NEW RELEASE 2020 - Tristan da Cunha : Female Ancestors

"Probably all the adjectives known to man have been used at one time to describe woman, but without doubt the one most suited to the women of the lonely community on Tristan da Cunha is 'unique'." So wrote the Cape Times in 1922.

While earlier stamp issues commemorating Tristan's family surnames have tended to focus on the community's male founders and their stories, their wives have equally interesting stories that are also worthy of celebration and commemoration. The island's founding fathers were white Europeans or Americans, but most of the founding mothers were of mixed race, which adds a further dimension to their stories. If the men's lives were hard, the women's were as hard if not harder, if only because of the perpetual round of childbirth they had to endure. It was even harder when most of the island men perished in the lifeboat disaster of 1885.



45p - Maria (Mary Magdalena) Leenders (1801-1858)*, Cape Colony, arrived 1816

Maria was one of the founding members of the community, arriving with her husband William Glass in 1816. Described as a Cape Creole, she married William, in July 1814, at an incredibly young age in the Cape Colony and bore 16 children. After he was stranded on Tristan in 1824, the artist Augustus Earle described the life of Maria and the only other woman then on the island, Peggy White, as follows:

"Their time is so fully occupied that I seldom see either of them; being constantly in the cook-house, which is separated from our dwelling. Children there are in abundance, all healthy and robust, and just one year older than the other."

Five of her sons were engaged in whaling on American ships. Following the death of William, she emigrated with most of the family to New London, Connecticut, in 1856 to live with her son Robert Hill Glass, who had become a successful whaling captain, until her death in 1858. Her daughter Selina, who had married Captain Andrew Hagan, remained on the island. One of her sons, Thomas, who also remained on the island, was lost in the lifeboat disaster of 1885.

The portrait comes from one of Earle's paintings, and the background shows the Union flag, which was used by the Cape Colony at that time.

55p - The St Helena Women, arrived 1827

The story goes that the five men living in "Bachelor's Hall" in the 1820s, badly feeling the need of female companions, persuaded Captain Simon Amm of The Duke of Gloucester to bring them five women from St Helena in 1827. Captain Amm made a request to the Governor of St Helena who wanted written assurance that the women would be looked after. The captain landed the women on the beach then made off, not staying to see the men’s reaction to the women he had brought.

The term "mail order brides" that is sometimes used to describe the women underplays the factors that may have made the move to Tristan seem appealing. It is possible they were former slaves and may have taken the surname of an owner in some cases.

The five women were:

• Sarah Jacobs (Williams/Bowers) (c.1795-1893)* - Negro, married Thomas Hill Swain. She arrived with four children, and went on to have a further ten children. Her marriage to Thomas Swain was legalised in 1851 and Bowers was the name given on her marriage certificate. Mary Jacobs (1815 – 1900)* was born on St Helena to Sarah Jacobs. She married another founding father

Peter Green (officially in 1852). Her surname is given as Jacobs in the baptism register but Fisher on her marriage certificate. They had eight children, of whom three sons, William, Jacob and Jeremiah were lost in the lifeboat disaster of 1885 as well as three grandsons, all sons of William. Mary was presented to Prince Alfred, first Duke of Edinburgh when he visited the island in 1867 and had lunch at their house.

• Maria Williams (c.1810-1892)*, sister (probably half-sister) of Sarah Jacobs. Mullato/Afro/Malayan she married Alexander Cotton (officially by Rev Taylor in 1852) and bore 13 children. The Cottons were an important family on Tristan during the 19th century, but by the end of the century, all but the elderly Betty Cotton had emigrated, mostly settling in Simon's Town, South Africa.

• Sarah Bassett Knipe (dates unknown) - arrived with her daughter Fanny. It is not known if she was born on St Helena but was described as having English parents, which was a contrast to the other women who were described as negro/coloured. She married Richard 'Dick' Riley and bore a further 10 children. The family moved to the Cape in 1857. Fanny ‘Riley’, daughter of Sarah, married Peter Miller in 1839 and they had eight children. The Millers left the island with the Riley family in 1857 and settled in the Riversdale-Mossel Bay area of the Cape.

• Eleanor (surname and dates unknown) - It is possible that she was born a slave on St Helena. She married George Peart and had a daughter Agnes who was born in 1834. The family left Tristan in 1837.

• Nelly (surname and dates unknown) - Race unknown. She married Peder Petersen, a Dane, who had been shipwrecked on the island. They had a son Peter. Nelly and her son left Tristan in 1857 after Peder died in an accident.

William Glass unofficially married the couples, as there was no clergyman on the island. The marriages were all legalised by Rev Taylor later on.

The picture on the stamp shows island women in the 1860s, and comes from a woodcut published in The Graphic, 1875. The background shows the flag of the East India Company, which controlled St Helena in 1827.

£1.00 - Susannah 'Susan' Martha Philips (1843-1932)*, St Helena, arrived 1867

Susan was a 'Saint' of mixed race, who met and married Tristanian Samuel Swain on St Helena in 1863. She bore two children on St Helena, and a further 9 after the family moved to Samuel's home island. Samuel was lost in the lifeboat disaster of 1885 but Susannah remained on the island until her death in 1932.

The picture also comes from the woodcut published in The Graphic. The background shows the Union flag, the Crown having taken over control of St Helena from the East India Company in 1834.

£2.00 - The Smith Sisters, Mullingar, Ireland, arrived 1908

The three Smith sisters - Elizabeth, Agnes and Annie - belonged to an Irish family from Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. Their father was in the British army and the family had moved to Kokstadt in South Africa. They met and married three Tristanian men, who served in the Anglo-Boer War, two of whom were brothers. They all returned to Tristan in 1908.

The three sisters were:

• Elizabeth 'Lizzie' Smith (1876-1917)* - Married Robert 'Bob' Franklin Glass, brother of Joseph, in St Mary’s Cathedral, Cape Town in 1895. They had eight children, five who were born in the Cape. Elizabeth died in 1917 at the age of 41.

• Agnes 'Aggie' Smith (1887-1970)* - Agnes met Joseph Fuller Glass, who with his brother Robert was a soldier in the Anglo-Boer war, and they were married in South Africa. They came to Tristan in 1908 with their eldest son. Agnes and Joseph had three children. She remarried after Joseph died in 1915 to William Rogers on 9th May 1919 and they had six children. Agnes was a devoted Catholic and was responsible for introducing the Catholic faith to the island along with her sister Elizabeth. She held services at her house and was awarded the ‘Benemerenti’ medal from Pope Pius XII in 1958 for her service to the faith.

• Annie Smith - Married James Glass Hagan, a cousin of Joseph and Robert. They did not stay long on Tristan before returning to the Cape.

The pictures of Lizzie and Aggie come from family photographs. The background shows the St Patrick's flag, which represents the island of Ireland - both the present-day Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

* Women who still have descendants on the island.

FDC - Painting of Tristan da Cunha by Augustus Earle, 1824

The London born travel artist Augustus Earle was stranded on "Tristan d'Acunha" from March to November 1824. Earle arrived on The Duke of Gloucester with the same captain that brought the St Helena wives to Tristan in 1827.

Technical Details

Designer Andrew Robinson

Printer Cartor Security Printing

Process Stochastic Lithography

Perforation 13 ½ x 13 ¼ per 2cms

Stamp size 28 x 42mm

Sheet Layout 10

Release date 7 May, 2020

Production Co-ordination Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd




For further information, please contact Juliet Warner: