Tristan da Cunha is a remote volcanic group of islands in the south Atlantic Ocean and the main island of that group. It is the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world, lying 2,816 kilometres (1,750 mi) from the nearest land, South Africa, and 3,360 kilometres (2,088 mi) from South America. The territory consists of the main island of Tristan da Cunha itself, which measures about 11.27 kilometres (7.0 mi) across and has an area of 98 square kilometres (37.8 sq mi), along with the uninhabited Nightingale Islands and the wildlife reserves of Inaccessible Island and Gough Island.
Tristan da Cunha is part of the British overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. This includes Saint Helena 2,430 kilometres (1,510 mi) to its north and equatorial Ascension Island even further north. The island has a permanent population of 275 (2009 figures).
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.
In 1643 the crew of the Heemstede, captained by Claes Gerritsz. Bierenbroodspot made the first recorded landing. 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. 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. 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.
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.
The second Duke of Edinburgh, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, visited the islands in 1957 as part of a world tour on board the royal yacht Britannia. In 1958, as part of Operation Argus, the United States Navy exploded an atomic bomb 200 kilometres (124 mi) high in the upper atmosphere, 115 kilometres (71 mi) southeast of the main island.
The 1961 eruption of Queen Mary's Peak forced the evacuation of the entire population via Cape Town 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).
On 23 May 2001, the islands experienced an extratropical cyclone that generated winds up to 193 kilometres per hour (120 mph). A number of structures were severely damaged and a large number of cattle were killed, prompting emergency aid from the British government. 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 Her Majesty 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.
On 4 December 2007 an outbreak of an acute virus-induced flu was reported. This outbreak was compounded by Tristan's lack of suitable and sufficient medical supplies. The British coastguard in Falmouth co-ordinated international efforts to get appropriate medicines to Tristan 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 13 February 2008, fire destroyed the fishing factory and the four generators that supplied 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 14 March 2008, new generators were installed and uninterrupted power was restored. This fire was devastating to the island because fishing is a mainstay of the economy. Royal Engineers from the British Army worked on the harbour to help maintain it, as everything comes and goes by sea. This was supported by a LSDA vessel Lyme Bay from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. The concrete topping put in place has subsequently been badly damaged and on-going repairs will be required to keep the harbour from breaking apart in winter storms.
On 16 March 2011, the Maltese-registered freighter MS Oliva ran aground on Nightingale Island, spilling tons of heavy fuel oil into the ocean. The crew were rescued, but the ship broke up, leaving an oil slick that surrounded the island, threatening its population of rockhopper penguins. Nightingale Island has no fresh water, so the penguins were transported to Tristan da Cunha for cleaning. The Greek captain and his 21 Filipino crew stayed in Edinburgh of the Seven Seas and assisted the islanders in their work.
In November 2011 the Volvo Ocean Race boat Puma's Mar Mostro headed to the island after the mast came down to meet a supporting vessel in the first leg between Alicante (Spain) and Cape Town (South Africa). This event put the archipelago in the world press that were reporting the race, making it known to a larger public. A total solar eclipse will pass over the island on December 5, 2048. The island is on the centre line for nearly two and a half minutes of totality....