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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in
The British Museum Quarterly
Vol. 9, No. 4 (May 1935), pp121‑123.

Robin Flower died in 1946: the text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

 p121  80. Tristan da Cunha Records.

In The Times of 25 March there was published an account of a visit to the island of Tristan da Cunha to deliver stores for the 172 inhabitants. A letter from the late Mr Douglas M. Gane, who for many years had administered the Tristan da Cunha Fund, announcing the acquisition by the Museum of what may be called the fundamental records of the tiny colony, appeared in the same number. The documents in question, now Add. MS. 43846, were presented by Mr Gane himself and by Mr E. F. Gates of New London, Connecticut, to whose indefatigable efforts the recovery of  p122 these records was in the first instance due. With the family Bible of Governor William Glass acquired from Mrs A. Glass Lake, his grand-daughter, now Add. MS. 43729 (B. M. Q., Vol. IX, 1934, p16), they serve to illustrate the early history and growth of the island community.

The island group was first annexed on 14 August 1816, in consequence of its use as a raiding base by United States cruisers during the American War of 1812‑15. In November 1816 a garrison was sent from the Cape under Captain Cloete with Lieutenant Aitchison as one of the officers. The garrison was removed in February 1817, a few artillerymen remaining under Lieutenant Aitchison. These were taken off later in November 1817, but three men were given permission to remain on the island, William Glass, a corporal in the Royal Artillery, with a wife and two children, Samuel Burnel, and John Nankivel.

The documents, which relate to the early days of the settlement, are eight in number, six presented by Mr Gates, two by Mr Gane. The first is Lieutenant Aitchison's permission to W. Glass to remain on Tristan da Cunha. Another is the certificate, signed by the same, of the purchase by the three men at the sale of the effects of Thomas Curry, who was found living alone on the island when the troops arrived, of a Robinson Crusoe-like assortment of implements. A third is the agreement of absolute equality between the three men which was the first constitution of the island community. All these have the same date, 7 November 1817.

By 10 December 1821 the men on the island had increased to eleven in number and a revised constitution was drawn up, confirming equality among them, but reserving the land and stock to William Glass and John Nankivel. A contemporary copy of this is included in the gift. Among other documents is the original statement signed by the commander, officers, and many of the passengers and crew of the Blenden Hall, wrecked on Inaccessible Island on 23 July 1821, inviting public recognition of the extraordinary services of the islanders in rescuing them under great difficulties.

There is also included a card with the autograph of the artist  p123 Augustus Earle, who was accidentally left upon the island for nearly a year in 1824, and made an interesting drawing of Governor Glass and his residence, a reproduction of which is among these papers.

The documents are fully described and printed by Mr Gane in United Empire, XXIV (1933), pp589, 651.

R. Flower.

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Page updated: 20 Oct 16