Sunday 29 May 2011

The Ladder

Recent membership of the Friends of St Helena ( ) has given me access to back numbers of the society’s magazine “Wirebird”.  I was intrigued by the map-view below in the Autumn 1992 edition of a “Prospect of James Fort on the island of St Hellena by J. Thornton” published around 1700 and which showed “the Ladder” in the top right-hand corner.
James Fort, John Thornton, Wirebird Autumn 1992
Today’s Ladder with its 699 steps is a much later (1829) structure so what was this earlier ladder?  The New York Public Library Digital Gallery provided another image but by S. Thornton.
A Prospect of James Fort on the Island of St. Hellena. London, Samuel Thornton, c. 1711. A view of the East India Company's fort on St Helena, the important stop on the route to the East Indies.  Shown are the triangular fort, the crane used for unloading supplies and the Governor's garden. Published in Thornton's 'English Pilot.
Samuel Thornton, the Ladder, Detail

According to Jonathan Potter, the London map dealer, Samuel Thornton was the son and heir of the English chart-maker John Thornton who was the pre-eminent English mapmaker of the later part of the seventeenth century and first decade of the eighteenth.  After his death in 1708, Samuel Thornton continued to re-issue his father’s charts, often with his imprint substituted.  However, according to the late RV Tooley (and Richard Betz) John and Samuel Thornton were brothers.  John, the elder, being for a time Hydrographer to the East India Company between 1669 and 1701 and also collaborated with the publisher John Seller.  John died around 1706 and was succeeded by Samuel who died around 1715. 

Janisch, helpful as ever, gives several references to Ladder Hill:
March 16th 1736.  The Governor reports in the last two weeks we had such great cataracts of water fallen from the Skies that it hath drove away great part of "Cow Path." On Ladder Hill there was such breaches as was never observed before. In some places great heaps of Rubbish drove down. In other places many large Rocks removed—large pieces of the Wall thrown down so that it is very difficult to go up or down by those who carried loads.
Oct. 7 1771.  Road to Ladder Hill to be altered, Inhabitants paying half. Ladder Hill Road is the only Road kept in repair by the Company.

July 7.1795.  Henry Powell publican unfortunately killed in bed by the falling of a rock from the height of Ladder Hill yesterday morning at 4 o'clock.
Oct. 23, 1809.  Many of the Lanes directed to be kept open for the purpose of carrying off water falling from the side of Ladder Hill are stopped. Deep channels had been cut on the side of the Hill to carry off all the water into the Burial Ground by the Barracks. The ground is in a shameful neglected state having more the appearance of a common for Dogs than a burial place for deceased Christians.

Ladder Hill, Fort and Telegraph, Read 1817

Hawkesworth in his narrative of Cook’s first visit to St. Helena in May 1771 provides some explanation: They (the inhabitants) are used also to climb the steep hill between the town in Chapel-valley and their plantation; Which hill is so steep, that, having a ladder in the middle of it they call it Ladder Hill; and this cannot be avoided without going three or four miles about; so that they seldom want air or exercise, the great preservers of health.

Janisch then records that:
Sept. 1.1828—With the view of saving the heavy labour and expense of carriage along the zigzag between Jamestown and Ladder Hill the Governor (Dallas) proposed the construction of an Inclined Plane upon the principle of several which have been beneficially adopted at Bridgenorth and Monmouth of 45° of Elevation, 3° more than Ladder Hill and many other parts of England and Wales.

It was subsequently built in 1829 by the St. Helena Railway company with Janisch recording on 14th January 1829 that “Ladder to Ladder Hill £200 allowed in aid of the work”

The Inclined Plane, 1829
The Mechanics’ Magazine of March 1834 gave a description of the system, its defects and the efforts made to make it safe.

Writing in 1875 JC Melliss described the Inclined Planes’ purpose, construction and eventual dereliction:

The whole of the manure, which accumulates from stables, stockyards, etc., in the town, is thrown into the sea, instead of being conveyed up the hills, and returned to the land.  By this long-continued practice the lands have become almost exhausted.  Moreover, a large quantity of guano, collected around the coast, is exported to Europe, instead of being used in the Island, and it is much to be regretted that the Government permit it, merely for the sake of swelling the revenue by a paltry charge of 10s. per ton exportation fee.  With such a system continually at work, is it surprising that the farmer obtains but a poor crop, and fruit trees blight and dwindle away? rather is it a matter of astonishment that he obtains any return at all.  Forty two years ago General Dallas, then Governor of the Island, was fully alive to this most ruinous system, and, with a view of supplying some practical means for lessening the cost of conveying the manure from the town up the hills, and back to the lands in the country, caused the erection of the ladder or inclined plane.  This engineering work, carried out under the directions of Lieutenant G. W. Melliss, an artillery officer, comprised a ladder 900 feet in length, with upwards of 600 steps, communicating up the side of the hill from Jamestown to Ladder Hill, at an angle of 39' or 40', with a tramway on either side, upon which waggons, in connexion with ropes and machinery at the top, travelled up and down.  By this means manure was conveyed up an almost perpendicular height of 600 feet and deposited, from whence it could easily be conveyed by the farmers.  A secondary use of this "St. Helena Railroad" was to convey stores from the town to the garrison stationed in the Fort of Ladder Hill, and, as it would be most invaluable for both these purposes in the present day, it is very greatly to be regretted that the whole construction has fallen into disuse and bad repair, the woodwork being eaten by white ants. Indeed, it is said that these insects visited Ladder Hill through the medium of its longitudinal wooden sleepers.

Fowler 1863, Jamestown showing the Inclined Plane and Ladder Hill

In November 1832 The Inclined Plane was bought from the St Helena Railway Co. by the East India Co. for £882.10s.

A description of ascending the ladder, by then in a poor state of repair, was given in "Reminiscences of a Nine Years’ Traveller" from The Church of England Magazine. May 2nd 1846. (With maybe just a touch of exaggeration in recalling the difficulty of the ascent and the death toll)

The Longest Ladder in the World.
On approaching the roads off James Town, in the island of St. Helena, your attention is attracted by an enormous ladder, that extends from the town beneath to a fort directly over the town, on the summit of a hill, 800 feet high. Previous to visiting St. Helena, I had heard much of this immense ladder; and, when at length I found myself on the spot, I resolved to ascend it.  On inquiry, I found that sentinels were placed both below and above, for the purpose of preventing any one ascending or descending without an order from the town-major.  This regulation was adopted in consequence of the number of accidents, attended with fatal consequences, that had occurred. Together with a companion, after dinner, I rambled down towards the guard-house; and, having found the town-major there, we applied, and obtained an order to permit our ascent.  The ladder is composed of steps, bettor than three feet in width, and some four inches in breadth, firmly fastened in sides of great strength.  'On either side is a hand-rail, of such a width that you can conveniently lay a hand on either side.
The steps are each upwards of eighteen inches apart, and great numbers of them much decayed.  At regular distances there are small seats for resting-places fixed. On one side, without the ladder, a description of slide has been formed, along which pulleys are fixed; for the purpose, it would seem, of raising anything from the town beneath, or lowering such from the fort above.  The face of the hill against which the ladder is erected is extremely steep; so much so, as utterly to preclude the idea of any ascent without artificial means.  In places there are perfect precipices, the rocks completely overhanging.  At the bottom we found no sentry, and so proceeded to ascend at once, but had not attained above the height of a hundred feet, when we heard a voice hailing us, and perceived a sentry calling on us to return, who in his walk had been concealed from us, when below, by an intervening projection.  Down we had to go, and, having shown our pass, and satisfied the Cerberus, commenced our ascent again.  At first we proceeded rapidly, but soon found that not the answer; the height of each step causing considerable exertion.  More slowly then we moved along, till we attained the third resting place, where we seated ourselves, and turned to view the town beneath, with its narrow streets and confined situation, cowering, as it were, beneath the two mighty hills that seemed to press it on either side.  Aloft we turned our eyes, anxiously wishing ourselves at the top; but we had the best part of the ascent yet to accomplish, and to our task we once more went.  As we attained a greater height, we found the steps getting more and more out of repair, in some places two or three steps together being broken; so that we had to clamber up the best way we could.  On, on we went, with alternate rests: the town, the bay, and shipping beneath, gradually became more minute the moving bodies seemed almost mites.  When we had reached within a hundred feet or so of the top, the unusual fatigue almost overpowered us: the dizzy height so affected us, that we felt as if we could scarce preserve ourselves from falling; yet we persevered, and did succeed in reaching the top.  A moment later, and one human being would have passed into another world.  My companion, who was before me, had scarce passed the gate at the top, when he fainted, completely overcome; and he afterwards declared to me that, for the last hundred feet or so, nothing prevented his physical energies from being overcome by the unusual fatigue and the position he was in, but the immediate prospect of reaching a place of safety.  I was not similarly overcome; but I was little better a sickening sensation oppressed me; and, a few moments after attaining the fort, I retched very violently.  Many lives have been lost on this ladder, particularly those of passengers, whom curiosity induced to attempt the ascent.  The artillerymen and garrison of the fort are not, however, used to going up and down, except from casualties; and it was only the very week before my visit to St. Helena that an artilleryman was killed in attempting to descend the ladder against time, for a wager.  Ladder Hill Fort completely hangs over the bay: it is of great strength, and completely commands the roadstead beneath.  After passing an hour at the fort, we descended; but by the road, which is cut in a zigzag manner in the side of the hill

Having fallen into disuse it was dismantled by the Royal Engineers in 1871 leaving the 699 steps to give us the structure we see today.

Jacob's Ladder circa 1900

The Inclined Plane, Plaque, May 2010

Jacob's Ladder, Sepia Postcard, Purchased Jamestown 1949,  Llangibby Castle en-route to England

The Inclined Plane, 1979
Jacob's Ladder, May 2010

Friday 6 May 2011

The Church in the Country

Once again I am indebted to Edward Cannan’s “Churches of the South Atlantic Islands” for the outline of this post and to Barry Weaver’s St Helena Virtual Library and Archive for four of the pictures used.  Janisch, as always, provides some detail.
Wathen, Plantation House and St. Paul's Church, 1812

The present St. Paul’s, which became the Cathedral in 1859, is the third church built in this area of the island since Captain Dutton arrived in May 1659 to take possession of and fortify St Helena on behalf of The East India Company.

The first building was insubstantial, Janisch recording that:

Oct 26, 1691.—The Church in the Country in bad repair—the windward part much decayed it being all done with Boards.  St James’ was in no better condition: The Chappel in Town in bad repair and the Roof in danger of falling.

July 6, 1697.—Country Church to be rebuilt by an Assessed Rate. The Company contributing £20.

April 20, 1699.—and whereas the Church in the countrey is much decayed being made all of Timber it was thought convenient that it be rebuilt with stones and for that end the day's work be for the gathering of stones towards the rebuilding of a new Church.

Sept. 30, 1732.—Churches.  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.

A new stone church was eventually built south-west of the present Cathedral.  Wathen’s view, above, was painted in 1812, but only published in his “Views of St Helena” in September 1821, to no doubt capitalise on the interest generated following Napoleon’s death in May of that year, shows the new church behind Plantation House which itself had been built in 1791-92 as a country residence for The Governor.

This map which seems to be a copy of Read's 1817 map shows the Country Church with a spire.

It could not have been very well built.  In April 1844 GW Melliss, the Surveyor General of the Island, and perhaps most well known for supervising the building of the inclined plane for the St Helena Railway Company in 1829, now called Jacob’s Ladder, produced what is evidently his second report on the state of the Country Church. 

In a former memorandum that I furnished on the subject of the country church, I alluded to the defective state of east and back walls; but as other parts of the structure are of the same inferior description of masonry, and would not correspond with new work so as to form a substantial edifice, and moreover as additional accommodation is required, which, in this climate, could not be properly obtained without a greater area than the present church affords, I am of opinion that the most advisable plan is to rebuild the country church.

A considerable sum of money will certainly be required to accomplish this object, the amount of which will of course vary much according to the size and style of the new building; but supposing a plain substantial church, containing about 100 more sittings than the present one, be approved of, in such case I do not apprehend that the outlay would so far exceed the cost of thorough repair and addition to the present church as might at first be supposed.
By attention to the small repairs mentioned in my former paper, particularly to the street at the east end, the present building may be used for some time longer, during which period a fund could be raised for either " rebuilding or repairing the country church."

The accompanying plans and elevation of the church were prepared to assist the present consideration of the subject. Attached thereto is a ground sketch of an idea that occurred to me of enlarging and repairing the present building, so as to take advantage of such parts of the walls as were sound. Instead of a tower or steeple, a small bell turret was intended to be erected on the west gable end; the accommodation was calculated at an increase on the present of 50 free and 50 pew sittings; the congregation would face the pulpit, and the approach was to have been made from the westward. I have, however, merely mentioned this circumstance, as it was one among other plans of alterations that suggested themselves; but they do not in the least dispose me to alter the opinion that rebuilding the country church is the wisest plan.
(signed) G. W. Melliss.

On the 17th December 1846 the Minister and Churchwardens wrote to the Governor, Patrick Ross:

My Lord, We, the minister and churchwardens of the parish of St. Helena, most respectfully solicit your Lordship's consideration of the difficulties we are called upon to encounter in consequence of the dangerous state of our parish church, and the severe pressure of our rates.

A grant, authorized some time ago by a predecessor of your Lordship, from the Colonial Treasury, in aid of a voluntary subscription on the island, was the means of effecting important alterations in the church of James' Town, for which we offer our grateful acknowledgments; but we trust your Lordship will honour our present application in behalf of the church in the country, by viewing the case on its separate and peculiar merits.

The benefits of the former church are limited to the town by high and precipitous crags on every side, and thus the Governor of this colony, with his establishment3 and more than 2,000 of the rural population, are dependent upon the country church for the public services of religion.

It has been therefore usual for the Government to extend generous assistance towards the reparation of this church.  For example, £698 in the year 1806, when the costs of repairs amounted to £1,396 and again, when repairs were effected at the cost of £380.  In the year 1825 we find the parish recording a grant from the Government of £200. towards that object.

These facts are not advanced merely in excuse for our present importunity, but as proving to your Lordship, when viewed in connexion with the existing state of the fabric, that all attempts to arrest its steady progress towards decay have been hitherto unavailing. The parish authorities have expended a considerable sum on repairs even during the last seven years; and yet our attention has been for some years past specially called to a fissure in a principal angle of the church, immediately over the Governor's pew. Its progressive enlargement has excited anxiety and examination, issuing in an official report that the foundation of the building is impaired, and that the materials generally are in a loose and decayed state.
The report (by GW Melliss) shows that repairs, combined with the requisite enlargement, cannot be professionally recommended, and that a new church (the materials to be all prepared in England) would eventually be attended with less expense, far less inconvenience, and no interruption whatever to public worship.  As a parish, my Lord, we labour under most serious disadvantages, compared with the parishes in England, especially those which form the peculiar property of the Crown.

We have reason to believe that by having all the ornamental parts of a church executed in England we could erect a new building, holding 450 persons, adequate to our wants in respect of religious worship, at the cost of £2,000, postponing the steeple till additional funds will admit of its being erected.

When we find, my Lord, that in less than 30 years, the repairs of the country church have cost nearly £3,000, we very respectfully implore your Lordship to view all these circumstances with kind consideration, and to place at the disposal of his Excellency the Governor, in conformity with the precedents above stated, one moiety (£1,000) of the amount required as a grant, and the other moiety as a loan, on the security of the pew-rents, and of the fund above-mentioned, as being the only means of applying the prompt and decisive remedy demanded by the state of our church, and of preserving on the spot, where our friends, relations and fathers, have worshipped, and where their ashes now repose, those religious services which form the best inheritance of ourselves and our children. We have, &c.
(signed) Richard Kempthorne, C. Chaplain, J. Torbett, Thomas Charlett, Churchwardens.

Ross was very much in favour and, acting quickly, on the 23rd December forwarded the request to Earl Grey in London:

At the request of the minister and churchwardens of St. Helena, I have the honour to submit to your Lordship's attention the accompanying memorial, representing the dilapidated and dangerous state of the parish country church, adjoining the Governor's official residence.

I have made a minute examination .of this building, and I am decided in opinion, that any attempt to repair it would be only incurring expense, without any permanent benefit, and I therefore take the liberty to support the prayer of the petition, viz:
A Government Grant                          £1,000
And a Loan of                                   £1,000
and to express my hope that by such aid as your Lordship may be pleased to recommend on the part of the mother country, the island may have the advantage of a safe and permanent building, capable of accommodating a congregation of at least (500), five hundred people.

Were it practicable to repair the present church with any degree of safety to the inhabitants, they would of necessity be deprived for a considerable period of any means of public worship, whereas by an adjoining site having been already obtained for the contemplated edifice, the old building can, by the means of wooden buttresses be used, though not without insecurity, till the other is complete.
Under these circumstances, I take the liberty to urge strongly your Lordship's favourable consideration and support of a measure so important to the welfare of the colony.
I have, &c.  (signed) Patrick Ross, Governor.

The favourable consideration sought was, alas, not forthcoming.

Sir, Downing-street, 1 March 1847.
I have received your despatch No. 56, of the 23d December last, forwarding a memorial from the colonial chaplain and churchwardens of St. Helena, representing the dilapidated state of the parish country church, and praying for a grant from the public treasury of 1,000 I. and a loan of equal amount for building a new church.

I regret that I cannot comply with this application. In this country and in the colonies, churches have been erected by different communities entirely from their own resources, and where those resources have been very limited in amount, the community has been contented with a plain and moderate structure proportionate to their means.

This course should be followed by the inhabitants of St. Helena; or if they cannot raise the necessary funds for a new church, they must provide, by voluntary contributions, the means of effecting such repairs in the present building as will keep it from further dilapidation; I can hold out to them no hopes of assistance from the British Treasury.
I have, &c. (signed) Grey.

The money to pay for the new building was eventually found, Cannan citing the St Helena Gazette of March 30th 1850:  Tenders invited for loan of money (£1,000 or any part) stating interest, for the building of Country church - repaid over 20 years.

Having taken the decision to rebuild, in July 1848 the building committee wrote to Benjamin Ferry, a well-known London architect of the time requesting him to “furnish us with a design and a working plan of a Church capable of containing Four Hundred and Fifty persons together with a Chancel, Tower, Vestry and Registry Office.  Finding the plans acceptable the foundation stone was laid by The Governor, Sir Patrick Ross, on Wednesday 6th February 1850.  With the exception of the main part of the walls which were of local stone, some from the old country church, the stone for doors and windows was hewn into form and shipped from England by Winsland and Holland of Duke Street Bloomsbury on the barque Glentanner.  The roof and other woodwork, ironwork, paving slates, pulpit and seats followed later on board the Juliana.

It is indicative of the links built in the EIC trading days that this report of the exportation of the church appeared in the Straits Times and Singapore Journal of Commerce of 30th April 1850.

Cannan describes the work of construction.  It was a work of some months to transport all the stone and timber to the site 580m above sea level.  Every empty vehicle going towards the church was pressed to help and all the long timbers and curved roof trusses had to be carried by manual labour.  Some of this was voluntary and the Governor lent a considerable number Africans recently liberated from a captured slaver who were rewarded with tobacco and refreshed with wine and water in the sober proportion of one bottle of wine to a pail of water. Stones for the foundations were gathered from the neighbouring hills and there was some difficulty in obtaining qualified masons.. The only one in the island who had ever seen a similar work was a soldier.  The clerk of works was the adjutant of militia, though he knew nothing either of the qualities of materials or of construction, and the lava plinths were dressed by a gang of five French masons accidentally left on the island who proved quite a godsend for two or three weeks.
GW Melliss, Plantation House, St. Paul's Church and Burial Ground, 1857

GW Melliss, St. Paul's Church, 1857

   JC Melliss, St. Paul's Church, 1875

On Wednesday3rd September 1851 the Church was opened, though Governor Ross was not there to see it, having died on the 28th August 1850.

Not everyone liked the completed building. Emily Jackson opined much later that “St. Paul's is utterly devoid of architectural beauty outside or in, but it is commandingly situated on a hill above and at the back of Government House, and is surrounded by the cemetery”.

Mr Scott in the February 1851 issue of The Ecclesiologist was scathing about the incongruity of sending a ready-made stone church, all natty and nice with its trim neat windows and a cocky little spire to such a place.  Lady Ross recently widowed and by then lately arrived from St Helena replied that “She notices that Mr. Scott in his interesting " thoughts on Tropical Architecture," objects to the First-Pointed style of church lately sent out to S. Helena by Mr. Ferrey, on account of its incongruity with the landscape scenery.  The truth is, she observes, that the scenery amidst which the church is placed, is with its hills, fields, and hedge-rows, exactly of an English character; so similar, that it might be well taken for a rural scene in one or other of the English counties.”

I can only concur with Cannan who concludes that “on the whole we agree with Lady Ross”

St Paul's Cathedral, May 2010

Thursday 5 May 2011

Johann Nieuhoff, 1658

Johann Nieuhoff

Johann Nieuhoff 1618-1672 was a Dutch traveler who wrote about his journeys to Brazil. China and India.  The most famous of these was a trip of 2,400 km from Canton to Peking in 1655-1657, which enabled him to become an authoritative western writer on China.  He left for Brazil in 1640 as a reserve officer-candidate and from then on, barring two short family visits in 1658 and 1671, he spent all the rest of his life abroad.  After a career in the service of the Dutch East India Company between 1660 and 1667 he occupied posts in India and on Ceylon and then lived in Batavia (Jakarta) until 1670 disappearing on Madagascar in October 1672.  At his homecoming in 1658, he had entrusted his notes and annotations to his brother Hendrik, who first published “An Embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces, to the Grand Tartar Cham Emperour of China.” in 1665.  John Ogilby's English translation of this book was first published in 1669 and in 1704 Awnsham and John Churchill published a four volume “Collection of Travels and Voyages” which included Nieuhoff’s description of his visit to St. Helena in 1658 and from which the following has been transcribed.

On December 22nd 1657 Nieuhoff left Batavia on the Pearl, the 700 ton flagship of a fleet of eight Dutch East Indiamen, bound for Amsterdam. . On the last day of March 1658 the fleet arrived safely without any remarkable accident at the Isle of St Helens (sic).  The Isle of St Helens is situate under 16 deg. 15 min of Southern Latitude at a great distance from the Continent.  It is very surprising to conceive so small an island at so vast a distance at sea, round about which there is scare any Anchorage, by reason of the vast depth of the Seas.  It is about 7 leagues in Circumfrence, covered all over with rocky Hills, which in a clear day may be seen 14 leagues at sea.  It has many fine Valleys, among which the Church-Valley and the Apple-Valley are the most remarkable.  In the Church-Valley, you see to this day the ruins of a Chappel, formerly belonging to the Portugueses; the whole Valleys are plante with lemons, oranges and Pomegranate trees.  At that time the island was destitute of Inhabitants, but since the English have made a settlement here.  (Though Captain Dutton didn’t arrive until May the following year, 1658)

The Church Valley.  From Mr John Nieuhoff's Voyages and Travels to the East Indies.
Published in A Collection of Travels and Voyages, 1704, p. 193

After the Portugueses had left it, a certain hermit, under the pretence of devotion, used to kill great numbers of wild goats here, and sell their skins, which the Portugueses having got notice of it, they removed him from thence.  At another time certain Negroes with two Female Slaves were got into the Mountains, where they increased to the number 20, till they at last were likewise forc’d from thence.  The Valleys are excessive hot, but on the hill it is cool enough; Tho’ the heat is much tempered by the Winds and frequent Rain showers which fall sometimes several times in a day; which, with the heat of the Sun-beams, renders the soil very fruitful.

He describes the island as abounding in fine and cool springs and that most of the fruits and beasts which are produced here in great plenty have been first brought hither by the Portugueses.  Neither is this island destitute of trees but such as are not fit for timber, but only for fuel.  Wild goats are here in vast numbers but very difficult to be taken by reason of the many rocks.  Tame hogs have multiplied to admiration; but are degenerated into wild ones, and are not easy to be killed.  Thus it is with the Partridges, wild pigeons and Peacocks which are here in vast plenty but are so shy that so soon as they see any one approach they fly from one Hill to another cross the valleys, so that you must be an hour before you can come to them again.
After we had sufficiently refreshed ourselves here, and provided what necessaries we thought fit, or could get, we left this island the last day of May.  We continued our former course and without any remarkable accident on the 6th July 1658 arrived happily in Amsterdam.