More than 200 people live in Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, the remotest town in the world, where outsiders are forbidden to settle


If you have ever wondered what it would be like to live in a place so isolated that there is no other inhabited place within 1350 miles, the answer can easily be obtained. Just travel to the town of Edinburgh of the Seven Seas and ask one of its 246 neighbors (population on April 4, 2019 according to the official website).

To put it in context, the distance would be more or less the same as a straight line between Miami and New York. Imagine a circle with that radius and center in Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, in which no one lives but the 246 inhabitants of Edinburgh itself. What is more, outside that circle the nearest population is on the island of St. Helena, located 1,350 miles to the north and about 1,100 miles off the coast of Angola, famous as the place of Napoleon Bonaparte’s confinement and death.

This isolation means that the place has very peculiar characteristics, such as the fact that many common diseases in the rest of the world do not exist, such as colds, because the viruses that cause them can only travel there by boat, something that is not very common.

The island of Tristan da Cunha and its location on the map / photo public domain – NASA on Wikimedia Commons

The settlement was founded in 1816 on the island of Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic, with a British military garrison, precisely to prevent the French from launching an operation to rescue Napoleon from there, and was maintained until the end of the Second World War. When the army left, a handful of islanders were left behind.

For 10 years, between 1909 and 1919, no ship arrived on the island until HMS Yarmouth visited to inform the inhabitants of the end of the First World War.

The eruption of a volcano in 1961 forced the entire population to move to the United Kingdom, but they returned two years later and rebuilt the town.

Almost all buildings in Edinburgh of the Seven Seas are ground floor, except for the two churches (one Catholic and one Anglican). There is a hospital, a post office, a supermarket, some bars and restaurants, a school, a museum and a volcanic natural park.

But what do people live there for? Most of them are retired people who live from their pension and have a free bus at their disposal to move around the 37 square miles of the island. The rest work in the fish canning factory founded in 1963 or are farmers. A particularity of the island is that all the land is communal and families work it together. Therefore it is forbidden for outsiders to both buy land and settle there.

The only way to get in and out of the island is on the boat that once a month arrives from Cape Town with supplies and doctors and dentists who stay until the following month. As the port of Edinburgh is small and only accepts small boats, the boat only has a capacity of 12 people, so that is the number of people who can leave the island each month. And the trip takes 6 days.

As can be assumed, inbreeding is very high and in fact the 80 families of the place only have 8 different surnames: Glass, Green, Hagan, Laverello, Repetto, Rogers, Swain and Patterson. All the inhabitants descend from 15 ancestors, eight men and seven women who arrived on the island between 1816 and 1908. All the men were European (Scottish, English, Dutch, Italian) except for one American, while the women were mixed (of diverse origin) and African, so the entire population has mixed ancestry.

Because of this diverse origin, over decades they developed their own dialect that mixes English with Afrikaans slang and Italian.

Until a few years ago, communications with the rest of the world depended on satellite telephones, they did not have live television until 2001 (which they get thanks to the British Armed Forces Broadcasting Service), and the Internet is only available via satellite in a few public places. There is no mobile phone network.

As if all this were not enough, there are no political parties or trade unions.

Sources: Tristan da Cunha (Sitio Oficial) / Tristan da Cunha (Bill Thayer) / Smithsonian / Wikipedia.