The First Resident Community on Tristan da Cunha


In 1817 the British garrison withdrew but a small community, led by Corporal William Glass, remained behind voluntarily. Glass was a Scot by birth but was now married to Maria, a South African, and had two children. Staying on Tristan da Cunha with Glass were Samuel Burnell and John Nankivel, both competent stonemasons.

This tiny community began an experiment in cooperative living on Tristan da Cunha by voluntarily drawing up and signing a written agreement that gave each party an equal share of the stores supply, an equal share of any profit, equal liability to pay for purchases and that no one member of the community would be superior to others. The document was signed by all parties on November 7th 1817.

Stamp depicts HMS Julia wrecked on Tristan da Cunha 1817
Stamp depicting HMS Julia, wrecked off Tristan da Cunha in 1817


The small Tristan da Cunha community grew albeit slowly as sailors survived shipwrecks or chose to leave passing ships. A big increase in the population came in 1821 when the "Blenden Hall" was wrecked on nearby Inaccessible island adding 50 names to the roll. This increase led to shortages of food and problems for the community were compounded by failed trading enterprises and the dishonesty of original founder, Samuel Burnell, who vanished with the island's sealing season profits during a trip to Cape Town. Nevertheless, the community continued, helped by the arrival of five women from St Helena.

The start of the Victorian era saw more ships and whaling vessels in the area. Dutchman Pieter Groen, soon known as Peter Green, was shipwrecked in 1836 and americans Thomas Rogers and Andrew Hagan married Tristan girls bringing much needed new blood to the community. Rev W Taylor also arrived to become the first resident clergyman and school teacher.

Pieter Groen or Peter Green shipwrecked and stayed on Tristan da Cunha

Dutchman Pieter Groen, or Peter Green, arrived by shipwreck 1836