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.