Tristan da Cunha

Tristan da CunhaTristan da Cunha, is both a remote group of volcanic islands in the south Atlantic Ocean and the main island of that group. It is the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world, lying 2,000 kilometres (1,243 mi) from nearest inhabited land, Saint Helena, 2,400 kilometres (1,491 mi) from the nearest continental land, South Africa, and 3,360 kilometres (2,088 mi) from South America. The territory consists of the main island, also named Tristan da Cunha, which has a north-south length of 11.27 kilometres (7.0 mi) and has an area of 98 square kilometres (37.8 sq mi), along with the smaller, uninhabited Nightingale Islands and the wildlife reserves of Inaccessible and Gough Islands.

Tristan da Cunha is part of the British overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. This includes Saint Helena 2,430 kilometres (1,510 mi) to its north and equatorial Ascension Island some 3,730 kilometres (2,318 mi) to the north of Tristan. The island has a permanent population of 297 (2014 figures).


Flag of Tristan da Cunha

Flag of Tristan da CunhaThe flag of Tristan da Cunha was adopted on October 20, 2002, in a proclamation made by the Governor of Saint Helena under a Royal Warrant granted by Queen Elizabeth II. Prior to this, as a dependency of Saint Helena, Tristan da Cunha used the flag of Saint Helena for official purposes.

The flag is a blue ensign design, defaced with the coat of arms of Tristan da Cunha — a Tristan longboat above a Naval Crown, with a central shield decorated with four yellow-nosed albatrosses and flanked by two Tristan rock lobsters. Below this is a scroll with the territory’s motto, Our faith is our strength.

The coat of arms of Tristan da Cunha was granted in 2002.
The arms consist of a shield featuring four albatrosses in a blue-and-white mirror image design. The two supporters are Tristan rock lobsters, which are found in the waters surrounding the island. The crest features a naval crown and a Tristan da Cunha longboat. The motto is “Our faith is our strength”.
The arms feature on the flag of Tristan da Cunha, and on the defaced Union Flag used by the Administrator.



The islands were first sighted in 1506 by Portuguese explorer Tristão da Cunha, although rough seas prevented a landing. He named the main island after himself, Ilha de Tristão da Cunha, which was anglicised from its earliest mention on British Admiralty charts to Tristan da Cunha Island.
In 1643, the crew of the Heemstede, captained by Claes Gerritsz Bierenbroodspot, made the first recorded landing.
The first survey of the archipelago was made by the French frigate L’Heure du Berger in 1767.

Captain William Glass
Captain William Glass

19th Century
The first permanent settler was Jonathan Lambert, from Salem, Massachusetts, United States, who arrived at the islands in December 1810 with two other men. Lambert publicly declared the islands his property and named them the Islands of Refreshment. After being joined by an Andrew Millet, three of the four men died in 1812; however, the survivor among the original three permanent settlers, Thomas Currie (or Tommaso Corri) remained as a farmer on the island.

In 1816, the United Kingdom annexed the islands, ruling them from the Cape Colony in South Africa. This is reported to have primarily been a measure to ensure that the French would be unable to use the islands as a base for a rescue operation to free Napoleon Bonaparte from his prison on Saint Helena.
The occupation also prevented the United States from using Tristan da Cunha as a cruiser base, as it had during the War of 1812.

The islands were occupied by a garrison of British Marines and a civilian population was gradually built up. Whalers also set up on the islands as a base for operations in the Southern Atlantic. However, the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, together with the gradual move from sailing ships to coal-fired steam ships, increased the isolation of the islands, as they were no longer needed as a stopping port or for shelter for journeys from Europe to the Far East.

In 1867, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and second son of Queen Victoria, visited the islands. The main settlement, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, was named in honour of his visit. Lewis Carroll’s youngest brother, the Rev. Edwin Heron Dodgson, served as an Anglican missionary and school teacher in Tristan da Cunha in the 1880s.


Tristan Evacuation
Islanders after evacuation in 1961

20th Century
On 12 January 1938 by Letters Patent the islands were declared a dependency of Saint Helena. Prior to roughly this period, passing ships stopped irregularly at the island for a period of mere hours.

During World War II, the islands were used as a top secret Royal Navy weather and radio station codenamed HMS Atlantic Isle, to monitor Nazi U-boats (which were required to maintain radio contact) and shipping movements in the South Atlantic Ocean.
The first Administrator, Surgeon Lieutenant Commander E.J.S. Woolley, was appointed by the British government during this time.

The second Duke of Edinburgh, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, visited the islands in 1957 as part of a world tour on board the royal yacht Britannia.

In 1958 as part of an experiment, Operation Argus, the United States Navy detonated an atomic bomb 200 kilometres (124 mi) high in the upper atmosphere about 160 kilometres (99 mi) southeast of the main island.

The 1961 eruption of Queen Mary’s Peak forced the evacuation of the entire population via Cape Town to England. The following year a Royal Society expedition went to the islands to assess the damage, and reported that the settlement of Edinburgh of the Seven Seas had been only marginally affected. Most families returned in 1963.


21st Century

Edinburgh, Tristan da Cunha
Edinburgh, Tristan da Cunha

On 23 May 2001, the islands experienced an extratropical cyclone that generated winds up to 193 kilometres per hour (120 mph). A number of structures were severely damaged and a large number of cattle were killed, prompting emergency aid, provided by the British government.

In 2005, the islands were given a United Kingdom post code (TDCU 1ZZ) to make it easier for the residents to order goods online.

On 4 December 2007 an outbreak of an acute virus-induced flu was reported. This outbreak was compounded by Tristan’s lack of suitable and sufficient medical supplies.

On 13 February 2008, fire destroyed the fishing factory and the four generators that supplied power to the island. On 14 March 2008, new generators were installed and uninterrupted power was restored. This fire was devastating to the island because fishing is a mainstay of the economy. While a new factory was being planned and built, M/V Kelso came to the island and acted as a factory ship, with island fishermen based on board for stints normally of one week. The new facility was ready in July 2009, for the start of the 2009-10 fishing season.

The St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Constitution Order 2009 ended the “dependency status” of Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.

On 16 March 2011, the freighter MS Oliva ran aground on Nightingale Island, spilling tons of heavy fuel oil into the ocean, leaving an oil slick threatening the island’s population of rockhopper penguins. Nightingale Island has no fresh water, so the penguins were transported to Tristan da Cunha for cleaning.

On November 2011, the sailing boat Puma’s Mar Mostro participant in Volvo Ocean Race arrived to the island after her mast broke in the first leg from Alicante and Cape Town. This event made the island, its inhabitants and lifestyle worldwide known thanks to the media reports.



Tristan da Cunha Group
Click to enlarge

Tristan da Cunha is thought to have been formed by a long-lived centre of upwelling mantle called the Tristan hotspot. Tristan da Cunha is the main island of the Tristan da Cunha archipelago, which consists of the following islands:

Tristan da Cunha, the main island and largest, area: 98 square kilometres (37.8 sq mi), (37°6′44″S 12°16′56″W)
Inaccessible Island, area: 14 square kilometres (5.4 sq mi)
Nightingale Islands, area: 3.4 square kilometres (1.3 sq mi) Nightingale Island, area: 3.2 square kilometres (1.2 sq mi)
Middle Island, area: 0.1 square kilometres (24.7 acres)
Stoltenhoff Island, area: 0.1 square kilometres (24.7 acres)

Gough Island (Diego Alvarez), area: 68 square kilometres (26.3 sq mi), see Gough Island.

Inaccessible Island and the Nightingale Islands are 35 kilometres (21.7 mi) SW by W and SSW of the main island respectively, whereas Gough Island is 395 kilometres (245.4 mi) SSE.

The main island is quite mountainous; the only flat area is the location of the only village, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, on the northwest coast. The highest point is a volcano called Queen Mary’s Peak 2,062 metres (6,765.1 ft); it is covered by snow in winter. The other islands of the group are uninhabited, except for the weather station on Gough Island, which has been operated by South Africa since 1956 (since 1963 at its present location at Transvaal Bay on the southeast coast), with a staff of six.




Edinburgh of the Seven Seas

Edinburgh of the Seven SeasEdinburgh of the Seven Seas is the main settlement of the island of Tristan da Cunha, in Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, in the South Atlantic Ocean. Locally it is always referred to as The Settlement or The Village.

Edinburgh of the Seven Seas is regarded as the most remote permanent settlement on Earth, being 1,350 miles (2173 kilometres) from the nearest human settlement, on Saint Helena.

Edinburgh of the Seven Seas has a mild and humid oceanic climate (Cfb, according to the Köppen climate classification), with moderate temperatures throughout the year.

The settlement was founded on the island of Tristan da Cunha in 1816 by a Sergeant Glass from the Borders of Scotland after the UK annexed Tristan da Cunha. A military garrison was maintained on the islands as a guard against any French attempts to rescue Napoleon, imprisoned on Saint Helena. The military garrison remained until the end of World War II.

It is named after Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, the second son of Queen Victoria, in honour of his visit to the island in 1867.

Edinburgh of the Seven Seas is the only major settlement of Tristan da Cunha, and contains a small port, the Administrator’s residence, and the post office. It was damaged in a volcanic eruption on the island in 1961 which forced the entire population to abandon the settlement and evacuate to Calshot, Hampshire in the UK. The eruption destroyed the settlement’s crayfish factory.

After the return of most of the islanders in 1963, the settlement was rebuilt. The harbour at Edinburgh was named Calshot Harbour, after their temporary home during the eruption.



The archipelago has a wet oceanic climate with pleasant temperatures but consistent moderate to heavy rainfall and very limited sunshine, due to the persistent westerly winds.
The number of rainy days is comparable to the Aleutian Islands at a much higher latitude in the northern hemisphere, while sunshine hours are comparable to Juneau, Alaska, 20° further from the equator. Frost is unknown below elevations of 500 metres (1,600 ft) and summer temperatures are similarly mild, never reaching 25 °C (77 °F).


Flora & Fauna

Tristan da CunhaMany of the flora and fauna have a broad circumpolar distribution in the South Atlantic and South Pacific Oceans. Thus many of the species that occur in Tristan da Cunha appear as far away as New Zealand. For example, the plant species Nertera depressa was first collected in Tristan da Cunha, but has since been recorded in occurrence as far distant as New Zealand.

Tristan is primarily known for its wildlife. The island has been identified as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International because there are 13 known species of breeding seabirds on the island and two species of resident land birds. The seabirds include Northern Rockhopper Penguins, Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, Sooty Albatrosses, Atlantic Petrels, Great-winged Petrels, Soft-plumaged Petrels, Broad-billed Prions, Grey Petrels, Great Shearwaters, Sooty Shearwaters, Tristan Skuas, Antarctic Terns and Brown Noddies. Tristan and Gough Islands are the only known breeding sites in the world for the Atlantic Petrel Pterodroma incerta IUCN status EN. Inaccessible Island is also the only known breeding ground of the Spectacled Petrel (Procellaria conspicillata; IUCN Vulnerable). The Tristan Albatross (IUCN status CR) is known to breed only on Gough and Inaccessible Islands: all nest on Gough except for one or two pairs who nest on Inaccessible Island.

The endemic Tristan Thrush or Starchy occurs on all of the northern islands and each has its own subspecies, with Tristan birds being slightly smaller and duller than those on Nightingale and Inaccessible. The endemic Inaccessible Island Rail, the smallest extant flightless bird in the world, is found only on Inaccessible Island. In 1956 eight Gough Moorhens were released at Sandy Point on Tristan, and have subsequently colonised the island.

Various species of whales and dolphins can be seen around Tristan from time to time with increasing sighting rate.



DemographicsThe islands have a population of 297. The main settlement is Edinburgh of the Seven Seas (known locally as “The Settlement”). The only religion is Christianity, with denominations of Anglican and Roman Catholic.
The current population is thought to have 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 United States and Italy and share just eight surnames: Glass, Green, Hagan, Lavarello, Patterson, Repetto, Rogers, and Swain.

There are 80 families on the island. Tristan da Cunha’s isolation has led to an unusual, patois-like dialect of English.


Politics & Law

Map of Tristan da Cunha Island
Click to enlarge

Executive authority is vested in the Queen, who is represented in the territory by the Governor of Saint Helena. As the Governor resides permanently in Saint Helena, an Administrator is appointed to represent the Governor in the islands. The Administrator is a career civil servant in the Foreign Office and is selected by London.

Since 1998, each Administrator has served a single, three-year term (which begins in September, upon arrival of the supply ship from Cape Town). The Administrator acts as the local head of government, and takes advice from the Tristan da Cunha Island Council.
The Island Council is made up of eight elected and three appointed members, who serve a 3-year term which begins in February (or March).

Chief Islander: From amongst the 8 elected councilors, the one receiving the most votes is named “Chief Islander” and serves as Acting Administrator when that official is off the island: Ian Lavorello was elected, unopposed, for a second consecutive 3-year term in February 2013. As “Chief Islander” he lit the island’s beacon celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

The Administrator and Island Council work from the Government Building, which is the only two-story building on the island: the lower floor houses the Police Department. It is sometimes referred to as “Whitehall” or the “H’admin Building” and contains the Administrator’s Office, Treasury Department, Administration Offices and the Council Chamber where Island Council meetings are held.

There are no political parties or trade unions on Tristan. Policing in Tristan da Cunha is undertaken by one full-time police officer and three special constables.

Tristan da Cunha has some of its own legislation, though the law of Saint Helena applies generally (to the extent that it is not inconsistent with local law, insofar as it is suitable for local circumstances and subject to such modifications as local circumstances make necessary).



Potato Patches
Potato Patches

The island’s unique social and economic organization has evolved over the years, but is based on the principles set out by William Glass in 1817 when he established a settlement based on equality. All Tristan families are farmers, owning their own stock and/or fishing. All land is communally owned. All households have plots of land at The Patches on which they grow potatoes. Livestock numbers are strictly controlled to conserve pasture and to prevent better-off families from accumulating wealth. Unless it votes for a change in its law, no outsiders are allowed to buy land or settle on Tristan; theoretically the whole island would have to be put up for sale.
All people – including children and pensioners – are involved in farming, while adults additionally have salaried jobs working either for the Government, or, a small number in domestic service, and many of the men are involved in the fishing industry, going to sea in good weather. The nominal fishing season lasts 90 days; however during the 2013 fishing season – 1 July through 30 September – there were only 10 days suitable for fishing.

Valuable foreign earnings come from the royalties from the commercial crawfish or Tristan rock lobster (Jasus) industry and the sale of postage stamps and coins, especially to collectors worldwide. Limited revenue from tourism includes providing accommodation, guides and sales of handicrafts and souvenirs to visitors and by mail order. It is the income from foreign revenue earners that enables Tristan to run Government services, especially health and education.

The 1961 volcanic eruption destroyed the Tristan da Cunha canned crayfish factory, which was rebuilt a short time later. The crayfish catchers and processors work for the South African company Ovenstone, which has an exclusive contract to sell crayfish to the United States and Japan. Even though Tristan da Cunha is a UK overseas territory, it is not permitted direct access to European Union markets. Recent[clarification needed] economic conditions have meant that the islanders have had to draw from their reserves. The islands’ financial problems may cause delays in updating communication equipment and improving education on the island. The fire of 13 February 2008 resulted in major temporary economic disruption.

Although Tristan da Cunha is part of the same overseas territory as Saint Helena, it does not use the local Saint Helena pound. Instead, the island uses the United Kingdom issue of the pound sterling. The Bank of Saint Helena was established on Saint Helena and Ascension Island in 2004. This bank does not have a physical presence on Tristan da Cunha, but residents of Tristan are entitled to its services. There are occasionally commemorative coins minted for the island.

The island is located in the South Atlantic Anomaly, an area of the Earth with an abnormally weak magnetic field. On November 14, 2008 a geomagnetic observatory was inaugurated on the island as part of a joint venture between the Danish Meteorological Institute and DTU Space.


Summer season and end-of-year holiday
According to the island’s January 2014 newsletter, the summer season gets underway with Sheep Shearing Day held on a Saturday in mid-December. Almost the entire population gathers on the far end of Patches Plain where the sheep pens are sited. Hand-clippers are used in the shearing and the wool is later carded, spun and hand-knitted into garments, some of which are sold under the name “37 Degrees South Knitwear Range”.

Christmas Break-up
There is an annual break from government and factory work which begins before Christmas and lasts for 3 weeks. Break-Up Day is usually marked with parties at various work “departments”. Break-Up includes the Island Store, which means that families must be organized to have a full larder of provisions during the period. In 2013, the Island Store closed a week earlier than usual to conduct a comprehensive inventory, and all purchases had to be made by Friday 13 December as the shop did not open again until a month later.

Longboat Day
The January 2014 New Year Message from Administrator Alex Mitham announced that, in 2013, the Island Council recognized there was no national holiday that specifically celebrates Tristan’s heritage and culture, ‘So I am pleased to announce that the Council have agreed that a new national holiday called Longboat Day that will be instated in 2015, and the traditional longboats race brought back. There was no immediate indication of which date would be selected for the new holiday.



Education is fairly rudimentary; children leave school at age 16, and although they can take GCSEs a year later, few do. The school on the island is St Mary’s School, which serves children from ages 4 to 16. It opened in 1975 and has five classrooms, a kitchen, a stage, a computer room, and a craft and science room.

The Tristan Song Project is an ongoing collaboration between St Mary’s School and amateur composers in England, led by music teacher Tony Triggs.
It began in 2010 and involves St Mary’s pupils writing poems and Tony Triggs providing musical settings by himself and his pupils. A desktop publication entitled Rockhopper Penguins and Other Songs (2010) embraced most of the songs completed that year and funded a consignment of guitars to the School.

In February 2013 the Tristan Post Office issued a set of four Song Project stamps featuring island musical instruments and lyrics from Song Project songs about Tristan’s volcano and wildlife.



There are instances of health problems attributed to endogamy, including glaucoma. In addition, there is a very high incidence of asthma among the population and research by Dr. Noe Zamel of the University of Toronto has led to discoveries about the genetic nature of the disease. Three of the original settlers of the island were asthma sufferers.

Healthcare is funded by the government, undertaken by one resident doctor from South Africa and five nurses. Surgery or facilities for complex childbirth are therefore limited, and emergencies can necessitate communicating with passing fishing vessels so the injured person can be ferried to Cape Town. As of late 2007, IBM and Beacon Equity Partners, co-operating with Medweb, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the island’s government on “Project Tristan”, has supplied the island’s doctor with access to long distance tele-medical help, making it possible to send EKG and X-ray pictures to doctors in other countries for instant consultation.
This system has been limited owing to the poor reliability of Internet connections and an absence of qualified technicians on the island to service fibre optic links between the hospital and Internet centre at the administration buildings.



Local television began in 1984 using taped programming on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings.
Live television did not arrive on the island until 2001, with the introduction of the British Forces Broadcasting Service’s BFBS 1 and 2 channels, which were replaced by BBC One and Two in 2013.

Although Tristan da Cunha shares the +290 code with St Helena, residents have access to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Telecommunications Network, provided by Global Crossing.
This uses a London 020 numbering range, meaning that numbers are accessed via the UK telephone numbering plan.



The remote location of the islands makes transport to the outside world difficult.
Lacking an airport, the islands can be reached only by sea. Fishing boats from South Africa service the islands eight or nine times a year. The RMS Saint Helena used to connect the main island to St Helena and South Africa once each year during its January voyage, but has done so only twice in the last few years, in 2006 and 2011.

There is no direct service to Ascension Island and the United Kingdom, without flying from Cape Town to London or travelling on the RMS St Helena from Cape Town to St Helena.

The March voyage of the RMS St Helena goes to Ascension and Portland from St Helena. The harbour at Edinburgh of the Seven Seas is called Calshot Harbour, named after the place in Hampshire where the islanders temporarily stayed during the volcanic eruption.