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The Governor’s Hat

If you want to get ahead…

A hat should be taken off when greeting a lady, and left off the rest of your life. Nothing looks more stupid than a hat.{c}

Until recently, for all ceremonial occasions our Governors wore a uniform with a hat

The Governor’s Hat
Governor Hollamby, 1999-2004, dressed to meet HRH Anne, The Princess Royal in November 2002

In ‘the Before Days’ on St Helena, for the most part the Governor, by tradition, wore the full dress Colonial Officers’ tropical ceremonial uniform, complete with dress sword and Marlborough helmet with Generals’ swan’s feather plumes{3}.

This page focuses on the hat…


The Governor’s Hat is a Marlborough helmet with Generals’ swan’s feather plumes. Swans are, of course, not seen on St Helena, but are a symbol of The Crown{4}.Swan @@E@@

Introduction & Replacement

We don’t know definitively when the uniform/hat was introduced but we assume it appeared with Governor Middlemore, the first Crown Governor, who arrived on 24th February 1836. The East India Company Governors would have dressed differently.

We also don’t know whether the hat itself was handed down from Governor to Governor, in which case it would obviously have had to be periodically replaced or refurbished (i.e. when it became worn) or whether each Governor got a brand new hat{5}.

Naturally, if you can help…

When was the hat worn?

The Governor’s Hat was worn on all ceremonial occasions where the Governor officiated - St Helena’s Day, Remembrance Sunday, welcoming Famous Visitors, etc. The photographs below show various Governors in full uniform, complete with hat:

Why is it no longer used?

The official story is that when Governor Michael Clancy took over as governor in October 2004 he was instructed by the FCO that he should not wear the formal uniform, even on ceremonial occasions.

Governor Clancy visits the uniform
The closest Governor Clancy came to The Governor’s Hat!

However, we have an alternative theory. The following appeared in the St Helena Herald on 15th June 2001:

Sun slowly sets on uniform of Empire
By Anton La Guardia, Diplomatic Editor, From the Daily Telegraph

ANOTHER piece of British imperial tradition is disappearing, after the Government told the last of the overseas territories that they must pay for the uniforms of their British governors if they wish to keep the ceremonial dress.

The FCO confirmed the cost-cutting measure yesterday. A spokesman said it was part of the new, modern partnership with the 13 remnants of empire, mostly island territories such as Bermuda, Montserrat and St Helena. The spokesman said: It is not right to impose the uniform on those who wish to change. But for governments that wish to retain the uniform, it is right that they should pay. This is no lessening of the UK’s commitment to its overseas territories.

But for many of the overseas territories, the move will be seen as a slap in the face. Sir Rex Hunt, the Governor of the Falkland Islands during the Argentine invasion in 1982, famously wore his blue military uniform and feathered hat as he was forced to leave Stanley. Sir Rex said: I know that seeing me in the uniform cheered up the people of the Falkland Islands no end. This is nit picking by the Government. But the Falkland Islands would reluctantly pay for the uniform if they had to, because they see it as the visible symbol of the link with Britain and the Crown.

The blue or white uniform is worn upon a governor’s first arrival, on state occasions such as the Monarch’s Birthday, and during important local ceremonies.

Robert Gieve, vice-chairman of Gieves & Hawkes, the Savile Row tailors, said a complete governor’s outfit could cost up to £6,000, including the hat with feathers, embroidered collar and cuffs, and a general’s Mameluke sword. He said: There are elements that are highly labour intensive and the embroidery uses precious wires. It fills me with sadness. This is not for commercial reasons; the small volume will not make me rich. But my family has been making uniforms for 200 years. If you are standing under the Union Jack with a lounge suit rather than the uniform, somehow it presents the nation as second best.

So our theory is that, in 2004 the cash-strapped Government of St Helena could not afford £6,000 for Mike Clancy’s uniform and thus decided a lounge suit would have to do!

Either way, from that date the hat has resided in the Museum of St Helena and the last Governor to wear The Governor’s Hat was Governor Hollamby.

In a discussion on Social Media opinion was roughly evenly divided between those thinking the Governor’s Uniform should be brought back, generally because tourists would like it, and those believing it should not be, commonly expressing the view that it symbolised colonialism. For what it’s worth, the view of the editor of this website is that the uniform should be re-instated but the Governor’s powers should be removed, leaving the role as a purely ceremonial one - hat and all!


Read More

Article: Who the Governor represents

By Mike Olsson, editorial published in the St Helena Herald 10th October 2003{6}

It has been said that our new governor, Mr Mike Clancy, would prefer not to wear the uniform. Apparently, our councillors, or at least most of them, would prefer to uphold tradition and want the new governor to wear the uniform at certain formal occasions.

As a foreigner, I would not enter this debate in any other way than to suggest that every governor should have two sets of uniforms - One white one when he is representing Her Majesty’s Government and another one, maybe with some cute blue and pink flowers on, when he is representing the Government of St Helena.

This would make it absolutely clear to the people who he is representing on that particular day.


{a} Andrew / Peter Neaum{b} Copyright © 1991 Film Unit, used with permission{c} P. J. O’Rourke


{1} We do not know when this photo was taken and cannot identify the Governor. It looks (from the ladies’ hats!) to be early 1900s, suggesting it is either Governor Gallwey (1903-1912) or Governor Cordeaux (1912-1920), or it might even be Governor Sterndale (1897-1902). If you can help, please contact us.{2} We think this was probably his swearing-in ceremony. If you can provide more information please contact us.{3} He might, however, on non-ceremonial occasions, wear the tunic and trousers, without the ceremonial sword, together with white tropical style shoes instead of black patent boots, with which is worn a cap, similar to one worn by a Royal Navy Commander (i.e. with one row of gold leaf) but, with the Royal cipher enclosed by a laurel wreath and surmounted by the ‘Queen’s Crown’ in place of the RN crest, as illustrated by the photograph: [Image, right]

Governor Smallman, 1995-1999, in less formal uniform
Governor Smallman, 1995-1999,
in less formal uniform

{4} In the UK it is illegal to kill and/or eat a swan without explicit permission of The Monarch; but presumably as The Monarch appoints The Governor they were OK with someone taking a few swan feathers for the hat!{5} Obviously each Governor must have got a new uniform because clearly Governors varied in size.{6} @@RepDis@@