1961 St Helena “Tristan Relief Fund”

9/10/2012     St Helena

In 1961, a volcanic eruption forced the evacuation of the entire population of Tristan via Cape Town to England, where they eventually settled on an old military base. This set of Tristan da Cunha stamps was locally surcharged in St Helena and put on sale to provide aid for the refugees, and is most unusual in that the currency of Tristan had just changed to South African Rand and Cents yet the charity surcharge was in Sterling, the currency of St Helena. The issue was only on sale for a week between the 12th and 19th October and only 434 sets were sold (raising £108!) In 1962 a Royal Society expedition gave the all clear and most families returned in 1963.

Tristan Da Cunha is a remote but habitable island group which lies 1,750 miles from South Africa and 2,000 miles from South America with the closest land being the island of Saint Helena 1,500 miles to the north.

Tristan was first discovered in 1506 by the Portuguese sailor Tristão da Cunha, a large visible waterfall giving importance as a watering stop in the circumnavigation of Africa, however its first permanent settler was Jonathan Lambert, from Salem, Massachusetts, who arrived at the islands in December 1810. He declared the islands his property and named them the Islands of Refreshment. Lambert's rule was short-lived, as he died in a sailing accident in 1812.

In 1816 Great Britain formally annexed the islands, ruling them from the Cape Colony in South Africa. This was primarily a measure to ensure the French would not be able to use the islands as a base for freeing Bonaparte from Saint Helena, although by this time the increasing number of ships on the India route had need of an additional supply and watering point. However after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 its importance dramatically declined, the garrison had been removed in 1867. Today the population is around 275 people who farm the land communally, fish and have additional revenue from the sale of Postage Stamps.

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