The idea of relying on only one’s own wits and ingenuity to survive in a harsh environment seems to be hotter than ever. In recent years the media has been awash with survival stories, how-to books, and so called reality shows depicting the techniques that a person might need to utilize should they find themselves in various life or death situations. Many fantasize about what it would be like to get away from all the aggravations and responsibilities of today’s always connected, never truly alone world.
This feeling is of course not so much a new development. Lone adventurous souls have long yearned to go out and explore the world on their own to see what they were truly made of. One such person was adventurer Tom Neale. Neale was born in 1902 in New Zealand and from a young age was fascinated by the sea and its various surrounding islands. Upon his eighteenth birthday he signed on as an apprentice engineer with the New Zealand navy and would spend the next four years navigating around the numerous Pacific Ocean islands.
The restrictive nature of military life was not quite suited for Tom’s adventurous spirit, however. He ached to be able to have the freedom to explore and experience the various island chains he encountered to his heart’s content. He left the navy and began working at small tourist shops to make ends meet. It was during this time that he became intrigued by an island named Suwarrow. After getting the opportunity to make a delivery to the very small number of people inhabiting it, he knew this was the place he wanted to call home.
Image Credit: riverbendnelligen
It would take many years for Tom to make his dream a reality, but finally the time came. In 1952, Tom arranged for transport to the island bringing with him just two cats and a small cache of supplies to the now uninhabited island. He would make use of the things the previous residents had left behind. A small hut would become his home. He domesticated the feral chickens. He systematically killed off the island’s pigs because they kept thwarting his attempts at gardening. Tom would spent his next years here with extremely limited human interaction before being forced to return home following a serious back injury.
Image Credit: riverbendnelligen
Upon his return to civilization and the healing of his back, Tom married and would have two children. But his aching for the solitude of his beloved island still remained. He would return to Suwarrow in 1960 alone. This time, however, he was not quite so isolated. He was subject to occasional visits by those wishing to check on his welfare, some believing he reports that he was dead. A family of three spent months on the island with him after being shipwrecked. And perhaps the most invasive of all to Tom, pearl divers had begun increasingly making their presence felt in the area. Facing this, he would leave the island once again in January 1964, this time voluntarily.
He would attempt one last time to make a life on the island – this time returning in 1967. But things were not quite the same anymore. A handful of other people had begun their own attempts at making it their own way on Tom’s island. He would not be deterred though and remained living there for many years. The tropical home would be the site of his last years, after visitors to the island in 1977 took him to receive medical attention and it was discovered he had stomach cancer. Within eight months, Tom had passed away. His remains were buried by an airport on a nearby island.