obvious. Real macabre and horror (of the homicide variety) are avoided so that the serious is bypassed for the trivia and funny lending to the full spectrum of human emotions. The scary of the spook variety is supplanted with the slap-stick spook; its not so much ‘The ghosts at Huddon-le-Green’ but rather ‘Girl sees religious message in tomato’ or ‘Man lets honeybees form enormous beard on his chin’. Things can be funny peculiar and not just plain scary or as so many commentators say of our 24/7 news cycle, ‘exhaustive and unrelenting’.

What is surprising is the sheer number of weird and ridiculous stories so much so it may seem impossible to replenish and to satisfy an equally insatiable appetite for them. And they seem to match the text message- micro blogging society we have become. Explanation equals title equals news grab;Fresh air for sale’, ‘Russian politician attacked with cake and Bus stop stomper’.

But records show the scammers and swindlers have been making news for some time. It’s nothing new. All you need is the incitement and the opportunity and suddenly there’s no end to the associated crimes. Pennsylvania is home to one of the longest door-to-door scams since the 1930’s. A group of scammers some 5000 strong of the Williamson clan carry out dodgy house repairs. When the bad weather comes the house paint runs and the freshly laid asphalt repairs conveniently wash away. Of course during the period of the swindle the Williamson’s children are placed in public schools. And then its on to the next rip-off. Today’s headline could read something like ‘Repair racket swindle’.

Tokyo is home to a well practiced con since the 1960’s. Pedestrians conveniently bump into an unsuspecting car and while they’re writhing on the ground hostile crowds gather blaming the innocent driver. Perhaps ’Set-up pedestrian accident’ would be today’s sound grab.

So if you’re in the mood for the crazy and colourful there’s an endless supply. Weird News & But First are especially noteworthy for the real and seemingly nonsensical.

Levitating Yogi at the Conway Hall
Levitating Yogi at the Conway Hall

Weird sources:

James Morton and Hilary Bateson, Conned: Scams, Frauds and Swindles

Tim Healy, Strange But True

Geoff Tibballs, The Mammoth Book of Weird News

Dziemianowicz, Weinberg & Greenberg, 50 Ghost Stories