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Dark Tourism

Visiting the darker parts of our history

Some of the most terrible things in the world are done by people who genuinely think they’re doing it for the best - especially when there’s some god involved.{a}

Like everywhere else, our history has its darker parts

Dark Tourism

SEE ALSO: Dark Tourism is not the same as Dark Sky Tourism. For the latter see our page Astronomy. Our pages Ghost Stories of St Helena and Myths Debunked! may also be of interest.

What is ‘Dark Tourism’?

Dark Tourism is defined{b} as an interest in the ‘darker’ aspects of a destination’s history. If you might visit the museum at Aushwitz, or the 9/11 Memorial in New York, or the catacombs of Paris or even the remnants of the Berlin Wall, then you might consider yourself to be a Dark Tourist, at least in part. And you will not be alone; around 5 million people each year visit the 9/11 Memorial…

If any of these things might interest you, then you will find plenty to fascinate you in St Helena, as indicated below.

SEE ALSO: There is an expert report on St Helena as a Dark Tourism destination at www.dark-tourism.com/‌index.php/‌st-helena. See also the Dark Tourism Blog at blog.dark-tourism.com.

There is much of the sinister about the Island - the ruined country houses standing desolate in overgrown valleys and echoing at night with the wailing of the ghosts of beaten and tortured slaves.{c}

The darker aspects of St Helena’s history.

Here are some of the more notable ones:

Below: SlaveryMilitaryLast ExecutionGhosts of events pastBattle SitesChurchyardsShip Disasters…and then there’s Napoleon and the other exilesOn PaperAnd if that isn’t enough…


People for sale…
Enslaved Quarters
Enslaved Quarters

From the first settlement of St Helena in 1659, right up to the abolition of slavery here in 1839, most manual labour on St Helena was performed by the enslaved, in numbers ranging up to 1,500 in 1817 (a little under ¼ of the population). The enlaved were not treated as human beings - an early reference to Donkeys as ‘ass-negroes’ gives a clue to how they were viewed. Minor offences were punished with flogging; having sex with a Planter (i.e. a white person) resulted in castration; and any form of even trivial violence towards a master resulted in cruel execution. The few enslaved revolts were bloodily suppressed. This is all described on our page Slavery on St Helena.

‘The Trees’
‘The Trees’

And what of this can you see today, years later? Well, for a start you can see ‘the trees’ under which auctions of the enslaved took place. They are at the top of Main Street, on the junction with Napoleon Street, and as far as we know the trees growing today are the original trees from so many years before. Today you can sit in the shade of the trees and watch the shoppers…

Then stroll along Main Street and the lower reaches of Napoleon Street and Market Street and note that most properties have basements, well below street level and with small, barred windows. In many of these (then) dark, dank cellars the enslaved were held while waiting to be sold. Finally look down at Jamestown from the top of Ladder Hill Road or Mundens Hill and, at the back of the fine Georgian houses, squashed up against the hillsides, you will see the remains of small buildings, set apart from the main house. These would have been the quarters for the enslaved, and they were evidently very basic structures with no amenities whatsoever.

In the early 19th Century everything changed. The local enslaved were emancipated and from 1840 to the 1860s the Royal Navy used St Helena as a base for intercepting Slavers bound for the Americas, liberating the captives initially to St Helena before transportation back to Africa or to other destinations. This too is described on our page Attacking the Slave Trade. Many died soon after release and are buried in Ruperts; our page The Slave Graves refers. Maybe as many as 1,000 remained and, together with the local formerly-enslaved people, joined the general population of St Helena, contributing to the Saints mixed-race appearance and also to our distinct cuisine.

The Military

The Regiment

Also from the first settlement of St Helena in 1659 the island had to be defended (unsuccessfully, it seems, at one point!) A garrison was present from the early days, remaining right up to 1906 (with temporary re-mobilisations during World War 1 and World War 2.) In the early days military discipline can be most optimistically described as ‘harsh’. A favourite punishment in the early 18th Century was Riding the Wooden Horse - a somewhat scaled-down but still extreme variant of a medieval torture. For example, from the Records:

Mutineers were hanged, initially from a gallows positioned above the town approximately where now is the top of Jacob’s Ladder, so positioned such that the body could clearly be seen from the town, swinging in the wind.

Sadly{1} nothing of this remains, though you could, if the mood takes you, stand at the viewing platform at the top of the Ladder and imagine yourself a sentenced mutineer, about to meet your fate.

The Last Execution


Although executions continued in Britain right up to the 1960s, the last execution on St Helena took place on 2nd February 1905 in the Old Power House, now the Museum of St Helena. Richard and Louis Crowie had been found guilty of the murder of Robert Samuel Gunnell on 2nd November 1904 at the Prosperous Bay Signal Station. The full story is told below. In the Museum of St Helena you can see photographs of the two being led out for execution and the actual nooses used to hang them.

Ghosts of events past

If you are into these, check out our ghost stories page, many of which are based on actual historical events. Camp at the base of Lot and watch for the Ghost of The Runaway Enslaved. Meet the current owner and maybe spend a night watching for the Phantoms of West Lodge. Walk in the early hours outside Pilling School and see if you meet Free Molly, or any of the other Ghosts of Pilling School. Maybe our Governor will allow you to spend a night seeking the Ghosts of Plantation House (few Saints will willingly be there after dark). You will be spoilt for choice!

Battle Sites

Invasion and recapture
Invasion and recapture

Sadly{1} very few battles were ever fought on St Helena. Possibly the most prominent was the one that took place in Blue Hill between the English defenders and the Dutch invaders in 1672 after the latter had landed in Old Woman Valley. But you will have trouble finding the place because it isn’t marked. Tour Guides will point to a hedge-enclosed area of hillside below High Peak as the battle’s site, but the hedge was planted in the 19th Century to enclose a plantation (one of our many failed Industries) so whether or not the battle was actually fought at this spot is unknown. Even The Castle, where the English made their last stand before fleeing to the sea, has been re-built since 1672 and none of the original structure remains.

Nevertheless, you could walk up Lemon Valley, as the Dutch initially tried, and imagine the rocks raining down on you, dislodged with crowbars by the English defenders. Or if you are very determined you could climb up from the sea onto Prosperous Bay Plain, as the re-capturing English did; but bring serious rock-climbing gear - this is not a climb for amateurs!



St. Paul’s Cathedral has an extensive graveyard with many interesting tombstones. The Roman Catholic Cemetery is next door, to the south. Other churches have graveyards, but not St. James’ Church in Jamestown - it and the two other Jamestown cemeteries have been built over and the tombstones relocated. In Jamestown only the Baptist Church has tombstones. There is also the Boer Cemetery and, hopefully soon, there will be an area set aside to memorialise the c.8,000 ‘Liberated Africans’ buried in Ruperts.

You can download a map showing all churches and graveyards{d} (past and present).

In 1952 the Churches lost their monopoly on burials. There is a cemetery created by Governor Joy at The Dungeon which has not been consecrated, into which other faiths and atheists are buried. Note that St Helena does not have a crematorium.

Ship Disasters

Recovered SS Papanui items
Recovered SS Papanui items

These are detailed on our page Lost Ships. Many can be dived and materials salvaged can be seen in the Museum of St Helena.

…and then there’s Napoleon and the other exiles

Longwood House, where Napoleon died will open by arrangement for parties. Was he poisoned by the British or was it really stomach cancer that killed him? What are sometimes described as the world’s first ‘Concentration Camps’ were used to house the Boer PoWs from 1900-1902 but only wooden signs remain the mark the locations. Mundens Fort, home of the Bahraini Prisoners (1957-1961) is however accessible, as are the houses of other exiles, though they are mostly in private hands and can be visited only by special arrangement.

On Paper

You can visit The Archives and access the Records for yourself.

And, of course, a visit to the Museum of St Helena is a must!

And if that isn’t enough…

Some would say that coming here and immersing oneself in the island’s Country Music culture constitutes Dark Tourism…

Tips for Exploring

Dark History Tours

At the end of September 2018 the Tourist Information Office embraced Dark Tourism, advertising in The Sentinel three tours to run in October: A High Knoll Fort tour, a Plantation House tour and a Haunted History Bus Tour. Tours were restricted to people aged 16 and over. In the same newspaper Andrew Turner’s article ‘St Helena’s Hidden Attractions’ contained a long section explaining Dark Tourism and identifying some of St Helena’s Dark Tourism features. The section is reproduced below.

The Tourist Information Office has not repeated the experiment.

Nearly-Dark Tourism

St Helena gets spectacular sunsets

Read More

Below: Entry in The Atlas of Dark DestinationsArticle: St Helena’s Hidden AttractionsArticle: The Prosperous Bay Murder

Entry in The Atlas of Dark Destinations

By Dr. Peter Hohenhaus, published October 2021, used with permission

Book Cover
The sheer volcanic rock face of the island of St Helena
The sheer volcanic rock face of the island of St Helena

St Helena

Categories: Exile, POWs, Slavery, Extreme landscape; Dark Rating: 4

This island of volcanic origin in the middle of the South Atlantic, roughly halfway between southern Africa and Brazil, has had a more significant history than might be expected for a place so remote and isolated. Yet it was that very remoteness and isolation that made it ideal as a place of exile.

Being British-owned, it was a favourite place to where the UK would banish those whom it wanted well out of the way. The most famous of those people was Napoleon Bonaparte, who was brought to the island in 1815 after his defeat at Waterloo. A few years earlier, he had escaped his first exile on the Italian island of Elba, so the British wanted to ensure this wouldn’t be possible again.

Napoleon’s Death Mask
Napoleon’s Death Mask

Napoleon died on St Helena in 1821. The exact circumstances of his death were long a matter of controversy and conspiracy theories, but the official line that the ex-emperor died of stomach cancer is now largely accepted. He was initially buried on St Helena too, but his corpse was exhumed and transferred to Paris in 1840. His empty tomb is still a tourist attraction and pilgrimage site, as is the estate where he lived out his final years, Longwood House, which was sold to France and is still under French management. Visitors can tour the restored building, see Napoleon’s deathbed and death mask, and learn all the minutiae of his association with St Helena.

There were other exiles on this island too, from Zulu warrior chiefs to Boer prisoners of war. The last ones were three rebel leaders from Bahrain who were incarcerated at Munden’s Battery from 1957 to 1961.

St Helena also played a role in the transatlantic slave trade (p244-45), in particular after Britain abolished slavery and the Royal Navy started hunting down other nations’ slave ships. Thus thousands of freed slaves were put ashore on St Helena. Recent archaeological digs have revealed a large burial ground for ex-slaves at Rupert’s Bay.

The museum in St Helena’s small and charming capital, Jamestown, has plenty of information about all that history as well as about general island life then and now. Other than that, places of interest as dark destinations include the Boer POW cemetery and the locations of the camps where they were held; all the Napoleonic sites; and plenty of fortifications from the seventeenth century to the time of World War Two.

Getting to St Helena used to be a time-consuming and rather exclusive affair, namely by Royal Mail ship. But a newly built airport has been in operation since 2017, with weekly flights from South Africa, making this remote spot much more accessible. However, the prices for this, and the relative scarcity of tourism facilities on the island, still make it a niche destination.

While the hopes the islanders had for a tourism boom thanks to the airport proved too high, the upshot is that St Helena retains its unique character - and part of that is a high level of natural friendliness. There is something about remote British Overseas Territories that must foster this, since the same can be encountered on Montserrat (p49) and the Falklands (p66-67).

St Helena, incidentally, is also the administrative centre of an area that includes two more remote British-held islands: Ascension Island to the northwest, which is mainly a military airbase, and volcanic Tristan da Cunha to the south. The latter is home to the most isolated small community of people, and visits, although possible in theory, are very difficult to arrange.

The book is available direct from the publishers at (UK) www.laurenceking.com/‌product/‌atlas-of-dark-destinations, US www.laurenceking.com/‌us/‌product/‌atlas-of-dark-destinations and also on other online booksellers.

Article: St Helena’s Hidden Attractions

By Andrew Turner, SAMS, published in The Sentinel, 27th September 2018{2} (extract - full article on our page Island Activities.)

Dark Tourism (a.k.a. ‘grief tourism’ or ‘black tourism’) began as a trend in the late 90s and involves people travelling to a destination to study the darker side of its history.

St Helena is just entering the early days of Dark Tourism tours. A pilot scheme for tours is taking place in early October and St Helena Tourism hopes islanders will help develop dark tourism from there.

But through looking at www. sainthelenaisland.info and within the Museum of St Helena, it’s clear St Helena houses a wealth of Dark Tourism potential.

Most notable is the island’s historic involvement in the slave trade and its eventual abolition. From the fist settlement of the island (1695) until 1834 St Helena made heavy use of slave labour and just as elsewhere in the world, slaves were frequently treated as less than human.

Historical records show that slaves who committed minor offences were punished with flogging, castration and cruel execution. The few slave revolts were brutally suppressed.

Today, people can still sit beneath the same trees under which slave auctions once took place outside the Canister, Jamestown. Until the BFI is complete in Ruperts, however, it seems any further Dark Tourism efforts in this regard won’t be able to progress.

The island also has many traditional Ghost Stories of St Helena to fascinate the world’s tourists, Free Molly being one example. The story goes that Molly was a young woman imprisoned by her father, who would not allow her human contact apart from with her immediate family and would not allow her out of the house. Molly was often seen looking out of her window at the children playing, wishing that she could be free like them. She died young, in her early twenties, some say from suicide. Now, it is said, her ghost walks at night near Pilling School, enjoying the freedom she was never permitted in life.

The island was also home to the Boer and Zulu prisoners (the sites of their camps are marked), political prisoners from Bahrain (whose cliff-top house is also accessible) and of course the site where Napoleon died.

For those interested in a history of crime, St Helena’s last execution is also well-documented. This was the murder of Robert Gunnell and the subsequent execution of the two perpetrators, Louis and Richard Crowie: The site of the murder itself is visible from the plane as you come into land; and the site of the execution is now the Museum of St Helena, where people can see pictures of the two on their way to the noose and the actual rope used to hang them.

Article: The Prosperous Bay Murder

By Shelley Magellan, published in the St Helena Herald 1st-22nd November 2002{2}

It has been suggested on Social Media that Richard & Louis Crowie were wrongly convicted. For the record, Saint Helena Island Info merely reports what happened - it does not take a position on whether the Crowie boys were or were not guilty of the crime. See our Content Policies.

Prosperous Bay Signal Station
Prosperous Bay Signal Station
{Prosperous Bay Signal Station}Station as a house, 1900s
{Prosperous Bay Signal Station}Station as a house, 1900s
Family with Robert (right)
Family with Robert (right)
Richard & Lewis going for execution
Richard & Lewis going for execution
Actual nooses, in the Museum of St Helena
Actual nooses, in the Museum of St Helena
{Prosperous Bay Signal Station}Station from the Airport
{Prosperous Bay Signal Station}Station from the Airport
Close-up, 2010
Close-up, 2010
Robert Gunnell’s grave, St. Matthew’s churchyard
Robert Gunnell’s grave, St. Matthew’s churchyard

Over the years the infamous story of Richard and Louis (the Prosperous Bay murderers) has always intrigued readers. On 1st November 1904 () the murder of Robert Gunnell was committed at Prosperous Bay Signal Station. The following is a fictional, but historically-founded account, based on extracts from the St Helena Guardian and the original trial manuscript of the murder case.

It was a dull Wednesday morning, the date, 2nd November 1904, and the time 11:20am. Police Inspector John Skirving and Police Constable Nevill Constantine rode swiftly towards Prosperous Bay Signal Station. Just after 10am, Inspector Skirving received a report from the Signalman at Ladder Hill Fort that Robert Gunnell (the Signalman at Prosperous Bay) had been found dead. Neither of the men knew what to expect, or what dreadful sight their eyes would eventually fall upon, but they rode on undeterred.

Upon arrival Inspector Skirving saw the body lying outside the station covered with a blanket, although not yet visible to him, an unpleasant image of 21 year old Robert Gunnell flashed through his mind. He motioned to PC Constantine to remove the blanket, which he did slowly. The ghastly sight of a large gaping wound in the back of the deceased’s head made both men turn their heads away in revulsion, the body was lying on its left side with the telescope, which was used to keep watch positioned between his legs. Sitting on the steps next to the body was a grief stricken gentlemen with his face buried deep in his hands. It was Edward Gunnell, Robert’s older brother.

Edward recounted his movements to the Police. That morning at 8:40am Mr Deason sent Edward to check on his brother, because he was not answering his telephone. Edward arrived at Prosperous Bay Station at 10am. He recalled, that as he approached the house he could see a strange figure outside the doorway, Edward soon realised that it was a person lying on the ground, it was Robert. Edward jumped off his horse and ran to his brother’s side, like the Police he too could not miss the horrific wound in the back of Robert’s head. He placed his hand on his brother’s arm, it was cold and stiff, rigor mortis had already taken its hold. Edward hastily ran to the telephone and called Mr Ward, the Signalman at Ladder Hill Fort and told him what he had found, Mr Ward immediately alerted the Police. Edward went on to tell the two officers: From there I went into the bedroom, I took a blanket and proceeded to cover over poor Robert’s body. He then took a look around the area, roughly 100 yards from the body Edward found a cartridge case, this convinced him that the ghastly wound in his brother’s head was in deed caused by a bullet of some type. He left the casing where he found it and began to walk around the back of the house where he found something that later became very crucial evidence, he found one set of boot prints and one set of barefoot prints. Also lying against the wall was a fishing rod, Edward thought this strange because as long as he’d known his brother Robert had never fished. He made his way back to the front of the building where he waited for the police.

After hearing Edward’s story, Inspector Skirving began his own examination of the crime scene. On the veranda, exactly in the place it would have fallen was a felt slouch hat he picked it up and found a large shot hole through the centre of it, after looking it over he returned it to its original place. From there Inspector Skirving went to inspect the rear of the house, and there two feet between the wall and the cliff he found the foot and boot prints that Edward had described. Skirving believed that they were the prints of the intruder or intruders because Robert Gunnell had always worn boots. Both sets of marks were fairly fresh and the directions of the footmarks were very distinct. The prints were then measured by PC Constantine with the use of a stick, and were later verified with a tape measure. Both men then moved into the house, the first room they entered was the kitchen; the room was very untidy, showing obvious signs of a thorough search, there were a large number of cigarette ends on the floor. They continued they’re examination by moving into the bedroom, the bed was tidy and not slept in, however the remainder of the room was in a terrible state. The box in which Robert had kept his clothing had been rummaged through and the contents strewn about. Inspector Skirving had been at the Signal Station prior to the day and had seen and known Robert Gunnell to have been a man of methodical habits and neatness, he would never have left his bedroom in such a condition. On examining the room more closely, the Inspector found Robert’s bankbook, a few letters to his mother dated 29th October, and a clay pipe, which confused both himself and Edward because both of them knew that Robert only smoked cigarettes. Inspector Skirving then examined the Lookout Room, which was several steps higher than the kitchen. This room was also in a disorderly state, with furniture scattered about. The only room, which appeared to have been undisturbed, was the living room. It was blatant that some items had been stolen, but of what nature, could not be identified at that time.

Being finished with the house, the officers returned to the front of the house, where at some distance they also found a 12 bore cartridge with the case marked B in red ink. Once again they replaced the cartridge where they had initially found it. The time was now 3 o’clock, Doctor Wilberforce Arnold the Colonial Surgeon had just arrived. He briefly examined the body, and asked for it to be moved inside, in order to perform the post mortem. Shortly after the Doctor’s arrival, the Coroner and the jury came to the scene.

With the help of the jury, Robert’s body was placed on two tables, which were set up in the bedroom. The post mortem then commenced. Doctor Arnold was able to establish that the wound to the back of the head was 5 inches long and 3 inches wide, therefore determining that the gun was fired at close range - not more than a yard, this was sufficient to cause death instantaneously.

Beyond the head no other marks of violence appeared on the body

Doctor Arnold stood up straight and stretched his back, he looked at his watch and decided to stop; he excused himself from the room, but not before explaining that he would complete the examination in the morning. Everyone present agreed, for it was getting late and the ride back to Longwood was not an easy one. Robert Gunnell’s body was secured to a travois and taken under escort to Longwood.

News of the tragedy spread rapidly throughout the Island, the St Helena Guardian, the Newspaper of the time, referred to the news as an Atrocious murder and A cold blooded tragedy. St Helena went into mourning for the family of Robert Gunnell and the question on everyone’s lips was Who could have committed such a crime? The following day, Doctor Arnold continued the post mortem, by removing the stomach and, taking into account the course of rigor mortis, determined that Robert had been dead for 20 to 24 hours and that death had occurred at least 5 hours after eating.

Once the post mortem was completed, Doctor Arnold readied himself for the Inquest, which was to be held the same day at Longwood Gate. Meanwhile, Inspector Skirving was also up at the crack of dawn, indeed he had a murder case to solve. The time was 6am and the Inspector sent for two officers, Police Corporal (??) Shoesmith and PC Fagan, who were to carry out an inventory of all the items in the house, they were provided with the key to Prosperous Bay Station and written instructions on how to proceed when they arrived there.

At Longwood Gate, preparations were being made for the Coroner’s Inquest; witnesses were beginning to arrive and a large crowd had formed. It was now 8am, Inspector Skirving went over his testimonial notes before departing Jamestown for Longwood, where he was to give evidence at the Inquest. Once arriving at Longwood, the Inspector received a most valuable piece of information. A witness had informed Police that two men by the names of Richard and Louis Crowie had been seen on Tuesday afternoon, 1st November, going in the direction of Prosperous Bay Signal Station. Inspector Skirving at once informed the Coroner of this information and applied for a summons so that the two men could be called to attend the Inquest. Inspector Skirving, Mr Drury JP and PC Constantine, set off in order to find Richard and Louis.

Richard and Louis were cheerfully taking part in a game of cricket, until Louis the younger and smaller of the two, spotted the Police coming across the field, he quickly ran to alert his older cousin. Richard the more composed of the two tried to calm the frantic Louis, warning him not to create a scene. Inspector Skirving approached the two men, immediately he noticed that only one man was wearing shoes and the other was bare footed.

Richard and Louis Crowie? asked the Inspector

What’s all the fuss about? replied Richard

The inspector explained the situation to the men, and read the summons requesting their presence at Longwood Gate for the Coroner’s Inquest. Richard and Louis complied with the summons and accompanied the Police to Longwood Gate.

Throughout the day Inspector Skirving kept a close watch on what he considered prime suspects, even though Richard and Louis were not under arrest, the Inspectors suspicions of the two men deepened when hearing the replies to the Coroner’s questions at the inquest. Suspecting Richard and Louis knew more than they were admitting, Inspector Skirving applied to the Coroner for a search warrant in order to search their homes. Accompanied by Mr Edward Drury and PC Constantine, Inspector Skirving set off for Louis Crowie’s house first.

PC Constantine was positioned out side the door with the two men and Inspector Skirving read the search warrant to them and Mr Crowie snr who was in the house at the time. Skirving and Drury went into the house. They began their search; in the first room they entered they found nothing suspicious so they continued into the second room. Mr Drury noticed a locked box tucked away, he enquired of Louis’ father as to whose box it was, Mr Crowie replied that it belonged to his son. Mr Drury went outside to Louis and asked for the key, Louis handed the key over to Mr Drury whilst trying his best not to reveal his discomfort. He returned with the key and unlocked the box in the presence of Inspector Skirving and Louis’ father. Mr Drury slowly opened the box, both men wondered what they would discover, why was the box locked in the first place? Once opened, the contents of the box answered their question immediately. Mr Drury carefully removed each item from the box; there were new handkerchiefs, a gold fob watch engraved with the initials R.S.G, half of a shaving brush, Kropp razor, large studs and cufflinks. A fishing bag also caught Mr Drury’s eye, once again he asked Mr Crowie To whom does this bag belong? Mr Crowie said it belonged to his son, Louis. In the fishing bag Mr Drury found nine cartridges. Inspector Skirving confiscated all the items as evidence.

The Initials R.S.G on the watch concerned Mr Drury; he approached PC Constantine and asked him What was the deceased mans full name? To this the officer replied Robert Samuel Gunnell

Mr Drury informed Inspector Skirving of his finding and both men went to question Louis about the fob watch. When asked Where did you get this fob watch? Louis calmly replied I found it near Alarm House about four months ago. Louis’ mother made a similar statement to her son’s.

The officers decided to move on to Richard Crowie’s house at Tobacco Plain. Upon arrival they again read the search warrant and proceeded to search the house. PC Constantine resumed his post at the front of the dwelling.

At the end of the search, Richard’s home had also produced several incriminating items. Furthermore, in a fishing bag Mr Drury found 12 loaded 12-bore cartridges and an unopened packet of 18 candles. When asked about the cartridges, Richard could not explain their presence.

Once both searches were completed, PC Constantine beckoned Mr Drury and Inspector Skirving. He told them that whilst holding his post out side the house, he had overheard Richard say to Louis, They were lucky to find those things, but they’ll never find the gun

All five men made their way back to Longwood Gate. Mr Drury and Inspector Skirving were certain that Richard and Louis Crowie were the culprits, a Warrant of Arrest was written out and Richard and Louis were read their rights and arrested. Richard stood calmly as they were being cautioned, whereas a look of fear was fixated upon Louis’ face. Inspector Skirving escorted the prisoners on the long ride back to the Gaol in Jamestown.

When they eventually arrived a crowd of people had already gathered to have a look at the prisoners. Richard and Louis were taken into the Gaol, and thoroughly searched in accordance with the regulations. After being searched and much to Louis’ discontent, they were placed in separate cells… Richard and Louis were led through the Gaol to their cells. Richard, composed throughout the entire procedure, stood still as the officer released the iron cuffs from his ankles and wrists then closed the heavy iron door with a clang that resounded through the building leaving Richard in his gloomy cell to whatever thoughts were passing through his mind. Louis, although still a bit agitated had now calmed down considerably as he sat on his iron bunk and dismally considered his prospects.

At the front desk, Inspector Skirving and an officer took examined and took note of the items that were found on the prisoners after searching them. The following articles were found in Louis possession: 1 metal cigarette case containing 9 Pirate cigarettes, 1 clay pipe and 1s 4½d in cash. From Richard they had taken, a new handkerchief, which the Inspector noticed was identical to those found in Louis’ box, I clay pipe, 1 loaded 12 bore cartridge marked Kinnock, 1s 10½d in cash and a small key.

Inspector Skirving was more than convinced that he had the culprits behind bars, but now he had to prove it. His first job was to prove that Richard and Louis were at the scene of the crime.

On Saturday morning, Inspector Skirving rose early while the rest of Jamestown slept, the Inspector along with PC Constantine and Mr Smith travelled to Prosperous Bay Station. Once at the station the aim of the day was to make accurate sketches of the boot marks and footprints. Inspector Skirving began with the foot impressions, after drawing and measuring each impression he confirmed the sketch with PC Constantine and Mr Smith. Back at the Gaol the isolation of the cell and the separation from his cousin had disturbed Louis, he paced up and down fretfully and frequently shouted for Richard.

It was early afternoon when Inspector Skirving and his colleagues returned to Jamestown, Inspector Skirving had had delivered to the prison a mixture of sand and earth and placed in Louis’ cell. Inspector Skirving approached the bewildered Louis and calmly asked him to stand in the sand; the he then bent down and measured the resulting imprint. Feeling content with the accuracy of the measurement, Inspector Skirving returned to his office to compare Louis’ prints to the drawing made at the crime scene - they matched! As for Richard’s boots Inspector Skirving obtained them from the evidence room, according to Richard on the day of the murder, he and Louis were fishing in the area, which explained why he was wearing his fishing boots. Inspector Skirving placed the boots on the ground and pressed down on them in order to take impressions, he then compared the two prints to the drawings made earlier. Although both prints were exact in size, the impressions that he had just taken from Richard’s boots showed no hob nail marks unlike those that were taken at the Signal Station. However, Inspector Skirving took note of the different earth textures, he noticed that the earth at Prosperous Bay was light unlike that of Jamestown’s which was much firmer, he concluded therefore that the earth was too hard for the nail marks to show. After the examination he recorded his findings and prepared to go over the deceased’s clothing.

Meanwhile at the Gaol Richard was now the one pacing his cell, Louis had been quiet for quite a while now, almost too quiet.

I thought you had more sense than to leave the things in the house, I advised you Louis to put all three things together, brush, cigarette case and sixpence and to say a Boer gave it to you

Yes Louis replied dolefully

As long as you find an answer for everything they find against you, you’ll be alright, and about that cartridge Lou, say I picked it up on the 19th October

Yes Richard

It looked so damned fishy though, as it was found in my pocket. If we can get clear of the gun they won’t think we did the deed.

But they might find them things yet responded Louis worriedly

No! Richard snapped back emphatically, They can’t!

Unknown to the prisoners their entire conversation was overheard and being noted by the officer on guard - these notes were later used as evidence against them in court.

Back at the office Inspector Skirving began examining the clothing that Robert Gunnell was wearing when he was killed. In his possession was a coat, vest, shirt, a pair of trousers, pair of boots, pair of socks, a hat with a shot hole through the crown, a pair of braces and a handkerchief which was found in the coat pocket. Inspector Skirving noticed the similarity between the handkerchief from Robert’s coat pocket to the one that was found in Louis’ box and the one found on Richard after being searched. After a more comprehensive examination, his findings were conclusive, the handkerchiefs matched perfectly. Whilst going through another evidence box, the gold fob watch that was found in Louis’ box caught the Inspectors eye; he held the cold piece of metal in his hand and ran his finger over the initials, R.S.G. he suddenly found himself overwhelmed with the emotion; he gripped the watch tightly in his palm and closed his eyes as if in prayer.

Just then there was a knock on the door, two Constables appeared,

You sent for us sir? they asked

Inspector Skirving stood up from his chair, and placed his hat on his head

Yes, Constables, I’d like you to accompany me on a few interviews.

The Inspector gathered the items he would need to help him in the interviews and all three men left the office and headed towards Thorpes upper Store.

Inspector Skirving knew that this particular shop sold handkerchiefs, he also knew that Robert Gunnell was last in Jamestown on Saturday 29th October, the Inspector intended to prove that the handkerchiefs found on Richard and in Louis’ box belonged to Robert Gunnell. Inspector Skirving entered the store; inside stood the supervisor Caroline Jameson, a petite middle-aged woman. Inspector Skirving moved towards the counter, he took off his hat and greeted the lady,

Good morning Miss

Good day to you Inspector she replied

As you are probably aware he said, I am investigating the murder of Mr Robert Gunnell and I would like to ask you a few questions.

Although a little intimidated, Caroline felt obliged to help if she could.

Go ahead Inspector she answered.

Inspector Skirving placed the handkerchiefs on the counter,

Have you sold any handkerchiefs such as these recently?

Caroline the handkerchiefs intently, Inspector Skirving watched as her eyes slowly widened as if she suddenly remembered something, then she spoke,

Robert Gunnell last came into my shop on Saturday he bought some handkerchiefs, and I am certain these are the same ones.

What makes you so certain? the Inspector asked curiously

She held out the handkerchief in her hand and showed the Inspector a label

Well, this kind of handkerchief is called a ‘Cambrio’ she explained and I distinctly remember, because I haven’t sold any more of it’s kind since Mr Gunnell came into the shop.

Caroline appeared very confident in her answer and Inspector Skirving was delighted with what he had just heard, he asked Caroline one more very important question.

Do you know the men we have in custody, Richard and Louis Crowie?

Yes she answered quietly

Have you ever sold handkerchiefs such as these to either of these two men?

Caroline looked Inspector Skirving straight in his hazel brown eyes, and coldly and emphatically answered

No I haven’t

Inspector Skirving thanked her for all her help and left.

The three officers made their way back to the station, where they collected their horses; the next person on the Inspector’s list was Mrs Gunnell, Robert’s mother. Mrs Gunnell lived at Hutts Gate, with what remained of her family. The ride to Hutts Gate was a windy and wet one that was so typical of St Helena’s unpredictable weather, Upon arrival the Officers were met by Edward Gunnell, who attended to the horses while Inspector Skirving made his way into the house. The Inspector found Mrs Gunnell in a distraught condition, rocking back and forth in a wooden rocking chair that was placed by to a window. The old woman just stared vacantly into the rain, which was running like tears down the windowpane that separated her from the bleak world outside; she didn’t even hear the officers enter the room. Inspector Skirving slowly walked over her, and gently placed his hand on her shoulder

Mrs Gunnell he said softly Mrs Gunnell I’m Inspector Skirving from the Police Station, I’d like to ask you a few questions about your son, Robert

Mrs Gunnell’s eyes suddenly moved from the window to Skirving’s face, it was as if the name Robert had instantly awakened her subconscious from a deep trance.

Inspector Skirving knelt down beside the old lady and held out in front of her the fob watch

Mrs Gunnell, do you recognise this watch, have you ever seen one like this before?

Mrs Gunnell reached for the watch and took it in her shaking hands, she turned it over as if she knew what she was looking for, she lightly ran her fingers across the engraved initials, R.S.G

Robert Samuel Gunnell she whispered

What was that? asked the Inspector

Robert Samuel Gunnell she repeated These were my boy’s initials.

Are you saying that this is your son’s watch?

Yes, Inspector, this watch belonged to Robert

How can you be so certain? he asked

The watch is a family heirloom Inspector, it belonged to my father, there is no way I could not recognise it or mistake it for another

Inspector Skirving smiled sympathetically at the old woman

I believe you Mrs Gunnell, but I have one more question I would like to ask

Mrs Gunnell agreed to answer if she could

When last did you see your son in possession of this watch?

Mrs Gunnell, held the watch close to her chest and closed her eyes as she remembered

It was Saturday, the 29th October before he went on his way into town, I recall it so well. Robert was kept fidgeting with the watch, and I warned told him be careful with it because it was precious.

Mrs Gunnell suddenly went quiet again and her eyes returned to the window, her exit from the real world.

Inspector Skirving took the watch gently from her hands and returned it to the evidence bag.

Inspector Skirving had just been given the break that he so desperately needed; Mrs Gunnell had just proven Louis Crowie to be a liar. Inspector Skirving distinctly remembered when Mr Drury asked Louis Crowie about the fob watch, Louis claimed he found it near Alarm House four months before, that would have been sometime in August, however Robert’s mother had just confirmed that she saw her son with it on the 29th October, three days before he was murdered at the Signal Station. As Inspector Skirving walked towards his horse, he felt a sense satisfaction and confidence

I’m getting closer boys he said to his Constables, I’ll get them yet.

Inspector Skirving and his two officers swiftly made their way back to town, it was nearing 4pm and the Inspector wanted to make one more stop before he called it a day. According to Robert Gunnell’s mother, Robert was last seen wearing his fob watch on Saturday 29th October, three days before he was murdered. Inspector Skirving knew that the testimony of an emotionally distressed woman might not hold up in court, therefore he needed to find someone else who could confirm her story. Charles Jameson was heading in the direction of the seafront for an afternoon stroll when the Inspector spotted him. Inspector Skirving knew that Robert Gunnell and Charles Jameson were very close, best friends in fact, and as seldom as Robert came into town, surely when he did he would make time to visit his best friend. Charles could hear the sound of horse hooves tapping the ground and coming in his direction, he steadily turned towards Inspector Skirving as he and his officers were nearing him.

Mr Jameson? inquired the inspector

Good evening to you sir replied Charles

I know its late Mr Jameson, but I was hoping you would pop into the station just for a moment to answer a few questions I have concerning the late Robert Gunnell.

Charles glanced away from the Inspector and towards the Police Station

Very well Inspector he responded

Once inside the Station, Inspector Skirving, accompanied by Charles and only now one officer made their way into his office. As soon as everyone was seated and was as comfortable as possible the Inspector began to conduct the interview.

I’m going to get straight to the point Mr Jameson…

Charles, please call me Charles, insisted Mr Jameson

Very well Charles, Robert Gunnell was last seen in Jamestown on Saturday 29th October, did you see him?

I most certainly did, Robert came to visit me at my home answered Charles

Inspector Skirving placed the fob watch on the table in front of Charles and asked

Do you recognise this watch?

Charles picked up the watch and inspected it closely

Yes, it looks identical to the one that was owned by Robert

Just like Mrs Gunnell, Charles turned the watch over and saw Roberts initials engraved in the back,

Yes definitely Inspector, this watch belonged to Robert

Are you positive?

Absolutely, I have had dealings with this watch in the past, I cannot mistake it for another asserted Charles.

Inspector now had one more witness that confirmed that the fob watch belonged to Robert Gunnell, now he needed to verify Mrs Gunnell’s story that Robert was wearing it on Saturday.

Tell me Mr Jameson, I mean Charles, when you saw Robert on that Saturday was he wearing this watch?

Without hesitation Charles assertively answered

Yes he was

Are you certain about that? ask Inspector Skirving

Completely he replied

Very well, but I have one more item to show you

Inspector Skirving motioned to the officer in the corner of the room who was busy taking notes of the interview; the officer placed his notebook in the chair and walked over to the desk,

Constable, can you please fetch item number 25 from the evidence room

Yes sir he answered and left.

When the Constable returned in his possession was a brown paper bag in which he gave to the Inspector who in turn placed it on the table.

The PC resumed his seat in the corner and waited for Inspector Skirving to begin again.

Tell me Charles, was Robert Gunnell a smoker?

Yes he was sir

What did he smoke?

Cigarettes, ‘Pirate’ cigarettes

Did he ever smoke a pipe?

Not to my knowing sir, Robert was strictly a cigarette smoker

I see nodded the Inspector and did Robert keep his cigarettes in the box or did he keep them in a cigarette case?

He had a cigarette case made of nickel, he usually kept his cigarettes in there

Inspector Skirving picked up the brown paper bag and reached inside, he placed a neatly made cigarette case, which was found in Louis Crowie’s box in front of Charles.

Do you recognise this case Charles? asked the Inspector

Charles felt his heart drop, of course he recognised the cigarette case it was Robert’s. As he held the cold case in his warm hands he told the Inspector that the case belonged to Robert, he recollected the many times that Robert had offered him cigarettes from the case and that he last time he did so was on the Saturday when he visited at his home. Inspector Skirving could see the hurt in the young man’s eyes; it was obvious he still mourned the lost of his dear friend. The Inspector stood up from his desk and made his way to the opposite side of the table to where Charles was sitting, the placed his hand on the young man’s shoulder and tenderly spoke,

Thank you for all your help son, you’ve done a great job, you’re free to leave as you like

With his eyes still focused on the cigarette case, Charles told the Inspector he was glad he could help and then left.

The sun had disappeared beyond the horizon and Jamestown was once again under the blanket of night, the few street lamps that lined Main Street burned weakly in the distance, Inspector Skirving had dismissed the Police Constable for the evening and went outside the Station to grasp some evening air. Inspector Skirving looked around the town, but eventually focused his eyes on the Gaol house. He nodded his head in approval and self-assuredly thought to himself that the case was certainly coming together, moreover he had not one doubt in his mind that Richard and Louis Crowie were the guilty party. He began to go over the amounting evidence against the prisoners in the depths of his mind. From attestation given from both Mrs Gunnell, members of her family and Charles Jameson, the Inspector could now prove that the fob watch found in Louis Crowie’s possession belonged to Robert Gunnell.

Caroline Jameson had witnessed that the handkerchiefs found in Louis’ box and on Richard matched the ones that Robert Gunnell had bought from her store on the Saturday he was in Jamestown. Also the two Police Constables who did an inventory of Prosperous Bay Station found and confiscated a toilet case that was complete with the exception of a razor and brush and the razor and brush that was found in Louis’ box fitted the spaces in the case. Consequently when questioned about the razors, Louis claimed he bought them in town, however, for one Louis would have never been able to afford them, two, ‘Kropp’ razors are only sold by three dealers in town and according to all three in earlier interviews none of them had ever sold any to the prisoners, and lastly it had been noticed by many officers including the Inspector himself that Louis was only a boy of 20 years and very rarely needed to shave, he had been in Gaol for over a week now and there was no sign of him needing to shave. But of all the evidence found against Richard and Louis, Inspector Skirving had one more item to find - the murder weapon.

Inspector Skirving leisurely made his way back into the Station, he decided it was time for home, he gathered his belongings and headed for home, he would see the Station again soon enough.

At the Gaol Richard was constantly reassuring Louis and himself that they were going to be cleared of the charges.

Whoever defends us will try to clear us assured Richard

They won’t clear us, answered a discouraged Louis

Annoyed with Louis’ negative remarks Richard began punching the wall of his cell imagining it being Louis face,

Listen to me Louis fumed Richard they can’t hang us, like I said earlier, as long as we find an answer for everything they find against us we’ll be alright

Okay Richard Louis quietly answered okay

But little did they know, the hangman’s noose was already around their necks.

It was 6:30am when Inspector Skirving arrived at the station for work. The sun was slowly creeping higher in the sky gradually awakening the world below it. Inspector Skirving stood on the station steps and watched the faithful old lamp lighter extinguish the lamps in Main Street, you could bet your last penny he’s be there 6pm on the dot to relight them again. The Inspector took a deep breathe of the cool morning air and made his way to his office. As he took a seat, Inspector Skirving knew what his chief aim for the day was to be. Of all the evidence that he had accumulated against Richard and Louis he still had to find the murder weapon. For the moment the phantom weapon was no where to be found, the Inspector had half the Police Force searching for it, but so far nothing had turned up. As the inspector went through the paper work on the gun he came across a statement of burglary given by Mr Razett Legg, who was the Keeper of The Tomb. Inspector Skirving began reading the statement and to his surprise one of the items that was stolen from Mr Legg was a gun, but what did caught the Inspector’s eye was the fact that at a later date Mr Legg suspected the prisoners, Richard and Louis of being the culprits. Inspector Skirving slowly rose from his chair, his eyes sill fixed on the piece of white paper. He walked over to his open office door and called for PC Constantine, who according to the statement had carried out the procedure. PC Constantine appeared from behind his desk and punctually walked towards the Inspector.

You called sir, asked the PC

Yes I did Constable, replied Inspector Skirving as he passed the statement to PC Constantine. When was this burglary reported?

PC Constantine scanned the text and pointed to the date on the sheet which the Inspector had missed,

It’s right here sir, the 9th September

A little foolish, the Inspector tensely answered right, thank you Constable

Will that be all sir? enquired PC Constantine

Inspector Skirving walked to the window and glanced at the goal house

What if? he softly spoke,

Excuse me sir? asked PC Constantine

Never mind Constable, I would like for you to accompany me to Napoleon’s Tomb, I would very much like to speak to Mr Legg myself

Yes sir answered PC Constantine I’ll go and prepare the horses

Very well answered Inspector Skirving.

At the Gaol both Louis and Richard were becoming restless, Louis felt emotionally suffocated by what he saw as un-genuine reassurances by Richard and Richard was tired of being the back bone for the both of them, deep down both men knew that they were as good as hanged, however they couldn’t give up hope altogether, others in their situation had gotten of scot-free.

Parson asked me if I think they’ll find the gun, said Louis, sitting on the floor in the corner of the cell.

Louis, my boy, you can’t put your trust in no one snapped Richard

If one of us get clear then we both must replied Louis but if one of us gets fastened up, then we both will

Realising the truth of Louis’ words, a vulnerable Richard became overwhelmed with guilt and began to sob,

If we don’t get clear, I’m going to say…

No interrupted Louis, disallowing Richard to finish, you’ll only make it worse for yourself

Richard tried to regain his senses and began to assure himself, I don’t think they’ll find the gun

Louis, afraid for his cousin’s and his own well-being tightly griped hold of his head and retorted

Don’t you plead guilty to nothing, do you hear me Richard?

I hear you Lou, answered Richard

Louis could hear it in Richard’s voice that he was slowly deteriorating, Louis felt lost, what was he going to do? Richard had always been the one to look out for the both of him, this wasn’t his job, but either way it was a job and now it was his turn.

Upon arrival at the tomb Mr Legg was busy attending to a patch of Arum Lilies, as Inspector Skirving and PC Constantine walked towards Mr Legg, they couldn’t help but notice the well kept beautiful surroundings of the tomb, colourful flowers were blooming everywhere and the sound of birds in the trees above certainly regarded Napoleon’s Tomb as one of the most peaceful and magnificent places on the Island. Mr Legg stood upright from his crouching position and walked to meet the officers.

Good morning Mr Legg greeted Inspector Skirving

Good morning Inspector, and Constable replied Mr Legg

I must say Mr Legg your doing a splendid job with the garden

Well thank you kindly sir, I try to do my best

Mr Legg is their somewhere we could sit and talk, I’d like to ask you a few questions concerning a burglary you reported a few months ago.

Yes, yes of course, please follow me. Mr Legg led the officers to his house.

When everyone was seated in the warm cosy kitchen, Inspector Skirving removed his hat and began his interview, PC Constantine sat close by with his notebook, ready to take down notes.

Mr Legg you reported the burglary in September, is that correct? asked Inspector Skirving

September the 9th to be precise answered Mr Legg

And among some of your stolen items you reported a gun.

Yes that is correct

But what really struck my interest was the fact that you have suspicions of who the thieves might be

Once again you are correct inspector

And who do you suspect?

Why, those two boys you have in Gaol, Richard and Louis Crowie snapped Mr Legg

And why them? asked the inspector, what makes you so sure that they did it?

Well I’m not certain, they did it, I mean I have no proof but I have a gut feeling that they did, you see Inspector a while back Those boys were working here, not for me! But they were doing a bit of tidying up for someone, and like you see Inspector I’m not a proud man, I kindly invited them into my home and showed them around, they knew where I kept my gun and then knew my schedule very well, they knew when I was in or out.

I see, and that’s what made you suspect Richard and Louis mordantly answered Inspector Skirving

Hearing the tone in the Inspector’s voice Mr Legg answered,

Actually Inspector it was when those 4 cartridges were found behind Richard Crowie’s house that my suspicions intensified.

Inspectors glimpsed at PC Constantine, and then back at Mr Legg,

Mr Legg I want to thank you for all your help, we’ll be in touch

Mr Legg saw the officers out and returned to his work in the garden. As Inspector Skirving walked towards his horse, he recapped over the conversation he had just had with Mr Legg. As circumstantial as the lead was, it was still a lead.

Over the following week Inspector Skirving had ordered a manhunt for the gun, the prisoners’ homes were thoroughly searched, the area surrounding prosperous Bay Signal Station was once again searched, but to this day the gun has never been found.

The trial of Richard and Louis ran for over a month. At the trial a total of 23 witnesses testified against Richard and Louis Crowie, among these were Inspector Skirving, Robert Gunnell’s mother and brother Edward, friends of Robert’s who testified that the fob watch and other possessions found on the prisoners were indeed Robert’s. Richard and Louis had in their defence two witnesses, a shoemaker Robert Leech who testified that he did not believe that the footprints found at Prosperous Bay Signal Station were measured correctly, and lastly Charles Crowie, Louis’ dad.

Richard and Louis Crowie were found guilty of the murder of Robert Samuel Gunnell on 11th January 1905 and sentenced to death by hanging.

The Execution took place at 7am on 2nd February 1905 in the Old Power House - at present the Museum of St Helena, one can only imagine how those two young men felt whilst being lead to their deaths.

No one truthfully knows what took place on that fateful night of 1st November 1904, no one knows who shot that lethal bullet and took the life of Robert Gunnell. Was it a burglary gone wrong? Or was it cold-blooded murder and then staged to appear as a burglary? - Who knows? Richard and Louis Crowie protested their innocence to the end, but to the jury the evidence demonstrate otherwise.

Horrific as it was, the Story of Richard and Louis - the Prosperous Bay Murderers, has over the years become a part of our history and heritage.

NOTE: Robert Gunnell’s grave, and those of the rest of his family, can be found in the cemetery of St. Matthew’s at Hutts Gate.


{a} Terry Pratchett{b} www.dark-tourism.com{c} ‘Isle of St Helena’ by Oswell Blakeston, 1957{d} Based on a graphic by Chris and Sheila Hillman.


{1} Purely from a Dark Tourism point-of-view, of course.{2} @@RepDis@@