1902 Encyclopedia > Heligoland


HELIGOLAND (German, Helgoland), Heiligeland, or Hellige Land, as the natives call it, is one of the Frisian Islands, and an English possession, situated in the North Sea, 54° 11' 34" N. lat., 7° 51' E. long., 36 miles from Cuxhaven at the mouth of the Elbe, and about 100 from Hamburg. Though the red cliffs of the Rock Island are most familiar to the voyager entering the Elbe, there are in reality two islets, the second being the Dune or Sand Island, now lying a quarter of a mile east of the main one, though at one time connected with it by de waal, a neck of land which the sea broke through and destroyed in 1720. The Rock Island is nearly triangular in shape, surrounded on every side by steep cliffs, the only beach being the sandy spit where the landing-place is situated, near the south-east point. On this islet there are some 500 houses, divided into a lower town or Unterland, on the spit, and an upper town or Oberland, situated on the cliff above and connected with the lower town by a wooden stair of 190 steps, the only possible mode of communication between the two sections. The portion of the flat-topped rock not occupied by the houses, the church with graveyard, the Government resi-dencies, and place for a battery, comprises a little pasture-land, a few cabbage gardens, potato patches, and a powder magazine at the north end of the rock. About 200 sheep, tethered to particular spots, feed on the scanty herbage, eked out by potato-peelings and halms, cabbage blades, or any other vegetable refuse, which is carried out to them every morning. From one end of the island to the other runs a footpath, called by the Heligolanders the " Land-wae" or High Road, but better known to visitors by the name of " Kartoffel-Allee " (Potato Walk). There is also a lighthouse ; but, though a few guns are placed behind a rude earthwork, there are no fortifications except the inaccessible cliffs of the island, and no garrison of any kind unless a few coast-guardsmen be considered as such. The greatest length of the island, which slopes somewhat from west to east, is 5880 feet, and the greatest breadth 1815 feet, its circumference 13,500 feet, its average height 198 feet, and the highest point 216 feet. The Dune or Sand Island is little more than a sand-bank covered with scanty herbage, and imperfectly bound together by bent, grass, and carices. It is only about 200 feet above the sea at its highest point, but the drifting sands and the constant inroads of the sea make the height rather variable. The sea-bathing establishment is situated here; but, with the exception of the restaurant keeper and waiters, and the attendants who drag the bathing-coaches into the sea, there are no residents. A shelving beach of white sand pre-sents excellent facilities for bathing; everything is under strict Government surveillance, the boats in which the bathers cross in the morning, the hours of bathing, and the tariff being all regulated by law. Approached from the sea the Rock Island, with its red-tiled houses perched in a little cluster on the red cliff,—"Am Falm," as it is called,—looks very picturesque, and even the narrow brick-paved or sandy lanes of the town are not deficient in a certain degree of quaintness. There are—with the exception of a wheelbarrow and an occasional perambulator—no wheeled carriages in the island, and no horses or other beasts of burden. Even the two cows kept in the Unterland for the use of invalid visitors, and whose milk is sold at the apothecary's shop, are removed at the end of the bathing season to Cuxhaven, the island not supplying food for both man and beast. Mud is unknown on the streets, the rain only serving to wash their sloping surfaces clean as the scoured floor of the housewives' kitchens. Most of the houses are built— the lower half at least—of brick, but some are of wood. There are a theatre, a " conversation house," and a number of hotels and restaurants, though during the season nearly every house is more or less let out to " baadegaster"— visitors for sea-bathing forming the great source of the islanders' prosperity. In both the lower and the upper town there are numbers of shops; but the articles for sale seem to be chiefly intended for the summer " bathing guests," the natives getting most of their supplies from Hamburg or Bremen. The dwellings of the fisher-folk are reasonably clean, and the interiors bear evidence of the seafaring character of the population. Some of the houses have little gardens with flowers, cucumbers, &c, in front of them; and in places protected from the sea breezes there are a few fruit trees. At the foot of " the stair " are one or two lime trees sheltered by the contiguous houses; they are looked upon by the Heligolanders as objects of national pride.

During the summer from 2000 to 3000 people visit the island for sea-bathing. Most of these are from Hamburg, English or other "guests" being rare. There are no English residents, the officials, the governor excepted, being either natives or Germans; and German, when Frisian is not employed, is the official language, though for form's sake on the postage stamps English and German words appear in duplicate. The natives speak a dialect of Frisian, barely intelligible to the other islands of the group. They are perfectly content with the almost perfect autonomy they enjoy under the English Government. There is little emigration, and accordingly the population is slowly increasing. In 1879 the number was a little over 2000. There is regular communication with Bremen and Hamburg in the summer and autumn months, but during the winter the island is often isolated for weeks at a time, owing to tempestuous weather, drift ice, and other causes. It is said that insanity and suicide are in consequence not rare. Epidemic diseases occur, though they do not commonly spread ; but scrofula, owing to the poor character of the islanders' food, attacks three-fourths of the population. In ten years there were 309 deaths—about 15 to the 1000 ; while during the same period—from 1863 to 1872 inclusive—there were no less than 17 suicides. At one time the population did not exceed 300, and it was only when it increased to over 1000 that the inhabitants had to dispense with the few horses they kept to till their patches of land. This is now done with the spade, and loads are conveyed either in wheel-barrows or in shallow willow baskets,

The temperature of the Oberland is, owing to its exposure, about 1'5° lower than that of the Unterland. The following are the means of the months, from a series of observations taken for seven consecutive years at the lighthouse built on the highest point o! the island:—January, 31'9°Fahr.; February, 33'9°; March, 35'2°; April, 431°; May, 48 -9*; June, 57-5°; Jul}', 62'2°; August, 61-0°; September, 58'4°; October, 48'2°; November, 40'0°; December, 34'3° —the mean temperature of the whole year being 47'2° Fahr. The winters are however very stormy, and the air is so laden with salt spray that the rain leaves a delicate deposit of salt after it has evapo-rated. May and the early part of June are very wet and foggy, so that the first visitors do not arrive until the middle of the latter month.

2 Gätke, Edinburgh Nev> Philosophical Journal, n. s., ix., p. 333; Blasius, "Naumannia," 1858, p. 303 (Ibis, 1862, p. 58); Cordeaux, Ibis, 1875, p. 1872.—Mr Gätke, the island secretary, is preparing a special work on Heligoland ornithology.

The rocks composing the island are ,of Triassic age, bunter-sand-stone, keuper, lias, oolite, muschelkalk, and chalk (now denuded), topped by Pliocene—"the brown took," in which are found the scales and teeth mostly of freshwater fishes, freshwater Mollusca, and fruit and leaves of a Carpiiius, a Quercus, an Alniis, a maple, a plant allied to a hoya (Stomatophyllum helgolandicum), &c. The cliffs are worn into caves, and around the Bock Island are many fantastic arches and columns of rock. There is no just ground, however, for believing that the Eock Island was ever much bigger than it is,—the tales of the great size of Heligoland—its numerous churches and villages in early times—being doubtless exaggerated by tradition, while the maps affecting to show its former extension doubtless relate to the Sand Island, which was incontestably much larger in very recent periods, and is now yearly becoming smaller. The natural history presents nothing remarkable. There are no wild animals on it, and the numerous birds which breed in its cliffs, or light on it during their migrations, all belong to the main-land or to the North Sea.8 Hallier has enumerated 220 flowering plants as growing on the island, but none of them are peculiar to it, though there are one or two local varieties. The sandy-bottomed shallow sea supplies abundance of flat fish, and in the deeper water crabs, lobsters, haddock, &c., abound. There are, however, not many iishing-boats, and these of small size. Most of the men act as pilots.

The trade of the island is insignificant. The only time when it enjoyed any commercial prosperity was during the Napoleonic wars, when, by the " Continental system," the European ports were supposed to be shut to England. During that period smuggling pros-pered, and the island was crowded with soldiers and adventurers. In 1878 the revenue was £7236, the expenditure £7548, and the public debt £2115. The imports are mostly from Bremen and Hamburg, those from Britain being valued at only £72 ; the exports, consisting chiefly of goods bought by visitors, are ladies' feathers, hats, mull's, fish, &c. The government is vested in a governor appointed by the English crown, aided by a council,—the former mode of government having been more democratic, but less conducive to the islanders' peace than the present. The taxes are few, and consist chiefly of a duty on wine, beer, and spirits, a small house tax, and the "kur-tax," levied on all visitors who reside beyond three days.

History.—The history of Heligoland, "the holy island," is interesting. "Sunt et aliaj insula? contra Eriesiam et Daniam, sed nulla earum tarn memorabilis," writes Adam of Bremen. " Multa regna, multas regionos et insulas perlustravi, nee unquam similem huic sacrae vidi," are the words of Pontanus. Here Hertha had her great temple, and hither came from the mainland the Angles to worship at her shrine. Here lived King Badbod, a pagan, and on this isle St Willebrod, 1200 years ago, first preached Chris-tianity; and for its ownership, before and after that date, many sea-rovers have fought. Finally it settled down to be a fief of the dukes of Schleswig or Holstein, though often in pawn for loans advanced to these impecunious princes by the free city of Ham-burg. The island thus happened in 1807 to be a Danish posses-sion, when the English seized and held it until it was formally ceded to them in 1814. In these days of swift steamers the value of Heligoland as a military position commanding the Elbe mouth has been doubted. There is not, with the exception of wells, the rain collecting in the " Sapskulen "or hollows, and that caught in casks, any water on the island, while the shelter afforded by the north and south harbours formed by the sand point on which the Unterland is built is but indifferent. It is only vessels of small size that can approach the shore, and passengers by the steamers have to land in open boats at the end of a long jetty (the Laster-Allee, or " Misery Walk"). Under British rule the islanders enjoy the utmost freedom, and in return for this privilege are subjected to a trifling taxation for local purposes, and escape the compulsory military service to which they would be liable were they to become German or Danish subjects.

Bibliography.—Von der Decken, Philosophisch-lästorisch-geographische Untersuchungen über die Insel Helgoland oder Heilo.eland und ihre Bewohner (Hanover, 1826); Wiebel, Die Insel Helgoland, Untersuchungen über deren Grösse in Vorzeit und Gegenwart vom Standpunkte der Geschichte und Geologie (Hamburg, 1848; from Gebiete der Naturwisseuchaften herausgegeben von dem naturwissenschaftlichen Verein in Hamburg, vol. in; it contains a good bibliography up to date); Oetker, Helgoland. Schilderungen und Erörterungen (Berlin, 1855); Hallier, Helgoland, Nordseestudien, (Hamburg, 1869); the botanical part is also printed separately, Die Vegetation auf Helgoland). See also Hansen, Chronik der friesischen Ulhlande (Guarding, 1S77); Wiegelt, Die nordfriesischen Inseln (Hamburg, 1873); Berenberg, Die Nordsee-Inseln an der deutschen Küste (Norden and Norderney, 1875); Hansen, Die Friesen (Gaarding.,1876); and the local guide books. (It. B.)


Zimmermann, Die sanitären Zustände Helgolands, mit speeieller Berücksichtigung des Ozongehaltes der Luft, 1873, pp. 12, 13.

2 Gätke, Edinburgh Nev> Philosophical Journal, n. s., ix., p. 333; Blasius, "Naumannia," 1858, p. 303 (Ibis, 1862, p. 58); Cordeaux, Ibis, 1875, p. 1872.—Mr Gätke, the island

The tax is at present—for one person three marks (Hamburg), for a family of two to three persons four marks, and for larger families six marks; after a stay of four weeks the visitors are free of " kur-tax."
Fossite, after whom in pre-Christian days the rock was called Fossite-land, was not, as is often asserted, the goddess herself, but only the priestess of Hertha.

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