Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Invading Madeira

Commander K
"Invading" Madeira 2021

Madeira is a small but beautiful island off the coast of West Africa.  It is a hilly mountain rising up from the sea.  A fertile garden archipelago surrounded by blue.

Henry the Navigator
1394 - 1460
Funchal, Madeira

The Greek philosopher Plutarch described two islands off the coast of Africa as being the isles of the Blessed.  There is some evidence that Vikings may have visited these islands.  But it was really two Portuguese captains who officially discovered these islands in 1418.  One of these, João Gonçalves Zarco, was appointed first captain of Funchal by Henry the Navigator (1394 - 1460).  Henry was the prime mover behind the Portuguese era of exploration.  Under his leadership, the Portuguese began to colonize Madeira after 1420.  Funchal remains the capital of the Madeira archipelago.

João Gonçalves Zarco
1390 - 1471

In 1617 Barbary corsairs from North Africa raided Porto Santo and captured around 1,200 people.  During this period the Barbary pirates were raiding throughout the Mediterranean and as far as Ireland.

USS Constitution vs HMS Java
Geoff Hunt (Author's collection)
She was christened with Madeira wine

Madeira is famous for its sweet wine that has been produced for centuries.  Thomas Jefferson was a fan of madeira wine.  The USS Constitution was christened in 1797 with a bottle of madeira.  The fortified wine was immortalized in the ribald Flanders and Swann song Have Some Madeira M'Dear...

Lying near the equator the island was fertile and suitable for growing sugar cane.  Slave labor from Africa was utilized in the sugar plantations.

In 2012 my coauthor, Stuart Laycock, wrote a book called All the Countries We've Invaded...And the Few We haven't gotten around to (  He describes how the British have invaded or fought in 90% of all the countries in the world.  The British invaded Madeira as well.  In 1801 they first occupied occupied Madeira.  The left in 1802 in accordance with the Peace of Amiens only to reoccupy the island in 1807.  They held onto the island until the end of the Peninsular War when they returned control of the island to their Portuguese ally.  

Churchill in Funchal

Winston Churchill was fond of Madeira.  He, like so many other tourists, arrived in Funchal in January 1950 from a cruise liner -- the Durban Castle.   He and Clemmie stayed at Reid's hotel which has recently reopened after a brief closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic (  Churchill enjoyed painting the islands' scenic landscapes.

In March of 1916 Imperial Germany declared war on Portugal in World War I.  As a result, war came to the normally peaceful Madeira islands later that year on New Year's Eve, 1916 when a German U-boat crept into Funchal harbor and sank one British and two French vessels.  The aggressive German sub rose to the surface and proceeded to bombard Funchal with its deck guns.  Three residents were killed in the attack which lasted about two hours before the U-boat was driven off by shore batteries.

Karl I, the last emperor of Austria Hungary was exiled to Madeira after World War I.  The last Hapsburg monarch died of bronchitis at age 34 and is buried at the church of Our Lady of the Mount in Madeira. The assassination of his older brother, Franz Joseph, in Sarajevo in June of 1914 was the even that triggered the start of World War I.  My great grandfather, Thomas Tileston Wells, was crossing the Atlantic to Europe with his wife and family at the time of the assassination (


In 2019 about 1 1/2 million tourists visited the Madeira archipelago which compares with a local population of about a 1/4 million.  Tourism accounts for about 20% of the local economy.  

Commander K says by all means, "Have some Madeira, M'dears!"

Viking Jupiter
Funchal, Madeira

Tourist Notes: I had the pleasure of visiting Madeira in November 2021 while sailing with the Viking Jupiter from Barcelona to Buenos Aires.  Viking is an excellent Cruise line...

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