On the fourth day we saw a dark rocky mass that protrudes from the ocean, and from which there are about 3,000 kilometers to the nearest continent. When the ship approached the mass on the calm sea, we realized it was a whole group of islands and islets, one of which was larger and the others very small.
These islands were discovered at the beginning of the sixteenth century by the Portuguese navigator Captain Tristao D'Acuñha, after whom they are named. The same navigator also discovered some other islands in the Indian Ocean, conquered Socotra for the Portuguese and distinguished himself in the battles in India. Today the islands belong to England.
Only the large island that bears the name of the group is inhabited, and very sparsely so; the others remain completely deserted. And even the big island was completely deserted until Napoleon was brought to the Island of St. Helena. At that time, as well as on Ascension Island, a small garrison was stationed here to prevent the emperor's supporters from using the island as a base to organize his escape. After Napoleon's death, the garrison was withdrawn, but three soldiers remained on the island who were used to life on it and liked it. Later, their wives were also brought there, along with a small group of settlers, so a tiny colony was founded on the island, and it still exists to this day. Currently, the colony has 170 people - men, women and children - who, despite all the scarcity of everything needed for life, are satisfied and none of them thinks of leaving the island. Life would be completely impossible if a ship did not come to the island every two to three years to bring the settlers food and other essentials. But since the island, in the middle of the immense ocean, is exposed to raging winds and storms that last longer here than in other ocean regions, it often happens that the ship cannot land and deliver the goods. In such a case, it cruises for a while, for several days and nights, near the island (because it can not lower anchors in raging seas) waiting for the sea to calm enough to be able to take the cargo ashore in boats. If it becomes obvious that the storm will continue for an indefinite period of time, and the ship does not want to wait long, it turns in the direction of South Africa, or in the direction of Europe, where it has to finish its main business, and leaves the desperate population, stranded on the coast of the island, to wait, without means of subsistence, for another ship, which will come after many months.
Women and children on the island of Tristan da Cunha, 1910 (photo in public domain)
Otherwise, the only food that can be had on the island is fish and some potatoes; fish only at rare intervals between storms, and potatoes when the little land for cultivation yields something to share among the inhabitants. When the food left by the ship runs out, the only hope is fishing. All the inhabitants, both old and young, male and female, catch fish either by going out in a boat from the shore to the open sea, or by casting hooks from the shore, or wading in the shallow water. They also collect seashells from the shores, or by scavenging the coastal rocks, they collect eggs from birds, and then share them among themselves in a brotherly manner. But, when the potatoes fail, the fishing does nothing due to their poor fishing gear, and the food reserves brought by the ship are exhausted, famine and diseases quickly spread across the island.
If it were not for the famine, the islanders would, at least according to socialist concepts, be the most satisfied and happiest people in the world. There is no government on the island; neither tax nor surtax is paid, there is no military service, no money, and no inequality in rights or duties. Complete equality and fraternity, common scarcity or abundance, common troubles, dangers and efforts made in the interest of all, mean that there is no envy or disputes of any kind among the inhabitants. And they like it so much, that to the ever-repeated offers of ship captains to sign up whoever wants to transport them to civilized areas, not a single resident of the island has so far signed up.
Tristan da Cunha 1934, photo from the book.
And yet there is on the island one personage of undisputed authority, whom every inhabitant asks for opinion and advice on every occasion, and who has naturally and imperceptibly distinguished herself as a sort of sovereign of the colony. It is a widow, Frances Repetto, who was married to a settler, originally from Genoa. Everyone on the island listens to her and her son William and she manages everything that is done on the island. When we visited her in her modest house, made from stacked rocks without plaster, with a roof of planks and grass pressed with large rocks and tied with ropes so that the winds wouldn't blow it away, she told us that everyone who lives on the island is happy, contented, loving and helping each other. She, like the other inhabitants of the island, did not even know about the World War, because during the entire war, not a single ship docked there. They also showed us one old woman, ninety-seven years old, Martha Green, who was born on the island and has not left it to this day. Her father was an English soldier who served in the garrison on the island of St. Helena and guarded the entrance to Lonwood, so after the emperor's death he moved to the island of Tristan D'Acuña and started a family there.
The island is rocky, with some arable land and some meadows. There is not a single tree on the island, nor could there be, because it would not be able to withstand the wind. There are some bushes around the residential buildings that the settlers raised as protection against winds and storms. The island is of volcanic origin, with high rocky hills and cliffs rising from the ocean with steep slopes, most of them completely vertical.
On the island there is also a small church made of stacked stones, without a bell tower, and with a bell hung on a pole in front of the building. The Protestant priest Harold Wilde, who willingly agreed to exile on a remote secluded island, serves as priest, teacher, doctor and judge; the latter duty he performs not according to any regulations or common law, but according to common sense and the belief that not a single inhabitant of the island wants even the slightest dispute.
Mihailo Petrovic Alas was a Serbian/Yugoslav mathematician and inventor. He was a professor at Belgrade University, an academic, fisherman, writer, publicist, musician, businessman, and traveler. On several scientific expeditions in 1934 and 1935, he visited some of the remotest islands in the Atlantic and Indian ocean, documenting his experiences in a travel journal, later published under the title "Visiting Remote Islands". This excerpt from the book was edited for The Travel Club by Jasna Đurić.
Tristan da Cunha is an archipelago of islands of volcanic origin, and the main island, with the same name as the entire archipelago, is the remotest inhabited place in the world (from any land). It lies 2,800 km from South Africa, 2,500 km from the island of St. Helena, and 4,000 km from the Falkland-Malvinas Islands. Today, the island has 245 inhabitants. Administratively, it is an overseas territory of Great Britain. There is still no airport on the island, and the only way to get there is a six-day boat trip from South Africa. Ships visit the island every three to four months.