Terms used

Remember that the progress of the world depends on your knowing better than your elders.
George Bernard Shaw

Here are some terms used on St Helena or within Saint Helena Island Info that we thought might benefit from further explanation

This page is in indexes: Island Detail

Glossary Saint Helena Island Info


The following are presented in broadly alphabetic order.

Below: The 1962 and 1991 filmsThe ArchivesArrackLighters and TendersOrdinancesPlantersPunch House‘The Records’ScurvyS.H.A.P.E (SHAPE)The Suez Canal‘Town’The Union Castle Line

Other terms, e.g. Executive Council and Legislative Council are defined in the relevant pages.

Then there are the many interesting words and phrases when you are speaking Saint

The 1962 and 1991 films

1962 film title Saint Helena Island Info Glossary

At the end of 1961 a Film Unit arrived to document the island of St Helena and its life and culture; the first time this had been attempted. Formally entitled ‘Island of Saint Helena’, the half hour film featured our history and physical features (of course) but also Fishing, The Flax Industry (then still fully functioning), our Friendly Societies and their marches and the extensive use of donkeys for transport. The Film Unit consisted of Charles Frater, Bob Johnston and Esdon Frost. In addition to the film, they also collected many sound recordings and photographic stills, a good number of which feature (with permission) on Saint Helena Island Info. Jean Johnston also kept a diary of the visit, highlights of which can be seen on our Memories of St Helena page. It is usually known simply as ‘The 1962 Film’ because of the date of its release. The full film is available on YouTube™: www.youtube.com/watch?v=YngeIbFUEVw{1}.

1991 film title Saint Helena Island Info Glossary

30 years later in 1991 Charles & Julia Frater came back to the island and made another half hour film called ‘Saint Helena, South Atlantic Ocean’ (‘The 1991 Film’), stills from which also feature (with permission) on Saint Helena Island Info. New features of this film included second RMS St Helena, the beginnings of the move from counter-based shops to supermarkets, the new focus on our Endemic Species, the possibility that St Helena might soon have an airport (it actually took another 25 years), modern communications including the Satellite Link and, of course, Radio St Helena, which was then 24 years old having started six years after the 1962 Film was completed. The full film is available on YouTube™ www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NR-kkFRUgg{1}.

The Archives

The Archives is where the Records are kept.

The Archives can be accessed:

in person

The office is located in The Castle, enter through the main gate and seek a door on your left. There are full-time staff available to help with enquiries.

by email

Contact Karen Henry: Karen.Henry@sainthelena.gov.sh or archives@sainthelena.gov.sh.

by telephone

(+290) 22470 and ask for ‘Archives’ (8:30am-4pm GMT, Mon-Fri)

The Archives charges a small fee to non-Saints for researching subjects. In 2018 the non-resident fee was £40 for the first 7 hours and £20/hour thereafter. Discuss with them the expected fee and how to make payment.

Read more on the Government of St Helena website: www.sainthelena.gov.sh/about-us/archives.

Some of the shelves Saint Helena Island Info Glossary
Some of the shelves{a}

Door plaque Saint Helena Island Info Glossary
Door plaque



Arrack was a locally-brewed spirit distilled from potatoes that is mentioned often in the Records. Its origins are in South and Southeast Asia, where it is made from either the fermented sap of coconut flowers, sugarcane, grain or fruit, depending upon the country of origin. Since it became economic to import spirits from overseas its production seems to have been discontinued.

Arrack was often sold in Punch Houses.

Lighters and Tenders

These are sea-craft used for transporting goods (‘lighters’) or people (‘tenders’) between anchored ships and the wharf.

RMS St Helena with lighters & tenders Saint Helena Island Info Glossary
RMS St Helena with lighters & tenders


Ordinances Saint Helena Island Info Glossary

The laws on St Helena are called ‘Ordinances’. The term should not be confused with ‘Ordnance’ - military weaponry and munitions, or with religious terminology. Its origins may be the Ordinances issued by Cromwell’s Parliament of England, which was operating at the time St Helena was first settled.

Prior to its approval by Legislative Council an Ordinance is referred to as a ‘Bill’. An Ordinance only becomes law when signed by The Governor and the Public Seal attached.

You can download and read our Laws


‘Planters’ is the original term for the Settlers, from 1659 onwards and still in use in the 19th Century. When slaves were emancipated they were given the status of Planters (but no financial means to acquire any land to plant).

Punch House

A Punch House was a very basic form of tavern, frequented by those with the lowest incomes. Arrack was served. Prostitutes were available. At one time most of the buildings in lower Jamestown were Punch Houses.

‘The Records’

The St Helena Records is a collection of documents dating back to the earliest days of St Helena, held in the Archives.

From the records and other sources we have compiled an events database, which drives our events-based pages (e.g. On This Day and In This Week) and supports the various searches on our Chronology page.


Scurvy is a disease caused by a diet deficient in Vitamin C, and can be fatal. It was suffered by early mariners whose foodstuffs aboard ship for long sea voyages did not feature fresh fruit or vegetables.


St Helena Active Participation in Enterprise, a local social enterprise providing work and training for the disabled.

The Suez Canal

Suez Canal illustrated Saint Helena Island Info Glossary{b}

The Suez Canal links the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, thus providing a much shorter route for ships travelling between Europe and the Far East, which previously had to travel to the South Atlantic and around the southern tip of Africa. When it opened in 1869 it cut the distance between London and Mumbai (“Bombay”) from 19,800Km to 11,600Km - about 40%, and also avoided the stormy seas around the Cape of Good Hope. The disadvantage for St Helena was that ships no longer stopped here en route to and from India and the Far East.


‘Town’ means Jamestown, so goin’ to Town means a trip to the nation’s capital. Although Jamestown is smaller than the average British village, it is the only place worthy of the name ‘town’, and it does have ‘town’ in its name.

Actually, Jamestown is legally a City. Its charter was granted by Queen Victoria on 6th June 1859.

The Union Castle Line

Union Castle poster Saint Helena Island Info Glossary

The Union Castle Line provided the regular shipping service for St Helena from the 19th Century until 1977, when it closed its Southampton-Cape Town service.

Amusingly, the Union Castle Line ships were painted with black and red funnels and a lavender-coloured hull, as a consequence of which the company was affectionately known as the ‘Lavender Hull Mob’.

My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe; why it is as it is and why it exists at all.
Stephen Hawking

Closing Humour Saint Helena Island Info Glossary

Laugh at funny Glossary humour LOL Saint Helena Island Info


{a} St Helena News & Travel

{b} St Helena National Trust


{1} Please first read this warning.


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