Illustrated Talk: Tristan da Cunha’s ‘volcano years’1961-1963 – the Shetland dimension

Ray Burnett and Kathryn Burnett, Scottish Centre for Island Studies, University of the West of Scotland

TDC  Survivors on Boat
Image courtesy of British Pathe

In 1961 a volcanic eruption forced the community of Tristan da Cunha, ‘the loneliest island in the world’, to abandon their island home for evacuation to the UK and an uncertain future. First to offer a new home to the Tristanians were the islanders of Shetland. While government deliberated what to do, the ‘refugee’ island representatives visited Shetland to assess the possibilities.  After considerable debate the government’s preferred resettlement location was to be the south of England where the islanders remained for just under two years before they were finally able to return to Tristan in 1963.

As Tristan da Cunha celebrates the 50th anniversary of this return, Ray and Kathryn Burnett have been researching this remarkable story of small island survival. The media coverage and government files of these events reveal much about prevailing perceptions of islands and islanders within the ‘corridors of power’ and the popular press.  Their findings in the archives, from Stockholm to Shetland bring to light not just the significance of those who stepped forward as the champions of small island communities but also the importance of the Shetland dimension. This illustrated talk will present these findings with a view to rekindling and seeking out memories from within Shetland of these events of fifty years ago.

This research has been funded by the British Academy.

The talk is on at Shetland Museum Archives  on Thursday 7th March 2013  at 7:30 pm (Doors open  7:00 pm). All welcome.