Thursday, 28 April 2011

St. James', East Window

St. James' East Window, May 2010 Click on to Enlarge
The centre light of the east window “The Good Shepherd” was installed in 1874 and is flanked by two later painted glass windows depicting St James and St John.  Decorated in memory of William Newton Corker, Churchwarden (1923-1950) and restored by Emma Jane Yon, a local artist, in 2004.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

St James' Church

The most accessible source of information on ecclesiastical buildings on St. Helena is Edward Cannan’s “Churches of the South Atlantic Islands 1502-1991” from which the basic outline and some of the detail below has been taken. Cannan was Bishop of St. Helena from 1979 to 1985.

The East India Company’s first Chaplain, William Noakes, arrived on the island in 1671 and Cannan opines that the Jamestown’s first Anglican Church must have been built shortly thereafter.  Janisch’s Extracts from the St Helena Records trace the deterioration of this building and the embarrassment of the Churchwardens at its state.

30th September 1678.  The Church suffered damage by the extreme heat of the weather to be examined and repaired.  Also ordered that half a measured acre of ground about the said Church be forthwith enclosed by the Inhabitants to be and remain for a Public Church Yard or burying place—the said enclosure shall be by a bank cast up out of a ditch that shall be five foot in breadth and five foot in depth upon the Topp whereof shall be set Lemon Trees round the whole enclosure and a Gate shall be made with a bridge to goe over the Ditch for a comely and convenient entrance and passage to and from the said Church and Church Yard.

Oct 26 1691.  The Chappel in Town in bad repair and the Roof in danger of falling.

April 7 1711.  The Churchwardens petition that whereas our Churchyard at the Fort is very small and hardly room to dig a grave for rocks and graves already digged also our yard wall is very bad and irregular we pray that we may inlarge our yard backwards by cutting the water in a new course near the hill and have liberty of ranging the front wall with the street.  The Petitioners are answered that its commendable in them to promote the putting that piece of rubbish called a church yard in order; it’s for the credit of the island, and we advise you to repair the Church or it will tumble down in a little time.

Sept. 30.1732.  Churchwardens letter to Governor.  Vestry meeting concerning ruinous condition both of the Chapple in the Country and the Chapple at the Fort the former of which has laid level with the ground for two or three years past, and the latter is so much out of repair that it’s shameful a place set apart for the celebration of divine service and in the open view of all strangers especially of foreign nations.

Captain Cook described Jamestown in May 1771:  The greater part of the houses are ill built.  The church, which was originally a mean structure, is in ruins and the market-place nearly in the same condition.

Finally in 1772 preparations were made for building the present St James’.  Cannan gives details of the costs of construction and fitting out which included £1 12s 11d for 10 gallons of arrack for workmen and wages of masons at 18d/day.  Janisch records on Feb. 2, 1774.  Three Houses built upon the ground where the Old Church stood for the use of the Comp. Servants i.e. the three Govt. Houses next above St. James and which therefore mark the site of the Old Church.

George Hutchins Bellasis.  Scene taken from the Castle Terrace.  Plate 3 from Views of St. Helena from a sketch made in 1804/05.  The Church had a tower at the West end but no spire or North porch.

Completed in 1744 it is the oldest Anglican Church South of the Equator.  The oldest surviving Anglican Church in continuous use outside the UK is St Peter’s in Bermuda, parts of whose current structure date from 1620 though the building has been much expanded since.

Returning in May 1775, Cook noted that “within these three years a new church has been built and some other new buildings were in hand.

Bellasis was a professional soldier in India where his Father, a Major General with the HEIC, and three of his brothers were also serving.  Arriving in Bombay in July 1801 he suffered recurring bouts of illness in 1802-1803, and eventually departed for Britain in August 1804.  However, he was so ill during the voyage that he was forced to disembark at St. Helena on 4 November 1804 to recover his health.  He stayed on the island for the next eight months, later revisiting in 1812, and during his first visit he sketched the “diverse landscapes and inhabitants of the island” and his “Views of St. Helena” was published in 1815, with six of his original landscapes engraved in aquatint by Robert Havell.

Published on November 1st 1815, shortly after Napoleons’ arrival on the Island the book is dedicated to The Duke of Wellington....The Island of Saint Helena being at this time an object of interest to the whole world.  It was Bellasis' hope that his illustrations would "at the present period be the more interesting, when this singularly romantic Island is the appointed residence of one of the most extraordinary men recorded in the annals of History."  In 1801 Wellington, then Colonel Arthur Wellesley, was a neighbour of Bellasis’ father in Bombay and had met George there, so the dedication is no surprise and the timing of the publication surely no coincidence.

He refers twice more to Napoleon:

Plate 2.  .......Near the opening between the two mountains, Ladder Hill on the right, and Rupert's Hill on the left, is a small knoll, or conical hill, at the foot of which is a house called the Briars, marked in this View, though not seen from the Roads; this situation is the more interesting, as it is said to be the place intended for the residence of Buonaparte.
Plate 3.  ........At the head of the valley is shown the Briars, the intended residence of Buonaparte.

James Fort, Town and Church from Read's map of St Helena 2nd Edition, 1817

Janisch records that by July 1835.  Church Steeple in danger of falling and ordered to be taken down.  It was dismantled and in 1843 a new tower and porch were built by the north door, as it is today, but with a spire surmounting the tower

GW Melliss, 1857 Plate 1

JC Melliss, 1875
By 1862 the white ants (termites) reputedly from wood used from a captured slave vessel ravaged the town and the church had to be closed for public worship, services being held in the Court House and in St John’s.  The damage was such that a Committee was set up to decide whether to repair the church or rebuild it.  In February 1865 it was decided to carry out repairs and modifications and £1,151 was expended carrying these out.

Jackson in 1905 commented on the island’s churches:  None of the churches can lay much claim to architectural beauty, the most imposing is that of St. James', which it is generally considered should be the Cathedral, seeing that it is situated where the greater number of people are compelled to live, and also that it is in all probability the site, or very near the site, on which the first chapel was built by the Portuguese.

St James' 1902
The spire continued to be a constant source of problems and in 1980 the decision was taken to remove it.  A plaque in the church porch marks the safe completion of this operation which left the church as one sees it today.
According to Quentin Keynes' August 1950 National Geographic article "St. Helena: The Forgotten Island" the spire was "surmounted by a fish instead of the usual weathercock"
Church Plaque, May 2010
St James' Church, April 2010

Sunday, 24 April 2011

The Portuguese Church, 1571

“Where the English settle they first build a Punch house, the Dutch a Fort and the Portuguese a Church.” Janisch 1885 April 7 1711, Jackson 1903 p.181, Gosse 1938 p.135, and Cannan 1992 p. 23.

On the 21st May 1502 Joao da Nova returning to Europe from India discovered St. Helena.  Gosse relates that “according to several early legends a large carrack, one of the fleet, was either wrecked or else became so unseaworthy that the Portuguese broke her up and drew on shore her weather-beaten sides and all the armoury and tackling, building with the timber a chappell in this valley, from thence is called Chappell Valley”
By the time Thomas Cavendish set foot on St Helena on the 9th June 1588, the early wooden church had been replaced by one of stone.

Linschoten's drawing of the Stone Church and The Santa Cruz flying the Portuguese Standard, May 1589
About two or three of the clocke in the afternoone wee went on shore, where wee found a marveilous faire & pleasant valley, wherein divers handsome buildings and houses were set up, and especially one which was a Church, which was tyled & whited on the outside very faire, and made with a porch, and within the Church at the upper end was set an altar, whereon stood a very large table set in a frame having in it the picture of our Saviour Christ upon the Crosse and the image of our Lady praying, with divers other histories curiously painted in the same. The sides of the Church were all hanged with stained clothes having many devises drawen in them.
There are two houses adjoyning to the Church, on each side one, which serve for kitchins to dresse meate in, with necessary roomes and houses of office: the coverings of the said houses are made flat, whereon is planted a very faire vine, and through both the saide houses runneth a very good and holsome streame of fresh water.
There is also right over against the saide Church a faire causey made up with stones reaching unto a valley by the seaside, in which valley is planted a garden, wherein grow great store of pompions and melons : And upon the saide causey is a frame erected whereon hange two bells wherewith they ring to Masse ; and hard unto it is a Crosse set up, which is squared, framed and made very artificially of free stone, whereon is carved in cyphers what time it was builded, which was in the yeere of our Lord 1571.
The Portuguese fleet had left the island, for Europe, twenty days before Cavendish’s arrival.
We found in the houses at our comming 3. slaves which were Negros, & one which was borne in the yland of Java, which tolde us that the East Indian fleete, which were in number 5. sailes, the least whereof were in burthen 8. or 900. tunnes, all laden with spices and Calicut cloth, with store of treasure and very rich stones and pearles, were gone from the saide yland of S. Helena but 20, dayes before we came thither.

The Stone Church and Linschoten's Fleet, May 1589
Linschoten's drawings were made as the Santa Cruz circled the Island arriving and departing

Jan Huyghen van Linschoten (1563-1611) was a Dutch Protestant merchant, traveller and historian who spent from 1583 to 1588 in the employ of the Portuguese in Goa.  He piloted the Portuguese East India fleet which left Cochin on January 1st 1589 and visited St. Helena in May of that year, eleven months after Cavendish’s visit.
When the ships come thether, everie man maketh his lodging under a tree, setting a Tent about it: for that the trees are there so thicke, that it presently seemeth a little towne or an armie lying in the fielde. Everie man provideth for himself, both flesh, fish, fruite, and woode, for there is enough for them all: and everie one washeth Linnen. There they hold a generall fasting and prayer, with Masse everie daye, which is done with great devotion, with procession, and thankesgiving and other Himnes, thanking God that hee hath preserved them from the danger of the Cape de Bona Speranca, and brought them to that Iland in safetie.

Linschoten also reported on the apparent vandalism by the English:

About foure monthes before our arrivall, there had beene an English ship which came to the Iland of Saint Helena; where they tooke in fresh water and other necessaries, and beate downe the Alter and the Crosse that stoode in the Church, and left behind them a Ketle and a Sword, which the Portingales at our arrival found there, yet could they not conceive or thinke what they might meane.

Gosse tells of other acts of vandalism by Dutch and Portuguese and in 1610 Francois Pyrard discovered on landing the bad state of the chapel, which he had seen in good condition nine years previously. A white marble cross brought from Portugal was broken in pieces, done in revenge, said Pyrard, by the Dutch.

The French traveller Tavernier visited in 1649 and though Gosse cautions that not too much reliance should be placed on his tale continues “There is only a little settlement near the sea where a chapel was once built but this chapel is now half a ruin.
Linschoten's two drawings of St Helena were reproduced as the endpapers in Gosse, part used on the cover of Edward Cannan's "Churches of the South Atlantic Islands" and on the obverse of the St Helena One Pound note, which was replaced by a coin in 1984 and is no longer in circulation.

The same image was also used on the 3p stamp, one of a set of six, issued in 1978 commemorating the 1613 sinking of the "Witte Leeuw" in James Bay.

Captain John Dutton arrived in May 1659 to take possession of the island for The East India Company and the next church to be built would be an Anglican one.

Cannan, 1992, Churches of the South Atlantic Islands 1502-1991 Nelson, ISBN 0 904614 48 4

The Linschoten drawings and more information can be accessed on Barry Weaver's web site St Helena Virtual Library and Archive at:


Friday, 15 April 2011

Whales and Dolphins, 1800-1979

Thomas Brooke writing in 1808:
The situation of St. Helena suggested to Robert Brooke, Governor from 1788-1800, the plan of forming an establishment connected with the South Whale-fishery.  He proposed that there should be a depot on the island, where the ships employed in the fishery should bring their cargoes, and unload them there, which would relieve them from the necessity of returning so frequently to Europe.  The cargoes thus deposited were to be carried home in the ships employed to bring out the annual supplies.
The Court of Directors of the EIC declined any active co-operation in the execution of this proposal, but willingly consented to grant to any individual who chose to embark in the trade, whatever advantages the island could supply.  The subject has, in consequence, been under the contemplation of some respectable merchants; and it is only the expense which must be incurred in constructing the necessary buildings that has as yet suspended the execution of the project.  It is common, however, for the vessels employed in the whale-fishery to touch at the island for refreshment and health; and, of late, when all the other ports in these latitudes have been closed against them, the number of these visitors has, of course, much increased.  The attentions which they received from Governor Brooke induced the principal merchants employed in this trade to present him with a handsome piece of plate, in testimony of their respect.
Thomas Brooke was Governor Brooke’s nephew and was Acting Governor in 1821 and again in 1828.

Alexander Beatson: 1816
Whales in great numbers generally appear in August, and remain about three months. If, during the period of their stay, a few expert fishermen were employed, a considerable number might be killed every year. The species which frequents St. Helena is, by the South Sea whalers, called the “Race-horse." They yield about five tons of oil.
The blubber was rendered in cast-iron tri-pots, or trypots, heated by firewood and blubber scraps, the oil collected and exported in barrels.

Boer Prisoners 1900-1902 in Rupert's Valley with traankookpotte - walvistraan (whale oil cooking pots)

John Mellis, 1875
At St. Helena, the neighbourhood of which affords a good whaling ground, there are five kinds of cetaceous animals commonly known.  The exciting, and in many instances highly remunerative, occupation of whaling is, however, exclusively carried on in the South Atlantic by American vessels, at least sixty or seventy of which call at the Island every year.  They are ships averaging from 80 to 200 tons burthen, and rendezvous at the Island for refitting, re-provisioning, and transhipping their oil to those vessels which may be homeward bound, about the month of October, previous to their cruising southward towards Tristan da Cunha.  The local whaling ground extends from 30 to 180 miles off the Island, but the vessels are constantly seen cruising close to the land during that portion of the year from April to July, and whales have even been taken within a few miles of the roadstead.  Beyond the circulation of money which these vessels calling at the Island necessarily occasion, the St. Helenians derive no profit whatever from this source of wealth, which lies at their very doors. One or more whaling ships have been fitted out from the Island, but the spirit of enterprise which originated the expeditions succumbed to the misfortunes which befell each attempt.

Trypot, Outside the Hospital of the Liberated Slaves Depot, Rupert's Bay, May 2010

Trypot, Outside the Museum Grytviken, South Georgia, April 2010
Grytviken means Pot Cove in Norwegian

The Merchants Magazine and Commercial Review, 1843 quotes the “Commercial Regulations of the Island of St Helena” which, in part, refers to American vessels and explicitly to American whalers:

This island is of great importance to the commercial world, situated as it is in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, as a refuge in case of distress, and as affording needful supplies of provisions.  Vessels of the United States are allowed to touch at this island only for refreshments, and not for commerce.  By the terms of the treaty between the two nations, ratified December 22, 1815, and an order in council of July 11, 1839, no goods shall be imported into, nor shall any goods be exported from, the island of St. Helena, from or to any place other than the United Kingdom, or some other British possessions.
However, vessels of the United States are permitted, by authority of the Commissioners of Customs in England, to import goods, only of the growth, produce, or manufacture of the United States, at a duty of six per cent ad valorem.  Vessels of the United States being disallowed the entry of goods not of the growth, produce, or manufacture of the United States, the prohibition operates with peculiar rigor against whaling vessels calling for provisions, water, etc., after long and tedious voyages, their crews oftentimes suffering from privations and disease.
These vessels would, in payment, prefer to part with oil, the produce of the seas, to drawing bills at a discount, this being the only commodity they have to sell, and one which the inhabitants would most gladly buy, since British whalers are forbid by their owners from disposing of oil on any account, and the island in consequence suffers much from the want of the article.
Goods can be landed and reshipped on payment of wharfage, etc. if from United States vessels, such goods must be bona fide the growth, produce, or manufacture of the United States.

At least three times between 1830 and 1875 St Helena attempted to develop its own local industry to take the seasonally occurring humpback whales; all of these ventures came to naught. 

June 1833.  Subscription offer for the setting up of a whale fishery attracts £1,000 of investment.

January 1884.  An attempt to establish the St. Helena Whaling Company fails as only three subscribers are attracted to the idea.

October 1875.  Another of the periodic attempts to utilise 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.

Dolphins off St. Helena, April 2010

William Perrin in his 1985 paper “The Former Dolphin Fishery at St. Helena” suggests that several lines of evidence point to the 19th-century Yankee sperm whale fishery as the origin of the St Helena dolphin fishery. There is no evidence to suggest that a dolphin fishery existed at St Helena before the mid-19th century.

The sperm whalers took ‘porpoise’ (dolphins) for two reasons: to provide practice for the harpooners and to obtain fresh meat for the crew and as early as 1805, St Helena was a major way station for Yankee whalers fishing the Indian and Pacific oceans.  In 1855, for example, at least 43 whalers, mostly US-registered, called at St Helena; at least 6 called twice and Saint Helenians served as crewmen on some of these whalers and there was extensive exposure of St Helenian seagoing men to the Yankee practice of harpooning dolphins.
There were at least three sources of sperm-whaling gear for dolphins at St Helena:
St Helenians who had returned after shipping on whalers may have brought harpoons or the technology to make them.
Auctions of the equipment of the failed St Helenian whaling operations, e.g. in 1856. 
Sales of equipment of the many whaling vessels condemned at St Helena, e.g. in 1856 a list of items to be auctioned from the condemned barque George (Newport, Rhode Island) included ‘masts, spars, sails, stanching and running rigging; also the whale boats, and all other whaling gear, viz-trypots, casks and shooks, hooping &c., harpoons, lances, whale lines, and various other articles’.

Another piece of evidence pointing to a whaling origin of the dolphin fishery is the islanders’ use of Yankee whaling terms such as ‘bottlenose porpoise’ (applied to small dolphins), ‘blackfish’, ‘cowfish’, ‘angerine’ and ‘iron’ (used both as a noun and a verb).

The dolphin fishery was officially terminated in 1979.  A condition of the required fishing license issued by the Fisheries Corporation is that ‘no porpoise . . . be taken’; and violation carries a fine of up to £1000.  The Former Dolphin Fishery at St. Helena, 1985

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Victorian Internet, 1899

St. Helena connected by Cable to Cape Town, November 1899
At the time of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 (Isandlwana, Rorke’s Drift et al) it took twenty days for a message to travel from Southern Africa via steamer to the Cape Verde islands and on by telegraph to London.  As this remained the situation at the outbreak of the Second Boer War in October 1899 a quicker and more direct route was urgently required.  The Eastern Telegraph Company contracted the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company to manufacture and lay the necessary cables which were to link Cape Town - St. Helena – Ascension and St. Vincent in the Cape Verde Islands.  Messages could then be routed over the Western Telegraph Companies’ existing cables from St. Vincent via Madeira to Carcavelos, Portugal.  From there to Porthcurno in Cornwall they again travelled over the Eastern network.
The Cable Ship Anglia laid the 2,065 nm first stage from Cape Town to St Helena, completing it by 26 November 1899, and while CS Anglia returned to the UK for more cable CS Seine laid the section from St Helena to Ascension, a distance of 844 nm, completing it by 15 December 1899.  CS Anglia then laid 1,975 nm of cable from Ascension to St Vincent, Cape Verde Islands, completing the task by 21 February 1900 only four months after the start of the war.

 Rebuilt Cable Landing Station, Comfortless Cove, Ascension Island, May 2010

Cable Entry Duct, Comfortless Cove, Ascension Island, May 2010
In 1901 the Eastern Telegraph Company contracted the same company to manufacture and lay another set of cables from St Vincent to Madeira, 1,130 nm, and from there a 1,375 nm cable to Porthcurno.  CS Anglia and CS Britannia carried out this work.  To provide an alternative route in case of cable failure another cable laid by CS Anglia in the same year was that from Ascension to Freetown, Sierra Leone, a distance of 1,125 nm.

The All Red Line Around the World
In 1902 the final link in the global network of cables owned and operated by British companies was made with the laying of the Pacific cable from Canada to Australia.  The Pacific Cable, jointly owned by the British Government and the Governments of Canada, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, New Zealand, Tasmania and Western Australia in a unique partnership arrangement was, “effected in obedience to the strong desire of the people of the wide-spread British Empire to utilize electricity for the accomplishment of Imperial consolidation”, and to ensure that “The All Red Line” touched only the territories of the British Empire.

Some parts of the line had been completed considerably earlier.  In 1866, the Great Eastern connected Ireland to Newfoundland, by 1870 Suez was linked to Bombay and from there to Madras, Penang and Singapore.  Australia was linked to British telegraph cables directly in 1870, by extending a line from Singapore to Port Darwin and by 1872, messages could be sent direct from London to Sydney.

To complete the network, the final major cable laying project was the trans-Pacific section.  The route selected was Bamfield, Vancouver Island - Fanning Island - Fiji - Norfolk Island.  From Norfolk Island, two cables would be laid, one to Southport, Queensland, with a landline to Sydney, while the other would land at Doubtless Bay, Auckland and in total 7,837 nm of cable would be required.

It was decided to lay the Bamfield-Fanning Island section in one continuous length.  At the time no cable ship existed that could carry the cable to do this, so the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company had CS Colonia built.  Laying of the 3,459 nautical mile long cable began at Bamfield on 18 September 1902, reaching Fanning Island on 6 October.  Fanning Island had been formally annexed to Great Britain in 1888. 

In September 1914, the German cruiser, Nurnberg, slipped up to Fanning flying a French flag.  The Germans landed and wrecked the cable station, cut the cable and destroyed a cache of spare instruments. It is also said that they also found time to raid the local post office and steal some stamps.   Within two weeks the severed ends of the cable had been found and, communications re-established.  In December the same year Nurnberg was sunk at the Battle of the Falklands.
The CS Anglia which had been used to connect Cape Town and St Helena then laid all the sections from Fanning Island to Australia and New Zealand during 1902.

“The All Red Line” was inaugurated on 31st October 1902 and the Imperial Defence Committee was able to report to the British Government, “The dependence of the United Kingdom on cable stations situated upon foreign territory has been generally eliminated.”
Britain dominated the international cable networks and no other country possessed such an extensive network. In 1896 there were 30 cable-laying ships in the world, 24 of them owned by British companies.  The Eastern Telegraph Company controlled almost 50 per cent of the world’s submarine cables while other British companies owned another 30 per cent of the cable routes.  These figures underestimate the extent of British domination of worldwide telegraphic traffic because, apart from a number of transatlantic cables, most of the submarine cables owned by non-British companies were local links connecting to British long-distance routes.
Over the following years the Eastern and Western Telegraph Companies merged along with others such as The China Submarine Telegraph Company and The British-Indian Submarine Telegraph Company to form the, wonderfully named, Imperial and International Communications Ltd which in 1934 became Cable and Wireless.
Map from "The Annals and Aims of the Pacific Cable Project." Johnson, Ottawa 1903.Text adapted from "Colossus" by Paul Gannon and

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Charles Darwin, 1836

Charles Darwin 1809-1882
 Albumen Print by Julia Margaret Cameron taken on the Isle of Wight, 1868

When Darwin replaced Charles Dickens on the reverse of the Bank of  England £10 note in November 2000, the design was based on this photograph.  The note also has a picture of  the Beagle and a hummingbird, though there are no such birds on the Galapagos and no mention of them in On the Origin of Species.

The Voyage of the Beagle is a title commonly given to the book written by Charles Darwin and published in 1839 as his Journal and Remarks.  The title refers to the second survey expedition of the ship HMS Beagle, which sailed from Plymouth Sound on 27 December 1831 under the command of Captain Robert Fitzroy, R.N.  While the expedition was originally planned to last two years, it lasted almost five, the Beagle not returning until 2 October 1836.  During the voyage Darwin spent most of his time exploring on land, three years and three months on land; and only 18 months at sea.  On the homeward leg Darwin visited St. Helena from the 8th to 14th July 1836. His journal entry for May 9th reads:

”We sailed from Port Louis, and, calling at the Cape of Good Hope, on the 8th of July we arrived off St. Helena.  This island, the forbidding aspect of which has been so often described, rises abruptly like a huge black castle from the ocean.  Near the town, as if to complete nature's defence, small forts and guns fill up every gap in the rugged rocks.  The town runs up a flat and narrow valley; the houses look respectable, and are interspersed with a very few green trees.  When approaching the anchorage there was one striking view: an irregular castle perched on the summit of a lofty bill, and surrounded by a few scattered fir-trees, boldly projected against the sky”.

He continues:”The next day I obtained lodgings within a stone's throw of Napoleon's tomb: it was a capital central situation, whence I could make excursions in every direction.  During the four days I stayed here, I wandered over the island from morning to night, and examined its geological history.  My lodgings were situated at a height of about 2000 feet; here the weather was cold and boisterous, with constant showers of rain; and every now and then the whole scene was veiled in thick clouds”.

Though lodging so close to the tomb and in 1836 the body was still there, not being repatriated to France until 1840, he didn’t visit it, though several of the Beagle crew signed the visitor’s book.

He commented in a footnote “After the volumes of eloquence which have poured forth on this subject, it is dangerous even to mention the tomb.  A modern traveller, in twelve lines, burdens the poor little island with the following titles, — it is a grave, tomb, pyramid, cemetery, sepulchre, catacomb, sarcophagus, minaret, and mausoleum”

There is also no record of him having seen the Wirebird and in fact he believed “all the birds have been introduced within late years.”

He describes the landscape and flora: “At this season, the land moistened by constant showers, produces a singularly bright green pasture, which lower and lower down, gradually fades away and at last disappears.  In latitude 16°, and at the trifling elevation of 1500 feet, it is surprising to behold a vegetation possessing a character decidedly British.  When we consider that the number of plants now found on the island is 746, and that out of these fifty-two alone are indigenous species, the rest having been imported, and most of them from England, we see the reason of the British character of the vegetation.  Many of these English plants appear to flourish better than in their native country; some also from the opposite quarter of Australia succeed remarkably well.  The many imported species must have destroyed some of the native kinds; and it is only on the highest and steepest ridges, that the indigenous Flora is now predominant”.

“The English, or rather Welsh character of the scenery, is kept up by the numerous cottages and small white houses; some buried at the bottom of the deepest valleys, and others mounted on the crests of the lofty hills.  On viewing the island from an eminence, the first circumstance which strikes one, is the number of the roads and forts: the labour bestowed on the public works, if one forgets its character as a prison, seems out of all proportion to its extent or value. There is so little level or useful land, that it seems surprising how so many people, about 5000, can subsist here”.

Darwin visited just after the transition from The East India Company to the British Crown, which took effect from 22nd April 1834, and the economic effects of which on the island were momentous.

“The lower orders, or the emancipated slaves, are I believe extremely poor: they complain of the want of work.  From the reduction in the number of public servants owing to the island having been given up by the East Indian Company, and the consequent emigration of many of the richer people, the poverty probably will increase.  The chief food of the working class is rice with a little salt meat; as neither of these articles are the products of the island, but must be purchased with money, the low wages tell heavily on the poor people.  Now that the people are blessed with freedom, a right which I believe they value fully, it seems probable that their numbers will quickly increase: if so, what is to become of the little state of St. Helena?”

This suggests that the dependence of the islanders on imported foods, which is so noticeable today, had its origins at least a century and a half ago.  A conclusion suggested in Ashmole and Ashmole St Helena and Ascension Island: a natural history Nelson 2000 0 094614 61 1.

Darwin’s guide was an elderly man, who had been a goatherd when a boy, and knew every step amongst the rocks.  “He was of a race many times crossed, and although with a dusky skin, he had not the disagreeable expression of a mulatto.  He was a very civil, quiet old man, and such appears the character of the greater number of the lower classes.  It was strange to my ears to hear a man, nearly white and respectably dressed, talking with indifference of the times when he was a slave.  With my companion, who carried our dinners and a horn of water, which is quite necessary, as all the water in the lower valleys is saline, I every day took long walks”.

“On the higher parts of the island, considerable numbers of a shell, long thought a marine species, occur embedded in the soil.  It proves to be a land-shell of a very peculiar form; with it I found six other kinds; and in another spot an eighth species.  It is remarkable that none of them are now found living.  Their extinction has probably been caused by the entire destruction of the woods, and the consequent loss of food and shelter, which occurred during the early part of the last century.  The history of the changes, which the elevated plains of Longwood and Deadwood have undergone, as given in General Beatson's account of the island, is extremely curious.  Both plains, it is said, in former times were covered with wood, and were therefore called the Great Wood.  So late as the year 1716 there were many trees, but in 1724 the old trees had mostly fallen; and as goats and hogs had been suffered to range about, all the young trees had been killed.  It appears also from the official records, that the trees were unexpectedly, some years afterwards, succeeded by a wire grass, which spread over the whole surface.  General Beatson adds that now this plain "is covered with fine sward, and is become the finest piece of pasture on the island."  The extent of surface, probably covered by wood at a former period, is estimated at no less than two thousand acres; at the present day scarcely a single tree can be found there.  It is also said that in 1709 there were quantities of dead trees in Sandy Bay; this place is now so utterly desert, that nothing but so well attested an account could have made me believe that they could ever have grown there.  The fact, that the goats and hogs destroyed all the young trees as they sprang up, and that in the course of time the old ones, which were safe from their attacks, perished from age, seems clearly made out.  Goats were introduced in the year 1502; eighty-six years afterwards, in the time of Cavendish, it is known that they were exceedingly numerous.  More than a century afterwards, in 1731, when the evil was complete and irretrievable, an order was issued that all stray animals should be destroyed.  It is very interesting thus to find, that the arrival of animals at St. Helena in 1501, did not change the whole aspect of the island, until a period of two hundred and twenty years had elapsed: for the goats were introduced in 1502, and in 1724 it is said "the old trees had mostly fallen."  There can be little doubt that this great change in the vegetation affected not only the land-shells, causing eight species to become extinct, but likewise a multitude of insects.

He concludes the report of his visit thus: I so much enjoyed my rambles among the rocks and mountains of St. Helena that I felt almost sorry on the morning of the 14th to descend to the town. Before noon I was on board, and the Beagle made sail.

The complete works of Charles Darwin can be read online at:

The Forty Minute War, Sayyid Khalid 1917-1921

Sayyid Khalid 1874-1927

Sayyid Khalid bin Barghash Al-Busaid ruled Zanzibar, very briefly, from August 25 to August 27 1896, seizing power after the sudden death of his cousin Hamad bin Thuwaini who many suspect was poisoned by Khalid. Britain refused to recognize his claim to the throne, preferring, as Sultan, Hamud bin Muhammed who was more favourable to British interests.  In accordance with a treaty signed in 1886, a condition for accession to the sultanate was that the candidate obtain the permission of the British consul, and Khalid had not fulfilled this requirement.  The British considered this a casus belli and sent an ultimatum to Khalid demanding that he order his forces to stand down and leave the palace. In response, Khalid called up his guard and barricaded himself inside the palace.

The ultimatum expired at 09:00 East Africa Time on 27 August, by which time the British had gathered three cruisers, two gunships, 150 marines and sailors, and 900 Zanzibaris in the harbour area.  The British forces were under Rear Admiral Harry Rawson, chiefly remembered for overseeing the Benin Expedition of 1897 that burned and looted the city of Benin. Around 2,800 Zanzibaris defended the palace; most were recruited from the civilian population, but they also included the sultan's palace guard and several hundred of his servants and slaves.  The defenders had several artillery pieces and machine guns which were set in front of the palace sighted at the British ships.  A bombardment which was opened at 09:02 set the palace on fire and disabled the defending artillery.  A small naval action took place with the British sinking a Zanzibari royal yacht and two smaller vessels, and some shots were fired ineffectually at the pro-British Zanzibari troops as they approached the palace.  The flag at the palace was shot down and fire ceased at 09:40. The sultan's forces sustained roughly 500 casualties before a surrender was received, while only one British sailor was injured.  The British quickly placed Sultan Hamud in power at the head of a puppet government.  The war marked the end of Zanzibar as a sovereign state and the start of a period of heavy British influence and the Anglo-Zanzibar War is now thought to be the shortest war in history.
Zanzibar after the bombardment

After the cease fire Sayyid Khalid managed to evade the British forces and took refuge in the German Consulate with a few of his senior companions.  The British demanded his surrender and surrounded the consulate with soldiers.  He remained there for thirty six days, then on 2nd October, in the early hours of the morning and during the high tide, the Germans arranged for a small boat to come alongside the seawall of the consulate.  Sayyid Khalid was taken with his friends on board a German warship en route to Dar es Salaam which was then the capital of German East Africa and which comprised, Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanganyika.  He lived there as a Sultan for 20 years with the Zanzibari Sultanate flag over his house until World War I.  The British, with long memories, continued to pursue him and in 1916 the Afrikaner, Lieutenant-General Jan Christian Smuts having taken command of all British forces in East Africa was determined to capture Sayyid Khalid.  He could not be found in Dar es Salaam, however, files of his letters were found in Tabora and were given to Smuts. On 27 February 1917 Sayyid Khalid was arrested with two of his sons and three of his followers in the Rufiji delta 250 miles from Dar es Salaam.

Four months later, on 22nd June he was escorted with his entourage on board the SS Ingoma en route to exile.  Arriving in Durban they boarded the SS Berwick Castle of the Union-Castle Line for their final destination, St Helena.  On arrival Sayyid Khalid and his followers, seventeen of them, plus three political exiles from Kenya, were kept in military custody in the Jamestown Barracks on the Military Parade Ground.  There is no information available in the local archives on the prisoners; according to the archivist; all newspapers and other records relating to Khalid were censored during that period.  Local people referred to the prisoners as the “Zanzibars”.  Very few people remember them being on the island, and the recollections of those who do, are very vague and of little substance.  They did not mix much with the Saint Helenians, some of whom remember that the prisoners were always very smartly dressed in long flowing silken robes, the women were described as having a beautiful appearance.

The weather conditions and the lack of Muslims on the island did not suit Sayyid Khalid.  He requested to be moved to his relatives in Oman or to his property in Dar es Salaam, but was refused by Alfred Milner the Secretary of State. However, in January 1921 Milner decided at the end of his mandate to inform the Governor of the Seychelles of his intention to send Sayyid and his entourage to the Seychelles.  At that time the Seychelles already held, in exile, political prisoners from the Gold Coast (Ghana) Uganda, Nyasaland, and Somaliland the most notable being fifty-two members of the Asante monarchy who were there from 1900 to 1924.  The deportees left Saint Helena at the end of April 1921 after four years on the island. Sayyid Khalid, his relatives, a female child born on 19 February 1920 in Saint Helena, Mosslin bin Hassen the interpreter and 3 political Kenyan exiles, boarded SS Cawdor Castle; en route to the Seychelles, they stopped at Durban and were taken on the SS Karagola to the Seychelles.

In the Seychelles Sayyid Khalid did not complain of the lack of Muslims or Mosques as he did in Saint Helena but he said that the weather did not suit him.  However, his constant complaint was the lack of money for his upkeep.  In Saint Helena he had more generous daily rations including butter, meat, tea and one pint of beer or stout.

After many complaints and requests to Winston Churchill, the Secretary of State, Sayyid Khalid asked that he and his entourage be sent back to Dar es Salaam. Churchill would only agree for them to be moved to Kenya and on 12th April 1922 they left on board the SS Taroba.  During his further five years of exile in Mombasa the British never allowed Sayyid Khalid to visit his homeland or Dar es Salaam. He died on the 15th of March 1927 in Mombasa age 53, three days as Sultan resulting in thirty years in exile.

Information taken from:

Friday, 8 April 2011

The Janisch Memorial

Philip Gosse, already an ”inveterate collector of St. Heleniana” made a six week visit to St. Helena early in 1937 and subsequently published his “permanently valuable, well documented, enthusiastic and easily read book” St. Helena 1502-1938. Trevor Hearl’s introduction to the 1990 reprint describes Gosse’s anger at the apparent indifference of the government and influential settlers towards social distress and environmental decay.....the Island’s historic buildings, its unique flora, its priceless colonial and East India Company records, each telling a tale of shameful neglect.  Following the completion of the book and “in the hope of bettering the condition of these charming, long suffering British subjects” Gosse sent a courteous 3,500 word statement to the Colonial Secretary, Ormsby-Gore, included in which was a photograph of Governor Janisch’s neglected memorial outside  the Baptist Church at Knollcombes.

Janisch Memorial 1937

Hudson Ralph Janisch was Governor from 1873 until he died in office on March 10th 1884 aged 55. He was the second, and last, St Helena-born Governor, the first being John Goodwin from July 1738 to August 1740, but the only Saint to have been Governor after the island came under the Crown in 1834.  He worked hard to counter the colony's economic decline, encouraging the development of the first flax industry in 1874, and compiling a volume of Extracts from the St. Helena Records which was published posthumously in 1885.  Despite prejudice against him as a Baptist lay preacher, he became Colonial Secretary in 1868.  With the recall of Governor Patey in 1873 he was appointed Acting Governor by the Colonial Office and ordered to lease or close Plantation House, the Governor's official residence.  Following a change of government in London, Janisch was confirmed as Governor in 1873 -'the right man in the right place', commented the St Helena Guardian - but on local salary of £900.00 p.a. without accommodation.  Thus he continued to live at Palm Villa, next to the abandoned Botanical Garden in upper Jamestown.

In his book Gosse wrote: “The Governorship of Janisch cannot be passed over without some mention of the present state of the island’s memorial to his pious memory.  It is a tall, handsome obelisk which stands, or totters, in the Baptist Cemetery at Knollcombes.  When I saw it in the spring of the year 1937 it appeared to be on the point of falling over, leaning perilously to one side at an alarming angle.  More than likely by the time these words are printed, it will have crashed to the ground and will be one more historic relic of St. Helena which has been allowed to fall into ruins.  On enquiry I learned that it would cost about thirty pounds to take down and re-erect this monument. And yet so little interest is taken by the authorities or by the St. Helenians themselves to preserve the monuments of the dead or the relics of the past, that nothing was being done, nor was likely to be done, to save this memorial to their island-born Governor, and a man greatly venerated and loved by all during his lifetime”.

I don't know when something was done but the result would, I'm sure, please Gosse.

Janisch Memorial May 2010
In Memoriam Hudson Ralph Janisch CMG FRAS Died March 19th 1884 Aged 59 years
This monument is erected by the inhabitants to commemorate the high respect and esteem in which the late Governor was universally held.

The monument also commemorates Bertram, Hudson’s eldest son who had qualified as a doctor in Edinburgh and practised on the Island who predeceased him in July 1883.

A three-tiered cenotaph each stage having moulded base, recessed panels on all faces and cavetto cornice. The top tier is pierced with a pointed arch and crowned with an urn. The relative crudeness of the detail is explained by the material employed, viz. cement rendering on local stone. 

Information from the text of Gosse St. Helena 1502-1938 and Trevor Hearle’s introduction.
Part 4 of the Land Planning Development and Control Ordinance.