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This webpage reproduces part of
Tristan da Cunha

by Douglas M. Gane

published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd,

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 I (a)

 p7  Preface

The inhabitants of Tristan da Cunha accept privation as part of the settled order of their existence, and, in the movement in their behalf, it is desired to leave the general character of the Settlement unimpaired. As Emerson said, the strong race is strong on terms, and the Saxons are now, for a thousand years, the leading race by nothing more than their quality of personal independence and from the habit of considering that every man must take care of himself. While it is recognized that the island may be too remote for actual admittance to the Colonial system, and though, if authority be exercised, it needs to be exercised with a light hand lest the exceptional character of the Settlement suffer, there is no reason why the less tolerable of its privations should go unrelieved. To mitigate these has been the end in view of the Tristan da Cunha Fund, and the purposes it had to serve are more particularly defined in the Trust Deed that was executed following the acceptance by the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Empire Society (then the Royal Colonial Institute) of the position of Trustees of the Fund. With the specific reservations qualifying them, these purposes are as follows:

 p8  4. In the administration of the Fund regard shall (so far as practicable and without fettering the full discretion of the Trustees) be had to the following circumstances, namely: —

(1) That the administration of the Island is a matter of Imperial concern.

(2) That the maintenance of the Mission now or from time to time carried on there is an ecclesiastical duty within the province of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts and of the local Bishopric of St. Helena and accordingly it shall be the primary object of the Fund to influence the said political and ecclesiastical authorities or other proper authorities to take appropriate action on behalf of the Island and its inhabitants and the Fund is intended to be supplemental to any action so taken.

5. Subject as aforesaid the Fund shall be held on trust for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Island and in particular for the following objects or any of them: —

(a) In introducing improvements in the means of communication with the Island with a view to bringing about regular periodic intercourse with it.

(b) In mitigating the hardships of life on the Island by consignments of necessary food clothing tools utensils and other goods and articles of whatever nature due regard being had to the desirability of making goods and articles so supplied the subject of exchange when the means of communication and other circumstances allow.

(c) In maintaining the ministrations of religion and the means of education on a regular and continuous basis.

 p9  (d) In securing in the event of the removal of the population of the Island or any part of such population and their re‑settlement on the African mainland or elsewhere such removal and re‑settlement under generous and suitable conditions.

(e) In disseminating information as to and arousing interest in the Island and its population.

With the formation of the new Tristan Welfare Committee at Cape Town, under its present auspices, it is recognized that the movement may acquire a fresh centre, and, though co‑operation may be maintained, the weight of the movement may in the future reside in South Africa. It will be remembered that when Tristan da Cunha became a British possession it was annexed as a dependency of Cape Colony. But as the Dominion of South Africa has adopted a purely continental system and is unable to undertake maritime obligations, it has never accepted responsibility, and there are no documents in existence to show any commitment to do so.

Still, the Union Government has always regarded the inhabitants with sympathetic interest, and has on occasions in the past shown a disposition to undertake the care of them if only they will come within the range of its administrative competency by removal to the mainland. It is quite possible that this interest in the people may now prevail over any constitutional hindrance, and notwithstanding that the migration to the mainland may concern  p10 only individual members and not the community as a whole. And what is the necessary accompaniment of relations of the kind, it is equally probable that difficulties of intercourse between the island and the mainland will be met by means of the acquisition of a suitable craft for the purpose. In these ways a new era in the connection of Tristan da Cunha with South Africa may be imminent, and in the belief that developments of the kind may come as the result of the new Welfare Committee's efforts, it is felt that a summary of past efforts, with consideration of what they involve, is timely, and this is presented in the following pages.

An account such as this is felt to be the more opportune owing to the discontinuance for so long of any publication by the Authorities of the reports rendered by the warships on their visits to the island, for none have been published since 1907. Until then, they appeared as a matter of course, as a succession of Blue Books shows. But now, so far as the general public are concerned, they lie sterile in official quarters where they unfortunately come to be regarded as confidential in the official estimate of them.

Though due respect is felt for the principles governing the publication of reports rendered by naval officers to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, and though it is recognized that the official attitude towards Tristan da Cunha is one of  p11 good will, yet it is to be regretted that when one of its rare visits is paid by a warship its fruits should be needlessly curtailed. For any attentions the island has received in the intervals of the warships' visits have come at the instance of the general public, and it is the general public that needs to be informed.

The Reports made on the recent visit of H. M. S. Carlisle more particularly are admirable in quality and of singular value in the determination of conditions on the island and its wants and prospects, and it is a pity they cannot be used in furthering its cause.

It is hoped that the following pages may prove in some measure a substitute for the Government records so withheld, and that they will serve to promote the island's interests and testify to its deserts.

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Page updated: 13 Dec 20