Voyage of Traveler / Blog

February 1, 2010

Traveler Postcard From the Kingdom of Redonda

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 8:14 am


On January 29, 2010, Michael Lawler, an attorney from Newport Beach, California, invaded the tiny Caribbean island of Redonda, claimed the island for himself, and immediately appointed himself to be the King of Redonda.

Lawler, age 56, is nearing the end of his three-year around the world cruise on his 47-foot sailboat, “Traveler.” He is currently cruising the West Indies with his 21-year old son, Brian Lawler, and his Indonesian crew member, Yansen, age 28.

Redonda, only 2 sq km, is not only uninhabited, it is practically uninhabitable. Only sea birds live there.  The island is a wild place surrounded by steep cliffs, rising to nearly 1000 feet, with waves breaking on the rocky shoreline and lacks a harbor, beach or safe anchorage.  This makes it nearly impossible to even go ashore.  Yet Lawler managed to land on Redonda, possibly the first person to do so in many years. With Yansen aboard Traveler motoring in slow circles nearby, Lawler launched his kayak and paddled close to the shore with his son, Brian.  The sea conditions were too rough to take the kayak ashore, so he swam the last 100 feet and scrambled up the rocks between the breaking waves.

Once ashore, Lawler took possession of the islet, proclaimed himself King of Redonda and raised his royal banner, a red, white and blue striped flag. Lawler also pronounced that his son, Brian, was to carry the title of Prince of Redonda, and as such is the future heir to the throne.

The island was discovered by Columbus on his second voyage in 1493.  Although Columbus never actually landed there, he called it Santa Maria de Redonda (St. Mary the Round) and claimed it for the Spanish Crown.  However, Spain later abandoned the claim, apparently because they had no use for it.  In 1865 the British Navy, again without going ashore, surprised the Caribbean community and claimed Redonda.  When Great Britain allowed Antigua and Barbuda to be self-governing in 1967, they threw in Redonda, not knowing what else to do with the islet.  However, the government of Antigua and Barbuda has ignored the islet and, for all practical purposes, has abandoned it. It is believed that no one from Antigua and Barbuda has ever even set foot on Redonda.

A few miners from Montserrat, nine miles to the south, are the only persons known to have ever lived there, although briefly, and that was back in 1865.  They built one small shack that has somehow survived several hurricanes over the past 150 years.  Over the door of that shack is a weather beaten sign that says “Redonda Post Office.”

In 1865 an Irishman from Montserrat, Matthew Dowdy Shiel, poking fun at the British for taking claim to Redonda, claimed the island for himself and made his infant son, Matthew Phipps Shiel, the King of Redonda in a ceremony purportedly carried out on the island by a bishop. In 1927 Matthew Phipps Shiel, then a minor author of fantasy novels, launched a new book with the announcement that he was, indeed, the King of Redonda, and the London press played it up. This gave the otherwise unheard of island an international splash of notoriety.  The royal history gets a little foggy after that.

At one time there were four claimants to the throne. One “King” (Juan I, aka Jon Gawsworth), a colorful resident of London with a bit of a drinking problem, would grant knighthoods to people who would buy him a pint. In 2007, the Wellington Arms, a pub in Southampton, declared themselves an embassy of the Kingdom of Redonda in order to gain diplomatic immunity from a ban on indoor smoking.

For the past decade, Bob Williamson (or as he preferred, King Bob the Bald) held court in the waterfront bars of Antigua surrounded by his knights (drinking buddies) and navy (one derelict sailboat).  But his recent death, without an heir to throne, has opened the door for someone else to carry on the royal tradition.

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