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100 years ago: The remotest of colonies

05 May 2023

May 4th, 1923.

MOST of us would regret on grounds of sentiment the ending of the Colony of Tristan da Cunha, maintained in difficult conditions through so many years. But the possibility must be contemplated. The romantic history of the settlement is set out in a little pamphlet lately published by the S.P.G. at fivepence, post free. It was founded in 1817, on the withdrawal of a small garrison. It has received from time to time accessions of new blood, and on medical testimony the inhabitants are to-day neither physically nor mentally degenerate. Moreover, the inhabitants are deeply attached to their island. Several attempts have been made to persuade them to leave, but with the exception of one in 1857, when about half the population were resettled in South Africa, these attempts have failed. Yet it must be admitted that the problem grows in acuteness. Though the inhabitants are not deteriorating, their island is. Its timber is exhausted. Corn-growing has become impossible, owing to rats, and an insect has destroyed the more serviceable vegetation. Communications have become precarious. The Admiralty is unable to maintain the periodical visits of naval ships to the island. The whaling ships and clippers which used to touch there do so no longer, and the brisk trade of the islanders with passing ships has come to an end. The community, in fact, now lives on intermittent charity, and is in constant peril; letters to the Times last week showed that the last reliefs reached the island only in the nick of time, after a period of semi-starvation. This is clearly a state of things which cannot continue. Either the island must be replanted, and otherwise made more nearly self-supporting, or the Colony must come to an end with the resettlement of its inhabitants elsewhere.

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