Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Last Boer Prisoner, 1949

When my wife and I first visited in 2006 I bought a copy of “St. Helena: The Forgotten Island”.  This is a reprint, produced on behalf of The Museum of St. Helena, of an article by Quentin Keynes published in the National Geographic Magazine in August 1950 and includes some photographs not selected for the original article.  In the booklet are biographical notes, by his nephew Simon, describing the development of Quentin’s attachment to the island.  Helped by the purchase, in March 1951, of Philip Gosse’s collection of books on St. Helena he eventually owned what he believed must be one of the largest collections in the world of rare and early books and pamphlets on this interesting place.  Simon opines that he no doubt felt a connection with St. Helena through his maternal great-grandfather, Charles Darwin, who had visited on the homeward voyage of the Beagle in 1836.  He describes Quentin’s first visit in January 1949 as “the fulfilment of a boyhood dream and the start of a man’s career” and I am grateful to Simon for allowing me to use, from the article, the picture and text below.

Beside a Muzzle-loader Stands the Last Boer Prisoner.
Although he was soon liberated, 75-year old Charles Smith liked St. Helena so much he has left it but once since he was brought here by the British from South Africa.

On his second day ashore Quentin climbed the 699 steps of Jacob’s Ladder, taking “a panting 15 minutes,” an exertion he thought worthwhile because:
”up on the fort stood a very interesting old man: Charles Smith, 75, St. Helena’s last surviving Boer War prisoner  He was captured by the British in South Africa and had been shipped along with the Boer general, Piet Cronje and 512 other captives to this island which had already been the rocky cell for another distinguished man of action.  He told us he had been liberated in 1903, but that, liking his insular prison, he had elected to stay there forever.  He had married a native and for many years had run a bakery.  Only once had he ventured into the outside world, and that was in 1912 when he travelled to Durban to see his ailing mother.”

Is it possible that someone with access to the St. Helena BMD Records could tell me when he died?

Note: Cronje and 514 (Jackson) prisoners arrived at Jamestown on HMS Niobe the 11th April 1900.

St. Helena: The Forgotten Island ISBN 0 906919 21 5, Baldwin’s London, 2005

5 comments: said...

Hello I can find out when Charles Smith died because my girlfriend is grandchild to him,

waldmeister said...

Charles John Smith died on the 16th September 1958 at the age of 85 and is buried in St Paul’s Churchyard (East G), beside the hedge.
I will (hopefully) be publishing some of my research an the Boer POW's that will include information about him.

Anonymous said...

Hello - I will be visiting St Helena in September 2014 and am doing some research for book which touches on the Island's history, among other things. I would like to interview a descendant of Charles Smith when I visit to learn more of hi personal story if possible. I would appreciate any help. David E.

John Grimshaw said...

Hi David,
I don't know if any of his descendants are sill on St. Helena but you could contact rgmedea who posted the first comment and ask the question. The person on the island most likely to be able to help is Basil George who runs Magma Way Tours. His email is Have a look at his web-site.
Enjoy your stay on the island and if you need any more information you can contact me in the UK on

Julie Balchin said...


I just came across this article whilst browsing.Not even sure anyone looks at this blog anymore! Quite interesting, even more so for me as "Boer" Smith, as he was known locally, was my Maternal Grandfather. I never knew him personally as he died many years before i was born, My mother Muriel, was his only daughter, sadly she died in 1992. Basil George, is the grandson of his brother who was also imprisoned here as a Boer POW. His Grandfather returned home to Pretoria while my grandfather remained.