Napoleon I – His St Helena Tomb
In my review of Longwood House I left the reader to ponder a question. Did he (Napoleon) really die from the wallpaper? If you do not jump to the immediate conclusion that I am mad and leave my page immediately I will explain shortly.
Napoleon, who had been exiled to St Helena in 1815 following his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, died in Longwood House on the Island on 5 May 1821. His final words were "France, armée, tête d'armée, Joséphine."("France, army, head of the army, Joséphine.").
Napoleon's autopsy carried out by his physician, François Carlo Antommarchi, found the cause of death to be stomach cancer. While, since the early 2000s at least, this is generally accepted as correct this has not always been the case and numerous alternative theories abound, no doubt fueled by the fact that Antommarchi did not actually sign his autopsy report. Alternative views include:
- neglect by his British gaolers, in particular Governor Lowe who ignored his ongoing protestations regarding in living conditions on the Island;
- poisoning by arsenic – which was generally available in Longwood to keep the rats under control. Tests on strands of Napoleon's hair showed it to have elevated levels of arsenic but this is more likely due to the ingredients used in “hair products” of the time; and
- “Death by Wallpaper” - The star patterned wallpaper in Longwood was printed with a very popular colour dye known as "Sheele's Green". While fine in drier northern European palaces it apparently gives of deadly arsenic vapours (arsine) when damp as it often was in the dark and damp conditions within Longwood House.
Fans of Irish playwright, Oscar Wilde will be aware that "Death by Wallpaper" may have been the cause of death of more than Napoleon as it was, perhaps, instrumental in Wilde’s death as well. Wilde, on his death-bed, lamented -"My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go.
Much has been written about the cause of Napoleon’s death so I will leave you to draw your own conclusions or research further if interested as I digress (again!). I will just add, for the peace of mind of intending visitors, that the arsenic wallpaper in Longwood has long since been replaced with a non arsenic replica paper.
Napoleon had requested that his body be returned to Paris and the banks of the River Seine for burial. Suspecting that the British would not acquiesce to this request he offered a second suggestion – Geranium Valley (or Sane Valley as it is known locally - a rather cruel island pun given Napoleon’s desire to be buried on the banks of the River Seine) a few kilometres below Longwood House heading back towards Jamestown. His second option was accepted and Napoleon was buried here, encased within four coffins on 9 May 1821. Within a few months of his burial, the majority of both the French and British entourage which had been posted to the Island to support or watch Napoleon had departed the Island.
Enclosed by railings and bordered by busy Lizzies, the tombstone bears no inscription. General de Montholon had asked for it simply to read ‘Napoléon’. Governor Lowe insisted on adding ‘Bonaparte’, because he believed that using only the first name would confer a royal status on Napoleon. Refusing to yield, de Montholon left the tombstone blank.
In 1840, Louis Philippe I obtained permission from the British to return Napoleon's remains to France and they were thus returned in November aboard the steamship Normandie.
On 15 December 1840, a state funeral was held and his body laid to rest, for a second time, in the cupola in St Jérôme's Chapel, where it stayed until it was moved again in 1861 (now in six concentric coffins) to its current porphyry sarcophagus in the crypt under the dome at Les Invalides – finally close to the Seine again as he wished. VT Member Nemorino has a very worthly account of Napoleon's final resting place in a tip on his Paris page Tomb of l'Emperrrreurrrrr.
As with his two St Helena residences, Napoleon’s, now empty, Tomb is French Territory and is beautifully maintained by the Government of France and well worth a visit.
While the surface is flat, the walk down to Napoleon's Tomb from the road is fairly steep – something you will notice more on your outward trip. Don't let it deter you as its only a couple of hundred metres from the road.
Assess to the Tomb, when a guide is on hand, is from 12.30 to 3.30 pm, Monday – Friday. Check with the tourist office in St Helena before visiting as you may be able to get access at other times. The entrance to the tomb/valley is marked by a small easy to miss sign on the road to Longwood – picture four attached.
If you have managed to read this far do go to my general tip on Napoleon - Famous Visitors and Napoleon and follow the links from there to find out more about Napoleon on St Helena.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Sandy Bay and the Inebriated Chinese Pig
Sandy Bay is actually the name of a relatively large district on the opposite side of the Island to Jamestown, the capital. However, when tourists refer to Sandy Bay they inevitably mean the small bay and beach area in the centre of a long extinct volcanic crater.
Don’t get too excited as, while there is indeed a bay and beach here the sand is black sand/pebbles, it is unsafe to swim in the sea due to extreme undertows, and the beach (the islands only one) is rather unkempt though ok. Each year a few turtles manage to breed on the beach. If you want to see breeding green turtles, as I recommend you should, go to Ascension Island – a mere 800kms north which is nothing really if you have managed to make it this far!
The best thing about Sandy Bay Beach is getting there and the view back inland when you are there – a decidedly volcanic landscape though relatively luscious in growth when compared to the natural bleakness of Ascension Island. The beach is located at the bottom of a very steep (and I mean very steep) drive down from the St Paul’s area through volcanic mountainous desert landscape - the most spectacular scenery on the island and not to be missed. Keep an eye out for the rather cute Baptist Church and the odd abandoned cottage as you head down to the beach (pictures three and four attached). You do in fact drive down the inside lip of a long extinct volcano the other side of which has been lost in the sea. Just make sure there are good brakes on your hire car.
While time did not permit me to do any walking the beach is the starting point for what looks like some great walks including that of Lot's Wife's Ponds – one of the harder island walks. Coming down to the beach you can see, to your right, the towering 700ft high basalt pillar known as “Lot” - and high on a hill to the east is another basalt rock called “Lots Wife” (picture two attached).
As the beach was (and remains) one of the few natural landing spots on the island you will notice the remains of various fortifications and lots of old rusted cannons here – originally constructed to fend of any attempts to rescue Napoleon from his island exile. See my separate Napoleon reviews on this page.
Reputedly, Napoleon's last trip on the island was a viewing of the sea at Sandy Bay from the upper reaches of the bay on October 4th 1820 where he and his aides, Montholon and Bertrand, sipped champagne and dined with William Doveton (resident magistrate) and his family one of who later commented on Napoleon’s physical appearance - “he was as fat as a Chinese pig”. Apparently later in the day he had some trouble mounting his horse – as would any inebriated Chinese pig I imagine!
Not to be outdone when it came to trading insults Fanny Bertrand, who hated the island, is reputed to have said: "The devil shat this rock when he passed from one world to the next".
Just go down for a drive and indeed pack your self a picnic to enjoy while there. There are basic toilet facilities on the beach.
Warning - given road conditions allow yourself three hours for a round trip from Jamestown – if planning any walks longer.Related to:
- Jungle and Rain Forest
St Paul’s Cathedral
In 1859 the Anglican Diocese of St. Helena was established by Queen's Order in Council, and included the islands of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, and until 1869 the British residents of Rio de Janeiro and other towns on the eastern seaboard of South America as well as the Falklands Islands. The first Bishop, Piers Claughton, was consecrated in Westminster Abbey in London.
In the 1960s Tristan da Cunha was transferred to the diocese of Cape Town.
On St Helena the Diocese comprises three parishes one of which is St Paul’s which includes St Pauls Cathedral. I have written separate reviews on a number of other churches within the diocese.
St James’ – in Jamestown and he oldest Anglican Church in the southern
St Micheal's – Hutts Gate
St Mary’s – Georgetown, Ascension Island.
St Paul’s is set in a beautiful rural community surrounded by fields, woodlands, volcanic craters and valleys at about 650m above sea level. Being close to the Plantation House, St Paul’s became the Governors’ church and as such you will see it contains numerous memorial plaques to representatives of the British East India Company and later Governors. Another famous parishioner was Chief Dinizulu, and his family who were exiled to the Island following the Zulu was in 1890 for nine years. Dinizulu converted to Christianity and was baptised and confirmed by the Bishop here at St Paul’s.
The Cathedral was designed by London architect Benjamin Ferrey and completed in 1852. When the Diocese of St Helena was established in 1859 the church was reclassified as a cathedral.
The Cathedral replaces a much earlier nearby church ("the Country Church") built in the late 1600s and is in a rather plain English style both externally and internally - A plainness which makes it very appealing and worthy a visit. The graveyard contains many interesting gravestones and on a beautiful day like the one I visited it is a great place for a stroll.Related to:
- Historical Travel
A most “uncastle” looking Castle
The Castle, which actually bears no resemblance to what one imagines a castle to be at all, is as it always has been, the main government building on St Helena. The building includes the Governor’s office (if you want to send him a letter pop it in the post box as per picture three attached), Council Chambers, the Island’s archives, the police station, court buildings, a library and other offices.
While first built in 1659 as a fort the oldest part of the Castle still existing dates from a 1708 replacement though the majority of what you see today was built in the 1860s, the earlier building having succumbed to termite infection from termites brought to the Island in a captured Brazilian slaving ship. For further details of this have a look at my review on Jamestown Market. When I visited part of the building was propped up with scaffolding – probably more related to British funding cut-backs then termites this time, I imagine.
The Castle was originally part of the British East India Company fortifications of Jamestown after it came under the control of the British through the Company under a Charter granted by Oliver Cromwell in 1659. The Castle was also originally the residence of the Company Governor and remained so until Plantation House was built in 1792 and shortly afterwards became the official residence of the Company Governor and later the Governor in 1834.
While a bit of a mish-mash of buildings its worth a stroll around and, though closed when I was there, the Archives building is open to the public and contains church records dating back to 1680 with Government records from 1853.
Don't forget to pop into the beautiful Castle Gardens adjacent to the Castle - see my separate review.Related to:
- Historical Travel
The Castle Gardens
If these beautiful little tranquil gardens were in any other city in the world I would recommend you visit them to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. I can hardly do that for Jamestown, as, off course, there is no hustle and bustle to get away from!
For Jamestown just further indulge yourself and visit. Your whole trip is one of self-indulgence after all!
The gardens (called the Castle Gardens as the belong to the neighbouring "castle") could be circumnavigated in less than ten minutes but do spend a little longer and enjoy the abundance of tropical plants and some of the islands endemic plants including the rediscovered Island Ebony. Sit and enjoy the shelter from the giant ficus trees.
While in the gardens have a look at the Waterwitch Memorial – a memorial to crew members of Her Majesty’s Brig Waterwitch lost in their efforts to rid the South Atlantic of slave trafficking in the mid 1800s (see my separate tip).
Frequent readers of my pages will know that I am not a great fan of modern art – though for some peculiar reason as I age my distaste for it lessens. Coming to one of the remotest and hardest to get to locations in the world I though I would have escaped the clutches of this artistic style. Low and behold, I was not to be spared and came across a topiary hand complete with fingernails and watch as depicted in picture four.
Another or additional way to enjoy the gardens is to ensconce yourself, with a coffee, other beverage or indeed a meal, on the balcony of Anne's Place – a café/restaurant in the corner of, and overlooking, the gardens.
The gardens were constructed in 1792 by soldiers in lieu of corporal punishment. So that you don’t feel overcome by guilt over this fact please be assured they are now maintained by paid gardeners – European Union rules (yes they apply here – though may not be universally adhered too – hard to check up of the Saints!) wouldn’t have it any other way!
The gardens are open around the clock and are free to enter.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- National/State Park
Jamestown Memorial (Bridge) Clock
This rather plain though pleasant concrete clock-tower adjacent to the Market is a memorial “to those who fell in the Great War “ (World War I). It was designed by a British Resident Engineer, Captain Mainwaring and paid for by using funds (£30) left over after the Cenotaph, by the sea, was completed.
The clock became the official timepiece of the island and the time indicated there-on thus the official time in the colony.
My attached photograph was not taken at 5.57 so an alternative standard must now be in place by which to adjust ones timepiece.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Being a major fan of local markets I made my way to Jamestown market in great anticipation. In truth I didn’t have far to go – about 200m from my hotel.
The market is housed in a smallish building, on the ground floor and on a mezzanine level which runs around the internal walls leaving an atrium in the centre of building. In terms of shopping I found it was rather abysmal – there was a gardening shop – the St Helena Grower’s Cooperative Society (picture three), a butchers, a few other business outlets of no interest to the tourist and a number of empty “stalls”. Ardee’s Café, as advertised in a number of guides, does not seem to exist any more. I understand an upgrade is currently being planned and this might explain the lack of stalls, etc.
On account of the above I have decided it would be misleading to include the Market under the shopping section on my VT page.
What I did find, and why I deem the market most worthy a visit is a beautiful and seemingly out of place building of some historical significance.
If you have read my separate reviews on the Jamestown Museum and the Waterwitch Memorial you will be aware of the important role St Helena played in the abolition of slavery and the freeing of thousands of slaves in the 1800s.
Hundreds of captured slave carrying ships were forced into Jamestown and having freed the slaves the ships were destroyed here. Alas, in addition to bringing slaves to freedom a Brazilian ship brought in termites in its timber structure.
In the ensuing years these termites ate their way though house timbers leading to the collapse of a number of buildings. To combat the termites a number of replacement and new buildings in Jamestown were constructed using cast iron, iron rails and termite-proof timbers. This Grade I listed Market building, one of the last such buildings still remaining, is a good example of this; made in cast iron and prefabricated in England in 1865 by Gwynne & Co, London.Related to:
- Historical Travel
In my review of the Jamestown Museum I draw readers attention to a very informative exhibition on St Helena’s role in the the abolition of slavery and the liberation of thousands of would be slaves.
In 1807 Britain abolished its slave trade and the following year established the West Africa Squadron to patrol the South Atlantic in search of illegal slaving operations. Originally based in Sierra Leone, in 1840 St Helena became the base for the West Africa Squadron and the seat of a Vice Admiralty Court established bring to judgment masters and crews of intercepted slaving ships.
Between 1840 and 1872 around 425 ships were brought to St Helena by the West Africa Squadron and tried before the Vice Admiralty Court. It is estimated that around 25,000 enslaved persons were landed on St Helena though up to a third died – with the majority buried in mass graves at Ruperts on the Island. Intercepted vessels were destroyed while their human cargoes (the survivors) were rehabilitated and freed with many choosing to stay on St Helena.
The best known of the West Africa Squadron ships (and the first to bring a slaver ship to St Helena) was Her Majesty’s Brig Waterwitch which captured and brought to account 43 slaving vessels.
While the efforts of West Africa Squadron were extremely commendable and resulted in the freedom of tens of thousands of would be slaves its work was incredibly dangerous and many crew members of the patrol vessels lost their lives in the process of liberating others.
This memorial to lost shipmates of Her Majesty's Brig Waterwitch stands in the Castle Gardens, Jamestown – the inscription which tells of the ship's losses reads thus:
”This Column was erected by the Commander, Officers and Crew of her Majesty's Brig Waterwitch to the memory of their shipmates who died while serving on the coast of Africa A.D. 1839-1843. The greater number died while absent in captured slave vessels. Their remains were either left in different parts of Africa or given to the sea their graves alike undistinguished.
This Island is selected for the record because three lie buried here and because the deceased as well as their surviving comrades, ever met the warmest welcome from its inhabitants”Related to:
- Historical Travel
The Post Office and Philatelic Bureau
The postal history of St. Helena extends back well before 1815 but it wasn’t until 1815 that the first Post Office was established on the Island shortly after which the first handstruck stamp was introduced. The first adhesive stamp, a 6d blue imperforate stamp portraying Queen Victoria, was issued on 1 January 1856.
Today, postage stamps and other philatelic supplies are a big industry for St Helena and, if you are interested in this, you will certainly want to visit the Post Office in Jamestown noting that in addition to items from St Helena you can also get items from Ascension Island and Tristan Da Cunha. The St Helena Post Office provides support from the Ascension Island Post Office some 800 kms away.
St Helena issues many sets of commemorative stamps each year with the majority being sold to collectors. A special Stamp Advisory Committee meets regularly to ensure that stamps incorporate designs of an historical, geographical, economical, constitutional or thematic nature which is of interest to the stamp collector as opposed to the average punter on the street wanting to post a letter.
While I was en-route to St Helena on board the RMS St Helena, former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher died. Notwithstanding that she was the Prime Minister responsible for the temporary removal of the Saints right of abode in the UK and denial of British citizenship she was, and remains, much respected on St Helena for her swift dispatch of Argentine forces from the Falkland Islands in 1982. Since my visit a commemorative set of stamps has been issued in Mrs Thatcher’s honour. See picture two –ex St Helena Post Office.
Mail to and from the Island is carried by the RMS St Helena. If posting a letter or post card on St Helena do consult the shipping schedule posted outside the Post Office – you don’t want to miss the boat - it will be a while till she returns.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Escape from Alcatraz
You will need to read to the end of this review to understand my choice of title for this review.
On 16 December 1673 – King Charles II's loyal subjects (of St Helena) were, by means or Royal Charter, granted, in perpetuity, British Citizenship as if they had been born in London, Liverpool or elsewhere within England or the British Dominions.
AND OUR PLEASURE IS, and we do for us, our heirs and successors, declare by these presents, that all and every the persons being our Subjects, which do or shall inhabit within the said Port and Island, and every of their children and posterity, which shall happen to be born within the precincts and limits thereof, shall have and enjoy, all liberties, franchises, immunities, capacities and abilities of Free Denizens, and Natural Subjects, within any of our Dominions, to all intents and purposes as if they had been abiding and born within this our Kingdom of England, or in any other of our Dominions.
In the late 1970s/early 1980s panic and consternation stuck the mandarins in Whitehall. The realisation struck that Britain’s lease on part of Hong Kong would expire in 1997 and millions of ethic born Chinese could (though that is debatable) take up residence in old Blighty and might indeed do so to avoid Chinese rule!
In 1981, and well before the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1985 which confirmed that all of Hong Kong (and not just the leased component) would be ceded to Hong Kong the British Nationality Act came into force essentially redefining British Citizenship. This confirmed, if that was needed, that British passports would not be available for all and sundry in Hong Kong. Whether deliberate or otherwise, it also denied thousands of others the right of British citizenship. For St Helena the commitment of the 1673 Charter was relegated to the dustbin of history.
The Saints had lost their right of abode in the UK.
Clearly nothing would be done about this collateral damage until 1997 had come and gone. As such the Saints remained second class Brits for the next 20 years with their right of abode restricted to the Island itself, the Falkland Islands and Ascension Island. No wonder St Helena was sometimes referred to as the South Atlantic Alcatraz in this period.
Hong Kong was duly handed to China in 1997, and London published a review of the Dependent Territories making a commitment to restore the pre-1981 status of citizenship. In 2002, no doubt spurred on by, events further South in the Atlantic (the Falklands War) and coinciding with 500 years since the Island had been discovered full British citizenship was restored to the Saints via the British Overseas Territories Act 2002.
Governor Hollamby, in full ceremonial rig replete with plumes (maybe those last seen in Hong Kong – I joke!), announced that "St Helenians suffered a great injustice when the British Nationality Act of 1981 effectively reduced all the British dependent territories to second-class citizens." The wrong (one of 14 similar wrongs) had now been righted and the Saints were again well and truly British. To cement the deal The Princess Royal, Princess Anne visited the island later in the year.
To mark their return to British Citizenship the people of St Helena erected the plaque pictured here and you can see it outside St James Church in downtown Jamestown.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Jamestown War Memorial and the RFA Darkdale
It is very easy to think of places like St Helena as idyllic little tropical backwaters of Empire where nothing much happens and all the people are jolly happy chappies. Indeed this often holds true but Her Majesty’s Government doesn’t pump millions into places like with no expectations of future return or sense of repayment for past favours.
St Helena like many others of Britain’s remaining and past possessions was acquired for strategic purposes - for the defence of Britain and/or the advancement of British trade. St Helena served both purposes.
And so it was, when Britain went to war, St Helena went to war. Loyal Saints (as the locals are called) answered the call arms in both World Wars and this memorial on the waterfront commemorates those who lost their lives in World War I and World War II. Six Saints paid the ultimate price in each war.
On the land side of the War Memorial is an additional plaque dedicated to the memory of the 41 crew members who were lost when the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Darkdale, the station tanker supporting ships using the Cape Convoy Routes to South East Asia, was torpedoed and sunk by the German (U-boat) submarine U-68 in the early hours of 22 October 1941 while she lay at anchor in Jamestown Harbour. The Darkdale was the first British ship to be sunk south of the Equator during World War II. War had come to within a hundred metres of St Helena. Thankfully, this was as close as it got.
Of the 41 killed (six crew including the Captain and the Chief Engineer were ashore and survived) the majority were from the United Kingdom with one member from each of Ireland, Jamaica New Zealand and India. The ship and the waters of the South Atlantic remains their grave.
The lost crew of the RFA Darkdale is also remembered on the Tower Hill Memorial in London which commemorates those from the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets who died during both World Wars and have "no grave but the sea".
U-68 was sunk on the 10 April 1944 in the North Atlantic north west of Maderia by aircraft from USS Guadalcanal. 56 of the crew died and 1 survived.
Every year on the 11 November St Helena joins many parts of the world in a traditional two minute silence and the laying of wreaths in remembrance of the war dead.
His Excellency, the Governor of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, who resides on St Helena, lays a wreath on behalf of St Helena while the French Consul lays a wreath for the Republic of France. Those readers who have read my Napoleon tips will understand why there is a French Consul on St Helena.Related to:
- Historical Travel
The Governor’s pets
The main reason people go to Plantation House is generally not to see the house itself, beautiful though it is, but rather to see the Governor’s tortoises and in particular Jonathan. How old Jonathan is, is very much a matter of conjecture but estimate range from 150 to 190 years old. As such, Saints claim that Jonathan is the oldest living land creature in the world.
Jonathan is certainly St Helena’s oldest resident and came to St Helena from the Seychelles in 1882. Princess Elizabeth now Queen Elizabeth II recalls an audience with Jonathan back in 1947 when she visited with her father King George VI, the only ruling British monarch to ever visit St Helena.
While the house is out of bounds unless you are on an official tour you are permitted to stroll around the gardens, which afford you great views of the house in addition to letting you get up close with the tortoises. You are asked to keep to the paths and no riding on Jonathan or any of his mates!
In the event that the tortoises are not out on the main lawn continue to the end of the path and turn left (as I had to do) – you will most likely see them in the more shaded area to the right of the house (looking towards the house). Watch your step up here as it rougher than sticking to the path and I imagine could be messy in the wet.
Plantation House - The Governor and Jonathan
Plantation House is the official residence of the Governor of Saint Helena. The Governor is the representative of the British monarch in the United Kingdom's overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. The Governor’s office is in the Castle down in Jamestown.
The current, Georgian house was built in 1792 by the East India Company, as a "country" or summer residence for the Company Governor. The house was taken over by the Crown in 1834 after the India Act of 1833 removed the right of the East India Company to manage the island. Writer, Simon Winchester once described Plantation House as “ …a gem – perhaps the loveliest house available for any senior British diplomat anywhere…”. It's certainly pretty impressive from the outside.
While I didn’t take one, tours of the ground floor reception rooms may be possible though I understand the current Governor has greatly reduced access to the house which may now only be open 45 minutes per week – check with the tourist office in Jamestown as soon as you arrive on the Island for the latest information. As I pointed out in my Longwood House review the chandelier that used to be in Napoleon's residence is now located here in Plantation House. I understand that on one wall in the ante-room there is a charcoal drawing of Napoleon by James Sant while across the room and still watching Napoleon is a picture of Governor Lowe. If you have read my other reviews on Napoleon you will be aware that Lowe and Napoleon pretty much despised each other.
Apparently Napoleon was rather disappointed when he arrived on St Helena as he expected to be given Plantation House. The Governor thought differently and Napoleon had to settle for second best. By this stage of his career he wasn’t in a great position to argue. Consideration had, in fact, been given to housing Napoleon here and there is a map of St. Helena drawn in 1815, just before Napoleon’s arrival, by Lieutenant Read which marks Plantation House as "The Residence of BONAPARTE". Security concerns led to Longwood being selected in the end.
The house has good views overlooking pleasant gardens (including a vegetable garden) and the sea. Irrespective of whether you go into the house or not, do have a stroll in the gardens and say hello to the Island’s oldest resident – Jonathan, a tortoise. Actually, It seems a bit strange to mention this here as Jonathan will probably be the primary reason you go out to Plantation House in the first place.Related to:
- Castles and Palaces
- Historical Travel
Prince’s Lodge and the Castell Collection
Prince's Lodge is a beautiful colonial house belonging to, English born St Helena historian, Robin Castell (who actually resides in South Africa), who, in addition to numerous other books on St Helena, publishes albums of photographs illustrating the history, geography and sociology of Saint Helena.
The Lodge is home to the Castell Collection which claims to be is the world's largest collection of images and maps of St Helena. Your level of interest in the islands pictorial history will determine how long you spend pursuing this excellent collection. Whether you spend 15 minutes or hours here it will be time well spent.
I had actually become acquainted with Castell's excellent works on board the RMS St Helena en route to St Helena. Mr Castell was no fan of Napoleon whom he regularly refers to as "the tyrant" or the "infamous prisoner” with comments like: " The end of Bonaparte's lust for world domination signalled the reinstatement of peace and freedom for all nations. It was just a pity that it took the incarceration of such a notorious criminal to popularise the island". I agree, but were it not for Napoleon St Helena would, today be a very different place – for better or for worse – who can say.
Basil George OBE, the Lodge’s curator is an absolute goldmine of information on not only the collection but of all things St Helenian – do take time to have a chat with him and also enjoy his wry sense of humour. Basil also offers various Island tours for those interested. While I didn’t do a tour with him I imagine they would be good given his knowledge of the island. Basil was also a Founder Member of the local Heritage Society.
The collection is open most days but only by appointment – check with the Tourist Office in Jamestown. Admission is GBP 1 and some of Castell's publications are available for purchase.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
High Knoll Fort – Fort of many uses.
Unlike the other main fortifications on St Helena this fort is situated well inland at 584 metres high with commanding views both to sea and to the valleys below. The islands other main fortifications are all by the sea.
While work commenced in 1790 under Governor Brooke the High Knoll tower was completed in 1798 under the guidance of Major Pierie who held the view that each defensive structure should be designed to cover others. While common practice elsewhere this is the first time the concept was explicitly applied in the British Empire. High Knoll was well positioned to defend Ladder Hill Fort in the event of an attack on the latter and provided a redoubt for islanders in the event of an invasion.
The circular tower (Martello style and along the lines of the then recently constructed tower at Simon's Town in South Africa) was topped off with 6 cannons while gunpowder, balls and shot was stored in the towers rooms beneath. These windowless rooms were purpose built for this purpose event to the extent that all fittings were of brass or copper, even the nails and screws, to avoid sparks.
The fort never saw enemy action though did play a key part in a mutiny in 1811. Mutinous troops demanded a full ration of spirits (alcohol) and to enforce their demand seized a high ranking officer and headed for nearby Plantation House, the Governor's residence, – intent unknown but no doubt dishonourable. The mutiny was a miserable failure with six of the ringleaders were hung at High Knoll and other mutineers interred in the barracks block which was now became a prison.
By the 1850s, with Napoleon long gone, there were few troops in the garrison and many of the buildings were converted to a school and housing for many of the liberated slaves I have referred to in my review of the Jamestown Museum.
Concern in the 1860s and 1870s that there was no central defensive position on the Island resulted in the fort being revitalised and extended. It was at this stage that the southern buildings were constructed, the perimeter walls build and the main gate completed (1874) replete with moat. By 1900 the fort was again dated as a defensive structure and was used for the most recalcitrant Boer prisoners of war, Transvaal Rebels and officers keeping them separated from those in the main prison camps on Deadwood Plain.
The Forts parapets were repaired during World War II but again no action eventuated and from the 1940s to the 1960s High Knoll was used as a quarantine station before it was abandoned and left to ruin though in the mid-1980s, NASA had a technician at the fort who ran a small tracking station. The towers here now belong to the local telephone company.
Redevelopment and restoration work on the fort commenced in 2010 under the auspices of the National Trust. The Fort is generally only open by appointment (with a GBP2 entry fee). Contact the National Trust Office or the Tourist Office in Jamestown before visiting and take care as you drive up and down the narrow steep two way road to the fort.Related to:
- Museum Visits
- Castles and Palaces
- Historical Travel
Saint Helena Hotels
The Wellington House Hotel, an 18th century Georgian style building, is perfectly located in the...more
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