The main peak on Tristan da Cunha is an almost perfect triangle rising from the Atlantic Ocean. It was first spotted in 1502 by the Portuguese explorer Tristão da Cunha, 1,750 miles from the nearest mainland. The other islands in this remote archipelago are named Inaccessible, Nightingale and Gough, and cover collectively 80 square miles.
The first known inhabitant of the island was an American called Jonathan Lambert, who lived there in 1810 and renamed Tristan the ‘Island of Refreshment’. Lambert met an untimely death two years later in a boating accident. With the arrival of a British Garrison in 1816 the island became Tristan da Cunha once again and the man considered the island’s founder, Corporal William Glass of Scotland, was sent to Tristan with his wife and children. A group of British marines were also stationed there to prevent the French military from using the island as a base to rescue Napoleon who was imprisoned on St Helena. Such a rescue attempt failed to ever materialise.
The marines gradually left the island but the Glass family and two stone masons remained. By 1827, Tristan’s small population included five lonely bachelors. This situation required the arrangement of an extraordinary long-distance blind date – a letter was sent to St Helena to persuade five women to sail to Tristan da Cunha where the promise of matrimony awaited. Before their brides-to-be arrived, the five bachelors picked a number between one and five and used that to decide their bride-to-be according to the order they disembarked the ship.
In 1892, an Italian ship ran aground on Tristan da Cunha after catching fire. Two of the sailors who came ashore from the stranded vessel remained and introduced Italian blood to the island. By this time, the island also had American and Dutch residents. Only seven surnames on the island have survived to present day. Most ‘Tristanians’ are farmers, but many others work as fishermen or in the factory that sustains the island’s economy exporting rock lobster. Land is communal, and livestock is proportionately divided amongst the community. New residents are prohibited from settling permanently in order to keep the population low.
The island boasts a bar, a community hall, a café, two churches, a small supermarket, a school, a post office, a swimming pool and an internet café. Anyone planning to visit Tristan da Cunha must first apply to the island council, giving details of the length and purpose of their stay. In 2005 the Tristan was allocated the British postcode TDCU 1ZZ. Previously much of the post sent to Edinburgh of the Seven Seas mistakenly arrived in Scotland.
Tristan da Cunha has one policeman.