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Recording images of St Helena

Art has no function. It is not necessary. It has nothing to do with what anyone wants you to do or wants it to be, nothing but you and itself.{f}

Many artists have turned their talents to making a visual record of St Helena


Some points about this page:

See also our page Photography for past and present photographers.

William John Burchell, 1805-1810

William John Burchell produced many drawings and watercolours.

He was engaged on St Helena by The East India Company as botanist & schoolmaster from 1805 to 1810. He clearly spent a lot of his time here making drawings and watercolours, which provide an invaluable record of the island just before Napoleon arrived. His images are Copyright © the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, used with permission.

Sandy Bay extract

A last laugh?

We think it likely that Burchell had a sense of humour. Look closely at the drawing of Sandy Bay (above). On the left side under the cliff you will see a structure which, when enlarged looks like this (right). In our considered opinion this can only be one thing: a toilet, complete with someone engaged in…using it.

Now this is a drawing, not a photograph, so the artist has the option to omit details if they wish (Artistic Licence). The fact that Burchell chose to include the toilet and its user suggests either a near-maniacal obsession with exactitude or a wicked sense of humour. We think the latter.

G H Bellasis, 1814-1815

All we know about George Hutchins Bellasis is his name and that in 1815 he published ‘Six Views of St Helena’, drawn during a stay of eight months on the island. The Book also contains some information about the island, but not enough for him to qualify as one of our Historians.

Note that many of these images contain the enslaved working, as would have been normal at that time.

Denzil Ibbetson, 1815-1823

Denzil Ibbetson also produced various drawings and watercolours, but he also made a contribution to the Theatre.

Ibbetson was born on 8th July 1785 in Leicester, England, and joined the army in 1808. He was one of a handful of British Army officers who were on St Helena for the full six-year period of Napoleon’s exile. He arrived in 1815 with Napoleon aboard the HMS Northumberland, and left in 1823, two years after the Emperor’s death. He was a talented amateur artist, famous for his drawings of Napoleon, and was also the chief commissary officer on St Helena. When Ibbetson was not feeding the army or making drawings of Napoleon he was often to be found performing on the stage of the St Helena Amateur Theatre. As well as acting in 43 plays between 1816 and 1823, he was also theatre manager and the accountant. He returned to the UK in 1823 where he died in 1857 and was buried at Hove, near Brighton.

In 2010 Denzil Ibbetson’s diary was discovered in New Zealand (where his son emigrated in 1864). By some readings it records that in 1815, even while aboard the HMS Northumberland heading for exile, Napoleon was still imagining himself invading and conquering Britain with an army of 200,000 infantry and 6,000 cavalry, saying he believed the people of Britain would welcome him. The Daily Mirror UK ‘newspaper’ thought this story worth printing (labelled ’HISTORY’), as did ABC News Australia and CBS in America. John Tyrrell, however, disputes this interpretation, believing the defeated former-Emperor was merely re-living his past plans, not setting out new ones (see his posting johntyrrell.blogspot.com/‌2010/‌06/‌napoleon-plotted-invading-england-after.html). So: nice headline but probably just another Napoleon myth.

JE Fowler, 1863

JE Fowler published ‘Views of St Helena’, published by Day & Son, which in addition to an interesting collection of lithographs (at least one of which was taken from a photograph by John Isaac Lilley) also contained ‘Notes On The Natural History’ which make interesting reading.

There are Fowlers today on St Helena, there was at least one serving in The St Helena Regiment and a Mr E. Fowler is listed in 1827 as a slave owner. In 1715, according to the Records, one Jepthah Fowler made an official complaint because his wife and a man called Andrew Berg had beaten him. We do not know if any of these are relatives of JE Fowler.

Erich Mayer, 1900-1902

Erich Mayer was one of the Boer PoWs. He returned to South Africa after the war where he lived for the rest of his life. His paintings of the South African Landscape still make good money at Auction.

He made some paintings and drawings of St Helena during his time here but they do not get the same recognition as his later South African works. They are not readily available on the Internet. The one image we have below is an illustrated map of St Helena, created in collaboration with another prisoner:

More at www.johansborman.co.za/‌artist-biographies/‌mayer-erich. Our thanks to Robin Woodruff for alerting us to Erich.

F. Oswell Jones, 1949-1959

Frederick Oswell Jones was notable because of the many paintings he made of St Helena in the 1950s. He was born in 1873 in Peterborough, UK, the son of David Darby Jones and Blanche Alexina M. (nee Oswell). He arrived here at the end of World War 2 with no particular aim in mind, apparently living off his Army pension, and married Fainbridge (‘Fanny’) Ward, a local woman, in 1949. For recreation, and possibly to supplement his income, he took to painting local scenes, some of which are shown below. He painted an entire set of ‘Stations of the Cross’ images for the island’s Roman Catholic Church.

Apparently at one time he used the old Customs shed (photo, below) as a studio, which he named Smugglers’ Den. It is thought he may have created João da Nova’s Seal, though probably for amusement rather than with any deliberate intention to mislead.

He placed advertisements in the newspaper of the time - the St Helena Wirebird{10} - promoting his services (example, below).

After Fanny’s death he left St Helena, sailing on 20th June 1959, and returned to the UK where he died in 1969. He wrote about himself in 1960.

Roland Svensson, 1968

Roland Svensson was a Swedish artist best known for his many paintings of Sweden, including the Stockholm Archipelago. He visited in 1968 and made several paintings of island scenes, which because of his fame are considered quite collectable.

Iris Linsi, 1994

Iris Linsi was St Helena-born, a poet and painter who moved to Switzerland. During a 4-month stay on St Helena in 1994, her first visit since her childhood, she held a small exhibition of her works, many of which are shown below{g}.

Others discussed elsewhere

Some of our more notable artists are discussed elsewhere on Saint Helena Island Info. These include:

Even more…

There are some about whom we have little data. If you can help please contact us.

Below: Ozias HumphreysJ. GrahamHubert CornishRolf Weijburg

Ozias Humphreys

In 1795 Ozias Humphreys produced a drawing of the old drawbridge across the moat in Jamestown; the old pre-1832 access at The Wharf end, around where the Customs House is now. He also drew The Wharf crane and gate and the watering place (note the round-topped water cistern, later the customs shed, featured as the page image on our page Historic Buildings).


J. Graham

J. Graham produced Lithographs in or around 1830. These views, in an album in the Museum of St Helena, are taken from 22 Lithographic Plates.


Hubert Cornish, St. James’ Church, 1798
Hubert Cornish, St. James’ Church, 1798{8}

Hubert Cornish

Hubert Cornish (1757-1823) is another single-image artist, known for his 1798 watercolour of St. James’ Church. The image has the note The houses are very neat, stuccoed smooth and painted. The Troops are going down to relieve the guard. The large branches like feathers are branches of the Cocoa Tree.

Rolf Weijburg, Jamestown
Rolf Weijburg, Jamestown{g}

Rolf Weijburg, ‘Oil Drum Recycling’, 1989
Rolf Weijburg, ‘Oil Drum Recycling’, 1989

Rolf Weijburg

Rolf Weijburg was a Dutch artist who travelled around the South Atlantic visiting the Islands. His colour-etchings from St Helena are part of a series called ‘L’Afrique Périphérique’, with around 70 images in total. The example shown (right) shows his sense of humour and the one (left) is another remarkable piece of work - part map, part painting and part tourist brochure!

More at www.weijburg.nl.



World Art Day is celebrated on 15th April, as declared by the International Association of Art (IAA) in order to promote awareness of creative activity worldwide. International Artist’s Day is celebrated on 25th October. Neither is marked on St Helena.

For more annual events see our page This Year.

Read More

Article: Local artist Keira Francis launches Diverse Collection exhibition

By Hannah Braaf, SAMS, published in The Sentinel, 22nd July 2021{9}

Keira Francis launched her Diverse Collection art exhibition at the Museum on Friday, July 16th.

Diverse Collection is Keira’s first ‘solo’ exhibition, however she has experience in the world of art. She participated in arts and crafts fairs on Ascension, attended mosaic classes and achieved top grades in Art and Design in her GCSEs. Keira has also submitted work into collaborative exhibitions organised by Creative St Helena.

The artworks in Diverse Collection were made using different styles and techniques… the result of experimenting and going outside of my comfort zone in trying different things, Keira said.

At the exhibition, people reacted very positively to the art; Keira received positive feedback, encouragement, and appreciation not just for the art, but for the ideas behind them.

Keira’s said that the motivation behind Diverse Collection came from wanting to hear people’s opinions and to encourage others before she leaves the island for university.

What I hoped that people would take away from this exhibition is the importance of endeavouring with something new and seeing it through to the end, Keira said. I hope to inspire other people, especially the younger generation to discover and express their talent.

Keira’s artwork will be on display in the Museum until Tuesday, August 3rd.


{a} By Mary Dawson Turner, from blogs.bl.uk/‌untoldlives/‌2020/‌01/‌heartbroken-on-st-helena-the-naturalist-william-john-burchell-part-one.htm{9}{b} By Thomas Herbert Maguire, lithograph, 1854 NPG D32394 © National Portrait Gallery, London{9}{c} Robin Woodruff{d} Ozias Humphreys{e} Historical Papers Research Archive, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg{9}{f} Gertrude Stein{g} John Ekwall, originator of the site ‘The Homepage of St Helena


{1} Now Pilling Primary School. Also shows the Upper Theatre (right).{2} The sign reads Tot Nut en Vermaak, which translates as For Work & Entertainment.{3} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.{4} The Government newspaper{3}.{5} In the welcome parade for The Duke of Edinburgh.{6} The addition of ‘Vrede’ to his signature, translating to ‘Peace’, ‘Quiet’ or ‘non-belligerence’, is curious…{7} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.{8} There is a more complete, but lower-resolution version of this image: [Image, right]

Cornish image 2

{9} @@RepDis@@{10} The Government newspaper{7}.