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Tristan da Cunha
Flag Coat of arms
MottoOur faith is our strength
AnthemGod Save the Queen
(and largest city)
Edinburgh of the Seven Seas
37°4′S 12°19′W / 37.067°S 12.317°W / -37.067; -12.317
Official language(s) English
Demonym Tristanian
Government Part of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
 -  Administrator David Morley
First inhabited 1810 
 -  Total 207 km2 
80 sq mi 
 -   census 275 (2009 figures) 
 -  Density 1.3/km2 
3.4/sq mi
Currency Pound sterling (£) (GBP)
Time zone GMT (UTC+0)
Internet TLD .sh
Calling code 290

Tristan da Cunha (pronounced /ˈtrɪstən də ˈkuːnə/) is a remote volcanic group of islands in the south Atlantic Ocean,and also the name of the main island of that group. It is the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world,[1] lying 2,816 kilometres (1,750 mi) from the nearest land, South Africa, and 3,360 kilometres (2,090 mi) from South America. It is part of the British overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha [2] which also includes Saint Helena 2,430 kilometres (1,510 mi) to its north, and equatorial Ascension Island even farther removed, grouping the British South Atlantic islands into one far-flung centrally administered aggregate. Tristan da Cunha is said to be the "most remote inhabited location on Earth."[3] It has a population of 275 (2009 figures).[4]

The territory consists of the main island of Tristan da Cunha itself, which measures about 7 miles across and has an area of 98 square kilometres (38 sq mi), along with the uninhabited Nightingale Islands and the wildlife reserves of Inaccessible Island and Gough Island.



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.

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 Salem, Massachusetts, United States, who arrived at the islands in December 1810.[5] 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. The second Duke of Edinburgh, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, visited the islands in 1957 as part of a world tour onboard the royal yacht Britannia.

On 12 January 1938, by Letters Patent, the islands were declared a dependency of Saint Helena. Prior to this, passing ships stopped irregularly at the island for a period of mere hours.[6]

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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.

In 1958, as part of Operation Argus, the United States Navy exploded an atomic bomb 200 kilometres high in the upper atmosphere, 115 kilometres southeast of the main island.

In 1961, a volcanic eruption forced the evacuation of the entire population to wooden huts in the disused Pendell Army Camp in Merstham, Surrey, England before moving to a more permanent site at a former Royal Air Force station in Calshot near Southampton, England, 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).

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 St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Constitution Order 2009 was made by HM the Queen and the Privy Council on 8 July and is expected to come into operation shortly thereafter. The new 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


Recent events

On 4 December 2007 an outbreak of an acute viral-induced asthma was reported. This outbreak was compounded by Tristan's lack of suitable medical supplies.[7] The British coastguard in Falmouth co-ordinated international efforts to get appropriate medicines to Tristan in order to treat the virus. Tristan’s elderly population and the very young were most at risk; however, only four elderly people were hospitalised. Royal Fleet Auxiliary Vessel RFA Gold Rover upon reaching the island with the required medical supplies found no emergency and the islanders in good general health.

On February 13, 2008, fire destroyed the fishing factory and the two generators that supply 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 March 14, 2008 new generators were installed and 24/7 power was restored. This fire was devastating to the island because fishing is a mainstay of the economy. Royal Engineers from the British Army are working on the harbour to help maintain it as everything comes and goes by boat.

Politics and law

Executive authority is vested in the Queen, who is represented in the territory by the Governor of Saint Helena.[8] As the Governor resides permanently in Saint Helena, an Administrator is appointed to represent the Governor in the islands. The Administrator acts as the local head of government, and takes advice from the Island Council, made up of eight elected and three appointed members. Policing in Tristan da Cunha is undertaken by one full-time police officer and three special constables. Tristan da Cunha has its own legislation, but the law of Saint Helena applies 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.

Geography and ecology

See article Geography of Tristan da Cunha

Map of Tristan da Cunha group (including Gough Island)

The name "Tristan da Cunha" is also used for the archipelago, which consists of the following islands:

Inaccessible Island and the Nightingale Islands are located 35 kilometres (22 mi) southwest of the main island, while Gough Island is located 395 kilometres (245 mi) south-southeast. The main island is quite mountainous; the only flat area is the location of the capital, 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 ft); it is covered by snow in winter. The climate is marine subtropical with small temperature differences between summer and winter and between day and night. 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. Tristan da Cunha is the nesting place of Tristan Albatrosses.

Gough Island, Tristan da Cunha

Tristan da Cunha is thought to have been formed by a long-lived centre of upwelling magma called the Tristan hotspot.

Numerous flora and fauna occur in Tristan da Cunha. Many of these have a broad circumpolar distribution in the South Atlantic and South Pacific Oceans. Thus many of the species that occur in Tristan da Cunha occur as far away as New Zealand. For example the species Nertera depressa was first collected in Tristan da Cunha,[10] but has since been recorded in occurrence as far distant as New Zealand.[11]


All Tristan families are farmers, owning their own stock. All land is communally owned. Livestock numbers are strictly controlled to conserve pasture and to prevent better-off families accumulating wealth. No outsiders are allowed to buy land or settle on Tristan.[12]

The islands' main source of foreign income is the lobster factory and the sale of postage stamps and coins to overseas collectors. Most people have dual occupations, often working for the local government. Many inhabitants have plots of land (at the patches) on which they grow potatoes.

The 1961 volcanic eruption destroyed the Tristan da Cunha canned crayfish factory, which was rebuilt a short time later. The crayfish farmers 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. Recently the decline in interest in Tristan crayfish in the United States has meant that the islanders have had to borrow from their reserves. The islands' financial problems may cause delays in updating communication equipment and improving education on the island.

The fire of February 13, 2008, (see history above) has resulted in major economic disruption.

Banking and currency

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. For more information on currency in the wider region, see The Sterling Currency in the South Atlantic and the Antarctic. The Bank of Saint Helena was established on Saint Helena and Ascension Island in 2004. Although this bank does not have a physical presence on Tristan da Cunha, the residents of Tristan are entitled to use its services.[13]


The school on the island is the St. Mary's School, which has children from ages three to sixteen. The current facility, which opened in 1975, has five classrooms, a kitchen, a stage, a computer room, and a craft and science room.[14]


The islands have a population of 275 people.[15] 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. There are instances of health problems attributed to endogamy, including asthma and glaucoma.

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 USA and Italy.[16] 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.[17] Three of the original settlers of the island were sufferers.[18]


The remote location of the islands makes transport to the outside world difficult. There is no airport, so the islands can be reached only by boat. Fishing boats from South Africa regularly service the islands. The RMS Saint Helena formerly connected the islands to South Africa, and the United Kingdom via Saint Helena and Ascension Island, but she no longer calls at Tristan da Cunha.


Housing in Tristan da Cunha

On Tristan da Cunha the population of 275 people share just eight surnames: Glass, Green (Dutch), Hagan (American), Lavarello (Italian, a typical Ligurian surname), Repetto (Italian, another typical Ligurian surname), Rogers (American), Swain (English), and Patterson.[19] The addition of the eighth surname, Patterson, occurred recently when a Tristanian married an Englishman and returned to settle on Tristan.[19] There are 80 families on the island.

Health care is free, but, with just one resident doctor from South Africa and five nurses, the delivery and surgery are limited and serious injury can necessitate sending signals to passing fishing vessels, so that the injured person can be transferred to Cape Town. As of late 2007 IBM and Beacon Equity Partners, co-operating with Medweb, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the government of Tristan da Cunha on ”Project Tristan”, has availed the island 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.

Television did not arrive on the island until 2001, and the sole channel available is the British Forces Broadcasting Service from the Falkland Islands. Education is rudimentary; children leave school at fifteen, and although it is possible to take GCSEs a year later, results are poor.[20][21]

Tristan da Cunha's isolation has led to an unusual, patois-like dialect of English. Bill Bryson documents some examples of the island's dialect in his book, The Mother Tongue.

In literature

Hervé Bazin's novel Les Bienheureux de la Désolation (1970) describes the 1961 forced exile of the population to England and their subsequent return.

Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838), Chapter 15, has a detailed history and description.

Zinnie Harris' play Further Than the Furthest Thing (2000) is inspired by events on the island, notably the 1961 volcanic eruption and evacuation of the islanders.

Raoul Schrott's novel Tristan da Cunha oder die Hälfte der Erde (2003) is almost entirely set on Tristan da Cunha and Gough islands and chronicles the history of the archipelago.

Robert A Heinlein's novel Tramp Royale (1992) devoted an entire chapter to his (almost) visit to Tristan da Cunha, arguably the most remote human settlement on earth.

See also


  1. ^ Geography
  2. ^ The St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Constitution Order 2009, see "EXPLANATORY NOTE"
  3. ^ Winkler, Sarah, Where is the Most Remote Spot on Earth? Tristan da Cunha: The World's Most Remote Inhabited Island How Stuff Works.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Mackay, Margaret (1963) Angry Island: The Story of Tristan da Cunha, 1506–1963. London: Arthur Barker, p. 30
  6. ^ By Wireless from R.M.S. Empress of Australia. "Royal Gifts Gladden 172 On Lonely Atlantic Island" (Tristan da Cunya)," New York Times. March 24, 1935.
  7. ^ "Remote virus-hit island seeks aid". BBC News. 2007-12-04. 
  8. ^ Saint Helena Dependencies
  9. ^
  10. ^ Linnean Society of London. 1906. The journal of the Linnean Society of London, Published by Academic Press for the Linnean Society of London., v. 37
  11. ^ C. Michael Hogan. 2009. Crown Fern: Blechnum discolor,, ed. N. Stromberg
  12. ^ Economy of Tristan da Cunha. Tristan da Cunha Government and the Tristan da Cunha Association, June 2005. [1]
  13. ^ The Bank of Saint Helena [2]
  14. ^ "Tristan School." Tristan da Cunha Government. Retrieved on 21 June 2009.
  15. ^ BBC NEWS | UK | The quiet life: Tristan da Cunha
  16. ^ Genealogy and genes: tracing the founding fathers of Tristan da Cunha, European Journal of Human Genetics
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b
  20. ^ Crossan, Rob 'Return to the Last Outpost' Telegraph Magazine, 11 November 2002
  21. ^ CNN Traveler: A long way from anywhere

Further reading

  • Barrow, Kathleen Mary. (1910). Three Years in Tristan da Cunha. 280 pp. London: Skeffington & Son Ltd. Reprinted (2005) by Echo Library. ISBN 1846378664.
  • Brander, J. (1940). Tristan da Cunha: 1506–1902. London: Allen & Unwin.
  • Crawford, Allan B. (1941). I Went to Tristan. London: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.
  • Hosegood, Nancy. (1964). Corporal Glass's Island: The Story of Tristan da Cunha. London: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd. 192 pp.
  • Crawford, Allan B. (1982). Tristan Da Cunha and the Roaring Forties. Edinburgh: Charles Skilton Ltd. ISBN 0284985899.
  • Crawford, Allan B. (1999). Penguins, Potatoes and Postage Stamps: a Tristan Da Cunha Chronicle. Oswestry, Shropshire: Anthony Nelson. ISBN 0904614689
  • Rogers, Rose Annie (1927). "The Lonely Island" Published by Ancestry24[3]ISBN 1-86918-039-9

External links

Coordinates: 37°07′S 12°17′W / 37.117°S 12.283°W / -37.117; -12.283

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Quick Facts
Capital Edinburgh of the Seven Seas
Currency Saint Helenian pound (SHP), UK pound sterling (GBP)
Area 201 sq km
Population ~269
Language English
Religion Anglican, Roman Catholic
Calling Code +290
Internet TLD .sh
Time Zone UTC

Tristan da Cunha[1] is an archipelago of fairly small islands in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. It is a territory of the United Kingdom, administered by the government of St Helena, which lies several hundred miles to the north.


Tristan da Cunha is the most remote inhabited island in the world — the nearest speck of land, St. Helena, is a whopping 2430 km away, and it's over 2800 km to the nearest continent, Africa.

The entire population of some 270 inhabitants is concentrated on the only flat bit of this volcanic landmass, the hamlet of Edinburgh of the Seven Seas on the main island. There are a few other islands in the archipelago, all uninhabited: Inaccessible Island, Nightingale Island, Middle Island and Stoltenhoff Island. Gough Island, some 300 km away, hosts a weather and scientific research outpost.

Get in

All visitors to Tristan da Cunha must receive a permission from the Tristan Government. Write an email to and specify when you plan to go, where you intend to stay and the purpose of your visit.

By plane

There is no airstrip on Tristan da Cunha.

By boat

Travelling to Tristan da Cunha requires careful planning. It takes five to six days to travel the 2810 kilometers from Cape Town. The South African polar research ship SA Agulhas and the fishing vessels Edinburgh and Kelso do the voyage between Cape Town and Tristan da Cunha several times every year. A return ticket on Agulhas is about US$1300, a return ticket on one of the fishing vessels is US$800. Schedules and further information is available on the official Tristan da Cunha website[2].

Map of the Tristan da Cunha group and Gough Island
Map of the Tristan da Cunha group and Gough Island

By foot

Due to rugged, steep terrain, going all the way around the island is difficult, but if just staying in the village of Tristan, the flat, grassy ground is easy to maintain.

By transport

There is a paved road (the M1) from Edinburgh (aka The Settlement) to the Potato Patches, which are about 3 miles away. Local transport is available to the Potato Patches. This local transport could be an islander's car, tractor, and during the mornings, a bus service also operates (using an actual bus!). Note that the bus is targeted at pensioners, who can ride on the bus for free. The charge is £5 return [3] [4]. Note that you cannot rent any vehicles on the island.


The Island organizes fishing excursions, walks, climbs and even golf for visitors. Once again, consult their website for more information[5].

Eat & Drink

The only public place available is the Prince Philip Hall which occasionally serves food, the building also houses the Albatross Bar - the islands only pub. Opening hours are sketchy to say the least, and the only time it's very likely to be open is when cruise ships are docked at the island. If you are hungry and the hall is closed, your only other bet is a visit to the Island shop.


Self-catering accomodation is £20 per night, while home stays, which include meals and laundry, cost £40 per night. There are discounts for Tristan Islanders and children. Booking information is available on the Island's official website[6].

Get out

Relatively nearby to the south is Gough Island, another British dependency.


Tristan da Cunha Official Website

Tristan Times

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Proper noun

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Tristan da Cunha


Tristan da Cunha

  1. A remote group of islands in the South Atlantic; a dependency of the British overseas territory of Saint Helena


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