Its a long way away.
September 2, 2009 7:52 AM   Subscribe

Lying 2,816 kilometres from the nearest continent; with approx 246 inhabitants; and having no TV until 2001; Tristan da Cunha is the most remote archipelago on the planet. There is an official web page. In 1961 the Island was evacuated because of volcanic activity but re inhabited in 1963. Early History; 20th Century History. Here are some pictures from the 1930's; from the 1960's and 70's and more present day. The Island people have developed their own vocabulary.
( wiki and Related).
posted by adamvasco (39 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Isn't its former name St Helena, and is where Napolean spent his last days?
posted by KokuRyu at 7:57 AM on September 2, 2009

I'm fascinated by Inaccessible Island

posted by vacapinta at 7:58 AM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Whoops, no, nevermind
posted by KokuRyu at 7:58 AM on September 2, 2009

They also have a newspaper, the Tristan Times
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:04 AM on September 2, 2009

Dibs on Inaccessible Island for my evil genius hideout!

Now if I can just find a genius, I'm good to go...
posted by misha at 8:09 AM on September 2, 2009

Robert Heinlein (almost) visited there in the early '50's and documented it the book Tramp Royale in his inimitable style.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:17 AM on September 2, 2009

Great post, thank you! I hadn't realized there was such an interesting community there. Imagine growing up on an island in the middle of the South Atlantic, thinking of yourself as a member of the Commonwealth but not really knowing what the mainland looks like. Then your island blows up, and so you're forced to move to South Africa. Then you're troubled by apartheid and journey much farther, to England. And you stay two years, and then the island is safe again and you decide to go back home. It's just crazy.

Still, a much more pleasant story than the mess on Pitcairn.
posted by Nelson at 8:23 AM on September 2, 2009

Their education trust fund seems to be entirely supported by one woman who runs half-marathons. Go Alison Hentley!
posted by Tapioca at 8:25 AM on September 2, 2009

Ratting Day!
posted by JeffL at 8:27 AM on September 2, 2009

In one of my favorite books (Bill Bryson's The Mother Tongue) Bryson talks about how in Tristan da Cunha, lots of people are named "Dondall" - pronounced "Donald" - because someone misspelled "Donald" once a long time ago and the error "just stuck." Awesome, awesome, awesome.
posted by harperpitt at 8:33 AM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Google Map link creeped me out:

Zoom out (still surrounded by nothing but water)

Zoom out (still surrounded by nothing but water)

Zoom out (still surrounded by nothing but water)

Zoom out (still surrounded by nothing but water)

Zoom out (tiny edge of the African continent...)

I'm not gonna lie- I'd be freaked out to live so far out in the middle of nowhere, and I lived for 5 years in Iowa.
posted by elmer benson at 8:36 AM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

From vacapinta's link:

1871: The Stoltenhoff brothers...lived there for several years intending to make a living sealing and selling their wares to passing traders (forgetting how infrequently Inaccessible had visitors).

----------Scene: A bank in Germany, circa 1870. DOUG STOLTENHOFF is speaking with the bank's VICE PRESIDENT.
VICE PRESIDENT: Now, Mr. Stoltenhoff, what is the purpose of this loan?

DOUG STOLTENHOFF: Well, my brother and I will be setting up a business on a small island, selling supplies to passing traders.

VP: Excellent! So man merchant ships these days, all of them need supplies. Now, what is the name of this island?

DS: Inaccessible Island.
There is an uncomfortable pause. The VICE PRESIDENT stares at STOLTENHOFF.VP: We'll let you know.

posted by PlusDistance at 8:41 AM on September 2, 2009 [7 favorites]

Cool post. I don't see too much about what life is like there. What's it like to live in a village of a couple hundred people 1500 miles from anywhere? Considering that villagers drink "an average of 1 litre of whisky per person per week", I'm guessing that it's pretty boring there.
posted by octothorpe at 8:51 AM on September 2, 2009

It's strange they named if after Edinburgh. You would think people who went there would not want to be reminded of back home...
posted by water bear at 8:53 AM on September 2, 2009

Boring is in the eye of the beholder, but I'm supposing it's kind of Pitcairn-ish there if the villagers drink a liter of spirits per capita per week.
posted by blucevalo at 8:54 AM on September 2, 2009

This is great! Thanks!

I've never heard about this place before, and it is really interesting. I'm fascinated about what life must be like. One of the links indicated that they have some health issues because the gene pool is close to in-breeding. And if you are in your mid 20's, you basically have like 3 prospects of women to go after... and it's the same 3 women you've know about your entire life.

I got to imagine there is an enormous draw to young adults to want to get out and see the world. Although I suppose it's great for parents, because you have no crime to worry about.
posted by dios at 9:07 AM on September 2, 2009

Banned from Tristan da Cunha
posted by edd at 9:08 AM on September 2, 2009

In 2006 a runaway oil rig grounded on Tristan. I knew that oil rigs float and can be tugged around but the idea of a lone oil rig floating by itself on the Atlantic is pretty amazing. And it must have been quite astonishing for the inhabitants of Tristan da Cunha to find it there one morning.

Also, here's a pretty map of the main island.
posted by severiina at 9:21 AM on September 2, 2009

As Tristan is my first name, I've always felt attached to this place. I hope to visit someday. (Hey, maybe the new Tourist Department could lend a hand!)

I also get a chuckle from some of the headlines on the Tristan Times:
"New Books for Tristan's Children" (Ill have to tell my son!)
"Tristan Celebrates Queen's Day 2009"
"Tristan Small but Resourceful"
posted by underthehat at 9:28 AM on September 2, 2009

More on the language. In addition to having own vocabulary, they have elements similar to African-American vernacular English. From the article "Letter Perfect: The Present Perfect in early African American correspondence"...

The preverbal completive done, as in example (4), is described for earlier English,
but most attestations in contemporary dialects are from the areas where the form may have resulted from contact with AAE or creoles. Done-using varieties are found in Alabama (Feagin 1979), West Virginia (Hackenburg 1973; Wolfram and Christian 1975), the Ozarks / Arkansas (Randolph 1927), and Tristan da Cunha (Zettersten 1969). Feagin (1979: 147) describes unsuccessful attempts to track attestations of the form in non-contact varieties, while Tagliamonte (1991: 93) finds it “also attested in some parts of Newfoundland (Williams 1975: 272)”.

(4) Alabama English:
a. She told me not to mess around, but I done let the deal go down.
(Williams 1947)
Tristan da Cunha English:
b. I done went to the doctor. (Zettersten 1969: 85–86)

posted by i'm being pummeled very heavily at 10:07 AM on September 2, 2009

CIA Fact Book says:
'An international airport for Saint Helena is in development for 2010'
Which will make it my vacation spot once everyone's out of university. Wouldn't want to go there on a steamer or a raft, but I'm not sure how much better the St Helena Express would be out of Johannesburg or wherever.
posted by nj_subgenius at 10:10 AM on September 2, 2009

Inaccessible Island has some pretty cool place names. I especially like "Where the Pig Fell Off"...looks like a cliff?
posted by shinyshiny at 10:25 AM on September 2, 2009

Also previously.
posted by kcds at 10:33 AM on September 2, 2009

"It's strange they named if after Edinburgh. You would think people who went there would not want to be reminded of back home..."

They were British, and it's important to remember that British people are the most unoriginal people in the world.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 10:49 AM on September 2, 2009

I work for the UK Government and recently a job advert got emailed round for 'The Governor of Tristan da Cunha'. A few people joked about applying for it. Pretty isolated, but you get to run your own country, and wouldn't it be great to have your own Wikipedia Page?
As I recall, applications need to be in before 9th September.
posted by greytape at 11:20 AM on September 2, 2009

1885 Lifeboat Tragedy
...on 26 December the population was 92 - with 13 widows left by the tragedy, and only four adult men including Peter Green (77) and Andrew Hagan (69).

It's preferable, really, that the identities of the two non-elderly men are left to the imagination.

Deare Penthouse,
Thou wouldst not believe what happened today...
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 12:02 PM on September 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

Wikipedia says:

"The first Colonial Office appointee as Administrator was Hugh Elliott in about 1949 when commercial development began of the local crayfish catch, for export markets. There was then no currency on Tristan da Cunha: local trade was by barter. Mr. Elliott's activities included the island's first postal service and discovery of a new species of flea, which he named for his wife Elizabeth."

I love that last line.
posted by LakesideOrion at 12:21 PM on September 2, 2009

I'm sure things will pick up once word of mouth gets out….
*heavy sigh *
Who am I kidding? It was a stupid idea to open up a housewares store on this island.
I might as well go back to devouring wild boar and sleeping on the beach all day.

(This is where my secret zombie escape house is)

posted by Smedleyman at 1:19 PM on September 2, 2009

It's strange they named if after Edinburgh.

Well, to be fair, they named it in honor of the Duke of Edinburgh after a royal visit (and he gave them a bunch of the ship's stores, and visited each of their lava-rock homes, and probably gave them the most exciting thing in a decade to talk about).
posted by empyrean at 1:23 PM on September 2, 2009

@Underthehat: I'm a Tristan too! Ever since I was but a wee lad, I've always wondered who was it that named a island after me ;-)

(I'm not being arrogant about my name. Growing up in the States, I met exactly 2 other Tristans in my first 20 years of life. Since then, I've met a few others, mostly under the age of 14. Thank you, Brad Pitt.)
posted by tritisan at 2:04 PM on September 2, 2009

'An international airport for Saint Helena is in development for 2010'

I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for that holiday - the British Government has reneged and dragged its feet on its the whole airport deal repeatedly, much to the upset of the Saints.

In the same way, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office suddenly and mysteriously dropped its plans for another South Atlantic island community, Ascension Island, to get a tier of local democratic government.

I've lived in the Falklands, visited Ascension, and known Saints and Tristanians, and I can vouch for the fact that, despite being thousands of miles away from each other, all these South Atlantic outposts do feel very much like neighbours, because they have a lot in common as isolated island communities and UK overseas territories.

(In fact Tristan and Ascension are actually dependencies of Saint Helena. When you're a dependency of an overseas territory, you're pretty far down the pecking order.)
posted by penguin pie at 4:48 PM on September 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Tristan da Cunha coat of arms is the greatest thing ever. It features four albatrosses, two rock lobsters, and a longboat.

Why does Tristan have a Swedish domain name? And why is the connection not responding? Maybe it's the inaccessible rail.
posted by lukemeister at 4:49 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and on the subject of language - there were a lot of Saints in the Falklands when I lived there and they do have their own unique accent and dialect.

One of its peculiarities is a tendency to use the word "us" instead of "we" ("Us is going to the pub"). As a result, Falkland Islanders occasionally call the Saints "Uses", pronounced to rhyme with fusses.

When a Saint started up his own taxi firm, it was known colloquially as Uses Buses.
posted by penguin pie at 4:51 PM on September 2, 2009

The coolest thing about Tristan da Cunha is that Inaccessible Island has its own train system.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:30 PM on September 2, 2009

Joakim Ziegler,

What's more, it has an Island Cock or Roger.
posted by lukemeister at 5:49 PM on September 2, 2009

I liked it and was happy there. So, evidently, was a young naval officer who was based in Tristan during the war when Whitehall reclassified the island as a ship, HMS Atlantic Isle.

He was very happy, not least because he had a brief and tenderly unconsummated romance with a local girl named Emily... and wrote about it. I quoted two paragraphs from his book in an account I wrote in 1985 and that, I later learned to my great dismay, was my undoing.

I had betrayed what was apparently an island secret and for that I would not be forgiven.

Tantalizing (if gossipy), and it turns out the gist is in an Amazon review of the aforementioned book. I suppose Amazon is now banned, too.
posted by dhartung at 5:51 PM on September 2, 2009

Also, reminiscent of the experience of Dea Birkett.
posted by dhartung at 5:55 PM on September 2, 2009


So Dea Birkett rocks up for a bit of adventure to a tiny, remote community where everyone knows and is dependent on everyone else. The locals welcome her, give her a room in one of their homes, and feed her in a place with no supermarkets, where every piece of food has to be grown, or harvested, or picked, or caught.

And then, within "just a few weeks" of arriving in this tight-knit community, she has an affair with a married man - and is utterly outraged that the community turns against her.

Rather than slink off home and quietly chalk it up to experience, she goes away and writes a book blaming the strangeness of the island for her indiscresion, and telling the rest of the world what a screwed up place it is for turning against her.

In the light of events I guess Pitcairn was pretty screwed up, but frankly, Dea, you make your own luck.
posted by penguin pie at 3:40 PM on September 5, 2009

What amazes me is that this is the most remote community on Earth, and we can look at their houses. We are living in the future.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:24 PM on September 7, 2009

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