Do you have a desire to go on vacation to a place you’ve never visited before? How about traveling to the most remote inhabited place on the planet? We’re talking about the mysterious island of Tristan da Cunha, home to only 264 people.
The Remote Tristan da Cunha
Just imagine having your nearest neighbors 2,000 kilometers away. It sounds incredible, doesn’t it? Well, that’s the situation for the 264 residents of Tristan da Cunha, a tiny island of only 200 square kilometers in the South Atlantic.
This small island holds the title of being the farthest inhabited place from anywhere else in the world. The closest landmass they have is Saint Helena Island, which is 2,162 kilometers away. To set foot on a continent, you’d have to travel 3,000 kilometers to reach South Africa, a six-day boat journey, as there is no airport on the island.
Although Tristan da Cunha has a bit of peculiarity; it’s not a single island but an archipelago. The main island, which bears the same name, is where its inhabitants reside: 133 women and 112 men. They all live in the island’s only settlement, which is also the capital and is called Edinburgh of the Seven Seas.
The much smaller Gough Island hosts only a South African weather station. And Nightingale Island, even tinier, is completely uninhabited. Adding to this trio is a fourth volcanic island, completely inaccessible due to its steep cliffs.
The question everyone asks is: How did people get there? What made them think it was a good place to live? And most importantly, how do they manage their daily lives so far from everything and everyone?
The History of the Remote Island
To understand its history, we have to go back to 1506 when the Portuguese navigator Tristão da Cunha accidentally discovered it. He merely spotted it, gave it his name, and continued his journey. This story is so curious that he didn’t even set foot on it. It wasn’t until 1643 that members of the ship Heemstede landed on the island. It took two centuries for the first official settlement to be established.
To comprehend why people live there today, it’s essential to remember a historical episode: in 1815, the English exiled Napoleon to the “neighboring” Saint Helena after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. Still fearing that the French might attempt a rescue plan from Tristan da Cunha, they sent a group of settlers to use the island as a military settlement. Surprisingly, some of them chose to stay and settle on the island.
One of those settlers was the Englishman William Glass, who landed on the island with his wife, Magdalena Leenders, and their two children. In a few years, he became the “mayor” of the island and proposed establishing something akin to an egalitarian utopia; an island where land, animals, and resources would be distributed equally among the inhabitants. This was enshrined in their modest constitution, which Glass drafted in 1817. It’s worth noting that there was no inspiration from communism; after all, Marx would be born a year later.
Although in 1876, the British government declared Tristan da Cunha part of its empire, the lives of its inhabitants remained unchanged until 1961. That year, the island’s main volcano erupted, leading to the evacuation of its residents. They were relocated to the town of Calshot, UK, a change that was not easy for them; the harsh winter caused the death of many, and others couldn’t adapt to modern life. Two years later, a vote was held to decide if they wanted to return to the island; 148 out of 150 voters said yes.
Currently, there are only six surnames on Tristan da Cunha: Lavarello, Repetto, Rogers, Swain, Green, and, obviously, Glass. These are distributed among eighty families. Endogamy is common since finding a partner becomes a challenging task.
As expected, this genetic profile has led to some health conditions such as asthma and glaucoma. In exchange, very common conditions in the rest of the world, like the common cold, practically don’t exist, except when someone brings it on one of the supply ships.
The island has also not recorded any cases of Covid, and when someone falls ill, they are transported to Cape Town. On the island, they usually have a pair of doctors to attend to the health of the population.
Tristan da Cunha is possibly the most peculiar place on Earth. A small piece of land in the middle of nowhere, with one of the smallest populations in the world, but living happily in its own reality.