When I was a child I lived for 5 years on a tiny little island called Tristan da Cunha in the middle of the South Atlantic.


We left in 1961 to return to England, but then, a few months later, the so-called ‘extinct’ volcano rumbled into life and all the islanders had to be evacuated.

They lived in England for a while, but most of them were terribly homesick for the island and returned as soon as it was safe.

Peter Wheeler was the Administrator at the time the volcano awoke, and here’s his eye-witness account:

“Think back (if you were old enough then) to early October 1961 when the weather and the sea were both bad. We hadn’t seen a ship for weeks until, a few days earlier, the two fishing ships had arrived at the start of their fishing season. Meanwhile back on land things had not been easy for some time with earth tremors, bumps and rock falls, in and around the village, increasing in number and intensity day by day.

Nobody knew for certain what was happening deep down beneath us. Even the experts from England and South Africa could only guess – wrongly as it turned out!

There wasn’t much we could do ourselves except cross our fingers and hope for the best! We did however manage to establish that whatever was going on was happening right underneath us! This was not only extremely unlucky, but also extremely lucky as well – bad luck because we might have had to get out of the way very quickly indeed if things going on below ever came to the surface, and good luck because there were probably places we could escape to if necessary.

As it was, we just had to wait and see; but not for long, for on October 9th a spot on the grassy slope near the houses split, with one half rising some 10 feet above the other. What was it – the beginnings of a volcanic eruption or what? It wasn’t at all clear!

Common sense dictated that we should get out of the way and that night we slept, as best we could, at the Patches. Meanwhile, out at sea the two fishing vessels rode at anchor opposite to us and in the middle of the night, Scottie seeing the start of an eruption, sent up flares to warn us.

Mercifully, we slept on and were not tempted to try to evacuate to the ships in the dark. Mercifully too, when daylight arrived, the sea was calm and with the new volcano growing quietly we were able to leave from Little Beach without anyone so much as spraining an ankle.

Up to this point our biggest lucky break was that the new eruption grew slowly and didn’t explode hurling rocks high into the sky. If it had exploded I am sure that none of us would be around today!

Being blessed with good fortune during the evacuation itself right up to the eventual return to the Island, good luck stayed on, as one after another the jigsaw pieces fell into place during the days and months that followed.

The sea was calm, the volcano didn’t explode, an empty liner was crossing the Atlantic, another liner on its way to Southampton was waiting in Cape Town, the Army lent us some barracks and the RAF gave up no less than sixty four of their houses in Calshot and then, most important of all, in Cape Town and in England we were surrounded by kindness and real sympathy with people falling over backwards to be helpful.

And then finally the best bit by far. All those hundreds of miles away on Tristan the eruption stopped and it was safe to return.

Martha Rogers summed it all up beautifully when she said:- “We was meant to leave and now we is meant to go home.” (Peter’s piece ends here)

We went with my Mum and Dad and visited the islanders when they were living in Calshot. Peter Wheeler doesn’t say, but they were all absolutely convinced that God had protected them and brought them safe off the island.

For more about Tristan and photos of that amazing island:



  1. What a beautiful and heart warnming post G, well worth all these comments. I am convinced God did have something to do with this and your time was definitely very precious to him. Thanks for this, I really enjoyed it šŸ™‚ x


  2. Amazing to live under the threat of a volcano! I remember reading about it in Time Magazine, and I was nineteen and living in Zanzibar, East Africa. My father was living in Cape Town with his second family, his wife and one daughter who was about fifteen. What a nice mannered volcano it is. Just about the nicest one on our planet! It takes it’s time so that all it’s beloved children can leave, and then come back afterwards! XX


    1. Thanks, Athel šŸ˜‰ The amazing thing was that the volcano emerged at the far end of the plateau where everyone lived. The lava covered ‘Big Beach’ where the canning factory was and most of the fishing boats, but no houses were damaged apart from those nearest getting their flax roof burnt. It must have been frightening at the time, but nobody was hurt and of course most of them are now back there. They have built a new harbour at ‘Little Beach’ and new factory and acquired new boats, the standard of living seems to have risen a lot, and they are much happier with living simply. It’s an ideal many of us envy.


  3. That is an amazing story i wonder what i was doing then i cant remember that far back. I think i was in a relationship with a medical student who kept me hanging on for five years messing me about with the promise of marriage but was such a mummies boy it was never going to work and in 1964 i marriad some one else.xx


    1. It would be amazing … but it’s actually difficult to do, because you have to get to Cape Town first – that’s the easy bit: then you have to wait for the fishing ships that ply between Cape Town and Tristan, and they come and go according to the weather!


      1. I so much enjoyed your last recommendation, the Hare with the Amber Eyes, I think I might follow this one up too!

        What is the news on your mother’s house?


      2. Robert Harris weaves a good story, which marries well with his excellent research from that time. I am thoroughly enjoying.

        The beat goes on and on with my Mother’s house….the buyers needed a ‘deed variation’ on their property. The draft deed variation has just been issued for hopefully approval by the solicitors….who definitely make out like bandits in all this stuff.
        Fortunately I don’t have to pay the solicitors for this, but the buyers do. They are so desperate to move in….and the buyer of their house is techncially homeless now and living with his Mother. In other words the solicitors are holding us all hostage, and getting money at the same time…….
        Ah well – one step at a time, I hold on and keep my patience. Thanks Gilly.x


      3. It sounds horrendously complicated, and immensely frustrating. My daughter has just bought her first house (or rather, taken out her first mortgage) and found she had to be on to the solicitors and estate agent constantly just to get them to do their jobs.


      4. When this is over, because surely it has to be one day…..I plan to write quite a lot about this experience, if for no other reason than it might help others.
        We all know that buying and selling property is not easy, but my experience is showing that it can frankly be beyond the pale.
        You will be one of the first to know if this actually happens:)


  4. It does look so little! Like a green barnacle! How amazing to have lived there…. An extraordinary experience to live there and an extraordinary experience for the inhabitants living through the volcano stirring itself and so on… Wow. A whole ‘nother world away….. There’s a lot of world out there isn’t there?


    1. It’s left a lasting impression! Most of the island is uninhabitable except for a little plateau on one side, where we all lived. I’d love to go back, she says wistfully, but it’s HUGELY expensive!


      1. D’you think St Nicholas could stump up a few more gold coins in the night … ??

        By the way, had a lovely time last Sunday for All Saints, and I enjoyed teaching my lot a little bit more about the saints … we are SO low-church here we are practically underground, and so saints do not figure largely in our spiritual life … which won’t do, when they surround us all the time with the martyrs and angels and everyone, cheering us on!


      2. Yes…. if we believe the spirit lives on then it makes sense to acknowledge that they are indeed there just as you say…. I certainly had a huge feeling of them being very present during a long litany of the saints at the huge outdoor Mass at Aylesford Priory when the relics of St Therese of Liseux were there – was absolutely amazing – almost like a roll call or the register being taken and them saying “Here!” :yes: a different feeling for different saints – some very tearful and others really joyous…


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