‘Taboo’: The Real History of the Nootka Sound, James Delaney’s Contested Land

Yes, the land in Tom Hardy’s miniseries is a real place, and Great Britain and Spain almost went to war over it in the 1700s

Tom Hardy in Taboo

If you watched the premiere of Tom Hardy’s new miniseries “Taboo” on FX, you might be wondering what that piece of land that everyone’s fighting over is. It’s called Nootka Sound, and it’s an actual place you can visit near Vancouver.

Nootka Sound is a small inlet of land on the western coast of Vancouver Island. It was known as “Mowichat” by the Nuu-chah-luuth, the tribe that has called it home for centuries. The mother of Tom Hardy’s character, James Delaney, on “Taboo” was a member of that tribe. Delaney’s recently deceased father held a land claim on Nootka Sound because of that union, leaving it to Delaney in his will.

While the East India Trading Company’s fight with Delaney for the land on “Taboo” is entirely fictional, there was also a real-life conflict over Nootka Sound back in the 18th century, a few decades before the time in which “Taboo” is set.

In 1790. tensions rose between Britain and Spain as they fought for control of the Pacific Northwest. Nootka Sound was a major point of interest for the same reason East India Trading wanted it on “Taboo.” As a sound, it allowed ships to dock in a safe area of water protected from the open ocean, making it the perfect spot for a coastal trading post that allowed easy access to China.

Having long held a claim on the entire Pacific Northwest, Spain established its first settlement on Vancouver Island, Santa Cruz d Nuca, in 1789. The Spanish settlers, led by Esteban Jose Martinez, began fending off and seizing British ships that entered the area attempting to trade with the locals. The British took exception to Spain’s blanket claim to all that unsettled land and sent warships to Vancouver Island, creating a standoff known as the Nootka Crisis. Britain and Spain nearly started a war over control of the inlet, with Britain calling in Holland for aid. In return, Spain turned to France for help, and King Louis XVI was eager to oblige.

Unfortunately for him, the French National Assembly challenged his ability to declare war unchecked and began to resent his authority, meaning Nootka Sound, way over on the West Coast of North America, played a role in the run-up to the French Revolution. A few years later, Louis XVI lost his head, and that Revolution began.

Without France’s support, Spain decided against war and in late 1790 negotiated a truce with England called the Nootka Convention, which allowed both countries to settle the Pacific Northwest. The Nootka Convention would be revised twice in the next half-decade to settle further disputes between Britain and Spain.

After the War of 1812 between the Americans and British, Spain abandoned its claim to the Pacific Northwest and handed it over to the U.S. This ended up leading to a dispute with Britain because America wanted sole ownership of the Pacific Northwest — the British cited the Nootka Convention as a counter.

This conflict didn’t come to much, however, and came two a close in 1846 when the present boundary between the U.S. and Canada was established by the Oregon Treaty.

We get the feeling that James Delaney’s fight over Nootka Sound on “Taboo” won’t end nearly as cleanly as the Nootka Crisis did. This is a dirty, grimy show designed as the antithesis of “Downton Abbey,” “The Young Victoria,” and all those Anglophile nostalgia tales. This is Victorian England at its darkest, and there’s a good chance things won’t end well for James.