St Helena is an
island and a British colony in the South Atlantic Ocean, 1,200 miles
(1,950 km) west of the southwestern coast of Africa. St. Helena has an
area of 47 square miles (122 square km), an extreme length
(southwest-northeast) of 10.5 miles (17 km), and an extreme width of 6.5
miles (10 km). The capital and port is
Jamestown. The island of
the island group of
Tristan da Cunha are dependencies of
island was discovered by the Spanish navigator Joao da Nova
(Castella = John Newcastle) in the service of Portugal on
May 21, 1502, which, in the Eastern Church, is the feast day
of St. Helena, mother of the Roman emperor Constantine.
Portuguese knew about the existence of the island until 1588, when the
English navigator Captain
Thomas Cavendish visited St. Helena on
his return from a voyage around the world.
The island soon became a port
of call for ships en route between Europe and the East Indies. The Dutch
may have occupied St. Helena about 1645-51, but in 1659 the English
East India Company took possession of
the island. After a brief Dutch occupation in 1673, the ownership of the
East India Company was confirmed. By 1673 nearly half the inhabitants
were imported slaves, who were granted their freedom between 1826 and
1836. The remoteness of St. Helena made it attractive to the powers of
Europe as a place of exile for
Napoleon, and he was confined at
Longwood on the island from October 1815 until he passed away in May
1821. During that period the island was placed under the jurisdiction of
the British crown. Then the East India Company resumed control until
1834, when the authority of the crown was restored. St. Helena remained
reasonably prosperous as a busy port of call until about 1870. Then
steam started replacing sail, and the opening of the Suez Canal (1869)
changed the pattern of sea routes. In the early 1960s the development of
a telecommunications centre on the island dependency of Ascension and
employment there of workers from St. Helena somewhat restored
prosperity. St. Helena was given some measure of self-rule through an
Order in Council and Royal Instructions in 1966 (effective January 1967)
that provided for local executive and legislative councils. This order
was replaced by the 1988 constitution (effective January 1989).
The island is of volcanic origin, but volcanic activity on the
island is extinct. Perpendicular cliffs rise 1,600 to 2,300 feet (490 to
700 m) on the eastern, northern, and western sides of the island, and
mountains, rising to 2,690 feet (820 m), form a semicircular rim north
of Sandy Bay. South of the mountains, water-cut gorges are dispersed,
becoming deep valleys near the sea. Springs are numerous. There are
thick layers of volcanic ash and many conspicuous rock features. The
only practicable landing place is on the island's northwestern side at
James Bay, from which a narrow valley extends 1.5 miles (2.4 km)
inland. The capital and port, Jamestown, is nestled in this valley.
Because of cool
South Atlantic trade winds, St. Helena's climate is healthful and
temperate with warm summers and only slightly cooler winters. Annual
rainfall is 8 inches (200 mm) at sea level and more than 30 inches (760
mm) at the island's centre. St. Helena's vegetation can be divided into
three zones: a rocky, barren coastal zone with cactus, extending inland
for about 1 mile (1.6 km); a middle zone, extending another 0.25 to 1
mile (0.4 to 1.6 km) inland and supporting grassy hill slopes and gorse,
willows, poplars, and Scotch pines; and the central zone, about 3 miles
(5 km) long and 2 miles (3 km) wide, which is the home of the island's
indigenous vegetation, as well as oak trees, cedars, eucalypti, bamboo,
and banana plants.
The island's population is
largely of mixed European (mostly British), Asian, and African descent.
English is the only language spoken, and the majority of the population
are of the Anglican denomination. Jamestown is the only town on St.
Helena with about a quarter of the population.
Less than one-third of the island is suitable for farming or forestry.
The principal crops are corn (maize), potatoes, and green vegetables.
Some sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs are raised. There are no minerals
and virtually no industry, but some locally grown timber is used for
construction purposes. Fish, primarily tuna, are caught in the waters
around St. Helena; some is frozen at a cold-storage facility in the
vicinity, and the remainder is dried and salted on the island. Virtually
the entire output is exported. About two-thirds of the colony's budget
is provided by the United Kingdom in the form of a subsidy; the
remainder is raised from the sale of postage stamps and from customs
duties and wharf fees.
The only port,
Jamestown, has a good anchorage for ships, and there is passenger and
cargo service by sea to the United Kingdom and South Africa. The island
has a system of roads but no airport or airfield.
Government and social conditions
The governor is also president of the Legislative Council.
The speaker, the chief secretary and the treasurer (as ex-officio
members), and 12 elected members constitute the Legislative Council. The
Executive Council is headed by the governor and includes the
aforementioned ex-officio members and five of the elected members of the
Legislative Council. The latter are chairmen of the council committees
and oversee departments of the government. Education is compulsory and
free for children between 5 and 15. The estimated population of St.
Helena in 1987 was 5,644.
Jamestown is a seaport town and the capital of St. Helena. It was
founded in 1659, when the British East India Company built a fort and
established a garrison at the site on James Bay. It was named after the
Duke of York (later James II). Jamestown, consists of little more than a
single street. It runs up a narrow, deep-sided valley for a mile to an
elevation of 500 feet (150 m). The main sources of revenue are customs
duties, wharfage, and the sale of postage stamps to philatelists.
Plantation House (governor's residence) and the Cathedral of St. Paul's
are 2 miles (3 km) south of the town. Longwood, where Napoleon was
exiled and died in 1821, is 2.5 miles (4 km) southwest and is in the
custody of the government of France. The estimated population in 1987