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Ritchie's Archipelago is a cluster of smaller islands which lie some 25–30 km (16–19 mi) east of Great Andaman, the main island group of the Andaman Islands. the Andamans are located in the Bay of Bengal, bordering with the Andaman Sea and are some 200 km (120 mi) south of the nearest Asian mainland, Cape Negrais in Myanmar.
The archipelago comprises some 4 larger islands, 7 smaller islands and several islets, extending in a roughly north-south chain, parallel to the main Great Andaman group. Baratang Island and South Andaman Island lie to the west across Diligent Strait; the active volcano Barren Island is some 75 km (47 mi) further to the east.
The islands were originally populated by the indigenous Great Andamanese peoples, in particular the tribal and linguistic grouping known as Aka-Bale. However, as the populations of the various Andamanese indigenous peoples declined greatly in the decades following the establishment of colonial settlements by the British Raj (and later, independent India), the indigenous communities of these islands have vanished. The present population of the islands consists of immigrant Indian and a few Karen (Burmese) settlers.
Together with the rest of the Andamans, Ritchie's Archipelago is incorporated into the Indian union territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and part of the Andaman district. It is administered by the tehsil (a local government sub-division, roughly equivalent to a county) of Port Blair. The territory's capital and administrative centre (also called Port Blair), is located approximately 45 km (28 mi) to the southwest of the archipelago, accessible via a 3-5 hour ferry trip.
The 2001 census of India reported 8,247 people living on the three inhabited islands of Ritchie's Archipelago: Havelock Island (5354), Neil Island (2868), and John Lawrence Island (25).
The main islands in the archipelago (in decreasing order of approximate size) are:
- Havelock Island - 113.93 km2 (43.99 sq mi) (pop. 5354)
- Henry Lawrence Island - 55 km2 (21 sq mi)
- John Lawrence Island - 41.98 km2 (16.21 sq mi) (pop. 25)
- Sir William Peel Island - 23 km2 (8.9 sq mi) (more commonly abbreviated to Peel I.)
- Wilson Island - 14 km2 (5.4 sq mi)
- Outram Island - 13 km2 (5.0 sq mi)
- Neil Island - 18.90 km2 (7.30 sq mi) (also Neill I.) (pop. 2868)
- Nicholson Island - 1.8 km2 (0.69 sq mi)
- Inglis Island - 1.4 km2 (0.54 sq mi) (also called East I.)
- Sir Hugh Rose Island - 0.6 km2 (0.23 sq mi) (often abbreviated to Hugh Rose I.)
- Middle Button Island - 0.4 km2 (0.15 sq mi)
- North Button Island - 0.25 km2 (0.10 sq mi)
- South Button Island - 0.1 km2 (0.04 sq mi)
The islands of Ritchie's Archipelago run in a closely spaced arc which extends about 60 km (37 mi) from the southern-most Hugh Rose I. to North Button I., with the strait between them and Great Andaman ranging from 30 km (19 mi) to less than 10 km (6.2 mi). Most of the islands are clustered closely together separated by only narrow, almost river-like channels. The exceptions are Hugh Rose and Neil Is to the south of Havelock, and the three small Button Is which are smaller outliers to the north of the group.
The interior of most of the islands consists of undulating hills and plains, with a topography not exceeding 100 m (330 ft) above mean sea level. Occasionally the land rises reasonably abruptly from the sea to a domed plateau, and there are a few rocky coastal cliffs; however, in the main the coastlines are relatively flat, interspersed by both rocky and sand beaches and some low-lying lagoons and estuaries on the larger islands. Coral reefs surround many of the islands, particularly on the "sea-ward" (i.e., eastern) coastlines.
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The archipelago is named after an 18th-century British marine surveyor, John Ritchie, who spent nearly two decades in the employ of the Council of Bengal charting and documenting the Andamans and surrounding regions.
Of the archipelago which now bears his name, Ritchie's accounts and maps were the first reliable sources of information on the islands, which until then were very sketchily known to Europeans. Ritchie was one who championed that the British administration in India make further investigation and use of the Andamans. During Ritchie's time these entreaties were largely ignored. Perhaps frustrated and disillusioned after years of thankless work under difficult circumstances, Ritchie requested to be returned for home leave, which he was in 1787. An extract from his parting note to his superiors explained:
"The condition of my health being such as requires an immediate change of climate... after a series of 19 years continuous service in the office of Marine Surveyor, I hope there is no impropriety in my requesting the favour, also... to continue my allowance to me... It is a small salary, and the receipt of it has been the only advantage I have ever reaped from the Company's service, and because my Line of Service, from its singularity, has had no gradation of advancement... whilst its Duties have been uncommonly severe, uncommonly hazardous, and equally unprofitable; for what advantage could be obtained from tracking a Labyrinth of Woods and Rivers? Or from exploring the Shoals of a shelving and broken Sea Coast? All of which uninhabited, and seldom visited, except perhaps in the disastrous case of shipwreck... In the meantime it has been from my Labours, that the Hon'ble Company have obtained all authentic knowledge of the Sea Coast and Tide Rivers of their possessions in Bengal, together with other services more important and beneficial."
Two years after Ritchie's departure, an attempt was made to set up a colony in the Andamans, but this was aborted after only a few years. It was not until 1867 that a permanent European presence was established, when the whole islands were annexed by the British and a penal colony established at Port Blair on South Andaman Island.
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Notes and references
- Ritchie overstates the "uninhabited" nature of the islands, since he was well aware of the existence of the indigenous tribes, and had spent some time in the company and direct presence of several of them