TRISTAN DA CUNHA

 

TRISTAN ARTICLE I HAVE WRITTEN FOR THE ‘UTOPIAN’ ISSUE OF ‘THE IDLER’

When I was a teenage frequenter of  expresso bars the arguments about ‘anarchy – would it work’- enlivened the wait for the bus home from school. I held my ground- ‘yes it would’- till that  bloody film Lord of the Flies came out. Then I was subject to derision and the  gleeful  scorn of ‘I told you so – human nature’s not like that’ and without authority  life  would be ‘nasty, brutish and short’ .’If it wasn’t for that PC Plod down the road’ opined my best mate ‘you’d kill us all for the next coke’. I didn’t really see it like that but alas so it seemed as I read about massacres and mayhem on  remote  islands like Pitcairn and Clipperton.  Maybe human nature wasn’t as benign and co-operative as I supposed and anarchy might not work after all.

I was living in Hampshire in 1962 and somewhere on the periphery of my attention was the  evacuation of the islanders of Tristan Da Cunha to Fawley near Southampton. The teenagers looked  like  sad losers dressed by their mums and the oldies just seemed to be dying from flu. Then one day I heard incredible news. The hated tory colonial office was forcing them to go back to their blasted island. Only I hadn’t got it quite right. They had fought the colonial office to be allowed to go back. I watched open mouthed as the following interview with a Tristanian  who talked like a Dickensian washerwoman was aired on South today:

Did you like television?  No – we didn’t like television at all.

Are there any ideas from England you’ll be taking back with you?   No we weren’t taking back any ideas from the outside world.

Any hints on farming in England?  No nothing that would suit us.

Finally as she embarked hastily…..’England’s very nice but there’s nothing here we want,

‘Ungrateful bleeders’ said my dad……….but not to me…..I was  upstairs looking for that tiny red dot in the South Atlantic. ‘Most remote inhabited island in the world  – a volcanic archipelago consisting of Tristan, Nightingale and Inaccessible islands.’ I asked my geography teacher about it – he knew nothing.

 

TRISTAN DA CUNHA – THE UTOPIA THAT WORKED

In 1937, as part of a Norwegian scientific expedition, Peter Munch visited Tristan Da Cunha. He was surprised to discover that the form of social organisation on the island was ANARCHY… And had been for over 100 years.

There was no government, police, money or headman/woman. Munch wrote, ‘The principles of freedom and anarchy were firmly established in the Tristan community as a social order based on the voluntary consensus of free men and women. In such a community not only is authority, control or any kind of formal or informal government considered unnecessary and undesirable but is felt to be a menace and a threat to individual rights.’ (Crisis in Utopia: Peter Munch 1971)

The inhabitants of Tristan were not a self-selected commune who had gone there to establish utopia. They were of all races and survivors of shipwrecks or ex-whalers who had washed up there over 100 years. That anarchy became their natural form of social organisation and persisted against all efforts of the British government to undermine it is all the more remarkable.

Andrea Repetto, an Italian who had been shipwrecked on Tristan in 1892, was one of the few Tristans who could read or write. Seizing there chance the British government addressed all communications to Andrea Repetto, ‘Head Man ‘or occasionally ‘governor’. For twenty years they never received any reply ’til the mail was discovered unopened. Repetto explained that as there was no head man or governor on the island so no one felt able to open the mail!

In astonishment a government spokesman wrote in 1903, ‘There is an extraordinary state of affairs in this civilised century that there is no form of authority and the Tristans are curiously averse to any individual being considered to have more influence than the rest.’

Munch reported there had NEVER been any crime and no fist fight in living memory.

The Tristanians were not anarchists who’d read their Bakunin – they found anarchy to be the natural form of social organisation though they would never have used the word themselves. So how then had this remarkable Utopia come about?

CORPORAL GLASS

The British government had briefly garrisoned the uninhabited  Tristan to guard against any French attempt to free Napoleon exiled on St.Helena. Corporal William Glass liked it so much he got permission to settle  there in 1816 but not before picking up a wife in Cape town – 16 year old Maria Leender and one other male companion. (The story of Maria is one in itself –she gave totally unassisted birth to 16 children on Tristan before at the age of 89 – following the death of Wiliam – departing to New England ‘to begin a new life!). Once settled on Tristan Glass drew up a common land contract known as the original agreement which said that all land was to be held in common, as were livestock, fish catches and barter from passing ships. All were to be considered equal and ‘none above any other’. Later individual ownership of cattle was allowed but strictly limited to prevent anyone acquiring too many. This is the document that allowed the development of a society based on the equality of a sturdy and robust individualism wary of any….and I mean any …attempt  by one person to put themselves above any other. In the 1920s one individual Bob Glass started giving himself airs and graces and strutting about wearing his Boer war medals and telling passing ships he was the headman. The way of the islanders was not to confront him but ignore him …’if he thinks he’s head man he can’……………….his strutting was rendered ridiculous and till this day he is known as ‘Height’…………one who considered himself above others.

By  1900 the fluctuating population had risen to over 200. The inhabitants were not some self selecting members of an idealistic commune drawn by stories of  a Utopia on Sea.The outside world knew virtually nothing of the island. The people who settled on the island were rough and tough individuals – mainly from  shipwrecks and whaleboat crews and six women from St.Helena  who answered a desperate plea from the Tristan men for wives. T his could have been a subject for dispute but one Tristan man set the example by saying he would marry the first woman off the boat………….and was somewhat surprised to see her five children disembark after her. The marriage was a long and happy one enduring till their deaths. The population by now was multi-racial- akin to pirate crews in this respect  – and there was never any immigrant turned away. By this time also seven surnames had come to be the most common on the island and that persists till this day….Swain, Rogers, Green, Glass ,Hagen, Repetto and Lavarello. There is a fantastic photo taken by Kasper Keytel in 1908 of all the island men in their mixed race harmony looking like super-cool dudes in their random clothes. But  the outside world knew nothing of the anarchy on Tristan. Few boats called – often the island was without visitors for 5 or 6 years and during the first world war no boat called at all. So how did life on egalitarian and ignored Tristan sustain itself in this time?

ANARCHY ISLAND

Throughout the period from initial settlement in 1816 till the  end of the second world war in 1945 there was no form of any authority on Tristan. No governor, no administrator, no external authority, no police, no crime, no fights, no money, no commodity relationships on the island.  Yet Tristan da cuhna was no communist society. It was based on respect for sturdy individualism not community effort. When missionaries arrived they found disinterest in building community facilities like churches and schools. When an individual required help from neighbours – as in thatching a  roof – such help would be forthcoming on the basis of a mutual obligation. Such obligation persisted  within families often for generations when the obligation would be repaid. Such obligation mitigated not only against money but on any commodity relationships within the population of Tristan itself.

When however a communal effort was required for each individual’s good – fishing, rowing out to barter with boats – then the necessary communal  effort was forthcoming and fish and barter  were shared out equally. For 140 years the Tristan economy was based on subsistence farming – cattle, sheep, chicken, potatoes….and more potatoes – fishing, and barter. A reef prevented boats landing on the island so the tristanians had built their own longboats which enabled them to ride the surf and row miles out to sea to barter with passing boats. The tristanians would trade livestock, potatoes, eggs, fish and later model boats for whatever a curious  ships company had to offer. News of such barter was bought back to England where somehow the view developed that Tristan was a drain on the economy and ought to be moved off to save further expense – a view eagerly adopted by missionaries who succeeded in the sad case of St.Kilda but not with Tristan. They  were counteracted by the Rev. Harry Wild who after a three year duty on the island reported  eagerly back to the colonial office great progress – the islanders had built a lighthouse and were busy constructing an airport. Tristan is a volcano with a very small inhabitable area at one end – an airport was an impossibility and no lighthouse was constructed but Harry’s fanciful notions took the heat off any evacuation ideas and  Tristan vanished from view again. The decline of the great whaling fleets made passing boats ever rarer.

GOOD HEALTH

Until 1940 there was never any doctor  or nurse on the island and the  inbreeding from  the six original  families led to concern amongst successive missionaries. The occasional passing ship’ s doctor found concerns to be misplaced. Contrarily most  Tristanians lived to a ripe old age – there were two centenarians out of a population of 200  there when Munch visited in 1937 –  and the average life expectancy was 69 in the 1880s – much higher than in Victorian Britain. A South African dental team visited in 1927 on a research project. How many times  did thy brush their teeth they were asked. When no replies were forthcoming they imitated a brushing motion with their hands. Laughter followed – they never brushed their teeth. On inspection only one case of dental decay could be found. The only case of cancer was that of founder William Glass and  the islanders remained remarkably fit, active, long lived and free from many contagious diseases.

WWII

World war 2 saw a small garrison party stationed on Tristan just as happened after the Napoleonic wars and the arrival of William  Glass. 12 island volunteers  were formed into the Tristan Defence Force and trained in the use of guns and hand grenades to defend a German invasion – despite the fact they’d never even witnessed a fight! After WW2 the British government installed an administrator, a policeman, and wage labour in the form of a south African fish canning factory for the prized Tristan crayfish. Her Majesty’s government also started  to  coin it in from Tristan postage stamps…………….a move which showed up the contradictions in the change from self sufficiency to a currency based economy. The famed Tristan potato stamp! The problem with the 4pence stamp the government issued was that since no one on Tristan used money they were the only people who could not buy the stamps.  So the 4 potatoes stamp was introduced with dual currency of potatoes and pence allowing the Tristanians to buy the stamp for 4 potatoes! So throughout the 1940s and 1950s life on Tristan continued with the administrator thinking he was the administrator and the islanders treating him like Bob ‘Height’ Glass……….let him get on with it if he thinks he’s the administrator.

VOLCANO

On October 6th 1961 the volcano erupted and the entire population was evacuated to England – or to the WRVS CAMP at Merstham in surrey to be exact. The culture shock can only be imagined. As they disembarked at Southampton crowds of television and newspaper reporters  jostled to ask questions of these curious people who had never seen cars or shops or roads  or television or used electricity. They were way off the mark – these people had never seen a bicycle. They didn’t get many answers. The Tristanians seemed sullen to reporters – their only expressed desire to stay together.  During the winter 4 of the 90 year olds people died of pneumonia and all suffered from debilitating viral infections. At Christmas the well meaning WRVS laid on a visit from Father Christmas – but the children fled in terror – Father Christmas was unknown to them. All were quickly provided with jobs however inappropriate – the Tory government fearing there might be local resentment at these immigrant  benefit scroungers. So some who had no concept of private property were given jobs as security guards, others as tarmacing gangs on the roads- never before having seen such a road. Three women got jobs at Woolworths in Redhill but they had no concept of time keeping – indeed no concept of time at all. If one woman couldn’t come to work then another would fulfil her obligation by coming instead. When things were quiet they would drift away from their allotted places. Surprisingly they were not good at handling money – failing to offer change when money was handed over. The WRVS arranged communal activities like football or dances but no islanders turned up. They were ungrateful. After three months they were moved to Fawley near Southampton in the shadow of an oil refinery.

And that the colonial office thought was that – job done. In February 1962 Reginald Maudling the Colonial Secretary told parliament ‘he doubted whether Tristan would ever be suitable for permanent settlement again’. A Tory backbencher suggested Tristan become a nuclear testing site. The Administrator and chaplain were paid off as their contracts expired.  But down in Fawley the last chapter was far from written.

CIVILISATION REJECTED

The press was still interested in the Tristanians…………….like modern paparazzi they were snapped riding motorbikes, on buses, going into shops, the cinema, queuing, looking awkward in oversize clothing. The standard answer – like a modern day no comment – was ‘we all like it very much’. In fact the opposite was true. They didn’t like it very much at all.They had only one thing on their minds – going back. A survey by a team sponsored by the Royal Society had landed on the island and reported most of the houses inhabitable and only – oh the blissful  irony- the fish canning factory totally destroyed under lava. Only wage slavery was destroyed! From that point the Tristanians decided they would go back despite all obstacles placed in their way.

They were not impressed with ‘civilisation’, its consumer goods, its shallow values, its hierarchy and authority, its differentiation through wealth, its money, its time, its purposeless work, its crime and violence, its illness, its fish factories, its society of ‘Heights’ a society of Bob Glasses Instead of their age old sullenness the islanders organised a meeting. Peter Munch reported ‘ now they were assembled in an attempt to preserve their simple communal way of life in defiance of the glamour and affluence of modern civilisation’. The meeting decided unanimously on ‘return’. In a subsequent secret ballot demanded by the Colonial office 97% voted to return. The press and the  population in general were incredulous. How could they reject everything our affluent society had to offer in favour of a return to a bleak and dangerous volcano. Incredulity turned to resentment…… the Tristanians were ungrateful for their priority housing, their jobs, all the healthcare they had needed. Ungrateful or not an advance party of 12 booked tickets – with their own money- on the Union Castle bound for Cape town. By now sections of the press had started to reel from incredulity to admiration for their stubborn resilience and further attempts by the Colonial Office even to prevent their passage as private individuals on the Union Castle were lampooned. 

On November 10th 1962 200 Tristanians set foot back on their island.

A few years later the British government withdrew the right of Tristanians to automatic abode in the UK……………fearing the floodgates would open and the tidal wave of Tristanians would swamp our society with it’s ‘anarchy’.

FOOTNOTE

The Tristan they returned to was not the anarchy of 1816-1945 nor even the muddled mix up to 1962. But it seems the spirit of anarchy was still alive in 1968 as it was from London to Paris to Rome to Berlin. Many of the islanders were back to wage slavery in the re-opened Fish canning factory but they were not solely reliant on wages – they could revert back to their subsistence economy when needed ….as in a strike!

‘Tristan was not to be left out of the worldwide radical events of 1968 – the island’ fishermen went on strike in July 1968. Money was not used in transactions between islanders but some islanders were paid to catch and can crayfish by a South African company.The fishing company –  supported by the island ‘administrator’ – had reduced the fishermens pay to one shilling an hour and refused arbitration on the dispute thinking without any other source of income the strike would collapse. The Tristanians however simply reverted to their moneyless subsistence economy and the strike went on for 3 months when the company persuaded the administrator to use eight of his permanent staff to strikebreak. The Tristanians put a picket line around the crane in the harbour used to lower the fishing boats and said they would throw any man in the water who tried to mount the crane. The Administrator asked ‘If I being the Queens representative on the island am the first on the crane what would happen?’ ‘Then you’ll be the first man in the water’ came the reply!

The Administrator panicked and sent a coded message to London fearing for his safety and asking for  a warship to be sent! It should be noted Tristan’s entire population at the time was 146 people. HMS NAIAD was duly dispatched!!! The Fishing Company capitulated by telegram from South Africa. The strike was won before gunboat diplomacy reasserted itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANARCHY ON TRISTAN DA CUNHA

Tristan da Cunha

In 1937, as part of a Norwegian scientific expedition, PETER MUNCH visited Tristan Da Cunha. He was surprised to discover that the form of social organisation on the island was ANARCHY… And had been for over 100 years.

There was no government, police, money or headman/woman. Munch wrote, ‘The principles of freedom and anarchy were firmly established in the Tristan community as a social order based on the voluntary consensus of free men and women. In such a community not only is authority, control or any kind of formal or informal government considered unnecessary and undesirable but is felt to be a menace and a threat to individual rights.’

The inhabitants of Tristan were not a self-selected commune who had gone there to establish utopia. They were of all races and survivors of shipwrecks or ex-whalers who had washed up there over 100 years. That anarchy became their natural form of social organisation and persisted against all efforts of the British government to undermine it is all the more remarkable.

Andrea Repetto, an Italian who had been shipwrecked on Tristan in 1892, was one of the few Tristans who could read or write. Seizing there chance the British government addressed all communications to Andrea Repetto, ‘Head Man ‘or occasionally ‘governor’. For twenty years they never received any reply ’til the mail was discovered unopened. Repetto explained that as there was no head man or governor on the island so no one felt able to open the mail!

In astonishment a government spokesman wrote in 1903, ‘There is an extraordinary state of affairs in this civilised century that there is no form of authority and the Tristans are curiously averse to any individual being considered to have more influence than the rest.’

Munch reported there had NEVER been any crime and no fist fight in living memory.

The Tristanians were not anarchists who’d read their Bakunin – they found anarchy to be the natural form of social organisation though they would never have used the word themselves. Yet the Tristanians have proved of remarkably little interest to anarchists – maybe because we are too used to failures to recognise success!

TRISTAN DA CUNHA NEEDS A GOVERNOR – NO IT DON’T

The Foreign Office is presently advertising the positon of ‘Governor of St. Helena and its dependencies’ – which includes Tristan da Cunha. For over 120 years, since its first settlement in the early 19th century, Tristan managed without government, money, police to maintain harmony among a multi-racial population made up mainly of people who’d been shipwrecked.

Since World War Two the British government has thought it necessary to impose a governor based in St. Helena and a policeman – despite the fact there has never been a crime reported in Tristan’s history!!

The social organisation of the Tristanians was basically ‘anarchy’ and is well described in Peter Munch’s book ‘Crisis in Utopia’ covering also the period of their enforced evacuation to Britain in the 1960s and their shock decision to return to Tristan and reject the benefits of ‘civilisation’.

I’ve always ben fascinated by Tristan since I heard about their evacuation to Hampshire where I was living in the 1960s:

TRISTAN

I used to argue about ‘anarchy’ after school down the Expresso bar in Alton High Street. Couple of cokes in their glass bottles, Andre Gide in yer jacket pocket sticking out a bit, listening to the Everly’s ‘Crying in the rain’. Well fucking cool.

‘It won’t work… Human nature ain’t like that’
I was doing alright countering this ’til the film ‘Lord of the Flies’ came out… Then I was fucked… Break into ‘don’t forget who’s taking you home and in who’s arms you’re gonna be’… Fuck it… Maybe we are all Piggy psychos after all.

On the periphery of my brain cells were strange raincoated people being shoved into army campsand dying of flu. They looked so fucking unhip on South Today as black and white cameras followed them round Fawley – looking like all kids did in the 50s with raincoats too big for them…’you’ll soon grow into it’.

They were being stuck among the Fawley oil refineries ‘cos a volcano had just ruined their island. They were passive just being shoved around, being photographed by the curious. They looked like teenagers before there were teenagers. Conformist geeks to us in our pre-Starbucks expresso bar with our winkelpickers.

‘Where do you think this is Bone? An Italian dance hall?’ Jake our headmaster hadhawkeyed, spotting my banned winkelpickers one morning. Did the Tristan people know about winkelpickers I thought. Bet not.

But somehow Tristan Da Cunha meandered into my consciousness and hooked itself there ever since.

I looked it up in my oldstamp album. AmazinglyI had a Tristan stamp with a seagull on it. I found the dot in the South Atlantic. I became obsessed by other small dots. I mean fucking small dots – not mammoths like the Falklands, St.Helena or South Georgia but dots no one had heard of… Gough Island, Bouvet Island, King Peter Island, Heard Island, Amsterdam and St. Paul Islands… And one bigger one, Kerguelen, which seemed possibly the most desolate of the lot.

You couldn’t get facts about these dots anywhere. Nothing in Alton or the school libraries. I wrote off to the Norwegian embassy for information on their colony Bouvetoya but got nothing back. How come Norway only owned one dot in the world and the dot was about as far south as Norway was far north? How had this happened? Why didn’t anyone know?

I chanced my arm and asked Mr.Gilbert our hated geography teacher at the end of a lesson one day. By which time Iwas fairly pent up about the whole thing.
‘Why does Norway own Bouvet island?’ I demanded of Mr.Gilbert.
I could tell right away he’d never heard of Bouvet Island
‘Call yourself a geography teacher,’ I muttered.

Gilbert thought the whole thing was some sarky wind up and threatened to send me to the dreaded Jake. Only a week earlier I had been dispatched for writing a ‘weak and silly’ poem for an English lesson project entitled ‘Our County’:

HAMPSHIRE

‘When I lie awake at night Ithink of the beauties of the Isle of Wight
With aha ha ha and a ho ho ho in Hampshire it will never snow
when I eat dinner soaked in gravy
I think of Portsmouth and the British Navy
With a ha ha ha and a ho ho ho in Hampshire it will never snow
when I see them hunt after a furry fox
I see an image of Southampton docks.
With a ha ha ha and a ho ho ho in Hampshire it will never snow’

‘PUERILE’

Miss Thomas had written across the bottom of the poem but it went down well in the Expresso bar after school with a crunching chorus line turning it into a precursor of hip-hop.

I became the maniacal watcher of SOUTH TODAY a smug local news programme I’d previously derided. Any mention of the Tristanians and my parents would beentreated to hush by imploring gestures. But the obvious questions were never answered on the program. If Lord of the Flies was true how come the Tristanians hadn’t all killed each other in some ferocious battle or clubbed to death anyone shipwrecked on their coast?

Maybe they were stopped by the police force or an army of the government? Such questions were frustratingly never raised or answered. Slowly they slipped out of the news agenda of South Today. Lord of the Flies was left unchallenged.

Two Years Later:

As I returned home after a hard afternoon’s graft blackcurrant picking, dad said there was something on the telly about the Tristan people. In truth they slipped through my mind a little.
‘They’re going back,’ said dad.‘
‘What?’ I replied incredulously.
They were sending them back to that stinking rock? At least another stick to beat the hated Tories with. The thought that they’d go back by choice had eluded my brain’s possibilities like everyone elses’. But they had. They’d bloody only gone and given a fucking big v-sign to civilisation!

I MUSED DOWN THE EXPRESSO BAR… WHO WERE THE REBELS NOW?

58 responses to “TRISTAN DA CUNHA

  1. Jake

    Interesting to learn that your headmaster was the Dreaded Jake, I´ve never been known as that, although I was Dready Jake for a while.
    I have also allways been fascinated by the little dots on the map and recently picked up a book by the posh twat from Castaway, Ben, called the Tea Time Islands, where he visits most of them, except the caribbean ones. Tristan too. He made no mention of their social organisation, but there´s definately a coper there. Have you ever heard of a town in Andalucia called Marinaleda?

    • Jake Johns

      I used to be a Dready Jake once too. Having grown up and currently residing in southern Spain, we’ve all heard of Marinaleda and wish our towns could be like that! :)

  2. j

    During the volcanic eruption of 1961 some of the islanders were initially evacuated to St Helena. A Saint recalls how the people from Tristan were unable to grasp the concept of money as they were used to sharing everything.

    • Fiona

      This is not not true.No one from Tristan went to the island of St Helena in 1961.All the of islanders went to the Uk.I know this as a fact as i am a Tristanian .

      • Hi Fiona

        I was browsing the net for some information about Tristan De Cunha when I came across this website. Since you are a Tristanian, would you mind if I ask you some questions regarding the island? I first wanted to check if this link is still valid (since your comment was inserted last year!).

        Regards
        Elvio

  3. ludmilla

    Charles Darwin invented the concept of inter communal competition, and ‘ the survival of the fittest’ amongst nature, to justify the harshness/cruelty and low wages promoted by the emerging wealthy industrialist victorian elite at the turn of the century.

    Scientific research disproves Darwins theory of natural inbred competitiveness. Numerous studies have shown that orphans brought up by lenient, kind and generous nannies in an environment of co-operation, were 100% more sucessful and happy, healthy and likely to survive, than orphans who were brought up by strict, authortarian disciplinarians, who degraded, beat, abused, isolated and forced them to compete with each other for survival.

    • The phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ was actually coined by Herbert Spencer, whose “social Darwinism” was a perversion of Darwin’s basic ideas. Darwin did actually pick up on the phrase, but only in the sense that survival is more likely among those best adapted to their local environment; NOT, as often supposed, that the physically strongest survive (or should be allowed to survive at the expense of the “weak”).

      Darwin emphatically did not develop his theory in order to justify cruel conditions in Victorian society. He was quite socially liberal, somewhat ahead of his time in this respect, and hated slavery.

      I’m not sure that ideas about inter-communal competition apply to Tristan da Cunha, as the population is so small that it is basically one community. By contrast, traditional hunter-gatherer societies (which can take many different forms) on mainlands – as opposed to small islands – are composed of numerous villages whose populations are typically 100-150; once the population goes beyond this, then the population splits and new villages are formed. The most common cause of male death is fighting arising from men of one village raiding another (typically to seize women or avenge the seizing of women).

      The idea that such societies live in a peaceful anarchic existence is unsupported – analyses of 20th century societies show that the percentage of male deaths from violence in hunter-gather societies dwarfs the proportion of violent male deaths in industrialised countries (including all the deaths from the two world wars). I should qualify this by saying that levels of violence will depend on numerous environmental conditions – hunter-gather societies are not all the same.

      I don’t know the studies of orphans referred to; however, Darwinian theory is all about the interaction of organism and environment – so the fact that behaviour can change according to conditions is entirely consistent with Darwin’s theory.

  4. Fiona

    Looking at the comment left by j above.It is not true.All of the islanders went to the Uk in 1961.No one went to St Helena.The suppose saint who recalls this is wrong.I would know as i am from the Island of Tristan da Cunha.

  5. DeLana

    Hey TurtleZed. I am a descendent of William Glass. I have done some research on William and his family and am willing to share what I have learned. If interested, email me at dbutton@teacher.com

  6. I first read of Tristan in my copy of “The Childrens New Illustrated Encylopedia” which I got for Christmas 1953. I was fascinated by the story and later like you, got some stamps for my album. I followed their situation with the volcanic eruption and was cheered when most of them chose to go back home. Later in life when I became an anarchist, I read a book on the Island and realized they were a living anarchy. I sometimes used it as an example, but until reading your article had forgotten about them. Thanks for reminding me of them and I shall mention you in my blog.

  7. I note also (from wikipedia) that the islanders suffer from various illnesses resulting from the lack of genetic diversity that occurs in small, largely isolated populations of this sort. They also depend on outside help when critical health issues arise.

    In my view, the atypical nature of the community’s creation and it’s specific environmental context suggest that it can’t really be adopted as a prescriptive template for the rest of the world.

  8. alan jm

    Hi Ian
    Refer to the web-link re the new constitution for the South Atlantic islands below …
    I guess that anarchy is now officially over ….. or more pertinently, more needed than ever now.

    http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2009/plain/uksi_20091751_en#sch1-pt5

    Alan

  9. badnewswade

    It has a paper! And an article by a mountineer on the utopian ideals the island represents…

    http://www.tristantimes.com/art_7035.html

  10. Given the slightest opportunity a corporation or several will use its/their massive wealth to step in and skim wealth from that island’s resources and the residents living there.

    If needed, as proven in the past so many times, if the corporation(s) are from the USA the USA federal government will be called upon by its master(s) to provide military force to assist the corporation(s).

    All must bow down to the power of the corporation and the government, as is so often the case within the USA.

    Required reading for those who have been brainwashed or hoodwinked into believing the people of the USA actually have some sort of control over the USA governments and its multitude of powerful bureaucracies (except with the most minor affairs that are merely trappings to help deceive the masses their votes have a true influence upon the USA governments).

    War is a Racket Written by Two-Time Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient

    Major General Smedley D. Butler

    USMC, Retired

    http://www.lexrex.com/enlightened/articles/warisaracket.htm

  11. Ray

    Just been looking at Atlas Of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky in Foyles. You would love it. Bung it on yer Santa list son.

  12. Jumble

    Hadn’t heard of this place til yesterday on this blog. Then today get this email

    Please help the penguins

    Hello

    There’s a desperate situation on Nightingale Island in the South Atlantic Ocean unfolding right now and we need your help.

    More than 10,000 Northern Rockhopper penguins are believed to be affected, covered in oil after the cargo ship ‘MS Oliva’ crashed into the island, part of the UK Overseas Territory of Tristan da Cunha, 3000km west of South Africa.

    Tristan Islanders are determined to save as many penguins as possible and are facing a race against the clock to help save this endangered species. The islanders have arranged boats to pick up the distressed penguins from Nightingale Island and to ferry them to a rehabilitation centre on the neighbouring island of Tristan.

    So far, over 2,400 penguins have been brought in for rehabilitation. Teams of people have begun efforts to stabilise them with fluids, vitamins and charcoal to absorb ingested oil. The local swimming pool has been drained and refilled with fresh water to aid the birds’ recovery, and holding pens and sick bays have also been set up.

    Katrine Herian, who works for the RSPB on the islands, says: “The priority is to get food into the birds as they are very hungry. We are feeding them fish and some are starting to take small half inch squares of food”.

    Even before the disaster, the Northern Rockhopper was one of the most threatened penguin species. Nightingale Island includes nearly half of the world’s population of Northern Rockhopper penguins, one of the world’s most threatened species of penguin.

    Not just penguins have been affected by this disaster. One of the birds in the sick bay is a fledgling Molly or Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, named ‘Tristan’ by the crew of the rescue boat that brought the albatross from Nightingale to the main island. A Broad-billed Prion (locally known as a ‘Night-Bird’) has also been brought in from Nightingale.

    Please give to our Nightingale Island disaster fund today. We’ll use your donation to help the penguins and other wildlife affected by the oil. Your support will also be used to fund follow-up monitoring and to assess the full impact of this disaster.

    You can donate online here

    Many thanks

    Tim Stowe
    RSPB Director of International Operations

  13. Ric

    I’ve always wanted to escape the madness of britain (no capital b) and return to our roots as non-conformist paradise lovers. Thanks for sharing this Ian, a fantastic read! (‘You learn something new everyday’, as the saying goes!)

    – R

  14. Operationuppsala

    Dear Fiona!

    Being from Tristan, do you agree with the descriptions of Tristan da Cuhna as an anarchy, at least that it used to be? Out of curiosity.

  15. INCUBUS

    Great piece of writing! Fascinating!
    ‘Look and Learn’- Lovely melodramatic 60s illustration here (Though you’ve probably already seen it Ian!)

    http://www.lookandlearn.com/blog/198/tristan-da-cunha/

  16. Pope Pies the Bewildered Pontiff

    Nice one, Ian; or should I say nice two given the second version has a lot more autobiographical anecdote and colour. Do you intend to combine the two? How did they pay for their boatfare home in 1962, with spuds? Who was the 1903 government spokesman? It would be good to see a copy of the potato stamp and the one of the islanders making their 1908 fashion statement. Great romping read as usual. Why are all geograpy teachers pricks?

  17. I remember there was (perhaps still is) a judge in britian, whose name was Judge Tristan da Cunha….. am I mistaken, or can you tell me anything about him?

    Very good article, btw, but I’d be very interested to know, what is their situation now, today, in 2012?

    — Simon.

  18. gitanex

    Ok daft request coming up. Anyone aware of any Tristan food recipes.? I’m sad but serious about it!

  19. Pope Pies the Bewildered Pontiff

    Anything but pasties!

  20. The Voice

    Where did it all go wrong? I’ve just heard an interview on BBC radio with the “Chief Islander” who described how a beacon was going to be lit to mark the jubilee!

  21. Sheila

    Some poor sod was washed into the sea during their jubilee celebrations: http://tristandc.com/diamondjubilee.php

    You can buy their jubilee commemoration stamps online. The island website says the UK is responsible for ‘internal security’. But it also says they have their own laws.

    The place actually looks less inviting than jersey.

    Those above who want to do further ‘research’ might pop along to the annual reunion in Southampton. My guess is to expect disappointment. I suspect they now quite like the british state: http://tristandc.com/2011AGM.php

  22. Sheila

    The island association is to produce a book of the history of islanders during the island evacuation. They are asking for contributions: http://tristandc.com/assbookvolcanoreturn50th.php

    I wonder if they ever acknowledge the history that ian describes. There’s not a trace on the web site that I could see. Could there still be dissent against this new found love of the crown? The web site makes the place look like the falklands.

    Or is this anarchic history not real. I can find no reference to it anywhere. Ian, could you be seeing what you want to see?

    • ianbone

      Hi Sheila – check out CRISIS IN UTOPIA by PETER MUNCH. As i said everything changed after 1945 and there are no accounts by islanders of life before then since most could not write. Munch was there in 1936 and is a trusted reliable source. Since the evacuation and return nothing was the sameagain – Munch deals with thisalso – and what we have now is what you see on the site.

      • Lorna

        Ian, I wouldnt rely too much (if at all) on Crisis in Utopia. There is much fiction in that book. The best and most reliable books are 1. Tristan and the Roaring Forties by Alan Crawford and 2. Rockhopper Copper by Conrad Glass. Tristan is a democracy. People still help one another, sharing happens. The old and the ill are cared for by family. No one gets stuck in a Care Home or is left to die alone as in UK. The woman you describe as a “dickensian washerwoman” was my great grandmother and a stronger more caring woman I have yet to meet. My parents returned to Tristan in 1963 with the rest of the islanders. It was the best decision ever made. It meant I could grow up on an island with out having to know about stranger danger or what a paedophile is , it means you can enjoy being a child and then when the time is right, grow up! Children are cherished. Old people respected. There are down sides to living on Tristan, as there is anywhere else in the world. But I would NOT under any circumstance have traded my growing up on Tristan for growing up anywhere else.

  23. dogman

    ‘…I could grow up on an island with out having to know about stranger danger or what a paedophile is, it eans that you can enjoybeing a child and then when the time is right, grow up! Children are cherished. Old people are respected.’

    Happy Days: beautifully said.

    • I couldnt put it better myself Lorna,
      Shiela, Why would you expect to be disappointed , Have you been to a meeting? It is held every year to raise money for the School and other projects on the Island. WHY would anyone be disappointed with helping others??? Also you will get a chance to talk to genuine Islanders like Lorna or myself, instead of what is written in the media.

  24. Pingback: back to basics: some prefer the sticks | Madame Pickwick Art Blog

  25. Welsh

    I notice that the UK Government are advertising for a new Administrator of Tristan. Can one of the Islanders give me some insight as to how a same sex female couple would be accepted?

  26. Pingback: Tristan Da Cunha | Easton Cowboys & Cowgirls

  27. the very first port of call after evacuation was cape town in south africa.i was 11 at the time..these islanders were very kind but proud people.pray that they will always be happy in their utopia.i believe a new surname has been added to the list.im wodering what the name is….

  28. On and off topic, but a ‘nice’ utopian island story for you-

    A gay island community created by Italy’s Fascists

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22856586

  29. INCUBUS

    A film you may like- ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’, about an isolated and independent fishing community that exists outside of state control in the Louisiana Bayou, how they are threatened with flooding and government intervention to ‘save’ them (not unlike Tristan)- and how they deal with it. I think it is a little gem of a film, although it might be thought of as a bit ‘arty’, it’s definitely anarchic…

  30. doreen munson

    A family friend Captain G.D WILLIAMS recalls in May 1978 when he was sailing HMS PORT ALFRED for Cunard he couldn’t stop the ship but arranged to have his ships carpenter to construct a raft on which they placed various goodies for the people of Tristan he is now retired and an amazing 98 years he has written and published books about his life in the merchant navy and he has recently posted one of his books to the administrator of Tristan,he is interested to know if any of the islanders remember this occasion and if any photos were taken.He does not have the internet but I will pass any messages on to him
    Kind Regards Doreen Munson

  31. I am trying to look for the Traditional Costume of the people of Tristan, as my son will be wearing one for the United Nations celebration in their school. I haven’t found one, except for the Okalolies… would that count as traditional costume?

  32. wendy

    I enjoyed reading this. I went back as a child with the first 50 people.

  33. I am a descendant of Corporal William Glass and Maria Leenders (7 generations)

  34. Captain G D Williams

    Having read the article Tristan by Ian Bone my memory leads me back to the year 1978 when I was Master of the Cunard/Port- Line ship ‘Port Alfred’ on its genesis voyage from middle east ports to South America
    Although it meant serving beyond my retiring age the company’s personnel manager had known my Father , a (North Walian ) was born in Guardia Metre Patagonia Argentina,and this voyage would give me the opportunity to visit some of my relatives there ,which of course it did.On our return passage from Montevideo to South Africa I noted a composite Great Circle would give us a near miss approach to Tristan da Cunha and left my navigator to work out the details .It gave me four days in which to put my plans into operation.It so happened e had on board an excessive amount of dunnage from which the carpenter could make a stout raft with waterproof cockpit in which he stored a variety of luxury items for the inhabitants of the island .I also encouraged the ships complement to put monies to purchase postage stamps in addressed envelopes.Needless to say my plans were totally realised when the islanders rendezvous in a hundred or more boats to greet the ‘Port Alfred ‘ suitably’ dressed overall’ and my plans realised to the full with islanders an the whole ship’s complement very happy indeed.All that is left for me to add is a very happy and contented ship master flying home into retirement and speculating if they received and read the book I sent them a while ago.
    Yours sincerely
    Captain Gwilym D Williams
    Master Mariner Ret’d

  35. Zeke

    In a belated response to the semi-snarky comments about inbreeding, there is something called an inflection point in genetics, beyond which the population grows stronger as undesirable traits have been culled out (oversimplification, yes indeed). The archetype of this is a group of
    Islanders (Bahamanian, I believe)who have only 3 surnames and are among the Healthiest Folks alive genetically speaking.

    Thanks to Dr. Robert Byles Ph.D. For pointing this out

    Zeke

  36. Although I’m not an islander, I too grew up on Tristan where I lived 1956-61, leaving just before the volcano. What a lot of twaddle there is about it! No we didn’t use potatoes for currency – we used money, duh … and why does everybody want to study the islanders as if they were freaks in a show? They are an incredibly hardy, skilful people, especially when it comes to fishing and sailing. So many tourists come who think they know best about landing conditions. Listen – when an islander says it isn’t safe, it REALLY isn’t safe. Show some respect for their generations of knowledge and experience!
    What I remember is their hard work, their strong common bond, their fierce independence (and long may that last), their kindness and generosity and hospitality. No, they weren’t anarchists – what a ridiculous idea, trying to fit them into that pigeon hole! They were and are strongly egalitarian, with a very healthy (and well-founded) suspicion of those from ‘outside’ who try and fit them into boxes. Of course life isn’t perfect … but I had the ideal childhood there, and it has influenced me and my brother ever since. For him, the ideal in life was living like the Tristan men.

  37. Mr sister had a pen friend in the 50’s – her name was Harriet Delavalla or something similar, perhaps a Tristian can enlighten me as to her correct name – I believe it was an old family. Thank you

  38. Thank you so much for the information – is she still living? We were reminded of her when my sister’s( who died last year) widower was sorting through some papers and found some ”potato’ stamps from Tristan – another sister who lives in England emailed me (I live in South Africa) to ask me what I remembered, although I was very young, I recalled the name Harriet and the fact that she had asked my sister to send her a bolt of fabric in exchange for a bag of potatoes, which was strange to us as we did not understand at the time that potatoes were currency.

  39. Pingback: Die komischen Anarchisten von der abgelegensten Insel der Welt | besserland

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