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Trindade and Martim Vaz Islands (Brazil)

Last modified: 2012-02-10 by ian macdonald
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About Trindade and Martim Vaz

These two small islands in the Atlantic Ocean are now part of the State of Espírito Santo.
Herman De Wael, 7 March 1999

Trindade (Trinidad) is a Brazilian island in the Atlantic at 20.30 S, 29.20 W, not to be confused with Trinidad of Trinidad and Tobago.
Jarig Bakker, 15 December 2002

The Trindade and Martim Vaz islands are administered by the First Naval District of the Brazilian Navy. There’s an oceanic post that maintains the occupation of the islands, and flies there the flag of the commander of the First Naval district like a local flag. The archipelago has 11.88 sq km of area and 32 inhabitants (there’s no permanent population, just marines of the Brazilian Navy and scientists). Located 1200 kilometers east of Espírito Santo and 2200 kilometers west of Namibia, the Trindade and Martim Vaz Islands were discovered in 1502 by Portuguese navigators, and, along with Brazil, became part of Portugal's overseas domain. Many visitors have been there, but the most famous of them was the renowned English astronomer Edmund Halley, who even claimed the island on behalf of the British monarchy. In 1895, the English would venture again and try to take possession of this strategie position in the Atlantic. However, Brazilian diplomatic efforts, with indispensable Portuguese support, reinstated Trindade Island to Brazil. The archipelago is famous also because of pictures of a UFO flying over the islands. More information at the First Naval District website in Portuguese.
André Pires Godinho, 5 February 2003

The flag mentioned above is not specific to the First Naval District. It is the standard Brazilian Navy flag for a vice admiral in command of a force, of which a naval district would be an example.
Joseph McMillan, 5 February 2003

Pseudo-Principality of Trinidad, 1894-95

(Reconstructed Flag)

Pseudo-Principality of Trinidad (Trindade), Brazil image by Jarig Bakker

I just read an article about a self-styled French "prince," living in the United States in the late 19th century, who claimed Trinidad before anyone else actively took it (when was it first settled?). The article states that he designed a flag, "a yellow triangle on a red ground." Has anyone heard of James Aloysius Harden-Hickey (1854-1898)?.
Nathan Lamm, 15 December 2002

This is the article. He also seems to be portrayed in Richard Harding's Real Soldiers of Fortune (1911?).
Ole Andersen, 15 December 2002

This is a somewhat more interesting-than-usual account of what seems to have been a purely imaginary pseudo-state, but one with enough pretensions to have gotten some notoriety, sort of an even loonier version of the would-be Independent State of Counani. The following account draws on the sources cited by Ole Andersen as well as another account.

In 1894, one James Aloysius Harden-Hickey, an adventurer who styled himself "Baron of the Holy Roman Empire by command of the Supreme Pontiff," proclaimed himself Prince of Trinidad (Portuguese, Trindade), an island off the coast of Brazil. Harden-Hickey was apparently born in San Francisco, California, in 1854 but taken by his mother to be raised in Paris. He graduated from the French military academy at St-Cyr but declined his commission in the army and became a novelist and journalist instead. He was continously embroiled in libel suits and scandals and eventually left France for India aboard the British ship Astoria after his luck finally ran out in 1888. En route, the Astoria stopped briefly at the unpopulated island of Trindade, which Harden-Hickey proceeded to claim for himself, notwithstanding that it had already been claimed by both Britain and Brazil. He then continued on to India.

In 1890-91, Harden-Hickey met and married the daughter of John Henry Flagler, one of John D. Rockefeller's main partners in Standard Oil, and took up residence in New York, living off his father-in-law's fortune. Then, on November 5, 1893, five years after his visit to the island, Harden-Hickey succeeded in planting in the New York Tribune a story on his purported plans to establish Trinidad (Trindade) into an independent country with himself as its military dictator. He announced that the flag of Trinidad was a yellow triangle (presumably for the Holy Trinity, the meaning of Trinidad/Trindade in English) on a red ground. According to one version of the story, he had raised this flag on the island on his original visit, although that would seem highly unlikely--why would he have had such a flag with him in the first place?

At any rate, Harden-Hickey made the best of his declaration of sovereignty. He designed court uniforms and an elaborate protocol; he invented a system of orders and decorations; he promised titles of nobility to settlers from the proper social classes; he began offering Trinidad bonds and issuing postage stamps. He commissioned a crown from a jeweler (with which he crowned himself Prince James I) and appointed a friend as his foreign minister, with a "chancellery" first at the Flagler residence and later in a room of a house on New York's West Side.

Although he did apparently fund the transportation of several hundred Chinese coolies from San Francisco to Trindade to develop the island's infrastructure in preparation for fuller colonization, Prince James himself apparently never set foot on Trindade again after his first visit aboard the Astoria. In reality, his principality seems to have been entirely a figment of his overheated imagination; there is little doubt that his royal standard never actually flew over the island.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the British landed troops on Trindade in 1895 to assert their claim, having in mind to use it as a submarine cable station. Harden-Hickey got word of this and challenged the claim, getting little but ridicule in return. The Brazilians also challenged the British claim. They got the islands.

Harden-Hickey descended further into his imaginary world, eventually dying of an overdose of morphine in a hotel room in El Paso, Texas, in 1898 at the age of 43.
Joseph McMillan, 19 February 2003

Pseudo-Principality of Trinidad (Trindade), Brazil image by Mark Keith, 25 September 2006

I first learned about James Harden-Hickey and the Principality of Trinidad (actually the Brazilian island of Trindade) around 1969 from Charles B. Driscoll's 1954 Pennant paperback edition of "Doubloons," (originally published in 1930, although earlier editions make no mention of Harden-Hickey).  He told of Harden-Hickey as an aside while relating the story of the "Loot of Lima." In the early 1980s I attempted to write a research paper on him for a graduate seminar on the history of imperialism. Like the "White Rajahs of Sarawak," Clunies-Ross, and others, I found Harden-Hickey to be an excellent example of individual imperialism, though not a very successful one.

My research didn't yield much more than the old NY Times articles written by Henri Pene duBois. I later became aware of the Wallace and Davis books, but they weren't the type of volumes my university library was likely to have. But the NY Times article of August 1, 1895 did include the Principality's coat of arms, on which the flag is based. Given the layout of the arms, I doubt the triangle in the flag is the free-standing device that is reconstructed by Jarig Bakker. It is more likely similar to the arms: a yellow triangle (based on the bottom of the flag) dividing the flag into two red right triangles, one in the upper hoist and one in the upper fly. Until I saw the coat of arms, I too visualized the flag as Bakker does, but I submit this evidence and alternate interpretation for your consideration.
Mark Keith, 25 September 2006

Another interpretation of the flag of the Principality of Trinidad can be seen at where the author of this website on Brazilian flags interprets James Harden-Hickey's flag similar to the way I do, although he flips the design 90 degrees. I don't read Italian, but it appears that he is also basing his design on written sources, as did I and as did Jarig Bakker. Perhaps there is more information in the sources cited on the Italian website.
Mark Keith, 22 November 2006