Tristan da Cunha

Tristan da Cunha is the main, and only inhabited, island in an extremely remote volcanic group of islands in the south Atlantic Ocean. It is the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world, lying 1,750 mi from the nearest land, South Africa, and 2,088 mi from South America. The territory consists of the main island of Tristan da Cunha itself, which measures about 7.0 mi across and has an area of 37.8 sq mi, along with the uninhabited Nightingale Islands and the wildlife reserves of Inaccessible Island and Gough Island.

Tristan da Cunha is part of the British overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. The island has a permanent population of 275 (2009 figures). The only settlement is at Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, and one can see from the satellite amps that there is no space anywhere else for habitation. So just a few people, their potato fields and a lobster export industry. There is no airstrip, nor any likelihood of one. And little in the way of shipping passes this way. There is no port, and landing is difficult.

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 later anglicised 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. Soundings were taken and a rough survey of the coastline was made. The presence of water at the large waterfall of Big Watron and in a lake on the north coast were noted, and the results of the survey were published by a Royal Navy hydrographer in 1781. The first permanent settler was Jonathan Lambert, from the United States, who arrived at the islands in December 1810. He declared the islands his property and named them the Islands of Refreshment. Lambert's rule was short-lived, as he died in a boating accident in 1812.

In 1816 the United Kingdom formally 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 not be able 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 base, as they had during the War of 1812. Attempts to colonise Inaccessible Island failed. 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 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 H. Dodgson, served as an Anglican missionary and school teacher in Tristan da Cunha in the 1880s.

With the opening of the Suez Canal, very few ships came this way. On 12 January 1938, by Letters Patent, the islands were declared a dependency of Saint Helena. During World War II, the islands were used as a top secret Royal Navy weather and radio station codenamed HMS Atlantic Isle, to monitor U Boats (which needed to surface to maintain radio contact) and German shipping movements in the South Atlantic Ocean. The only currency in use on the island at this time was the potato, and islanders labouring to construct the station were paid in kind with naval supplies for their own use, such as wood, paint and tea. Money was introduced the following year, as was the island's first newspaper, The Tristan Times. The first Administrator 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 Operation Argus, the United States Navy exploded an atomic bomb 200 kilometres (124 mi) high in the upper atmosphere, 115 kilometres (71 mi) southeast of the main island. What enticed the United States to do something as daft as this I do not know. They certainly would not have exploded a bomb 71 miles off New York.

The 1961 eruption of Queen Mary's Peak forced the evacuation of the entire population via Cape Town to wooden huts in the disused Pendell Army Camp in England, before moving to a more permanent site at a former Royal Air Force station in Calshot near Southampton, living mainly in a road called Tristan Close. In 1962, a Royal Society expedition went to the islands to assess the damage, and reported that the settlement Edinburgh of the Seven Seas had been only marginally affected. Most families returned in 1963 led by Willie Repetto (head of the ten-person island council) and Allan Crawford (the former island welfare officer).

On 23 May 2001, the islands experienced an extra-tropical cyclone that generated winds up to 120 mph. A number of structures were severely damaged and a large number of cattle were killed, prompting emergency aid from 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. The 2009 Constitution replaces the 1988 version and among other changes limits the Governor's powers, includes a Bill of Rights, establishes independence of the judiciary and the public service and formally designates the Governor of St Helena as, concurrently, the Governor for Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. It also ends the "dependency" status of Ascension and Tristan da Cunha on St Helena.

On 13 February 2008, fire destroyed the fishing factory and the four generators that supplied power to the island. Backup generators were used to power the hospital and give power for part of the day to the rest of the island. Power was on during the day and early evening and candlelight was used the rest of the time. On 14 March 2008, new generators were installed and power was restored. This fire was devastating to the island because fishing is a mainstay of the economy. Royal Engineers from the British Army worked on the harbour to help maintain it, as everything comes and goes by sea.

On 16 March 2011, the Maltese-registered freighter MS Oliva ran aground on Nightingale Island, spilling tons of heavy crude into the ocean. The crew was rescued, but the ship broke up, leaving an oil slick that surrounded the island, threatening its population of rockhopper penguins. Nightingale Island has no fresh water, so the penguins were transported to Tristan da Cunha for cleaning. The Greek captain and his 21 Filipino crew stayed in Edinburgh of the Seven Seas and assisted the islanders in their work.

We could not land on Tristan da Cunha, but they managed to get a marooned Government official off - ships call rarely here, and very often cannot land passengers. This island is as remote as one could imagine..

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Nightingale Island is uninhabited. It has two peaks on its north end. One is 1,106 ft high while the other is 961 ft high. The rest of the island is ringed by cliffs. These cliffs, whilst high, are not nearly as high as those surrounding Nightingale's neighbour Inaccessible Island, which is approximately 16 km away and has cliffs approximately 300m high. Thus human access is a bit easier on Nightingale than on Inaccessible, but is none the less very difficult.. The island is a volcano, composed of early and late stage ash deposits. Massive Trachytic lava flows have been extruded in the past. Prior to 2004, the last eruption may have been over 39,000 years ago. The two nearby islets are called Stoltenhoff (99 m) and Middle (46 m). Large amounts of kelp surround the island, which makes it harder to anchor ships in bad weather.

The island was named after a British captain Gamaliel Nightingale, who explored the island in 1760. In 1961, when the volcano on Tristan da Cunha erupted, it forced the inhabitants of Tristan da Cunha to evacuate to Nightingale. A six hour long earthquake occurred on Nightingale Island on 29 July 2004, followed by sightings of floating phonolitic pumice, the event came from a submarine flank of the island. It was the first known eruption on the island in 10,000 years.And in 2011 the MS Oliva ran aground here and spilt oil.

Inaccessible and Gough Islands are strict nature reserves with no tourism permitted. However, tourists are permitted to go to Nightingale.Many tourists to Tristan da Cunha visit Nightingale Island for the wildlife. Non-Tristanians can travel to Nightingale only with a guide from Tristan. Part of the money they pay the guide goes toward paying for the conservation work being done on the island. Once a year, filmmakers and journalists are permitted to work on the island (for a fee), but they are not allowed to interfere with the private lives of the Tristanian islanders. Also, Tristan natives visit Nightingale on holiday.

Click on any of the thumbnails below to get a larger photo

After Nightingale, it was no more land till we reached Cape Town. The storm that we had been following had nearly blown itself out, and with the way of the world, if we had arrived the following day, the chances are that we could have landed on Tristan. But commercial schedules meant we had to get to Cape Town in time for the next group of punters to board for her next cruise.

On to Cape Town

Silversea Explorer Voyage

Shipboard Life