We travelled back to Tristan da Cunha early last September, after a long and busy period of leave. It all worked in very well (at least it has done so far!). My two year contract was extended for a couple of months, which in turn meant that we had a generous amount of time back in Scotland (and France, and England). It also meant that I could run ‘hands-off’ on our farming operations on the island, as a sort of trial run, – as well as lining ourselves up for no fewer than four summers in a row!
Through the next four months, we gradually came out of winter in the southern hemisphere, and life continued pretty much as normal. Farming events continued to take place, expat staff continued to arrive and to leave, and whenever the weather was suitable there were fishing days, harvesting the Tristan Lobster. However, there was one action that did not take place for that whole time. There were no visiting ships.
To clarify. The two fishing factory ships that are operated by the South African company that holds the fishing concession visited as normal. Each in turn, they arrived off the island, unloaded their cargo onto powered rafts, went fishing, backloaded the packed + frozen lobster from the island, and returned to Cape Town. These are regular ships, not really visitors. And in this whole time, there were no visiting ships – no cruise ships, no visiting fishing boats, not even a lonely yacht!
On Friday 4th January, that all changed. We have three South African engineers working on the island for some months, and for almost four weeks they are pretty much working on their own because the whole island is on holiday. When they went down to the harbour at 6.30 in the morning to start the day’s work – for the first time ever there was a yacht tied up in the harbour!
Why would it have been the first time that a yacht tied up in the harbour? The island authorities always instruct visiting vessels to anchor off; they are never allowed to come into the harbour. The harbour is extremely shallow, and although it may for a short time have sufficient depth for a shallow-draft boat, when the sea is calm, as soon as any swell enters the harbour it becomes untenable because of the highs and lows that the swell brings. Some three years ago, contractors carried out a project to deepen the harbour, before which it would certainly have been impossible for a yacht to tie up inside, no matter what the sea conditions.
In the case of the yacht last Friday, it appears that they tried to radio a couple of times shortly before dawn, to check mooring instructions, but since they did not receive a reply they came all the way into the harbour and tied up. There were some special circumstances, in that they were very short of water and they were running out of food and fuel. They were on a passage from Brazil to Cape Town, and they had decided to put in a detour to lay in some stocks. The shop was opened up for them, someone helped them to some cans of diesel fuel, and with typical kindness islanders gave them bread, potatoes and eggs.
The yacht, called Faustin’s Dream, was a Bavaria 44, with two crew on board – a Frenchman from Lyon and another from La Réunion. The voyage had started in the Mediterranean, and after passing through Cape Town they were heading eventually for Réunion. They left Tristan on Friday afternoon, and we wish them a safe passage.
The following day, we had another visitor! This time it was the Falklands Islands registered fishing boat the Argos Vigo, that had come to Tristan waters to go south and fish on some of the sea mounts south east from here. They came here to pick up two island observers, which always accompany fishing ships when they are working in Tristan waters. So, after 4 months of no visiting vessels, we have two in two days!
Tristan da Cunha is remote, by any standards. But within the archipelago that Tristan encompasses, there is an island that is considered remote even by the people of Tristan. Around 220 miles further south from Tristan is Gough Island, named after Capt. Charles Gough of the ship called the Richmond, who discovered it in 1732.
Gough Island is around 13 km long and 5 km wide. It is home to around 10 million seabirds as well as two species of land birds – the Gough Bunting and the Gough Moorhen. In recognition of Gough being a hugely important place for bird life, with a unique largely unspoiled habitat, the island became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. It’s classification was added to by being joined by Inaccessible Island (another small island in the Tristan archipelago) in 2004.
Gough Island is uninhabited. However, for the last 62 years the South African Weather Service has had a lease arrangement with the Tristan Government, and during this time it has maintained a scientific base on the island. Teams of staff spend an uninterrupted 12 months on the island, the main purpose of which is to monitor weather conditions in order to help with the forecasting of weather in southern Africa. In addition to the meterologists, the team includes engineers and a medic. There are also normally three staff from the RSPB (Royal Society of the Protection of Birds) who are bird scientists, and whose job it is to monitor the bird population on Gough.
The importance of Gough can be seen, for example, in the fact that 99% of the world population of Tristan Albatross nest on the island, and 100% of Gough Buntings nest there. Both species are critically endangered. There are also populations of a large range of other Albatross, Shearwater, Petrel and Prion species, some of which are also classified as being endangered.
Around 2006, the use of camera traps was able to prove conclusively what a few observers had already suspected. This is that mice were predating on the wild bird chicks. Mice had been on the island for many years, probably brought there originally by sealers in the 19th century. The mice lived in harmony with the bird population, their diet consisting of plant seeds and insects. Then – they evolved into chick-eaters. This evolution, the change in eating habits of mice, has been seen in a parallel situation on Marion Island, where by means of careful monitoring during the space of just four seasons, ‘normal’ mice had evolved into predators of bird chicks. The scale of this predation on Gough is enormous – in 2016 it was estimated that mice were responsible for the killing of 600,000 chicks. Following a scientific study on Gough some weeks ago, this has now been revised and updated to 2 million chicks and eggs a year. There have been some quite gruesome pictures of groups of mice eating albatross chicks alive. The interesting thing is that the parent albatross just looks on unconcerned. One stab of the adult albatross beak could easily kill a mouse, and bear in mind that an adult albatross might weigh 2 kg as compared to a mouse of about 25 grams. The problem is that the Albatross (and other species) have nothing in their genetic makeup to tell them that mice are dangerous.
The RSPB team stationed on the island, together with visiting specialists in September / October this year, came up with some alarming figures. For example, they found that this year the population of the critically endangered Tristan Albatross reared just 309 chicks from of 1,435 nests – only 21% instead of the 80 – 100% that would be the target for the species to have a long-term future.
In recent years, just as there have been huge technical advances in camera traps and other monitoring devices, so also there have been major advances in rat and mouse eradication from islands. Islands lend themselves to eradication programmes since, provided that strict bio-security measures are introduced and enforced, re-infestation can be prevented, whereas in any mainland situation re-infestation is inevitable. There have been some highly successful island eradication programmes, including from South Georgia, Macquaire Island off Australia and Campbell Island off New Zealand. All of these programmes have used helicopters with underslung spreaders that distribute pellets made of a cereal-based toxic bait. The spreaders are standard agricultural fertiliser spreaders fitted with a small Honda engine, and the bait generally used is one of the second-generation anticoagulants called Brodificoum.
The world centre for this eradication work is New Zealand, and it was that country that the RSPB turned to when it set about the planning stages of an eradication programme on Gough Island. Initially, the plan was to carry out the eradication programme in the winter of 2019, but this has now been postponed to 2020. The winter months are chosen because it is at that time that there are no birds nesting, and the mice are keen to find all food alternatives – making them eager for the toxic bait that is used in the eradication programme.
In August + September this year, a small specialised team travelled out on the SA Agulhas 2, the ship used by the South African Government to conduct their annual maintenance and team-change visit on Gough Island. This team was organised by the RSPB, and consisted of an eradication specialist and a specialist helicopter pilot (both from New Zealand), an aerial systems engineer, and a bird captivity and release specialist. The purpose of the visit was to have a detailed look at the site so that they could modify and confirm a master-plan for the operation, in order to give this expensive operation the highest possible chance of success.
The overall plan is that in the early winter of 2020, a logistical team will travel out to Gough Island, to take out stores and set up accommodation on the island – a team of around 30 people will be needed. The bird captivity and release specialist will be in this advance party. His role will be to set up a large aviary-type structure, and to capture a good number of buntings and moorhens to act as a security population. If these species suffer from poisoning of the toxic bait, at least there will be a protected reserve of such birds in captivity, available to be released when the active bait is no longer present on the island. The albatrosses and the rest of the sea birds do not pose a problem in this respect – the do not come to the island during this time of year, and in any case they do not eat while they are onshore.
Once all the on-island preparations have been completed, the dosing team will travel to the island on a second ship. This team will include four helicopters (one as a reserve) and a whole team of specialist pilots. The systems engineer sets out an electronic GPS-based grid pattern of the routes to fly to ensure 100% coverage – indeed each swath is arranged to give 50% coverage of the previous swath, thus arriving at a double dose of the toxic pellets for any given area. Two applications of bait would be spread, ideally 3 weeks apart for maximum effectiveness. The winter in these latitudes can be very severe, and it is anticipated that with any lull in the weather the team will have to work from dawn to dusk, to seize the opportunity before the weather closes in again.
No-one is pretending that the task will be simple. Mice are more difficult to eradicate than are rats, partly because they can find protection from the weather (and the toxic bait) in all sorts of caves and holes. The whole project is expected to cost in the region of £9 million. The success of the project will be measured by two elements. Firstly, 100% kill of the mouse population is needed. If a single breeding pair remain, then the breeding birds will just have a short respite until the mouse population once again builds up to the present levels. Secondly, it is vital that the bio-security arrangements in Cape Town and on the island must be so thorough and so effective that there is no possibility of the re-introduction of mice in the future. I am sure that everyone involved in the project knows full well that they have just one chance to succeed.
With the development of the society in such a very remote place as Tristan da Cunha, going back over 200 years, it is not surprising that there are some extraordinary aspects to the people on the island, both as far as individual people are concerned, and also relating to how some noteworthy social customs have developed. That is not, however, the limit to the incidence of extraordinary people on the island. Some of the expat staff stationed here certainly fit into this category, and some of the visitors also deserve a mention. All in all, it seems that through its extreme remoteness the island does nurture and attract people who are extraordinary!
Through the eyes of a visitor to the island, some of the working practices are remarkable. In particular it is astonishing how all members of the community come together for specific work tasks. For example, when a ship has to be unloaded everyone leaves their normal places of work and becomes part of the unloading team – working as a stevedore on the ship, manning the barges bringing cargo into the harbour, driving a relay of tractors and trailers from the harbour to the warehouse, unpacking crates, and being part of a human chain to stack boxes in the warehouse. There are other events when an ‘all hands day’ can be declared – for example when everyone is needed to replace a roof on a house.
There are also the examples of remarkable people in connection with the island fishing industry. For the most part, fishing on Tristan means crayfish fishing. Each boat is crewed by two men, and eleven small open boats go out on the days that have been declared as ‘fishing days’. The boats make a very early start, the little boats wallow horribly in the water particularly when they are not making way when the pots are being hauled. The boys leave the harbour at first light, and in the shoulder months the low temperatures and the chill factor can be really testing. Every man a hero!
Once the crayfish are landed, they are transported to the factory. The people who work at the factory are also remarkable. During the week it is largely pensioners who do this work, some of them approaching the age of 80. They may work for 8 hours or more during the day, or in the evening the factory siren may call them out for an evening shift of anti-social hours. The Tristan fishing industry is dependent on this reliable and loyal work-force. It is another example of the extraordinary people of Tristan.
It should not be thought that all Tristanians are alike – they may come together for specific tasks, but they are generally highly individual. The population today is just 250 people, and I could probably detail them one by one to show how a high proportion of them are individually extraordinary – but that would not go down well on the island. I must not be seen to have any sort of bias or favouritism!
At any one time, there are around 12 – 15 expatriates stationed on Tristan. For example, at present these include three teachers, a doctor and a nurse, the Administrator, a finance man, a factory manager and engineer, a retail specialist, and an agriculturalist (me!), as well as a short-term postdoctoral researcher from the Natural History Museum. Most of these expats are on 2-year contracts, except for the Administrator who is generally here for three years and the doctor who may be here for five months. In a general sense, the expats can be described as being extraordinary. They have committed themselves to spending a couple of years on a tiny island where the facilities are extremely limited (shops, restaurants, healthcare facilities, etc), where they leave behind family and friends, and for the most part where the opportunities for professional contact and CPD (Continuous Professional Development) are quite limited. These privations are not for everyone!
As a result of Tristan’s location, deep in the South Atlantic, there are many scientists and specialists who come to the island. In the course of the two years that we have been here somewhere over 140 people have passed through. These may be fisheries experts, conservation specialists, seal experts or bird professionals. They may be South African personnel going to Gough Island for a 12-month tour of duty, or the team coming off Gough after their 12-month stint. They may be the construction staff who built the new health centre, many of whom had experience in Antarctica. Or they may be specialists in seismology, volcanology, global magnetism or nuclear detection. It is a real experience for the people on Tristan, both Tristanians and expats, to be able to have contact with all of these visitors, many of whom can be described as extraordinary.
Of special mention is the dentist from Edinburgh, who comes to the island every year for three week’s work, bringing her daughter with her. Her much-travelled daughter slots back into the little school on Tristan, where she catches up with all her island friends. This must be the most extreme example of taking your child to work with you!
We also have a small number of tourist-related people coming to the island. A few small cruise ships make a visit, weather permitting, as do a small number of sailing yachts. That gives us a further chance to meet some more extraordinary people. I am thinking here of the two Dutch men in a yacht, who stopped off to buy some groceries and then continued on to Melbourne and finally Adelaide, stopping off on the way at Les Isles de la Desolation. I am also thinking of the young girl who sailed single-handed from Sweden to Tristan – real adventurers come to Tristan! And how about the cruise-ship tour guide who came earlier this year – it materialised that before that job, she had joined her partner on a small wooden yacht deep in Brazil. They sailed the ‘wrong way’ round Cape Horn, and in two years they sailed back to Norway – in fact she made history by becoming the first Norwegian female ever to sail through the North West Passage. After passing eastwards through the North West Passage, they of course passed Baffin Island – this is the home of another extraordinary visitor we had here for a few weeks this year!
By any standards, Tristan da Cunha is an extraordinary place. The population is about the size of a small village – just 263 people. At present this population is augmented by a team who are building the new hospital (22 people) and a team who are carrying out harbour repairs (10 people). Other than these two teams there are also the individual expats, including ourselves. Including family members, today there are 27 individual expats on the island. All together 59 expats on the island, which is a record. This high number is quite exceptional – sometimes the figure is very much lower and earlier last year the number totalled fewer than ten. These are very busy days, and with everything that is going on it seems a bit like a real-live soap opera.
I mentioned in a previous blog the forthcoming wedding of Mike and Nena. Mike is ex-army, and he and I have established that we were at the same event in Oman, when he was doing guard duties at National Day celebrations and I was invited as a member of the Sultan’s staff. That was around 1972. No doubt we were also at one or more Friday curry lunches, too, at Bidbid, Nizwa or Sur. Nena comes from Croatia, and was in banking until Mike came around the corner and swept her off her feet.
As I mentioned, their wedding had already been fixed and postponed twice, as a result of Mike being involved in crucial ship unloading operations before Christmas. So, with great patience and perseverance, a third date was fixed, the 19th of January. The hall was decorated, rehearsals were done, mountains of food were prepared, drinks and ice were organised – but then just three hours before the start of the wedding service there was the most terrible accident in which a much loved and respected islander lost his life. The wedding was of course postponed.
The funeral was the following day. As newcomers, we were careful to find out about protocol for such an event, and the sad day was charged with emotion. Mike and Nena established that the expected and accepted thing for them to do was to re-schedule their wedding for the following Thursday, and on January 26th the marriage actually took place. The morning of the wedding, the widow of the man who had the accident telephoned Nena and told her that she must go ahead and enjoy her special day, she wanted no holding back. Great courage.
There were many ‘firsts’ with this wedding. It was the first time that a female minister performed a marriage service. Nena was the first Croatian bride. It was probably the first time that a Welshman acted as best man. It would have been the first time that Filipina girls were seen as bridesmaids; and it was certainly the first island wedding at which a kilted Frenchman played ‘Here comes the Bride’ on his saxophone!
The day was hot, sunny, and with very little wind. It is not often that this can be said on Tristan! Temperatures were probably around 24oC, and with very high humidity most jackets did not stay on for very long.
Carlene, the lay preacher, (during the day in charge of the mechanical department of Public Works) performed the wedding service, and Harold (former Chief Islander three times) gave the bride away. Barry was best man, his two daughters Roxanne and Sian were bridesmaids, Sally was Matron of Honour, and Dylan was usher. Together with the bride and groom, six nationalities!
After the church service, the wedding party piled into the Administrator’s Landrover and were driven down to the famous ‘Welcome to Tristan da Cunha’ sign, for a photoshoot, before repairing to the Residence for some bubbly.
By the time this little group arrived at the Prince Philip Hall the party was already in full swing. The whole island had been invited, and there was a great mixture of islanders and expats, and of young and old. The food was amazing – contributed by no fewer than 68 ladies (including of course Bee), the cake had been made by Carlene and exquisitely decorated by Head of Finance Lorraine. Jonathan (head of a Public Works section) did a wonderful job with his little team serving copious quantities of quality drinks as well as being in charge of the music. Robin (Head of Plumbing and Electrical) was official photographer.
It has been an extraordinarily busy time of the year.
For us, having arrived on November 30th, we went first into temporary accommodation as guests of Pat and Peter. This was a good experience, they are lovely people and we heard many tales of the old days on Tristan, including the time of the evacuation. After two weeks we moved into our ‘permanent’ place, which in one of the old original Scots-built houses from the very early 1800’s. It has some good points and some not-so-good. The kitchen is great, a good size and with reasonable work-tops, but – no hot water yet! The view from the house is really superb. Then – it is debatable as to whether our proximity to the pub is good or not!
The whole island closes down for three weeks over Christmas, all except some essential services. This is the annual summer holiday. Many of the islanders go down ‘camping’ at the Patches, where they have simple huts beside their potato plots. The holiday period was this time interrupted by two Unloading Days, on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. Certainly not ideal, but it had to be done.
As befits an island community that was founded by a Scot, Auld Year’s Night or Hogmanay is taken quite seriously. All were invited to a party on the lawn of the Residence, where the Administrator lives. This was our first experience of an island-wide social event. During the late afternoon before the event we noticed a number of monsters on the streets – there were all together about twelve very frightening monsters; seemingly they go around making reasonably harmless mischief, and then they come in to the garden party at the Residence. These are called Okalolies, and the tradition for them on the island goes back a very long time. I will try to find out more, and report back! Parties go on into the wee small hours, with New Year announced at midnight by much ringing of the gong.
The holiday did not apply to the ex-pats, and in any case holiday or not I was quite occupied preparing my Inception Report. This is a comprehensive and detailed piece of work outlining the agricultural situation on the island today, with in mind discussion and decision making which in turn will provide me with a programme to work to in the two years to come. This is now all done, and I was able to present it to the Island Council on the 18th January. We are due to have a sort of brainstorming meeting as a follow-up in about ten days’ time.
On the 13th and 14th of January, we had Shearing Day. This is the annual community event when almost everyone goes down to the sheep pens, and in good island tradition work and fun are joined together. The entire flock of around 1,000 sheep is collected in the central area of the sheep pens, and each owner draws out his own sheep, which he keeps in his own pen ready for shearing. This is a time when sheep owners help each other, and when children get involved with the nitty gritty of sheep farming. Bystanders and their cars and motorbikes surround the sheep pens area, music is played – and many of the women can be seen knitting. Once the work is all done, it is time to celebrate, and bries (barbecues) and partying go on late into the evening.
We have had visits from four ships in the last week. Late on the 14th, HMS Portland arrived together with her merchant navy escort ship. Crew from the ships became tourists, and in spite of it being Sunday the supermarket stayed open, the tourist shop and gift shop opened, and the pub opened. The Navy played the Island at football, and the last of the Navy visitors were taken back to their ship around 7.00 in the evening. There were many empty cans left behind! Meanwhile, a ship chartered by the National Geographic arrived. Grenville is on a research and filming expedition to Tristan and the nearby islands of Nightingale and Inaccessible as well as Gough Island, some 200 miles further south. She was also carrying a number of passengers who were either people coming to work here or Islanders returning home.
The fourth ship was the Pacific Askari, with another consignment of building materials for the new hospital. She was unloaded quickly and left the following day.
We (particularly of course Bee) are now involved in preparations for a Wedding, due to take place on the 20th. Mike and Nena have been here for around 18 months, and because he is in charge (among other things) of all the unloading operations, which are so weather-dependent and so crucial, they have had to postpone their wedding twice because it clashed with a window in the weather that allowed unloading to resume.
Our departure from Cape Town was scheduled to be on Thursday 17th, but it was (initially) delayed a day. Unfortunately, our hotel had no availability on the night of the 17th, and we had to move to another place. The delay was caused largely by the decision to load stone which was needed for some urgent repairs to the harbour wall on Tristan.
We were to travel on the ship called the Baltic Trader; eventually we had the call to be ready for our transport to the ship on the Sunday morning (20th) at 7.30, which was later extended to 9.00 for a ship departure of 11.00 – ish. With us in the hotel was a geography teacher heading to the island on a 6-month contract. When we arrived at the ship, we saw our baggage loaded, and then we were joined by the new Administrator and his wife and we were all taken off to Immigration.
Here there were some anxious moments when the Immigration officer refused to accept the passenger list that he was given – he was right, the list that was offered was for a previous sailing! Anyway, the matter was resolved quickly and with good humour, and we felt that we were a step closer to our departure to Tristan da Cunha.
Once the main engine was started up, we had feelings of “all is well” which lasted quite briefly, in fact until the engine was shut down again! There was a flurry of activity among the ship’s crew, and we learned that the cooling water intake was obstructed. The diving company arrived promptly, and before long they had the obstruction cleared – large pieces of plastic 1 tonne bags, oddments of rope, and bizarrely a crisp packet. This collection of plastic debris was almost inevitable, given the huge amount of plastic that was drifting around inside the harbour.
Two small tugs arrived, and we were given a ‘dead pull’ straight away from the harbour wall, to distance us from the worst of the floating plastic before the main engine was re-started. Finally, at around 4.30 in the afternoon, we left the harbour, leaving an angry tug-boat crewman contemplating his hawser which had had to be cut as a result of a jam on board our ship.
The weather and hence the sea state when we left was challenging, particularly for the first day out, with a quartering sea causing an uncomfortable motion, but day by day it moderated and by Wednesday it could be described as perfect, with a gentle following breeze, an almost cloudless sky, and a sharp horizon.
On the Tuesday we went past a group of whales – perhaps six or eight of them heading in an easterly direction. I think that altogether there were five days when whales were sighted, but none of them were very close. The further west we cruised, the more we were accompanied by birdlife, including yellow-nosed albatross and wandering albatross to remind us that we were deep into the Southern Atlantic.
Although for some dizzy hours we managed 8 knots, we spent most of the time with head winds and our speed was reduced even as slow as 3.1 knots at times – it is an awful long way to go at that speed!
Early in the morning of the 30th we finally made it to the island. We had read about the unloading arrangements, and expected the manoeuvre to be exciting. It was! In groups of six the passengers were ushered into a metal box about the size of a confessional (not that I would know!) A hook from the ship’s derrick was attached, and we were hoisted way up into the air and over the side of the rolling ship. We were then landed on a motorised pontoon that was waiting alongside. The object of the exercise was for the crane operator to judge the touch-down of the confessional with the pontoon going down in the swell, to give us a soft landing. In our case he mis-judged the landing and we arrived on the pontoon with a spine-jarring crunch.
The unloading and getting ashore gave us our first experience of Tristanian boat handling and stevedoring skills, which were impressive to say the least. Details to follow in later blogs.
I will outline some details of our arrival on shore later, but there is a quick foot-note here. We were so lucky to get off the ship when we did – that morning the wind rose once again and unloading had to be called off. It was a week before unloading was able to restart and before we saw our luggage.
The last week in Cape Town has been a time for reflection on the months to come, and a time for meeting people and developing all sorts of contacts (as well as a time for exploring and sight-seeing)
We have met some amazing people. Has the country created these characters, or have the characters created the country?
The man (who has experience of living and working on Tristan) who was returning on a dirt road from a dive trip in Natal when he was ambushed and shot, and left for dead, by a robber – all for the £150 that he carried.
The man from Scotland who rents a property not far from Stellenbosch, who helps in a soup kitchen and who pays for the education of some promising youngsters in his township. He discovered that none of his money was going into the school, being used instead for drink and gambling. Now he pays his money direct to the school, and puts checks on its proper use.
The tiny slip of a girl from Cape Town who has just completed a degree at Imperial College London in bridge design, and who plans to take up the offer of a bridge design job in a London office.
The woman in her late 50’s who thinks nothing of cycling 100 km a day on her own – equipped of course with her own tasar.
The refugee from Zimbabwe who now presents wines at a top-end tasting winery, who displayed a sense of humour and a knowledge of current affairs second to none.
No doubt it is a hard country, and one that has seen all manner of social changes over the years. However, we have found a warmth, politeness and a get-up-and-go attitude from all sectors of this beautiful country. There are those at both ends of the social chain (and at both ends of the power divide) who do not properly pull their weight within the community, but certainly there is hope for the future once the main problems are properly addressed.
I feel as if I have known about Tristan da Cunha all my life, at least since the islanders were evacuated to the UK in 1961, when I was 15. That was the time of the most recent serious volcano eruption, when the entire settlement was threatened by a lava flow. The people of Tristan were housed at the Air Force camp of Calshot in Hampshire and I remember clearly the two-way feelings of curiosity that were reflected in the British press on a regular basis. The islanders came from a community which had seen few changes since it was formed in 1816, and they had built up a resilience, a resourcefulness and a community spirit that was strange to most Brits in the 1960’s. Their strangeness was exaggerated by the Press, and I remember discussions at school that focussed on the way in which the Tristanians were treated as curiosity items. The islanders were provided for in terms of essential daily needs, but little effort was made to integrate them into British society. Indeed any attempts made at integration were unlikely to succeed given the huge differences in cultural background, for the islanders had little understanding of shopping, money, employment, travel, and all the myriad of things that were part of everyday existence for the people of Britain. A year after the evacuation, an advance party re-visited the island and it was found that the lava flow had not, as was feared, destroyed the houses in the settlement and that there was no reason why the people of Tristan da Cunha should not return to their island home, if they really wanted to. The vast majority of islanders decided to return to Tristan, and the press in Britain continued to demonstrate that they had little understanding of the nature of the islanders with comments like “Ungrateful blighters” – the press viewed that the so-called generosity of Britain towards the Tristanians should have resulted in the people of Tristan unanimously deciding that the British lifestyle was so much more rewarding than life on the island. They took the view that the islanders were making a big mistake in turning down all the advantages of living in a developed, civilised country. And they failed to understand how these people could choose to return to their wet and windswept island, that is distinctive for being the most remote inhabited island in the world.
Fifty three years later, early in 2016, the worldwide press latched on to an advertisement that had just been placed; many articles were written about the fact that a two year job was being offered to a British farmer on an “island paradise”. I liked the idea of an island paradise, and of course I read on. The main responsibilities were to concentrate on food security, self-sufficiency and sustainability. Existing farming enterprises such as cattle, sheep and potatoes were to be modernised and streamlined. New enterprises such as apples and polytunnel production were to be introduced. They were looking for a person with a wide range of farming knowledge and with experience of living in remote situations. I read the advertisement through four times, it seemed that they were describing me. I decided that the job had my name on it, and by the end of March I had accepted the job offer that had by then been made to me.
The following pages describe the challenges, frustrations and rewards that face my wife and me as the months go by on our ‘island paradise’. The plan is that we travel out in November 2016, and our sea-freight of personal effects is already on its way.