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Three Years in Tristan da Cunha By K. M. Barrow Characters: 7985

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Tristan da Cunha, a British possession, is an island-mountain of volcanic origin in the South Atlantic ocean. Latitude 37° 5' 50" S.; longitude 12° 16' 40" W. Circular in form. Circumference about 21 miles. Diameter about 7 miles. Height 7,640 feet. Volcano extinct during historic times. Discovered by the Portuguese navigator Tristan da Cunha, 1506. Occupied by the British, 1816. Nearest inhabited land, the island of St. Helena, 1,200 miles to the N.

In the autumn of 1904 we saw in the Standard a letter which arrested our attention. It was an appeal for some one to go to the Island of Tristan da Cunha, as the people had had no clergyman for seventeen years.

Now, Tristan da Cunha was not an unknown name to us, for as a child my husband loved to hear his mother tell of her shipwreck on Inaccessible, an uninhabited island twenty-five miles south-west of Tristan da Cunha.

She, then a child of four, and her nurse were passengers on the Blendon Hall, which left London for India in May 1821, and was wrecked during a dense fog on Inaccessible, July 23. The passengers and crew drifted ashore on spars and fragments of the vessel. Two of the crew perished, and nearly all the stores were lost. For four months they lived on this desolate island. A tent made out of sails was erected on the shore to protect the women and children from the cold and rain. They lived almost entirely on the eggs of sea-birds.

After waiting some time in hope of being seen by a ship, they made a raft from the remains of the wreck, and eight of the crew set off in it to try to reach Tristan, but were never heard of again, poor fellows. A few weeks later a second and successful attempt was made. The men reached Tristan, but in a very exhausted state. Then the Tristanites, led by Corporal Glass, manned their boats, and at great personal risk succeeded in fetching off the rest of the crew and passengers, who remained on Tristan till January 9, 1822, on which day a passing English brig took them to the Cape of Good Hope.

This was eighty-four years ago. And now the son of that little shipwrecked girl was seriously thinking of going out to minister to the children of her rescuers. Here I may mention that in the whole of their history, from 1816 to 1906, they had had only two clergymen living amongst them.

The first to go out was the Rev. W. F. Taylor, under the S.P.G. in 1851, a young London warehouseman who had not long been ordained. It is related by one of the passengers of the ship in which Mr. Taylor was sailing that the master of the vessel had great difficulty in locating the island, and that for three days they cruised about and saw nothing resembling land. The third day towards evening the skipper gave up the search and headed for the Cape. Mr. Taylor, who was gazing towards the setting sun suddenly saw the Peak of Tristan, which is 7,640 feet high, emerge out of the clouds. It was about ninety miles away. The captain turned back, and his passenger was safely landed. Mr. Taylor stayed there some five years. On his departure he induced about forty-five of the islanders to accompany him to Cape Colony, where they settled down.

The second clergyman, also in connection with the S.P.G., was the Rev. E. H. Dodgson, a brother of "Lewis Carroll." He arrived in December 1880 from St. Helena, and landed in safety, but the ship was driven ashore and he lost nearly all his clothing and books. One of the very few things washed ashore was a small stone font, which, curiously enough, was undamaged.

In December 1884 Mr. Dodgson, who was much out of health, got a passage to the Cape in a man-of-war. It was not his intention to return. But the next year a great calamity befell the Tristanites. Fifteen of their men put off in a new lifeboat to a ship, and were all drowned. Out of a population of ninety-two there were now only four male adults, and one of these was out of his mind and giving a good deal of trouble. Tristan had suddenly become an isla

nd of widows and children. When Mr. Dodgson heard of this calamity he at once offered to return. It being thought that the islanders were on the brink of starvation, H.M.S. Thalia was sent to their relief, and Mr. Dodgson sailed in her, reaching Tristan in August 1886. He remained till December 1889, when ill health again obliged him to leave. This time ten of the inhabitants left with him.

To go back to the period when we ourselves began to think of going out. After some months of serious consideration we resolved to make the attempt, and at once began to face the question of how to get there. To get to Tristan da Cunha is no easy matter; it took us nearly five months. There is no regular communication with it, and it has no harbour.

Formerly a man-of-war from the Cape station visited it once a year, but since the South African War this annual visit has been discontinued. Mr. Dodgson advised us to go to St. Helena and there await a whaler. He had found this the best plan. So accordingly we set off from Southampton on November 18, 1905-my husband, our maid and myself, taking with us a year's food supply and a very limited amount of furniture. St. Helena was reached in seventeen days. An interview with the American Consul, who was courtesy itself, convinced us there was no likelihood of getting a passage. The whalers that called there were from New Bedford in America, and none were expected. Our visit, however, was not entirely in vain, because we had the advantage of meeting the Bishop of St. Helena, who showed us much kindness, and of talking over our plans with him. The diocese of St. Helena must be unique. It consists of the three islands, St. Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha. There is no clergyman on the two last, and only the bishop and three clergymen on St. Helena. No bishop of St. Helena has as yet landed upon Tristan da Cunha.

We decided to go on to Cape Town by the next steamer, which port we reached early in January, knowing no one beyond a few fellow-passengers. Not wishing to go to an hotel we took some rooms of which we heard from the chaplain of the Seamen's Mission. For the next few weeks my husband spent his time visiting the different shipping agencies and the docks, but to no purpose, as no ship would call at Tristan. We even cabled to a company in England; "No" met our every inquiry. February had now set in, and we thought that the best thing to do was to take a small unfurnished house and wait in hope that a man-of-war would be visiting the island at the end of the year. We had been about a month in this house when news came from my sister-in-law in England that the very company to which we had cabled and which had a monthly service between Table Bay and the River Plate was ready to take us for a named sum, but only on the understanding that should the weather be too rough to land us on Tristan we should have to go on to Buenos Ayres. In spite of the uncertainty involved it seemed right to accept this offer. We embarked on the steamer Surrey on March 31, but did not start till next day, Sunday, as some repairs had to be done to one of the engines. There went with us Tom Rogers, a Tristanite, who was glad of the opportunity of returning to his island home.

During our stay at Cape Town we had made many kind friends. Among them were Mr. Beverley, the rector of Holy Trinity Church, and Mrs. Beverley. They had helped us in looking for a house, helped in shopping, helped in packing, insisted on our taking our last meal with them, and came with us to the steamer. We found the steamer very crowded, the passengers quite outnumbering the berths, and it was not until evening that we could procure a cabin. But one thing I much appreciated: our collie was allowed to be with us during the day. We had only had him a few days, but he behaved excellently, lying at our feet most of the time. He came to us as "Whisky," but was promptly re-named "Rob."


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