British Columbia: Land of the Giants

Posted by Daniel on Nov 6, 2009 - 5 comments

Loyal readers of the KnowBC blog (you know who you are) have noticed that when they receive a message through their RSS feed that something new has been posted the item signs off with the exhortation, Vive Brobdingnag. What does that mean?

Brobdingnag, of course, is the Land of the Giants in Jonathan Swift's 1726 satire, Gulliver's Travels. It is an imaginary kingdom but there is credible evidence to suggest that it was located off the north coast of BC. Swift describes how Gulliver's ship, sailing in the South Pacific, is blown by a storm far to the north and east "so that the oldest sailor on board could not tell in what part of the world we were." (The quotation is from my set of the Great Books of the Western World, published by Encyclopedia Britannica in 1952 and bequeathed to me by my father.)

The map accompanying Gulliver's adventure, reproduced here, indicates that Brobdingnag is north and west of Francis Drake's supposed landfall. In the summer of 1579 Drake, a British mariner and privateer, was in the Pacific on a mysterious mission for the British and after looting the Spanish to the south he apparently sailed up the coast of North America. How far north he reached is a matter of conjecture, but quite possibly he arrived at Vancouver Island, giving rise to Swift's speculative geography. Gulliver's Travels may well represent the earliest mention of British Columbia in European literature.

It has been suggested that Brobdingnag might make a suitable moniker for British Columbia should a name change ever seem desirable. In which case Victoria might have to be renamed Lorbrulgrud, after the principal metropolis of Swift's kingdom.