ANTIQUES AND COLLECTING Postal History of Remote Island; Harry Hawkes Meets the Biographer of the the World's Loneliest Island

Article excerpt

Never too late: 88 year-old Allan Crawford's book, Penguins, Potatoes & Postage Stamps, adds valuable historical background to the development of Tristan island's services, particularly its postal system.

Picture/JEREMY PARDOE

Spinning a yarn: Women of Tristan da Cunha spin wool which is knitted to form one of the cottage industries thriving in homes on the island.

At the age of 88, Allan Crawford, engineer, meteorologist, seaman, stamp designer and author, has travelled the world and today looks back on fond memories of Birmingham.

Here is a man to whom advancing age presents a challenge - with retirement offering fresh horizons to be explored and new opportunities to be taken. For Mr Crawford has just produced his third book, a fascinating chronicle of the life and times of the world's loneliest island, Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic.

Not just that, either, Mr Crawford has had the brainwave of requesting a member of the Royal Family, no less, to contribute a foreword to the book.

Britain's sailor Prince, the Duke of York, who pays tribute to the Tristan islanders' 'sturdy independence', commends the book itself and praises Allan Crawford's 60 years' service to the island. This has included his distinction of having designed Tristan's first postage stamps, plus being the inspiration behind a number of subsequent postal issues for the island.

Prince Andrew adds: 'I have sadly never had the opportunity to visit Tristan, as my father has, however my association with the people of the South Atlantic is synonymous with my service in the Falklands along with my later visits to Ascension Island and St Helena, where the school is named after me.

'I take this opportunity to wish all the Tristan da Cunha islanders my best wishes and hope that all of you who read this book get a feeling of how special Tristan is.'

Written on Buckingham Palace headed notepaper, the Prince's typewritten Foreword is signed simply 'Andrew'.

Mr Crawford's book, Penguins, Potatoes & Postage Stamps, is a fascinating book which adds valuable historical background to the development of island services, particularly its postal system.

After all, Tristan da Cunha is still largely known to the Western world simply as the speck of land where the infamous mutineers from the Bounty sought refuge from justice and where, in 1962, everyone had to be evacuated to prevent annihilation by a terrific volcano eruption.

It was, as the author recalls, particularly disheartening for the unfortunate islanders for with Britain in the grip of its severest winter for a decade they were miserable and homesick. Soon they preferred to risk death by fiery volcano than the cold and damp of the British climate and sought early repatriation.

Mr Crawford's introduction to Tristan was in 1937 when, on board RMS Arundel Castle, on a visit to South Africa, he sat next to the leader of a Norwegian expedition to Tristan. …