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A Brief History to 1890

"Bird's Eye View" Drawing of Helgoland - Circa 1890
Public Domain Print originally from the United States Library of Congress

The Helgoland (in German) or Heligoland (in English) is an island in the North Sea, about 30 miles north of the North Sea German port city of Cuxhaven and about 60 miles North of the Elbe River port of Hamburg.  Its total area is less than one square mile.  With a population of around 1,700, it is actually very densely populated.

The word Helgoland (in German) or Heligoland (in English) is derived from the Anglo-Saxon words "Helig Land" and also from the Norwegian / Danish words "Hellige Land", both meaning "Holy Land".  In old Norse mythology, the island was associated with Forseti, the god of justice.

The island has been inhabited since ancient times, primarily by ethnic Frisians.  The Frisians are a Germanic ethnic group native to the coastal areas of northwestern  Netherlands and of northwestern Germany, up to the Danish border.  During the 19th Century, the Heligolandic dialect of the North Frisian language was still being spoken there by some of the inhabitants.

Until 1714, ownership of the island switched a number of  times between the Kingdom of Denmark, the Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein, and the Hanseatic Free City of Hamburg.  In August of 1714 the island was seized by Denmark, and it remained in Danish hands until 1807.

In 1807, as part of a settlement following the Napoleonic Wars, it was taken from Denmark and given to Great Britain.  Denmark formally ceded the island to Great Britain by the Treaty of Kiel on January 14, 1814.

Heligoland, for the most part, WAS A BRITISH PROTECTORATE IN NAME ONLY!  The British maintained a naval presence there, but otherwise, they COMPLETELY IGNORED THE ISLAND POSSESSION AND COMPLETELY ABANDONED THE NATIVE FRISIAN AND GERMAN POPULATIONS THERE.   This abandonment was not forgotten by the local population, primarily made up of farmers and fishermen.  In the ensuing years, the population of the island started relating themselves socially and politically with their German neighbors to their south.  For all intents and purposes, Heligoland during the 19th Century was a GERMAN STATE.
By 1826, the island became a seaside spa and had actually developed into a popular vacation resort for well-to-do German visitors.  It also attracted artists and writers from the German kingdoms and even as far away as Austria-Hungary.

In 1871, the King of Prussia, Wilhelm, became Emperor Wilhelm I of the newly proclaimed German Empire.  In the years following the creation of the empire, the Germans began looking at the British Protectorate of Heligoland from a strategic point of view.  Should a hostile military
power have control of the island, it could have a devastating effect on German naval bases and important commercial shipping ports just 30 miles to its south.

Turnover of Helgoland to the German Empire - August 10, 1890
Photograph from the Bundesarchiv

Under the terms of the Heligoland - Zanzibar Treaty of July 1, 1890, the German Empire TRADED some of its colonial interests in Zanzibar and East Africa to Great Britain for the island.  On August 10, 1890, the new territory officially became part of the Imperial German State of

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Helgoland - A Brief History to 1890