Centred on his memorable visit in January 1957

Community News

Tristan da Cunha Tribute to HRH Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh

10 June 1921 - 9 April 2021

HRH Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh during his visit to Tristan da Cunha
on 17th January 1957

The Tristan da Cunha community and other members of the Tristan da Cunha Association were saddened to learn of the death of Prince Philip and send their sincere condolences to HM Queen Elizabeth and other members of the Royal Family.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s visit to Tristan da Cunha on 17th January 1957 was the single most important social event in the island's history and ever since then he showed a constant interest in the island and made a special contribution as a royal and loyal friend.

There have been only two royal visits to Tristan. The first in 1867 was unannounced, so, when the second son of Queen Victoria, HRH Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Commander of HMS Galatea, arrived at the island on 5th August, no plans had been made beforehand and everything was organised hastily on the day, but the memorable day was permanently marked with the settlement being named 'Edinburgh' in the Duke's honour, later to be known officially as 'Edinburgh of the Seven Seas'.

HM Yacht Britannia off Tristan da Cunha as depicted on the envelopes of the 2017 stamp issue First Day Cover envelope.

Painting by Edward Seago Longboats arrive off HMY Britannia
(HRH The Duke of Edinburgh arranged for prints of this image to be made and framed. They were donated to the Tristan da Cunha Association and presented to the Island Museum in 2011)

Ninety years later, HRH Prince Philip, also the Duke of Edinburgh, arrived on HM Yacht Britannia during a long journey back from the 1956 Olympic Games held in Melbourne, to visit a thriving Tristan community which had been planning for this great day for many months. Despite recent wet weather the village was spruced up in his honour, houses were painted, welcome archways erected, and a full programme organised.

Five newly painted Tristan longboats put out to sea to welcome HM Yacht Britannia and Prince Philip to the island. The Duke of Edinburgh took the tiller of the leading boat to arrive at the beach, and here was a welcome from islanders in their Sunday best, women and girls gathered in bright printed dresses and headscarves on the plateau above whilst, on the beach below, the men in dark suits and ties were ready to haul the boats ashore. Cheers greeted His Royal Highness as he came ashore for a day which included visits to the Big Beach fishing factory and island homes to view knitwear being made and a display of local handicrafts. The Duke's cheery interest and informality at once put everyone at ease, chatting to people, sitting in a kitchen to remove a stone from his shoe, finding out about domestic life and receiving a warm welcome.

HRH The Duke of Edinburgh flanked by, from the left, Administrator Pat Forsyth-Thompson, Head of the Women Martha Rogers, Mrs Forsyth-Thompson and Chief Islander Willie Repetto.

At St Mary’s Church the Duke saw the organ given by Queen Mary, the White Ensign laid up from HMS Magpie, (a frigate once under his command), and the small stone font which was salvaged from a shipwreck in 1880. Lunch, which included fresh crawfish and stuffed roast mutton, was served in the Administrator's house, then part of the wooden station, built in 1942 to house the top-secret naval radio base.

The scene at the construction site of a new community hall with HRH The Duke of Edinburgh standing left. Tristan scouts and guides form a guard of honour and gifts for HRH and his family are displayed on the table.

HRH laying the foundation stone of what would become known as the Prince Philip Hall

The centrepiece of the day was the ceremony at the site of a new community hall, then a steel frame fixed to concrete foundations. After speeches of welcome from Administrator Pat Forsyth-Thompson and Chief Islander Willie Repetto, the Duke laid the first stone, (with a shilling under it, for luck) and accepted the gifts from the Island: for the Queen a beautiful model longboat, for Prince Philip, a knitted island wool cardigan and an album of photographs, for Prince Charles, a model boat and bluefish-eye marbles, for Princess Anne a model spinning wheel, and for all of them a pair of colourful island socks. After the naming of the building 'Prince Philip Hall' there were visits to the hospital, island store and to a display of stock and vegetables. A cheerful football match on the sloping cattle pasture ended with the score: Islanders 2 Britannia Crew 2. The Tristan football team has never had an away fixture!

Tristan stamps issued in January 2017 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of HRH Prince Philip's visit to the island.

After tea, the Yacht's band played for an adults' dance, and His Royal Highness took part in the famous Tristan Pillow Dance, much to the pleasure of everyone. Finally came the walk back to the boats with Commander Parker carrying gladioli which the Head Woman Martha Rogers presented to the Duke for his cabin. Islanders were nervous and apprehensive prior to the Duke's visit, but his easy manner made him a most popular guest, summed up in typical understatement that 'He was a nice man'.

Painting by Edward Seago The Duke of Edinburgh departing Tristan da Cunha, showing the scene on Big Beach with islanders bidding Prince Philip a fond farewell.

(HRH The Duke of Edinburgh arranged for prints of this image to be made and framed. They were donated to the Tristan da Cunha Association and presented to the Island Museum in 2011)

The Duke of Edinburgh's visit more than sixty years ago began an interest in island affairs. The Tristan da Cunha Association was honoured to welcome His Royal Highness as the principal guest and speaker at a Dinner held at the Royal Geographical Society in November 2006 to celebrate the quincentenary of the discovery of Tristan da Cunha. During his entertaining speech he recalled that, when at the tiller of the longboat Lorna, he feared that the RY Commodore might hole the canvas with his shooting stick!

Scene at the Dinner held at Royal Geographical Society hosted by the Tristan da Cunha Association in November 2006 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the island's discovery:
From left: Vice President Sir Martin Holdgate, Vice-Chair Lorna Lavarello-Smith, HRH Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh and Chair Michael Swales.

On numerous occasions he contributed to island events and publications by writing letters of support which have added a royal seal of approval that has been special for the island. The most recent was a letter to mark the bicentenary of the British settlement of Tristan in 1816.

The Duke has received Tristan Newsletters since 2004 and after every edition his Private Secretary sends the Editor a letter which demonstrated that His Royal Highness enjoyed reading about Tristan and showed a keen interest in island life. For example, wishing the island every success as it worked towards a maritime protection zone in 2020 and recognition of recent work to archive the island's history. Prince Philip's initiative led to the creation of three bespoke prints of the Edward Seago oil paintings prepared by the artist when coming ashore with the Duke in 1957; these have pride of place in the Tristan Museum and thankfully are safe after the 2019 storms. In a letter sent in 2017, Prince Philip noted that, even though he was stepping down from public engagements, he wished to continue to receive newsletters that he would read with interest.

HRH The Duke of Edinburgh indeed gave royal service to the world's most remote community, and he will always be remembered with warm affection.