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Tristan Da Cunha – The Most Remote Inhabited Location on Earth

by Andy on October 25, 2009

in Culture

Tristan da Cunha is a group of extremely remote islands in the south Atlantic Ocean. It is “the most remote inhabited location in the world” and is home to 271 residents, who are in fact proud citizens of Great Britain.

Tristan Da Cunha was created as a result of a break in the tectonic plates at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean where magma can flow up from the Earths core, known as the Tristan Hotspot, and is actually the tip of a giant undersea mountain formed by the cooling magma. Positioned 2,816 kilometres (1,750 mi) from the nearest land, namely South Africa, and 3,360 kilometres (2,090 mi) from South America, the islands are only accessible by ship and have limited contact with the outside world. It is part of the British overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha which also includes St Helena which is 2,430 kilometres (1,510 mi) to the north and Tristan Da Cunhas closest neighbour, and Ascension Island. The territory of Tristan da Cunha consists of the main island Tristan da Cunha, the uninhabited Nightingale Islands and the wildlife reserves of Inaccessible Island and Gough Island.

The islands were first sighted in 1506 by portugese explorer Tristan Da Cunha, although rough seas prevented a landing on the island, he named the name island after himself and it has being known as such ever since. The first survey of the islands was made in 1767 by the French frigate L’Heure du Berger. A rough survey of the coastline was made. The presence of water at the large waterfall of Big Watron and the fact there was a lake on the north coast were noted.

The first permanent settler on the islands was Jonathan Lambert, from Salem in Massachusetts, United States. He arrived at the islands in December 1810, declared the islands his property and named them the Islands of Refreshment. Lambert’s rule was very short lived however as he died in a boating accident in 1812.

In 1816 the United Kingdom formally annexed the islands and ruled them from their colony in South Africa. This is reported to have primarily been a measure to ensure that the French would not be able to use the islands as a base for a rescue operation to free Napoleon Bonaparte from Saint Helena, where he was imprisoned to ensure he would never escape. The occupation also prevented the United States from using Tristan da Cunha as a base, as they had during the War of 1812.

The islands were occupied by a garrison of British Marines and a civilian population gradually built up. The current population of 271  are descended from 15 ancestors, eight males and seven females who arrived on the island at various times between 1816 and 1908. The male founders originated from Scotland, England, The Netherlands, the USA and Italy.

They share just eight surnames: Glass, Green (Dutch), Hagan (American), Lavarello (Italian), Repetto (Italian), Rogers (American), Swain (English), and Patterson (English). The addition of the eighth surname, Patterson, occurred recently when a Tristanian married an Englishman and returned to settle on Tristan. There are 80 families on the island.

The islands isolation has led to an usual dialect of English which is unique. There is one doctor on the island and in case of serious injury an emergency signal must be sent to passing in ships in hope of help to get the person to a hospital on the main land. There is no airport on the island and it can only be reached by ship.Television did not arrive on the island until 2001 and there is only one TV channel, the British forces Broadcasting Service.

The people of Tristan are proud of their British citizenship, and the main settlement, Edinburgh of the Seven seas, was named after The duke of Edinburgh in 1867 and executive authority is vested in the Queen. The islands were recntly given a British postcode to make ordering goods online easier.

No outsiders are allowed to move to the island and inhabitants are given a limit on the livestock they can keep in order to maintain resources on the island.

The islands are very beautiful and consist of green low land pastures and a volcanic mountain called Queen Marys Peak 2,062 metres (6,770 ft); which is covered by snow in winter. There are some unique species of animals on the island and many birds use it as a stop off point when crossing the ocean.

The people of Tristan Da Cunha live in one of the most beautiful places in the world and have a relaxed and simplistic lifestyle away from the stresses of the modern world. However there can be a price to pay, and there must be a certain feeling of isolation and lack of varied opportunity that comes with such a life, as the youngsters of the island grow up with greater contact with the outside world via the internet and TV. Tristan Da Cunha has a proud history of individuality and I hope its story continues for many years to come.

Part of recent BBC documentary about the island:

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Interview with Mary Swain in 1963 after the volcanic eruption in 1961. She was the only midwife on the island:

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ITN news in 1963 reporting on Tristan da Cunha, the world’s remotest human inhabited place after the volcanic eruption in 1961:

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Island life in 1963:

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Islanders views in 1963 living on the world’s remote inhabited place:

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