Where Is Tristan da Cunha?
Tristan da Cunha is one of five small and remote islands in the South Atlantic midway between Buenos Aires in Argentina and the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. Tristan is the only one of the five to be inhabited. The island is 38 square miles in extent and was named after the Portuguese admiral who discovered it in 1506.
The islands were first recorded as sighted in 1506 by Portuguese explorer Tristão da Cunha, but 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 Rafaelcaptained 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 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.
Tristan da Cunha was created in prehistoric times when a volcanic eruption raised it 18,000 feet from the seabed. Cultivation is possible only on one part of the rocky outcrop, on a small plateau squeezed between the sea on one side and 2,000 foot cliffs on the other. The territory consists of the main island, Tristan da Cunha, which has a north–south length of 11.27 kilometres (7.00 mi) and an area of 98 square kilometres (38 sq mi), and the smaller, uninhabited Nightingale Islands and the wildlife reserves of Inaccessible and Gough islands.
In 1816 Britain landed a small force of men on the island and took possession. The garrison stayed for a year. When it departed, one of its members, Corporal William Glass, was allowed to remain on Tristan with his family. With the arrival of shipwrecked sailors and of five women from St. Helena, the population grew to 260 by 1961. 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 the only way of traveling in and out of Tristan is by boat, a six-day trip from South Africa.
For 150 years the islanders’ way of life changed little. But in 1961 the volcano erupted and forced their departure to England. This evacuation seemed to be the end of life on Tristan but, weary of contact with modern civilization and longing for their island ways, the people began to return two years later.
The Tristan da Cunha Development Company now provides the island’s sole industry. By 1967 Tristan had a small harbor for the first time in its history. After that a road, a new hospital and a sewage system were built, and electricity was introduced. The island now has something approaching the best of worlds, isolation and “away from it all” atmosphere but some modern amenities, too.