Select Page

Gregor Mcgregor


Remember back in episode 155, Hate to Burst your Bubble, we talked about, among other things, the Florida real estate boom and bust of the 1920s?  It’s where we get the phrase, “if you believe that, I have some real estate in Florida to sell you.”  100 years before that, we could have been saying, “I have some acreage in Poyais to sell you.”  Never been to Poyais?  Trust me, it’s amazing.  The weather is always perfect, sunny and warm.  Located along the eastern coast of present-day Nicaragua and Honduras, the soil of Poyais is so fertile, you can get three harvests of corn a year.  The trees are heavy with fruit and the forests teem with entrees in the form of game animals.  If you look into the rivers, you’ll not only see water cleaner and more pure than you’ve ever seen in your life and more fish than you could hope to catch, but in the river bed, the sparkle of gold fills your eyes, not from flecks and dust, but nuggets as big as walnuts, just laying there, waiting for you to scoop them up.  The only thing missing is settlers to develop and leverage its resources to the fullest.  Wanna get your share?  Better hurry; hundreds of people are investing all their savings in a piece of the perfect Poyais.  All you have to do is [] to the Cazique or prince.  Who is the prince of this equatorial new world paradise?  A Scotsman named Gregor MacGregor.  


MacGregor was born in 1786.  His father, who died when Gregor was 4, was a captain sailing with the East India Company, so adventuring on a quest for riches might well have been in his blood.  A clever chap from the get-go, Gregor enrolled in the University of Edinburgh at age 15, though he never finished his degree.  No shade thrown there, I’m a 3-time community college drop-out and look how I turned out!  (pause, sigh)  At age 17, he took after his grandfather and joined the British Army, where he quickly rose up the ranks to lieutenant, captain, and major, largely by buying the next rank up, but that’s pretty much how it was done back then.  Two years after enlisting, MacGregor married a Royal Navy Admiral’s daughter, and a mere five years after that, probably because he’d married into money, he retired from the army.  The young couple moved to London, where Gregor called himself Sir and claimed to be a baronet, which ranks underneath baron in British noble hierarchy and is apparently a modest enough lie that no one would think to put the effort and time into checking it out.  


But ‘easy street’ only lasted another year before his wife died.  No more wife meant no more wealthy in-laws, so MacGregor sold his Scottish estate and relocated to Caracas, Venezuela, where he married another wealthy family’s daughter.  Never let it be said he’s not consistent.  Wife 2 was actually a cousin of Simon Bolivar, of Bolivia fame.  He was able to sell his military prowess to Francisco de Miranda, the Venezuelan revolutionary general.  There was rather a lot of revolution going on in Spanish colonies at the time while Spain was well distracted dealing with a certain actually-of-average-height French emperor.  At least MacGregor wasn’t lying about his soldiery, securing a number of victories and becoming a notable figure for the revolutionary set all across LatAm.  


In 1820, MacGregor moved to a former British Colony, in Nicaragua, which, true to its name, a swampy and pest-infested area that Europeans had until that point left to the Mosquito Natives.  In 1830, MacGregor traded jewelry and rum for eight million acres of land.  Now that was either an F-ton of rum or the land was utterly worthless.  I’ll give you three guesses.  The land was completely useless for farming, kinda of a big deal, being the production of foodstuff and whatnot.  


Realizing there was no way he could draw settlers in with the land as it was, MacGregor decided to draw them in with the land as it wasn’t.  So he headed back to England, where he was well-known in society circles for his military achievements, leading his men into battle against great odds.  Society not knowing that he’d also abandoned his men.  Twice.  But he rubbed elbows with the muckety-mucks nonetheless, telling them all about his new world paradise, the Republic of Poyais.  And he went so far beyond Baron Munchausenian story-telling.


Gregor made up a whole country and everything that goes along with it.  To hear him tell it, the Republic of Poyais was not an impenetrable, parasite-ridden jungle, but a glorious tableau with a thriving civilization with a parliament, banks, an opera house and cathedral.  The weather was ideal, a perpetual summer that was very appealing to Londoners.  The soil was so rich that farming required almost no labor.  The rivers that wound down the mountains teemed with fish and the surrounding forests were thick with game animals.  In this dubious district, the capital of St Joseph had a massive infrastructure and a population of about 20,000 people.  The economy was robust, if you felt like doing anything other than scooping up all the gold that was just laying around.  MacGregor had pamphlets promoting printed, and they sold in the thousands around the streets of London and Edinburgh.  He started a nationwide campaign to attract investment, taking out big ads in newspapers and even opened sales offices.  


The world-building that went into this scam would have made GRRM blush.  Maybe even JRR Tolkien.  Feel free to at me on social media; I love a spirited nerd debate.  He came up with a tricameral Parliament and a commercial banking system.  Like an African dictator, he designed Poyaian military uniforms, several, different ones for different regiments.  He published a 350 page guidebook, under the pen name Thomas Strangeways, with a sliver of real facts about the region, but the Pacman portion of the pie chart all came from his preposterous posterior.  The book was full of detailed sketches and MacGregor had a seemingly endless supply of official-looking documents.  He had offices set up in London, Glasgow and Edinburgh to sell land certificates, which people eagerly bought.  The whole operation looked completely legit; you wouldn’t even think to doubt it.  MacGregor didn’t just succeed in his con, he was *wildly successful.  Not only did MacGregor raise £200,000 directly – the bond market value over his life ran to £1.3 million, or about £3.6 billion today – but he convinced seven ships’ worth of eager settlers to make their way across the Atlantic. It became a popular investment, and many sank their life savings in land deed in Republic of Poyais.  A London Bank underwrote a £2000 pound loan, £23mil or $30mil today, secured with the land sales.  


MacGregor was signing up settlers left and right.  Settlers meant development, which meant the value of bonds and land certificates would go up, which would attract more settlers and investors, driving the price up further.  Gee, it’s like crime does kinda pay.  Skilled tradesmen were promised free passage and ostensibly, supposedly government contract work.  Don’t think it was only the under-educated among the population that bought into this – bankers, doctors, civil servants, you name it.  Whole families signed up and backed their bags.   In September 1822, the first fifty settlers sailed for Poyais and were very confused when the landed.  There was…nothing there.  No port, not even a dock.  I mean, there were trees and snakes and mosquitos, but no city, no road, no nothing.  The settlers believed they were lost, but they couldn’t get a ride to the “right” place because that ship had sailed.  Literally, the ship left them immediately.  So they set up camp.  150 more people, including children, shortly joined them.  They searched for civilization as best they could, but the rainy season descended on them, bringing on clouds of mosquitos, whose tiny bags were packed with yellow fever and malaria.  A few settlers who were saved by a passing ship informed the British Colony of Honduras about the situation. The colony organized a rescue mission, but only a third of the population was still alive and rescued. In the meantime, five more ships set for Poyais had to be stopped by the Honduras government.  They were informed that Poyais did not exist. It was Mickey Mouse, mate, spurious, not genuine.  Twisting the knife counter-clockwise, the King revoked the land grant and told them they were now illegal squatters and had swear allegiance or GTFO.  Dozens were too weak to leave.  In a particularly depressing bit of math, of 250 or so who had set sail for Poyais, with all their hopes and dreams pinned to this mythical land, 180 died.   


That’s not even the crazy bit.  Of those 70 who barely survived their ordeal, many of them did *not blame MacGregor.  Six of the survivors, including one man who lost two children to the ordeal, signed an affidavit insisting that blame lay not with MacGregor but with Hector Hall, a former army officer who was supposed to be in charge of the settlement.  They declared “[W]e believe that Sir Gregor MacGregor has been worse used by Colonel Hall and his other agents than was ever a man before, and that had they have done their duty by Sir Gregor and by us, things would have turned out very differently at Poyais”. MacGregor claimed he’s been a victim too, defrauded and embezzled from by his own agents and undermined by merchants in British Honduras because the richness of Poyais threatened their profits


Now I love a Scottish accent, but this must have been one charming melon-farmer.  MacGregor didn’t know it, but he had actually been using “the six principles of persuasion.”  These comes from a 1984 book by Robert Cialdini, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” which looked at the factors that affect the decisions that people make, especially as pertains to sales, naturally.  At the core of his work is the idea that decision-making is effortful, so individuals use a lot of rules of thumb and decision making shortcuts (heuristics) when deciding what to do, and of course once you know what those things are, you can manipulate them to your advantage.  They are authority (in the sense that they’re an authority on the subject), scarcity, reciprocity (i.e. you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours), consistency (I still believe in this idea as much as I always have), social validation (everyone you know is buying one of these), and friendship or liking (picture the smile on a used car salesman).  MacGregor seemed to know these instinctively.


Mcgregor skipped town when the scandal broke, claiming he needed to take his wife to warm, dry Italy for her health, and headed across the channel to France and began the whole thing all over again.  In Paris, he persuaded the Compagnie de la Nouvelle Neustrie, a firm of traders looking to break into the South American market, to seek investors and settlers for Poyais in France.  In a matter of months, he had a new group of settlers and investors ready to go.  Concurrent to all this, he tried to get in good with King Ferdinand VII of Spain, proposing to make Poyais a Spanish protectorate and a base of operations from which Spain could reconquer Guatemala.  Spain, at least, ignored MacGregor.  MacGregor might not have realized that France was more stringent than England in its passport requirements: when the government saw a flood of applications to a country no one had heard of, a commission was set to investigate the matter.  Or maybe he figured he was on a roll and utterly bulletproof.  This time, Mcgregor et al were arrested and tried.  But he was found not guilty on all accounts, mostly because one of his accomplices was hiding in the Netherlands with a ton of incriminating documents.  Once he felt that London had probably forgotten his colossal scam, he headed back…and started another scam.  Smaller this time; I guess he’s learning.  But the bonds didn’t sell well this time, and what’s worse -for everyone- other fraudsters started pulling their own fake paradise scams following his model.  He retired to Edinburgh, then to Venezuela after the death of his wife, where he was granted citizenship and a pension as a retired general.  He never faced any consequences for his actions and when he died in 1845, Gregor MacGregor was buried with full military honors.  So the moral of the story is … crime does pay?  That’s a terrible lesson.  


Crocker Land


In 1907, Robert Peary was the most famous, and most experienced Arctic explorer in the

world, but he had a problem—he hadn’t yet managed to become the first to visit the

most arctic of arctic places, the North Pole, and his cash reserves were becoming nonexistent.

The previous year, he had almost made it—supposedly getting within 175 miles or 280 kilometers—but was turned around by a combination of storms and depleting supplies, but Robert Peary was sure he could get there if he just had another try.

He possessed the kind of confidence that only a man with a Lorax level mustache can have.

All he needed to make another journey was money.

However, the arctic adventure capital market was a bit reluctant to give him more after

the previous failures, so, Peary hatched a plan.

The key to that plan was a wealthy San Francisco financier named George Crocker, who had previously donated $50,000 to Peary’s failed 1906 voyage.

This was, of course, a time when 50k bought you more than two buckets of movie theatre

popcorn and a calculus textbook.

Peary wanted Crocker to help fund his new voyage but, considering the previous trip

he financed achieved diddly squat, this could be tough.

But what if, and hear me out, the previous voyage wasn’t a colossal failure.

Peary thought of a way to not only convince Crocker that the previous voyage hadn’t

been a failure, but also to butter him up a little bit by doing the one thing that rich

people love more than anything else—naming things after them.

And so, Peary revealed that on his 1906 voyage, though he hadn’t made it to the North Pole,

he had seen, from a distance, an enormous, previously undiscovered land mass.

He wrote that he spotted, “faint white summits,” 130 miles northwest of Cape Thomas Hubbard,

and that once he got closer, he could make out, “the snow-clad summits of the distant

land in the northwest, above the ice horizon.”

In honor of George Crocker, the San Francisco financier, Peary named this beautiful, snow-peaked land mass, “Crocker Land.”

But then Robert Peary had two problems.

The first problem?

George Crocker had already given most of his money to boring causes like rebuilding San

Francisco after the earthquake of 1906, and so as flattered as he may have been, there

wasn’t money left for funding Peary’s arctic antics.

The second problem?

The island was totally, 100%, made up.

Now normally, this might not be such a big deal.

Guy makes up an imaginary island, who cares?

Captain James Cook did so three centuries ago and still nobody’s called him out, but

this fake island ended up mattering a lot.

You see, eventually, Robert Peary did manage to secure funding for another voyage, mostly

from the National Geographic Society.

On April 6, 1909, he finally made it to the North Pole, or at least, he said he did.

He had a picture, but this could be any old pile of snow.

He returned home proudly proclaiming that he was the first man ever to reach the North

Pole, to which a guy named Frederick Cook, another Arctic explorer, replied, “um…I

was there, like, a year ago,” but, Cook said that he’d sailed through where this

giant land mass called Crocker’s Land was supposedly located.

If I know anything about boats, it’s that they don’t work well on land and, since

Cook hadn’t found a thing except for cold water and walrus farts, someone’s lying


But, because of this, the existence of Crocker Land became crucially important as it would

prove who had really gone to the North Pole first.

If it did exist, then Frederick Cook must be lying about going to the North Pole.

If it didn’t exist, Frederick Cook did go to the North Pole, and Robert Peary was the


Of course, at that time you couldn’t just fire up your handy household satellite to

check and so, to settle it, a man named Donald McMillian decided to go on another expedition

to find the land.

Not only would this prove who was telling the truth, but it would possibly give McMillan

the opportunity to be the first to step onto what was considered, “the last great unknown

place in the world.”

That voyage was, incredibly, a failure.

In addition to their ship getting stuck in the ice for three years before they could

return home, the only bright spot came when a crew member saw what looked to be the island—a beautiful, snowy-peaked landmass—but it turned out to be a mirage.

In light of that fact, some have suggested that Peary didn’t lie about the island,

but was actually just seeing a mirage, but unfortunately for Peary’s reputation, it

looks like that’s letting him off too easy.

Historians looked at Peary’s original notes and logs for the date that Crocker’s Land

was supposedly discovered, and they found that he doesn’t mention anything about it.

All he says happened that day was that he climbed up some rocks, and then climbed down

the rocks.

Plus, the early drafts of his book even didn’t include anything about it, but then three

paragraphs about Crocker Land mysteriously showed up just before the book was published—just when Peary needed to get more money.

In other words, Crocker Land was a load of crock.

One of Peary’s major issues, aside from inventing an island, was that, when he supposedly

went to this north pole, his crew did not include a single navigator who could make

their own independent observations as to whether or not they were truly at the pole, or just

some pile of ice, and so people didn’t believe him.


In the archives of the American Geographical Society in Milwaukee lies a century-old map with a peculiar secret. Just north of Greenland, the map shows a small, hook-shaped island labeled “Crocker Land” with the words “Seen By Peary, 1906” printed just below.


The Peary in question is Robert Peary, one of the most famous polar explorers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the man who claimed to have been the first to step foot on the North Pole. But what makes this map remarkable is that Crocker Land was all but a phantom. It wasn’t “seen by Peary”—as later expeditions would prove, the explorer had invented it out of the thin Arctic air.


By 1906, Peary was the hardened veteran of five expeditions to the Arctic Circle. Desperate to be the first to the North Pole, he left New York in the summer of 1905 in a state-of-the-art ice-breaking vessel, the Roosevelt—named in honor of one of the principal backers of the expedition, President Theodore Roosevelt. The mission to set foot on the top of the world ended in failure, however: Peary said he sledged to within 175 miles of the pole (a claim others would later question), but was forced to turn back by storms and dwindling supplies.


Peary immediately began planning another attempt, but found himself short of cash. He apparently tried to coax funds from one of his previous backers, San Francisco financier George Crocker—who had donated $50,000 to the 1905-’06 mission—by naming a previously undiscovered landmass after him. In his 1907 book Nearest the Pole, Peary claimed that during his 1906 mission he’d spotted “the faint white summits” of previously undiscovered land 130 miles northwest of Cape Thomas Hubbard, one of the most northerly parts of Canada. Peary named this newfound island “Crocker Land” in his benefactor’s honor, hoping to secure another $50,000 for the next expedition.


His efforts were for naught: Crocker diverted much of his resources to helping San Francisco rebuild after the 1906 earthquake, with little apparently free for funding Arctic exploration. But Peary did make another attempt at the North Pole after securing backing from the National Geographic Society, and on April 6, 1909, he stood on the roof of the planet—at least by his own account. “The Pole at last!!!” the explorer wrote in his journal. “The prize of 3 centuries, my dream and ambition for 23 years. Mine at last.”


Peary wouldn’t celebrate his achievement for long, though: When the explorer returned home, he discovered that Frederick Cook—who had served under Peary on his 1891 North Greenland expedition—was claiming he’d been the first to reach the pole a full year earlier. For a time, a debate over the two men’s claims raged—and Crocker Land became part of the fight. Cook claimed that on his way to the North Pole he’d traveled to the area where the island was supposed to be, but had seen nothing there. Crocker Land, he said, didn’t exist.


Peary’s supporters began to counter-attack, and one of his assistants on the 1909 trip, Donald MacMillan, announced that he would lead an expedition to prove the existence of Crocker Land, vindicating Peary and forever ruining the reputation of Cook.


There was also, of course, the glory of being the first to set foot on the previously unexplored island. Historian David Welky, author of A Wretched and Precarious Situation: In Search of the Last Arctic Frontier, recently explained to National Geographic that with both poles conquered, Crocker Land was “the last great unknown place in the world.”


American Geographical Society Library. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries.

After receiving backing from the American Museum of Natural History, the University of Illinois, and the American Geographical Society, the MacMillan expedition departed from the Brooklyn Navy Yard in July 1913. MacMillan and his team took provisions, dogs, a cook, “a moving picture machine,” and wireless equipment, with the grand plan of making a radio broadcast live to the United States from the island.


But almost immediately, the expedition was met with misfortune: MacMillan’s ship, the Diana, was wrecked on the voyage to Greenland by her allegedly drunken captain, so MacMillan transferred to another ship, the Erik, to continue his journey. By early 1914, with the seas frozen, MacMillan set out to attempt a 1200-mile long sled journey from Etah, Greenland, through one of the most inhospitable and harshest landscapes on Earth, in search of Peary’s phantom island.


Though initially inspired by their mission to find Crocker Land, MacMillan’s team grew disheartened as they sledged through the Arctic landscape without finding it. “You can imagine how earnestly we scanned every foot of that horizon—not a thing in sight,” MacMillan wrote in his 1918 book, Four Years In The White North.


But a discovery one April day by Fitzhugh Green, a 25-year-old ensign in the US Navy, gave them hope. As MacMillan later recounted, Green was “no sooner out of the igloo than he came running back, calling in through the door, ‘We have it!’ Following Green, we ran to the top of the highest mound. There could be no doubt about it. Great heavens! What a land! Hills, valleys, snow-capped peaks extending through at least one hundred and twenty degrees of the horizon.”


But visions of the fame brought by being the first to step foot on Crocker Land quickly evaporated. “I turned to Pee-a-wah-to,” wrote MacMillan of his Inuit guide (also referred to by some explorers as Piugaattog). “After critically examining the supposed landfall for a few minutes, he astounded me by replying that he thought it was a ‘poo-jok’ (mist).”


Indeed, MacMillan recorded that “the landscape gradually changed its appearance and varied in extent with the swinging around of the Sun; finally at night it disappeared altogether.” For five more days, the explorers pressed on, until it became clear that what Green had seen was a mirage, a polar fata morgana. Named for the sorceress Morgana le Fay in the legends of King Arthur, these powerful illusions are produced when light bends as it passes through the freezing air, leading to mysterious images of apparent mountains, islands, and sometimes even floating ships.


Fata morganas are a common occurrence in polar regions, but would a man like Peary have been fooled? “As we drank our hot tea and gnawed the pemmican, we did a good deal of thinking,” MacMillan wrote. “Could Peary with all his experience have been mistaken? Was this mirage which had deceived us the very thing which had deceived him eight years before? If he did see Crocker Land, then it was considerably more than 120 miles away, for we were now at least 100 miles from shore, with nothing in sight.”


MacMillan’s mission was forced to accept the unthinkable and turn back. “My dreams of the last four years were merely dreams; my hopes had ended in bitter disappointment,” MacMillan wrote. But the despair at realizing that Crocker Land didn’t exist was merely the beginning of the ordeal.


MacMillan sent Fitzhugh Green and the Inuit guide Piugaattog west to explore a possible route back to their base camp in Etah. The two became trapped in the ice, and one of their dog teams died. Fighting over the remaining dogs, Green—with alarming lack of remorse—explained in his diary what happened next: “I shot once in the air … I then killed [Piugaattog] with a shot through the shoulder and another through the head.” Green returned to the main party and confessed to MacMillan. Rather than reveal the murder, the expedition leader told the Inuit members of the mission that Piugaattog had perished in the blizzard.


Several members of the MacMillan mission would remain trapped in the ice for another three years, victims of the Arctic weather. Two attempts by the American Museum of Natural History to rescue them met with failure, and it wasn’t until 1917 that MacMillan and his party were finally saved by the steamer Neptune, captained by seasoned Arctic sailor Robert Bartlett.


While stranded in the ice, the men put their time to good use; they studied glaciers, astronomy, the tides, Inuit culture, and anything else that attracted their curiosity. They eventually returned with over 5000 photographs, thousands of specimens, and some of the earliest film taken of the Arctic (much of which can be seen today in the repositories of the American Geographical Society at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee).


It’s unclear whether MacMillan ever confronted Peary about Crocker Land—about what exactly the explorer had seen in 1906, and perhaps what his motives were. When MacMillan’s news about not having found Crocker Land reached the United States, Peary defended himself to the press by noting how difficult spotting land in the Arctic could be, telling reporters, “Seen from a distance … an iceberg with earth and stones may be taken for a rock, a cliff-walled valley filled with fog for a fjord, and the dense low clouds above a patch of open water for land.” (He maintained, however, that “physical indications and theory” still pointed to land somewhere in the area.) Yet later researchers have noted that Peary’s notes from his 1905-’06 expedition don’t mention Crocker Land at all. As Welky told National Geographic, “He talks about a hunting trip that day, climbing the hills to get this view, but says absolutely nothing about seeing Crocker Land. Several crewmembers also kept diaries, and according to those he never mentioned anything about seeing a new continent.”


There’s no mention of Crocker Land in early drafts of Nearest the Pole, either—it’s only mentioned in the final manuscript. That suggests Peary had a deliberate reason for the the inclusion of the island.


Crocker, meanwhile, wouldn’t live to see if he was immortalized by this mysterious new land mass: He died in December 1909 of stomach cancer, a year after Peary had set out in the Roosevelt again in search of the Pole, and before MacMillan’s expedition.


Any remnants of the legend of Crocker Land were put to bed in 1938, when Isaac Schlossbach flew over where the mysterious island was supposed to be, looked down from his cockpit, and saw nothing.


Bradley Land was the name Frederick Cook gave to a mass of land which he claimed to have seen between (84°20′N 102°0′W) and (85°11′N 102°0′W) during a 1909 expedition. He described it as two masses of land with a break, a strait, or an indentation between.[1] The land was named for John R. Bradley, who had sponsored Cook’s expedition.


Cook published two photographs of the land and described it thus: “The lower coast resembled Heiberg Island, with mountains and high valleys. The upper coast I estimated as being about one thousand feet high, flat, and covered with a thin sheet ice.”[2]


It is now known there is no land at that location and Cook’s observations were based on either a misidentification of sea ice or an outright fabrication. Cook’s Inuit companions reported that the photographs were actually taken near the coast of Axel Heiberg Island.[


Cook described two islands lying at about 85 degrees North, which he named Bradley Land.  These islands, like Peary’s “Crocker Land,” do not exist, yet Cook’s partisans have tried to resuscitate Cook’s credibility by linking “Bradley Land” to a discovery made in the Arctic only since Dr. Cook’s death. 

    After World War II, aerial reconnaissance revealed a number of large tabular bergs drifting slowly clockwise in the arctic basin north of Ellesmere Island. Several arctic researchers and scientists have suggested these so-called ice islands—breakaway pieces of its ancient ice shelf—are probably what Cook mistook for “Bradley Land,” and Cook’s advocates have repeated these statements to support the doctor’s claim.  

    Cook gave this description of “Bradley Land”: “The lower coast resembled Heiberg Island, with mountains and high valleys. The upper coast I estimated as being about one thousand feet high, flat, and covered with a thin sheet ice.”

     Ice islands are no more than 100 to 200 feet thick, total. They are nearly flat with only rolling undulations and rise only about 25 feet above sea level. Cook’s “Bradley Land” therefore does not remotely resemble an ice island, or even an ice island magnified by mirage. And Cook published two pictures of the high, mountainous land he called “Bradley Land.”  

     Cook’s Inuit companions are reported to have said these pictures were of two small islands off the northwest coast of Axel Heiberg Island; others believe they are of the coast of Heiberg Island itself, though the pictures have never been duplicated. 

    Ren Bay  has been suggested as the site.  Ellesmere trekker Jerry Kobalenko reports he could not match the picture exactly to that site, but Cook might have taken it at a time when fog obscured prominent landmarks, as he did in Alaska, making it impossible to duplicate now.  In each picture the photographer is standing on a point above the flat ice.  Kobalenko’s was taken off a ten-foot hillock.





There are Islands that have disappeared and not in the global warming, vanishing coastline type of way. These Islands are called Phantom Islands. To be considered a Phantom Island, a piece of land must have been agreed to exist at one point before eventually being undiscovered or corrected. Basically, academics and cartographers thought an island was real and then eventually found out it wasn’t. For example, Atlantis would not be considered a Phantom Island because it was always considered a legend. But perhaps the best example of a Phantom Island is Burmeja. Bermeja first appeared on maps in the year 1539, and for nearly 400 years, it was accepted as a real island located in the Gulf of Mexico. But in the 2000s, the United States and Mexico were in a dispute over an oil field in the Gulf of Mexico. Basically, Burmeja marked the outermost limit of Mexico’s economic territory. The oil field would have been within that border marked by Burmeja, thus making it Mexico’s property. But when the Mexican government set a team to verify the island’s position, it was gone. The team had the exact coordinates for the island, and Bermeja had appeared on maps for 400 years, but it just wasn’t there. The team searched all over the Gulf of Mexico and concluded that Bermeja simply no longer existed. There are a few theories about how Bermer disappeared. One is that it vanished into the ocean as a result of natural geographic shifts. This has happened elsewhere in the world, so it’s entirely plausible. There’s also a theory that Birmingham was intentionally destroyed by the United States so they could gain access to the oil field. It’s a bold strategy, and you would think someone would have noticed an entire island being blown up. But America has done worse things in the name of oil. Some people say early Mexican officials may have added it to the map in an effort to just expand their borders. This, again, would be a pretty bold strategy, but perhaps an effective one in the 15th century. The most likely explanation is that Burmeja never existed. It was a mistake by some cartographer in the 1500s, and everyone just went with it. Early cartographers were also known to add fake Islands to their maps to prevent plagiarism. These fake Islands would tip them off if their map was ever copied. But Burmeja has appeared in various ships, logs, and inventories, some of which were official documents from the Mexican government. Ultimately, Burmette was never found, and no one really knows why. But Bermuda has not been the only Phantom Island. The Baja Peninsula was believed to be the island of California for years before it was corrected. A fictitious place called Sandy Island appeared on maps for over a century near Australia. It was even on Google maps. Today, scientists think early explorers just saw a large piece of pumice stone floating in the ocean. Arctic Explorer Robert E. Pierre made up the Island Crocker land in an effort to scam some money from one of his investors. There have been dozens more of these Phantom Islands over the years with each having been undiscovered for different reasons. Today, though, thanks to satellite imagery, Phantom Islands are probably a thing of the past you.


Con artists have long recognised that persuasion must appeal to two very particular aspects of human motivation – the drive that will get people to do something, and the inertia that prevents them from wanting to do it. In 2003, two social psychologists, Eric Knowles at the University of Arkansas and Jay Linn at Widener University, formalised this idea by naming two types of persuasive tactics.

The first, alpha, was far more frequent: increasing the appeal of something. The second, omega, decreased the resistance surrounding something. In the one, you do what you can to make your proposition, whatever it may be, more attractive. You rev up the backstory – why this is such a wonderful opportunity, why you are the perfect person to do it, how much everyone will gain, and the like. In the other, you make a request or offer seem so easy as to be a no-brainer – why wouldn’t I do this? What do I have to lose?

Psychologists call it the ‘approach-avoidance’ model of persuasion

They called the juxtaposition the approach-avoidance model of persuasion: you can convince me of something by making me want to approach it and decreasing any reasons I might have to avoid it. According to Columbia University psychologist Tory Higgins, people are usually more likely to be swayed by one or other of the two motivational lines: some people are promotion-focused (they think of possible positive gains), and some, prevention-focused (they focus on losses and avoiding mistakes). An approach that unites the alpha with the omega appeals to both mindsets, however, giving it universal appeal – and it is easy to see how MacGregor’s proposition offered this potent combination.