a recent BBC talk Sir Harry Luke told listeners about an island in the
Pacific Ocean which disappears from time to time. This does not mean that
cartographers are doubtful as to its exact position, but sometimes the
island is there and sometimes it is not, as it subsides beneath the sea
and vanishes from sight every few years. This jack-in-the box island is
part of the Kingdom of Tonga, which is an independent monarchy under
British protection, and has been ruled for the past thirty-four years by
Her Majesty Queen Salote, G.B.E., a lady of great dignity and stature. The
name of the island in Tongan language is "Fonaufo'ou", but in
England it is known as Falcon Island. It was first sighted by the crew of
one of Her Majesty Queen Victoria's ships in 1865, when it was given this
name, but another British ship which was in the same locality twelve years
later saw nothing but smoke rising from the sea where the island was
reputed to be. When Falcon surfaced again in 1885, it was formally annexed
by King George I of Tonga, but once again it sank slowly and by 1898
nothing more than a breaking shoal was visible.
time the island remained submerged for nearly thirty years until in
October 1927 it shot up again with such vigour that by 1930 it finally
attained four-hundred-and-seventy-five feet, its greatest height yet
recorded. Steam and smoke rose several thousand feet in the air and could
be seen clearly from the Tongan capital, forty-five miles away. As soon as
the news reached the late Prince Tungi, who was then Queen Salote's
consort and Prime Minister, he sailed to Falcon and planted the Tongan
flag on its elusive shores, before they had time to vanish again. Since
then there has been a steady diminuendo.
1937 the island's height was only two hundred feet at the beginning of
1938 it had dropped to eighty-five, and by the end of the same year it was
reported as only twenty-five feet.
years later, when Sir Harry Luke visited Tonga, he determined to set foot
on Falcon Island, and at dawn one morning sailed from the Capital, with a
party of five Europeans and five Fijian boatmen, in the hope of finding
Falcon still above the surface. After about five hours, a thin black line
was sighted on the horizon, which as they approached was revealed as a
steep beach of blacky volcanic sand, hideous and forbidding, swept by an
angry surf.They boarded the ship's life boat, and towed by a motor skiff,
looked for a landing. At last they cast off from the skiff, the life-boat
was rowed in, and eventually, battered and drenched, they scrambled out of
the water on to one of the oddest and most repellent shores in the world.
Inland it was found to consist of warm black volcanic ash, so soft that
they walked ankle-deep in it, and just not too hot to be uncomfortable.
Harry went to Tonga again in August 1941, to condole with the Queen on the
death of Prince Tungi, and during the course of his visit flew over Falcon
Island, and had an excellent view of its whole expanse. He found out later
that he had only just been in time, for in 1943, when an American
geologist flew over the site, he saw only a black spock or two showing
above the water. Last year the Crown Prince of Tonga, Queen Salote's elder
son and heir, paid his first visit to England to see the Festival of
Britain, and told Sir Harry that once more Falcon Island had subsided
completely. "Not a vestige of it could be seen", he said.
Fletcher, the comedian with the Odd Odes and the many voices who is so
well known to listeners to BBC Variety programmes, told a story recently
concerning his early experiences in broadcasting. At that time Cyril was
anxious to make his way in any branch of the entertainment world which
would encourage him, and persuaded the BBC to grant him two auditions, one
for Variety and one for Drama. Shortly afterwards two envelopes slipped
through the Fletcher letter box on the same day, and both came from the
BBC. The one from the Variety Department regretted that Mr. Fletcher was
not funny enough to be offered an engagement. That from the Drama
Department said they were delighted with his audition and he was being put
on the panel of straight actors who were engaged to broadcast regularly.
Young Mr. Fletcher was overjoyed, for this good luck should, he thought,
ensure adequate meals and good publicity, as enormous numbers of people
listened to radio plays. What happened in reality was that he was booked
immediately to appear in variety, and has broadcast in it fairly steadily
ever since; he has never yet had a job with the Drama Department.