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Redonda is a very small, uninhabited Caribbean island which is part of Antigua and Barbuda, in the Leeward Islands, West Indies. The island is about 1 mile (1.6 km) long, 0.3 miles (0.48 km) wide, and 971 feet high.
This small island lies between the islands of Nevis and Montserrat 56.2 kilometres (34.9 mi) southwest of Antigua. Redonda is closer to Montserrat than to any other island; it is located at 22.5 kilometres (14.0 mi) northwest of Montserrat, and 32 kilometres (20 mi) southeast of Nevis.
At a distance Redonda resembles one very large rock. It is the remnant of an ancient volcanic core, and the land rises extremely steeply from sea level, mostly as sheer cliffs, especially on the leeward side of the island. At the top of the island there is an area of grassland that slopes fairly steeply to the east. There is no source of fresh water other than rain. Judging by the name he gave the island, to Columbus the island appeared to be rounded, at least in profile. In reality the island is long and narrow. The actual land area of the island is hard to estimate because of the extreme steepness of the slopes, but it is calculated as somewhere between 1.6 square kilometres (400 acres) and 2.6 square kilometres (640 acres). Redonda is uninhabited, except by seabirds and a herd of feral goats that manage to survive on the poor grazing on top of the island. The steepness of the surface and lack of any fresh water source save rainfall makes the island inhospitable to humans.
Christopher Columbus discovered Redonda in 1493 on his second journey. He claimed it for the Spanish crown, but did not land there. He named the island Santa María la Redonda, meaning Saint Mary the Round, reflecting the island's apparent profile when viewed from the side. In the 1860s, the island became a British possession.
During the decades after the 1860s, the rich guano (phosphine oxide) deposits of Redonda were mined for fertiliser, with an annual yield of up to 7,000 tons. Only during this time was the island inhabited, by workers. The population was 120 in 1901. During the First World War, the mining operations ceased, and the workers left the island, which has remained uninhabited since then. Two stone huts still stand from the time when the island was occupied. Although the closest island to Redonda is Montserrat, and the second closest is Nevis, Redonda became a dependency of somewhat further away Antigua and Barbuda in 1967.
Scientists from the Montserrat Volcano Observatory visit the island in a helicopter periodically; they are using Redonda as an observation point from which to take measurements of the Soufrière Hills active volcano on Montserrat. The only postcard of Redonda was published by Kimagic.
Redonda is internationally known, in a minor way, as a micronation, because of the curious on-going myth of the "Kings of Redonda", a story which interweaves fact and fiction. According to a (possibly imaginary) version of events, first recounted decades later by M.P. Shiel, an author of fantasy novels: in the year of his birth, 1865, his father Matthew Dowdy Shiell, from Montserrat, decided to celebrate his first male child by arranging for the boy to be crowned King of Redonda at the age of 15, in a ceremony purportedly carried out on the small island by a bishop.
M.P. Shiel, the son and author, was the first person to ever mention the idea of the "Kingdom of Redonda" and that was in a promotional leaflet for his books. Since then, the title has been "passed down", and continues to the present day. For a period of time the "Royal" lineage of Redonda had a more or less solely literary theme, with the title being given to writers and the like, such as John Gawsworth and Jon Wynne-Tyson. Wynne-Tyson (King Juan II), his successor the Spanish novelist Javier Marias (King Xavier), with rival contenders for the Redondan title, such as William L. Gates and Bob Williamson, and John Gawsworth, featured in a BBC Radio 4 documentary, Redonda: The Island with Too Many Kings, broadcast May 2007.
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