Tristan da Cunha, colloquially Tristan, is a remote group of volcanic islands in the south Atlantic Ocean. It is the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world, lying approximately 1,732 miles (2,787 km) off the coast of Cape Town in South Africa, 1,514 miles (2,437 km) from Saint Helena and 2,487 miles (4,002 km) off the coast of the Falkland Islands. These distances equate respectively to 1,505, 1,316 and 2,161 nautical miles.
The territory consists of the inhabited island, Tristan da Cunha, which has a diameter of roughly 11 kilometers (6.8 mi) and an area of 98 square kilometers (38 sq mi); the wildlife reserves of Gough Island and Inaccessible Island; and the smaller, uninhabited Nightingale Islands. As of October 2018, the main island has 250 permanent inhabitants, who all carry British Overseas Territories citizenship. The other islands are uninhabited, except for the South African personnel of a weather station on Gough Island.
Tristan da Cunha is a British Overseas Territory with its own constitution. There is no airstrip on the main island; the only way of travelling in and out of Tristan is by boat, a six-day trip from South Africa.
The first undisputed landing was made on 7 February 1643 by the crew of the Dutch East India Company ship Heemstede, captained by Claes Gerritsz Bierenbroodspot. The Dutch stopped at the island four more times in the next 25 years, and in 1656 created the first rough charts of the archipelago.
The first full survey of the archipelago was made by crew of the French corvette Heure du Berger in 1767. The first scientific exploration was conducted by French naturalist Louis-Marie Aubert du Petit-Thouars, who stayed on the island for three days in January 1793, during a French mercantile expedition from Brest, France to Mauritius. Thouars made botanical collections and reported traces of human habitation, including fireplaces and overgrown gardens, probably left by Dutch explorers in the 17th century.
On his voyage out from Europe to East Africa and India in command of the Imperial Asiatic Company of Trieste and Antwerp ship, Joseph et Therese, William Bolts sighted Tristan da Cunha, put a landing party ashore on 2 February 1777 and hoisted the Imperial flag, naming it and its neighboring islets the Isles de Brabant. In fact, no settlement or facilities were ever set up there by the company.
After the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War halted penal transportation to the Thirteen Colonies, British prisons started to overcrowd. Since several stopgap measures proved themselves ineffective, the British Government announced in December 1785 that it would proceed with the settlement of New South Wales. In September 1786 Alexander Dalrymple, presumably goaded by Bolts’s actions, published a pamphlet with an alternative proposal of his own for settlements on Tristan da Cunha, St. Paul and Amsterdam islands in the Southern Ocean.
Captain John Blankett, R.N., also suggested independently to his superiors in August 1786 that convicts be used to establish a British settlement on Tristan. In consequence, the Admiralty received orders from the government in October 1789 to examine the island as part of a general survey of the South Atlantic and the coasts of southern Africa. That did not happen, but an investigation of Tristan, Amsterdam and St. Paul was undertaken in December 1792 and January 1793 by George Macartney, Britain’s first ambassador to China. During his voyage to China, he established that none of the islands were suitable for settlement.
The first permanent settler was Jonathan Lambert of Salem, Massachusetts, United States, who moved to the island in December 1810 with two other men, to be joined later by a third. Lambert publicly declared the islands his property and named them the Islands of Refreshment. Three of the four men died in 1812 and Thomas Currie (or Tommaso Corri), one of the original three, remained as a farmer on the island.