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Saint Helena
Flag Coat of arms
Motto"Loyal and Unshakeable"
Anthem"God Save the Queen"
"My Saint Helena Island" (unofficial)
Capital Jamestown
15°56′S 5°43′W / 15.933°S 5.717°W / -15.933; -5.717
Official languages English
Ethnic groups  50% African, 25% European, 25% Chinese[1]
Government Part of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
 -  Monarch Elizabeth II
 -  Governor Andrew Gurr
UK overseas territory
 -  Charter granted 1659 
 -  Total 122 km2 
47 sq mi 
 -  February 2008 census 4,255 
 -  Density 35/km2 
90.6/sq mi
Currency Saint Helena pound (SHP)
Time zone GMT (UTC+0)
Internet TLD .sh
Calling code 290

Saint Helena (pronounced /ˌseɪnt həˈliːnə/ saint hə-lee-nə), named after St Helena of Constantinople, is an island of volcanic origin in the South Atlantic Ocean. It is part of the British overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha[2] which also includes Ascension Island and the islands of Tristan da Cunha. Saint Helena measures about 16 by 8 kilometres (10 by 5 mi) and has a population of 4,255 (2008 census).

The island has a history of over 500 years since it was first discovered as an uninhabited island by the Portuguese in 1502. Britain's second oldest remaining colony (after Bermuda), Saint Helena is one of the most isolated islands in the world and was for several centuries of vital strategic importance to ships sailing to Europe from Asia and South Africa. For several centuries, the British used the island as a place of exile, most notably for Napoleon Bonaparte, Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo and over 5,000 Boer prisoners.




Early history, 1502–1658

Most historical accounts state that the island was discovered on 21 May 1502 by the Galician navigator João da Nova sailing at the service of the Portuguese Crown, and that he named it "Santa Helena" after Helena of Constantinople. It has also been suggested by reputable scholars,[3][4][5] however, that the island found by De Nova was actually Tristan da Cunha 2,430 kilometres (1,510 mi) to its south,[6] and that Saint Helena was discovered by Estêvão da Gama on 30 July 1503.[3][4][5]

The Portuguese found the island uninhabited, with an abundance of trees and fresh water. They imported livestock, fruit trees and vegetables, and built a chapel and one or two houses. Though they formed no permanent settlement, the island became crucially important for the collection of food and as a rendezvous point for homebound voyages from Asia.

Englishman Sir Francis Drake very probably located the island on the final lap of his circumnavigation of the world (1577–1580).[7] Further visits by other English explorers followed, and, once St Helena’s location was more widely known, English ships of war began to lie in wait in the area to attack Portuguese India carracks on their way home. In developing their Far East trade, the Dutch also began to frequent the island. The Portuguese and Spanish soon gave up regularly calling at the island, partly because they used ports along the West African coast, but also because of attacks on their shipping, desecration to their chapel and images, destruction of their livestock and destruction of plantations by Dutch and English sailors.

The Dutch Republic formally made claim to St Helena in 1633, although there is no evidence that they ever occupied, colonised or fortified it. By 1651, the Dutch had mainly abandoned the island in favour of their colony founded at the Cape of Good Hope.

East India Company, 1658–1815

'A View of the Town and Island of St Helena in the Atlantic Ocean belonging to the English East India Company', engraving c. 1790

In 1657, the English East India Company was granted a charter to govern St Helena by Oliver Cromwell,[8] and the following year the Company decided to fortify the island and colonise it with planters. The first governor, Captain John Dutton, arrived in 1659, and it is from this date that St Helena claims to be Britain’s second oldest colony (after Bermuda). A fort was completed and a number of houses were built. After the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, the East India Company received a Royal Charter giving it the sole right to fortify and colonise the island. The fort was renamed James Fort and the town Jamestown, in honour of the Duke of York, later James II of England.

The Company experienced great difficulty attracting new immigrants, and unrest and rebellion fermented among the inhabitants. Ecological problems, including deforestation, soil erosion, vermin and drought, led governor Isaac Pyke to suggest in 1715 that the population should be moved to Mauritius, but this was not acted upon and the Company continued to subsidise the island because of its strategic location. A census in 1723 showed a total population of 1,110, including 610 slaves.

A succession of 18th-century governors attempted to tackle the island's problems – by extending tree plantations, improving fortifications, eliminating corruption, building a hospital, tackling the neglect of crops and livestock, controlling the consumption of alcohol and introducing legal reforms. From about 1770, the island began, for the first time, to enjoy a prolonged period of prosperity. A new parish church was erected in Jamestown in 1774. Captain James Cook visited the island in 1775 on the final leg of his second circumnavigation of the world.

The importation of slaves was made illegal in 1792. Governor Robert Patton (1802–1807) recommended that the Company import Chinese labour to supplement the rural workforce. These arrived in 1810, their numbers rising to about 600 by 1818. Many were allowed to stay on after 1836 and their descendents became integrated into the population. A census in 1814 showed the number of inhabitants was 3,507.

British rule 1815–1821, and Napoleon's exile

Napoleon at Saint Helena.
Longwood House, St Helena: site of Napoleon's captivity.
Main text: Napoleon I of France: Exile on Saint Helena

In 1815 the British government selected Saint Helena as the place of detention of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was brought to the island in October 1815 and lodged at Longwood, where he died on 5 May 1821. During this period, St Helena remained in the East India Company’s possession, but the British government met additional costs arising from guarding Napoleon. The island was strongly garrisoned with British troops, and naval shipping circled the island.

The 1817 census recorded 821 white inhabitants, a garrison of 820 men, 618 Chinese indentured labourers, 500 free blacks and 1,540 slaves. In 1818, Governor Lowe initiated the first step in emancipating the slaves.

British East India Company, 1821–1834

After Napoleon's death the thousands of temporary visitors were soon withdrawn and the East India Company resumed full control of Saint Helena. Owing to Napoleon's praise of St Helena’s coffee during his exile on the island, the product enjoyed a brief popularity in Paris in the years after his death. In 1832, the East India Company abolished slavery in St Helena (freeing 614 slaves), a year before legislation to ban slavery in the colonies was passed by Parliament.

British rule, a Crown colony, 1834–1981

Under the provisions of the 1833 India Act, control of St Helena was passed from the East India Company to the British Crown. Subsequent administrative cost-cutting triggered the start of a long-term population decline whereby those who could afford to do so tended to leave the island for better opportunities elsewhere. The latter half of the 19th century saw the advent of steam ships not reliant on trade winds, as well as the diversion of Far East trade away from the traditional South Atlantic shipping lanes to a route via the Red Sea (which, prior to the building of the Suez Canal involved a short overland section). These factors contributed to a decline in the number of ships calling at the island from 1,100 in 1855 to only 288 in 1889.

In 1840, a British naval station established to suppress the African slave trade was based on the island, and between 1840 and 1849 over 15,000 freed slaves, known as "Liberated Africans" were landed there. In 1900 and 1901, over six thousand Boer prisoners were held on the island, and the population reached its all-time record of 9,850 in 1901.

A local industry manufacturing fibre from New Zealand flax was successfuly reestablished in 1907 and generated considerable income during the years of the First World War. Ascension Island was made a dependency of St Helena in 1922, and Tristan da Cunha followed in 1938. During World War II, the United States built Wideawake airport on Ascension in 1942, but no military use was made of St Helena.

During this period, the island enjoyed increased revenues through the sale of flax, with prices rising to their zenith in 1951. However, this St Helena staple industry then fell into decline because of high transportation costs and competition from synthetic fibres. The decision by a major buyer, the British Post Office, to use synthetic fibres for their mailbags was a further blow, contributing to the closure of the island's flax mills in 1965.

From 1958, the Union Castle shipping line gradually reduced its service calls to the island. Curnow Shipping, based in Avonmouth, replaced the Union-Castle Line mailship service in 1977, using the RMS (Royal Mail Ship) St Helena.

1981 to present

The British Nationality Act 1981 reclassified St Helena and the other Crown colonies as British Dependent Territories. The islanders lost their status as "Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies" and were stripped of their right of abode in Britain. For the next 20 years, many could find only low-paid work with the island government, and the only available overseas employment was on the Falkland Islands and Ascension Island. The Development and Economic Planning Department, which still operates, was formed in 1988 to contribute to raising the living standards of the people of St Helena.

In 1989, Prince Andrew launched the replacement RMS St Helena to serve the island; the vessel was specially built for the CardiffCape Town route and features a mixed cargo/passenger layout.

The St Helena Constitution took effect in 1989 and provided that the island would be governed by a Governor and Commander-in-Chief, and an elected Executive and Legislative Council. In 2002, the British Overseas Territories Act restored full passports to the islanders, and renamed the Dependent Territories (including St Helena) the British Overseas Territories.

Geography, flora and fauna

Relative locations of Saint Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha
Map of St Helena.
Positions of (from north to south) Ascension Island, Saint Helena and Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic Ocean
Positions of Saint Helena and Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean

Saint Helena is one of the most isolated places in the world, located in the South Atlantic Ocean more than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) from the nearest major landmass. The island is associated with two other isolated islands in southern Atlantic, also British territories—Ascension Island about 1,300 kilometres (810 mi) to the due northwest in more equatorial waters and Tristan da Cunha, which is well outside the tropics 2,430 kilometres (1,510 mi) to the south.[9]

The island of Saint Helena has a total area of 122 km2 (47 sq mi), and is composed largely of rugged terrain of volcanic origin (the last volcanic eruptions occurred roughly 7 million years ago).[10] The centre is covered by forest, of which some has been planted, including the new Millennium Forest Project. The highland areas contain most of the island's endemic flora, fauna, insects and birds. The coastal areas are barren, covered in volcanic rock and are warmer and drier than the centre of the island. There are no native land mammals on St Helena, but rabbits, rats and mice have been introduced, as well as feral cats and dogs.

The highest point of the island is Diana's Peak at 818 m (2,680 ft).

When the island was discovered, it was covered with unique (indigenous) vegetation, including a remarkable cabbage tree species. The flora of Saint Helena contains a high proportion of endemic species. The island's hinterland must have been a dense tropical forest but the coastal areas were probably quite green as well. The modern landscape is very different, with widespread bare rock in the lower areas, although inland it is green, mainly due to introduced vegetation. The dramatic change in landscape must be attributed to the introduction of goats and the introduction of new vegetation. As a result, the string tree (Acalypha rubrinervis) and the St Helena olive (Nesiota elliptica) are now extinct, and many of the other endemic plants are threatened with extinction.

There are several rocks and islets off the coast, including: Castle Rock, Speery Island, The Needle, Lower Black Rock, Upper Black Rock (South), Bird Island (Southwest), Black Rock, Thompson's Valley Island, Peaked Island, Egg Island, Lady's Chair, Lighter Rock (West), Long Ledge (Northwest), Shore Island, George Island, Rough Rock Island, Flat Rock (East), The Buoys, Sandy Bay Island, The Chimney, White Bird Island and Frightus Rock (Southeast), all of which are within one kilometre of the shore.


The climate of Saint Helena is tropical, marine and mild, tempered by trade winds which blow almost continuously.[11][12] The climate varies noticeably across the island. Temperatures in Jamestown, on the north leeward shore, range between 20–32 °C (68–90 °F) in the summer and 15–26 °C (59–79 °F) in the winter. The temperatures in the central areas are, on average, 5–6 °C lower.[12] Jamestown also has a very low annual rainfall, while 750–1,000 mm (30–39 in) falls per year on the higher ground and the south coast.[13]

Administrative divisions

Saint Helena is divided into eight districts,[14] each with a community centre. The districts also serve as statistical subdivisions and electoral areas. The four most populated districts send two representatives each to the island council, and the remaining districts send one representative each.

Districts of Saint Helena
sq mi
Alarm Forest 5.9 2.3 289 276 46.8
Blue Hill 36.5 14.1 177 153 4.2
Half Tree Hollow 1.6 0.6 1,140 901 563.1
Jamestown 3.6 1.4 884 714 198.3
Levelwood 14.0 5.4 376 316 22.6
Longwood 33.4 12.9 960 715 21.4
Sandy Bay 15.3 5.9 254 205 13.4
Saint Paul's 11.4 4.4 908 795 69.7
Royal Mail Ship
St. Helena
149 171
20 9
Total 121.7 47.0 5,157 4,255 35.0


Executive authority in Saint Helena is invested in Queen Elizabeth II and is exercised on her behalf by the Governor of Saint Helena. The Governor is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the British Government. Defence and Foreign Affairs remain the responsibility of the United Kingdom.

There are fifteen seats in the Legislative Council, a unicameral legislature. Twelve of the fifteen members are elected in elections held every four years. The other three members are the Governor and two ex officio officers. The Executive Council consists of the Governor, two ex officio officers, and six elected members of the Legislative Council appointed by the Governor. There is no elected Chief Minister, and the Governor acts as the head of government. The current Governor, since November 2007, is Andrew Gurr, who succeeded Michael Clancy.

Both Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha have an Administrator appointed to represent the Governor of Saint Helena.

One commentator has observed that, notwithstanding the high unemployment resulting from the loss of full passports during 1981–2002, the level of loyalty to the British monarchy by the St Helena population is probably not exceeded in any other part of the world.[15] King George VI is the only reigning monarch to have visited the island. This was in 1947 when the King, accompanied by Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother), Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) and Princess Margaret were travelling to South Africa. Prince Philip arrived at St Helena in 1957 and then his son Prince Andrew visited as a member of the armed forces in 1984 and his sister the Princess Royal arrived in 2002.


Jamestown, the capital of Saint Helena.
Jamestown, from above.

Saint Helena was first settled by the British in 1659, and the island presently has a population of about 4,250 inhabitants, mainly descended from people from Britain – settlers ("planters") and soldiers – and slaves who were brought there from the beginning of settlement – initially from Africa (the Cape Verde Islands, Gold Coast and west coast of Africa are mentioned in early records), then India and Madagascar. Eventually the planters felt there were too many slaves and no more were imported after 1792.

In 1840, St Helena became a provisioning station for the British West Africa Squadron,[11] preventing slavery to Brazil (mainly), and many thousands of slaves were freed on the island. These were all African, and about 500 stayed while the rest were sent on to the West Indies and Cape Town, and eventually to Sierra Leone.

Imported Chinese labourers arrived in 1810, reaching a peak of 618 in 1818, after which numbers were reduced. Only a few older men remained after the British Crown took over the government of the island from the East India Company in 1834. The majority were sent back to China, although records in the Cape suggest that they never got any further than Cape Town. There were also a very few Indian lascars who worked under the harbour master.

The citizens of Saint Helena hold British Overseas Territories citizenship. On 21 May 2002, full British citizenship was restored by the British Overseas Territories Act 2002.[16] See also British nationality law.

During periods of unemployment, there has been a long pattern of emigration from the island since the post-Napoleonic period. The majority of "Saints" emigrated to the UK, South Africa, and in the early years, Australia. The population has steadily declined since the late 1980s and has dropped from 5,157 at the 1998 census to 4,255 in 2008. In the past emigration was characterised by young unaccompanied persons leaving to work on long-term contracts on Ascension and the Falkland Islands, but since "Saints" were re-awarded UK citizenship in 2002, emigration to the UK by a wider range of wage-earners has accelerated due to the prospect of higher wages and better progression prospects.

Saint Helena is one of the few territories in the world which has never had a recorded HIV / AIDS case.[17]


Christianity has deep roots in St Helena and has played a symbolic part in the island's community. The majority of people belong to the Church of England, being members of the Diocese of St Helena, which includes Ascension Island, and which has its own Bishop residing on St Helena. The 150th Anniversary of the Diocese was celebrated in June 2009. Other denominations of Christianity represented on the island for many years are: Roman Catholic (since 1852), Salvation Army (since 1886), Baptist (since 1845), and, in more recent times, Seventh Day Adventist (since 1949), New Apostolic, and Jehovah's Witness (one out of every 35 residents is one of Jehovah's Witnesses, the highest ratio in the world[18]). The Baha'i Faith has also been represented on the island since 1954.

Tristan da Cunha and Ascension

Tristan da Cunha, settled since 1815, has a population of fewer than three hundred inhabitants of mainly British, Italian and St Helenian descent. Christianity is the main religion, mainly Anglican and some Roman Catholic.

Ascension Island has no native inhabitants. It is a working island with a transient population of approximately 1,000, made up mainly of members of the American and British militaries, supporting civilian contractors who serve on the joint Anglo-American airbase, and members of their families (a few of whom were born on the island). There are also some Cable & Wireless and local Government employees.


Some of the data in this section has been sourced from the Government of St Helena Sustainable Development Plan.[19]

The island had a monocrop economy until 1966, based on the cultivation and processing of New Zealand flax for rope and string. St Helena's economy is now very weak, and the island is almost entirely sustained by aid from London. The public sector dominates the economy, accounting for about half of GDP. Inflation was running at 3.6% in 2005 but is thought to be much higher today, reflecting recent increases in the cost of fuel, power and all imported goods.

The Saint Helena tourist industry is heavily based around the promotion of Napoleon's imprisonment. A golf course also exists and the possibility for sportfishing tourism is great. Three hotels operate on the island but since the arrival of tourists is directly linked to the arrival and departure schedule of the RMS (Royal Mail Ship), occupancy levels are very low at about 10%. Some 1,180 short- and long-term visitors arrived on the island in 2005.

Saint Helena produces what is said to be the most expensive coffee in the world. It also produces and exports Tungi Spirit, made from the fruit of the prickly or cactus pears, Opuntia ficus-indica ("Tungi" is the local St Helenian name for the plant). Ascension Island, Tristan da Cunha and Saint Helena all issue their own postage stamps which provide a significant income.

The local currency is the Saint Helena pound, which is pegged at par to the Pound Sterling. The government of Saint Helena produces its own coinage and banknotes. In 1821, Saul Solomon issued a token copper currency of 70,560 halfpennies Payable at St Helena by Solomon, Dickson and Taylor—presumably London partners—which circulated alongside the East India Company's local coinage until the Crown took over the Island in 1836. The coin remains readily available to collectors.

The territory has its own bank, the Bank of St. Helena, which has two branches in Jamestown on Saint Helena, and Georgetown, Ascension Island.

Economic statistics

Quoted at constant 2002 prices, GDP fell from £12.4 million in 1999/2000 to £11.2 million in 2005/6. Imports are mainly from the UK and South Africa and amounted to £6.4 million in 2004/5 (quoted on an FOB basis). Exports are much smaller, amounting to £0.24 million in 2004/5. Exports mainly comprise fish and coffee. Philatelic sales were £0.06 million that year. The limited number of visiting tourists spent about £0.43 million in 2004/05, representing a contribution to GDP of 3.1%.

Public expenditure rose from £10.2 million in 2001/02 to £12.3 million in 2005/06. The contribution of UK budgetary aid to total SHG government expenditure rose from £4.6 million in to £6.4 million over the same period. Wages and salaries represent about 38% of recurrent expenditure.

Unemployment levels are low (50 in 2004 compared with 342 in 1998). The economy is dominated by the public sector, the number of government positions only falling slightly from 1,163 in 2002 to 1,142 in 2006. Public sector employment is characterised by high turnover rates, mainly due to outmigration. St Helena’s private sector employs approximately 45 per cent of the employed labour force and is largely dominated by small and micro businesses with 218 private businesses employing 886 in 2004.

Household survey results suggest that the percentage of households who spend less than £20 per week on a per capita basis fell from 27% to 8% between 2000 and 2004, implying a decline in income poverty. Nevertheless, 22% of the population claimed social security benefit in 2006/7, although most of these are aged over 60 – this sector represents 20% of the population.


RMS St Helena in James Bay
Looking back at the island from RMS St Helena

Saint Helena is one of the most remote islands in the world. As there is currently no airport, travel to the island is by ship only. The RMS Saint Helena runs between St Helena and Cape Town, also visiting Ascension Island and Walvis Bay, and occasionally voyaging north to Tenerife and Portland, UK. It berths in James Bay, St Helena approximately thirty times per year.[20] However, the RMS Saint Helena is due for decommissioning in 2010.

A large military airfield is located on Ascension Island, with weekly flights to RAF Brize Norton, England. These RAF flights offer a limited number of seats to civilians.

After a long period of rumour and consultation, the British Government announced plans to construct an airport in Saint Helena in March 2005 and the airport was originally expected to be completed by 2010. However constant delays by the British Government meant an approved bidder, the Italian firm Impreglio, was not chosen until 2008, and then the project was officially "paused" in November 2008, allegedly due to new financial pressures brought on by the credit-crunch. By January 2009, construction had not commenced and no final contracts had been signed, and Governor Andrew Gurr departed for London in an attempt to try and speed up the process and solve the problems. In October 2009 it was reported that the British Government had decided not to go ahead with the building of the airport.[21]

A minibus offers a basic service to carry people around Saint Helena, with most services designed to take people into Jamestown for a few hours on weekdays to conduct their business.

Media and communications

For historical information, see History of the media in St Helena
See also Communications on Saint Helena
Saint Helena Island as seen from space


Radio St Helena,[22] which started operations on Christmas Day 1967, provides a local radio service that has a range of about 100 km from the island, and also broadcasts internationally on Shortwave Radio (11092.5 kHz) on one day a year.[23] The station presents news, features and music in collaboration with its sister newspaper, the St Helena Herald.

Saint FM[24] provides a local radio service for the island which is also available on internet radio[25] and relayed in Ascension Island and the Falkland Islands. The station is non-government funded and officially launched in January 2005. It currently broadcasts news, features and music in collaboration with its sister newspaper, the St Helena Independent.


St Helena Broadcasting Service will broadcast television in 2014 on channel 1. Cable & Wireless currently offers television for the island via three DStv (digital satellite TV) channels.


Saint Helena has a 4/2 Mbit/s internet link via Cable & Wireless International UK.

Local newspapers

The island has two local newspapers, both of which are available on the internet. The St Helena Herald[26] has been published by the partially publicly funded St Helena News Media Services (SHNMS) since 2000. The St Helena Independent[27] has been published since November 2005.


In October 2008, the St Helena Government announced that the island’s media must choose whether they obtained revenue from government subsidies or from advertising. They could not do both. On this basis, the partly publicly subsidised Media Services, which publishes the St Helena Herald and broadcasts on Radio St Helena, would no longer be allowed to run advertisements.[28] Simultaneously, the St Helena Independent and Saint FM announced that they would need to increase advertising rates, which barely covered the cost of producing adverts.

Culture and society

Education is free and compulsory between the ages of 5 and 15.[29] There is no tertiary education institution in Saint Helena. Saint Helena is a member of the International Island Games Association.

See also


  1. ^ The possibility of clear cut categorical divisions between ethnicities on present day St. Helena, as reflected by these statistics, is disputed. See George, 2002, pgs. 93–94 and Shine, 1970, pgs.15–16
  2. ^ The St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Constitution Order 2009, see "EXPLANATORY NOTE"
  3. ^ a b A.H. Schulenburg, 'The discovery of St Helena: the search continues'. Wirebird: The Journal of the Friends of St Helena, Issue 24 (Spring 2002), pp. 13–19.
  4. ^ a b Duarte Leite, História dos Descobrimentos, Vol. II (Lisbon: Edições Cosmos, 1960), 206.
  5. ^ a b de Montalbodo, Paesi Nuovamente Retovati & Nuovo Mondo da Alberico Vesputio Fiorentino Intitulato (Venice: 1507).
  6. ^ article: Tristan da Cunha (distance)
  7. ^ Drake and St Helena, privately published by Robin Castell in 2005
  8. ^ History: St. Helena homepage
  9. ^ article: Tristan da Cunha
  10. ^ Natural History of Saint Helena
  11. ^ a b CIA World Factbook
  12. ^ a b About St Helena, St Helena News Media Services
  13. ^ BBC Weather Centre
  14. ^ St Helena Independent, 3 October 2008 page 2
  15. ^ Smallman, David L., Quincentenary, a Story of St Helena, 1502–2002; Jackson, E. L. St Helena: The Historic Island, Ward, Lock & Co, London, 1903
  16. ^ St Helena celebrates the restoration of full citizenship, Telegraph, 22 May 2002
  17. ^ [1]
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ RMS St Helena Voyage Schedules
  21. ^ St Helena remains cut off from world as Whitehall drops airport plan, The Times, October 31, 2009
  22. ^
  23. ^ Dexter, G. (2009, October). A goal for the DX season: target ten for '10. Popular Communications, 28(2), 11-14.
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ Governor Broadcast & St Helena Independent, both on 31 October 2008
  29. ^ "Territories and Non-Independent Countries". 2001 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. Bureau of International Labor Affairs, U.S. Department of Labor (2002). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.

Further reading

  • Gosse, Philip Saint Helena, 1502–1938 ISBN 0-904614-39-5
  • Smallman, David L., Quincentenary, a Story of St Helena, 1502–2002 ISBN 1-87229-47-6
  • Jackson, E. L. St Helena: The Historic Island, Ward, Lock & Co, London, 1903
  • Cannan, Edward Churches of the South Atlantic Islands 1502–1991 ISBN 0-904614-48-4
  • George, Barbara B. St Helena — the Chinese Connection (2002) ISBN 1-899489-22
  • Cross, Tony St Helena including Ascension Island and Tristan Da Cunha ISBN 0-7153-8075-3
  • Brooke, T. H., A History of the Island of St Helena from its Discovery by the Portuguese to the Year 1806”, Printed for Black, Parry and Kingsbury, London, 1808
  • Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations Voyages Traffiques & Discoveries of the English Nation, from the Prosperous Voyage of M. Thomas Candish esquire into the South Sea, and so around about the circumference of the whole earth, begun in the yere 1586, and finished 1588, 1598–1600, Volume XI.
  • Darwin, Charles, Geological Observations on the Volcanic Islands, Chapter 4, Smith, Elder & Co., London, 1844.
  • Duncan, Francis, A Description of the Island Of St Helena Containing Observations on its Singular Structure and Formation and an Account of its Climate, Natural History, and Inhabitants, London, Printed For R Phillips, 6 Bridge Street, Blackfriars, 1805
  • Janisch, Hudson Ralph, Extracts from the St Helena Records, Printed and Published at the “Guardian” Office by Benjamin Grant, St Helena, 1885
  • Van Linschoten, Iohn Huighen, His Discours of Voyages into ye Easte & West Indies, Wolfe, London, 1598
  • Melliss, John C. M., St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island Including Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology, L. Reeve & Co, London, 1875
  • Schulenburg, A.H., St Helena Historiography, Philately, and the "Castella" Controversy”, South Atlantic Chronicle: The Journal of the St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Philatelic Society, Vol.XXIII, No.3, pp. 3–6, 1999
  • Bruce, I. T., Thomas Buce: St Helena Postmaster and Stamp Designer, Thirty years of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan Philately, pp 7–10, 2006, ISBN 1-890454-37-0
  • Crallan, Hugh, Island of St Helena, Listing and Preservation of Buildings of Architectural and Historic Interest, 1974
  • Kitching, G. C., A Handbook of St Helena Including a short History of the island Under the Crown
  • Eriksen, Ronnie, St Helena Lifeline, Mallet & Bell Publications, Norfolk, 1994, ISBN 0-620-15055-6
  • Denholm, Ken, South Atlantic Haven, a Maritime History for the Island of St Helena, published and printed by the Education Department of the Government of St Helena
  • Evans, Dorothy, Schooling in the South Atlantic Islands 1661–1992, Anthony Nelson, 1994, ISBN 0-904614-51-4
  • Hibbert, Edward, St Helena Postal History and Stamps”, Robson Lowe Limited, London, 1979
  • Weider, Ben & Hapgood, David The Murder of Napoleon (1999) ISBN 1-58348-150-8
  • Chaplin, Arnold, A St Helena's Who's Who or a Directory of the Island During the Captivity of Napoleon, published by the author in 1914. This has recently been republished under the title Napoleon’s Captivity on St Helena 1815–1821, Savannah Paperback Classics, 2002, ISBN 1-902366-12-3
  • Holmes, Rachel: Scanty Particulars: The Scandalous Life and Astonishing Secret of James Barry, Queen Victoria's Most Eminent Military Doctor, Viking Press, 2002, ISBN 0-375-5055-6
  • Shine, Ian, Serendipity in St Helena, a Genetical and medical Study of an isolated Community, Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1970 ISBN 0-0801-2794-0
  • Dampier, William, Piracy, Turtles & Flying Foxes, 2007, Penguin Books, 2007, pp 99–104, ISBN 0-1410-2541-4
  • Clements, B.; "St Helena:South Atlantic Fortress"; Fort, (Fortress Study Group), 2007 (35), pp75–90

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Quick Facts
Capital Jamestown
Currency Saint Helenian pound (SHP)
Area 122 sq km (only St. Helena Island)
Population 7,317 (July 2002 est.)
Language English
Religion Anglican (majority), Baptist, Seventh-Day Adventist, Roman Catholic
Electricity 240V/50Hz (UK plug)
Calling Code +290
Internet TLD .sh
Time Zone UTC

Saint Helena Island [1] is in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and is one of the world's most isolated islands. If you start crossing the Atlantic Ocean at the border between Namibia and Angola, Saint Helena Island will appear just less than half way to Brazil. As the most populous of the United Kingdom's territories in the South Atlantic, it governs the others: Ascension, Tristan da Cunha, Gough Island and their satellites.


Uninhabited when first discovered by the Portuguese in 1502, Saint Helena was garrisoned by the British during the 17th century (to be used as a refreshment station for ships travelling to and from the East). It acquired fame as the place of Napoleon Bonaparte's exile, from 1815 until his death in 1821, but its importance as a port of call declined after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Saint Helena has three smaller dependencies: Ascension Island is the site of a US Air Force auxiliary airfield; Tristan da Cunha is home to a very small community reliant on fishing for income; Gough Island has a meteorological station.

Saint Helena's most famous resident, of course, was Napoleon, who was exiled there by the British. Apparently Elba was not far enough away. He died there, and you can visit his beautiful gravesite in a flower-laden glade, but his remains were disinterred and are now at Les Invalides in Paris. You can visit his two residences on the island. He stayed at The Briars for less than two weeks, and lived the rest of his life in a respectable house in Longwood. Both can be visited by appointment.

The grandest house on the island, however, is that of the governor. It looks like it was lifted straight out of 18th century England. There are marvelous land tortoises on the grounds, including one purported to be the oldest living vertebrate in the world.

The flora and fauna of the island are marvelous. Though many endemic species have become extinct, there are some left to be seen. Cabbage trees, gum trees and the local ebony can all be seen. The ebony was thought to be extinct until a local botanist found a specimen hanging off a cliff. It is being propagated and planted around the island. The islanders have also begun to restore the native forests of the island. The Millennium Forest has been planted by many volunteers and consists largely of local gum trees. Native, old growth forests can be found on the highest peaks of the island. High Peak and Diana's Peak have beautiful natural areas.

Two animals are of note. The giant earwig was the largest in the world. Truly a terrifying beast for those who fear earwigs, it was between two and three inches long. The species was made extinct by researchers who literally collected them all!

The second species is a happier story. Though endangered, with only about 300 remaining, the Saint Helena Wirebird is a plover-like bird with long beak and legs. It is a land bird, and can be found in open areas. The playing fields behind the high school are a particularly good place to look without having to take a longer hike. The Wirebird is Saint Helena's national bird.

Tourist Information and Assistance

The Tourist Office is in a quaint building with a beautiful bow window at the top of Main Street where it branches into Napoleon and Market Streets. Staff there can book tours for you and give you all kinds of advice about what to see and do on the island.

Official island tourism information can be gotten from: Discover Our Secret [2]

The tourist office's telephone is (+290) 2158.

Get in

By plane

Currently there are no airports on the island, although there are plans to build one to be ready for flights in 2012. However this has temporarily been put on hold.

Map of St Helena island
Map of St Helena island

The RMS St Helena [3] does regular round-trips from Cape Town to St Helena, sometimes via Walvis Bay. It also makes frequent trips to Ascension Island. Trips from the UK take approximately 2 weeks, whereas trips from Cape Town can take as little as 5 days. The other option is to take the boat from Ascension, which you can reach by flying on the Royal Air Force service there. This is a little complicated, but can cut significant time off the trip. The ship itself, however, is a fantastic experience. Filled with the locals traveling home and tourists, it is a great opportunity to meet some very interesting people and talk more about Saint Helena before you arrive. The staff have planned some fun activities that seem like a home-made version of what you might get on big cruise ships. These are truly charming. Cricket on the deck for the Curry Cup is a must!

Get around

There is regular bus service [4] around the island by a variety of routes. Stops are well marked, but a nice wave will also get the driver to stop! Rental cars are probably the more practical method of travel, but be sure to reserve one in advance. There are not too many, and when the boat arrives with its twenty tourists or more, the travel industry can be overwhelmed! Walking is wonderful, but mostly in the highlands in the center of the island. The cliffs all around the perimeter make it impossible to walk along the coast at most points. Though small, however, don't be deceived, distances can be great for a walker. Bring water and sunscreen, but the Saints on the way will be happy to provide a refill if your water bottle runs dry.

It is very hard to walk out of Jamestown. The city is in a deep canyon coming from the highlands down to the shore, and there are two roads out, one up either edge of the canyon. The other way to get to the highlands is via the vertiginous Jacob's Ladder, an extremely tall staircase, originally built as an inclined plane to bring goods in and out of town. Walking on the roads out of town would mean sharing narrow switchbacks with cars, lots of dust, and no sidewalks. If you walk, even once you climb Jacob's Ladder, you still aren't halfway to the green spaces at the top, and have to walk through the beautifully named, but not so beautiful to look at, Half-Moon Hollow. A rental car or the bus are much better options.


The official language of Saint Helena is English. Though the island culture is a melange of people from all over the world, immigration essentially ended long ago, and the Malay, Indian, African and other immigrants to the island have not maintained their original languages or cultures. "Intermarriage" has been the standard on the island for so long that there are no racial differences to be made, let alone linguistic ones.


Saint Helena is not a place for buying things. Everything on the island is brought in by boat. Of course, this makes things expensive. Pictures and memories are better.

There is one tourist shop on main street in Jamestown, and a few interesting things to buy at Longwood and in the hotels. The island museum has a very nice small gift counter. Tungi, a high-proof liquor made from cactus, is made on the island and can be purchased in the bar on the seafront.

Purchases are made in Saint Helena Pounds. The one bank on the island has ridiculously short hours, so be sure to plan ahead. Cash can be changed on the boat on the way to the island, however, so don't worry about changing in advance. The bank doesn't have an ATM, but they can use your ATM or credit/debit card to give you money. Make sure you read the edge of your one pound coins: they actually say Colony of Saint Helena. Where in this post-colonial world could you still see that proudly displayed on the coin of the realm?

  • The Museum of Saint Helena is a great place to start your visit, though like most other attractions, the hours are very limited. The museum is located in an early 19th century warehouse at the foot of Jacob's Ladder in Jamestown. It has a variety of exhibits on the island's history and natural history. It was established in 2002, so the information is up to date and the installations are beautiful.
  • The Cenotaph on the wharf in Jamestown includes the names of all Saints who died in the two world wars, including those who perished in a German U-boat attack in James Harbor in 1941.
  • Jacob's Ladder
    Jacob's Ladder
    Jacob's Ladder is the somewhat misnamed staircase that rises from Jamestown to Halfmoon Hollow high above. It is said to have 699 steps. The "Ladder" was build in 1829 as an inclined plane to bring goods down from the farming areas in the center of the island, and manure up out of town. The planes are on either side of the steps, and the cart on one side was used to counterweight the cart on the other. The Ladder is a prodigious climb, and very few are the tourist who can climb it in one go. In addition to its length, it's stairs are somewhat high, making the climb all the more difficult. There are railings, but no landings for the entire length, and those who are afraid of heights may not want to look down! If you see a kid around, you might want to ask her to show you how to slide down the railings; they are reputed to have invented a way to do this scary feat without killing themselves. The Ladder is lit at night.
  • The Castle was built by the British in 1659 shortly after they took over the island. It serves as the seat of government, and even if you are not on a tour, you can probably peek into the Council Chambers. The Archives and Administration of the island are also located in the Castle. Very near by is the Courthouse, which his a lovely building in itself and well worth a look. It houses both the Magistrates and Supreme Courts.
  • The Post Office is in a rather disappointing building, that looks as though it could be much more interesting with a little help. It was apparently once an Officer's Mess. Of course, this is the place where you can buy one of Saint Helena's most famous exports: postage stamps! The Post Office sends out the stamps of Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha to philatelists all over the world.
  • The Castle Gardens is an oddly shaped park behind the Castle. In addition to a wide variety of relatively pedestrian tropical plants, tourists can also see some of the island's endemics here. It is also a good place to see swarms of the songbirds that have been introduced to the island over the years hanging around in the huge ficus trees.
  • Fortifications were built across the mouth of the James Valley where it meets the sea only after Napoleon was brought to the island in the 19th century. Apparently there was no entrance originally (!), but a lovely archway has since been built that frames the harbor in one direction and Jamestown in the other. Heading into Jamestown the coat of arms of the English East India Company can be seen above the archway. Upon exiting, you can see a plaque depicting the island's endemic Wirebird.
  • Heart-Shaped Waterfall. You might be excused for thinking that the water itself falls in the shape of a heart, but really this waterfall is so named because of the heart-shaped rock over which it falls. It can be seen from the north road out of Jamestown.
  • Saint James Church, is a rather dark church just inside the fortifications of Jamestown and across from the Castle. It is the oldest Anglican Church in the southern hemisphere, dating from 1774.
  • Longwood House, in the town of the same name, was the home in which Napoleon spent the great majority of his time on Saint Helena and also where he died. It has several wings and contains the type of furniture it would have when he lived there, though most of the originals have been carried off elsewhere. The house is run as a museum and maintained by the French government. It is set in a grounds filled with flowers, and the gardens are well worth some time on their own. Napoleon died at Longwood House.
  • Plantation House is the home of the Island's governor. The building looks like a georgian mansion plucked right out of England and plopped down in the South Seas. The grounds are lovely, and there is a nature trail through the park. A number of Seychelles tortoises inhabit the lawn, and one, Jonathan, is said to be the oldest know vertebrate on earth! Jonathan is joined by David, Emma, Fredricka and Myrtle.
  • The Central Peaks include Diana's Peak (the highest point on the island), Mount Actaeon, and Cuckold's Point, and are home to the greatest concentration of endemic species. The Peaks are part of the humid cloud forest at the center of the island, and are a must-see for those interested in native flora and fauna. Conservation efforts are underway to make sure that these species can survive the many changes that have taken place on the island over the years.
    cabbage tree forest
    cabbage tree forest
  • Clifford Arboretum is a small, largely underdeveloped arboretum that is home to some of the island's native fauna and has medium-term germ storage facilities. There are self-guided hikes through it.
  • Saint Paul's Cathedral is the seat of the Anglican bishop of Saint Helena. It was built in 1856.
  • Sandy Bay is a bit of a misnomer, since there are really no sandy beaches on the entire island. Situated at the bottom of one of the deep ravines that cuts from the island's interior to the coast, it is a favorite destination and a good place to begin hikes.
  • Lot's Wife's Ponds are probably the best swimming spot on the island. They are large natural tide-pools, and though it can be a bit difficult to get there, it is well worth it. The hike starts from Sandy Bay.


Cooking for yourself is a great way to go. Visitors renting a room or a house on the island will find it easy to get what they need and fun to get along themselves. Tourists comment that it is surprising that on such a fertile island, there is no dairy or garden market. There are a very few vegetables for sale in the two grocery stores in Jamestown. Organization also does not seem to be the islanders' strong point. UHT milk actually runs out between RMS Saint Helena boat visits! Don't worry, though, you will be able to find a wide assortment of food in the two small stores and a nice butcher shop. Fish is also a funny thing. Despite being in the middle of the Atlantic, the only fish on sale seems to be tuna (though it is wonderful, deep red tuna). "Pilau" (pronounced "ploe") is a specialty of the island. It is "peasant food" in the best sense. A combination of rice, bacon and other ingredients, it is delicious and greasy!

  • Orange Tree Oriental Restaurant, Association Hall, Jamestown. 5:00PM to late. Chinese food with set monthly menu. Take-away available.  edit
  • Saint Helena Coffee Shop, Leisure Park, Jamestown. 10:00AM to 4:00PM. Coffee snacks and desserts available at this outdoor cafe. Very nice picnic tables on the lawn to take advantage of the ocean view.  edit
  • Ann's Place, Castle Garden, Jamestown. 10:30AM to 8:30PM. Open air restaurant with a festive atmosphere overlooking the Castle Gardens. Open for dinner, but only if you call before noon.  edit
  • Farm Lodge, Rosemary Plain, Saint Paul's, (290) 4040. Excellent country inn food in an elegant, small dining room of a private house. Call in advance for reservations. The day before is recommended.  edit
  • Sally's Sandwich Bar, Association House, Jamestown, (290) 2990. 9:30AM to 2:0PM. Set daily menu. Carry out only.  edit
  • Harris' Guest House, Main Street, Jamestown, (290) 2729. By appointment only. You can eat at this guest house if you call in advance to reserve a place at the table.  edit
  • Cyril's Fast Food and Takeaway, Arch Gate Corner, Jamestown, (290) 2728. 11:30AM to 2:30PM. You can't miss this restaurant, even though it is only a window in a wall. That is because this window is directly next to the archway in the city wall. Takeaway only.  edit
  • Consulate Hotel, Jamestown.
  • The Standard, Jamestown.
  • Donny's Place, Jamestown, is right down the way from the Leisure Park. It is a nice open air bar and you can buy some of the local Tungi there.
  • Self-catering is a great option. On the island's tourism website you can download a whole list of people who have rooms or small houses to rent. This is a great way to meet the locals that you rent from and see a little bit of what it is like to live on the island.
  • Consulate Hotel, Main Street, Jamestown. The Consulate Hotel is the largest lodging facility on the island. It has a restaurant and bar, and all restrooms are en suite. The front porch under the wrought-iron balcony is a great place to sit with a Savanna cider in hand and watch the world pass by in downtown Jamestown.  edit
  • Wellington House Hotel, Main Street, Jamestown. The Wellington House Hotel is in a beautiful, cobalt blue Georgian building located on the main street in Jamestown. Rooms are comfortable, boarding options are available, and a bar can sell liquor to guests. Bathrooms are not en suite.  edit
  • Farm Lodge, Strawberry Flats, Saint John's. Farm Lodge is a wonderful country inn option. It is in the highlands in a beautiful 18th century farm house with lots of antiques and wonderful food. The views are spectacular. If you don't have a car, it is good for a night or two, but can be a bit isolated. A car or a short stay are the ways to go. There is a drinks cooler in the dining room that the owners say belonged to Napoleon.  edit

Some corrections to the section regarding Farm Lodge (from the owners : Stephen and Maureen.)

Farm Lodge is situated 5 miles from Jamestown, the Capital. It was built as an East India Company planter's house in approx 1690. It is set in it's own 12 acres of gardens and farmland. The correct address is Farm Lodge, Rosemary Plain, St Paul's, St Helena Island (South Atlantic Ocean) It is not as isolated as the article suggests. A hire car cost approx £12 ($18) per day and there is a local bus service to and from town costing £1 ($1.50) each way. The trip is less than 30 minutes. The farm produces fresh fruit and vegetables as well as meats, eggs, coffee etc for the dining room table. Farm Lodge is not a country inn but is a Country House Hotel. All the 5 bedrooms have ensuite facilities and full board is available. Dinner is 5 courses, and the majority is fresh organic food from the farm. The coffee is Green Tipped Bourbon Yemeni brought to the island in 1733 by the East India Company and was very much enjoyed by the Enperor Napoleon during his years of incarceration here. Guests have the option of B&B, Half Board or Full Board. The house is also open to non residents for morning coffee , lunches, afternoon teas and dinners. A fully stocked bar is available.


Tourists shouldn't come to Saint Helena to work. A large number of Saints work off the island on the RMS Saint Helena, in the Falklands, or on Ascension. This is mainly to get a higher income.

Stay safe

The island must be one of the safest places on earth. Crime is practically non-existent, though there is a jail with a few inmates. You can feel comfortable walking at night anywhere on the island. There are no bugs or animals of concern (with the exception of scorpions). The only safety issue might be falls for those who want to do some climbing.

Stay healthy

While there is no particular health threat on the island (no special vaccinations are required), you don't want to get seriously ill. There is a hospital with trained staff available, however, there are no facilities to deal with very serious health issues. Any complicated medical issue must be dealt with off island, and that is a bare minimum of three days away if the boat to Ascension and the plane is just right. More likely you will have to wait several weeks for the boat to Cape Town.


Telecommunications are particularly expensive -- don't expect to be able to use the Internet for extended periods of time. Stamps can be purchased right across from the Consulate Hotel in Jamestown. The post office is famous among philatelists the world over and brings a significant amount of cash to the island by selling stamps from Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan.

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