Clipperton Island – France - Atlas Obscura

Clipperton Island

Abandoned outpost once home to a murderous tyrant. 


Clipperton Island is so remote that even the Guinness Book of World Records’ “Most Traveled Man” was given no recourse but to swim there. Factually speaking, the atoll in the East Pacific is equally as inhospitable as it is hard to reach: the land is barren with no freshwater to be found, and treacherous reefs surround it on all sides. Given all that, it’s still palm-laden, lagoon rimmed paradise of crystalline waters known for hosting a massive population of crabs and sea fowl.

However, Clipperton Island has a dark past. In 1906, a guano mining business (yes, those exist) jointly operated by British and Mexican interest groups made the only good-faith attempt at colonizing the island in its long history. Today, it is administered by France as a minor outlying territory.

One hundred men and women were deposited on the island, knowing full-well that they would depend on shipments of sustenance sent from mainland Mexico for their survival. Everything went as planned until the Mexican Civil War diverted the suppliers’ attention … for years.

Slowly but surely, all the men died from either malnutrition or failed escape attempts, save one: Victoriano Álvarez. As the last living male, he proclaimed himself “king” and took to enslaving, murdering, and raping the remaining women and children.

His reign of terror lasted for some time until ultimately the women conspired and successfully gave him a dose of his own medicine and the former ship captain’s widow killed him. Eventually, three women and seven children were rescued from the island by a passing ship in 1917.

No attempts at permanently colonizing Clipperton have been made since and the island’s violent past remains unknown to most people.

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June 8, 2011

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