blank
 
 

 

Characters of St Helena

Eccentric? Colourful? Mad? Criminal? 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…

This page is in indexes: Island History, Island People, Island Detail

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

Below: Capt. Benjamin BoucherRev. Richard BoysLouden’s BenFather DaineJames Francis HomageeAuntie LouSome Honourable Mentions

How do you qualify to be mentioned on this page?

There are no fixed criteria, but broadly:

  • you have to have done something curious while on St Helena;

  • you have to have died{2}.

(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. An East India Company memo 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.

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 The Governor of St Helena page.

Rev. Richard Boys

Rev. Richard Boys Saint Helena Island Info Characters of St Helena
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 Saint Helena Island Info Characters of St Helena
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 Saint Helena Island Info Characters of St Helena

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{3} 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{3} reports him as owning Friar’s Lodge, and near by Cleughs’ Plain. A stone set in the wall at Friar’s 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 1891 ‘Blue Book’, 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{4}. 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 1891 ‘Blue Book’ 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 converstation with what appears to be Governor Gallwey.

With trap 1904 Saint Helena Island Info Characters of St Helena
With trap, 1904

With Governor Gallwey 1904 Saint Helena Island Info Characters of St Helena
With Governor Gallwey, 1904

Charicature Saint Helena Island Info Characters of St Helena
Charicature{a}

James Francis Homagee

Homagee welcomes the Duke of Connaught 1910 Saint Helena Island Info Characters of St Helena
Homagee welcomes the Duke of Connaught, 1910

James Francis Homagee was born on St Helena in 1846, the eldest child of John Ristaffee Homagee{5} and his wife Jane (neé 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 istead 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{6} at a salary of £36{7} 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{8} 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 prestigeous sporing 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{9} 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{10}. 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.

Homagee’s daughter’s lavish wedding at Oakbank Saint Helena Island Info Characters of St Helena
Homagee’s daughter’s lavish wedding, at Oakbank

Auntie Lou

Auntie Lou Saint Helena Island Info Characters of St Helena
‘Auntie Lou’{b}
With Salvation Army Officer Howard Sercombe Saint Helena Island Info Characters of St Helena
With Salvation Army Officer Howard Sercombe{1}{c}

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 Saint Helena Island Info Characters of St Helena{b}
Unloading ‘Suzie Wong’ Saint Helena Island Info Characters of St Helena
Unloading ‘Suzie Wong’{d}

‘Suzie Wong’ was a customised V8 Mercury ‘Woody’ Stationwagon 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 of August 1967. She parked ‘Suzie Wong’ alongside an old house belonging to Col. Gilpin, beside the Run in Upper Jamestown, and 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 where 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’ 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!

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.{11}

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:

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.

If you know any more about Auntie Lou, please contact us as a researcher wants to write an article about her.

Some Honourable Mentions

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

Below: Governor GallweyEdward FentonCanon Walcott

Governor Gallwey

Governor Gallwey Saint Helena Island Info Characters of St Helena

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{12}.

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 Saint Helena Island Info Characters of St Helena

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 occured in the 19th Century. And Lambert did actually take unopposed posession of the island, putting him ahead of Fenton. At that time American whalers frequented the neighboring 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 Saint Helena Island Info Characters of St Helena
Canon Walcott c.1911
Magazine banner Saint Helena Island Info Characters of St Helena

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:

  • In the February 1940 issue he referred to the coming transfer of the church’s schools to the state as these schools being surrendered, and with them the Church Catechism, much to the annoyance of Bishop Turner who was at the time engaged in delicate negotiations with Governor Pilling over how much influence the church would have over the state schools.

  • In 1937 Walcott published a review of a book called ‘In Mid Atlantic’, written by prominent clergyman Bishop Watts. Walcott pointed out many errors in the book, which stated that St Helena had been discovered in 1501 by John Baptista when blown off course while creeping down the coast of Africa, and named after a British princess. Apparently the Island was given to the British East India Company by King James II, hence Jamestown, where Chapel Street recalls the Portuguese chapel destroyed by Puritan settlers. It seems twice the Dutch captured it, and twice it was retaken, the second time with the help of Creeping Tom. And the book seemingly informs us that in its heyday 14,000 ships anchored in the Bay every year, until Governor Cawdor…{13} Walcott filled much of the Magazine with his criticisms of the book, drawing a response from the author accusing him of a singular lack of humour, to which Walcott responded that he had not realised the book was intended as a joke.

  • He annoyed Bishop Aylen when her reported an incident aboard ship when the Bishop had sneezed his dentures into the Atlantic.

  • He also upset the Governor, describing St Helena’s relationship to the UK as a bureaucracy controlled by a bureaucracy.

Closing Humour Saint Helena Island Info Characters of St Helena

Laugh at funny Characters of St Helena humour LOL Saint Helena Island Info


Credits:

{a} The cartoon is by Henry Guy Gregson, listed as a Captain of the Royal East Kent Regiment.

{b} Lynette Stuart (neé Joshua)

{c} Elaine D Arms.

{d} John Coyle



Footnotes:

{1} We cannot precisely date this photograph but Mr Sercombe was here from 1973-1980.

{2} If we featured all the nutcases currently at large on St Helena this page would never end…

{3} In ‘St Helena, The Historic Island, From Its Discovery To The Present Date’, by E. L. Jackson, published in 1905..

{4} 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.

{5} It is thought his father was a Parsee, though how he came to be on St Helena is not known.

{6} An institution that remained until it was replaced by the Bank of St Helena in 2004.

{7}

{8}

{9}

{10}

{11} No, we have no idea what it means either!

{12} For the record, and proving that even Governors make mistakes, that should have been ‘fewer’.

{13} If anyone can get us a copy of this remarkable ‘history’ we would, we feel, enjoy reading it.



• GOOGLE™ SITE SEARCH:

Take Me Anywhere But Here!

 

Translate this page using Google™ Translate Saint Helena Island Info Characters of St Helena
traducir översätta vertalen übersetzen tradurre