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Part I (g)
This webpage reproduces part of
Tristan da Cunha

by Douglas M. Gane

published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd,
London,
1932

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Part III

 p84  Part II
The Island's Place in the Empire and the Question of Evacuation

It is impossible to regard a community fostering such stalwart and invincible spirits as those of Tristan da Cunha with anything but interest and admiration. Several attempts have been made to break up the Settlement, but the islanders have resisted all persuasions. The Rev. W. F. Taylor, on the cessation of his mission in 1857, brought away forty-five of them — about half the population of the time — and they settled at Mossel Bay and Riversdale under the Cape Administration. In 1885, when the boat disaster occurred and nearly all the adult male inhabitants were drowned, a fresh effort was made to bring about an evacuation of the island. The Rev. E. H. Dodgson was the missionary on service there up to the time immediately preceding the disaster, and he returned in consequence of it, and remained a further three years; but when he left finally he was accompanied by no more than ten of the inhabitants. The disinclination of the people to leave manifested itself, and the Government, being convinced of the sincerity of it, had, at the instance of Admiral Hunt‑Grubbe, who was in command of the Cape station at the  p85 time, organized the yearly visit of a warship, which was rigidly maintained until the outbreak of the Boer War.

On the occasion of the visit of H. M. S. Odin, in February 1904, persuasions were renewed. The commander was accompanied by Mr. Hammond Tooke, the Under-Secretary for Agriculture at the Cape, and he landed and called the heads of the families together and presented to them, as a specific offer of the Cape Government, the proposal of a free passage to South Africa, the purchase of their live-stock, and a re‑settling of them on the coast within one hundred miles of Cape Town, with two acres each in rent, and money on loan for their beginning. They were given twenty-four hours to consider the matter, and when Mr. Tooke met them on the following day only three families out of eleven elected to go, and so the offer was withdrawn. These overtures had been anticipated the previous year, when Lieutenant Watts‑Jones visited the island on the Thrush. Apparently he found the islanders in a state of irresolution when the question of removal was presented to them, and this induced Rear-Admiral Moore to urge on the authorities, as he afterwards did, that a decision on the question should be reached and communicated to the inhabitants as soon as possible, and the unavailing visit of Mr. Hammond Tooke the following year, to which reference has been made, was the outcome.  p86 It is of importance to note that Mr. Watts‑Jones did not fail to appreciate the reasons that alone caused some of the people to weaken in their resolve to remain, for his report he said that their views on the subject of leaving would probably be considerably modified if they heard that a clergyman was coming to teach their children. How well founded this appreciation of the question of education was as being at the root of the people's indecision is shown by their attitude when the Rev. Mr. Barrow had arrived, the Government's final persuasions were brought to bear through him.

This last attempt to bring about the removal of the people was made in 1907. Reports have come that the produce of the islanders had failed and they were in distress, and Mr. R. B. Balfour, of Drogheda, spoke on their behalf. In response to his appeal the Government chartered a schooner, and sent it across with emergency supplies. The ship carried a letter from the Colonial Office to Mr. Barrow dealing with the question of evacuation and inviting him to take the sense of the people on the subject and report. The vessel arrived at the end of April, and Mr. Barrow called a meeting of the islanders over the age of fifteen, and read the official letter, explaining it to them. The islanders were unanimous in rejecting the offer. Mr. Barrow, in his reply to the Colonial Office, says that old, middle-aged, and young were  p87 of one mind in replying that they did not want to go, some declaring that they would rather starve there than at the Cape, and they would only go under compulsion. The decision thus communicated to the Government was loyally accepted. Lord Elgin, in his note to the Treasury, says that there was no adequate ground for bringing any further pressure to bear, and the Treasury concurred in this view.

The subject, in terms of removal of the community in its entirety, has not been raised again officially until the recent visit of the new Bishop of St. Helena in H. M. S. Carlisle. On that occasion the islanders were called together and their views sought, and in the result the Bishop reports as follows: —

(1) Wholesale evacuation of the islanders is quite unnecessary and would be cruel. There is no starvation in sight, and as a rule the people are well fed. During the winter, times are hard, but real starvation does not exist.

(2) The people are hardy and show little sign (if any) of degeneration.

(3) The islanders as a whole are unanimous in their desire to remain on the island. And I am of opinion that their view is the right one. They are better off there than they would be anywhere else.

(4) If possible some of the younger ones should be taken away, although at the present time the cultivatable land is enough for the needs of the people, in some ten years it will be insufficient.

 p88  These opinions are, however, subject to the following considerations: —

(1) Oars, canvas, paint, clothing, flour, soap, and other necessaries to the amount of £150 per annum must be supplied from outside sources to the islanders. They cannot obtain them themselves and they are necessary for life.

(2) It is absolutely essential to the well-being of the islanders that a strong, sympathetic, and capable missionary be permanently resident on the island. This missionary should be provided with a written authority from the Imperial Government appointing him as Magistrate of the island. Previous missionaries have stressed this point as it would give him authority and obviate possible disputes.

(3) It is absolutely essential to the well-being of both the missionary and of the islanders that a ship visit the island at regular intervals. This would greatly relieve the present great strain, especially if the dates of arrival were regular and known beforehand.

From every standpoint it is undesirable that undue persuasion, much less coercion, should be resorted to, and the considerations advanced when the Cape Argus urged removal following the visit of H. M. S. Dublin in 1923 may be cited in this connection.

(1) Unlike other British settlements, the Settlement of Tristan da Cunha was founded with the express sanction of the Government, and the people have since made it their home, and their ancestors are buried there.

(2) Ministers of the Crown can never willingly introduce the principle of coercion into colonial administration, even  p89 by so thin an end of the wedge as this. Two or three precedents of the kind, and we might have had the authorities compelling Ulster to enter the Irish Free State.

(3) The emigration of peoples has always been attended by sorrow and suffering, and the islanders are conscious of this. As they say, they would sooner starve on Tristan than at the Cape.1

(4) The evacuation would be ineffective, for the island would soon attract other settlers. Mr. Hammond Tooke, in his report of 1904, took the view that it could never remain long unoccupied.

In any case, the wishes of the people should prevail, and, whether all or few decided to leave, their removal should proceed under generous conditions, with provision for their interests being watched until they are established in their new surroundings. It is hoped that the same interest might be shown in Tristan da Cunha by the Government in association with South Africa as in earlier days was shown in Pitcairn by the Government in association with New South Wales.

The attachment of the people to the island is a matter of great significance. The future of the children is seen to be at stake, for many of them expect to go out into the world later, and if they are  p90 not taught to read and write their prospects are impaired. Up to the middle of last century no clergyman had served on the island, and William Glass was at such pains to get his children educated that he sent the two firstborn some twenty thousand miles in all — first to England and abstracts to the Cape — to secure the means of education. Since 1850 and up to the time of the mission of the Rev. H. M. Rogers three clergymen have served there, their service covering a period of about seventeen years in all, and all receiving appointment under the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel The Rev. W. F. Taylor arrived in 1851, and left in 1856. The Rev. E. H. Dodgson, as stated, made two visits, the first in 1880, when he stayed four years, and the second in 1886, when he stayed three. The Rev. J. G. Barrow began his mission in 1906, and he remained in company with his wife until April 1909.

The Rev. Henry Martyn Rogers, with his wife, volunteered for service early in 1921, but owing to want of the means of passage did not reach the island until the 1st of April, 1922, and they remained there three years, returning in the spring of 1925. Mr. Rogers had expressed his willingness to return, but following his death a year later, the Rev. R. A. C. Pooley was appointed as his successor, and he reached the island early in 1927 in company with an assistant, Mr. Philip Lindsay,  p91 and he stayed there two years, Mr. Lindsay remaining for a third, and he was succeeded by the Rev. A. G. Partridge, the present missionary. Three Bishops have visited the island: first Bishop Gray of Cape Town, who went in H. M. S. Frolic in 1856; then Bishop Holbech, who went in 1923 in H. M. S. Dublin; and now the new Bishop of St. Helena, the Right Reverend C. C. Watts, who visited the island in H. M. S. Carlisle this year.

The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel is the friend of the islanders of longest standing, and, if only its efforts be no longer frustrated through want of the means of passage for its clergy when appointments are made, the island will not again be left destitute in so great a matter as the means to educate its children.

At the same time the long intervals between the visits of the missionaries in earlier days have been filled by the people to the best of their ability, and it is pathetic to note their efforts to carry on the good work of the missionaries after they have gone. The memory of Mary Riley, whose work was done in the early days of the Settlement, is cherished on account of her ability as a teacher, and it was said of her that many of the rising generation of Tristan would owe much of whatever true happiness and prosperity they might enjoy in after life to those first lessons implanted in them by this good woman. Mary Riley was the daughter of a Deptford fisherman, one of  p92 the five unmarried men whose wives came from St. Helena, and she could read very well. She afterwards married James Glass, one of the sons of the founder, and left the island. And even so recently as 1921 the chaplain of the cruiser which touched at the island the year before, stated in the Graphic that the women deserved admiration for their energy, pluck, and skill, for as there was no school-teacher, the mothers themselves taught the children what little they knew, and two of the women gallantly strove to run a Sunday-school.

To meet the want of the means of education, the late Mr. Chamberlain, while Colonial Secretary, endeavoured to create facilities in Cape Colony, but without success. There was not the money on the island to pay for the cost. When, on a later occasion, the Government offered to send a schoolmaster if the inhabitants would contribute £75 a year towards his salary, Mr. Repetto, who had become the spokesman of the community since the death of Peter Green, wrote to say the such a payment was impossible, as only five shillings had come into the island during the whole of that year.

With the larger schemes of settlement postponed there yet remained the idea of the removal meanwhile of islanders individually whenever there was a disposition on the part of any to leave. The idea came through Captain Griffiths, who, when in command of the Canadian Pacific Railway liner  p93 the Empress of France, visited the island in February 1928. He had been asked by several of the young islanders to give them passage to the Cape, and he had reluctantly been compelled to refuse. Since then he had been transferred to the same company's new liner the Duchess of Atholl, and on the eve of his departure for a similar cruise he wrote to me offering to give two or three of the young islanders passage to the Cape if he was first assured of the authorities' permission to land them there.

The situation had been to some extent dealt with in anticipation of an officer of the kind and the difficulties had quickly declared themselves. Advice had come from Mr. Percy Snell, of Cape Town, that this question of migration should wait improved communications, with the warning that there was no organization there to deal with the matter, and the Colonial Office said that Mr. Amery was not satisfied that the circumstances were as yet such as to justify him in taking any steps to further the scheme.

When Captain Griffiths' offer came, therefore, the position quickly resolved itself, for it was found that the question of admission of the islanders no longer turned on the humanitarian considerations which had governed the earlier schemes of removal, but was faced by the hard facts of the immigration regulations. The Colonial Office wrote that, while  p94 Mr. Amery was fully alive to the desirability of enabling a certain number of Tristanians to employing to the Cape, it was not as yet apparent that any means existed of satisfying the immigration regulations in force in the Union of South Africa, and attention was drawn to the stipulations contained in a notice relating to immigration into South Africa, which read as follows: —

Documentary proof must in every case be produced at the port of entry in the Union of South Africa that satisfactory employment is assured, or that the immigrant is in possession of capital sufficient to maintain himself and dependants if any, for at least twelve months after arrival, or that he is proceeding to relatives or friends able and willing to maintain him.

Had it been a question of goodwill only, difficulty would not have arisen, for goodwill on the part of South Africa towards Tristan has been manifested throughout. It was something more than that. It was a question of fitting the islanders for life in South Africa before they embarked on it. The working classes there are the native population, and settlers who come in competition with them tend to become what is known as "poor whites," and no exception to this is found in the farming and fishing industries, for with the young men of Tristan are most fitted.

It is probable that the migration movement at the island is best begun on an individual basis, and  p95 the ideal method might be reached in a scheme of education on the mainland, as a variation of the one which the late Joseph Chamberlain sought to arrange. On much the same lines as the young at home, following current developments in the colonial system, are now being prepared for life in Canada and Australia, the young of Tristan might be prepared for life in South Africa, and in this way they might maintain rank in the white population there, whatever their occupations might subsequently be.

With this conviction, a petition was prepared in August 1929 for presentation to the Colonial Office, and through that Office to the Treasury and the Union Government of South Africa. It was prepared by the Tristan da Cunha Fund and presented with the support of the Royal Geographical Society, the Royal Empire Society, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and the Boy Scouts' Association. The Petition sought financial support from the Home Government and administrative help on the part of the Union Government of South Africa, and this for an experimental scheme under which a few island youths desirous of fresh scope for their endeavours could be accepted for training on the mainland with a view to their residence and livelihood there.

On its presentation, the petition was referred to the Oversea Settlement Department for examination  p96 and advice, with the result that a decision was come to that, before any idea of official support could be entertained, a Welfare Committee must be formed in South Africa for the superintendence of the scheme. Representations were then promptly made in this direction, but developments have been slow in coming. Now, however, there seems to have occurred a general awakenment. With the appointment of a new Bishop of St. Helena, in whose diocese Tristan da Cunha lay, the visit to the island of a warship, so long looked for, was decided upon, and the cruiser H. M. S. Carlisle, stationed at Simons Town, was chosen for the work. A Tristan Welfare Committee was formed in Cape Town under the patronage of Sir Herbert Stanley, H. M. High Commissioner, with Bishop Lavis, Admiral Tweedie, and Mr. W. E. Ranby as its initial members, and with Mr. Percy Snell, of the Education Department, as its Hon. Secretary, this Committee being destined to co‑operate with the Tristan da Cunha Fund. The opportunity was then taken of the warship's visit for the Bishop to make the acquaintance of this part of his ocean diocese, and for Mr. Snell to learn the conditions on the island first hand and so pursue his work on its behalf accordingly. Both were included in the passenger list, and Surgeon-Commander Bee travelled as the representative of His Majesty's Government and made the question of migration his special business.

 p97  In general terms it would appear from the warship's visit that the islanders as a community are firm in their determination not to leave the island, come what may, and, as the Bishop said, he and those with him were agreed that it would be a cruel thing to think of removing them; that they were happy, and the conditions on the island better for them than elsewhere. If there were any distinction in the islanders' preferences, it lay in the difference in choice between the young and the elder, and the apparent recognition of this in the Committee's expected treatment of the subject seems likely, more than anything else, to contribute to the success of its work. Surgeon-Commander Bee dealt with the subject on these lines when he addressed the people at the meeting called during the warship's visit. He said that the islanders, and especially the young men, would have to look for fresh fields in other parts of the world because it was inevitable that, with the population increasing and the supplies of food and stores from the outside world becoming less, the position of the island would eventually become serious. And he then went on to say that he was prepared to accept the names of those persons willing to leave the island and to forward them to the proper quarters when arrangements would be made to take them away and provision made for their future elsewhere in the world.

 p98  Though the general response to this appeal was one of refusal to leave, and a young man who was individually addressed replied in these terms, "All I can say is I stay here," this does not necessarily mean that, however sure the elder members of the Settlement may be, the younger may not be amenable on second thoughts when the experiences of some of them on the mainland have worked their effect. On that account the Welfare Committee may well have a fruitful work ahead of it, for the question of over-population is an urgent one.

The formation of a Tristan Welfare Committee at Cape Town under the solid conditions that the names of its members suggest denotes a giant stride in the attainment of the island's future. On the question of the supervision of its interests in their more vital aspects, the movement which developed after the war whereby some of the ruined towns of France and Flanders became the subject of adoption by particular British cities, seems relevant. It might be thought that so excellent a practice might be turned to account within the Empire, and that Tristan da Cunha (wanting actual admission to the Colonial system with its accompanying benefits) might be allowed to mark its initiation. Seeing that the founder of the Settlement was a Scotsman, and he and his sixteen children, or the greater number of them, remained on the island to establish the Scottish leaven and render Scottish  p99 ways permanent there, the formation of ties was suggested between the City of Edinburgh and its humblest and poorest namesake in the Empire, Edinburgh, the Settlement of Tristan da Cunha.2

In view, however, of the formation of the new Welfare Committee and seeing that its work may well reside in the development of intercourse with the island and the reception of its surplus numbers, relations such as the above might now be established between the island and South Africa; and that they should prove practicable is shown by the fact that while Tristan da Cunha has come to regard the Cape as its Mother Country and ties of sentiment already exist, there is no disposition on the part of the Home Government to shirk the financial outlay which the Welfare schemes might entail, or a substantial part of it, provided they proceed on satisfactory lines. And the task should not be too formidable a one, for as Mrs. Rose Rogers said in her letter on the subject of the removal of the inhabitants from St. Kilda3 — and she spoke with some knowledge after her three years' residence on Tristan — it was remarkable how readily a community of the kind responds to a little help. Within the few years, she said, since it was stated in The Times that there  p100 had been no regular mail to Tristan da Cunha from home for ten years, regular communication had been set up with an annual mail, emergency stores were furnished, a church and school-house had been built, a missionary was in continual residence, and a Boy Scout company had been formed. And, I might add, the cemetery had been enlarged and walled in and the ground cleared; ten new houses had been built, and every family had obtained a home; and Mr. Rogers, while he was there, had cultivated a benevolent and diplomatic study of administration as an adjunct to his spiritual and educational duties, and education had been organized as far as it was possible. Yet Tristan da Cunha is the most inaccessible place in the British Empire.

In the face of their many deprivations, what is the key to the people's resolve to remain on the island? It cannot be attributed to the amenities of the place. The natural conditions are forbidding. From descriptions given, there is something terrific in the appearance of the island as the shore is approached. The turmoil of the surf along the beach exceeds anything that could be imagined, and the noise is almost deafening. The rocks and the beach are composed of black lava, and, opposed to the snowy whiteness of the foam, they produce a contrast of colour that is particularly awesome, grand though it be. Most of the landscape is of  p101 the same dismal hue, and it gives a melancholy aspect to all the scenery. The roar of the sea is tremendous, and the wind rushes furiously down the perpendicular sides of the mountains with an almost supernatural effect. Moreover, as a place of habitation, Tristan da Cunha has deteriorated since its occupation if the people have not. Though the soil was never very suitable for corn,º the rats, which came with a wreck in 1882, have rendered it impossible to grow it, and an insect has destroyed the more serviceable vegetation. The gradual exhaustion of the timber has become a hardship. Already Tristan appears denuded of its trees, for in the neighbourhood of the Settlement the land has been cleared and the people now depend on brushwood — a sort of buckthorn4 which is good wood to burn, for it will burn in a green state, but they have to make long journeys up the mountain slopes to get it, and this is one of the chief trials of their life to‑day.

Yet in the face of all the increasing hardships, privations, and neglect incident to life on the island, the people's resolve to stay only tends to harden. What is the higher consideration that moves them, though they may be unaware of it? It would be impossible to find the explanation of such fixity of  p102 purpose in any purely material grounds. Sunk in isolation as Tristan da Cunha is, it may be hard to carry conviction with regard to its imperial value and whether it is worth retaining on imperial grounds. But at the same time it is difficult to resist the belief that some great purpose lies concealed in its preservation. The British Empire is a growth, and as a growth it throws out supports to establish its strength, and until these supports are brought into requisition no one is competent to say the part that each is destined to play in the maintenance of the structure as a whole. When Singapore, now the "Liverpool of the East," was acquired there was no appreciation on the part of the authorities of its prospective value, and its retention was decided on only after a conflict of views. Tangier became a British possession as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza, but so little value was set on it that it was given up merely on the pretext of its climate and the cost of its maintenance. And the abandonment even of Gibraltar itself was decided on, for in 1757 Pitt offered it to Spain as the price of an alliance against France.

We have only to add to these historical instances the modern case of the cession of Heligoland, with results which the late war has exposed, to see that the judgments of statesmen are no match for the instinct of the race, and it may well be that, in the occupation of this remote South Atlantic island is  p103 hidden some high imperial end that is not revealed even to those to whose sacrifice its retention is due. In tracing the origin of the British Empire, we are struck by the absence of conscious designs on the part of the builders, and we are driven to recognize that, in its construction, our ancestors were but blind instruments in the perfecting of plans which had no human inception. Positions which now form the key to its strength were acquired for reasons that have no reference to the purposes they have since come to serve, and in nothing can the hand of Providence be more clearly discerned than in the acquisition of them.

But abandonment may not be deliberate as in the cases referred to. It may come about by implication owing to want of occupation, and the instance of this which more especially bears on the case of Tristan da Cunha is that of Bouvet Island, also in the South Seas. It was latterly occupied by Norwegian whalers, and the assertion of ownership by the Norwegian Government which followed in consequence raised an international issue. For Great Britain had a prior claim by virtue of the occupation by Captain Norris as far back as 1825.

The learned author of Hall's International Law appeared to take the view as a governing principle that ownership in such circumstances was lost by definite abandonment, but in the case of mere cessation of occupation, an intention to return would  p104 be presumed for a reasonable time, and in consequence the Foreign Office took the standpoint that the British title was a valid one even though the British ownership was unaccompanied by acts of ownership over so long a period.

The rights of Great Britain, if evacuation of Tristan da Cunha were effected, have been the subject of informal consideration, and it is interesting to refer to them in this connection, and more especially in view of the fact that the British claim to Bouvet Island was not maintained and Norwegian ownership was in the end acknowledged. The subject is dealt with by Mr. Hammond Tooke, at the time the Under-Secretary of State for Agriculture in the South African Government, whose report on the occasion of his visit to Tristan da Cunha in 1904 has already been referred to. He said that without going into the question as to whether total abandonment and depopulation would be practicable or could be kept up for any length of time, he ventured to say that, if Tristan da Cunha were left deserted, it would soon be occupied by the subjects of some other foreign Power who would raise international questions of some complexity. It would be idle, he imagined, to argue that the island still belonged to the Crown. If there was no beneficial occupation, and no one to keep the flag flying, a paper annexation would be a very poor argument to wave in the face of any community who might settle  p105 there, either by choice or from shipwreck (for there is no reason to suppose that the age of shipwrecks, like that of miracles, has ceased), and who might claim the protection of their flag. And seeing the advantages, Mr. Tooke adds, which would accrue to the Power appealed to of obtaining such a station, the issue might override any academic maxim of international law or afford a casus belli. The United States, I might add, are fully conscious of the Island of Tristan da Cunha, and if they cannot be said to have their "eye upon it," they have looked to it to serve them on two occasions in the past, and if the question involved our relations with them it might easily prove the sort to arouse national anger.

As touching the imperial aspects of Tristan da Cunha, there is one misconception that should be removed at the outset. Tradition has it that it was taken possession of by the British in consequence of the presence of Napoleon on St. Helena. The order of events lends support to this view, for the decision to annex Tristan was made on the 10th of September, 1815, and Napoleon reached St. Helena a month later. But Tenterden steeple is not necessarily the cause of the Goodwin Sands, and Napoleon's detention at St. Helena was not the motive for the annexation of Tristan. It was only the explanation of the British sending a company of artillery there after the decision to make the island ours was already reached.a

 p106  The causes that brought this about are matter of record, and have no connection whatever with Napoleon. They are the outcome of the strategical lessons taught by the American war of 1812 to 1815, and they are stated explicitly in the communications of Lord Charles Somerset, who dealt with the matter. After pointing out that the coasts of Cape Colony were much infested during the war by the enemy's cruisers which captured homeward-bound ships, and that they could not have kept the seas had they not had Tristan as a rendezvous and place of refreshment, he recommended the annexation of it and of the neighbouring islands, and he did this because he considered it to be extremely important to British interests that they should not be occupied by any other Power.

The construction of the Suez Canal and the uninterrupted use of it for nearly seventy years has diverted attention from our chief means of communication with the East, and that is by the open seas of the Atlantic that served us for so long. I do not know if there is anyone daring enough to prophesy that the route by the Canal will be maintained indefinitely; and it must not be forgotten that, in the event of interruption, there is more at stake now than when Tristan da Cunha was annexed. In 1816 we had been in occupation of Cape Colony only ten years, Australia and New Zealand were still only spheres of exploration  p107 and the period of settlement was not yet reached, and India was the province of the East India Company only, and not the proud imperial possession it now is. Lord Charles Somerset may have been mistaken in attributing importance to Tristan in the defences of these communications, but he was governor of Cape Colony at the time, and spoke with knowledge of the subject drawn from immediate contact with it. And it is not to be supposed that an island situated as this one is in relation to South Africa would be less serviceable in the hands of an enemy in these days than one hundred years ago. With the advent of steam, wireless telegraphy, and aircraft, it is likely to prove more rather than less serviceable, and the departmental view that formerly obtained that "the expense attendant on the chartering of a vessel for occasional visits to the islanders is out of all proportion to the object to be attained by their presence there," is intelligible only on the assumption that depopulation does not necessarily imply political abandonment.

The place that Tristan da Cunha holds in the Empire having already been the subject of official determination by those competent to judge, and the decision reached in 1815 having been arrived at when the data constituting the evidence were fresh in the minds of those who had to weigh them, this decision should receive the attention that is its due. It is not that the evidence sustaining it has  p108 since become irrelevant. It is only that evidence relevant to our sea passage by the Cape has no present interest, since, from long usage, attention has become centred on questions touching our passage by the Canal. If ever we are again rendered dependent for communications on the Atlantic route, the importance of St. Helena, Ascension and even Tristan da Cunha will seize the mind afresh. The Cape itself may be the real key to our communications with the East, but, without those Atlantic outposts, the Cape is as a ship's mast deprived of its stays. Politically, for the time being these outposts slumber, but they are none the less vital parts of the Empire, and it seems unfortunate that so little consciousness of this is shown. It is not as if the burden of preserving them were a heavy one, for in the case of Tristan little is expected. The most that is asked from official quarters is the periodical visit of a man-of‑war, and, if the people regard this as a right, as they appear to do, a truer imperial instinct may animate them than is yet perceived.

The opinion has been expressed that the cause of Tristan da Cunha is the cause of the smaller British Communities. However this may be, certain it is that the work of relief that has been pursued on its behalf has made manifest the fact that the British people are heart and soul in their desire for the welfare of their possessions overseas; and though  p109 they seek to foster the independence that characterizes all of them and to study the preferences of each, yet when necessity arises they are resolved that the wants of even the smallest and least important shall not pass unheeded. Interest in the lonely island has become widespread among us, and as in the case of the Royal Family it was the interest of the Queen that first manifested itself, it is remarkable how largely appeals have been answered by women, and with what sense of conviction of the deserts of the cause their help has come! May it not be that the Mother Country, moved by its maternal instincts, is thus expressing itself on behalf of its lesser offspring, and that the Colonial system after all is nothing more nor less than the operation of family relations in the Empire working along established channels, but none the less answering to the stimulus which these instincts generate? If the unconventional case of Tristan da Cunha has done nothing more, it has recalled in all its rudiments this essential fact, and the reminder of it should serve as a note of encouragement to our smaller communities elsewhere.


The Author's Notes:

1 In this connection it is satisfactory to note that Surgeon-Commander Rickard is no advocate of removal. In his Report, on the occasion of his visit in H. M. S. Dublin in 1925, he says: "As regards the community and settling them in more civilized and less remote parts and what effect it will have upon them, the history of most moves of the kind shows that they nearly always lead to disaster for the individuals concerned." The Commander might have cited Pitcairn as a case in point, for the inhabitants of that island were twice removed, first to Tahiti, where they were so unhappy that they had to be taken back, and afterwards to Norfolk Island, with better results, but from which many soon returned.

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2 The tie is recalled in the title to an article that has just appeared in the Weekly Scotsman (July 30, 1932). It is written by Captain D. Cameron-Swan, who recently visited the island as a passenger in H. M. S. Carlisle, and it is called Tristan da Cunha: Edinburgh in the Southern Seas.

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3 The Times of August 29, 1930.

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4 Locally known as the Island Tree (Phylica nitida). It is found only on the Tristan Group, on Gough Island, and on Amsterdam Island, three thousand miles away.


Thayer's Note:

a More than tradition, actually: see Macartney and Dorrance, The Bonapartes in America, p259 f.


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