An Eye for an Eye
Other Books
Books About War
The War on Terror
About John Sack
Dear John


Looking back on it, I can't remember any countries further from my mind as I started around the world on that so long-anticipated summer's evening in 1955. To tell the truth, I hadn't heard of most of them. I was going abroad, or so I thought, to see the sights of England, Italy, Egypt, India; to see the sights everybody sees; to see the world before it's all gone. I'd managed to save enough money for this, and I'd started east on Pan American World Airways. The very next day, though, something happened. ". . . the Bristol Channel,'' our stewardess was saying as I woke up, "and, sir, if you'll look over there it's England, and over there is Wales, and over there"--I rubbed my eyes open, and she pointed from the airplane to a faraway, foggy island "is Lundy."

"Lundy?" I said; and that was the end of my well-laid plans. For Lundy, the stewardess explained, is a little country--a little gray, windswept country inhabited by untold thousands of rabbits and birds, notably puffins, and by a dozen or so gray, windswept human beings who stoutly maintain that its sovereign is a king by the name of Mr. Harman. Great Britain, she continued, a larger and more heavily populated country twelve miles away, stoutly and antithetically maintains that its sovereign is a queen by the name of Elizabeth II. "And I," the stewardess said. "I would have hoped that something as vital as this would have been settled ages ago, but the terrible fact, I'm afraid, is Lundy's status still is up in the air after eight hundred years of yeses and noes. In fact, it was still using its own postage stamps the last I heard." So saying, the stewardess buzzed off and, like a mother octopus, began to wake up the sleepy, feed the hungry, play with the kids, and minister to the lame and halt, and I was left to look in wonder at that faraway implausibility of Lundy. A little country? A king by the name of Mr. Harman? What the Sam Hill, I wondered, is coming off in Lundy? And then the plane landed in London, and I hurried to Lundy to find out.

That was the start of a glad, somewhat mad, and quite out-of-the-ordinary trip around the world. In Lundy, I happened to hear of Sark--the only feudal state surviving in Europe, according to the feudal old lady running it--and I couldn't help hurrying to Sark, and I couldn't help hurrying to Andorra, and I couldn't help finding myself, soon, on a trip to practically nowhere, to the countries nobody hears of. Well, it's years later, and I still haven't seen the London Bridge, the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, or the Black Hole of Calcutta--but I've seen the Wali of Swat, and I've played a little "seven-and-a-half" in Andorra with a bullfighter, a dozen smugglers, and a blonde; I've suffered from an explosion in a salami-skin factory in Liechtenstein; I've caroused with a fellow who thought he was a monkey in Athos; I've eaten an eyeball lying on the floor in Sharja; I've watched a man choking a polo player in Punial; and I've stumbled on the smallest country there is, next door to a haberdashery shop. And this is a book about them--an account of thirteen no-account countries.

The importance of these places can hardly be underestimated. Each of them has ambassadors, passports, visas, or customs--but nobody knows it. Each of them is autonomous--but nobody cares. For me, however, each of them was a wonderful and a not-at-all wasted stop. As Captain Lemuel Gulliver found out in 1699, and as I found out in 1955, 1956, and 1957, the microcosm is just the macrocosm seen up close. We shouldn't ever laugh too easily at Lilliput: we may be laughing at ourselves.


In Lundy's case, I also found out that it's very, very confusing to happen to live in Lundy. Not the least of this confusion was in 1929, I learned, when Mr. Harman, the King, or Non-king, depending on whose side you're on, started issuing his own coins as well as his own postage stamps and, shortly after, was hauled into court on the neighboring island for allegedly violating its Coinage Act of 1870. The trial was held on January 13, 1931, at the King's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice, in London, and, it was hoped at the time, would settle the status of Lundy once and for all. It didn't--but it did show how utterly confused the situation was. In his defense, Mr. Harman said he had every right to mint money, for Lundy, in his words, was "a vest-pocket-size, self-governing dominion," out of the realm for every practical purpose. The Lundy residents, he pointed out, never had paid any taxes to England and were liable to customs when they went there, for Lundy itself was a free port. The Attorney General, who was prosecuting Mr. Harman, said that Lundy was surely a Utopia but that its inhabitants would be just as happy if the face of King George V, rather than of Mr. Harman, were depicted on the place's currency. (Mr. Harman's face was on the front of the coins, and that of a puffin on the back. There were two denominations, a one-puffin coin and a half-puffin coin, neatly convertible to a penny and a ha'penny at the legal rate of exchange. The postage stamps were in several denominations, the twelve-puffin stamp portraying twelve puffins, the nine-puffin stamp nine puffins, the six-puffin stamp six puffins, etc., and the half-puffin stamp half a puffin--the upper half.) The Attorney General also noted that Lundy was specifically listed in the Wild Birds Protection Order of 1930 as part of England, but Mr. Harman replied, in effect, that the Wild Birds Protection Order could specifically list China, too, and it wouldn't mean a thing--"It wouldn't cut any ice" were his exact words. Furthermore, Mr. Harman said, there weren't any policemen in Lundy, and the laws of England weren't enforced there, but the Attorney General rebutted that a policeman went there as recently as December 18, 1871, to arrest a murderer, to which Mr. Harman surrebutted that the Attorney General's rebutter was all wrong. All this, and more of the same, was heard by the Lord Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Avory, and Mr. Justice MacKinnon with an attitude of intense mirth, and anyone studying a transcript of the trial soon realizes that Mr. Harman, the defendant, was the only person there who took it at all seriously. The following excerpt is typical:

MR. HARMAN: The mainland did not interfere when Lundy was reasonably well governed. And it repudiated all responsibility when anything really called for investigation, like the murder of the whole population.

THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: Does that often happen? [Laughter.]

MR. HARMAN: It happened two or three times in the past.

MR. JUSTICE AVORY: The population of what? Rabbits? [Laughter.]

MR. HARMAN: There are about one thousand rabbits to every human being, but the residents number about forty-five, apart from visitors.

Such arguments as these having been heard, the justices deliberated and then handed down the opinion that it had been a very entertaining case--it was to them--which had been lost by Mr. Harman. They ordered Mr. Harman to take his puffins out of circulation and to pay a fine of twenty-five dollars, which Mr. Harman did.

That was 1931. Today, a quarter of a century later, the residents of Lundy still aren't paying any taxes, and still are liable to customs when they go to England. There aren't any policemen in Lundy, and the laws of England aren't enforced. Lundy is still using its own postage stamps, and a letter cannot be gotten off it without one, and Mr. Harman's coins, which he priced at a penny and a ha'penny when they were legal tender, are considered, nowadays, to be historical relics, and are sold in Lundy to tourists and numismatists for forty-eight times as much. Mr. Harman is dead, but his son, Mr. Albion Harman, has succeeded him, and he stoutly maintains that Lundy is "a vest-pocket-size, self-governing dominion," out of the realm for every practical purpose.


Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend the trial in 1931 (I was ten months old), but in 1955, as soon as I'd landed by Pan American World Airways in London, I was able to attend to Mr. Harman, and I decided to look him up and learn how Lundy finds itself in such a curious position. Mr. Harman is a healthy middle-aged man with a quiet smile and a spray of unkempt white hair and, when I met him at Soho Square, he was himself in a curious position--sitting amidst a pile of junk in his old, weather-beaten auto. He told me that he worked, in London, as a mining engineer for the Maschaba Rhodesian Company and the Balakhany Black Sea Oil Company and that he used the car on geological field trips, which accounted for its condition. Presently, we decided to continue our chat at a nearby pub, and we drove to one of Mr. Harman's favorites, the Horse and Groom, ordering a Worthington apiece. Worthington, Mr. Harman said, is the only beer or ale aging right in the bottle, and he started to explain how this singular chemical process occurs, when I steered the conversation to Lundy; at this, he revealed that he visits the place once or twice a month, that he enjoys it hugely, and that its sovereign status arises from the English penchant for keeping things just as they always were. In 1135, Mr. Harman said, Lundy belonged to the King of England, but in that year he gave it to the Marisco family, one of England's foremost. Since then, it has belonged, essentially, to whoever was there at the time, a heterogeneous group that includes not only the Mariscos and the Mr. Harmans, father and son, but also a Reverend Mr. Heaven and his son; a smuggler named Benson; a pirate named Salkeld; a pirate named Nutt, who still haunts the place; and other pirates of Turkey, Spain, France, and Holland, the last of whom murdered the whole population in the 1700's to the immense amusement of the Lord Chief Justice in 1931.

Continuing his story, Mr. Harman said the Mariscos had no sooner gotten hold of Lundy, in 1135, than they began to assert its independence, getting up an army and navy and raiding the English coast off and on for ninety-nine years. Eventually they went too far, though, when they got somebody to try assassinating the king. (Holinshed describes it this way: "A learned Esquire, or rather a Clearke, of the Universiti of Oxford, bearing some malice towar the King, fained himsel madde and espying thereby the secrete places of his house at Woodstocke, where he then lay, upon a night by a windowe, he gote into the King's bedchamber and coming to the bed's side threw off the coverings, and with a knife strake divers times into a pillowe, supposing the King had been there but, as God would, that night the King lay in another chamber with ye Queene.") The King, Henry III, having been woken up and apprised of this, sent a few soldiers to scale Lundy at night. Sir William de Marisco was taken prisoner, dragged by a horse's tail to the Tower of London, hanged, drawn, and quartered, the pieces being sent to England's four leading cities as a warning to other potential evil-doers, and Lundy was given to some other Mariscos, of all people, who began raiding England themselves. By the 1600's, Lundy was a sovereign den of pirates, Mr. Harman told me, and by 1748 it was the den of Mr. Thomas Benson, a smuggler, gambler, and member of Parliament who fired on any ship that didn't dip its colors. Benson also contracted with England to ship some of its convicts "over the sea," presumably to Maryland or Virginia; instead, he shipped them to Lundy, and the island's sovereign, transoceanic status was upheld in an English court. (Some years later, Benson was caught in the act of barratry and fled.) In all these years, Parliament never butted into Lundy's affairs or tried to tax it, feeling, apparently, it was too far away to bother with, and so setting a precedent that still obtains.

Next, Mr. Harman recalled that the pirates of Lundy had enacted a total of two laws, and said that nowadays its body of legislation still is admirably brief. The laws of the pirates were these: "The man who shall snap his arms or smoke tobacco in the hold or carry a lighted candle without lanthorn shall receive Moses' law [forty lashes]. If any man meet with a prudent woman that offers to meddle with her, without her consent, he shall suffer death." The laws of contemporary Lundy, Mr. Harman said, are a few letters and scribbled notes that he and his father left about. The first time they were codified was today, by me, and as follows:

ARTICLE I. Nobody can come here if Mr. Harman doesn't want him to.

ARTICLE II. Anybody with a gun must give it to Mr. Gade before it gets dark.

ARTICLE III. Nobody can shoot any birds, especially puffins.

ARTICLE IV. Everybody's dog must be of the same sex, and visitors can't have any dogs at all.

ARTICLE V. Anything else, ask Mr. Harman.

A few explanatory notes and judicial interpretations on this body of law seem to be called for at this point. Article I, Mr. Harman told me, has resulted in a blacklist of a dozen-odd people who are forever barred from Lundy--for example, a trawlerman who used naughty language there, an alcoholic, a homosexual. Article IV, the anti-dog statute, is to stop their proliferating about the island, and the sex that everybody's dog currently must be is female. Article II, firearms, was enacted when two of the islanders were feuding over a lady friend: but that was 1927, and Mr. Gade doesn't enforce it any more. Mr. Gade, I learned, is Mr. Harman's viceroy and the King of Lundy pro tem, as well as the postmaster, innkeeper, grocer, bartender, Lloyd's of London agent, Volunteer-in-Charge of the Rocket Life Saving Apparatus, and official representative of the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners Society or the Shipwrecked Mariners and Fishermen Society--no one can remember which, including Mr. Gade. Also, Mr. Gade is judge and jury at Lundy's trials, of which, historically, there have been two, a civil one and a criminal one. In the civil action, he handed down a writ of mandamus directing everyone at the dock to divvy up their tips, and in the criminal one he fined a visitor five dollars for bringing a dog in, in contravention of Article IV. The corpus delicti, incidentally, a chowchow, got lost in Lundy soon afterwards. It was discovered in a cleft of rock, dead, thereby demonstrating to the satisfaction of everyone resident in Lundy the simple, laconic wisdom of their country's legislation.


Having familiarized myself with the laws of the realm, and having thanked Mr. Harman for the interview, and for the Worthington, I went to Lundy itself. Once, a three-seater plane had gone there--at various times it was called the Lundy and Atlantic Airlines, the North Devon Flying Club, and Devon Air Ltd.--but a bit earlier it had fallen into the Atlantic, and the only way to Lundy was now a boat, a big white paddle-wheeler that made the trip every two or three days from Ilfracombe, the British equivalent of Atlantic City, if one can imagine such a thing. The journey took one and a half hours. Ilfracombe was sun-drenched as I left it, a hill of pretty cottages above a gaudy, honky-tonk beach, but the sky was cloudier as I neared Lundy, and a cold drizzle was falling when, finally, I saw it. Lundy was like an immense aircraft carrier seen in the mist. It is three miles long, roughly half a mile wide, and its granite sides are like the Palisades: and yet, I learned, the sea spray goes over the top in the heavy gales. At such times, hundreds of ships have gone aground there, including a battleship on its maiden voyage, but thousands of others have hidden from the storms on the leeward, eastern side of the island. It was here that our paddle-wheeler laid anchor, a little way from the shore; gray motorboats came out to meet us, bobbing on the waves like some of the one-shilling rides at Ilfracombe; and the passengers disembarked.

There were seven hundred passengers...  More


Buy the book


Other books by John Sack