A small cluster of about 4 large islands, 7 smaller islands and several islets together form an arc in the Bay of Bengal some 30 km east of Great Andaman. This arc extends from North to South just parallel to the Great Andaman group. Most of these islands are so closely placed that only a very narrow channel separates them.
This cluster of islands is famously referred to as Ritchie’s Archipelago. Havelock and Neil are the most popular islands of the group. Havelock also happens to be the biggest and the most settled and cultivated island of the group with an area of about 95 sq km. The smallest are the 3 islets of Button (middle, north and south) with an area not exceeding 0.4 sq km.
The indigenous Great Andamanese initially inhabited some of these islands but slowly disappeared with the coming up of the British colony. Today most of the inhabitants of the islands of Ritchie’s Archipelago are immigrants from mainland India and Burmese settlers.
Named after the 18th century British marine surveyor John Ritchie, these islands have a varied topography. The interiors of most of these islands have small hills, an occasional plateau, cliffs, lagoons and plains in addition to the outer flat coastlines.
Many of these islands are surrounded by rich coral reefs. With a tropical moist and warm weather, these islands are home to about 65 species of butterflies with a few of them exclusive only to this area.
John Ritchie took almost 2 decades to map and document Andaman and its surrounding areas. His accounts and detailed documentation became the first and the most authentic source of information for mariners from other European countries.
But unfortunately, his efforts failed to encourage the British to further explore and develop Andaman and the surrounding islands. It is believed that disappointed and discouraged, John Ritchie returned home in 1787. It was almost a century later that a British colony was established here and in appreciation of his hard work, this little group of islands forming an arc was named Ritchie’s Archipelago.
Ritchie’ Archipelago is administered by a Tehsil –a sub division of the local government with its administrative head operating from Port Blair, 45 km south southwest of the archipelago.