Tristan da Cunha: A Libertarian Paradise?

Rafael Augusto B.L. de Oliveira | @ancient_scrolls

Far out in the South Pacific, a chain of islands lie beyond the fast-paced technological life of today. Away from the stress of modern society sits Tristan da Cunha Island. The island, part of the larger Tristan da Cunha archipelago, is the most remote place in the world, 1,750 miles away from Cape Town, South Africa, the nearest mainland. Due to its geography and political structure, it also is a libertarian paradise.

Tristan da Cunha Island

If you ever wanted to run away from the modern world, Tristan da Cunha might be the place for you. Dreamers of a more laid-back life and a free society, where no one is in a hurry, might love this small archipelago located in the middle of the South Atlantic. Tristan da Cunha is a British territory with a long history.

The island chain is a key part of the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha. The Tristan archipelago currently holds the title of the world’s most remote inhabited isles. The closest human settlement to this secluded archipelago is Saint Helena, which lies roughly 1,510 miles away. As of 2018, the main island of this archipelago has roughly 250 inhabitants who all have British citizenship.

History of the Settlement

Accidentally discovered in 1506, this archipelago was named after Tristão da Cunha even though he wasn’t able to successfully land on the island on his first trip to it. In 1520, after several unsuccessful attempts thanks to rough Atlantic seas, da Cunha finally landed successfully. Yet, it wasn’t until the 19th century that someone finally settled permanently in the archipelago.

In 1810, four American explorers tried to make Tristan da Cunha home, turning it into a farm. Only one succeeded; the others lost their lives in 1812. The surviving Thomas Currie remained on the island as a farmer. Shortly thereafter, the US Navy used the islands as a naval base during the War of 1812.

Four years later, the UK built a small naval base on the Island, hoping to prevent the US from using it again. The military settlement on the island was also used to prevent Napoleon from escaping his exile on Saint Helena. Over time, the population began to grow. British naval soldiers started to bring their families to the archipelago. However, the British naval base on the Island didn’t last long. Seeing no need to continue it, the British government disbanded it in 1817.

However, one family decided to stay, turning the island into their home. William Glass, a former corporal in the Royal Artillery, settled with his wife, two sons, and two masons. That was the start of what would become the Tristan settlement. Shipwrecked sailors and additional settlers helped fuel the population increase.

Tristan da Cunha: British Territory or Libertarian Paradise?

Fast-forwarding more than five centuries since its discovery, Tristan da Cunha experienced slight but noticeable growth. The island is legally a British Overseas Territory, but the mainland exercises little to no real power over the residents. From law to land ownership, immigration to the economy, the inhabitants run their lives as they see fit. They have an Island Council of eight elected and three appointed members serving three-year terms, but given the simplicity of life, the government is non-intrusive compared to most today. Only the local government makes decisions, making it a more ideal form of government for many libertarians.

The isolated island is difficult to become a resident of. Having UK citizenship won’t help much, as there is no purchasable property. On the contrary, the 250 natives call the shots; they decide who can stay or own property on the territory.

Visitors and natives alike speak highly of the simple lifestyle present. The only access the archipelago has to the internet is through one old computer. But the kids don’t seem to mind. Growing up on the island gives an entirely different experience, and the children, having never experienced the technology of modern society, simply live a different lifestyle.

Closed and Isolated

Tristan da Cunha Island is a British overseas territory. However, moving there is extremely difficult, even to those who hold British citizenship. According to the island’s official website: ”Immigration to Tristan is not possible unless you already have a family connection with the island. Even then, there are certain restrictions on residency. It is not possible to buy real estate or property on the islands.”

Nevertheless, if you hold British citizenship you might be a candidate for one of the few temporary jobs the Island offers to skilled foreigners. There are no openings currently, but they periodically open up and appear on the website.

Tristan de Cunha islanders have achieved a level of privacy, peace, and isolation that not even the most secluded areas of the US will ever reach. As the developed world keeps getting smaller, Tristan da Cunha lacks both the benefits and detriments of our increasingly online society. It exists as one of the few places left where everyone lives a laid-back life that recent generations have not seen.


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