Friday, 27 October 2017



By Katie,, 14th August 2015{3}
Martin Wright takes a Royal Mail ship to one of the world’s remotest inhabited islands
One-third of the way across the South Atlantic from Africa to America, in one of the emptiest oceans in the world, lies an extraordinary sliver of Britain. And in the middle of the sliver is a micro slice of France.
Named after the Saint’s day on which it was discovered - five centuries past - by astonished Portuguese sailors, St Helena is one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands. But it doesn’t always feel that way. Walk up Main Street in Jamestown, the ‘capital’, and you’ll find much that’s familiar - if a little out of time.
On the one hand you can imagine yourself in a Devon market town from the 1950s: the pace of life’s easy, with people gossiping on benches outside their whitewashed houses. On the other hand young men sport shades at the wheel of their 4x4s, flush from a spell of work on the military bases on Ascension Island or the Falklands, bass-heavy music hammering out of their stereos.
THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE St Helena 01 [Saint Helena Island Info:Read articles about St Helena ]
First, though, you have to get there. In 2016 St Helena’s first airport will open - and the island will be tugged sharply into the 21st century. For now, unless you own a yacht, you’ll spend five days and nights sailing out from Cape Town on the ‘Royal Mail Ship St Helena’.
Like the island, it’s one of a kind. Virtually everything that travels to or from the place does so on the ‘RMS’: people (living and dead), fridge freezers, cars, food… It’s the island’s sole lifeline - and the last in a line of ships built specially for the task.
The journey is a combination of the banal and the wild, with Bovril for elevenses, quiz nights and deck cricket - all with the wide, wild immensity of the blue sea all around, unblemished from horizon to horizon. The RMS strikes out far from the nearest shipping lanes, settlements or even flight paths. A hundred, a thousand, a million years ago, the outlook beyond the rail would have been the same. This really is the middle of nowhere.
Next year the RMS will be pensioned off and the first tourists will be jetting in from Johannesburg to a spanking new airport which, the government hopes, will catalyse economic development. It’s a big ask.
NAPOLEON AND THE STARS St Helena 02 [Saint Helena Island Info:Read articles about St Helena ]
St Helena is a dependency in more than one sense of the word. Once a vital staging post on the journey east - before the Suez Canal stole its rite of passage - it’s now largely a subsidy economy. Many of the ‘Saints’, as the islanders refer to themselves, work for the government, or in government-owned businesses. Boosting tourism is key to prospects of a more independent, sustainable economy. And there is much for tourists to see.
Napoleon’s six years here - between Waterloo and his death in 1821 - already act as a tourist draw. The few acres comprising his house and tomb were given to France when Britain sought favour from Paris in the mid-19th century, and there is even a French consul general in residence to keep watch on this tiniest corner of La République.
The isolation that made St Helena suitable for tucking away an ex-Emperor attracts another sub species of tourist: stargazers. Far from any source of serious light pollution, the island has a quite astonishingly clear night sky. Stand in a valley sheltered even from the scattering of street lamps, and the stars seem so close you could almost pluck them by hand. Small wonder plans are afoot for it to become an official International Dark Sky Park.
For a small island, the countryside is impressively varied. Starting from the coasts, bare, wave lapped cliffs rise to arid grassland and, in some cases, strips of rocky desert. The odd waft of sand serves as a reminder of a primeval sea floor, when the ocean was hundreds of metres higher than it is today.
This gives way to pasture - much of it bare, overgrazed and, in places, scarred with the red-earth gashes of gully erosion. There are swathes of quite English-looking countryside: hills and valleys intercut by winding, flower- banked lanes, a mix of pasture, plantation forest - pines, eucalypts - and patches of vegetable gardens.
Clinging to the ridge line of Diana’s Peak and Mount Actaeon is the cloud forest - a tangle of tree ferns, brackeny things and weird- looking, weirdly named spindly shrubs - ‘he cabbage’ and ‘she cabbage’.
Below the cloud forest, ever threatening to overwhelm it, is a vast blanket of flax - the pervasive relic of a Victorian attempt to inject a sense of industry into island life. Like most enterprise on St Helena this was a government- backed initiative; it provided the raw material for mail bags and a (barely) living wage for the islanders. The mills shut down in the ‘60s, but the flax remains, swallowing the ground, the big daddy of all the island’s (many) invasive species. From a distance it looks like a gorgeous sea of green, but beneath its photogenic surface it quietly smothered the native flora.
PLUNDERING PARADISE St Helena 03 [Saint Helena Island Info:Read articles about St Helena ]
Passengers on the RMS are issued with leaflets on ‘biosecurity’ in an effort to keep the endemics clinging on. It’s an uphill struggle. Old prints show that, by the time the landscape was first recorded, it was already stripped bare of most of its original vegetation, the tree ferns and hardwoods that had once cloaked the land. The lethal combination of man and goat had done its work.
Despite discovering the island the Portuguese never settled there themselves; instead they built a chapel, planted fruit trees and left behind goats, pigs and sick sailors who were left to recover in what must, briefly, have been a tropical paradise of clear flowing streams, fruits and forest. The forest was raided for timber and fuel - and the goats, of course, stopped it from coming back. A typical pattern: man cuts, goat hoovers. In the face of such an onslaught, it didn’t take long for the forest to fail.
When the English came in the 17th century, they carried on the despoliation. One visitor wrote of seeing a thousand goats in a single field: with that strength in numbers the trees never stood a chance. The English tried to conserve the dwindling ‘Great Wood’ by building a wall around it. But the goats persisted, and the forest shrunk to isolated remnants, clinging on in crevices and high peaks.
WIREBIRDS AND BLUSHING SNAILS St Helena 04 [Saint Helena Island Info:Read articles about St Helena ]
Conservationists remain optimistic that much can still be salvaged. With the support of the Department for International Development, the airport developers are restoring wetlands and helping with the creation of a ‘Millennium Forest’ to replace the Great Wood. Careful flax clearance is uncovering native species which, with impressive stubbornness, spring back to life. After years of retreat, the cloud forest is slowly gaining ground once again.
It’s not just conservation for the sake of it, either. Eco-tourism is a key part of the island’s offer, and with good reason. Dolphins, whales, whale sharks and bright blue angelfish circle the shoreline. St Helena has 50% of the UK’s endemic species, though few are of the charismatic megafauna (or flora) variety.
Instead, it’s a case of watch where you tread. Many are tiny: invertebrates skulking somewhere in the grasses, the coyly named blushing snail sliming along the tree ferns and the odd unremarkable flower or two. But there are more striking specimens, including the island’s unofficial emblem, the wirebird. This cute little plover, much predated by cats (feral and pet), is now fiercely protected. Cat traps are laid to catch prowling moggies: the pets are returned to their owners, the ferals put to terminal sleep.
Replacing a ship with a plane hardly sounds sustainable, of course - but in terms of carbon it’s a close call. The environmental costs of feeding and fuelling a hundred or more people for a week at sea on a 30-year-old ship are far from negligible.
But for more decisive sustainability gains, the island needs to exploit its own resources. It’s recently opened a small solar farm to take advantage of all that tropical sun. When completed, this could supply 40% of the island’s power needs - replacing the diesel which, of course, has to be shipped in. There’s a longer term prospect of combining more solar with ocean thermal power in order to move close to self- sufficiency.
If islanders could be persuaded to swap their gas-guzzling 4x4s for electric vehicles, that could take it a step further down the sustainability track, as could converting some of the grazed-out pastures to vegetable gardens and horticulture.
None of this will come easy. Much depends on tourist dollars boosting government coffers - and on the ‘Saints’ themselves discovering an enthusiasm for sustainable enterprise. If those go together, St Helena could yet serve as an exemplary case study for small island sustainability the world over.



By Brian Unwin{10}Washington Examiner, 8th August 2015{3}
Napoleon’s image [Saint Helena Island Info:Read articles about St Helena ]
Two hundred years ago, on Aug. 8th, 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte embarked at Plymouth on a British warship for the second time in his life. On this occasion it was the ship of the line, the Northumberland. The first time had been only just over three weeks before when, following his comprehensive defeat at the battle of Waterloo, and after agonizing days of indecision, he had surrendered near Rochefort on the French West coast to Captain Maitland of His Majesty’s Ship, Bellerophon, to be conveyed to England. His initial plan, after fleeing from Paris, had been to sail on a French frigate to America. But the Royal Navy had blockaded the port, leaving him little choice but to surrender.
He was not allowed to land at Plymouth while the British Cabinet decided what to do with him. Out of naivety or sheer effrontery he wrote to the Prince Regent, the future King George IV, to “throw myself upon the hospitality of the British people” and seek a comfortable residence somewhere in exile in England. But the government of Lord Liverpool, which had for years fought a life and death struggle with Napoleon, would have none of this and decided to send him to St Helena, a remote volcanic island in the South Atlantic, then in the possession of the British East India Company.
Accordingly, on Aug. 8th, Napoleon and his entourage were transferred kicking and screaming from the Bellerophon to the Northumberland to begin the long sea voyage to St Helena. They were accompanied by transport ships containing about 2,000 British troops, and an admiral in command of a small flotilla to keep a day and night watch on the island. Napoleon had escaped once from Elba and they were determined that he should not escape again.
St Helena has been a British possession since the mid-17th century and (until a new airport opens in 2016) remains one of the remotest inhabited places in the world, some 1,200 miles from Angola and2,000 miles from Brazil. The only regular means of reaching it is still by the last Royal Mail Ship, St Helena, which makes the week long journey from Cape Town every three weeks or so. Napoleon landed there on the 15th of October and was to spend the next five and a half years in captivity, living with his 35 or more loyal companions in Longwood House, a damp and rambling converted farmhouse, whose amenities were light years away from the luxury of the palaces he had occupied in Paris and other great European capitals. Though free to roam the grounds of the house, he could not go beyond them except in the company of a British officer, and every evening at sunset British sentries with bayonets fixed closed in on and surrounded the house.
Napoleon fought tooth and nail against the restrictions imposed on him, which he regarded as a violation of every conceivable international law. He particularly detested the British governor sent out to watch over him, General Sir Hudson Lowe, describing him as “like a hyena in a trap” or a “Sicilian brigand,” and refusing to see him again after only six meetings in the early months. Lowe was not the most imaginative of jailors, but he tried hard to supply Napoleon with all reasonable amenities and comforts - except his freedom. He suffered, however, from strict orders to offer Napoleon what he regarded as the greatest and most provocative of insults, to address him formally as General Bonaparte rather than as His Majesty the Emperor Napoleon.
At first Napoleon believed, or hoped, that the British government and its allies would relent and allow him to return to Europe. But as time progressed, and some of his most senior companions left the island, he began to realise that there was no hope and that he would end his days there. He spent more and more time in his precious warm bath and his physical and psychological condition deteriorated.
Napoleon died a miserable and painful death at Longwood on May 5th, 1821. Although there are many conspiracy theories, some attributing his death to arsenic poisoning, it was almost certainly due to stomach cancer, from which his father had died at an early age. He was buried in a simple unmarked grave on the island, although the British government allowed the French in 1840 to disinter him and transfer his body to France, where it lies in state at Les Invalides in Paris.
Napoleon was a giant of his age, a great general whose legal and administrative reforms have also shaped much of the governance of France and the rest of Europe to this day. His death was the epitome of classical tragedy, the abrupt descent of a great man from the highest to lowest state. His last recorded words on his death bed were, “France, mon fils, l’armée, Joséphine” (“France, army, head of the army, Joséphine”){11} - four of the things that were most dear to him. What he did not mention was the deaths of hundreds of thousands of young soldiers and civilians from France and other countries that his imperial adventures had caused.
See alsoNapoleon Bonaparte



Published on, 23rd July 2015{3}
Archive image of the RFA Darkdale after she had been torpedoed [Saint Helena Island Info:Read articles about St Helena ]
Archive image of the RFA Darkdale after she had been torpedoed
Royal Navy divers based at Faslane were called in to clear explosives from a wreck in the South Atlantic.
They were deployed to St Helena to work on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Darkdale, a freighting tanker which refuelled warships during World War 2.
While at anchor in James Bay, she was torpedoed by German submarine U-68 in the early hours of October 22nd 1941, resulting in the loss of 41 crew members - with only two survivors.
The ship was split in two by the explosion, caught fire and sank within five minutes, remaining at a depth of 42 metres.
Members of the Fleet Diving Squadron above the Darkdale wreck [Saint Helena Island Info:Read articles about St Helena ]
Members of the Fleet Diving Squadron above the Darkdale wreck
In 2010, during a winter storm, the wreck released some of the oil that she had been carrying as cargo, leading to calls from the islanders who live in the British Overseas Territory for the Ministry of Defence to step in and prevent an environmental hazard.
The Northern Diving Group was sent from the Clyde, embarking on the RMS Saint Helena, the last operating Royal Mail Ship in the world and the only way to access the remote archipelago, which is 1,200 miles from the nearest land.
Using specialist equipment, divers were able to remain at depth for prolonged periods and went on to remove 38 large projectile items, totalling around 80kg of high explosives.
Lieutenant Olly Shepherd, who led the team, said: “It was an extremely challenging and remote location to work in, but the team performed exceptionally and we have successfully cleared the wreck of a significant explosive hazard. It certainly made a change from removing old ordnance around the freezing waters of the UK.
The clearance of the wreck allowed MoD salvage teams to start safely removing the trapped oil within the holding tanks of the wreck.
The operation is due to be complete by mid-August, allowing the wreck to remain safely in place as a haven for marine life.
The Royal Navy ship HMS Protector, moored off St Helena [Saint Helena Island Info:Read articles about St Helena ]
The Royal Navy ship HMS Protector, moored off St Helena
See alsoDiving • Lost Ships

Wednesday, 25 October 2017



By David Leask, Herald Scotland, 9th July 2015{3}
The law has always had a long arm.
Lorna Drummond QC [Saint Helena Island Info:Read articles about St Helena ]
But never quite as long as 5,000 miles. Until now.
A Scottish sheriff has been appointed to serve as an appeal court justice for the tiny and remote Atlantic islands of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. And Dundee-based Lorna Drummond QC may be able to serve her duties without actually visiting the volcanic outposts.
The sheriff - who spends most of her days laying down the law to benefit cheats and drunken louts in and around Perthshire, Fife and Angus - has unparalleled expertise in the law of the two islands.
She was, after all, once the only lawyer on Saint Helena, where the courts are run by lay magistrates. Ms Drummond, along with three English judges, will be responsible for reviewing their decisions but is not expected to need to journey to the islands.
The island was once effectively the world’s most isolated jail, the place where Britain exiled its enemies, such as Napoleon Bonaparte and later the rebel Zulus and Boers of South Africa.
Now peaceful Saint Helena, the tiny UK outpost in the South Atlantic, has the world’s smallest prison and barely any recorded crime, despite contradictory allegations of a culture of mass sex abuse of young girls.
The island, 2,500 miles east of Rio de Janeiro, is getting its first airport next year but is currently only reachable by a gruelling sea journey.
Still ruled by Britain, Saint Helena and its two sister territories, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha have just a few thousand citizens.
Ms Drummond said: “To date the court of appeal has dealt with only a very few cases. The papers are generally reviewed in the UK and travel to St Helena will not usually be necessary although it is still a possibility. The few cases there are will no doubt provide a contrast with my cases in Dundee.
Ms Drummond has been a solicitor and an advocate, parliamentary counsel in London and the crown counsel in Saint Helena, where she advised the island’s government on both civil and criminal court matters.
Saint Helena no longer has the death penalty. A decade ago Scottish advocate Edgar Prais QC was instructed to defend a teenager accused of murder following a bar brawl, and he flew from England to Ascension Island, then took the mail ship for the two-day journey to St Helena - staying at the house where Napoleon spent his last years in exile.



By MAX COLCHESTER, Wall Street Journal, 16th June 2015{3}
Remote St Helena has a volcano, Napoleon’s empty tomb and a bank regulator who sails in
One day in February, a British bank regulator caught the boat on his regular commute.
Six days later, Chris Duncan arrived at work on a remote island in the South Atlantic Ocean. The critical things were there: Napoleon Bonaparte’s empty tomb; Jonathan the tortoise; the stacks of cash to count in what may be the world’s smallest regulated financial system.
Mr. Duncan is Chairman of the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of St Helena, a rocky tropical isle 1,200 miles off Africa’s coast. Amid burgeoning global financial regulation, even tiny outposts need oversight, Mr. Duncan says.
Could the financial system of St Helena, population about 4,600, ever implode? “Yes,” he says. Among other things, “the bank is on top of a volcano.
St Helena is a British Empire relic. Queen Elizabeth II has executive authority over it. The U.K. helps appoint the governor{11} who administers its122Km².
The only way to get there is by sea, as Mr. Duncan does every year. There isn’t cellphone reception. It has a currency - the St Helena Pound - but no ATMs. It has one bank and, hence, needs a bank regulator.
Its residents, many of British, Asian or African origin call themselves ‘Saints.’ Some are descendants of settlers who made it a stopover for sailing ships after its discovery, uninhabited, in the 16th century. Today, big exports are fish and an expensive coffee said to have been enjoyed by Napoleon, who died there in exile and was later reburied in France.
The volcano that created the island is extinct, not much of a threat to its financial system. But St Helena faces upheaval of another sort: It is preparing for a global debut when its first airport opens next year.
We will be the newest tourist destination in the world,” says Niall O’Keeffe, chief executive for economic development at Enterprise St Helena, which promotes investment into the island.
Touted attractions include picturesque walks, Napoleon’s first tomb and Jonathan, a giant tortoise that lives on a colonial-mansion lawn and may be 183 years old. The rocky coastline doesn’t offer white-sand beaches, but it is pleasantly warm year-round.
Mr. O’Keeffe hopes airplanes will bring visitors to invigorate an economy long reliant on U.K. subsidies. Mr. Duncan worries visitors may include shadier types, perhaps money launderers aiming to exploit the offshore banking system. “I have been preparing for the time,” he says, “when the potential eyes of criminals will come into focus on such a place.
Thousands of miles north, from his house on England’s south coast, 67-year-old Mr. Duncan can oversee much of what happens at the island’s bank via computer.
But some things he just can’t see without going.
The credit-card system is limited, so cash prevails for many things. The Bank of St Helena’s busiest day is Thursday, says Rosemary Bargo, its general manager. That is when fresh vegetables arrive and a queue snakes outside as customers withdraw cash.
It once hand-delivered pay envelopes to government workers, who then queued to deposit them back. Now there is online banking; the bank expects an ATM soon.
The bank closes at 3 p.m. “But on the upside, there’s rarely any reason to spend money after dark anyway,” says August Graham, a Briton who recently moved to the island.
Mr. Duncan spent his career with British bank Barclays PLC working in West Africa, Japan and South Korea. Four years ago, as Mr. Duncan lined up at a lunch buffet for Barclays retirees, a former colleague suggested the St Helena job.
After consulting a map, he applied. “In retirement,” he says, “I have refused to go to the golf course.
Mr. Duncan takes his St Helena trip in February, when British weather is inclement.
It is a regulatory odyssey. Flying the roughly 6,000 miles to South Africa, he boards a Royal Mail Ship for St Helena, about 2,000 miles away. It boasts a fine galley, and sometimes passengers play cricket on deck. When it storms, he reads banking rules on his bunk.
Disembarking at the capital, Jamestown, he dons blazer and tie and embarks on a whirlwind tour. After checking in to a bed-and-breakfast, he meets the governor and bank management.
He goes on a radio phone-in show. “I get asked, ‘Is my money safe?’ and I say ‘Yes, it is.’
Mr. Duncan takes a hands-on regulatory approach. He looks inside the bank’s Victorian-era vault and inspects the bank notes that make up its £500,000 customer cash reserves. He visits the pub for local gossip. “It’s important to really kick the tires.
Outside a few minor procedural issues, he hasn’t found anything amiss.
More problematic is overseeing other islands under St Helena’s jurisdiction, including Tristan da Cunha, an archipelago of about 300 residents 1,500 miles farther south.
The archipelago includes Inaccessible Island and has no bank branch. “I don’t know what they do there,” Mr. Duncan says, adding he can’t justify the cost of visiting and relies on emailed reports and phone calls. Sometimes, he says, the U.K. Foreign Office calls him to check if the islands are solvent.
He isn’t worried St Helena’s government-owned bank is “too big to fail” but about how its 36 staff handle a visitor influx. He wants it to keep up with a global push to make banks safer, particularly by increasing money-laundering controls like identity checks.
Ms. Bargo, the bank manager, says its ‘Know Your Customer’ protocols are up to scratch: “We know everyone on the Island.
Off work, Mr. Duncan hikes, fishes and visits Jonathan. He soon ships back out: “A week for me is fine.



Lock ‘of Napoleon’s hair’ and accompanying letter [Saint Helena Island Info:Read articles about St Helena ]
Lock ‘of Napoleon’s hair’ and accompanying letter
By TraceyR,, 2nd June 2015{3}
Always one for the weird and the wonderful, Cottees of Wareham have stumbled upon a single hair from Napoleon Bonaparte the Great Emperor’s head. Whether it was pinched when he was held in confinement on Saint Helena during the last six years of his life is a matter of conjecture but this is indeed an extraordinary find. The vendor’s family had stored the hair in a chest of drawers for many years before it fell in to auctioneer John Condie’s hands. As this year is the 200thanniversary year of the Battle of Waterloo the hair is sure to fetch some attention, with collectors from near and far hoping to own a piece of Napoleon Bonaparte himself. The hair is held down with red wax and includes a note stating that the content of the small fold of paper is “A single hair of Napoleon Bonaparte’s head, 29th August 1816” and another stating “Obtained 5th May 1821” - the date of his death.
This curiosity is estimated at £100-£200 and will be offered for sale on Tuesday 9th June at Cottees Auctions in Wareham.

Author comment

Personally, before I bid even 200 pence for this item I’d like to see evidence that it came from the great man himself; maybe a DNA test that shows it was Napoleon’s, or at least that it is genetically related to all the other “strands of Napoleon’s hair” that seem to be floating around.


The hair actually sold for £130 to an unidentified individual from the Dorset area.
See alsoNapoleon Bonaparte



The Washington Post, 27th May 2015{3}
Al Pacino [Saint Helena Island Info:Read articles about St Helena ]
Al Pacino’s dream role is to play Napoleon Bonaparte.
The 75-year-old actor has revealed he’s wanted to portray the French military general on the big screen for a number of years and his ambition could be about to come true - as a script for the part has recently been presented to him.
He said: “Napoleon has been a dream of mine for a long time. It’s come close but this time it really could happen. There’s a great script about his last years on Saint Helena.
Saint Helena was the colonised British island where Napoleon was detained in 1815 after being defeated at the Battle of Waterloo by the British Army, and is where he died in 1821 at the age of 51.
The Hollywood legend - who at 5ft 6in is just an inch taller than Napoleon - is confident he could do the historical role justice as he’s sure it wouldn’t be impossible to imitate a man who lived almost 200 years ago.
In an interview with the Metro newspaper, he said: “People think you have to be the exact person but you can only give a version of someone. When I played (whistle-blowing New York cop) Frank Serpico I wasn’t being the real Serpico, even though he was there. It was my take.
See alsoNapoleon Bonaparte