Chapter 12: Tristan Da Cunha (continued)

By Dr. Macklin [14]

Again during the night I was attacked by marauders, which allowed me little rest. In the morning, after breakfast, I took a walk out along the bluff to see if I could pick out through my binoculars any signs of the Quest at Inaccessible Island. It was too misty to get a clear view, but as there was a strong nor’westerly wind and a heavy swell with much surf, which would have made a landing there quite impossible, it did not seem likely that they would be successful. I was followed out from the settlement by the husband of the woman whom I wanted to go to Cape Town. He was anxious to discuss further the possibilities. Poor fellow! he was very concerned for his wife’s welfare. I went with him to his house, which is one of the cleanest and neatest on the island, situated some little distance from the rest of the settlement, to see my patient again. Some mischievous though probably well-meaning body at home had sent her a large supply of pills, with which she had been drugging herself heavily.

The morning was wet and squally, so I did not go far from the settlement, but walked about watching the men and women at their work and inducing the children, by sundry small bribes of chocolate, to come and talk to me. They were wonderfully free from shyness. Later, I called on “Reverend Rogers” and “The Missus.”

At 12.0 noon the day cleared, and so I set off with Frank Glass, one of Bob Glass’s sons, to climb the mountain face. My companion, aged seventeen years, was a bright, cheery youth with a firm belief that there could be no place in the world like Tristan da Cunha nor such an all-round lot of fine fellows as the “Tristanites.” He expressed, however, a willingness to leave the island and see something of that other place, “the world,” but would seize an early chance to come back again.

We crossed the settlement and the land lying behind it, passing at the foot of the mountain the springs from which the water supply is derived. In this respect the people are well off, for the water is good and beautifully soft. The original garrison, in order to divert the water past the houses, had built a canal, which in some places passed through little tunnels in the hillocks, and was quite a small feat of engineering. The volume is considerable, and the water running to the cliff edge falls to the beach in a good-sized cascade, which makes a useful mark for ships looking for the landing-place.

The ascent of the mountain lay first up a steep, grassy, boulder-strewn slope, from the top of which we made a traverse across the face of the mountain to a ridge where the climbing was steep, but where there was good hand- and foot-hold. We zigzagged up this for several hundred feet. There was abundant vegetation, numbers of ferns, including a species of tree fern, tussock and other forms of grass, mosses, lichens and the “island tree” (phylica nitida), a gnarled and stunted tree which is found all over the island and which offers firm holding for climbers. There were also on the lower slopes a number of field daisies, or marguerites, and a species of wild geranium bearing a small flower with a pleasant aromatic smell. To another plant my guide gave the name of “dog-catcher,” because during the summer it grows a sort of “burr” which catches in the hair of the dogs and is very hard to remove.

Our route followed a faint but definite track which is used constantly by the islanders in their search for wood to burn, and in the season for the eggs of mollymauks and other seabirds which nest there. Even the women make this ascent.

We crossed several bold rocky bluffs and gullies. Nowhere was there any danger, provided reasonable care were used, but in one or two places one crept along dizzily poised ridges where a false or careless step would have been sufficient to precipitate one to a drop of two or three thousand feet.

Near the top we were enveloped by dense mist accompanied by squalls of rain. Everything was obscured, and so we returned to the scrub, where we built a shelter from branches of the “island tree,” under which I sat and talked with Frank Glass. For one with such a limited outlook, this young man had very advanced ideas on life in general. He told me quite cheerfully that the island was faced with starvation and ruin. He also remarked that it would not do to go on marrying each other, and that they needed new blood. I recognized many of his expressions, however, as those of his father, Bob Glass.

Our shelter after a while ceased to be effective, and the water started pouring through in little rivulets. There were no signs of the weather clearing, so we descended some distance and made a traverse to a high projecting rock known as “The Pinnacle.” This is a high, straight mass crowned with a little vegetation. It is inaccessible except by a tunnel running up the middle and emerging at the top, up which we scrambled with free use of elbows and knees. Here we were out of the mist, and had a fine bird’s-eye view of the flat part of the island and the settlement. The sea, edged with a long irregular line of white where the surf was breaking on the shore, stretched like a flat board to a dim, far-distant horizon.

We were now in bright sunshine, and I felt quite content to lie, chin in hand, gazing at the tiny objects far below; but whilst I was enjoying the view the mist came down the hill and again enveloped us. We therefore descended to the settlement, where we arrived soaked to the skin.

I noticed a large crowd collected about one of the houses, and so, having put on dry clothes, I approached to see what was happening. I found that the islanders were engaged in dividing up the goods we had sent ashore into approximately equal lots.

They have a system of their own for dealing with common stores. When the boats go out to a ship barter is first of all carried out in the name of the community for such stores as tea, sugar, flour, etc. Each family in turn provides whatever goods are necessary for these exchanges in the way of cattle, sheep, geese or potatoes. When this has been done, the individuals who have manned the boat may barter with their own goods for any particular article which they or their families may require. This includes articles of clothing, general household utensils, knives, wood, nails, etc. In exchange they can give of their own live stock or polished horns, mats made from penguin skins, socks knitted by the women, shells and other curios. The goods brought ashore in the name of the community are divided equally amongst the families irrespective of the size of the family, so that a man with eight or nine children draws no more than a man who has none.

Everything that is divisible is divided up even to the smallest amounts, so that one family’s share of rice, for example, may amount to no more than one spoonful! One single piece of soap has been known to be divided into eight pieces! Things which are obviously indivisible, such as stone jars, baskets, pots and pans, tins or sacks, are made up into little batches of as nearly as possible equal value and allotted by the system of saying “Whose?” In carrying this out one person points in turn to each batch, saying “Whose?” whilst another, blindfolded or with back turned, answers the name of one of the families. It is a very fair system. Supposing that there are only twelve lots and twenty families to draw, the caller shouts “Whose?” twenty times, occasionally indicating a blank by pointing at the ceiling or floor. No name, of course, is called twice. The women adhere very rigidly to this division of goods, even to the extent of quantities which are valueless. The men, on the other hand, occasionally decide to own things jointly, such as spars, chains, tools or implements, or where a thing is obviously of use to one man only—e.g. an empty cask—they will agree to take turns in acquiring it. Also, a man who is collecting wood for his house will be allowed to have for his own use one or more packing-cases on the understanding that he must compensate in one way or another later on. No written note is made, but they seem to have tenacious memories in this respect.

Again, in the case of an article which has been blown up on the island too heavy or bulky to be dealt with by the finder alone, such as a large tree or a stranded whale, those who help to bring it to the settlement participate equally in what profit may result from it.

This system was evolved by the patriarchs of the community, men such as Corporal Glass, the founder, and Pieter William Green, each of whom was for long the virtual head of the island. On the whole it is a very fair one, and even though it seems unjust that the large families should share equally with the small ones, it must be remembered that the small family, when it comes to its turn to find the goods for barter, has to bear an equal brunt with the larger. Children also are not regarded as a handicap, but as an asset, for from the time they are able to run about and drive sheep or geese they work for their living. In England one’s income does not vary with the number of children, and a bachelor employee receives the same wages as a married man if he does identical work.

On this particular occasion the work of dividing was going on merrily, and the young people and children were kept busy running to and from the houses with the shares. The missionary and his wife were acting as umpires at the “sheering” (they pronounced long “ā” as “ee”). When it was over I returned with Mr. and Mrs. Rogers to their house, and sat talking for a while. They brought their house with them from England, cut in sections all ready for putting up. It is small but snug. Their chief fear in connexion with it is that it may be lifted and carried away by some of the fiercer gusts of wind, and they were proposing to have it walled over with stone. They were very wise in bringing their own dwelling, for the housing problem is as difficult in Tristan da Cunha as it is in England in these post-war days. Whilst I was sitting and talking darkness set in. The wind outside was blowing hard, with sharp rain squalls. Mrs. Glass, accompanied by one of her family, thinking I might be lost, set out on a pilgrimage round the settlement in search of me, and was relieved when I was discovered to be all safe and sound. She said that getting about was awkward for a stranger, and thought I might have walked past the house (which is the lowest of the settlement) and fallen over the cliff. She said: “You stop now and finish your talk with the Missus, and I’ll tell Tom Rogers (who lived near by) to bring you down when you are ready.” The latter had supper with us. He is a pleasant, talkative fellow. Mrs. Glass says he will talk all day to anyone he can get to listen to him. “Usually,” she says, “grown-ups is too busy, so he has to talk to one of the children.”

In the course of conversation Tom Rogers said that he was going to the back of the island to “turn over” his cattle. By “turn over” he meant drive them from one pasturage to another. I asked if I might accompany him. He was willing, but thought that I might find it a bit far, as it entailed a considerable walk and a good deal of climbing. I smiled to myself, thinking that I could hold my own well enough with any islander, more especially as Gordon Glass, a slim-looking young fellow, was also to join the party. I was to have my eyes opened, however.

After Tom Rogers had gone “Wilet” and “Dōrothee” came in. Mrs. Glass went to the door and called into the darkness: “Come in, don’t be shoi; no one ain’t going to hurt you; come in, they’se both in!” Whereupon after a good deal more urging two very sheepish-looking youths entered, and planting themselves down on a form said no word at all but gazed across at the two girls. It seemed to me that I was very much de trop, and not wishing to be in any way a spoil-sport, I made some excuse to go out. It was not a pleasant night, being cold, and there was a slight drizzle. After about half an hour of stumbling blindly into every quagmire on the common, crossing the stream at its deepest and most slippery part, and causing all the dogs in the settlement to bark, I decided that I had been “sporting” enough and returned to find them in exactly the same attitude as I had left them. Later on, touching on the subject to Mrs. Glass, she remarked: “Oh, they’se been coming every night like that for years, but Mr. Glass he ain’t going to let none of the gels marry till they’se twenty-one.”

I had with me in my medical equipment a small bottle of essential oil of lavender, and with it I plentifully sprinkled my bedding in the hope that it would keep away the fleas. I believe they liked it, and the only result achieved was that I acquired a distaste for the smell of lavender which will probably last my lifetime! However, as a result of my exercise in climbing, I slept well.

In the morning at 8.0 a.m. Tom Rogers, Glass and I set off for the back of the island. The road, a mud track, ran westwards, and led across a deep gulch which had been cut some years previously by a torrent from the mountain. We had a stiff wind against us, which, in a narrow passage between a big bluff and the side of the mountain, blew in gusts, against which it was hard work to force a way and which occasionally drove us back a step or two. Behind the bluff were several pyramidal grass-covered mounds, in the shelter provided by which are the “potato-patches.” They consist of small walled-in areas, the walls serving to protect the plants from the force of the winds, which have a very deleterious effect upon the “tops.” This is amply demonstrated by comparing those in well-protected areas with those which are more exposed, the latter being stunted, dry and withered looking. The potatoes are planted in September and early October, and taken up in February. They are small in size, but otherwise of good quality. At the time of my visit (late May) the islanders were engaged in collecting seaweed from the shore and conveying it in bullock-carts to the patches, where it is allowed to rot, mixed with sheep manure, and placed on top of the potatoes when they are planted. The manure is obtained by corralling the sheep and leaving them closely penned in for twenty-four hours. We passed across several more gulches and encountered some broad patches of stone which had been swept down out of the hills during the rains.

The soil in this part of the island is better than that at the settlement, and provides a flat grassy plain, giving good grazing for the sheep and cattle which are dotted all about its surface and climb up into the lower slopes of the mountain. Both are small, but of fairly good quality, the meat which I tasted on the island being tender and of good flavour. A number of the cattle had calves, which were pretty little creatures.

On this part of the island the land ends in short cliffs, at the foot of which are numerous narrow beaches on which, as we went along, a heavy surf was breaking, looking pretty in the sunlight and having a pleasant sound.

About five miles from the settlement the flat ground ends in a high straight bluff running steeply down to the sea. To get round this we had to ascend the mountain, having a steep climb of about two thousand feet. The cattle and sheep, to get to the back of the island, have to make this climb, and there is a narrow track, worn by them, which zigzags upwards, passing across places where one single slip would mean destruction for the animal. I am told that very few of them fall. They must be amazingly sure-footed.

On several occasions as we wound along my companions pointed out to me in some of the sheltered gullies what they called “orchards,” little clumps of apple trees so small, bush-like and stunted as to be almost unrecognizable. Nevertheless, each year they get small crops of apples from them. I tasted some, and found them to have quite a good flavour. It is from these trees that the cross-pieces for their boats are made. The vegetation in the gullies is very luxuriant, and the grass, being sheltered from the winds, grows lush and long. Far below the clefts ended in little bays, where we caught glimpses of the surf breaking in creamy ridges against the shore. We continued upwards, and came suddenly to a sharply defined ridge above a steep precipice across which the wind blew strongly. We threw ourselves on our faces and peered over the edge, and got a view of the “back of the island.” Far below us was a flat grassy plain with many cattle grazing, and away out to sea we saw Inaccessible and Nightingale Islands. I carefully scanned their base lines through my binoculars for any signs of the Quest, but the day was too hazy to permit of a clear view.

Tom Rogers proposed to descend from here to the plains to “turn over” his cattle, but, having climbed so far, I was anxious to continue up till I could get a clear view of the top of the mountain, so he good-naturedly put off the job to another day, and we went on upwards, laboriously working through long tussock-grass and thick masses of tree fern.

These men with whom I had thought to hold my own so easily seemed to be absolutely tireless, and they took a keen interest in the outing and in showing me all things of interest.

Here and there we came across little bundles of branches cut from the “island tree.” These were loads in process of being collected to be taken finally to the settlement for firewood.

Some of the branches which went to the formation of these bundles had to be dragged for a considerable distance across the face of the cliff, often only with the utmost difficulty. They are collected eventually at a point above a gully which will give a clear drop to a point thousands of feet below, where they can be gathered up and loaded into bullock-carts for taking home.

Through my binoculars I could see men at work all about the ridges, and I was deeply impressed by the hardihood of the life they must lead in having thus to fare abroad for their daily needs.

Gordon Glass had with him his dog, which occasionally discovered a “pediunker,” a species of seabird which frequents the island and about this time of year is preparing to nest. They lay in holes in the hillside, and a search was made for a chance egg, though it was still early in the season for them. We allowed the birds to go free.

We reached at last a point where the heavier vegetation ended and the hill was covered with a rather coarse grass interspersed with patches of moss. It was very damp. From here we had a fine view, and the air was keen and cold. We descended by another route, which led eventually to a cattle track where the going was easier, but the steepness and tortuosity of which again impressed me with the remarkable climbing powers of the animals.

Reaching the plain again, we set off at a good round pace for the settlement, where I arrived, I am not ashamed to say, pleasantly fatigued with the day’s outing, whilst my companions seemed to think they had done nothing out of the way. I mention this particularly because it has been stated from time to time by visitors that these islanders are becoming a decadent lot and are suffering from the results of intermarriage and consanguinity. That they are physically decadent is not true. Taken on the whole, they are of medium height and slimly built, but they are very tough and wiry. John Glass, whom I have already mentioned as having been the first man aboard the Quest is a powerful man. Some of the elderly men of fifty years or thereabouts are wonderfully nimble and active. They are hardy walkers and climbers, and in their attempts to reach passing ships are often compelled to row long distances against heavy winds—a procedure which requires plenty of stamina.

Speaking of them collectively, they are not good workers, and attempts to get them to work together in an organized way for their mutual profit have not been successful. An attempt was made some years ago by a Cape Town firm to introduce a fish-curing industry and to get them to export sheep, but the islanders did not pull together and the scheme failed. They themselves give as a reason that they were being exploited and that the return was totally inadequate.

It is possible that due consideration was not given to their insularity and limitations of outlook, and that the use of a little more patience and diplomacy might have met with better results. I doubt very much, however, whether these islanders would ever settle down to a daily routine of work, having all their lives been more or less their own masters and able to decide when they shall or shall not work. Nevertheless, the necessities of life compel that the days spent at home be few, and the qualities of hardihood to which I have referred are not developed by doing nothing.

It has been stated also that through intermarriage there are numerous signs of deformity and mental degeneration. There are very few of these signs. As to mental degeneration, I considered these islanders to be very intelligent. They are uneducated, limited in outlook, and generally “insular,” but how could they be anything else in their peculiar circumstances? They are bright, quick to see humour and enjoy a joke, and are morally much sounder than many civilized peoples. They live on good terms, with little quarrelling, crime is unknown, and petty misdemeanours are rare.

One youth is dumb and is peculiar in manner, but works and carries out ordinary duties with quite average intelligence. Of deformities: one old woman (the island midwife) has two thumbs on each hand, but is otherwise normal. One man, a particularly noticeable case, has stunted arms, with ill-developed hands and absence of some fingers. Otherwise, he is strong, level-headed and intelligent, works as a shepherd, and in his duties roams far and wide over the hills. There are no other signs of mental or physical degeneration. The man with the stunted arms is able to do wonderful things, can carry small packages, hold a cigarette, feed himself, and, most extraordinary of all in this community of illiterates, can write. He was taught by a former missionary to the island, Mr. Dodgson (brother of Lewis Carroll, author of “Alice in Wonderland”). It is surely a triumph of patient teaching. In carrying it out, the paper is placed on the floor and the man lies down. Though the writing is large and scrawly, it is legible.

I devoted as much time as possible to conversation with different people, trying to learn what I could of their manners and customs.

In religion they are mostly Protestant, but there are some who were baptized as Roman Catholics at Cape Town. There is, however, no distinction made between the religions, and they intermarry. There have been several Protestant missionaries on the island at one time and another, but never a Roman Catholic priest. Young men and women wishing to marry select their own mates by mutual agreement and are uninfluenced by their parents. The marriage service is conducted (in the absence of a missionary) by Bob Glass, who reads it from the Prayer Book. There is generally no fuss and no sort of function, but occasionally they have a dance afterwards in one of the houses. All the women go to hear the marriage service read, and such of the men as are about and have nothing better to do. I noticed in talking of weddings that the women spoke with an absence of enthusiasm and showed none of the interest that such a subject would arouse amongst civilized feminism.

Tristan Women Twisting Wool | Photo: Dr. Macklin
The Tristan Method Of Carding Wool | Photo: Wilkins
Henry Green’S Cottage, Tristan Da Cunha | The Union Jack Was Presented By The British Government To The Islanders For Bravery In Saving Lives From Shipwreck | Photo: Dr. Macklin
The Oldest Inhabitant Of Tristan Da Cunha, Miss Betty Cotton (Aged 95 Years) | Photo: Wilkins

Frequently it happens that a couple do not become married until after a child has been born; often a considerable period elapses. They are not, however, “marriages of necessity.” A young man in Tristan da Cunha is very peculiarly placed. There are no jobs or trades or form of employment in the ordinary sense. There is no currency. If any individual wants help, his neighbours give him a hand, during which time he is expected to feed them. A young man, therefore, can acquire nothing except as a gift from his parents. In many ways it may not suit his parents to allow him to marry, for it means, first of all, another family on the island drawing a full share of common goods. It means also the loss of an adult worker. Again, they may not be in a position to spare him anything in the way of household goods, and, if he has not already built a house, it means a wife and any family he may have quartered upon them. So the young couple use compulsion, for with the advent of the child the parents think it is time to make a move, and present the pair with a cow, a sheep or two, and a few household necessities to enable them to make a start. Until the formal marriage takes place, the child takes its mother’s name, and so it occasionally happens that a bewildered tot of three or four years of age suddenly finds one day that, instead of being Tommy Green, its name has become Tommy Swaine, or vice versa, as the case may be.

Promiscuity is not common and morals, on the whole, appear to be remarkably good, though to the casual observer the reverse might seem to be the case. The remarks in “Sailing Directions” seem to me to cast an unfair stigma upon the islanders.

In some ways they are very casual. Appointments are rarely kept punctually, and they are apt to put things off for another day.

In the hours of rising and going to bed they are governed by the sun. The only form of artificial illumination known to them is candle-light, and frequently they have no candles. They have, as a rule, three meals a day, which they take at times convenient on any one day. The men seek to avoid going out to work in wet weather, but at times—for instance, in the potato season—they fare forth before dawn so as to be ready for work the moment daylight appears, and do not return till dusk. On these occasions it is the duty of the womenfolk to take them out their meals.

There is an island custom that when the men have been engaged on an arduous piece of work at some distant part of the island or have had a heavy day in the boats, the women come out to meet them on their return with something hot to drink. Indeed, the women are by no means idle, for they have all the inside housework, cleaning, cooking, mending, sewing and washing of clothes, to do. They card the fleece from the sheep into wool and twist it into strands, using for the purpose old-fashioned wheels which are manufactured with much ingenuity from all sorts of odds and ends of wood and metal. They knit excellent socks of pure wool, which are soft and comfortable to wear. Usually, also, they take charge of the geese and poultry, and, of course, have the children to look after. They frequent each other’s houses a good deal, but there are one or two who keep to themselves and do not encourage visiting.

Sanitation is very much neglected. Closets do not exist, and the present clergyman had the greatest difficulty in getting one built for his own house. Animals are slaughtered in close proximity to the houses, and no proper steps taken for the removal of entrails and offal, which are left for the dogs to eat. Nothing is done to protect the water supply, which is derived from open streams that have been diverted to pass close to the houses, and the water becomes fouled before it reaches the lower parts of the settlement. Nevertheless, the settlement compares favourably in this respect with many of the remote villages in European countries.

The people are very free from sickness of any kind, which is probably due to their simple mode of life and the absence of any epidemic diseases. They escaped the widespread epidemic of influenza. It is likely that any infectious disease introduced would run rapidly through the whole community. They say that almost invariably when a ship has visited the island “colds” run the round of the settlement.

Maternity cases are dealt with by an old midwife, who adopts the wise policy of leaving things very much to Nature.

This strange little community is run without any laid-down system of government. There are no written laws. In the early days of the settlement Corporal Glass, Pieter Green and William Rogers in turn ruled in patriarchal fashion, all disputes being referred to them for settlement.

By a process of evolution certain customs and unwritten laws have come into use and are, perhaps, more rigidly adhered to than any definite written rulings. Crime does not seem to exist. In the history of the island there has been one case of suicide. Petty thieving is said to occur occasionally, but in so small a community, where everyone knows everybody else so well and their goings and comings, any stolen article would be quickly recognized, so that their honesty in this way may be enforced through certainty of detection. Sheep are occasionally missed, and it is thought that theft may account for some of them, the depredations being carried out at night and the animal immediately skinned and cut up so that it is unrecognizable in the morning. There is no policeman, no jail, and no system of punishment for offenders. It seemed to me that they lived very harmoniously together, with much give and take and very little quarrelling.

It is curious that the minds of visitors to this settlement have been mainly struck in two very different ways. To the first class this island community seems to have approached the ideal. The French captain, Raymond du Baty, who visited the island in 1907, says:

The social status of Tristan da Cunha is a commonwealth of a kind which has been dreamed of by philosophers of all ages and by our modern Socialists. There is no envy, hatred or malice among them; everything is done for the common good; they render each other brotherly service; they are free from all the vices of civilization; they worship God in a simple way; they live very close to Nature, but without pantheistic superstition; greed and usury are unknown among them; there are no class distinctions, no rich or poor. Truly on this lonely rock in the South Atlantic we have a people who belong rather to the Pastoral Age of the world than to our modern unrestful life, and who, without theory or politics or written laws, have reached that state which has been described by the imaginative writers of all ages, haunted by the thought of the decadent morality of the seething cities, as the Golden Age or the Millennium.

I have often wondered as to what place the fleas, the rats, the offal outside the window and the fouled water supply take in the Golden Age.

The second class of people are struck at once by the extreme poverty, the squalor and lack of comforts, the illiteracy and ignorance and the extreme isolation. The captain of a steamer who had once called to drop mails said to us:

They are a greedy lot of beggars and thieves. When they come aboard they ask you for everything they see, and if you do not give them what they want they will try and pinch it. When it comes to a matter of a bargain, they give you diseased sheep and bad potatoes, though they have good enough stuff ashore.

The question which arises to the mind of everyone is: What is to become of these people, with a rapidly increasing population and a decreasing touch with outside civilization owing to lack of shipping? The pasturage on the island will support only a limited number of live stock, which soon will be insufficient for the increasing number of mouths.

I inquired of many of them, especially the younger ones, as to whether they would leave the island and settle elsewhere if they had the opportunity. The reply in most cases was: Yes, provided they were given a chance to make a decent living. They realize, however, that without money and knowledge of its use and value, without experience of outside ways of working and living, without education and unable even to read or to write, they are likely to be at a disadvantage in a hard, workaday world.

Robert Glass and some of the others who have spent some time away from the island fully realize that there is a day of reckoning to come, and they feel that, were it possible, it would be a good thing for the young men when they have reached a certain age to go away and work for a while at Cape Town or elsewhere. They could then decide whether they would return to the island or not, and, if they did, it is likely that they would bring back wives from the outside, thus periodically introducing new blood to the community. Glass himself says he would like his boys to serve a period in the army or navy, where they would have a more or less sheltered life and to a certain extent be cared for and looked after.

It is not likely that any offer of a wholesale transference of the community to another part of the world would be accepted when it came to the point—at any rate, by the elder people. After all, this is natural enough, for how many people in England, told that the population was getting too big for the country, would consent at a day’s notice to make a sudden shift to Canada or Australia?

View Of Gough Island From The Glen Anchorage | Photo: Dr. Macklin
The Apostle: An Acid Intrusive Near The Summit Of Gough Island | Photo: Macklin
The Little Glen Where The New Sophora Was Discovered | Photo: Macklin

Nevertheless, I gathered from conversation with many of the young men that there is deep down a seed of unrest and a desire to see something of the outer world, where there are so many more opportunities to get on and acquire greater wealth, including such things as wrist-watches, electric torches, and boots of real leather. For this Robert Glass is largely responsible. The seed, however, requires cultivation. A missionary, by throwing himself into the interests of the islanders and becoming to some degree one of themselves, might effect considerable good by holding out continually in his daily talk and conversation prospects and mind pictures of a greater world where opportunities wait for the young men who can grasp them. Equally good results might be effected by influencing the women in the same way. A missionary, however, to obtain a good influence on these people must be a man of broad mind and sound common sense. One previous missionary, for example, undid much good work by an attempt to stop them going out to passing ships on a Sunday, a maxim which they must necessarily reject when the chances of trade on any day at all are so few and the taking of them so vital a matter to the whole community. Mr. Rogers, the present missionary, who replied very frankly when I asked him his views on the subject, agreed that much harm might be done by holding too narrow a view and trying to force a bigoted religion on these people. He has an uphill fight in front of him, for he has to undo a feeling that the observance of a religion is a bugbear which entails a number of things that may not be done.

Unfortunately, the chances of leaving the island, even if an individual has made up his mind to make the venture, have now become very scarce. There is no regular communication, and consequently arrangements for a job cannot be made beforehand, and as there is no money on the island those who do find a passage cannot maintain themselves until work is found.

It so happens, however, that there are people in Cape Town who take an interest in Tristan da Cunha and who would be willing to give temporary help.

It is hardly likely that the Government will ever again do anything for the relief of these people, though all that is required is a small vessel to make the journey once a year from Cape Town.[15] It should be prepared to spend at least a week at Tristan da Cunha. Unfortunately, there is no good shelter, and on many days a landing could not be effected. Bad weather might compel the ship at any moment to leave her anchorage, and so she should have some power other than sail.

The best time of year to make the trip is January, when bad weather would least likely be met with. A vessel of a hundred tons burden would be adequate.

This is but a tiny portion of our Empire, but who knows, with the development of flying machines, of what use it may not ultimately become. Carr, our flying officer, late of the Royal Air Force, says there is a good site for an aerodrome, and the island is on the direct route from Cape Town to Buenos Aires.

The Church organization also could do a vast amount of good by arranging for a permanent mission changeable, say, every three years, and thus ensure an unbroken education to those growing up. Much money is collected yearly for missions—for instance, to the Esquimaux—but there is evidence from the Arctic to show that the introduction of Christianity to these primitive people, who are not sufficiently evolved to receive it intelligently, has not always been productive of good, and in some cases has done much harm, whereas the value to Tristan da Cunha of a good sound practical religion combined with good schooling cannot be doubted.

Top of Page | Next Chapter