Inaccessible Island is an extinct volcano, 14 km² (5.5 sq mi) in area, rising out of the South Atlantic Ocean 45 km (28 mi) southwest of Tristan da Cunha. Inaccessible Island is located at . It is a territory of the United Kingdom, although throughout its history it has had no permanent population. Together with Gough Island, it is a protected wildlife reserve which has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Inaccessible Island was first discovered in 1652 during a voyage by 't Nachtglas
, a Dutch
ship, 146 years after Tristan da Cunha was first sighted by Portuguese
sailors. When mapped by sailors, the newly-found island was referred to as "inaccessible" since the crew who landed were not able to get further inland than the beach. However, several later expeditions have gone deeper into the island to uncover more details about its wildlife.
The Stoltenhoff brothers, who arrived on Inaccessible from Germany in 1871, lived there for several years intending to make a living sealing and selling their wares to passing traders (forgetting how infrequently Inaccessible had visitors). However, due to the scarcity of food, they were rescued in 1873 during HMS Challenger
's visit to examine the flora and fauna there. The South African author Eric Rosenthal
chronicled the Stoltenhoffs' adventure in 1952.
In 1922, Ernest Shackleton's
ship, the Quest
, stopped by Inaccessible briefly, and a botanist on board discovered a bird later named (after him) the Wilkins Bunting
In 1938, the Norwegian Scientific Expedition spent three weeks on the island, during which time they managed to gain access to the plateau and extensively catalogued plants, birds, and rocks.
After World War II, a scheme was devised to make Inaccessible into a farm, but it fell through.
Another attempt at mapping the island was made during the Royal Society
's expedition of 1962 to Tristan da Cunha, which took scientists to Inaccessible Island. Like many other explorers before them, the scientists were not able to reach the interior of the island.
Inaccessible Island was declared a nature reserve under the Tristan da Cunha Conservation Ordinance
of 1976. Tristan islanders, however, were still permitted to harvest seabirds from the island.
The most successful expedition to Inaccessible Island to date was the 1982 expedition by students and faculty of Denstone College
. Staying at the island from October 25
, until February 9
, they made detailed maps of the island, studied its flora, fauna, and geology, and carried out a marking programme on more than 3,000 birds.
In 1997, Inaccessible Island's territorial waters out to 22 km (14 mi) were declared a nature reserve under the Tristan da Cunha Conservation Ordinance
of 1976. Currently, only guides from Tristan are allowed to take visiting cruise ships to Inaccessible; indeed, most trips to the island are now made at the request of expatriates and missionaries.
Due to poor navigation charts, 19th-century sailing ships had to be guided by islands in waters where their crew did not know much about the currents. Shipwrecks were common; at least 22 have occurred in the region of Tristan da Cunha, and at least three confirmed shipwrecks have occurred off the coast of Inaccessible Island.
The first, and most dramatic, was that of the Blenden Hall, a British ship chartered to the East India Company, which set sail in 1821 with 84 passengers and crew aboard. Intending to sail past Saint Helena, it was carried instead towards Tristan da Cunha due to adverse currents. It ran aground on Inaccessible Island and suffered a broken back, but the forecastle was carried inshore. All but two of those aboard survived the shipwreck, and, subsisting on wild celery, seals, penguins, and albatross, managed to build boats some months later. The first attempt to sail to Tristan failed, resulting in the loss of six people, but the second attempt alerted the Tristanians to their plight. The remainder were then brought to Tristan, where most of them were later taken away by a brig to Cape Town, South Africa.
Later shipwrecks included the wreck of the Shakespeare at Pig Beach in 1883 and the Helen S Lea at North Point in 1897.
Inaccessible Island is perhaps best known for the Inaccessible Island Rail
, the world's smallest living flightless bird. Other birds found at Inaccessible include the wandering albatross
, rockhopper penguin
, Tristan thrush
, and the Antarctic tern
When Corporal William Glass and his family became the first settlers at Tristan da Cunha in 1816, goats and pigs were brought to Inaccessible Island to serve as a source of food. They remained there for at least 57 years and helped to keep the Stoltenhoff brothers alive during their expedition, but they have now died out. Cattle, sheep, and dogs were also introduced to the island at various points in the island's history, but none remain.
Subantarctic Fur Seals and Southern Elephant Seals have also been spotted at Inaccessible Island in ever-increasing numbers, and whales live in the surrounding waters.
No land mammals, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, or snails have recently been found at Inaccessible. Inaccessible Island does have 64 native plant species, including 20 types of flowering plants and 17 species of ferns. In addition, 48 invertebrate species exist on the island, 10 of which were introduced.
Inaccessible Island has been used by the islanders of Tristan da Cunha for several economic purposes. The island has guano
deposits and eggs, but due to the difficulty of travelling about the island, the islanders have generally chosen to go to Nightingale Island
instead. However, three company ships fish off the coast of Inaccessible. They are permitted by the Tristan da Cunha Annex Penumbra of 1945 to fish up to 3,000 metres from shore.
References in literature
- Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket alluded to Nightingale Island, Inaccessible Island, and Tristan da Cunha.
- In Patrick O'Brian's The Thirteen Gun Salute (1989), pp. 120-29, Captain Aubrey's ship Diane, in a dead calm, is carried toward Inaccessible Island by the inshore current. One of the sailors recounts the wreck of a whaling ship that he witnessed, drawn to the island in similar conditions and lost with all hands. As the ship drifts closer and closer, the boats are put out to tow it away, but it nevertheless continues to draw nearer, especially when it enters kelp beds near the island that make it more difficult to tow. Comparing the ship's forward motion with its lateral drift, it becomes obvious to Aubrey, only a quarter mile away from the end of the vertical cliff, that the rowers cannot pull the ship away in time. The episode is depicted in the cover painting of the book showing the towering cliffs plunging directly into the sea.
- "Sea Lion", the pseudonym of "a serving naval officer" (Geoffrey Martin Bennett), wrote The Phantom Fleet (1946), a novel that was predicated on the supposition that Inaccessible Island contained a natural harbour, the entrance to which was concealed from the sea. The antagonists were assembling a fleet of obsolescent warships in this harbour, with the intention of striking a coup de main leading to world domination; a scheme foiled by the derring-do of a naval officer and the guns of the Royal Navy.