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Gough Island

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  • Bob Conrich
    ... Gough Island was discovered in the early 16th Century by the Portuguese navigator, Goncalo Alvarez, who gave it his name: the island was commonly known as
    Message 1 of 2 , Feb 29, 2004
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      Ian Turner wrote:

      > Yep, I often think that about Stoltenhoff and Middle Islands -
      > that they never seem to count in their own right. Neither was
      > even mentioned in the Schreier book for example, although the
      > Stoltenhoff brothers themselves were.
      > Oh, another thing - the book specified the origins of the
      > Tristan, Nightingale and Inaccessible names, but it just said
      > that Gough was an English name. Who was Gough? Does anyone know?

      "Gough Island was discovered in the early 16th Century by the Portuguese navigator, Goncalo Alvarez, who gave it his name:
      the island was commonly known as Diego Alvarez. Little was heard of the island subsequently, until it was resighted by
      Captain Gough of the Richmond, a British ship, in 1731. Its precise geographical location was unclear for many years, but
      eventually it became known to British and American sealers and whalers, who preferred the name Gough Island."



      Discovery and history

      Gough Island was discovered by a Portuguese seaman and named Goncalo Alvarez after him, probably in 1505 or 1506. Alvarez
      later became Pilot General on the Portuguese sea route to the Indies, which passed across the central south Atlantic before
      rounding the Cape. Maps of the period were never very accurate, especially since longitude could not readily be determined
      until ships chronometers were perfected in the late 18th century. Consequently the "Ilha de Goncalo Alvarez" varies somewhat
      in its plotted position on different old maps, but is consistently placed well southward of the "Ilhas de Tristan de'Acunha"
      discovered by another Portuguese seaman in 1506.
      Captain Gough of the British ship Richmond was probably misled by these problems of position fixing and charting into
      thinking that he had discovered a new island in 1731. For many years "Gough's Island" and "I. de Go. Alvaroz" (often
      mis-spelt "I. Diego Avarez") appeared side-by-side on the charts. Then (was it a symptom of British expansion and Portuguese
      decline?) the older name was dropped and Gough Island obtained its present title.
      Nobody took much notice of the islands until, around 1790, sealers discovered that good money could be made from the skins of
      the fur seals then abundant on the islands of the Southern Ocean. Captain Patten of Nantucket, U.S.A., made a sealing voyage
      to Tristan in that year while in 1811 a British warship calling at Gough Island found a sealing gang ashore "filthy, ragged
      and dressed mainly in skins" awaiting the return of their ship for themselves and their catch. Sealers lived ashore on the
      islands for spells of a few months during the height of the industry in the thirty years up to 1820, during which time almost
      all the seal were destroyed, and came back again for a while between 1869 and 1890 when the stocks of the animal had somewhat
      recovered, but their efforts at Gough never led to permanent settlement. Apart from devastating the populations of fur seal
      and elephant seal, sealers may well have introduced some of the weeds now found on the island, and perhaps also the only
      Gough Island pest - the house mouse. On the credit side, G. Comer, mate of a sealer, made the first bird collections and kept
      a diary which gives the earliest detailed account of life on the island.
      There were few visitors to Gough Island between 1900 and 1955. In 1904 the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition called in
      their ship Scotia, homeward bound from the Antarctic, and made the first botanical and geological collections. In 1914 a
      party of diamond prospectors from Cape Town lived for three months in The Glen (named by nostalgic Scots a decade earlier)
      and panned the volcanic debris in the vain belief that it was "yellow ground". No diamonds were found. In 1922 the Quest
      brought the men of Sir Ernest Shackleton's last expedition inland at The Glen and made a chart and further collections. In
      1935 Lars Christenson brought a Norwegian scientific expedition. Only in 1939 was the island formally annexed by Britain
      the flag being raised above the beach in The Glen by a bedraggled party scrambling ashore from one of H.M.S. Milford's boats,
      swamped in the surf. In 1946 commerce came to Gough Island when an exploratory fishing investigation from Cape Town proved
      the inshore waters to be rich in crawfish; from 19 ships of a company, now Tristan Investments (Pty.) Ltd., have exploited
      this resource in the shallow seas about all four islands.
      On 13 November, 1955, a scientific expedition, The Gough Island Scientific Survey, landed at The Glen. This party consisted
      of eight young scientists, most of them from Cambridge University in England, together with a South African meteorologist,
      Mr. J.J. van der Merwe, and two Tristan Islanders. A base was established in The Glen and in the six months prior to the
      expedition's departure on 13 May 1956 the island was mapped and detailed studies of rocks, vegetation and animal life completed.

      This expedition also demonstrated the suitability of Gough Island for a weather station and from May 1956 the hut in the Glen
      became the property of the South African Department of Transport. Mr. Van der Merwe remained as Officer-in-Charge (in which
      capacity he welcomed Gough Island's only Royal visitor, the Duke of Edinburgh, in 1957) and from that time the island has
      been continually manned by South Africa. The old base in the Glen, while ideal for access to the central mountains of the
      island and adjoining the best landing beach, proved too shut in by the steep walls of the valley to be ideal for
      meteorological observations and in 1963 a new station was constructed at Transvaal Bay on the south coast. Here, 150 feet
      above the sea, on a rolling lowland covered with bush and ferns, with vide views over the sea and to the inland hills, "Gough
      House" now shelters a seven-man team and its equipment.


      There are some interesting pictures on this page as well.

      Bob Conrich
      ...who prefers the sunny Caribbean
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