The island of Fernando de Noronha was discovered in 1503 by the Portuguese explorer Amérigo Vespucci, and given to the nobleman Fernando de Loronha in 1504 by the Portuguese king, Dom Manuel I, hence its name (with one letter changed). The nobleman, Loronha, however, never set foot on the island, which, because of its strategic position, was invaded in turn by various other European nations before returning to Portuguese rule.
ion. In 1534, the Archipelago of Fernando de Noronha was invaded by the English, and from 1556 until 1612 it was ruled by the French. In 1612, Claudio de Abbeville, a Capuchin missionary, landed on the island and found one Portuguese and seventeen Indian men and women who had been banished from mainland Pernambuco. In 1628 the island was invaded by the Dutch who occupied it until 1654, with the exception of a 5-year occupation by the Portuguese, between 1630 to 1635.
During their rule the Dutch used the island as a treatment and convalescence base for their troops, a third of whom suffered from diseases such as scurvy and dysentery in Pernambuco. The island became know as Pavonia, in honor of Michiel de Pauw, one of the directors of the Dutch West Indies Company. The Dutch built only one small fort at the site of the later Forte de Nossa Senhora dos Remedios (Fort of Our Lady of Medicines). An order by the Dutch Crown to keep the island occupied and garrisoned and to select the best sites for fortification was ignored.
As a result the island was constantly at the mercy of invaders and on September 24, 1700, by order of a Royal Writ from the Portuguese Crown, Fernando de Noronha reverted to the Crown and became part of the Capitania of Pernambuco. To prevent any further invasions, the forts of Nossa Senhora do Remedios, Nossa Senhora de Conceição and Santo Antonio were constructed. In 1772 the church of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios was completed, a landmark of the repopulation of the island.
Around this time is when the first prisoners were sent to the island from the mainland of Brazil. This rapid development of the island’s population had a profound effect on the environment. Vegetative cover was destroyed, trees were felled to prevent escapes and to eliminate hiding places for the inmates and non-endemic species were introduced to the island. Consequences of these changes remain visible today.
The forts of São João Batista dos Dois Irmãos and São Joaquim do Sueste were built in 1739. In 1755, by royal decree, Angola started to contribute an annual sum to cover the expenses of the fort of Fernando de Noronha, a subsidy which continued until Brazil´s independence. In 1837, when Pernambuco had its republican revolution, orders were given to demolish the fortifications on the island and the prisoners were returned to the mainland.
In 1865 Emperor Pedro II signed new orders governing the island and custody was transferred to the Ministry of Justice, but in 1897 the government of Pernambuco took control of the penitentiary at Fernando de Noronha and converted it to use as a state prison. It remained under state control until 1938, when the Federal government decided to convert the island to be used as a political prison and penal colony during World War II. On August 23, 1943, Colonel Tristão de Alencar Araripe became the first governor of the new Federal Territory.
Agreements between Brazil and the United States permitted stationing of American troops on the archipelago from 1942 to 1945 and from 1957 to 1962 NASA operated a satellite tracking station here. Noronha was under the administration of the Brazilian Military until 1981 and most of the infrastructure on the island, including the airport, roads, schools and the hospital, date from this period. Now, Fernando de Noronha is administered as a State District by a General Administrator appointed by the governor of Pernambuco and approved by its state legislature.
The first election for local government was held in 1996. Today the island survives on tourism, limited due to its delicate ecosystem, and traditional fishing, only for local consumption. The entire archipelago has received much attention from scientists from all over the world, dedicated to the study of its flora, fauna and geology. One of the earliest works was published over 100 years ago by Pocock (1890). Fernando de Noronha is a fascinating island, both physically and historically. It's a place like you´ve never seen before.