Sunday, January 08, 2012

Things to do at the Top of a Mountain


Some of my favourite books are about exploration. If I were to name three particular favourites they would be (in no particular order)...

  • The Dig Tree by Sarah Murgatroyd - the hapless first attempt to cross the Australian continent 
  • Barrow's Boys by Fergus Fleming - under utilised British naval officers being sent to discover hitherto unmapped parts of the globe
  • The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes - more colonisation than exploration but a magnificent and definitive book about the early settlement of Australia
One of the duties of early explorers, as they mapped out the territories they discovered was to come up with names for prominent landmarks, mountains, islands, rivers etc. This was an essential part of early exploration. Initially they would start their journey by naming places after famous people or perhaps the sponsors of the expedition.

Boothia Felix (now the Boothia Peninsula), an enormous barren wasteland in the Canadian Arctic was named after Felix Booth, a wealthy industrialist who made his money from distilling gin and was a patron of the expedition that discovered it.

Mount Everest was named after a prominent surveyor of India. It is generally thought that George Everest never actually saw the mountain that was named after him. Nowadays we don't even pronounce it correctly. He was insistent the first syllable of his name was pronounced Eve (as in Adam and Eve).

When explorers ran out of names of famous people they would start naming things after themselves or members of their family. The Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica is named after Sir James Clark Ross who discovered it. Yes, he named it after himself.

On long expeditions and with many new discoveries, explorers often ran out of names of people to use or simply became bored and they just named things after the first thing that came into their mind. This is the reason why in Australia you have a mountain range called The Snowy Mountains and deserts called the Great Sandy Desert and the Little Sandy Desert. In the US you have the Clearwater river and the Snake river. All these names show that whilst early explorers may have been hardy and intrepid, they probably didn't have a good thesaurus to hand.

When things got really desperate they would name places after events that had occured at those places. This explains places like Cape Tribulation where Captain James Cook ran his ship onto a reef and briefly believed his expedition would end. 

Going away from the exploration theme, on a more local level, places that are simply associated with a particular person or feature of the area would be named appropriately. Drill down onto any Google map and you will find any number of places called Ray's Creek, Ned's Point, Pleasant Valley or something similar.

Individual streets in cities would be named after the trade or activity most commonly practiced in that area. Gropec*nt Lane was a frequently used name to describe the part of a town or city where prostitution was common.
Today I was watching one of those TV shows about the emergency services. This particular programme was centred around a hospital in Melbourne. One incident involved a teenager who had been injured whilst out walking in the local mountains. The area was inaccessible to vehicles and the rescue helicopter had to be used. I did a double take the first time they mentioned the place where she had to be rescued from. They mentioned the place several times again as the dramatic helicopter rescue took place.
What was the name of the place where this girl had befallen her unfortunate accident?

Mount Buggery. What on earth do you think happened there to provoke it to be so named?
If you think that's amusing, look at the photo caption on the Wikipedia page and see what the adjacent mountain is called.





4 comments:

nursemyra said...

That wiki entry is hilarious, surely someone will rectify it soon.
My favourite explorer's book is The Worst Journey in the World by Cherry Apsley Garrard. Read it and weep.

Nota Bene said...

Always rely on Wikipedia...
I live near a village called Ugley. The village is fine, but as for the members of the Ugley Women's Institute I can't say

Terra Shield said...

The wiki entry photo caption was definitely LOL-worthy. Can't say I'm not curious how the names came about, though...

King of Scurf said...

nursemyra: I've heard of the Cherry Apsley Gerrard book. I'll look into it. I'd strongly recommend The Dig Tree which is absolutely gripping.

NB: I had to look up Ugley on Wikipedia. The name probably means "woodland clearing of a man named Ugga." You don't meet so many Uggas these days - I wonder why.

Terra: I'm not sure I want to know what happened on Mt. B.