1200 miles from the nearest inhabited land and 1500 miles off the Atlantic coast of South Africa sits the 38 square-mile island of Tristan da Cunha. Unlike the Channels or Pitcairn, Tristan was uninhabited, perhaps even totally unknown, until 1506—just in time to end up on Mercator’s map. For a few centuries, it was nothing more than a stop on the way from Europe to the Indian Ocean, but by the early 1800s so many whalers were criss-crossing the globe that Tristan became a routine resting point.
In 1810, Jonathan Lambert stepped off a whaleship with a friend and declared Tristan his own, naming the chain the Islands of Refreshment. They had a flag and everything! His rule lasted naught but two years, when the three citizens of the Refreshments drowned in a tragic fishing accident. The island was by then a strategically valuable waypoint for US ships during the War of 1812, so the British claimed it to keep the US away. And if you believe the rumors, they also wanted to keep the French from using the island as a staging point in some harebrained scheme to spring Napoleon from his exile on St. Helena, which was 1400 miles away. High-stakes diplomatic intrigue! I bet secret government communiques were involved.
A small civilian population built up even while the opening of canals and the decrease in whaling rendered the island ever more remote. The current population is just over 300, and they have internet. Further reading here and here.
Side note: Tristan da Cunha is located within the ominously-named “South Atlantic Anomaly,” which despite the X-Files name is just a spot on earth with a weaker magnetic field…although experiments show that it has abnormally high levels of antiprotons, so…
Appeared in: island trivia roundup