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Location Map Sister Islands

Our Sister Islands

Part of our Territory

You may be as different as the sun and the moon, but the same blood flows through both your hearts. You need her, as she needs you.
George R.R. Martin

Administratively St Helena is part of a three-island Territory: St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha

Our Sister Islands

Below: One of three • Ascension Island • Tristan da Cunha • One that got away… • Read More

For some rather smaller islands, somewhat closer, see Islands.

One of three

Previously the Territory of St Helena and Dependencies, when our new Constitution was adopted on 1st September 2009 the territory became known as ‘St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha’. All three islands{1} share the same Constitution, and the same Governor.

St Helena is (obviously) described in detail on this site. We do not (and have no plans to) provide equivalent sites for Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, but due to their close historic and cultural links to St Helena we provide below some basic information on each.

Ascension Island

This is one of the strangest places on the face of the earth.
Captain William Burnett, Ascension Island Commandant, 1858

Flag of Ascension Island
Flag of Ascension Island
Map of Ascension Island
Map of Ascension Island

Ascension Island is our nearest neighbour, lying some 1,300Km to the northwest of St Helena. The capital is Georgetown, 7°56’S 14°25’W. Other significant settlements include Traveller’s Hill and Two Boats.

Also a volcanic island, and frequently described as a cinder there is some question over when and by whom it was discovered. Some think it was the Portuguese navigator Afonso de Albuquerque, who discovered it on 21st May 1503 - Ascension Day. An alternative history says it was discovered in 1501 by João da Nova, on his outward voyage to India, in the return leg of which he discovered St Helena, and originally called it ‘Ilha de Nossa Señora de Conceiçao’ (‘The Island of Our Lady of the Conception’), the story going that da Nova failed to document his discovery, so it was re-discovered in 1503 by Afonso de Albuquerque{2}.

We are, however, quite sure that it was first occupied by the British in 1815, as part of fortifying St Helena where Napoleon was to be imprisoned. On 22nd October 1815 British ships landed and claimed the island for His Britannic Majesty King George III.

It was of little initial use, being too small and too arid to provide a significant supply of fresh food or water for passing ships. A garrison of Royal Marines was based at Ascension from 1823. In 1899, the Eastern Telegraph Company installed the first underwater cable from the island, connecting the UK with its colonies in South Africa (the ‘Victorian Internet’). In 1922, letters patent made Ascension a dependency of Saint Helena. The island was managed by the head of the Eastern Telegraph Company on the island until 1964 when the British Government appointed an Administrator to represent the Governor of Saint Helena on Ascension.

It was not until the United States Air Force decided in 1942 to build an airbase there that Ascension first acquired a significant working population. Saints from St Helena were recruited in 1942 to work on building the airbase, and Saints have been living and working on Ascension ever since. The airport was later extended (more Saint labour) to act as an emergency alternative landing strip for the Space Shuttle, though it was never used for this. In 1966 the BBC decided to set up a relay service for its BBC World Service on Ascension Island. NASA operated a tracking station on the island from 1967 to 1990. In 1982 the British task force used Ascension Island as a staging post during the Falklands Conflict.

Geographically, Ascension is a simple volcanic peak, ‘Green Mountain’, rising to a height of 859m. The majority of human activity takes place on the (eroded) surrounding flat lands. The island has an area of approximately 88Km².

Ascension Island has no permanent population. Nobody is allowed to reside on the island unless they are employed on the island, or are a dependent of someone who is. Children who are born on Ascension and grow up there are forced to leave the island at the age of eighteen, unless they have found work on the island. It is considered by some that this raises Human Rights issues.

The island population comprises Saints from St Helena (80%), British ex-pats (12%) and Americans (8%), primarily USAF personnel and associated people.

Tourists visit Ascension Island. The primary activities are walking, nature study (the island is a breeding ground for Green Turtles, and has some endemic species), and sport fishing.

Ascension is the midway stop in the ‘Air Bridge’ between the UK and the Falkland Islands. Prior to the opening of St Helena Airport the fastest route between the UK and St Helena was to use the Air Bridge to Ascension and then the RMS St Helena to St Helena.

The island has seven elected councillors. The Governor is represented by an Administrator, appointed from London.

From the sea
From the sea


Georgetown beach
Georgetown beach

Green Mountain
Green Mountain

Devil’s Ashpit
Devil’s Ashpit

Green Turle, laying
Green Turle, laying

A cinder
A cinder

Government Building
Government Building

Wideawake Airfield
Wideawake Airfield{a}

From space, 26th March 2003
From space, 26th March 2003{b}

From space, 2010
From space, 2010{b}


More here:

Tristan da Cunha

Flag of Tristan da Cunha
Flag of Tristan da Cunha
Map of Tristan da Cunha
Map of Tristan da Cunha

Tristan da Cunha lies some 2,000Km to the south of St Helena at 37°4’S 12°19’W. Also a volcanic island, it was discovered by Portuguese explorer Tristão da Cunha in 1506 who named it ‘Ilha de Tristão da Cunha’.

Some sources say the Portuguese made the first landing in 1520, when the Lás Rafael, captained by Ruy Vaz Pereira, called for water. The first undisputed landing was made on 7th February 1643 by the crew of the Dutch East India Company (VoC) ship Heemstede, captained by Claes Gerritsz Bierenbroodspot.

The island was first occupied by Jonathan Lambert, from Salem, Massachusetts, United States, who arrived at the island in December 1810 with two other men, and later a third. Lambert publicly declared all the islands his property and named them the Islands of Refreshment. Three of the four men died in 1812; however, the survivor among the original three permanent settlers, Thomas Currie (or Tommaso Corri) remained as a farmer on the island.

In 1816, the United Kingdom annexed the islands, ruling them from the Cape Colony in South Africa and Anglicising the name. This is reported to have primarily been a measure to ensure that the French would be unable to use the islands as a base for a rescue operation to free Napoleon from his prison on St Helena.

After an especially difficult winter in 1906, and years of hardship since the 1880s, the British government offered to evacuate the island. Those remaining on Tristan decided not to accept, thus deepening the island’s isolation. It is said that no ships visited from 1909 until 1919, when HMS Yarmouth finally stopped to inform the islanders of the outcome of World War 1.

On 10th October 1961, the eruption of Queen Mary’s Peak forced the evacuation of the entire population of 264 individuals (80 families). Islanders fled in open boats to uninhabited Nightingale Island, where they made camp until they were picked up by a Dutch passenger ship that took them via Cape Town to Britain. Damage to the settlement was, however, minimal and most families returned in 1963.

Many scientific studies have been made of the islands, focussing on the wildlife but also on the culture, given that there is such a small group of people (264 in 2016) living in great isolation.

The main island is generally mountainous, covering 0.1Km²{4}. The only flat area is on the north-west coast, which is the location of the only settlement, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas (often referred to as ‘the settlement’. The highest point is a volcano called Queen Mary’s Peak at 2,062 metres. This is snow-covered by in winter. The other islands of the group are uninhabited, though there is a weather station on Gough Island with a staff of six.

The archipelago has a wet oceanic climate, with comfortable temperatures but frequent moderate to heavy rainfall and very limited sunshine due to the persistent westerly winds. Frost is unknown below elevations of 500 metres and summer temperatures are mild, rarely reaching 25°C.

Economically, the island is operated as a commune, as determined by William Glass in 1817. All families are farmers and own their own stock and/or fishing, but all land is communally owned and every household has a plot of land at ‘The Patches’ on which to grow potatoes. Livestock numbers are controlled to conserve pasture. Outsiders are not permitted to buy land or settle on Tristan. In addition to farming, most adults also have salaried jobs, working mostly for the Government. Many of the men also fish, going to sea in good weather. Valuable foreign earnings come from the commercial crawfish or Tristan rock lobster (‘Jasus’) industry. Tristan does not use the Saint Helena Pound (SHP), it uses the United Kingdom issue of the pound sterling (GBP).

Tristan can be reached only by sea. Fishing boats from South Africa call at the islands eight or nine times a year.

There is limited Internet connectivity and no mobile phone service. Almost no tourists visit Tristan da Cunha.

Tristan has eight elected councillors, from which one is elected ‘Chief Islander’ - a purely ceremonial position. The Governor is represented by an Administrator, appointed from London.

For more history see the article below.

Tristão da Cunha
Tristão da Cunha

From the sea
From the sea{c}

Welcome sign
Welcome sign

The Settlement
The Settlement

The Settlement
The Settlement

The Post Office
The Post Office{d}

Sooty Albatross
Sooty Albatross

From space, 6th February 2013
From space, 6th February 2013{b}

Cloud Swirls, 2019
Cloud Swirls, 2019{e}

Volcano eruption, 1961
Volcano eruption, 1961{f}

Return to the island, 1963
Return to the island, 1963{f}


More here:

One that got away…

Note that our assumed sister island, St Helena Nova, side-by-side with us in the South Atlantic, never actually existed!

Read More

Article: Tristan da Cunha

Wirebird cover, November 1961

Published in the St Helena Wirebird{6} November 1961{3}

Last month’s volcanic eruption on Tristan gave much cause for alarm and it was fortunate that the two fishing vessels ‘Tristania’ and ‘Frances Repetto’ were there at the time. Their presence and excellent work made possible the evacuation of the entire population without the slightest mishap. News of the disaster and the events which followed it were reported on in News Review. At the time of writing the people of Tristan have arrived in England a week ago and are being temporarily accommodated in Surrey. We wish them a happy resettlement.

Following the evacuation of the inhabitants from Tristan, Her Majesty the Queen sent the following message to the Island’s population: I and my husband send our deepest sympathy to the inhabitants of Tristan da Cunha in the tragedy that has befallen their island home. I am, nonetheless, very glad to learn that all have been safely evacuated. I send my congratulations to all those who have taken part in this successful operation.

The then Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. lain Macleod) also sent a message to the Administrator of Tristan: I am very glad to hear that the evacuation has been successful. Please convey my sincere thanks to the ‘Tristania’ and ‘Frances Repetto’ for their really magnificent work. I have been much moved by the fortitude of your people and pray that they will all come to safety.

For the benefit of our readers we give a brief outline of the history and geography of Tristan which of course is included in the Colony of St. Helena.

Tristan da Cunha is really a group of four islands: Tristan da Cunha itself which was the only inhabited island, Inaccessible, Nightingale and Gough.

The islands were discovered by a Portuguese fleet under the command of Admiral Tristan da Cunha in March 1506, only four years after our own island was discovered, and first sighted by the British vessel the ‘Globe’ in 1610.

In 1655 an expedition was sent by Jan Van Riebeck, Governor of the Cape, to find out if any good could be made of the islands. The result was an unfavourable report and later in 1696 the Dutch East India Company (VoC) reported likewise.

At the end of December, 1810 the first settlers arrived at Tristan. They were three Americans who were reduced to one by two years later. A year after Napoleon was sent to St. Helena, HMS Falmouth landed a small British garrison on Tristan and laid formal claim to the islands; they have remained British ever since. The garrison was withdrawn a year later and the flag hauled down but three of the men headed by Corporal William Glass, his wife and two children, decided to remain and so became the founders of the Colony.

Tristan and its surrounding islands came under the British Crown in 1876. By this time the population had risen to 85; new settlers included Englishmen, Dutchmen, Americans and St Helenians.

Visits from whalers and East Indiamen and men-of-war between 1817 and 1876 made the island prosperous. In 1851 the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel sent the Reverend W. F. Taylor to Tristan as the island’s first missionary and teacher. He stayed until 1857 but unfortunately was not replaced until 1881 when the Reverend E. H. Dogson, brother of Lewis Carroll, was appointed. In 1867 the Duke of Edinburgh, from whom the Settlement took its name, visited the island.

The replacement of sail by steam was largely responsible for the decline in Tristan (much as it was for St Helena). This was noticeable from 1888. Fewer ships called and consequently there was much loss of contact with the outside world. By 1904 the population was down to 71. So poor were communications that no mail was received from England between 1906 and 1910 and from 1909 to 1922 there was no missionary or teacher on the island.

In 1932 the Reverend Partridge who was on his second tour of service, was officially recognised as Honorary Commissioner and Magistrate. It was he who appointed a Headman and a Headwoman and set up an Island Council. These appointments were continued up to the time of the evacuation.

In 1938 the whole Tristan group of islands were made dependencies of St Helena and from 1859 to 1951 Tristan belonged to the Diocese of St Helena, but from then onwards it came under the See of Cape Town.

During the last war, in 1942, the South African Defence Force built a meteorological and wireless station there which was manned for the duration of the war by the Royal Navy. After the war it was taken over and maintained by the South African Government.

The opening of the station not only brought to an end the period of the Island’s isolation but made it less dependent on charity. Next came a very important step forward. The Reverend C. P. Lawrence, who many readers will remember as he visited St Helena with Archdeacon Wood and was the guest of Bishop Turner, being a Naval Chaplain, naturally had an interest in the sea and consequently recognised the possibilities of a crawfish industry at Tristan as the waters around the islands teemed with this rather precious shellfish. Due to his efforts an agreement was reached with a South African Company in 1948 to develop such an industry on Tristan. This brought the place really on the map and an Administrator was appointed.

In January 1949, the Tristan Exploration Company, later to become known as the Tristan da Cunha Development Company, started its fishing operations there.

The existing Island Council set up by the Reverend Partridge in 1932, was given legal recognition in 1952. The Council consisted of ten men and five women, the Headman, the Headwoman, the Chaplain, Company representatives and the Administrator.

And so the island progressed, the crawfish canning industry grew to be successful. Money came into circulation and the social life of the community had taken a good turn. There was an Island Store, which stocked practically everything required.

Much was done to improve agriculture. Livestock were making a steady improvement. Pasture lands were fenced and grazing controlled. Forests were developed and so successful was the forestry scheme that a number of trees were ready for cutting. Wild life was protected by legislation.

Tristan is the main island and is approximately 2,000 miles west of Cape Town and 1,500 miles south-south west of St Helena. There are a number of plateaus below the peak which erupted. The Settlement of Edinburgh is situated on the north west of the island on the largest of the plateaus. The island is circular in shape and has an area of 40 square miles. Permanent springs provided adequate water supplies.

The other islands of the group: Inaccessible, Nightingale and Gough, are smaller, the largest of these being Gough which has an area of 35 square miles. All the islands are surrounded by beds of kelp which help to moderate the swell.

The climate is temperate and the weather and temperature change rapidly.

Whether or not the eruption of the volcano has made any physical change to Tristan’s features, we do not know but today it stands an uninhabited island.

Laugh at funny Our Sister Islands humour - LOL

{a} Ascension Islander{b} Earth Observatory, taken from the ISS{c} Hadoram Shirihai, via Twitter™{d} St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Philatelic Society (SHATPS){e} Frenchie Leo{f} John Ekwall, originator of the site www.sthelena.se

{1} There are three inhabited islands, but all three have a number of associated islands, of varying sizes.{2} The problem with the da Nova outward-bound theory is that to sail SSE from Cape Verde, as would be necessary to encounter Ascension, would require sailing almost directly into the SE Trade Wind, which while not impossible would certainly have been very difficult. The established route from Cape Verde to The Cape was to cross the Atlantic, follow the coastline of S America South to 34°S then strike due East to The Cape. The S Atlantic Trade Winds supported this route. It is hard to see why da Nova would have deviated from established practice to take a much more difficult route.{3} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.{4} The island group covers 0.2Km².{5} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.{6} The Government newspaper{5}.{7} From which much of the information presented here is obtained{3}.

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