Category: Relics of Empire
Falkland Islanders shoveling peat (ca 1950).
Falkland Islanders shoveling peat (ca 1950). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ownership of the Falkland Islands has long been a subject of debate. Even claims to discovery of the Islands are varied. Some credit Amerigo Vespucci, some credit Esteban Gomez, while others credit the Camargo expedition of 1540. None of these claims can be verified; however, the first Briton to see the Islands was John Davies who sighted the Falklands from aboard the Desire in 1592. He noted in his journals that his ship had been tossed by storms and ended up near “certain Isles never before discovered by any knowen relation.”

Regardless of who discovered the island, the first recorded landing was made by Captain John Strong in 1690. As he and his crew searched for the wreck of a Spanish treasure ship, they found themselves running short on food and water. They weighed anchor on the island and loaded up on fresh water and an abundance of geese and ducks. Before leaving, Captain Strong named the sound between the two large islands Falklands Channel in honor of Viscount Falkland, who had sponsored the expedition. As time progressed, the name Falklands eventually encompassed the whole island chain.

Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, the Spanish and the French had been launching further and further into the region. The Spanish had taken over much of the Central and South American mainland, and had claimed hegemony over the continent. French ships were exploring and mapping the area, searching for land for French colonies; however they found little that the Spanish had not already claimed. At this time the Falklands fell within the Spanish claims.

In 1740, George Anson alerted the British government to the strategic opportunities that the Falklands presented. The islands sat in a key location along the east-to-west route, and Anson suggested that the islands would make an ideal anchorage point.

The British government prevaricated about deciding on a settlement, and in the mean-time, the French set about building one. This started a furious struggle between the French and Spanish governments. Meanwhile, unaware of the competing forces, the British finally moved on Anson’s suggestions and launched their own expedition in 1765.

Location map for the historical settlements of...
Location map for the historical settlements of Port Egmont and Puerto Soledad, Falkland Islands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finding the spot ideal for a permanent settlement, the British sent a full garrison along with livestock and supplies enough to sustain a settlement of 100. The first British settlement was called “Port Egmont” in honor of Lord Egmont who had sponsored the endeavour. Only when the British began to explore the islands in earnest did they stumble upon the French settlement at St. Louis.

Eventually, both the British and the French were forced to leave, and the Falklands once again were placed under Spanish control. Before leaving, however, the British left behind a flag and a plaque declaring their sovereignty over the islands – and their intention to return.

In 1832, Britain did just that. After reasserting its claim, British forces arrived, evicted the Argentinian settlers, and established a British settlement.

Throughout the late 19th century, sheep farming became the core industry of the islands. This brought on a substantial migration from the British Isles. Within a period of fifty years, the population increased seven-fold, growing from a mere 287 in 1851 to 2043 by 1901. Some immigrants came from England; however, most came from Scotland – in particular, from the Orkney and Shetland Islands. By 1892, the Falklands were granted status as a colony.

Ownership of the islands continued to be hotly contested, culminating in the Falklands War in 1982. This led to the establishment of a semi-permanent force of 1700 British troops remaining to protect the 2200 residents. Hostilities weren’t formally dissolved until around 1995.

Today, less than a third of Falkland Islanders consider themselves British, though the population is English-speaking and all Islanders have full British citizenship. The most recent census showed that about 70% of the population is primarily of British descent.

The Cayman Islands are found in the western Caribbean Sea. This British Overseas Territory is made up of three islands: Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, and Cayman Brac.

English: Cayman Islands National Museum in Geo...
Cayman Islands National Museum in George Town, Grand Cayman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Discovery of the Cayman Islands is attributed to Christopher Columbus, who sighted them in May of 1503, on his fourth voyage to the New World. He originally gave the islands the name “Las Tortugas” as the coasts were dotted with huge sea turtles. When Sir Francis Drake arrived on the islands in 1586, he promptly changed their name to “Cayman”- a derivative of the local word for “alligator”.

As with many of the Caribbean Islands, the Caymans went largely undeveloped and uninhabited until the middle of the 17th century. A few hardy stragglers had made the islands their home, including a few shipwrecked sailors, various pirate crews, refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, and a number of deserters from Oliver Cromwell’s army stationed in nearby Jamaica.

The Cayman Islands officially came under British rule in 1760, under the Treaty of Madrid. While the British officially controlled the island, all attempts at settlement were frustrated for the next few decades. The three islands were popular pirate haunts, and piracy largely prevented any permanent settlement. It wasn’t until sometime in the 1730s that the British moved in and established an official English-speaking settlement.

As the settlement grew, so too did the Cayman Islanders’ demand for slaves. Before long, more than half of the islands’ population was made up of African slaves. When the first census of Grand Cayman was taken in 1802, records showed that out of the 933 residents, 545 of them were slaves owned by Caymanian families. This is reflected in the today’s population, as the majority of modern Caymanians are of English and African descent, with a large degree of interracial mixing.

Hell Post Office, Cayman Islands
Hell Post Office, Cayman Islands (Photo credit: J. Stephen Conn)

From 1670 onward, the Cayman Islands were technically considered a dependency of Jamaica; however, the islands were largely self-governed. In 1831, local residents established a legislative assembly consisting of 10 elected representatives along with eight local magistrates appointed by the Governor of Jamaica. Overall, Jamaica interfered little with the governance of the Caymans.

The Cayman Islands continued to be loosely governed by the Colony of Jamaica until Jamaica was granted its independence in 1962. At this time, the Cayman Islands were designated as a separate Crown Colony.

Today, the Cayman Islands are considered a non-self-governing British Overseas Territory. A governor is appointed by the Queen, and represents the British monarchy on the Islands. The Islands are officially defended by the Crown, though the British government interferes little in the running of the country.

The population of the Cayman Islands sits at around 56,000. The population is largely of mixed heritage, with nearly 60% being of African-Caucasian ethnicities.

Relics of Empire: Saint Helena

English: Jamestown, capital of Saint Helena, f...
Jamestown, capital of Saint Helena, from above (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About 1200 miles off the southwest coast of Africa lies the tiny island of Saint Helena. It is one of the most isolated islands in the world, yet it has long played an important role as a stopover point for ships sailing to Europe from South Africa and Asia. The island of Saint Helena is perhaps most famous, however, as a place of exile for such dignitaries as Napoleon Bonaparte and Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo.

Today, Saint Helena is distinguished by being Britain’s second oldest colony. It makes up part of the British overseas territory that also includes the islands of Tristan da Cunha and Ascension Island.

The island of Saint Helena was originally discovered by the Portuguese. Recognizing it as a strategic rendezvous point, the Portuguese furnished the uninhabited island with fruit trees, vegetables and herds of livestock, and built a small chapel and a couple of simple houses. While they chose not to form a permanent settlement, the island became a regular port of call for Portuguese ships.

When Sir Francis Drake located the island and realized that Portuguese ships regularly called there, English war ships began ambushing the heavily-laden Portuguese carracks. Obviously, this quickly discouraged the Spanish and Portuguese, and they soon reverted to new ports along the west coast of Africa.

The Dutch were developing their own trade routes at the time, and soon began frequenting the island. The Dutch officially claimed Saint Helena in 1633; however, nothing came of their claim, as they never colonized or fortified the island.

English: Copper engraving, 'A View of the Town...
‘A View of the Town and Island of St Helena in the Atlantic Ocean belonging to the English East India Company’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Saint Helena was largely abandoned, Oliver Cromwell scooped up the opportunity by granting the English East India Company a charter to govern the island. The Company moved quickly, fortifying the island and populating it with planters. In 1659, Captain John Dutton was made the first governor of the island, and the settlement was named Jamestown in honor of the Duke of York.

For a time, the Company faced severe challenges in attracting new immigrants. Ecological problems and social unrest nearly resulted in abandonment of the settlement; however, through continued subsidies, improved fortification, ecological initiatives, and legal reforms, the colony was soon back on track. By 1770, the island was enjoying considerable peace and prosperity, and by 1814, the population had reached 3,507.

In 1815, the British government took control of the island as Saint Helena had been selected as the holding place for Napoleon Bonaparte. While the Saint Helena was still technically under EIC possession, the island was strongly fortified with hundreds of British troops and guarded continuously by naval vessels.

After Napoleon’s death in 1821, control was once again given to the EIC; however, this transition was short-lived. The passing of the 1833 India Act brought Saint Helen back under the jurisdiction of the British Crown as a Crown Colony.

The government immediately implemented a number of cost-cutting measures which initiated a significant population decline. Many who could afford to do so chose to move abroad. The economy and population saw brief spikes throughout the 19th and 20th centuries; however living standards were steadily in decline for many years.

In 1989, the British Overseas Territories Act provided the islanders with full and equal status under British law. Since that time, the government has invested significant resources in helping the island to once more reach a point of self-sufficiency and economic growth.

Today, the island has a population of around 4,250 residents. Most are of British origin, descended from planters and soldiers.

Relics of Empire: Montserrat

The British Overseas Territory of Montserrat is part of the Lesser Antilles island chain found in the Leeward Islands. The tiny island is sometimes called The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean because of its keen resemblance to the coasts of Ireland. It’s not surprising, perhaps, that the island boasts a significant population with Irish roots.

Montserrat (Photo credit: Sergi Perpiñá)

The island was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493, as he was making his second voyage to the New World. He claimed the island and named it Santa Maria de Montserrat, in honor of the Montserrat Monastery in Catalonia, Spain.

Apparently, little was done to develop the island until it fell under British control in 1632. Settlement began when fierce anti-Catholic sentiments arose on the nearby island of Nevis, and a large group of Irish Catholic slaves were forcibly transplanted to Montserrat.

A sort of neo-feudal colony was built up, largely on the backs of slaves. First Irish slaves arrived, followed by many African slaves, brought in to work on the local plantations. As was the case on many Caribbean islands, the economy of Montserrat was largely based on rum, sugar, cotton, and arrowroot. By the late 18th century, plantations covered much of the island, manned by hundreds of slaves.

At the same time, Oliver Cromwell was sending shiploads of exiled Irish people to the island, along with many political prisoners, orphans, and unemployed poor. Many who were a financial burden to the public purse at home were shipped off to work on the plantations of Montserrat.

While Britain was distracted by the American Revolutionary War in 1782, the French swooped in and briefly captured the island. French rule was fairly short-lived however, and rule of Montserrat was returned to Great Britain under the Treaty of Paris.

In 1834, slavery was abolished in Montserrat, and that factor – combined with falling sugar prices – led to a dramatic downturn in the island’s economy. Plantation owners were at a loss until 1857 when British philanthropist Joseph Sturge bought up a sugar estate and proved that plantations could be commercially viable even without depending on slave labour.

Before and after: The end result of cleanup wo...
Before and after: The end result of cleanup work on the Joseph Sturge memorial at Five Ways. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many members of the Sturge family followed, buying up plots of land all over the island and planting vast groves of lime trees. The Sturges established the Montserrat Company Ltd. and set up a plant for processing lime juice on a commercial level. Eventually, the company sold off small parcels of land to various islanders who in turn began to develop the land further.

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Montserrat was included as part of the British Leeward Islands colony. For a brief stint, it was made a province of the West Indies Federation; however, this was dissolved in 1962.

In recent years, Montserrat has been the victim of serious natural disasters, including Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and the eruption of Montserrat’s Soufriere Hills volcano in 1995. Many portions of the island are now uninhabitable. An estimated 8000 refugees fled the island following these events.

Today’s population of around 5800 is made up of a mix of British, Irish and African descendants. English is widely spoken, along with a creole dialect.

Relics of Empire: Bermuda

Saint Peter's Church, in St. George's, Bermuda...
Saint Peter’s Church, in St. George’s, Bermuda. Although the church, the oldest of the Church of England (now Anglican Communion) outside of Britain and Ireland, dates to 1612, the current structure dates only to 1620. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While Bermuda was originally discovered by Spanish navigator Juan Bermudez around 1511, the island went untended and unclaimed for nearly a century. The beginnings of English settlement were established almost by accident when a shipwreck left the flagship of English Admiral Sir George Somers shattered on Bermuda’s reefs in 1609.

Somers’ expedition had set out with the intention of colonizing the New World for Britain. He saw the New World as a potential fresh start for many citizens of Britain’s overcrowded cities. He had engineered the initiative, and the voyage had gone smoothly for the first few days.

The crew of the Sea Venture was en route to Jamestown, Virginia when they met their misfortune of the coast of Bermuda. On July 25, 1609, the ship was caught in a hurricane and tossed hundreds of miles off course, until she wrecked on the reefs of Bermuda’s Discovery Bay.

Fortunately, no lives were lost, and Somers took the opportunity to explore and map the islands. The men built makeshift boats and spent months charting the mainland and its surrounding islands.

Eventually, the crew of 150 survivors was able to build a couple of ships, and in these Bermuda-built ships, the survivors carried on with their voyage to the Jamestown colony. Three sailors were so enchanted by the island, however, that they volunteered to be left behind. These three British sailors became the first European settlers on Bermuda.

Intentional settlement began a few years later, when Bermuda was incorporated into the Virginia Company charter. In 1612, around 60 colonists arrived from England, and they soon established St. George Town as the first official settlement. St. George’s became Bermuda’s first capital, and remains today as the oldest continually inhabited English town in the Americas.

Cover of "The Generall Historie of Virgin...
Cover of “The Generall Historie of Virginia, New=England, and the Summer Isles” (The General History of Virginia, New England, and the Somers Isles), by Captain John Smith, 1624. ‘Graven’ by John Barra. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1615, Bermuda was handed over to the Somers Isles Company. Shortly thereafter, Bermuda officially gained status as a British colony, when the first parliament convened in 1620. In 1684, King Charles II appointed Sir Robert Robertson as the colony’s first governor and designated Bermuda as British Crown Colony.

Colonization continued throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, bolstered in part by the slave trade. Most slaves were brought in from Africa, though quite a number of Scots were sent for their part in fighting against Cromwell, and many more Irish slaves followed in 1651. Fortunately, all slaves on Bermuda were freed under the British Emancipation Act of 1834.

Bermuda gained particular prominence during the American Revolution. Since Britain lost its colonial ports, strong naval bases were established in Bermuda.  The island also went on to play a key role during WWII as a base for refueling and a hotbed of espionage.

As the island gained prominence over the years, its relationship with England gradually shifted. After nearly two hundred years of occupation, the British government decided to grant the colony self-government. In 1957, Britain withdrew its armies.

Bermuda has long held status as Britain’s oldest colony. Today, Bermuda is not officially a country, and while it is self-governing, it forms part of the Commonwealth. As such, the island’s Governor is appointed by the Crown and Britain directly manages internal security and police systems. As a British Overseas Territory, Bermuda is represented by Britain in all foreign affairs.

Relics of Empire: The British Virgin Islands

The British Virgin Islands can be found in the Caribbean, and constitute a portion of the Virgin Islands Archipelago. While the whole territory is generally referred to as the “Virgin Islands”, ownership of the chain is divided between Britain, America, and Spain. Thus, most use the term “British Virgin Islands” or “BVI” to distinguish the British Overseas Territory from the other territories.

Road Town, Tortola, BVI - 2005
Road Town, Tortola, BVI – 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The islands were first sighted by Christopher Columbus as he was making his second voyage to the New World. He dubbed the islands Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Virgenes (Saint Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins). Obviously, the unwieldy name was quickly shortened to The Virgins.

As with many islands in the Caribbean, the Spanish initially laid claim to the Virgin Islands in the early 16th century; however, no attempt was made at settlement. Throughout the next few decades, the powers of Europe all struggled over ownership and control over the islands. The English, Dutch, Spanish, Danish, and French all laid claim to the islands at one point or another, but for many years, the Virgins were little more than a popular pirate haunt.

The first official settlement was established by the Dutch in 1648 on the island of Tortola. English forces were able to capture Tortola in 1672 at the beginning of the Third Anglo-Dutch War. The British were able to use Tortola as a strategic base from which they were able to annex Virgin Gorda, Anegada and the rest of the British Virgin Islands in 1680.

Though the British now held full control over the Territory, immigration was slow and few cared to stay long. Many settlers feared the instability of the region, and anticipated attacks by the Spanish or the Dutch. By 1685, the population was reduced to two: an undaunted Mr. Jonathan Turner and his wife. After 1690, however, the British Virgin Islands saw a dramatic upswing in population growth and by 1696, the total number was up to fifty.

With a steadily growing population on the islands, the British appointed a deputy-governor to manage the territory. The role was little more than nominal, with no real power behind the title. People on the islands lived however they wanted, without a law or government. The islands continued this way for over 100 years.

The coat of arms of the British Virgin Islands.
The coat of arms of the British Virgin Islands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As sugar was a major industry on the island, much of the BVI economy was built on the back of slave labour. Tortola and Virgin Gorda in particular were settled primarily by plantation owners who brought in massive numbers of African slaves. By 1756, the slave population on the islands was at 6,121.

While the emancipation of 1834 released all slaves on the islands, evidence of the massive slave population is still very clearly seen in the modern demographics. The population of the BVI today is around 21,730, and approximately 83.4% are of African descent. Roughly 7% of the population is of British or European origin, while the remaining 9.6% is Carib, Indian and mixed-race Hispanic.

After emancipation, the islands struggled economically for many years. Plantations were no longer economically viable, and many owners simply picked up and went home to England. Decline and disorder followed, and emigration was high until local community leaders stood up and insisted on change.

Conditions in the territory have since improved drastically, thanks to better government and the advent of the offshore financial services industry. Today, the BVI is in the lead as one of the top global offshore financial centres.

Relics of Empire: Anguilla

The British Overseas Territory of Anguilla was first settled by Amerindian tribes from South America; however, it was first discovered by Europeans sometime in the 15th or 16th century. Its actual discovery has long been in debate. Some suggest that it was first sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1493, while others claim that the island was discovered and named by French explorer Pierre Laudonnaire in 1565.

English: Island Harbour, Anguilla
Island Harbour, Anguilla (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Regardless of the original discovery, the island of Anguilla sat untouched for nearly a century. There have been some claims that the Dutch built a fort on Anguilla two decades earlier; however, little more is known, and no trace remains to verify the claims.

Anguilla likely went uncolonized for so long due to the notoriously wild and fierce Caribs who controlled the island. The Caribs were known cannibals who had wrested the island from its original Amerindian settlers. It wasn’t until 1650 that English settlers arrived and dared to face down the Caribs.

The first English settlers arrived from the nearby colony of Saint Kitts. They established a settlement and began growing crops of tobacco and corn; however, early life on Anguilla was far from easy. In 1656, the colony was attacked by invading Carib Indians who destroyed crops and settlements and slaughtered many settlers. In 1666, French forces attacked and captured the island.

French rule was short lived, and the English soon regained control through the Treaty of Breda in 1667. Hardships increased, and the settlers were soon facing drought, poor crop yields and crippling famine; yet the colonists hung on resolutely. Throughout this time, the island was governed by the British through Antigua.

The initial settlers were followed in 1688 by a host of Irish invaders who were fleeing the religious persecution of Cromwell’s government. In Anguilla, these refugees found a British territory where they could live and worship in peace.

Battle of St. Kitts, 1782, as described by an ...
Battle of St. Kitts, 1782, as described by an observer in a French engraving titled “Attaque de Brimstomhill”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Throughout the 1700s, the French and English forces continued to fight over ownership of the island – and ultimately for control of the Caribbean. The French tried again and again to invade and capture Anguilla, with major attempts made in 1745 and 1796. These attempts failed and the British maintained control of the island.

In 1824, administrative control of Anguilla was transferred to nearby St. Kitts. The government attempted to develop the island’s infrastructure by building up a plantation-based economy. Planters arrived, bringing African slaves to man the plantations; however, attempts at agriculture were largely unsuccessful due to poor soil and an adverse climate. Once slavery was abolished by the British in 1830, many plantation owners left Anguilla and returned to England, causing a drastic decline in population. The remaining population of 2000 was made up mostly of freed slaves.

When St. Kitts was granted full internal autonomy in 1967, Anguilla was incorporated into the newly created dependency along with the island of Nevis. The dependency was dubbed Saint Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla – much to the chagrin of the Anguillan population.

After an Anguillan rebellion in 1967, a full-scale revolution in 1969, and a brief foray into self-declared independence, the British government stepped in and restored authority over the island. Anguilla was eventually allowed to secede from Nevis and St. Kitts, and in 1980, it was officially declared a full British colony.

Relics of Empire: The Turks and Caicos Islands

The Turks and Caicos Islands passed from hand to hand for some time before they were ever settled. Throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the French, Spanish and English all held control over the islands; however, for a long time, none established settlements of any kind.

English: The Turks & Caicos National Museum is...
The Turks & Caicos National Museum is located in a colonial-era Guinep House on Front Street in the capital of Cockburn Town, on Grand Turk island. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Juan Ponce de Leon was the first European to discover the islands, though no move toward settlement was made. After the islands’ discovery in 1512, the islanders of Turks and Caicos were subjected to frequent raids by Spanish slavers, and within a year, the entire island range had been depopulated.

Throughout the 17th century, the islands served as little more than pirate bays. Buccaneers would hide out in the island cays and attack passing Spanish treasure ships en route to Europe. Such infamous rogues as Francoise L’Olonnois and Anne Bonny often used French Cay as their pirate bases for raiding passing ships.

Finally, toward the late 17th century, salt collectors from Bermuda set up an official settlement. In 1681, the first settlement was established on Grand Turk Island, and the salt collectors would spend six months out of each year raking salt from the shallow waters around the island. Since Bermuda was an established British colony, this settlement of salt collectors effectively established British dominance over the Turks and Caicos.

In 1765, the islands fell under French occupation. This French rule lasted until around 1783, when the Royal Navy sent Horatio Nelson to retake the islands. While the Admiral was unsuccessful in his attempts, many British loyalists began arriving from America following the American Revolution.

The displaced loyalists found a safe haven in the Caribbean colonies, and in 1790, the Crown began granting land to British loyalist refugees. The loyalists formed the first settlement on Caicos Island, and established themselves across Providenciales, Parrot Bay, Middle Caicos, and North Caicos.

Map showing Cockburn Town's position with Turk...
Map showing Cockburn Town’s position with Turks and Caicos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By 1799, the Turks and Caicos Island groups were once again firmly under British control as an annexed part of the Bahamas. The move toward consolidation saw little success, however, as most residents on Turks and Caicos were Bermudian, and strongly resisted any Bahamian rule. Ultimately, the Turks and Caicos Islands remained independent from the Bahamas.

In 1873, Queen Victoria officially recognized this fact and granted the Turks and Caicos Islands with a royal charter, making them an independent colony, no longer attached to the Bahamas. This independence was fairly short-lived, as 1874 saw the islands annexed instead to Jamaica. This connection lasted nearly 100 years; however, it provided Turks and Caicos with needed medical and technical assistance as well as substantial financial grants.

While Jamaica gained its independence from Britain in 1962, Turks and Caicos had little interest in the separation. The Turks and Caicos Islands decided to maintain their status as a British Crown Colony, and have no real plans for future independence.

The population is made up of very few Britons. Over 90% of the islanders are Black, while the remaining 10% are of European, North American or Mixed heritage.

Relics of Empire: Tristan da Cunha

Smack in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean sits “the remotest island in the world.” This tiny colony of Great Britain is comprised of six small islands: Tristan da Cunha (the main body), flanked by Inaccessible, Nightingale, Middle, Stoltenhoff, and Gough. All but Tristan and Gough are unoccupied; however, Gough boasts little more than a manned weather station.

The islands were discovered in 1506 by Portuguese explorer Tristão da Cunha. The explorer was on his way to the Cape of Good Hope when he happened upon the islands; however, rough weather and tempestuous seas prevented him from making a landing. Before moving on, he named the island after himself, calling it Illha de Tristão da Cunha. This was later Anglicized to the modern name Tristan da Cunha.

Settlement of Edinburgh of the Seven Seas on T...
Settlement of Edinburgh of the Seven Seas on Tristan da Cunha Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few others happened by the islands throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, though none stayed long. In 1810, the first settler arrived: an American named Jonathan Lambert, who claimed the islands as his own property and renamed them the Islands of Refreshment. Neither the name nor rule stuck for long, as Lambert died just two years later.

British rule of Tristan da Cunha began soon thereafter, when the United Kingdom formally annexed the islands. The move was a strategic military one, made primarily to keep the island out of the hands of enemy forces. The British government feared that the islands could be used as a rescue base from which the French could free Napoleon Bonaparte from imprisonment on Saint Helena. There were also concerns that the Americans might try use the base again as they had done in 1812.

Initially, Tristan was populated by military personnel; however, the British garrison was soon bolstered by a growing population of civilians and whalers. This minor population growth was short lived though, and as the Suez Canal improved shipping lines, the islands once again sank into isolation.

By 1938, the islands had been declared a dependency of Saint Helena. The population grew marginally throughout the 20th century; however, when Queen Mary’s Peak erupted in 1961, the entire population was forced to evacuate. A year later, the island was assessed, and since damage was minimal, most families returned.

English: Portrait of Tristan da Cunha settler ...
Portrait of Tristan da Cunha settler Jonathan Lambert (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, the islanders carry on in relative obscurity. On occasion, such as during the extratopical cyclone in 2001, they receive relief from the British government. Mostly though, the islanders of Tristan da Cunha are largely self-sufficient – especially since the islands were given a unique UK postal code, allowing them to order needed supplies online.

The island is ruled by the Queen, represented by the Governor of Saint Helena. The governor appoints an administrator on the island who takes advice from a local island council.

The population of Tristan da Cunha is 264. Most of these are descended from 15 original ancestors who arrived on the island between the 1800s and 1900s. There are only eight surnames on the island, and these speak to the heritage of the inhabitants: Glass and Patterson (Scottish), Hagan (Irish), Rogers and Swain (English), Green (Dutch), Lavarello and Repetto (Italian).

Relics of Empire: Pitcairn Island

Halfway between New Zealand and the Americas sits one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. The tiny volcanic island of Pitcairn is separated from the rest of the world by thousands of miles of ocean, yet it gained surprising fame thanks to its original settlers.

English: House of Fletcher Christian, leader o...
House of Fletcher Christian, leader of mutiny on Bounty, Pitcairn Island ?esky: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The island was first discovered in 1606 by the Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandez de Quiros. It was rediscovered in 1767 by a British ship, and named after the crew member who spotted the island. Owing to its size, however, Pitcairn was not suitable for large-scale colonization; thus, it was left alone.

In 1798, the crew of the HMS Bounty mutinied. After setting Captain William Bligh adrift with the remaining loyal crewmembers, Master Mate Fletcher Christian set off to look for a safe haven for himself and his small crew. Unable to properly man the ship with his nine companions, Christian made landfall in Tahiti where he recruited six men and twelve women. Together, this odd group found their way to the idyllic paradise of Pitcairn Island.

The island was uninhabited, warm, and replete with coconut palms and breadfruit. It was the perfect inaccessible hideaway for the mutineers. To avoid discovery and retribution, the sailors stripped the Bounty of her contents, then ran her ashore, and burned her to the ground, effectively erasing any clues as to their whereabouts.

The group of mutineers was led by Fletcher Christian and included Ned Young, John Adams, Matthew Quintal, William McCoy, William Brown, Isaac Martin, John Mills, and John Williams. Each of the sailors took a Polynesian woman for a wife, leaving the remaining three to be shared by the six Polynesian men.

Years went by, and the tiny community lived with alternating friction and peace. Some died, some were murdered, and by 1800, John Adams remained as the only male survivor of the original party, surrounded by ten Polynesian women and twenty-three children.

English: The mutineers turning Lt Bligh and pa...
The mutineers turning Lt Bligh and part of the officers and crew adrift from HMAV Bounty, 29 April 1789, published by B B Evans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1808, American sealing Captain Mayhew Folger happened upon the tiny colony; however, little interest was paid to the island for six more years. In September of 1814, H.M.S. Briton and Tagus rediscovered the colony. The British commanders were so charmed by Adams’ care and leadership of the community that they felt it would be inhumane to arrest him for his long-passed crime.

The isolation was ended, and a relationship began between Pitcairn and the British Navy. Ships visited regularly, bringing books, tools and practical necessities in exchange for provisions.

Adams soon became concerned about the future of the island, and appealed to the British Government for a successor. Appeals were ignored; however, voluntary immigrants soon arrived, including shipwright John Buffett and Welshman John Evans. By 1828, the population had risen to 66, with the arrival of a few new residents including George Nobbs.

In 1831, the community briefly moved to Tahiti due to diminishing resources on Pitcairn. They were warmly welcomed; however, they were unhappy and many contracted infectious diseases (to which they had little natural resistance). The Pitcairn Islanders returned home just a few months later.

Increasing intrusions by American whalers let the Islanders to feel insecure in their tiny settlement. They reached out to British Captain Elliot of the H.M.S. Fly who provided them with a constitution and code of laws. While Pitcairn officially became a British settlement in 1887, the Islanders consider Elliot’s constitution to signify their formal incorporation into the British Empire.

Throughout the 20th century, the island was governed by magistrates appointed from the Christian and Young families; however, in 1970, governance of the island was transferred to the British high commissioners of New Zealand. Today, many of the islanders have emigrated to New Zealand, leaving the population at no more than 45.


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