Sunday, March 16, 2014

The curious tale of the Humanity Islands

With the current crisis in the Ukraine and the Crimea, one is reminded that history is full of stories of secession, of unhappy people who want autonomy and who break away from their homelands, or join up with others, but that all too often this results in wars and even wholesale slaughters.

But other acts of secession are on the individual level and often the work of just one man - and these can make for both astonishing and amusing reading.

Wikipedia has a list of recent or current “micro-nations” and although the instigators were, or still are, deadly serious about their actions, no government has accepted them or their demands.

Australia and New Zealand have a fair share of these renegades, the most famous being Prince Leonard of the Hutt River Principality of Western Australia, which is famous of its own flag, coinage, stamps and passports and is a popular tourist destination. Its matriarch, Princess Shirley passed away just last year.

But as my interest is in older history, one micro-nation that caught my eye on the list is that of the Republic of Morac-Songhrati-Meads, allegedly founded in the 1870s by a “British captain James George Meads”.

This is in the Spratly Islands group, now the focus of considerable international unrest between the surrounding nations, particularly as the area is believed to rich in resources. Read here.




What information there is available on Meads is vague and conflicting. The only website with a fair amount of information is this old Angelfire site that doesn’t appear to have been updated for 14 years and is full of quirky and dubious facts. A biographical book reviewed on the site can’t be found anywhere. This is what it has to say about the origins of the Republic:
In 1877, Captain James George Meads, Master of the ship "Modeste" discovered the islands that now constitute the Republic of Morac-Songhrati-Meads and claimed the archipelago on behalf of the world's downtrodden and persecuted. 
Captain Meads named the island group the "Kingdom of Humanity" and the sea that surrounded it, the "Humanity Sea" and, upon proclamation as King James I in 1878, formed a colony on the islands dedicated to a peaceful existence far removed from the hostilities that vexed the nineteenth century world. 
From the outset, the Kingdom of Humanity attracted a vast array of people from around the globe who wished to escape persecution and intolerance in their native country. King James I welcomed these refugees with open arms, claiming he had a sovereign duty to care for the world's poor, dispossessed and disenfranchised.

Then there is other strange information as well from the Philippine version of Wiki which states the Republic of M-S-M was established by a man called Christopher Schneider in 1959. He intended to replace the Kingdom of Humanity and was described as Chief of State and Morton F. Mead, the former King, was proposed to be ambassador to the United Nations.  This version also states that in 1972, Schneider and all of his cabinet drowned when their ship sank in a typhoon near Mindoro Island, and the current status of the micro-nation is unclear but that there have been isolated efforts to re-establish it. (Presumably by whoever prepared the Angelfire website.)

Some basic research into the genealogical records available for James George Mead (not Meads) shows that he was born in Weymouth, Dorset, on 4 March 1834. He joined the Royal Navy and gained the rank of Lieutenant in 1855, followed by Commander ten years later, becoming a Captain in 1872. By 1889 he was a Rear-Admiral and on 9 December 1894, he was a Retired Vice-Admiral. In 1867 he had served as second in command of Rattlesnake, at Cape of Good Hope and the west coast of Africa. Between 16 January 1878 and 30 September 1881 he was “Captain in Modeste (until paying off at Sheerness) commanded by William Montagu Dowell, China”.

Photograph of HMS Diamond,  a similar corvette of the Amethyst class as HMS Modeste

The Angelfire site states that “King James” died in 1888, but investigations show that Vice-Admiral Mead was very much alive and had retired to Bournemouth about 1894.  At the time of the 1911 Census, he and his wife had had 3 children (one deceased) and the two living children were still at home. The ages of James and Mary Mead his wife are given as 77 and 60 respectively and this suggests they had their children somewhat later than usual - George Gaskell being aged 27 and his sister Grace 23. There are several servants listed, but none with exotic names from Asia.

George Gaskell Mead had been born in Dorset in 1883 and served in the Army Service Corps during World War I – his mailing address on his medal card given as a garage in Bournemouth. He must have reached the rank of Captain as he is known by this in many subsequent electoral registers for Dorset. In 1929 he appears with his wife Gladys on a passenger list going to Tangier (hardly the South China Sea!) He seems to have spent his last years in a modest flat in Bournemouth and died in a nursing home there in 1966, leaving an estate of only £427 to a spinster lady.

So the real “King James I” - ie James George Mead - died in Bournemouth on 18 March 1913 and left effects of just under £12,000 and there is no way that his son, George Gaskell, could have been “King George I”. 

So whoever the “royal family” of Songhrati is, they are certainly not legal descendants of the Admiral and the whole thing sounds a bit of a “cargo cult” that involves the creation of a mythic ancestry.

It would be interesting to know if the real James or his son George ever knew how highly they were esteemed by people that James had most likely simply met as part of his exploring duties in the Royal Navy, but on whom he must have made quite an indelible impression to be immortalised in such a way. Perhaps he did indeed give the area the names of Humanity Islands and Humanity Sea and that in itself reflected his own opinion of the people who lived there.

One of the Spratly Islands currently the subject of a diplomatic row between neighbouring states
AP/Scanpix




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