The first sailors to be put ashore arrived on Portuguese vessels. The island’s first known permanent resident was a Portuguese renegade, Fernão Lopez, who had been mutilated on being returned to the Portuguese, by order of Albuquerque, the Governor of Goa. Fernando Lopez preferred being marooned to returning to Portugal in his maimed condition and lived on St Helena from about 1515. By royal command, Lopez returned to Portugal about 1526 and then travelled to Rome, where Pope Clement VII granted him an audience. Lopez returned to St Helena, by his own request, fully pardoned, where he lived until his death in 1545. In 1588 Thomas Cavendish, having captured a Portuguese ship, compelled the pilot to show him where the island was and thus became the first Englishman known to have visited the island. The Dutch formally made claim to St Helena in 1633, although there is no evidence that they ever occupied, colonised or fortified it. By 1651, the Dutch had mainly abandoned the island in favour of their colony founded at the Cape of Good Hope.
A fleet commanded by Captain John Dutton (first Governor, 1659-1661) in the Marmaduke arrived at St Helena in 1659, with the first permanent settlers and a few slaves they were instructed to bring from the Cape Verde Islands. The English East India Company (E.I.C.) was given a Royal Charter which allowed the company the sole right to fortify and colonise the island “in such legal and reasonable manner as the said Governor and Company should see fit.” The Dutch attempted to regain the island in 1673, but were defeated by the timely arrival of Captain Richard Munden on the scene, and the island has remained British.
More settlers and slaves arrived over the intervening years until 1792, when the slaves outnumbered the civilian population, and it was ordered that no more slaves were to be brought to the island. The community until then consisted of British settlers, soldiers of the EIC and slaves, mainly from Africa, India, and Madagascar.
In 1815 the British Government selected St Helena as the place of detention of Napoleon I of France. He was brought to the island in October 1815 and lodged at Longwood, where he died in May 1821. During this period the island was strongly garrisoned by regular British regimental troops, local St Helena regiment troops, and naval shipping. The agreement was reached that St Helena would remain in the East India Company’s possession, although the British Government would appoint its own governor for the duration of the captivity, and meet additional costs arising from guarding Napoleon. The EIC gave the island a schooner in 1815, to carry passengers and stores. This was the first “St Helena”. Since pirates attacked it in 1830, there was no dedicated ship until 1978. The Union Castle Line, which had served the island for many years and withdrew its service in 1977. The island then had to find its own supply/passenger ship, the “RMS”, the third ship to be given the name “St Helena”. This “RMS St Helena” served the island well until 1990. It was requisitioned in 1982 by the MOD to help in support of the Falklands Conflict. A new purpose-built ship, the 4th “RMS St Helena”, launched by Prince Andrew in 1989 in Aberdeen, replaced it. The RMS was decommissioned in February 2018.
In 1890 Dinuzulu and his two uncles were exiled by the British Government to St Helena so that they should not become a focus of further unrest in Zululand and to allow them more personal freedom than would have been possible in South Africa. On 25 February 1890 The exiles arrive in Jamestown from South Africa. The island’s newspaper reports that‘Dinuzulu was adjudged a smart-looking young fellow wearing gaiters and carrying a riding whip’.
St Helena was the first overseas destination for the prisoners from the Boer War. The first group of prisoners arrived on the island on board the MILWAUKEE on April 14th 1900. General Cronje was one of them, accompanied by his wife. They were allowed to live in a house, Kent Cottage at New Ground, with a guard. The first camp for the prisoners was set up on Deadwood Plain, for the Transvaalers and later as more and more arrived, another camp was set up at Broadbottom for those from the Orange Free State. A total of 5,865 prisoners were reportedly brought in and stationed at prison camps on Deadwood Plain and Broad Bottom. They were guarded by the English Gloucester regiment. In this period it was said that the Islanders prospered from the services required. Some prisoners during their parole, contributed to the construction of Island infrastructure.180 Prisoners died whilst in captivity and their graves can be observed at the Boer Cemetery in Knollcombs.
Up until the Falklands War, after which St Helenians were employed there, the island was extremely poor with men going off to Ascension Island (since 1922) and the UK (including the exodus of 100 men in 1949) to find work, the only industry on the island since 1907 being the export of flax. This was poorly paid work and eventually, this industry closed around 1966 with nothing to replace it. Only around this date did the education system begin to offer a limited number of GCE subjects to a few people, until in 1988 when the Prince Andrew Community High School was opened, offering equal opportunity to all island children to gain subjects to “A” level to enable a small annual number of them (limited by funding) to take advantage of tertiary education in UK. Many St Helenians have achieved excellent qualifications since then. The British Nationality Act 1981 reclassified St Helena and the other Crown Colonies as British Dependent Territories. The Islanders lost their status as citizens of the United Kingdom (as defined in the British Nationality Act 1948) and were stripped of their right of abode in Britain. After a lot of invaluable effort by M.P.’s and friends in UK, by the Citizenship Commission on the island, by islanders themselves and lawyers in Canada, British citizenship was regained on the 500th Anniversary of the discovery, in 2002.
With its uniquely rich diversity of heritage-based attractions, both built and natural, St Helena offers many things to see and lots to do — from visiting the Georgian town to the rugged coastline, from the rolling hills to the stark yet striking geology at Sandy Bay.
That’s the thing about this destination…there’s so much more to the island than you may think.
St Helena is home to the most varied heritage and nature, breathtaking views from the highest peaks, inviting waters, and 100% quaintness. We beckon you to a true discovery.
Where is it
St Helena Island is situated in the South Atlantic Ocean, at 15° 56′ south and 5° 45′ west. The nearest land is Ascension Island, which is 703 miles (1,125km) to the North West. It is 1 200 miles (1 950km) from the South-West coast of Africa and 1 800 miles (2 900km) from the coast of South America.
A 47 square mile island, it is one of the remotest settled islands in the world. A sub-tropical paradise, it is also one of the most spectacular as far as contrast goes.
The climate of St Helena is controlled by the South Atlantic High-Pressure Cell and the Equatorial Trough. Despite the island’s locality within the tropics, its climate is kept mild and equable by the South East Trade Winds. The trade winds blow from high to low almost continuously making our weather so changeable. A dull rainy morning can often lead onto a bright sunny afternoon.
The four seasons are not recognised on St Helena, as there are no drastic weather patterns. The hottest months are between January and March and the coldest are between June and September, however, our climate is suitable for a getaway all year round.
For much of the year, temperatures remain between 70-80°F (20-27°C) but nights and early mornings can get colder in the months of June, July and August. Rains usually begin from March to early May, with April being the height of the rainy season and again in July to September, with August being the height of this period.
Temperatures in Jamestown range between 20°C – 32°C in the summer and 15°C – 26°C in the winter. The temperatures in the central areas are, on average, 5 – 6 degrees lower, which is why there are noticeable contrasts in climate between Jamestown (coastal) and the country areas. Jamestown can be sunny and lightly humid whilst areas like Longwood experience chilly mists and higher rainfall.
St Helena has a small population, mainly descended from Europe (consisting of planters, government employees and ex-soldiers serving in the local St Helena Regiment), Chinese (itinerant workers from about 1810) and slaves (mostly from Madagascar and Asia, with only a few coming from Africa from 1840 onward).
One of St Helena’s greatest attractions is its unique culture. The friendliness of the people; the feeling that one has stepped back in time to an era where greeting passers-by and chatting on the side of the road is a way of life.
St Helena has a great sense of community and pride in traditions and customs. Saint-ness is experienced with all of the senses, be it the taste of delicious local fishcakes, the aroma of premium St Helena coffee and the vibrant colours of a local parade.
Traditions and Customs
St Helena Day, 21st May, is a public holiday and is celebrated by all. It was on this day in 1502 that the island was discovered and so-named as it was the birthday of Saint Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. Celebrations on this day take many forms and are usually held at the one location so it is a good way of experiencing a taste of our culture. Festive seasons such as Christmas and Easter are celebrated in a very unique way. Christmas Eve is seen as a huge party night and includes ‘dancing down the street’ (festive street parade) from the top of Jamestown to Market Street. The traditional Christmas day lunch/dinner takes place and there are ‘house crawls’ (normally in Jamestown) where groups of friends and family visit each other’s house to wish them a Merry Christmas and to have few laughs,drinks and maybe sing a song or two…so expect to hear a lot of merry-making in the street on this day!
There are also a variety of festivals. The Festival of Running is held yearly and attracts many participants from overseas as well as locals. Church parades, where the Scouts and Girl Guides march in Jamestown, takes place every 4th Sunday in the month and on patron Saint days. On Remembrance Sunday, these youth organisations are joined with the Church Lad’s Brigade, the police, and other societies/institutes. Scout’s Sports Day is a yearly event which raises money for the Scout’s group. It is hosted at the ‘Mule Yard’ at the seafront during the August Bank Holiday weekend (which occurs on the last week in August). Scout’s Sports Day organises activities for kids, food stalls, bar, music and sideshows.
As varied as our ancestry is, the same is true of our music taste! Country & folk music is popular with the older generations. The younger community is greatly influenced by hip hop & r&b music. The dance & club genre is growing as well as new age and contemporary music. Music is influenced by TV, radio and the internet. Locally produced music is growing and ranges from country to rock. There are local bands that perform occasionally and some produce their own CD’s which is available to buy at some of the local shops and online. For those music enthusiasts among you, you might want to read ‘For the Love of the Music’ by Emma-Jane Yon. Written by a St Helenian, it details our musical history and is available to buy from some local shops.
Christianity has deep roots in St Helena and has played a symbolic part in the island’s community, the majority of people belonging to the Church of England, being members of the Diocese of St Helena which includes Ascension Island, and which has its own bishop residing on St Helena. Other denominations of Christianity represented on the island for many years are: Roman Catholic, Salvation Army, Baptist and in more recent times, Seventh Day Adventist, Jehovah’s Witness and New Apostolic. The Baha’i Faith has also been represented on the island in more recent times. These all have one or more buildings set apart for worship. The members of the ‘Two by Two’ Christian Group meet for worship in private homes. Visitors are welcomed by all of these religious groups.
Food & Drink
‘Saint’ food is partly influenced by Malay, British and Chinese, with regard to methods and some of the ingredients used. Fish is a staple on St Helena and used in various ways: fish cakes, curries, roasted fish, soups and much more. The island’s traditional dishes have a bit of a twist which makes them unique. Spices and curries are common. Rice dishes such as pilau (pronounced ‘plo’) originates from South East Asia, but has its own curried twist!
Art & Crafts
Saints are very resourceful and we can turn our hand to almost anything! Our crafts are worked in mainly lace, seeds (from the ‘Thorn’ and ‘Casherseed’ (acacia) trees which grow abundantly around the island), aloe and wood. We also dabble in a bit of painting, photography, pottery…just about anything really! Art pieces and crafts can be bought from select stores on the Island.
Getting to St Helena is part of the attraction; it is an adventure all in itself!
In October 2017, the island hosted its first inaugural flight with SA Air link and has commenced commercial services occurring every Saturday from Johannesburg.
RMS St Helena
The RMS St Helena has now been decommissioned and will no longer be running a service to St Helena, the island bid farewell to her on Friday, 9 February 2018, she set sail on her final voyage to Cape Town on Saturday, 10 February having served the island for 27 years.
Sailing to St Helena
St Helena welcomes visiting yachts. There’s a growing interest in yachts seeking safe havens in new and unspoiled destinations. St Helena is conveniently positioned for passing sea traffic as it sits in the middle of the Atlantic between West Africa and South America. A warm welcome awaits the visiting sailor ashore in Jamestown, the island’s main settlement and only harbour.
St Helena has only one harbour called James Bay which now benefits from a new field of robust soft mooring buoys. The rest of the coast is towering rocky cliffs, backed by lush green slopes.
Yachts can be hoisted for repairs if spaces are available.
On arrival immigration personnel will provide you with an information pack, however, if you require further tourist information, please visit the Tourist Office which is located in Jamestown the Canister.
Abiwans, Bennett’s’ and St Helena Yacht Services offer tailoring, upholstery, local craft and sail repair, cost depending on size of job. There are two launderettes on the island, one located at Ladder Hill and the other in Jamestown.
Fuel can be obtained from Solomons literage department at the Wharf Jamestown or at the fuel station located at Narra Backs, Jamestown.
We are glad that you have chosen St Helena as your next travel destination.
Currently, St Helena is still undergoing Island readiness and we are still undertaking developments for better wheelchair accessibility.
If you have mobility needs, please check ahead when booking your accommodation, restaurants, bars or tour excursions. If you require backrests, bathing equipment, or special mattresses please indicate with your accommodation provider your specific needs.
Whilst staying on the island we would want your stay to be as comfortable as possible. Several businesses on Island do have ramp facilities but we are still working towards a position where this is normality which remains on the island's agenda.
Where to eat and drink
There is a variety of restaurants and pubs on the island. You’ll find that the atmosphere is generally informal and that children are welcome. Jamestown has a range of restaurants, coffee shops, pubs and take-away establishments. Other eateries and pubs can be found in Half Tree Hollow, Longwood, Bottom Woods and Sandy Bay. There are also a number of mobile catering units in operation.
Please take into account that some restaurants require advance notice. The Tourist Office can help with this information and also make reservations.
As St Helena prepares for the opening of the airport, the number of restaurants and eateries is expected to increase. Please contact the Tourist Office for up-to-date information.
Should you wish to prepare your own meals, supermarkets in Jamestown stock a good variety of groceries. There are also shops in the other districts across the island. Fresh produce and fish is available, at the market, in Jamestown.
If you have the opportunity, do try local St Helenian cooking. Typical dishes reflect the many historical influences of the island: Portuguese, British, Southeast Asian, Malagasy, Chinese and African. Many dishes are variants of international favorites, but you’ll find that “Saints” add their own twist. And it is often a fiery twist, as the islanders like to spice it up! Popular traditional dishes are St Helena fishcakes, battered or grilled tuna, grilled wahoo steak, meat or poultry curries and pilau (called plo locally).
Places to Visit
St Helena has a wide variety of fascinating locations. Jamestown, the island’s capital, can keep you well occupied for most of the day, however venturing further afield you will discover many reasons why St Helena is well known for its natural beauty and history – once an important and strategic location for many years.
For many visitors one name is linked to St Helena – Napoleon. The French Emperor was exiled here from 1815 until he died in 1821. Napoleon spent his first two months on the island at The Briars Pavilion and the last five and a half years, before his death in Longwood. Visitors can experience for themselves how Napoleon lived and spent his time on the island and walk in his footsteps.
Plantation House is the residence of the island's governor, as well as that of Jonathan, the oldest land vertebrate in the world -estimated to be around 186 years old or more. Plantation House is also open for house tours. The tour takes visitors on a viewing of both the ground and first floor, with a look at Jonathan and his companions.
The Cenotaph. Jamestown
A war memorial located at the seafront displaying names of islanders who lost their lives in World War II and a plaque listing crew names of those who lost their lives on the RFA Darkdale which was torpedoed off Jamestown by a German submarine, killing 41 people.
From the Grand Parade walk straight and follow Main Street towards the centre of town. On the left are the Castle Gardens, originally the garden of the East India Company. Colourful plants and flowers bloom here, including some of the island’s endemic plants – like the rediscovered island ebony. In the garden is a memorial to the Brig of war Waterwitch and her royal navy. The middle of the gardens houses a fish pond and offers a nice area to relax and enjoy a picnic.
Established in 1972, the archives holds records dating back to the earliest days of the East India Company and on to the crown administration. They also comprise council and government records, newspapers and can offer the necessary information for family research. For those interested in their family roots on St Helena, the archives can provide a tracing service, although this is done at a fee.
Built in 1829, as an inclined plane, which was used to haul manure up from town and send goods down. The ladder is 600ft high and has 699 steps, once you reach the top the location offers a good vantage point of lower Jamestown and sea views. Once you have completed the ladder, make sure you buy your souvenir certificate from the museum.
St James Church
The oldest Anglican church in the southern hemisphere dates from 1774. This church stands near or around the site of the first chapel that was built on the island. The interior of the church is quite large with high ceilings and above the alter. Sun can be seen streaming though the stained glass windows.
The Museum of St Helena
Beautifully restored in a late 18th-century building – opened 21st May 2002 to mark St Helena’s 500th anniversary. The museum has two levels, which has an upper storey and downstairs levels including a small shop. Exhibitions include local crafts, maritime and East India Company.
This delightfully named channel, walled and concreted and no doubt continuously improved at every period of history, is presumed to follow the line of the original stream which watered the valley of Jamestown. The run was paved with stone in 1857 and was built with a dual purpose – as a sewer for the town and to accommodate the water course. It offers an alternative view of Jamestown.
A delightful waterfall located at the top of James Valley. A trail has recently opened through the wild mango and scrub giving access to the foot of the waterfall. The trail starts from Drummond’s Point on the Barnes Road track. The flow over the fall is seasonal. It is possible to continue up the Barnes Road pathway to reach Francis Plain.
St Helena Distillery
The St Helena Distillery is located in Alarm Forest. Discover the delights of locally made Tungi spirit, White Lion rum, Midnight Mist coffee liqueur, and the island’s own ermuda Juniper flavored gin and see how they are made.
The Castell Collection
The Castell Collection is located at Princes Lodge, the collection consists of a very interesting and vast collection of old lithograms and prints of St Helena.
St Paul’s Cathedral and Cemetery
Built in 1851 and became a Cathedral church of the diocese of St Helena in 1959, this church is surrounded by burial places for Anglicans, past Governors, Bishops, Clergy as well as military personnel dating back hundreds of years and other religious denominations.
Site of Dr. Neville Maskelyne’s observatory. He came to the Island in 1760 to study the transit of Venus over the sun’s disk. He was later Astronomer Royal.
Diana’s Peak National Park, The Central Peaks
Diana’s Peak rises 823 metres above sea level and is the highest point on St Helena. It is here in the national park that many of the island’s endemic plant species find refuge. The endemic blushing snail also lives here. On a clear day the views from the peaks is magnificent.
The site of the Boer Prisoners of War camp, once previously surrounded by three barbed wire fences and guarded outside by patrolling soldiers. The two main camps were Deadwood and Broadbottom which contained some 6000 prisoners, although the commandants were allowed to live outside the camp in comparative freedom, with few restrictions being placed on their movements. Initially, the prisoners lived in tents with cedar trees planted between the tents to act as windbreaks. Some of these windblown trees still survive today. Deadwood is also home to the island’s only endemic bird, the wirebird.
Boer Cemetary, Knollcombes
Cemetery of the Boer prisoners that were imprisoned on St. Helena and died between 1900 and 1902 during the Anglo Boer War in South Africa. There is also a Baptist chapel whose cemetery has the grave of St Helena’s first local governor, Hudson Janisch.
High Knoll Fort
The present fort dates from 1874 on the site of the original citadel that was built in 1798. It was built as a redoubt for the island’s population in the event of an invasion. High Knoll Fort commands superb views across much of the island. Some tour providers offer fortification tours where High Knoll is featured – please contact the Tourist Office for details.
Site of Edmund Halley’s observatory. The famous Astronomer who arrived to St Helena in 1673 to map the stars of the southern hemisphere. The Observatory is a revived star gazing site that also provides great land views of Longwood. He set up a small stone observatory to catalogue the southern starts and observe the transit of mercury. The location offers views of the South East of the island and the area now includes a sheltered area in which offers a more comfortable and safe viewing point.
Sandy Bay Beach
Sandy Bay Beach has remains of fortifications and lines of rusting cannons lining the beach – which hints at the vulnerability of the island. There is also evidence of St Helena’s lime kiln built so that limestone discovered here in the early 18th century could be fired and converted to lime to mix with mortar.
St Helena’s Active Participation in Enterprise (SHAPE). Opened in late 2008, this centre is the headquarters of a new initiative that employs people with disabilities to produce local, quality crafts. All money made from sales is put back into the enterprise, thus making it self-sustaining. There is also a shop located at the market which sells souvenirs and gifts made by Shape clients.