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Characters of St Helena

Eccentric? Colourful? Mad? You decide…

Poor people are crazy, Jack. I’m eccentric.
‘Howard Payne’ in the film Speed (1994)

Some of the island’s residents have been a little outside the normal…

 

Characters of St Helena
Father Daine, the island’s Roman Catholic Priest from 1891-1906.

Below: Capt. Benjamin Boucher • Rev. Richard Boys • Louden’s Ben • Father Daine • James Francis Homagee • ‘Matty’ John • G A D Thornton • Auntie Lou • Some Honourable Mentions • Read More

How do you qualify to be mentioned on this page?

There are no fixed criteria, but broadly:

  1. you have to have done something curious while here; and

  2. you have to have died or permanently (as far as we know) left St Helena{3}.

(We were going to exclude Governors but that would have robbed us of some of our more promising material!)

Apart from the foregoing it is only necessary that you have come to our attention. People are presented in chronological order of their time here.

If you think there is someone we should have included, please contact us.

Capt. Benjamin Boucher

Capt. Benjamin Boucher became Governor of St Helena on 7th August 1711. Governor Boucher did some good for St Helena (building, for example, the first Lime Kiln in Sandy Bay), but he is best remembered for his passion for riding Donkeys, which he did during much of the time he was supposed to be governing St Helena. A memo from The East India Company of March 1714 says we can’t find that our Governor Boucher gave any tolerable heed to our instructions or so much as read them with attention.

To allow him to continue his passion, even during periods of bad weather, he had a 400 foot long shed built in the grounds of Plantation House so that he could continue riding in all weathers without getting wet. The cost to The East India Company was £181.

As if this wasn’t enough, when he left the island on 28th June 1714 on completion of his term as Governor, he stripped Plantation House of all that was portable which might have been of service to him including the locks and keys.

Quite a few of The East India Company Governors did curious things while in charge on St Helena, including capricious use of the ‘justice’ system to further personal vendettas, peculiar building proposals and financial irregularities. Read more about them on our page The Governor of St Helena.

Rev. Richard Boys

Rev. Richard Boys
Rev. Richard Boys

Rev. Richard Boys would seem to have been what Henry II would have described as a ‘turbulent priest’.

He was born in 1785, the fourth son of John Boys and Mary (née Harvey). He was educated at The King’s School, Canterbury, afterward joining the Royal Engineers but later renewed his studies, going on to get an MA at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He was appointed chaplain to The East India Company and made junior chaplain at St Helena in 1811.

He started well. In 1808 it is recorded that The indefatigable labours of the Rev. Richard Boys, in superintending the education and religious instruction of the blacks and lower orders, are producing incalculable benefits to the community. And on 23rd August 1811 he was given supervision of the contents of the St Helena Register newspaper, after Governor Beatson had complained of objectionable remarks printed by it under Saul Solomon the previous year. At that time, most of the attention was being given to his the Senior Chaplain, Rev. Samuel Jones, whose sermons were considered insulting to the inhabitants.

But it was not to last. He next appears in the Records in 1815 where it seems the dispute between him and Rev. Jones had got out of hand and Governor Wilks orders them both to desist, on pain of suspension. Rev. Jones was forced to retire in 1815 and Rev. Boys seems to have adopted his mantle as the island’s troublemaker.

Described as an honest, but rigid and uncompromising divine, on 15th April 1815 it is reported that Rev. Boys refused to admit into church the body of an inhabitant for a funeral, claiming that the funeral attendees were pagans who were disrespecting the church. In 1821 the Records report an incident when the Reverend publicly accused a shopkeeper of being a liar and a spy, calling after him in the street Blenkens, when is the green bag to be given out? (green bag at the time being a term describing a bag containing the fabricated evidence of paid informers). On this occasion Rev. Boys received an official reprimand.

He also took umbrage at the behaviour of Rear Admiral Plampin, one of Governor Lowe’s strongest supporters, who was ‘living in sin’ with a lady, and further aggravated the island’s military by his insistence on completing the record of the births of illegitimate children fathered on slave women with the names of the fathers in bold characters, including the titles and positions of the sires, some of whom were the highest and most trusted of Governor Lowe’s lieutenants.

His own reputation was, however, brought into question in April 1815 when a widow, Mrs Lowden, then suing her brother-in-law who had called her a whore, was seen to spend the night at his house, leaving early in the morning. Whether anything improper actually happened nobody knows, but tongues wagged…

On 11th June 1821 we hear from him again, when he is said to be the author or dictator of many indecorous letters towards the Government, reflecting in an insulting and irritating manner on individuals. And just a month later, the acting Governor makes note of Rev. Boys’ sermon, preaching from the text Publicans and harlots shall go into the Kingdom of Heaven before you, taken as insulting by the upper classes of society. The acting Governor demands a copy of the sermon text. Rev. Boys refuses to supply it. The following week he proclaims from the pulpit that he is being persecuted for righteousness sake, implying that his persecutors were the Government.

Things then go quiet. Perhaps upon the departure of Governor Lowe his fire burned out? He takes a period of absence starting in June 1828 and we don’t hear from him again. He continued in charge in St Helena until 1830, when he retired on a pension.

Louden’s Ben

Louden’s Ben’s cave
Louden’s Ben’s cave in 2011

Longwood in the mid-19th Century was a thriving community with a windmill, farmland, cattle and Napoleon still part of living memory. One of the residents was Benjamin Yon. He became known as Louden’s Ben, though it is not known why. Maybe ‘Louden’s’ was a corruption of ‘London’s’, though any connection with London is a mystery.

Ben sometimes had a loose grip on sanity. He was never formally diagnosed but might have been suffering from schizophrenia, or could have been bipolar. In these times he would say that the ‘White Goat of the Barn’ was calling him. Wanting to avoid people he would take himself away across the treacherous paths over to the seaward side of the Barn, away from prying eyes, where he made himself a shallow cave in the cliffs, walled up with roughly placed stones and furnished with a stone bed. Here he lived until his sanity returned.

He was known for small-scale vegetable theft from the farms in the area, which was tolerated out of sympathy for his condition, and was sometimes seen as a ghostly lantern drifting back and forth across the slopes of the Barn.

Then one day it was noted that he hadn’t been seen for a while; he had mysteriously disappeared. He hadn’t been seen for more than twenty years when his hidden home was discovered, clearly abandoned, in 1897 by a hunting party chasing goats. They found his few possessions, still lying where he had left them; a few clothes, some salt meat, water in bottles, sacks, a cooking pot, some salted goat meat and other small scraps. Despite his hermit existence, he had clearly cared about his appearance - a razor was found amongst his meagre worldly goods. Of Louden’s Ben himself they found nothing; no body was ever found and it is surmised that he had lost his footing in the dark and fell to his death.

After the first discovery, the cave’s location was forgotten. It was likely too remote even for the goat hunters. It remained lost until the 1970s, when Larry Francis’ father was collecting guano from the cliffs and stumbled upon the cave. The exact location is kept a secret to protect the cave from interference.

Father Daine

Father Daine

Father Daine was the island’s Roman Catholic Priest from 1891 to 1906 and chaplain to the troops and prisoners during the Boer war period. References always describe him as ‘eccentric’, though none specifies exactly what form this eccentricity took. However it is worthy of note that, while E. L. Jackson{4} and others refers to him as ‘Rev. J. H. Daine’, later in the UK he got into some trouble and in court gave his full name as ‘Ferdinand Louis Maria John Henry Daine de Saxe and Braganza’, claiming himself to be the uncle of King Manuel of Portugal. This may be a clue.

Being the island’s priest was either a well-remunerated position, or Father Daine had wealth of his own because E. L. Jackson{4} reports him as owning Friars Lodge, and nearby Cleughs Plain. A stone set in the wall at Friars Lodge gives his name with the date 1901.

Early in his appointment he seems to have tried to address the island’s economic woes; a hands-on approach unusual in the island’s clergy who usually confined themselves to more ‘spiritual’ matters such as drunkenness and the number of children ‘born out of wedlock’. This too may explain his label as an eccentric. In May 1892 he is reported to have initiated a project to produce silk, presumably a continuation of the 1824 project. He also tried growing cotton. His experiments got a positive review in The ‘Blue Book’ for 1891, Governor Grey-Wilson reporting:

I am somewhat more hopeful that a profitable industry might be established, if it be entirely supported by the labour of women and children{5}. The results so far obtained have been very encouraging; but, until the many thousand mulberry trees which have been planted reach a leaf yielding age, it will not be possible to determine satisfactorily the result of the venture.

However the following year’s report is less enthusiastic, noting that the project yielded no decisively satisfactory results during the year and it is not mentioned in any further year. Incidentally, The ‘Blue Book’ for 1891 contains a status report on the experiment by Father Daine himself, which he signs ‘John H. Daine’, with no mention of his ordination or claimed royal lineage!

He travelled the island in a small horse-drawn trap, which is caricatured in the image for this page (also below). He is seen below in conversation with two ladies across the same conveyance, here transporting a what appears to be a chest-of-drawers for some unknown purpose. The second shows him in conversation with what appears to be Governor Gallwey.

With trap, 1904
With trap, 1904

With Governor Gallwey, 1904
With Governor Gallwey, 1904

Caricature
Caricature{a}

 

James Francis Homagee

Homagee welcomes the Duke of Connaught, 1910
Homagee welcomes the Duke of Connaught, 1910

James Francis Homagee was born on St Helena in 1846, the eldest child of John Ristaffee Homagee{6} and his wife Jane (née Murphy). However Homagee himself often told a rather different story of his origins, claiming that he had been convicted of an (unspecified) crime in India for which he was to be executed, but was given the option instead to serve as Hangman for the island of St Helena, and hence his presence here. This tale typifies James Francis Homagee.

In 1859 aged only 13 Homagee secured a job at The Castle, most probably serving as a messenger. But only three years later, in April 1862, he was appointed Clerk of the Summary Court, a remarkable achievement for a boy of 16. His subsequent career was similarly astounding. By September 1864 he was Manager of the newly-established Government Saving Bank{7} at a salary of £36 per-annum - not bad for a man of only eighteen.

Homagee remained at the bank for the next 53 years, but he also took on many other responsibilities including that of Crown Prosecutor and Clerk of the Peace (November 1867, £225 per-annum); Magistrate and Registrar of the Vice-Admiralty Court; Collector of Customs (1883) and Superintendent of Customs (1903). Also in 1903 Governor Gallwey appointed him President of a Board set up to recommend improvements to the island’s fishing industry. King Edward VIII made Homagee a Companion of the Imperial Service Order in 1906 at the age of 60.

Naturally, his standing in St Helena society was similarly grand. In 1871 his horse, ‘Glarus’, won the Deadwood Challenge Cup, the island’s most prestigious sporting event. His home, St. John’s Villa in upper Jamestown (now part of the Hospital) was recorded in Grant’s guidebook, described as a pretty house with an extensive garden. He married Ann Smith in 1876 and they had seven daughters, one of whom, Eva Hassell, would go on the be the wife of Edwin Thorpe after one of the period’s grandest and most lavish weddings.

In 1899 he got to realise a life-long ambition - to own one of St Helena’s prominent ‘Country Houses’ when Oakbank came up for sale. He paid only £750 for what had by then become a partial ruin, due to the activities of White Ants, and lovingly restored it to its former glory, greatly helped by much cheap labour from the Bear Prisoners (1900-1902). And when the Duke of Connaught and family visited St Helena in 1910, the welcoming address was delivered by none other than James Francis Homagee.

So why does he feature on this page?

In September 1917, at the age of 71, Homagee fell ill and by December he had resigned from all his numerous positions. The Government Savings Bank was taken over by one Stephen Cullan, and very shortly afterwards Mr Cullan reported difficulties balancing the bank’s books, finding a deficit of some £5,000. An investigation ensued where it was found that Homagee had helped himself to almost all of the missing money - £4,828 13s. Disgrace quickly followed and on 18th February 1919 James Francis Homagee was sentenced to five years imprisonment, which became irrelevant when he died some six months later on 26th August 1919.

Why did Homagee choose to live the high life, well outside his otherwise adequate means, to his ultimate cost? Nobody knows. Did he have a plan for paying back what he had ‘borrowed’ from the Bank? Again, nobody knows. His thinking remains a mystery to this day.

Homagees daughters lavish wedding, at Oakbank
Homagee’s daughter’s lavish wedding, at Oakbank

‘Matty’ John

Matty John’s 2nd Wedding, 1960
Matty John’s 2nd Wedding, 1960

Born on 13th October 1875 to Thomas and Agnes John, he was baptised Matthew William John at St. Paul’s Cathedral on 15th June 1879. His father’s occupation is given as Labourer and they lived in Half Tree Hollow.

Somewhere around 1890, when he was aged 15, he learned to play the ‘accordion’ - actually a Melodeon (see the article (below)). Whoever taught him this did St Helena an immense service, but we’ll come to that…

Details of his education and first employment are unknown although in an interview just before his death he recalled taking supplies up to the Broad Bottom Boer Prisoner Camp by mule-cart. In 1902 he was following in his father’s footsteps - he is listed as a Labourer when on 10th March 1902{8} he married Sarah Louisa Augustus (28), a widow, also at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Apparently Sarah Louisa was already pregnant because three months later she gave birth to their first child, a boy christened Sydney Lockwood. Four other children followed in the next 14 years, two girls and two more boys.

Other jobs he recalled in a 1973 interview were as a wharf-man for Solomons, and digging holes for the Government of St Helena. At some point he took himself off to South Africa, working as a miner in the Copper Mines of South Africa{9}. He was also for a time the Half Tree Hollowwaterman’ - water was not supplied to individual houses so his job was to ensure the communal tanks were full and any drowned animals were removed{10}.

Everybody on St Helena has a nickname, but there doesn’t seem to be agreements as to what his was, with people variously remembering ‘Mattie Boon’, ‘Mattie Bottom’ and ‘Mattie Bonnie’.

There many stories about him. It’s possible he encouraged these. It is sometimes said he was a whaleman. He does not list this in his interview and we think this might be an assumption based on one of his most popular songs, the ‘Mighty Sperm Whale’. We suspect he got this song from American whaleman he met either on St Helena or in South Africa but was not one of them himself. Or maybe he was. Similarly it is said that he once owned a piece of land in South Africa called Mattie’s Bay, but lost it to a friend in a card game, but a tale of this kind is not uncommon and he might have appropriated it, or it might be true. Much is uncertain about Matty John and that perhaps is part of his appeal.

‘Matties’
‘Matties’

There is even a story that he once owned a piece of land in Friars Valley but lost it in a card game to a Mr Williams (one of the 100 men) - a familiar story for many characters, but the family insist it to be true. The land was known by many names - ‘Mattie’s Bay’ (but it isn’t on the coast) and ‘Mattie’s Plain’ (but it’s in a valley) being the most commonly referenced. While we cannot confirm the accuracy of the story, there is a house well down in Friars Valley - recently built - carrying the name ‘Matties’…

What is certain, however, is that by the 1950s he was retired and entertaining regularly - one eye closed so the smoke from his pipe did not irritate it - at dances, festivals and in particular at the White Horse Bar behind the Bridge Memorial Clock in Jamestown, singing and playing his Melodeon. This is where the 1962 Film team found him in 1961. They recorded seven of his songs and a musical interlude and we reproduce all of them below. His music was featured in the film.

Kingshurst, 1970s

Also at about this time - 1960, aged 84 - he remarried (photo, left). His first wife Sarah Louisa had died in 1949. She is described as rather ‘proper’ - very much Matty’s opposite, but his second wife - Elizabeth Herne - was much more like him. He taught her to play the Melodeon and they performed together for many years and in many venues, collecting payment in bottles of Guinness which he carried home and ‘disposed of’ in the conventional manner.

Home, by the way, was in Half Tree Hollow. You got to HTH from the White Horse in the 1960s by the direct route - climb Jacob’s Ladder and then walk up to his house. He did this regularly into his eighties, probably never once sober - his preferred tipple was brandy & wine. One night while climbing the ladder he fell near the top. Tumbling down to almost certain death he was spared when his braces became entangled in the railings, and unable to right himself he spent the night there until he was spotted next morning by an inmate in the prison at the bottom of the Ladder, out for early exercise. This was not his only misadventure. Interviewed in the late 1990s his son recalled having to retrieve Matty from a prickly pear bush and remove the thousands of tiny spines from his father. Matty, however, was so drunk he was unable to register pain and just laughed at his mishap.

As mentioned above Matty was interviewed for Radio St Helena in December 1973 by Tony Leo. Health failing, he was still bright and cheerful and happy to make music on his Melodeon for the tape. He died soon after on 3rd January 1974 and is buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral Churchyard. His tombstone simply reads Matthew W. JOHN / R.I.P.

He is fondly remembered. It seems the phrase ‘everybody loved him’ is true in this case. Comments we received while researching him include that he and Lizzie were probably the two merriest people I have ever known. Mr John was always singing and playing the accordion, and Mrs John also played the accordion. She was always wearing beautiful makeup and looked very elegant, and Mr John had so many beautiful pipes. The last photo taken of him - at Kingshurst in the early 1970s (right) - shows him as everybody remembers him - laughing at a joke.

Here is some of his repertoire{b} (if you want to understand the words our Speak Saint page may help):

The Mighty Sperm Whale’

Click here to hear this audio file

Click To listen

‘A Bird in the Hand’

Click here to hear this audio file

Click To listen

‘Daisy Daisy’

Click here to hear this audio file

Click To listen

‘Majuba Hill’

Click here to hear this audio file

Click To listen

‘Monte Carlo’

Click here to hear this audio file

Click To listen

‘This Bird Has Flew’

Click here to hear this audio file

Click To listen

‘The Paper Song’

Click here to hear this audio file

Click To listen

Instrumental

Click here to hear this audio file

Click To listen

We offer our thanks to the many people who enthusiastically supplied material from which the above is composed, all keen to ensure that Matty John gains his place in St Helena’s history. He clearly deserves it.

G A D (‘Tony’) Thornton

Some might argue that Tony Thornton would qualify as an important person. While we have sympathy with this view in our opinion his views and proposals were so radical and controversial he qualifies for this page instead.

Tony Thornton
Tony in 2010
Tony & family, 1972
Tony & family, 1972
Willowbank, 1970s {1}
Willowbank, 1970s{1}

Tony Thornton presented in the 70s the most comprehensive and ambitious development plan ever for St Helena. The mainstay of Mr Thornton’s idea was an irrigation canal round the Island on a level 300 meters above sea. The purpose of this canal, which was supposed to be connected with water storage reservoirs, was to collect all precipitation from the higher regions of St Helena for huge irrigation schemes for the development of agriculture, especially the cultivation of grapes for local wine production. Grapes have been commercially grown on the Island for hundreds of years but not any longer. It has been said that we even had a brandy distillery somewhere between Plantation and New Ground. Wine could undoubtedly contribute to the wealth of the Island. A ‘Chateau Hutts Gate’ or a ‘Sandy Bay Sparkling Select’ would go down well on the export market. Mr Thornton spent an endless amount of time on a complete land use plan for the entire Island. The maps were produced in great detail. His concept was that St Helena has enough water to sustain financial prosperity through artificially irrigated agricultural production and that the local labour force was able to construct the canal and the other components without any substantial input from overseas experts and construction companies. Many elements other than the canal were incorporated in the scheme; roads, wharf improvement and even a detailed plan of an airport on Prosperous Bay Plain. The drawing of the airport is still available in the Prince Andrew School Library. Political problems stopped the future development in this direction and Mr Thornton received an Exclusion Order by the Governor of St Helena in 1976 and no further serious ideas in this direction have been aired since.{c}

Tony Thornton arrived on St Helena in 1967 and remained until Governor Thomas Oates made an Exclusion Order against him in September 1975. In that time many would argue that he worked tirelessly to benefit the people of St Helena through improving agriculture, standards of living and life generally. Yet the Government of St Helena seems to have opposed his every move. The Exclusion Order claimed Thornton was a Communist, though there was no real evidence to support this claim{11} (and one could argue that being a Communist was not a crime, even if he were). When he and others took over Solomons the Government of St Helena promptly nationalised it (admittedly with a lot of public support). Whatever else he may have been, Tony Thornton was definitely controversial.

It is known that Tony Thornton, a South African, first came to St Helena as a Tourist in 1967. Realising that the island had great but unexploited economic potential he returned soon after with two off-shore fishing boats (The Brothers and The Jan Snyman) and established the nucleus of a fishing industry at Ruperts.

We hear of him again when in August 1968 he and M J Metelercamp, also a South Africa, trading as the South Atlantic Trading & Investment Company (SATIC), purchased the majority of shares in Solomons, an important part of St Helena’s economy. This caused considerable concern, both amongst the islanders and the Government of St Helena. It could have been fear that a major component of St Helena’s limited Private Sector had fallen into foreign hands. It may have been relevant that both Thornton and Metelercamp were white South Africans, at a time when the Government of South Africa was pursuing a vigorous ‘Apartheid’ policy of suppressing the country’s majority black and mixed-race population (Saints then living in South Africa were classed as ‘Mixed Race’ and hence subjected to discrimination). And yet SATIC/Thornton actually made many improvements through Solomons that benefitted the ordinary people of St Helena. He renovated the Consulate Hotel (then owned by Solomons) making it not just an attractive place to stay but also a popular entertainment venue for Saints including the Ballroom, a vast venue for local events. He created the original ‘Greenlands’, the island’s first supermarket, introduced earth-moving machinery to the island making it much easier to undertake large-scale development projects, introduced artificial insemination for livestock, built the island’s first reservoir and built a swimming pool and park, open to the public, in his home at Willow Bank. One of his more far-sighted proposals was the creation of an irrigation canal around the whole island at 300m above sea level, linked to water storage reservoirs, thus collecting all the rainfall from the higher parts of the island to assist with agriculture{12}. He also proposed re-starting St Helena’s wine industry. He donated some land in Levelwood to the Anglican Church so they could build a church (though at the time of writing they still have not done so).

Despite (or, some would say, because of all of this, people rebelled (were encouraged to rebel?) against his ownership of Solomons. SATIC took control in August 1968 and by October the St Helena General Workers Union was protesting in the streets against Solomons shares being sold to foreigners. A delegation was even sent to London in December to seek Whitehall action against SATIC. The Government of St Helena took action on 8th March 1969, taking forcible ownership of more than half SATIC’s shares with an option to buy the remainder if it decided it was in the ‘interest of the island’ for it to do so. This it did in April 1974, shortly before the Exclusion Order was issued against Thornton.

Labour Party Manifesto, 1975

Defeated economically, Tony Thornton resorted to politics. In 1975 he formed the St Helena Labour Party with a manifesto of reform, aiming to contest the 1975 general election for Legislative Council. The 34-page Manifesto was a classic piece of Thornton-thinking. It outlined the Party’s stance on current government practises and laid out its own plan for the development of the Island for the next five years. The Manifesto was severely critical of government for further engineering the Island in to a culture of aid dependency from the UK and it’s virtual neglect of its 80% pasture landholding for the purposes of agricultural development. It also condemned government’s policy of actively encouraging and sponsoring the depopulation of the Island for work overseas. But the Exclusion Order had removed him from the island before the election took place.

After his departure many of the positive changes he brought about simply collapsed. The orchard and potato farm he had established in Little Broad Bottom became totally derelict. Nobody even maintained the park and pool at Willowbank and it fell into disrepair.

Despite his unceremonious ejection from the island on fabricated charges and the denial of his 1981 appeal against same (rejected on the questionable grounds that it was ‘vexatious, frivolous and an abuse of the process of Law’) - the Exclusion Order was not lifted until December 1998 - he retained a commitment to St Helena, helping in 1999 when a Saint, Danni Clifford, had to be emergency evacuated to South Africa for medical treatment, and writing to HM Government in the UK in April 2000 on behalf of the islanders complaining about the delays in progressing with Air Access. He even requested that, after his death, his ashes should be interred at Rose Cottage, which he bought during his time here and wanted to restore but did not get a chance, a wish that was granted on 8th June 2012.

Tony Thornton is often referred to by his nickname - The Man. He is much better remembered on St Helena than any of the Governors who interfered with his schemes.

Auntie Lou

‘Auntie Lou’
‘Auntie Lou’{d}
With Salvation Army Officer Howard Sercombe {2}
With Salvation Army Officer Howard Sercombe{2}{e}
Birthday Party at Prospect House, c.1980
Birthday Party at Prospect House, c.1980{f}

In 1937 a London woman by the name of Louise Hawker, a lady of social standing and some beauty who had previously been a ballet dancer, decided she had had enough of ‘society’ and set off in a Ford V8 motor caravan, the ‘Suzie Wong’, to explore the world.

Suzie Wong, 1935{d}
Unloading ‘Suzie Wong’
Unloading ‘Suzie Wong’{g}
Col. Gilpin’s house (centre, back)
Col. Gilpin’s house (centre, back){h}

‘Suzie Wong’ was a customised V8 Mercury ‘Woody’ Station-wagon with the roof and wooden coach work and back wheel base widened during her time in India.

After travelling through 60 different countries in 30 continuous years, perhaps inevitably she and ‘Suzie Wong’ ended up onboard the ship to St Helena, arriving here on 27th August 1967. She initially parked ‘Suzie Wong’ alongside an old house belonging to Col. Gilpin, located at the top of Napoleon Street (photo below, left), and later moved to a new location beside The Run in Upper Jamestown. Here she set up home. ‘Auntie Lou’, as she soon came to be known, proceeded to construct a fabulous garden on the pure rock of the hillside, and dressed in a grubby apron decorated with genuine pearls she welcomed all visitors, offering tea and home-made biscuits to all and sundry. A 1977/78 visitor, the descendent of an island family, recalls:

While my parents were busy, my sister (9), brother (12), and I (11) slipped off to go explore Jamestown. It was while walking up the back alleys that we met Auntie Lou. This chance meeting led to our family ‘joining her for tea’ everyday for a week. She left a lasting impression on my young mind.

She also taught French to young children after school at her home, in return for which they watered her rock garden with water collected from the Run. Auntie Lou left her homestead only once a year, when she was invited to Plantation House to celebrate her birthday.

As always with any unusual person on St Helena rumours abounded about her. Some said that the flowers in her garden included some ‘funny weeds{13}’ and as she used to sit in her car in the evenings listening to the radio, for some reason the story spread that she was a Soviet Spy!

Her stories were endless, her charm was electric; an amazing lady who injected her energies into showing her deep and genuine love for nature and mankind. The garden she created surrounding her home, was fantastic!{i}
I use to collect and dig out broken willow pattern plates from the hill at China Lane and Auntie Lou would use them on the pave stone around her garden. I would receive a few sweets in return. Great memories.{j}
She was a very kind lady. I stopped by her home/car and she fixed me a cup of tea then pointed at one of her potted plants and told me this baby was just born today. I then looked closely and saw a tiny stem barely above the dirt. She mentioned she had received a letter from the local government office complaining about a lean to shed built next to her car. She also mentioned about wanting to be buried in her car at sea.{k}

This from the St Helena News Review 24th December 1980:

A very ‘woozy’ Auntie Lou, left hand cut, right hand bruised, head slightly concussed, wishes you all the best for Xmas and 1981. She thought it was an earthquake but it wasn’t. This explains why the gang are verbally coping with the situation.{14}

Her death, on 10th September 1981, was announced in the St Helena News Review on 18th September. The announcement appears below and the errors are outlined beneath:

Auntie Lou
{f}

We regret to record the passing away on Thursday the 10th of September of Mrs Louise Hawker, familiarly known as "Auntie Lou", at the ripe old age of 91.

Born Louise Rosa Veuillmin Higgs in London on the 27th of March 1890, she married Peter Thomas Ryves Hawker on the 17th of October 1914. She and her husband travelled widely until his death in 1935. In 1937, Mrs Hawker resumed her travels in ‘Suzie Wong’, a Ford V8 Station Wagon, and after travelling some twelve times round the world, visiting something like 60 countries, she eventually arrived with Suzie Wong, in St Helena on the 27th of August 1967 and settled down to live in peace and contentment in Upper Jamestown alongside the Run.

Over the years, many, many visitors called to see this remarkable lady who lived in and around her beloved motor home and were captivated by her charm, cheerfulness and fascinating conversation. She was the subject of many articles around the world and was certainly one of the most colourful people ever to live on St Helena. Her final resting place is in St. Paul’s Cathedral Churchyard; she will be well remembered and much missed.

She asked in her will that she be buried at sea in ‘Suzie Wong’, but because of the evident difficulties in complying with this request, her body actually lies in St. Paul’s churchyard. ‘Suzie Wong’ was stored locally for a time but not used and allowed to deteriorate. In c.2001 she was reportedly seen in disrepair rotting with chickens living in her decaying hulk. She was later stripped down for useful parts and dumped. A sad end for a venerable vehicle.

Some Honourable Mentions

Although not really a Character as required for this page, we decided to give the following brief mentions…

Below: Governor Gallwey • Edward Fenton • Canon Walcott

Governor Gallwey

Governor Gallwey

Governor Gallwey gets his honourable mention because he clearly had a sense of humour and did not resist employing it, even in official Government documents. By way of an example, he wrote this in The ‘Blue Book’ for 1906:

There were 118 births during the period under review, of which 37 were illegitimate. Now that the troops have been withdrawn the number of births under the latter category will undoubtedly be less in future.

Incidentally, in 1973 the ‘illegitimate’ births were 51 from a total of 117 (44%), and today many couple no longer bother getting married, so his expectation was at variance with the trend.

Edward Fenton

Edward Fenton gets his honourable mention for sheer ambition.

The year was 1582 and after a growing naval career Edward Fenton was put in charge of an expedition which was to sail round the Cape of Good Hope to the Moluccas and China, his instructions being to obtain any knowledge of the northwest passage that was possible without hindrance to his trade. The expedition sailed in May 1582 and reached Sierra Leone on 10th August.

It soon became evident that Fenton intended to ignore his instructions, if not to abandon the voyage altogether. On 25th September he astonished his colleagues by informing them of his intention of seizing St Helena to possesse the same, and theire to be proclaimed kyng. His plan, apparently was to use the then-uninhabited island as a base to harass Dutch ships heading North, and live off the resulting plunder.

However he clearly changed his mind because he actually set off for Brazil, and although he succeeded in defeating a Spanish fleet at São Vicente he was unable to trade with the Portuguese residents there and gave up and returned to England.

Had he enacted his St Helena plan, and succeeded, maybe our history would have been very, very different…

Jonathan Lambert

Curiously, a remarkably similar story relates to Tristan da Cunha. In this case the would-be King was an American, Jonathan Lambert, and the events occurred in the 19th Century. And Lambert did actually take unopposed possession of the island, putting him ahead of Fenton. At that time American whalers frequented the neighbouring waters and on 27th December 1810 the Boston ship Baltic put Lambert ashore. Lambert declared himself sovereign and sole possessor of the island group grounding my right and claim on the rational and sure ground of absolute occupancy. He declared the main island renamed ‘Island of Refreshment’; Inaccessible Island he renamed ‘Pintard Island’ and Nightingale Island ’Lovel Island’. Five months later he and two companions drowned while fishing, thus ending his occupation. More at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islands_of_Refreshment.

Canon Walcott

Canon Walcott c.1911
Canon Walcott c.1911
Magazine banner

Canon Walcott gets mentioned on our Important People page but we feel some of his editorial contributions to the St Helena Magazine, which he edited from 1921 until shortly before his death in 1951, earn him a place here. Although it was theoretically a church publication, Canon Walcott was not afraid to challenge, and even make fun of the church and its leaders. Herewith some examples:

Read More

Article: A Musical Mission

Published in the St Helena Herald 21st August 2009{16}

Modern Melodion
Modern Melodion

Richard Farmer is a man with a musical mission - to find a squeeze box for a charity show in Jamestown next week.

Richard arrived on St Helena on the last sailing of the RMS St Helena, unaware his musical talents would be needed quite so soon.

He does have a squeezebox of his own, but it will not be arriving at the Island with the rest of his belongings until after next Friday’s performance.

It is hoped that Richard will be able to join a band that has been formed to play for some traditional English Barn Dances at Jamestown Community Centre.

The Dancing will round off a night of music and singing from the Ladies Orchestra and friends, and the Palm Villa Singers. There will also be a performance of Morris Dancing and a Broom Dance.

Richard, who has just begun a three year job on St Helena, has already found a Squeezebox, but it turned out to be a Concertina. Richard is actually looking for a Melodeon.

He said: The Melodeon is similar to a Concertina and an Accordion and that it is a square box with bellows but it works in a different way - each button plays a different note when the bellows are squeezed in and out. It’s the perfect instrument for dancing because the bellows are very rhythmic.

It is known that there have been Melodeons on the Island in the past. Matty John was a favourite musician at the White Horse in times gone by a was recorded playing one in the 1960s by a South African Film Crew.

Ann Sim in Jamestown remembers Matty playing at Rosemary Plain Picnics - but she says the instrument was known to Saints as a ‘Squashbox’.

Laugh at funny Characters of St Helena humour - LOL

Credits:
{a} The cartoon is by Henry Guy Gregson, listed as a Captain of the Royal East Kent Regiment.{b} Copyright © 1962 Film Unit, used with permission{16}.{c} St Helena News, 1st March 2002{16}{d} Lynette Stuart (nee Joshua){e} Elaine D Arms.{f} Howard & Myra Sercombe{g} John Coyle{h} Andrew/Peter Neaum{i} Joanna Crowie on Facebook™, 10th September 2018{16}{j} Sandra Henry on Facebook™, 4th December 2018{16}{k} Richard Surveyor on Facebook™, 4th December 2018{16}

Footnotes:
{1} We do not have identities for the people shown.{2} We understand this photograph shows Howard collecting Auntie Lou to take her to the Birthday Party shown below at Prospect House, c.1980.{3} If we featured all the nutcases currently at large on St Helena this page would never end…{4} In St Helena, The Historic Island, From Its Discovery To The Present Date, by E. L. Jackson, published in 1905.{5} These would, of course, have been Saint women and children. The wives of the colonial administrators did not work and their children received proper schooling.{6} It is thought his father was a Parsee, though how he came to be on St Helena is not known.{7} An institution that remained until it was replaced by the Bank of St Helena in 2004.{8} The wedding certificate gives his age as 24 but actually he would have been 27.{9} He describes the place as Mackie Land. It is not clear where he meant. The name Cancordia is mentioned and there is a Konkola Copper Mines in Zambia. We have also heard the location referred to as the Orange Free State, and this had an area known as Macawvlei, but as far as we can tell, no Copper Mines. Another Matty John mystery!{10} If you go up the main road through Half Tree Hollow you can see a block of taps on the turning by the Community Care Complex (see photo on our Water page). These would have been fed by a tank, which it was Matty’s job to keep clean and filled.{11} It is said the ‘evidence’ was some pamphlets found in his family’s supposedly-private mailbox, actually addressed to his wife.{12} A similar scheme, linking the reservoirs by pipes to allow water transfer in times of shortage, was finally implemented after the drought of 2016.{13} We assume this means Cannabis.{14} No, we have no idea what it means either!{15} If anyone can get us a copy of this remarkable ‘history’ we would, we feel, enjoy reading it.{16} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.

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