This film is held by the BFI (ID: 353190).


PROPAGANDA. Appeal by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel for funds to continue its work on Tristan da Cunha. The film consists of material shot during the visit to the island by The Quest in 1922, previously released in SOUTHWARD ON THE QUEST.

Shots of Tristan from the sea, with explanatory titles outlining the history of the settlement (147) A number of women carding and spinning wool outside a cottage (147-299) An ox team dragging a raft of brushwood for fuel are followed by an islander on a donkey (322-355) Islanders gathered round a smoking fire (378) The Reverend H. Martyn Rogers and his wife, who went out in 1922, pose with Commander Frank Wild and a group of islanders. Wild holds up a young girl for the camera (462) Stores unloaded from The Quest are moved away by ox-carts (476-533) Rogers steering an ox-cart laden with stores (542-577) Mrs Rogers poses outside the schoolhouse with the local children, some of whom wear scout uniform (650) Watched by Wild, Scout Marr presents to the local scout troop a flag sent by Baden-Powell. The scouts give three cheers (719) Photos of Mr Pooley and Mr Linsay, sent out to Tristan by the S.P.G in 1927 after the death of Rogers (729-744) Titles appealing for funds for the S.P.G to continue its work on Tristan (782) Distant photo of Tristan from sea (796) Credit (799ft)



The tiny volcanic island of Tristan da Cunha officially became an outpost of Empire in 1816, after an extremely cautious decision by the Admiralty to station a small garrison of men there lest the French attempted to use the island as a staging post to rescue Napoleon, who was imprisoned on St Helena, some 1300 miles to the north.

The island was not uninhabited: an elderly man named Thomas Currie and his young Spanish servant, Bastiano, lived there. Currie was the only survivor of the first colonisers of Tristan, a group of three pirates under one Jonathan Lambert, who had sent a letter to every government in Europe proclaiming himself owner and ruler of the small island group that he had renamed ‘The Isles of Refreshment.’ The three men had hoped to make a fortune selling potatoes to passing ships, but by 1816 only Currie and Bastiano were still alive, the others having been either drowned at sea or possibly murdered (Mackay, 1963, 30-6).

The garrison was then removed in 1817. There was precious little further intervention, and though Tristan was assumed to be a British possession, the claim was never tested. The population grew mostly through arrivals by shipwreck. Missionaries bound for the East occasionally called at the island, and in 1851 it had gained its first priest, William Taylor, despatched by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (S.P.G.). At this point there were about 80 inhabitants.

The S.P.G., which was well established in southern Africa and throughout the colonies, continued to take an interest in the spiritual wellbeing of Tristan’s people and subsequent appointments to the island continued to be made by them (although when Taylor left in 1856, no-one replaced him for 25 years). The S.P.G. also regularly interceded with the authorities on behalf of the islanders, asking for ships to be diverted and necessities dropped off (Cannan, 1992: 200-8).

It was the S.P.G. that appointed Rev. H. Martyn Rogers to Tristan in 1921, after he had answered an advertisement placed in The Times and The Guardian. He took with him his 17-year-old wife, Rose Rogers, and the couple stayed on the island until 1925, when they left ‘due to bad feeling’ (ibid., 212). It was during Rogers’ tenure that the ship The Quest, on its way back to South Africa from South Georgia after the aborted Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic expedition, stopped at Tristan for a period of five days between the 19and 25 May 1922.

It was on this visit that the expedition’s naturalist, G. H. Wilkins, took the film that was used for Tristan Da Cunha. Rose Rogers, writing in her memoir The Lonely Island, recalls spending a day with Wilkins as he filmed and photographed the island, noting that some of the photography was ‘for film exhibition’ (Rogers, 1926, 67). The diary of Alexander Macklin, Shackleton’s surgeon on the expedition, is precise about the date, noting that on the 20th May, ‘Wilkins took his cameras and cinematograph machine, and had a busy day photographing the people in the various stages of their work, family groups, cottages and, indeed, anything of interest’ (Wild, 1923, 231). Both H. Martyn and Rose Rogers appear in the film.

Wilkins’s footage was used for the 1922 film Southbound with The Quest, a record of the expedition. Tristan Da Cunha, produced in 1927 by the S.P.G., is edited from Wilkins’s film, with added titles that give some background to the island and the events pictured. It is not clear how the footage was obtained by the S.P.G.

Rev. Rogers died in 1926, and Rose Rogers’s memoir, dedicated to him, appeared that year. She subsequently gave lectures about life on the island under the auspices of the S.P.G. Volume 2 of the Tristan Da Cunha – Cuttings preserves two press clippings from 1928 giving notice of lectures by Rogers ‘illustrated by a film’, and also contains notice of a lecture ‘illustrated by Films and Lantern Slides’ to take place at the Imperial Institute on 6 December 1928. This last gives the strongest hint that the film shown was Tristan Da Cunha, as the event was chaired by the secretary of the S.P.G. (Cuttings, vol 2, 64). 



As an S.P.G. re-cut of existing material for fund-raising purposes, Tristan Da Cunha recasts as documentary account what was originally material conceived of as having a place within the narrative of the homeward leg of The Quest’s voyage. A visit to the island filmed and presented from an outsider’s point of view becomes an insider’s appeal for assistance, particularly in the context of lectures by Rogers.

The footage itself is of interest, showing as it does one of the most extraordinary and unlikely outposts of humankind, and the frighteningly barren-looking island on which it subsists. The landscape itself seems to convey a sense of the islander's isolation, and it is startling to see black-and-white Friesian cows in this blasted, treeless landscape. The people themselves are as of another age; the sequences of women spinning and carding wool for the camera, and the cattle clumsily dragging brushwood along a rough track appear as images from a distant and austere world, out of time.

The title cards paint the picture of material and spiritual impoverishment that missionary film conventionally seeks to impart to its viewers, and the central message of the film – ‘Will you assist the S.P.G. to provide the spiritual ministrations in this outpost of Empire?’ reads the final card – is standard missionary fund-raising fare. Apart from the title cards and credits, the only sequence to have been added to Wilkins’s film is a still frame of montaged photographs showing the two missionaries that succeeded Rogers, Rev. Robert Pooley and his assistant Mr. Lindsay, who were assigned to Tristan by the S.P.G. in 1927. This odd sequence, in which the two men appear as a sort of apparition, rather heightens the sense of remote strangeness imparted by the footage itself, and augments it with a touch of amateurish folksiness entirely in keeping with the much of the content. 

Francis Gooding (January 2010)


Works Cited

Cannan, Edward Churches of the South Atlantic Islands (Owestry: Anthony Nelson, 1992).

Mackay, Margaret Angry Island: the Story of Tristan Da Cunha (1506 – 1963) (London: Arthur Baker Ltd, 1963).

Rogers, Rose Annie The Lonely Island (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1926).

Tristan Da Cunha – Cuttings 1886-1946, 5 vols., press cuttings compiled by D. M Gane.

 Wild, Frank Shackleton’s Last Voyage: The Story of the Quest (London: Cassell and Co. Ltd, 1923). 




Technical Data


Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain





Production Organisations