Saint Helena, named after Saint Helena of Constantinople, is a tropical 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, 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 was uninhabited when discovered by the Portuguese in 1502. One of the remotest islands in the world, it was for centuries an important stopover for ships sailing to Europe from Asia and South Africa. Napoleon was imprisoned there in exile by the British, as were Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo (for leading a Zulu army against British rule) and more than 5,000 Boers taken prisoner during the Second Boer War.
Between 1791 and 1833, Saint Helena became the site of a series of experiments in conservation, reforestation, and attempts to boost rainfall artificially.
This environmental intervention was closely linked to the conceptualization of the processes of environmental change and helped establish the roots of environmentalism.
Saint Helena is Britain’s second oldest remaining British Overseas Territories, after Bermuda.
Flag of Saint Helena
The Flag of Saint Helena was adopted on October 4, 1984. It is a defaced Blue Ensign, i.e., blue with the flag of the UK in the upper hoist-side quadrant and the Saint Helena shield centred on the outer half of the flag. The coat of arms of Saint Helena features a rocky coastline and three-masted sailing ship, with a Saint Helena Plover atop. Prior to the adoption of the current coat of arms and flag in 1984, the flag and shield showed the ship and coastal scene taken from the colonial seal of the colony.
Ships registered in Saint Helena fly the Red Ensign; there is no defaced variant for the territory.
The coat of arms of Saint Helena was authorised on 30 January 1984.
The arms feature a shield, with the top third showing the national bird, the Saint Helena Plover Charadrius sanctaehelenae, known locally as the Wirebird – stylized, but with its unmistakable head pattern. The bottom two thirds depict a coastal scene of the island, a three-masted sailing ship with the mountainous island to the left. The coastal scene is taken from the colonial seal of the colony and shows the flag of England flying from the ship (when the shield was first introduced in 1874 the flag was a White Ensign).
The motto is Loyal and unshakable. The full coat of arms features, above the shield, a woman holding a cross and a flower. This represents Helena of Constantinople, also known as Saint Helena, after whom the island is named. The cross is shown as Helena is credited with finding the relics of the True Cross (cross upon which Jesus was crucified).
The local two pound coin has the full coat of arms on its reverse.
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 Portugal, and that he named it “Santa Helena” after Helena of Constantinople. Another theory holds that the island found by De Nova was actually Tristan da Cunha, 2,430 kilometres (1,510 mi) to the south, and that Saint Helena was discovered by some of the ships attached to the squadron of Estêvão da Gama expedition on 30 July 1503 (as reported in the account of clerk Thomé Lopes).
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 was an important rendezvous point and source of food for ships travelling from Asia to Europe, and frequently sick mariners were left on the island to recover, before taking passage on the next ship to call on the island.
Englishman Sir Francis Drake probably located the island on the final leg of his circumnavigation of the world (1577–1580). Further visits by other English explorers followed, and, once Saint 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, the desecration of their chapel and religious icons, destruction of their livestock and destruction of plantations by Dutch and English sailors.
The Dutch Republic formally made claim to Saint 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 at the Cape of Good Hope.
East India Company (1658–1815)
In 1657, Oliver Cromwell granted the English East India Company a charter to govern Saint Helena 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, making Saint Helena one of Britain’s oldest colonies outside North America and the Caribbean. A fort and 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.
Between January and May 1673 the Dutch East India Company forcibly took the island, before English reinforcements restored English East India Company control. The Company experienced difficulty attracting new immigrants, and sentiments of unrest and rebellion fomented among the inhabitants. Ecological problems, including deforestation, soil erosion, vermin and drought, led Governor Isaac Pyke to suggest in 1715 that the population be moved to Mauritius, but this was not acted upon and the Company continued to subsidise the community because of the island’s strategic location. A census in 1723 recorded 1,110 people, including 610 slaves.
Eighteenth-century governors tried to tackle the island’s problems by implementing tree plantation, 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 enjoyed a lengthy period of prosperity. Captain James Cook visited the island in 1775 on the final leg of his second circumnavigation of the world. Saint James’ Church was erected in Jamestown in 1774 and in 1791–92 Plantation House was built, and has since been the official residence of the Governor.
On leaving the University of Oxford, in 1676, Edmond Halley visited Saint Helena and set up an observatory with a 24-foot-long (7.3 m) aerial telescope with the intention of studying stars from the Southern Hemisphere.
The site of this telescope is near Saint Mathew’s Church in Hutt’s Gate, in the Longwood district. The 680 m high hill there is named for him and is called Halley’s Mount.
Throughout this period Saint Helena was an important port of call of the East India Company. East Indiamen would stop there on the return leg of their voyages to India and China. At Saint Helena ships could replenish supplies of water and provisions, and during war time, form convoys that would sail under the protection of vessels of the Royal Navy. Captain James Cook’s vessel HMS Endeavour anchored and resupplied off the coast of St Helena in May 1771, on her return from the European discovery of Australia and rediscovery of New Zealand.
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.
The labourers arrived in 1810, and their numbers reached 600 by 1818. Many were allowed to stay, and their descendents became integrated into the population. An 1814 census recorded 3,507 people on the island.
British rule (1815–1821) and Napoleon’s Exile
In 1815, the British government selected Saint Helena as the place of detention of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was taken to the island in October 1815; he stayed at the small Briars pavilion in the grounds of the Balcombe family’s home until the building of his permanent home of Longwood House was completed, where he died on 5 May 1821.
During this period, Saint 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 ships circled the island.
The 1817 census recorded 821 white inhabitants, a garrison of 820 men on the East India Company’s payroll, 1,475 men from the King’s troops (infantry, engineers etc.) and 352 people as their families, 618 Chinese indentured labourers, 24 Lascars, 500 free blacks and 1,540 slaves; in total, 6,150 people on the island. In addition, the British government had sent a naval squadron under the command of a Rear-Admiral and consisting of a couple of Men O’War and several smaller vessels. These were not counted in the Census, as most of them lived on their ships.
Concerning the slaves, Governor Hudson Lowe initiated their emancipation in 1818: from Christmas of that year, every new born child was considered a free person (though his parents remained slaves until their death).
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. Between 1815 and 1830, the EIC made available to the government of the island the packet schooner St Helena, which made multiple trips per year between the island and the Cape carrying passengers both ways, and supplies of wine and provisions back to the island.
Owing to Napoleon’s praise of Saint Helena’s coffee during his exile on the island, the product enjoyed a brief popularity in Paris in the years after his death. The importation of slaves was banned in 1792. The phased emancipation of over 800 resident slaves did not take place until 1827, which still was some six years before the British Parliament passed legislation to ban slavery in the colonies.
Crown Colony (1834–1981)
Under the provisions of the 1833 India Act, control of Saint Helena was passed from the East India Company to the British Crown, becoming a crown colony. 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 6,000 Boer prisoners were held on the island, and the population reached its all-time high of 9,850 in 1901.
In 1858, the French emperor Napoleon III successfully gained the possession, in the name of the French government, of Longwood House and the lands around it, last residence of Napoleon I (who died there in 1821). It is still French property, administered by a French representative and under the authority of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
On 11 April 1898 American Joshua Slocum, on his famous and epic solo round the world voyage arrived at Jamestown. He departed on 20 April 1898 for the final leg of his circumnavigation having been extended hospitality from the governor, his Excellency Sir R A Standale, presented two lectures on his voyage and been invited to Longwood by the French Consular agent.
A local industry manufacturing fibre from New Zealand flax was successfully reestablished in 1907 and generated considerable income during the First World War. Ascension Island was made a dependency of Saint 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 Saint Helena.
During this period, the island enjoyed increased revenues through the sale of flax, with prices peaking in 1951. However, the industry declined because of transportation costs and competition from synthetic fibres. The decision by the British Post Office to use synthetic fibres for its 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 Saint Helena and the other Crown colonies as British Dependent Territories. The islanders lost 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 employment outside Saint Helena 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 Saint Helena.
In 1989, Prince Andrew launched the replacement RMS St Helena to serve the island; the vessel was specially built for the Cardiff–Cape Town route and features a mixed cargo/passenger layout.
The Saint 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 2002 granted full British citizenship to the islanders, and renamed the Dependent Territories (including Saint Helena) the British Overseas Territories. In 2009, Saint Helena and its two territories received equal status under a new constitution, and the British Overseas Territory was renamed Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.
The UK government has invested £250 million in the construction of the island’s airport. Expected to be fully operational early 2016, it is expected to help the island towards self-sufficiency and encourage economic development, reducing dependence on British government aid.
The airport is also expected to kick start the tourism industry, with up to 30,000 visitors expected annually.
Located in the South Atlantic Ocean on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, more than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) from the nearest major landmass, Saint Helena is one of the most remote places in the world. The nearest port on the continent is Namibe in Southern Angola, and the nearest international airport the Quatro de Fevereiro Airport of Angola’s capital Luanda. Though in reality the connections to Cape Town in South Africa are used for most shipping needs such as the mail boat that serves the island, the RMS St Helena. The island is associated with two other isolated islands in the southern Atlantic, also British territories: Ascension Island about 1,300 kilometres (810 mi) 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. The island is situated in the Western Hemisphere and has the same longitude as Cornwall in the United Kingdom. Despite its remote location, it is classified as being in West Africa by the United Nations.
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 about 7 million years ago). Coastal areas are covered in volcanic rock and warmer and drier than the centre. The highest point of the island is Diana’s Peak at 818 m (2,684 ft). In 1996 it became the island’s first national park. Much of the island is covered by New Zealand flax, a legacy of former industry, but there are some original trees augmented by plantations, including those of the Millennium Forest project which was established in 2002 to replant part of the lost Great Wood and is now managed by the Saint Helena National Trust.
When the island was discovered, it was covered with unique indigenous vegetation, including a remarkable cabbage tree species. The island’s hinterland must have been a dense tropical forest but the coastal areas were probably also quite green.
The modern landscape is very different, with widespread bare rock in the lower areas, although inland it is green, mainly due to introduced vegetation.
There are no native land mammals, but cattle, cats, dogs, donkeys, goats, mice, rabbits, rats and sheep have been introduced, and native species have been adversely affected as a result. The dramatic change in landscape must be attributed to these introductions. 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 (0.62 miles) of the shore.
The national bird of Saint Helena is the Saint Helena Plover, known locally as the Wirebird. It appears on the coat of arms of Saint Helena and on the flag.
The climate of Saint Helena is tropical, marine and mild, tempered by the Benguela Current and trade winds that blow almost continuously.
The climate varies noticeably across the island. Temperatures in Jamestown, on the north leeward shore, range between 21–28 °C (70–82 °F) in the summer (January to April) and 17–24 °C (63–75 °F) during the remainder of the year.
The temperatures in the central areas are, on average, 5–6 °C (9.0–10.8 °F) lower.
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, where it is also noticeably cloudier.
There are weather recording stations in the Longwood and Blue Hill districts.
St Helena has long been known for its high proportion of endemic birds and vascular plants. The highland areas contain most of the 400 endemic species recognized to date. Much of the island has been identified by BirdLife International as being important for bird conservation, especially the endemic Saint Helena Plover or Wirebird, and for seabirds breeding on the offshore islets and stacks, in the north-east and the south-west Important Bird Areas.
On the basis of these endemics and an exceptional range of habitats, Saint Helena is on the United Kingdom’s tentative list for future UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
St Helena’s biodiversity, however, also includes marine vertebrates, invertebrates (freshwater, terrestrial and marine), fungi (including lichen-forming species), non-vascular plants, seaweeds, and other biological groups. To date, very little is known about these, although more than 200 lichen-forming fungi have been recorded, including 9 endemics, suggesting that many significant discoveries remain to be made.
Saint Helena is divided into eight districts, each with a community centre. The districts also serve as statistical subdivisions. The island is a single electoral area and sends twelve representatives to the Legislative Council.
The eight districts are:
- Alarm Forest
Alarm Forest is one of the smaller of the eight districts of Saint Helena, in the northern part of the island of Saint Helena, southeast of Jamestown. In 2008 it had a population of 276, compared to a population of 289 in 1998.The district was created between census years 1987 and 1998 from parts of Jamestown and Longwood. There is no settlement by that name, however. The main settlement is Briars Village, with the community centre of the district. The village is located at the high point of the Side Path, a steep road leading out southward on the eastern slopes of Jamestown valley. Briars Village, but not the rest of the district, is considered a suburb of Jamestown. The village has few amenities of its own, and the population looks to nearby Jamestown for shopping and entertainment. The village is also home to the island’s headquarters of Cable and Wireless, with its large satellite dishes, which connect Saint Helena to the outside world. The upper part of the village, The Briars, is a newer settlement of relatively wealthy citizens.Also Seaview, Two-gun Saddle and Hunts Vale are part of Alarm Forest. Another area of settlement is Alarm Hill, where the historic Alarm House is. Napoleon’s tomb is located in Sane Valley in the district. Napoleon had selected this spot as his burial site during one of his walks.
- Blue Hill
Blue Hill is a hill and one of eight districts of the island of Saint Helena, a British overseas territory in the South Atlantic Ocean, located in the west and southwest of the island. Its main settlement, with the location of the community centre, is Blue Hill Village. The district also includes the settlements Barren Ground, Head o’ Wain, Woodlands, Thompson’s Wood, Broad Bottom, and the new housing areas High Hill and Burnt Rock/Horse Pasture.Blue Hill is the largest, most remote, most rural, least populated and least densely populated of the eight districts of Saint Helena. In 2008 it had a population of 153, compared to a population of 177 in 1998.In 2011 a proposal was published in the Washington Post (and reproduced in the St. Helena Independent) that Blue Hill be made into a “retirement village for exiled dictators”, citing its isolation and small existing population.There is a weather recording station at Broad Bottom.
- Half Tree Hollow
Half Tree Hollow is the “suburb” of Jamestown, Saint Helena, a British island territory in the South Atlantic Ocean. The village is built at the top of Jacob’s Ladder, a hillside stairway connecting it with Jamestown. The village was built because of the lack of adequate space in Jamestown and because of its geology.
Half Tree Hollow has a population that is greater than that of Jamestown. In 2008 it had a population of 901, compared to a population of 1,140 in 1998. It is a district of the island and at 1.6 km2 it is the smallest, the most populated and the most densely populated district. The district includes Ladder Hill.
Jamestown is the capital and historic chief settlement of the island of Saint Helena, in the South Atlantic Ocean. Located on the island’s north-western coast, is the island’s port, with facilities for unloading goods delivered to the island, and the centre of the island’s road and communications network. It was founded when English colonists settled on the island in 1659.
The town is built on igneous rock in a small enclave, sandwiched between steep cliffs (that form James Valley) that are unsuitable for building. The town is therefore rather long, thin and densely populated, with tightly knit, long and winding streets. Shrubs and trees decorate some of the street corners. The surrounding terrain is rough and steep, and rockfalls are an occurrence, sometimes damaging buildings. The town is commonly divided into Lower and Upper parts, depending on the distance up James Valley.
Longwood is a settlement and a district of the British island of Saint Helena.
In 2008 it had a population of 715, compared to a population of 960 in 1998.
The area of the district is 33.4 km2. The large district (second only to Blue Hill) includes the settlement of Hutt’s Gate, with its St Matthew’s church. The district also contains the island’s only existing golf course.
It is noted as the location of Napoleon’s second exile from 1815 until his death on 5 May 1821. France owns Briars Pavilion, Napoleon’s initial exile residence, Longwood House and its properties, where he lived during most of his time on the island, and his original grave, though the United Kingdom retains full sovereignty over these properties.
Napoleon’s main medical physician, Barry Edward O’Meara wrote letters describing the issues of Napoleon and his suite while in captivity, and sent them clandestinely to a friend at the Admiralty in London.
- Sandy Bay
Sandy Bay is a bay on the island of Saint Helena and a district of the island. In 2008 the district had a population of 205, compared to a population of 254 in 1998.
The northern, inland part of the district is an area of disperse settlement, of which the main settlement is Bamboo Hedge. Sandy Bay gives its name to the valley that leads down to the bay and to a small island in the bay.
- Saint Paul’s
St. Paul’s is a dispersed area of settlement in the central part of the island of Saint Helena, and is a district of the island. In 2008 the district had a population of 795, compared to a population of 908 in 1998. This makes it more populous than the capital of the island, Jamestown.
It is named after the Anglican St Paul’s Cathedral, which is located there, and also within the district is Plantation House, the Governor’s official residence.
Other settlements in the district include New Ground and Thompson’s Hill. The island’s main school is situated in St Paul’s — the Prince Andrew School.
Executive authority in Saint Helena is vested 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 of Saint Helena, a unicameral legislature, in addition to a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker. Twelve of the fifteen members are elected in elections held every four years.
The three ex officio members are the Chief Secretary, Financial Secretary and Attorney General. The Executive Council is presided over by the Governor, and consists of three ex officio officers and five 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. In January 2013 it was proposed that the Executive Council would be led by a “Chief Councillor” who would be elected by the members of the Legislative Council and would nominate the other members of the Executive Council. These proposals were put to a referendum on 23 March 2013 where they were defeated by 158 votes to 42 on a 10% turnout.
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.
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.
In 2012, the government of St. Helena funded the creation of the St. Helena Human Rights Action Plan 2012-2015. Work is being done under this action plan, including publishing awareness-raising articles in local newspapers, providing support for members of the public with Human Rights queries, and extending several UN Conventions on Human Rights to St. Helena.
St Helena child abuse scandal
The St Helena child abuse scandal refers to child abuse cases in St Helena. Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has been accused of lying to the United Nations over endemic child abuse in St Helena to cover up allegations, including a case of a police officer having raped a four-year-old girl and another police officer having mutilated a two-year-old.
The British government admits it made an “erroneous” report to the United Nations when it denied that child abuse was rife in St Helena.
Saint Helena was first settled by the English in 1659, and the island 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, 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.
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.
Most residents belong to the Anglican Communion and are members of the Diocese of St Helena, which has its own bishop and includes Ascension Island. The 150th anniversary of the diocese was celebrated in June 2009.
Other Christian denominations on the island include: Roman Catholic (since 1852), Salvation Army (since 1884), Baptist (since 1845), and, in more recent times, Seventh-day Adventist (since 1949), New Apostolic, and Jehovah’s Witnesses (one out of every 35 residents is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the highest ratio in the world). The Baha’i Faith has also been represented on the island since 1954.
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 weak, and is almost entirely sustained by aid from the British government. The public sector dominates the economy, accounting for about 50% of gross domestic product. Inflation was running at 4% in 2005. There have been increases in the cost of fuel, power and all imported goods.
The tourist industry is heavily based on the promotion of Napoleon’s imprisonment. A golf course also exists and the possibility for sport fishing 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 last RMS (Royal Mail Ship) in the world. Some 3,200 short term visitors arrived on the island in 2013.
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.
Banking & Currency
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 – that 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.
Today Saint Helena has its own currency, the Saint Helena pound, which is at parity with the pound sterling. The government of Saint Helena produces its own coinage and banknotes.
The Bank of Saint Helena was established on Saint Helena and Ascension Island in 2004. It has branches in Jamestown on Saint Helena, and Georgetown, Ascension Island and it took over the business of the St. Helena government savings bank and Ascension Island Savings Bank.
Saint Helena is one of the most remote islands in the world, has no commercial airports, and travel to the island is by ship only. A large military airfield is located on Ascension Island, with two Friday flights to RAF Brize Norton, England (as from September 2010). These RAF flights offer a limited number of seats to civilians.
The ship 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. The RMS Saint Helena was due for decommissioning in 2010. However, its service life has been extended indefinitely until the airstrip is completed.
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 Impregilo, was not chosen until 2008, and then the project was put on hold 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 speed up the process and solve the problems.
On 22 July 2010, the British government agreed to help pay for the new airstrip using taxpayer money. In November 2011 a new deal between the British government and South African company Basil Read was signed and now means the airport is scheduled to open in February 2016, with flights to and from South Africa and the U.K. Only one airline, Atlantic Star Airlines, has shown an interest in providing services, effective 2016.
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. Car rental is available for visitors.
Media & Communications
Radio St Helena, which started operations on Christmas Day 1967, provided a local radio service that had a range of about 100 km (62 mi) from the island, and also broadcast internationally on Shortwave Radio (11092.5 kHz) on one day a year. The station presented news, features and music in collaboration with its sister newspaper, the St Helena Herald.
It closed on 25 December 2012 to make way for a new three-channel FM service, also funded by St. Helena Government and run by the South Atlantic Media Services (formerly St. Helena Broadcasting (Guarantee) Corporation).
Saint FM provided a local radio service for the island which was also available on internet radio and relayed in Ascension Island. The station was not government funded. It was launched in January 2005 and closed on 21 December 2012. It broadcast news, features and music in collaboration with its sister newspaper, the St Helena Independent.
Saint FM Community Radio took over the radio channels vacated by Saint FM and launched on 10 March 2013. The station is legally a charity company registered by guarantee and is owned by its members, of whom anyone can become a member.
St Helena Online is a not-for-profit internet news service run from the UK by a former print and BBC journalist, working in partnership with Saint FM and the St Helena Independent.
Sure South Atlantic Ltd offers television for the island via 15 digital encrypted DVB-T2 channels, which rebroadcast a compilation of English programmes provided by South African MultiChoice, at a monthly subscription rate of £33. In late 2011 a digital broadcasting network using the DVB-T2 standard was installed on the island, which has since replaced the old analogue broadcasting of 3 encrypted TV channels.
All 15 digital TV channels are encrypted and subscription costs amount to £33 per month (excl. SHG Service Tax), more than one tenth of an average worker’s salary.
The feed signal is received by a satellite dish at Bryant’s Beacon from Intelsat 7 in the Ku band. Two separate local TV channels will be allocated to carry local content.
Sure provide the telecommunications service in the territory through a digital copper-based telephone network including ADSL-broadband service. In August 2011 the first fiber-optic link has been installed on the island, which connects the television receive antennas at Bryant’s Beacon to the Cable & Wireless Technical Centre in the Briars. Plans are now being made for further fibre optic cable installations.
A satellite ground station with a 7.6 metre satellite dish installed in 1989 at The Briars is the only international connection providing satellite links through Intelsat 707 to Ascension island and the United Kingdom. Since all international telephone and internet communications are relying on this single satellite link both internet and telephone service are subject to sun outages.
Saint Helena has the international calling code +290 which, since 2006, Tristan da Cunha shares. Saint Helena telephone numbers changed from 4 to 5 digits on 1 October 2013 by being prefixed with the digit “2”, i.e. 2xxxx, with the range 5xxxx being reserved for mobile numbering, and 8xxx being used for Tristan da Cunha numbers (these still shown as 4 digits).
Saint Helena has a 10/3.6 Mbit/s internet link via Intelsat 707 provided by SURE. Serving a population of more than 4000, this single satellite link is considered inadequate in terms of bandwidth.
ADSL-broadband service is provided with maximum speeds of up to 1536 KBit/s downstream and 512 KBit/s upstream offered on contract levels from lite £16 per month to gold+ at £190 per month.
There are a few public WiFi hotspots in Jamestown, which are also being operated by SURE (formerly Cable & Wireless).
The South Atlantic Express, a 10,000 km (6,214 mi) submarine communications cable connecting Africa to South America, run by the undersea fiber optic provider eFive, will pass St Helena relatively closely. There were no plans to land the cable and install a relay station ashore, which could supply the population with sufficient bandwidth. In January 2012, a group of supporters petitioned the UK government to meet the cost of landing the cable at St Helena.
On October 6, 2012, eFive agreed to reroute the cable through St. Helena after a successful lobbying campaign by A Human Right, a San Francisco-based NGA working on initiatives to ensure all people are connected to the internet. Islanders have sought the assistance of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office in funding the £10m required to bridge the connection from a local junction box on the cable to the island. The UK Government have announced that a review of the island’s economy would be required before such funding would be agreed to.
The island has two local newspapers, both of which are available on the internet.
The St Helena Independent has been published since November 2005. The Sentinel newspaper was introduced in 2012.
Culture & Society
Education is free and compulsory between the ages of 5 and 16. There are three primary schools – Harford Primary School, Pilling Primary School and St Paul’s Primary School – for pupils from the age of 4 to 11 years and one secondary school – Prince Andrew School – for 11-18 year olds. At the beginning of the academic year 2009/2010 there were 230 primary school students and 286 secondary school students enrolled.
The Education and Employment Directorate also offers tailor-made programmes for special needs students and lifelong learning opportunities developed by the Adult and Vocational Education Service. The directorate provides evening classes for a variety of subjects and encourages distance learning or online correspondence courses. There is also provision of a public library (the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere)and a mobile library service which operates in the rural areas on a weekly basis.
The UK national curriculum is adapted for local use. A range of qualifications are offered – from GCSE, A/S and A2, to Level 3 Diplomas and VRQ qualifications.
Some of the courses are offered by distance learning, others by the island’s Adult and Vocational Centre. There is no tertiary education institution in Saint Helena.
However, a number of scholarships are offered for students to study abroad.
Sports played on the island include association football, cricket, volleyball, tennis, golf, motocross, shooting sports and yachting. Saint Helena has sent teams to a number of Commonwealth Games. Saint Helena is a member of the International Island Games Association.
The Saint Helena cricket team made its debut in international cricket in Division Three of the African region of the World Cricket League in 2011.
The Governor’s Cup is a yacht race between Cape Town and Saint Helena island, held every two years. In Jamestown a timed run takes place up Jacob’s Ladder every year, with people coming from all over the world to take part.
There are scouting and guiding groups on Saint Helena and Ascension Island. Scouting was established on Saint Helena island in 1912. Lord and Lady Baden-Powell visited the Scouts on Saint Helena on the return from their 1937 tour of Africa. The visit is described in Lord Baden-Powell’s book entitled African Adventures.
In 2012 the government of St. Helena funded the creation of the St. Helena Human Rights Action Plan 2012-2015. Work is now being done under this action plan, including publishing awareness-raising articles in local newspapers, providing support for members of the public with Human Rights queries and the extension of several UN Conventions on Human Rights to St. Helena.