How was Cape Horn named?

April 19, 2017 | Author: | Posted in Geography

General William Tecumseh Sherman says in his Memoirs: “In time we saw Cape Horn; an island rounded like an oven, after which it takes its name (Ornos) oven!’

Sherman may have defined war correctly, but he was in error about the origin of the name of Cape Horn. His error has been frequently imitated since the publication of his book in 1875. In the first place, the Spanish word for oven is hornos, although the h is silent. In the second place, the island to which Sherman referred is known as Horn Island and the actual cape is only a part of it.

The cape, however, was not named because of its resemblance to an oven. It received its name from the “Horn,” the small, clumsy vessel in which William Schouten, a Dutch sailor, doubled the cape in 1616. The navigator was known as William Shouten van Horn, because his home was in the village of Horn, Holland.

Previously to the voyage of Schouten and Le Maire, passages had been made to the Pacific through the Strait of Magellan. It was not known until then that there was any other route, or that the land called Tierra del Fuego was an island. In Spanish the cape is called Cabo de Hornos. It is small wonder that Sherman was misled, for literally Cabo de Hornos would mean “cape of ovens.”

Horn Island, the southernmost of the South American islands, may appear different from various approaches. The outlook from the south is thatĀ of a steep incline on one side and a gradual rise on the other. General Sherman may have been justified in comparing the island to an oven as he saw it from a certain angle. Knowing little Spanish, he probably jumped to the conclusion that the name was suggested by the shape.

The southernmost point on the continent of South America is Cape Froward, not Cape Horn. A point across the strait on Tierra del Fuego from Cape Horn is called False Cape Horn. Few ordinary travelers see Cape Horn because it is off the main steamer routes and because it is generally shrouded in heavy fog.

 

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