Testing Early Days for Tristan da Cunha


On November 24th 1853 the original founder of the resident population on Tristan da Cunha, William Glass, died of cancer. Glass was survived by his wife, eight boys and eight girls.

The community buried him in the Island cemetery and his lasting monument, acquired by and sent by Samuel Johnson (son-in-law), his wife and other relatives was reportedly "a handsome piece of marble" carrying the words:

In Memory of
William Glass
Born at Kelso, Scotland,
the Founder of the Settlement of Tristan in which he
resided 37 years, and fell asleep in Jesus
November 24, 1853, aged 67 years.
Asleep in Jesus, far from thee
Thy kindred and their graves may be but thine is still
blessed sleep
From which none ever wakes to weep


Tristan da Cunha stamps marking the life of William Glass
Tristan da Cunha stamps marking the life of William Glass


The loss of William Glass eventually led to the departure of 25 family members in 1856 who went to join relatives in Massachusetts. 45 more island residents departed when Rev Taylor left Tristan in 1857, most opting to settle in South Cape Province (South Africa). The Tristan da Cunha community was left with just four families comprising a total of 28 people. Dutch born Peter Green now took over from William Glass as community spokesman.

Among the gloom, some good news emerged when Thomas Glass returned to Tristan da Cunha in 1866. The following year, HRH Alfred Duke of Edinburgh, son of Queen Victoria, visited aboard HMS Galatea after which the Settlement was officially named Edinburgh of the Seven Seas (although it's a name not used by the islanders).

However, the inevitable downside saw the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 which meant a faster and safer passage between Europe and Asia and the arrival of steam ships enabled more direct routing in the Atlantic. These maritime events combined quickly to reduce the number of ships passing Tristan da Cunha and the community entered a period of severe isolation.