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St. Helena

Updated on March 30, 2015


The Portuguese actually discovered the island they named St. Helena.

It was actually uninhabited, (unlike other discoveries). It had fresh water,
fruit trees and fertile soil. About about 1,200 miles off the Coast of
Africa in the South Atlantic it had a wonderful climate.

One would have assumed that any explorer finding such a lush
environment woulc call it paradise and start settling.

The Portuguese were not particularly interested. They did build a chapel and a
few houses, but created no permanent settlement. They kept the island secret
as it was the perfect place to stop and take on water after a trip to Asia.

The secrecy continued until Sir Francis Drake found the island during his
1577 - 1580 circumnavigation of the world.

How the English got Control

Upon return to England,
Francis Drake organised
a set of ships to advance
on St. Helena.

The same kind of piracy
practised in the Caribbean
was unleashed on this Island.

As the Spanish and Portuguese had bases on the Coast of Africa they gave
up St. Helena. The British and Dutch satisfied themselves with desecration
of the chapel, killing the livestock and destroying the Plantations.

Subsequently the Dutch decided to claim it in 1633, but never used it. In 1651
they abandoned it having created a colony on the Cape of Good Hope.

Oliver Cromwell granted the English East India Company a charter in 1657.
In 1659 the first Governor arrived. A fort was built, houses went up.
In 1660, with the restoration of the Monarchy, the Company received a Royal Charter.

The first problem was getting
immigrants. One would have
thought people would be
anxious to go to this
beautiful island, but they were not.

It was too far from everywhere, beyond the beyond as it was thought.

The second problem was that those who settled there did little more than
destroy the ecology. St. Helena was deforested, suffered, soil erosion,
then drought; which led to rebellion.

By 1723 there were 1,110 people on the island.
More than half were slaves.

To save the island many steps were taken. There was the planting of trees,
the building of a hospital, controlling alcohol, and passing useful legislation.
In 1770 the island began to experience a period of prosperity.

In 1792 the importation of slaves was made illegal, and the Governor
suggested using Chinese labour. The first group arrived in 1810 and
there were about 600 Chinese eight years later.

In 1814 there were 3,507 inhabitants who lived on St. Helena.

The most famous use of the island came in 1815 when Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled there.

In 1817 the census revealed 821 white inhabitant, a garrison of 820 men, 618 Chinese indentured labourers, 500 free blacks, and 1,540 slaves.

In 1821, when Napoleon died, the Garrison was reduced and in 1832 slavery was abolished. A year later, St. Helena became a Crown colony. Cost cutting measures triggered migration and the introduction of steam ships which didn't rely on the trade winds caused less and less calls at St. Helana.

In 1840 the British Navy used St. Helena as a port to suppress the African slave trade. Over 15,000 freed slaves were landed there. In 1901 there were over 6,000 Boer prisoners, and the population was 9,850.

During the First World War a flax
factory was situated on the island
of St. Helena creating a great
deal of income.

This continued to 1951 when
the price of flax reached the highest level.

Unfortunately, synthetic fibers began to replace flax, and the demand dropped.
In 1965 the factory was closed.

There is no airport, no television station, but there is Internet and the St. Helena
Cricket team is due to make its debut in 2011.


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