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History of St Helena

Portugese Discovery 1502-1658

1502 "On 21st May, St. Helena Day, the uninhabited Island was discovered by the Portuguese admiral, Jo?o da Nova, who was returning home after defeating a fleet belonging to the Zamorin, or ruler, of Calicut, on the west coast of India. Da Nova anchored in the lee of the Island opposite a deep valley. A timber chapel was built in the valley which later became the site of Jamestown.

1513 Fern?o Lopez, a Portuguese prisoner on his way home to Portugal, marooned himself on the Island. Apart from a visit to Europe, when he confessed his sins to the Pope, he spent his remaining 30 years on the Island in solitary occupation. This story may not be true, but like Ascension Island's first inhabitant the figment of a fertile imagination.

1588 The English explorer, Captain Thomas Cavendish, landed on 8th June whilst on the last stage of his voyage around the world on his ship Desire. He found that the Island had been regularly used by Portuguese sailors on their voyages to and from the East Indies. As well as a church, two houses had been constructed, vegetables and herbs planted, and the Island was now home to many pigs and goats which had been left to breed.

1591 Abraham Kendall, captain of the Royal Merchant, part of the first fleet of English East Indiamen on their way east, landed with a crew suffering from scurvy. They later recovered.

1592 King Philip II of Spain and Portugal warned his fleet not to touch St. Helena on their return from Goa. English captains had learned of the rich pickings, and were lying in wait at St. Helena to capture the laden Portuguese ships on their way home.

1593 Captain Lancaster, returning from the first trading voyage of the East India Company, anchored off Chapel Valley on 3rd April in order to refresh his crew.

1633 On 15th April, the Dutch government of the United Provinces claimed possession of the Island. There is no evidence that it was ever acted upon, let alone that they either fortified or occupied the Island.

1657 The Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell granted a new charter to the East India Company. This gave the Company the right to fortify and colonize any of it's establishments, and to transport settlers, stores and ammunition. Because of the potential importance of St. Helena as a fortress and staging post on the way home from India, the Company prepared to claim the Island.

East India Rule 1659-1834

1659 On 5th May, John Dutton took possession `with trumpet and drum' of the English East India Company's first settlement - the still uninhabited Island of St. Helena. The building of the fort was commenced immediately, and a little town sprang up in Chapel Valley; this first settlement was subsequently named Jamestown, after King James II.

1661 The first Royal Charter of King Charles II confirmed the Company's right to possess, fortify and settle the Island of St. Helena on behalf of the Crown. Captain John Dutton departed during the summer, and his position was taken over by his lieutenant, Robert Stringer, who was left with a mere 30 men with which to garrison the Island.

1667 Despite attempts to attract settlers, colonists only came in small numbers, but some victims of the Great Fire of London arrived during this year. Each settler was given a parcel of land in freehold, but with it went the responsibility to assist in the maintenance of the fortifications and to act as part of the defending force.

1671 The East India Company, mindful of the spiritual need of their employees, sent the first of a long sequence of Church of England Chaplains. An early, modest little church was replaced by a slightly bigger one in 1674, but this was probably not called St. James until replaced again by the present church in 1774. Another church was built shortly afterwards near the present St. Paul's.

1673 On 1st January, a Dutch force under Jacob de Gens captured St. Helena. The Governor and his followers made their escape, and later an English force was assembled to reclaim the Island. On 15th May, Captain Richard Munden forced the Dutch to surrender. This was the last, and indeed only, dispute concerning possession of the Island. The second Royal Charter of Charles II to the East India Company, issued on 16th December, dealt specifically with St. Helena, and sought to correct the mistakes shown up by the Dutch capture, to confirm yet more clearly the significance of the Island as a fortress, and to emphasize it's importance to the Crown.

1676 Year-long visit to the Island of the young astronomer Edmund Halley, to map the stars of the southern hemisphere.

1682 The Laws and Constitution for the Island of St. Helena reaffirmed by the Company in London, as `agreeable to the nature of the people and not contrary to the laws and statutes of the Kingdom of England'.

1684 Brief insurrection of several planters and soldiers, who marched on the fort when their ringleader Adam Dennison had been imprisoned after a quarrel. Four were hanged, and some banished from the Island. A trial the following year resulted in a further five of the mutineers being executed.

1693 The `Jackson Conspiracy', in which 27 soldiers seized the fort (killing the Governor), and escaped from the Island on the Company ship Francis and Mary.

1706 Two Company ships stolen by the French as they lay at anchor in the Roads.

1708 Following commercial rivalries between the original English East India Company and a New East India Company created in 1698, a new Company was formed by amalgamation, and entitled the `United Company of Merchants of England Trading to the East Indies'. St. Helena was then transferred from the old to the new, and the United East India Company became Lords Proprietors of the Island.

1709 The short-lived Breakneck Valley Gold Rush:- The volcano, unlike Ascension and Tristan, is now extinct. Being an ocean volcano, it holds no valuable minerals. Ignorance of that fact encouraged vain hopes in the early years, as this optimistic ruling shows:

22nd February 1709
A Declaration by the Governor and Council

For the encouragement of any person that shall be
industrious towards finding a mine (of Gold or
Copper) he shall have as a reward for his trouble, two
hundred and fifty pounds for the gold and one
hundred and fifty pounds for the copper mine; and
this rainy season being the most proper time for
looking into all the water-falls and streams, we
desire that they may apply themselves diligently
thereabouts, being assured there are such mines upon
the island.
This assurance came from a certain Captain Mashborne,
a member of the Council, who claimed to have found gold
and silver in Breakneck Valley, while searching for
Lime was eventually found in good quantity near Sandy
Bay, but no metals. When his sample was sent to be
assayed in England it proved to be no more that iron
pyrites, and thus ended the `St. Helena Gold Rush'.

Governor Roberts, who had arrived the Previous year,
found that there were many laws and orders which had
been issued in earlier years and were now obsolete.
His revised laws confirmed trial by jury and enclosure
of the land. One of the Governor's chief ambitions was
to persuade the land-holders to fence their properties;
crops were ruined and trees being destroyed by the
wandering herds of sheep, goats and cattle.

1736 Old Will, one of the first settlers of 1659, died at the age of 104 years.

1761 Maskelyne and Waddington set up an observatory to observe the transit of Venus, following a suggestion first made by Halley on his visit nearly a century before.

1766 Civil and Military Fund set up for the relief of widows and orphans of Company Officers.

1774 The first Parish Church in Jamestown had been showing signs of decay for many years, and finally a new building was erected. St. James' is now the oldest Anglican church south of the Equator.

1783 The `Christmas Mutiny' erupted, caused by soldiers angry at the new rules and restrictions on liquor consumption. Almost a hundred mutineers were condemned to death, but only ten were executed.

1790 Solomon and Co was founded by Saul Solomon, uncle of South African politician Saul Solomon born 1817

1792 Governor Robert Brooke drew up a code of laws for the control and protection of slaves, which limited the authority of the master and extended that of the magistrates. The importation of slaves was also forbidden.

1795 The St. Helena Corps took part in the capture of the Cape from the Dutch.

1804 The Emperor Napoleon laid plans to capture St. Helena from the English. Decres, the Navy Minister, had organize eight ships and fifteen hundred men, but before they set sail the Emperor altered the destination to Surinam.

1806 The ill-fated attempt to capture Buenos Aires, with the St. Helena Brigade.
The St. Helena Telegraph System installed, the first outside Europe, to replace signal guns previously used to warn of attack.

1814 A Benevolent Society was founded by Governor Wilks to provide the means of education to `the children of slaves, free blacks and the poorer classes of the community'.

1815 Napoleon Bonaparte surrendered to the British after his defeat at Waterloo and was interned on the island. He stepped ashore from HMS Northumberland on 17th October. In order to prevent any escape the military presence was increased and the population doubled in size. In the following year, Governor Wilks was placed by a British Government appointee, Lieutenant-General Sir Hudson Lowe.

1817 Birth of Saul Solomon on 25th May, later to become one of the leading South African politicians of the 19th Century, and known as `The Member for Cape Town'.

1818 Following an incident when a slave owner was fined a statutory ?2 for whipping a young slave girl, Hudson Lowe convened a meeting of the inhabitants, urging the abolition of slavery on the Island; and so, as a first measure, all children born of a slave woman after Christmas Day were to be free, but considered as apprentices until the age of 18. Masters were also to enforce the attendance of these free-born children at church and Sunday schools.

1821 Napoleon died at Longwood on 5th May. Most of the troops were sent away and Hudson Lowe sailed for England.

1828 Ladder Hill Observatory was built and fitted with the finest instruments. A tramway up to it was built by Lieutenant Mellis and the St. Helena Artillery.

1829 St helena funicular was built, later to become Jacob's Ladder in 1871 [1]

1830 For the next four decades, St. Helena became the centre of the South Atlantic whaling industry, with as many as a thousand ships calling each year, and with resident consuls from the United States and Norway.

1832 The East India Company finally abolished slavery on the Island, purchasing the freedom of the 614 slaves for the sun of ?28,062-17s-Od.

1833 Under the India Act dated 28th August, the Island was no longer to be ruled by the Honourable East India Company, but from 22nd April 1834 by His Majesty's Government.

British Government Rule 1834-

1836 The first Colonial Governor, Major-General George Middlemore, arrived on 24th February and formally took possession of the Island in the name of King William IV. The Company flag was lowered and replaced by the Standard of Great Britain. Middlemore was `long remembered for his bad manners and his discourtesy' and for his unenviable task of making savage spending cuts and sacking former Company servants.

1838 Once the British Government took over, the annual subsidy of ?90,000, which it had cost the East India Company to maintain the Island, was removed. The order of the day was belt-tightening economy, and there were many cases of hardship when Company servants were dismissed from their posts. Many families and over a hundred young men, finding life so hard and with no prospect of improvement, emigrated to the Cape of Good Hope.
With no old age pensions, friendly societies were founded to provide sickness, death and old age benefits on St. Helena as in England. The Mechanics and Friendly Benefit Society was instituted this year, followed by the St. Helena Poor Society in 1847, the Foresters in 1871, the St. Helena Church Provident Society in 1878.

1840 The body of Napoleon, which has been buried at Sane Valley in 1821, was removed and transferred with appropriate ceremony to the French frigate La Belle Poule on 15th October to be taken back to Paris.
Her Majesty's Government established a Vice-Admiralty Court at the Island for the trial of vessels engaged in the slave trade on the west coast of Africa. Large numbers of ships were captured and brought to St. Helena during the following ten years. The ships were to be sold or broken up while the human cargoes were fed, clothed and kept at the Liberated African Depot in Ruperts Valley. Most of the slaves who recovered were given passage to the West Indies or British Guiana as labourers; some chose to remain as servants or on various public works.
This work of liberating slaves brought money and employment to the Island, but also the scourge of White Ant. These minute creatures were among the timbers of a slave ship from Brazil, which was broken up and stored in Jamestown. Their destructiveness was so great and their appetite for timber, books, furniture and paper so rapacious that a very large sum of money had to be spent over the next several decades to rebuild property in the town.

1845 The first Baptist minister, the Reverend James Bertram, arrived from Cape Town in July. At first a meeting place was provided by Mrs Janisch, mother of the future governor; in 1854 a mission chapel was built.

1849 On 7th March the first Bishop of Cape Town, Robert Gray, arrived (St. Helena had been included in the See of Cape Town when it had been established two years previously). This was the first visit by a Bishop and thus the first confirmations on the Island - a total of 366. Bishop Gray made two further visits in 1852 and 1857.

1851 St. Helena coffee wins a premier award at the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace.

1858 Queen Victoria grants the right to buy and hold Longwood House and the Tomb to Napoleon III of France and his heirs in perpetuity. The Tricolor still flies over these two small patches of `French Territory'.

1859 The Diocese of St. Helena was established by Queen's Order in Council, and included the islands of Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, and until 1869 the British residents of Rio de Janeiro and other towns on the eastern seaboard of South America as well as the Falklands. The first Bishop, Piers Claughton, was consecrated in Westminster Abbey and arrived later the same year, remarking in a letter home that it was `so English in its character as to make us feel ourselves at home'.

1860 The Island's first Royal Visit when Queen Victoria's second son, Prince Albert, arrived on HMS Eurylaus in September.

1868 The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew superintended the planting of cinchona trees for quinine production; the scheme was abandoned soon after.

1871 Jacob's Ladder of 700 steps was constructed by the Royal Engineers, one step being covered over in later repairs.

1874 The flax industry was started when a hundred acres were planted by the Colonial and Foreign Fibre Company. The first mill was established in Jamestown, with a 7hp steam engine and three stamping machines. The problems of transport from the country into town was one of the reasons for the failure of this first attempt at an industry that was later to become so dominant.

1875 One of the periodic attempts to utilize the seas around St. Helena was begun this year, when the barque Elizabeth was fitted out as a whale ship and manned by islanders, some of whom had crewed the American whalers which used the Island as a base. However, by this time, the South Atlantic whale fishery was in decline, and the venture failed.

1884 Death in office, on 10th March, of Hudson Janisch, at the age of 59. The first, and so far only, Governor of St. Helena to have been born on the Island. He is still remembered as an important chronicler of the Island's history.

1885 Five mynah birds were brought from India by Miss Phoebe Moss and released near her home at The Briars, to control cattle tics. Instead, they themselves multiplied out of control to become a worse pest.

1890 Following the Zulu Wars, Chief Dinizulu, son of Cetawayo, and his family were exiled to the Island for nine years. Dinizulu became a convert to Christianity, and was baptized and confirmed by the Bishop.
In April one of the worst rock falls ever in Jamestown killed nine people.

1898 Visit by Joshua Slocum in his yacht Spray on the first solo circumnavigation of the world.

1899 In November the first submarine cable was landed by the Eastern Telegraph Company. This connected the Island to Cape Town and was the first stage in the link north to Ascension and thence to Europe and England.

1900 Once again St. Helena became an important place of imprisonments when the first of some six thousand South African Boer prisoners arrived in April. The principal camp was out at Deadwood Plain. A temporary wave of economic improvement came to the Island, as the population reached it's all-time record of 9,850.

1904 After much debate, compulsory education was introduced for all children up to the age of 14 years. This applied to all schools whether run by the Government, the Benevolent Society or the Hussey Charity.

1907 The flax industry, which had become moribund, was re- established by the Government, and lace making was again reintroduced. Both of these were backed by experts sent out to assist the Islanders. Shortly after, another attempt to garner a harvest from the sea was commenced by a private investor, but the mackerel did not appear as expected and the canning factory became redundant.

1911 S.S. Papanui, en route from Britain to Australia with emigrants, arrived in James Bay on fire. The ship burned out and sank, but it's 364 passengers and crew were rescued and looked after on the Island.

1914 With the outbreak of the Great War, the defunct St. Helena Volunteer Corps was re-established, and the flax industry flourished.

1921 The first St. Helenians left to work on Ascension Island.

1941 Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship HMS Darkdale was torpedoed off Jamestown by a German submarine; 41 people were killed.

1945 `The Hundred Men' left for the United Kingdom as agricultural workers. [1]

1947 Visit of Princess Elizabeth and the Royal Family aboard HMS Vanguard on 29th April, during a Royal Tour to South Africa.

1951 The one and only year in it's entire history when, thanks to a flourishing flax industry, the Island exports (just) exceeded it's imports.

1957 Visit of HRH Duke of Edinburgh during his round the world tour on HMY Britannia.
Arrival of three Bahraini princes as prisoners of Britain, who remained until released by a writ of habeas corpus in 1960.

1965 Closure of the flax mills after the British Post Office's decision to use synthetic fibres to tie it's mail bags.

1969 First elections under the new constitution for a twelve-member Legislative Council.

1977 The Union-Castle Line mailship service was replaced by Curnow Shipping using the RMS St. Helena, a coastal passenger and cargo vessel that had been used between Vancouver and Alaska.

1980 Rediscovery of the endemic flowering shrub, the St. Helena Ebony, believed to have been extinct for over a century.

1982 The RMS St. Helena was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence to help in support of the Falklands Conflict, and sailed south with the entire crew volunteering for duty.

1988 After decades of planning, the realisation of the three-tier school system began with the September term when the Prince Andrew School was opened for all pupils of 12 onwards. Middle schools would take the 8 to 12 year old children, and the First schools from 5 year olds.

1989 Prince Andrew launched the replacement RMS St. Helena on 31st October at Aberdeen. The vessel was specially built for the Cardiff-Cape Town route, and featured a mixed cargo/passenger layout. At the same time, a shuttle service between St. Helena and Ascension was planned, for the many Saint Helenians working there and on the Falklands. The idea was finally abandoned in 1994, with no alternative to take it's place. The Island has fewer links to the rest of the world than it had 200 years ago.

1992 The Bishop's Commission on Citizenship was established at the Fifteenth Session of Diocesan Synod.

2014 See The Independant and Sentinel for weekly news archive.

2015 See The Independant and Sentinel for weekly news archive.

2016 See The Independant and Sentinel for weekly news archive.

2017 See The Independant and Sentinel for weekly news archive.

  1. - St Helena Ladder Hill Railway.
  1. One Hundred Men Documentary

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