Tristan da Cunha

Tristan da Cunha, colloquially Tristan, 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 approximately 1,511 miles (2,432 km) off the coast of Cape Town in South Africa, 1,343 miles (2,161 km) from Saint Helena and 2,166 miles (3,486 km) off the coast from the Falkland Islands.
The territory consists of the main island, Tristan da Cunha, which has a diameter of roughly 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) and an area of 98 square kilometres (38 sq mi), the smaller, uninhabited Nightingale Islands, and the wildlife reserves of Inaccessible Island and Gough Island. As of October 2018, the main island has 250 permanent inhabitants who all carry British Overseas Territories citizenship. The other islands are uninhabited, except for the personnel of a weather station on Gough Island.

Tristan da Cunha is part of the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. This includes Saint Helena and also near-equatorial Ascension Island, which lies some 1,741 miles (2,802 km) to the north of Tristan. There is no airstrip of any kind on the main island, meaning that the only way of travelling in and out of Tristan is by boat, a six-day trip from South Africa.


Flag of Tristan da Cunha

The 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 designer is the prominent vexillologist, Graham Bartram.

The arms consist of a shield featuring four albatrosses in a blue-and-white mirror image design. The central diamond-shaped charge is based on a charge from the arms of the da Cunha family to which Admiral Tristão da Cunha belonged, after whom the island is named: “Cunha” in Portuguese means “wedge”, and blue wedges feature in the da Cunha arms as a canting charge.
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 coat of arms of Tristan da Cunha was granted on 20 October 2002.




The islands were first recorded as sighted in 1506 by Portuguese explorer Tristão da Cunha, though rough seas prevented a landing. He named the main island after himself, Ilha de Tristão da Cunha. It was later anglicised from its earliest mention on British Admiralty charts to Tristan da Cunha Island. Some sources state that the Portuguese made the first landing in 1520 when the Lás Rafael captained by Ruy Vaz Pereira called at Tristan for water.
The first undisputed landing was made on 7 February 1643 by the crew of the Dutch East India Company ship Heemstede, captained by Claes Gerritsz Bierenbroodspot. The Dutch stopped at the island four more times in the next 25 years, and in 1656 created the first rough charts of the archipelago.

The first full survey of the archipelago was made by the crew of the French corvette Heure du Berger in 1767. The first scientific exploration was conducted by French naturalist Louis-Marie Aubert du Petit-Thouars, who stayed on the island for three days in January 1793, during a French mercantile expedition from Brest, France to Mauritius. Thouars made botanical collections and reported traces of human habitation, including fireplaces and overgrown gardens, probably left by Dutch explorers in the 17th century.

On his voyage out from Europe to East Africa and India in command of the Imperial Asiatic Company of Trieste and Antwerp ship, Joseph et Therese, William Bolts sighted Tristan da Cunha, put a landing party ashore on 2 February 1777 and hoisted the Imperial flag, naming it and its neighboring islets the Isles de Brabant. In fact, no settlement or facilities were ever set up there by the company.
After the British Government announced in September 1786 that it would proceed with the settlement of New South Wales, Alexander Dalrymple, presumably goaded by Bolts’s actions, published a pamphlet under the title, A Serious Admonition to the Publick on the Intended Thief Colony at Botany Bay, with an alternative proposal of his own for settlements on Tristan da Cunha, St. Paul and Amsterdam islands in the Southern Ocean. Captain John Blankett, R.N., also suggested independently to his superiors in August 1786 that convicts be used in establishing an English settlement on Tristan.
In consequence, the Admiralty received orders from Government in October 1789 to examine the island as part of a general survey of the South Atlantic and the coasts of southern Africa.
That did not happen, but an investigation of Tristan, Amsterdam and St. Paul was undertaken in December 1792 and January 1793 by George Macartney, Britain’s first ambassador to China: during his voyage to China, he established that none of the islands was suitable for settlement.

19th century

Pieter Groen (1808-1902)

The first permanent settler was Jonathan Lambert of Salem, Massachusetts, the United States, who moved to the island in December 1810 with two other men, and later a third.
Lambert publicly declared the islands his property and named them the Islands of Refreshment. 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.

On 14 August 1816, the United Kingdom annexed the islands, making them a dependency of the Cape Colony in South Africa. This was explained as a measure to prevent the islands’ use as a base for any attempt to free Napoleon Bonaparte from his prison on Saint Helena. The occupation also prevented the United States from using Tristan da Cunha as a base for naval cruisers, as it had during the War of 1812. Possession was abandoned in November 1817, although some members of the garrison stayed and formed the nucleus of a permanent population.

The islands were occupied by a garrison of British Marines, and a civilian population gradually grew. Berwick stopped there on 25 March 1824 and reported that it had a population of twenty-two men and three women. Whalers set up bases on the islands for operations in the Southern Atlantic.
However, the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, together with the gradual transition from sailing ships to coal-fired steamships, increased the isolation of the islands, which were no longer needed as a stopping port for lengthy sail voyages, or for shelter for journeys from Europe to East Asia. A parson arrived in February 1851, the Bishop of Cape Town visited in March 1856 and the island was included within the diocese of Cape Town.

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.
On 15 October 1873, the Royal Navy scientific survey vessel HMS Challenger docked at Tristan to conduct geographic and zoological surveys on Tristan, Inaccessible Island and the Nightingale Islands. In his log, Captain George Nares recorded a total of fifteen families and eighty-six individuals living on the island. Tristan became a dependency of the British Crown in October 1875.

20th century

Eruption 1961

After years of hardship since the 1880s and especially difficult winter in 1906, the British government offered to evacuate the island in 1907. The Tristanians held a meeting and decided to refuse, despite the crown’s warning that it could not promise further help in the future. No ships called at the islands from 1909 until 1919, when HMS Yarmouth finally stopped to inform the islanders of the outcome of World War I.
The Shackleton–Rowett Expedition stopped in Tristan for five days in May 1922, collecting geological and botanical samples before returning to Cape Town. Of the few ships that visited in the coming years was the RMS Asturias, a Royal Mail Steam Packet Company passenger liner, in 1927, and the ocean liners RMS Empress of France in 1928, RMS Duchess of Atholl in 1929, and RMS Empress of Australia in 1935. In 1936, The Daily Telegraph of London reported the population of the island was 167 people, with 185 cattle and 42 horses.

From December 1937 to March 1938, a Norwegian party made a dedicated scientific expedition to Tristan da Cunha, and sociologist Peter A. Munch extensively documented island culture—he would later revisit the island in 1964–65. The island was also visited in 1938 by W. Robert Foran, reporting for the National Geographic Society; his account, Tristan da Cunha, Isles of Contentment, was published in November 1938.
On 12 January 1938 by letters patent, Britain declared the islands a dependency of Saint Helena, creating the British Crown Colony of Saint Helena and Dependencies, which also included Ascension Island.

Refugees from Tristan da Cunha at a church service. (Photo by Terrence Spencer//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

During the Second World War, Tristan was commissioned by the Royal Navy as the stone frigate HMS Atlantic Isle and used as a secret signals intelligence station to monitor Nazi U-boats (which were required to maintain radio contact) and shipping movements in the South Atlantic Ocean. This weather and radio station led to extensive new infrastructure being built on the island, including a school, a hospital, and a cash-based general store.
After the war, development continued, as the island’s first canning factory expanding the availability of paid employment in 1949. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen’s consort, visited the islands in 1957 as part of a world tour onboard the royal yacht HMY Britannia.

On 10 October 1961, the eruption of Queen Mary’s Peak forced the evacuation of the entire population of 264 individuals. Evacuees took to the water in open boats and sailed to uninhabited Nightingale Island, where they were picked up by a Dutch passenger ship that took them via Cape Town to Britain. The islanders arrived in the UK to a big press reception and were settled in an old Royal Air Force camp near Calshot, Hampshire. The following year a Royal Society expedition reported that Edinburgh of the Seven Seas had survived the eruption. Most families returned in 1963.

Gough Island was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, then named “Gough Island Wildlife Reserve”. The Site was extended in 2004 to include the neighbouring Inaccessible Island and renamed Gough and Inaccessible Islands, with it’s marine zone extended from 3 to 12 nautical miles. The Gough and Inaccessible Islands were declared as separate Ramsar sites—wetland sites designated to be of international importance—on 20 November 2008.

21st century

On 23 May 2001, the islands were hit by an extratropical cyclone that generated winds up to 190 kilometres per hour (120 mph). A number of structures were severely damaged, and numerous cattle were killed, prompting emergency aid provided by the British government. In 2005, the islands were given a United Kingdom postcode (TDCU 1ZZ), to make it easier for the residents to order goods online.

On 13 February 2008, a fire destroyed the island’s four power generators and fish canning factory, severely disrupting the economy. On 14 March 2008, new generators were installed and power restored, and a new factory opened in July 2009. While the replacement factory was built, M/V Kelso came to the island as a factory ship. The St. Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha Constitution Order 2009 reorganized Tristan da Cunha as a constituent of the new British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, giving Tristan and Ascension equal status with Saint Helena.

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

A total solar eclipse will pass over the island on 5 December 2048. The island is calculated to be on the centre line of the umbra’s path for nearly three and a half minutes of totality.

July Storm Damage 2019

Storm in July 2019

A storm hit the island on the night of Thursday 18th July 2019 and caused considerable damage to the island, though there were no injuries.
There was extensive damage to government buildings and some government housing. Apart from one house, island private accommodation had not been badly damaged. As always, the islanders have rallied round to repair the one damaged house.
There was a power cut, though power was quickly restored, and the island store and warehouse were intact so everyone has access to dry and frozen food. The hospital was not damaged by the storm.

The Police Station, Tourism and Post Office, Mechanical Workshop, Administration Building, Communications Building and other government buildings lost their roofs and suffered extensive wind and water damage. Many windows were also been broken. The communications equipment room was flooded and it took some time to assess if the telephones and the Internet could be repaired, residents kept in touch via back up satellite phones.



Map of Tristan da Cunha

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 and largest island, 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 (25 acres)
Stoltenhoff Island, area: 0.1 square kilometres (25 acres)
Gough Island (Diego Alvarez), area: 91 square kilometres (35 sq mi)
Inaccessible Island and the Nightingale Islands are 35 kilometres (22 mi) SW by W and SSW away from the main island, respectively, whereas Gough Island is 395 kilometres (245 mi) SSE.

The main island is generally mountainous. The only flat area is on the north-west coast, which is the location of the only settlement, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas.
The highest point is the summit of a volcano called Queen Mary’s Peak at an elevation of 2,062 metres (6,765 ft), high enough to develop snow cover in winter.
The other islands of the group are uninhabited, except for a weather station with a staff of six on Gough Island, which has been operated by South Africa since 1956 and has been at its present location at Transvaal Bay on the southeast coast since 1963.


The archipelago has a wet oceanic climate under the Köppen system, with mild temperatures and very limited sunshine though, consistent moderate-to-heavy rainfall due to the persistent westerly winds. Under the Trewartha classification, Tristan da Cunha has a humid subtropical climate due to the lack of cold weather. 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° farther 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). Sandy Point on the east coast is reputed to be the warmest and driest place on the island, being in the lee of the prevailing winds.

Flora & Fauna

Tristan da Cunha Group

Many of the flora and fauna of the archipelago have a broad circumpolar distribution in the South Atlantic and South Pacific Oceans. For example, the plant species Nertera depressa was first collected in Tristan da Cunha, though has since been recorded as far away 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. Inaccessible Island is also the only known breeding ground of the spectacled petrel.
The Tristan albatross is known to breed only on Gough and Inaccessible Islands: all nest on Gough, except for one or two pairs which nest on Inaccessible Island.

The endemic Tristan thrush, also known as the “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. No birds of prey breed on Tristan da Cunha, but the Amur falcon occasionally passes through the area on its migrations, thus putting it on the island’s bird list.

Various species of whales and dolphins can be seen around Tristan from time to time with increasing sighting rates, although recovery of baleen whales, especially the southern right whale, was severely hindered by illegal whaling by the Soviet Union in the aftermath of the 1960 volcanic eruption. The subantarctic fur seal Arctocephalus tropicalis can also be found in the Tristan archipelago, mostly on Gough Island.



Potato Patches

The island has a unique social and economic structure in which all resident families farm and all land is communally owned. Outsiders are prohibited from buying land or settling on Tristan. Besides subsistence agriculture, major industries are commercial fishing and government. Major export industries are the Tristan rock lobster (Jasus) fishery, the sale of the island’s postage stamps and coins, and limited tourism. Like most British Overseas Territories, it is not part of the European Union though is rather a member of the EU’s Overseas Countries and Territories Association.

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, though residents of Tristan are entitled to its services. Although Tristan da Cunha is part of the same overseas territory as Saint Helena, it does not use the local Saint Helena pound, instead, using the United Kingdom issue of the pound sterling.

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


The remote location of the islands makes transport to the outside world difficult. Tristan da Cunha has no airstrip and is not generally accessible to air travel, though the wider territory is served by Saint Helena Airport and RAF Ascension Island.
Fishing boats from South Africa service the islands eight or nine times per 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 a few times in the last years, in 2006, in 2011, and most recently in 2018. 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.


Satellite Dish on Tristan

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.

Internet access was available in Tristan da Cunha from 1998 to 2006, but its high cost made it almost unaffordable for the local population, who primarily used it only to send an email.
The connection was also extremely unreliable, connecting through a 64 kbit/s satellite phone connection provided by Inmarsat.

Since 2006, a very-small-aperture terminal has provided 3072 kbit/s of publicly accessible bandwidth via an internet cafe. There is not yet any mobile telephone coverage on the islands. DX-peditions are sometimes conducted in the island group by amateur radio operators.


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, which now provides BBC1, BBC2, ITV and BFBS Extra, relayed to islanders via local transmitters. BFBS Radio 2 is the locally available radio station.
An official website is provided by the island government and the Tristan da Cunha Association, which maintains it from the UK. A community newsletter, Village Voice, is produced each week.




Tristan da Cunha recorded a population of 251 in the September 2018 census. The only settlement is Edinburgh of the Seven Seas (known locally as “The Settlement”). The only religion is Christianity, with the only denominations being Anglican and Roman Catholic. The current residents are thought to have descended from fifteen outside ancestors, eight male and seven female, who arrived on the island at various dates between 1816 and 1908. The men were European, and the women were mixed race and African. Now all of the population has mixed ancestry.
In addition, a male contributor of eastern European/Russian descent arrived in the early 1900s. In 1963, when families returned after the evacuation due to the 1961 volcanic eruption, the 200 settlers included four Tristan da Cunha women who brought with them, new English husbands.

The female descendants have been traced by the genetic study to five female founders, believed to be mixed-race (African, Asian and European descent) and from Saint Helena.
The historical data recounted that there were two pairs of sisters, but the MtDNA evidence showed only one pair of sisters.

The early male founders originated from Scotland, England, the Netherlands, the United States and Italy, and belonged to 3 Y-haplogroups: I (M170), R-SRY10831.2 and R (M207) (xSRY10831.2) and share nine surnames: Collins, Glass, Green, Hagan, Lavarello, Repetto, Rogers, Squibb and Swain.
In addition, a new haplotype was found that is associated with men of eastern Europe and Russia. It entered the population in the early 1900s, at a time when the island was visited by Russian sailing ships. There is “evidence for the contribution of a hidden ancestor who left his genes though not his name on the island.” Another four instances of non-paternity were found among male descendants, though researchers believed their fathers were probably among the island population.

There are eighty families on the island. Tristan da Cunha’s isolation has led to the development of an unusual, patois-like dialect of English described by the writer Simon Winchester as “a sonorous amalgam of Home Counties lockjaw and 19th-century idiom, Afrikaans slang and Italian.” Bill Bryson documents some examples of the island’s dialect in his book, The Mother Tongue.


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 was a collaboration between St. Mary’s School and amateur composers in Britain, led by music teacher Tony Triggs. It began in 2010 and involved 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.
In 2014, the project broadened its scope and continues as the International Song Project.


Tristan da Cunha Health Facility

Healthcare is funded by the government, undertaken at most times by one resident doctor. 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 telemedical help, making it possible to send EKG and X-ray pictures to doctors in other countries for instant consultation.

There are instances of health problems attributed to endogamy, including glaucoma. In addition, there is a very high (42%) incidence of asthma among the population and research by 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.

A ceremony to open the new Camogli Healthcare Centre was held on Friday 9th June 2017 at 3 pm when a ribbon was cut by the eldest islander ‘Aunt’ Ellen Rogers who will be 99 years old later this year!

A speech was made by Chief Islander Ian Lavarello, who thanked DFID, Galliford Try and the community for their support in working together and in achieving an outstanding project that will serve the community into the future. The new building was blessed by the ministers representing both local churches.

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