back to basics: some prefer the sticks

We are inclined, mistakenly, to equate happiness with comfort. We can buy comfort, not happiness.Not that long ago,in 1961,  264 inhabitants of Tristan da Cunha, that very uncomfortable subantarctic island, were evacuated to England under a rain of lava from their volcano. After nearly two wretched years in civilization they begged, and obtained, their return to their happy discomfort. To many of them, England was a world more mysterious than heaven and hell. In their village and home, the islander was generally incurious and probably content…

(see link at end)… The teenagers looked like sad losers dressed by their mums and the oldies just seemed to be dying from flu. Then one day I heard incredible news. The hated tory colonial office was forcing them to go back to their blasted island. Only I hadn’t got it quite right. They had fought the colonial office to be allowed to go back. I watched open mouthed as the following interview with a Tristanian who talked like a Dickensian washerwoman was aired on South today:

Did you like television? No – we didn’t like television at all.

Are there any ideas from England you’ll be taking back with you? No we weren’t taking back any ideas from the outside world.

Any hints on farming in England? No nothing that would suit us….

—Islander Joyce Hagan, 71, said the refugees had been frightened when they came to England and feared dreaded “Teddy Boy” gangs.
She also said four or five of the older islanders had died “of broken hearts” when they were forced to leave.
‘Better place’
In 1963 the island was deemed safe enough for the islanders to return. But not all did.
Dora Tarrant met and fell in love with her husband Keith, from Surrey.
She said: “I found the people [in England] very nice. They were all kind to me anyway.—Read More:

Finally as she embarked hastily…..’England’s very nice but there’s nothing here we want,

‘Ungrateful bleeders’ said my dad……….but not to me…..I was upstairs looking for that tiny red dot in the South Atlantic. ‘Most remote inhabited island in the world – a volcanic archipelago consisting of Tristan, Nightingale and Inaccessible islands.’ I asked my geography teacher about it – he knew nothing.

In 1937, as part of a Norwegian scientific expedition, Peter Munch visited Tristan Da Cunha. He was surprised to discover that the form of social organisation on the island was ANARCHY… And had been for over 100 years.

There was no government, police, money or headman/woman. Munch wrote, ‘The principles of freedom and anarchy were firmly established in the Tristan community as a social order based on the voluntary consensus of free men and women. In such a community not only is authority, control or any kind of formal or informal government considered unnecessary and undesirable but is felt to be a menace and a threat to individual rights.’ (Crisis in Utopia: Peter Munch 1971)…

—A new factory and harbour were built, and since then the fishing industry has prospered. Though deeply upsetting, the evacuation led to some benefits for the islanders. The forced stay in England introduced them to a different life style. Their homes were renovated, and many of the formerly thatched roofs were replaced with corrugated sheeting; running water was provided, as was electricity with the completion of the factory. —Read

: image:

The inhabitants of Tristan were not a self-selected commune who had gone there to establish utopia. They were of all races and survivors of shipwrecks or ex-whalers who had washed up there over 100 years. That anarchy became their natural form of social organisation and persisted against all efforts of the British government to undermine it is all the more remarkable.

Andrea Repetto, an Italian who had been shipwrecked on Tristan in 1892, was one of the few Tristans who could read or write. Seizing there chance the British government addressed all communications to Andrea Repetto, ‘Head Man ‘or occasionally ‘governor’. For twenty years they never received any reply ’til the mail was discovered unopened. Repetto explained that as there was no head man or governor on the island so no one felt able to open the mail!…

Thomas Birch. Shipwreck. 1829. Image:WIKI

In astonishment a government spokesman wrote in 1903, ‘There is an extraordinary state of affairs in this civilised century that there is no form of authority and the Tristans are curiously averse to any individual being considered to have more influence than the rest.’

Munch reported there had NEVER been any crime and no fist fight in living memory.

The Tristanians were not anarchists who’d read their Bakunin – they found anarchy to be the natural form of social organisation though they would never have used the word themselves. So how then had this remarkable Utopia come about? Read More:

… Three women got jobs at Woolworths in Redhill but they had no concept of time keeping – indeed no concept of time at all. If one woman couldn’t come to work then another would fulfil her obligation by coming instead. When things were quiet they would drift away from their allotted places. Surprisingly they were not good at handling money – failing to offer change when money was handed over. The WRVS arranged communal activities like football or dances but no islanders turned up. They were ungrateful. After three months they were moved to Fawley near Southampton in the shadow of an oil refinery….(ibid.)

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