blank [Saint Helena Island Info:Historians of St Helena]

Historians of St Helena

Recording our past

blank [Saint Helena Island Info:Historians of St Helena]

History is nothing but gossip about the past, with the hope that it might be true.
Gore Vidal

Over the years various people have taken it upon themselves to document the history of our island. Here we introduce some of them.

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

Historians of St Helena [Saint Helena Island Info:Historians of St Helena]

Below: Linschoten, 1596Francis Duncan, 1805Thomas Henry Brooke, 1824John Charles Melliss, 1875Hudson Ralph Janisch, 1885Emily Louise Jackson, 1905Dr Philip Gosse, 1938Geoffrey Charles Kitching, 1947Hugh Crallan, 1974Percy Teale, 1960s - 1990sKen Denholm, 1990s - 2000sDavid Leslie Smallman, 2004Trevor W. Hearl, 1970s - 2007Currently WorkingOthersRead More

We have included all the general historians, both professional and otherwise, for whom we know details. We have intentionally excluded those who really wrote only on a single subject, e.g. our ecology, Wirebirds or Napoleon - in the latter case because the list would be effectively endless! If there is anyone you think we should have included please contact us with as many details as you can.

Linschoten, 1596

Jan Huygen van Linschoten [Saint Helena Island Info:Historians of St Helena]
Linschoten

What we believe to be the earliest ‘history’ of our island is from 1596 - before most of the island’s history had actually happened! It was based on his visit here, arriving 12th May 1589 and leaving on 21st May. It appears in a book, Linschoten’s ‘Itinerario’. Strictly it’s not a history; it’s a description - he wrote extensively about the routes to the east at the end of the 16th Century. We reproduce it below.

Linschoten also had a role in promoting the idea that our island was discovered on 21st May 1502 - see our Discovery of St Helena page for more.

It should be noted that many other descriptions of St Helena were written at about this time, including one by Thomas Cavendish.

Francis Duncan, 1805

Duncan’s ‘A Description of the Island of St Helena containing Observations on its Singular Structure and Formation; and an Account of its Climate, Natural History and Inhabitants’, dated 1st May 1805, was the source for many later histories, including that by Brooke. Indeed, Brooke always claimed Duncan’s was the island’s first history.

You can download and read a copy of this work (3.6Mb).

Thomas Henry Brooke, 1824

Thomas Henry Brooke arrived on St Helena in c.1793, the nephew of serving Governor Robert Brooke (1787-1801){1}. He was appointed Secretary to the Government of St Helena in c.1788 (until 1834) and acting Governor in the interregnum between Governor Lowe and Governor Walker, and again between Governor Walker and Governor Dallas. He lived at Brooke Hill, in what is now Alarm Forest, drawn in 1809 by Burchell and currently a farm, then in 1821 he built and moved into Prospect House.

He wrote ‘A History of the Island of St Helena’, published in 1808., a revised edition of which was issued just after Napoleon’s death, ‘A History of the Island of St Helena, 2nd Edition’, published in 1824{2}. Subsequent historians quote extensively from this work.

You can download and read a copy of this work (7.9Mb).

Brooke Hill, 1809 [Saint Helena Island Info:Historians of St Helena]
Brooke Hill, 1809 {a}

Prospect House, 2009 [Saint Helena Island Info:Historians of St Helena]
Prospect House, 2009{b}

John Charles Melliss, 1875

John Charles Melliss was born on St Helena, served as an officer in the Royal Engineers and was appointed Government Surveyor in St Helena from 1860-1871. He is featured on our Important People page.

His father, GW Melliss, published a collection of drawings of St Helena: ‘Views of St Helena’, by G.W. Melliss{3}, published in 1857., and John published the far more detailed ‘St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island, including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology’, published in 1875..

You can download and read a copy of this work (14.0Mb).

Hudson Ralph Janisch, 1885

Hudson Janisch Memorial [Saint Helena Island Info:Historians of St Helena]
Hudson Janisch Memorial{c}

Hudson Ralph Janisch was Governor Janisch from 1873 to 1884. The island’s only island-born Governor, you can read more about him on our The Governor of St Helena page.

A year after his death The Guardian Newspaper published ‘Extracts from the St Helena Records’, compiled by Janisch. Although not a history as such - it is literally, as the title suggests, details reproduced from the records, totally without commentary - it is nevertheless an invaluable source for historians and hence is included here.

You can download and read a copy of this work (4.8Mb).

Emily Louise Jackson, 1905

Emily Louise{4} Jackson was born as Emily Warren in Paignton, Devon, UK in 1862. She came to St Helena in 1889, as a schoolteacher and later Headmistress of Schools. On 11th Dec 1889 she married widower Tom Jackson (the island’s chemist). She had a key role in the creation of the island’s lace making industry, spending eight months in the UK learning lace making and returning to St Helena in the late 1890s to start teaching local people.

It is not clear how she got from this to writing a history of St Helena, but she did. She wrote ‘St Helena, The Historic Island, From Its Discovery To The Present Date’, published in 1905.. It updated the work of Duncan, 100 years earlier, and many of the photographs in the book were also taken by her{5}.

You can download and read a copy of this work (11.5Mb).

Dr Philip Gosse, 1938

A contemporary of Kitching’s was Dr Philip Gosse, who came to the island in 1937. A keen naturalist he was concerned that so little attention was being paid to the island’s endemic species. Gosse realised that the endangered endemics could only be saved by being given Government protection and addressed the subject with Governor Spencer Davis, as a result of which in May 1937 the Government of St Helena risked local resentment by passing an Ordinance ‘For the Preservation of Forests’. Gosse referred to goats as “these horned and four-legged locusts”.

A school was named after him, the ‘Gosse Central School’ located where the Bishop of St Helena currently resides, but it only operated from 1941-1946.

Gosse’s visit to the island left him angered at the destitute condition of most of the inhabitants, and at the vastly unequal distribution of land.

As with others featured on this page, it is not clear how Gosse got from this to writing a history of St Helena, but he did. His book, ‘St Helena 1502-1938’, was drawn from extensive archival research and from personal papers given to him by descendents of prominent islanders. For many years it was considered the definitive history on the island as a whole and was re-printed in the early 2000s with an introduction by Trevor Hearl.
We currently do not have a downloadable copy of this work.

Curiously, and as far as we can tell entirely coincidentally, Dr Gosse did much of his medical training in Colchester - a town connected to St Helena in that we share a common Patron Saint, Saint Helena.

Geoffrey Charles Kitching, 1947

Geoffrey Charles Kitching came to St Helena in 1932 as the Government Secretary. He began researching St Helena history because:

When I arrived on St Helena in 1932, I found that the Government Secretary was under a crippling handicap. There was nobody to tell me, nor was there any book in which one might read, what had really happened during the past 100 years. I had to find out everything for myself, so I read every despatch, in or out, since 1824, and the results are embodied in this volume.

This seems curious, given that many detailed histories should have been available to him, including those by Jackson, Melliss and Brooke. It is probable that he meant that all of the foregoing borrowed extensively from Duncan. But, for whatever reasons he set about combing through government archives and doing the research himself. From 1932 to 1947 he researched and wrote ‘A Handbook and Gazetteer of The Island of St Helena, Including a Short History of the Island under the Crown 1834-1902’, published in 1947. It should be noted that, as Kitching himself points out:

I have continued these studies since leaving the Island and the book now requires re-casting in different form, and much revision in light of later knowledge, which I hope to undertake when I retire from the Service. It has never been proof read.

It is not thought that this was ever done. Certainly the work was never formally published. It is possible that Kitchen deferred to Gosse, who had published a little earlier.

You can download and read a copy of this work (481.5Kb) (based on Kitchen’s notes, found at Plantation House in the 1980s.)

Hugh Crallan, 1974

In 1974 the architect Hugh Crallan was commissioned by Governor Thomas Oates to come to St Helena “to draw up an illustrated list of scheduled buildings in St Helena of historic and/or architectural interest and to advise the Governor about suitable legislation for preserving these.” The resulting report, ‘Island of St Helena: Listing and Preservation of Buildings of Architectural and Historic Interest,’, commonly known as the ‘Crallan Report’, has become the guidebook to the community of people concerned with historic preservation on St Helena.

He assigned grades to each of the historic structures, mirroring the British system of grading the architectural and historic merit of protected buildings. In his research Crallan drew from Kitching, Thatham and Teale, and also used his own judgment based on the architectural features of the buildings. The dates given for houses on Saint Helena Island Info are generally drawn from the Crallan Report.

Although not a history of St Helena the Crallan Report remains an important historical work, worthy of inclusion here.

You can download and read Appendix 7 (319.7Kb) of this work - the classifications.
We currently do not have a downloadable copy of this complete work.

The Historic Environment Record was intended to replace the Crallan Report as the island’s definitive database of architecture, but at the time of writing{6} the Crallan Report remains the definitive document.

Percy Teale, 1960s - 1990s

Dr Percival Leslie Teale was director of Public Works from 1957 until 1960, returning to the UK to become a university lecturer. In 1972 he wrote a Master’s Thesis: ‘Architecture on St Helena, A History of the Development of the Island with Special Reference to Building Civil and Military Engineering Works’. A significant portion of this thesis is devoted to the histories of the historic houses on the island (much of this information is drawn directly from Kitching. His later PHd thesis is a very important work on buildings and their historical context and he produced quite a number of books and booklets, including ‘St Helena Buildings’ in 1976. Percy was assisted in his research by Wilfred Thatham, government archivist during the 1970s.

Percy was also an enthusiastic Radio Amateur and in 1958 made the island’s first known radio broadcast of a public meeting in the Cinema Hall in Jamestown. He also rebuilt the old Canister building (the old building can be seen in the Memorial Fountain photo and was a dwelling for several families), into what is now our Tourist Office and Arts & Crafts Shop.

He co-authored ‘St Helena 500’ - a reference work for the historical information on this website - with Robin Gill{7}. A report in the St Helena News at the time of first publication, December 1999, records:

The authors have spent many years researching through archival material in London, Lisbon, Amsterdam and elsewhere overseas with many visits to the Island since 1957.

We currently do not have a downloadable copy of this work. Printed copies are available from the Museum of St Helena.

Ken Denholm, 1990s - 2000s

Ken Denholm was an Australian who took a particular interest in St Helena history. He visited several times in the 1990s and was the author of several publications about St Helena’s past, including ‘South Atlantic Haven, A Maritime History for the Island of St Helena’(1994), ‘An Island Fortress (7.3Mb)’, published in 2006. and ‘From Signal Gun to Satellite’(1994) - some are available from Miles Apart. He was working on the history of the St Helena Flax Industry when he died; the St Helena National Trust has copies of his papers.

David Leslie Smallman, 2004

David Leslie Smallman was Governor Smallman from 1995 to 1999. He wrote the book ‘Quincentenary: A Story of St Helena, 1502-2002’, published in March 2004 for the island’s Quincentenary celebrations. The book summarises the island’s early history, as already documented by the authors above, and brings the history up-to-date as at 2002. It remains the most recent compete published history of St Helena.
We currently do not have a downloadable copy of this work.

Smallman’s Quincentenary Book [Saint Helena Island Info:Historians of St Helena]

Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Patten Press (March 15, 2004)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1872229476
ISBN-13: 978-1872229478

The author was Governor of St Helena from 1995-1999.

Dedication:

I dedicate this journey of catharsis to Sandi, my First Lady, who was there at every turn and who gave so much with so little in return. Without her love and support there would have been no story to relate.
David Leslie Smallman, 2003

Foreword, by His Royal Highness, The Duke of York:

I visited St Helena in 1984, as part of the island’s celebration of 150 years as a Crown Colony. Since then I have had a special relationship with the island and particularly its people.

Successive Dukes of York have, of course, had an association with St Helena. The capital, Jamestown was named for James, Duke of York, who later became King James II. He was the brother of Charles II, whose Charter in 1673 gave the East India Company’s settlers what to all intents and purposes was a constitution for the governance of the colony which lasted until the nineteenth century. And my Grandfather, also Duke of York before he became King George VI, of course, had the good fortune to be the only reigning Monarch to visit the island in 1947 with Queen Elizabeth.

St Helena was in the possession of the East India Company for 175 years before it became a Crown colony in 1834, and that historic legacy has a strong influence on the island, its people and their character. The story of St Helena is written from a unique position and guides the reader, from a Governor’s eye view, through the history of this remote island community.

As such, I am confident that the serious traveller as well as the student of colonial history, and particularly that of the East India Company, will find much of interest in its pages.

Andrew
Buckingham Palace

Trevor W. Hearl, 1970s - 2007

Trevor Hearl [Saint Helena Island Info:Historians of St Helena]
Trevor Hearl

Trevor Hearl, having previously been a war correspondent, became the History Lecturer at Cheltenham College. He came to St Helena in 1969 as an education advisor when the College formed a very successful link with St Helena’s Education Department, in which St Helena’s teachers were trained at Cheltenham College and advisors came to St Helena to support the development of education here. His contribution to education on St Helena was immense and, in recognition of what he did, the Library at Prince Andrew School carries his name: ‘The Trevor Hearl Library’. He also provided many of that Library’s books.

Trevor went as far as re-printing, at his own expense, Philip Gosse’s ‘St Helena 1502-1938’. He also contributed to the St Helena Heritage Society and the St Helena National Trust. He became the authority on the history of St Helena and would be in contact with numerous people and organisations outside St Helena answering questions and promoting St Helena, including mentoring many of the other individuals in the Currently Working section, below. According to Dan Yon, maker of the film The 100 Men, Trevor “collected, over the years, virtually every written, photographic, visual and other work produced on or about St Helena.” His knowledge was immense and many features on this website have benefitted from his researches.

Trevor died on 24th January 2007, at his home in Cheltenham, UK. Before he died he deposited all his collected research papers with Rhodes House in Oxford. “In so doing he leaves a legacy for which St Helena will be forever grateful” (Dan Yon).

A collection of his writings was recently published under the title ‘The St Helena Britannica’ - as far as we know the only consolidated publication of his work.
We currently do not have a downloadable copy of this work.

For many detailed tributes to Trevor Hearl see Wirebird Magazine #34, Spring 2007.

Currently Working

There are many people working today on the history of St Helena. By listing some we run the risk of offending those we miss. We are working on a list and present below what must be considered for now as a work-in-progress! If you are one of the ones we have inadvertently overlooked, firstly we apologise for not including you, and secondly if you would like to contact us and tell us about yourself and what subjects you cover we’ll happily add you in.

Here we go with the list we currently have, in alphabetic order:

Below: Edward BaldwinIan BruceColin FoxBarbara B. GeorgeChris and Sheila HillmanIan MathiesonDr Alexander SchulenburgSt Helena National TrustBloggers

Edward Baldwin

Edward has an MA from the University of Edinburgh in Ancient History and Archaeology. He has also studied metallurgy and metal conservation. He has been involved with the Friends of St Helena in the UK, the St Helena National Trust and the St Helena Heritage Society.

Although primarily a source of information on St Helena’s military history, Edward also writes on a variety of other subjects. He also writes for the Wirebird Magazine.

Ian Bruce

Ian Bruce is the son of Norman T. Bruce, born at Briars Village, the grandson of Thomas R. Bruce, painter of “The ‘Rollers’ of 1846”, postmaster for 30 years from 1898 and designer of the popular 1922-1937 ship and rocks George V stamp series and the great-grandson of George R. Bruce, harbour master for 27 years from 1851. For more family history see ianbrucefamilyhistory.pdf.

Ian frequently publishes articles on St Helena history in the Wirebird Magazine. Saint Helena Island Info sometimes assists Ian in his research. Much of the information provided on our Discovery of St Helena page is sourced from his article on this subject.

We have also included as downloads other articles by Ian, including:

Colin Fox

Colin Fox edits the Wirebird Magazine and also contributes articles of his own on historical subjects related to St Helena.

In 2006 he published ‘The Bennett Letters: A 19th century family in St Helena, England and the Cape’ which was an account of his forebear, Captain James Bennett and his children. James served in the St Helena regiment, initially in 1789 as a private and later as an officer up to his death in 1835. He purchased Chubb’s Spring in 1814 and in 1826 moved to Maldivia. The estate remained in the family until 1890. Of his nine children one daughter, Eliza, married first Henry Solomon and on his early death married Sir Patrick Ross. A son, George Brooks Bennett rose to high rank in the British army commissariat mainly at the Cape.

In 2014 Colin edited (with Edward Baldwin) ‘A Precarious Livelihood: St Helena 1834: East India Company outpost to Crown Colony’. This was an edited transcription of a report written by HR Brandreth and E Walpole to advise the British government on ways to reduce expenditure and make the island self supporting.

He is currently in the process of publishing a further book to be called ‘A Bitter Draught: The abolition of slavery 1792-1840’. This is in its final stages and should be published later in 2017.

Barbara B. George

Barbara George came to St Helena in the 1960s as a science teacher under the VSO scheme. Having married a local Saint, Basil George, they settled on St Helena. In addition to raising a family and being the first Director of the St Helena National Trust she took to researching and publishing pamphlets featuring aspects of St Helena history, including such subjects as Jacob’s Ladder and the Boer Prisoners.
We currently do not have a downloadable copy of these booklets but they are available to purchase in print on St Helena.

Barbara also wrote frequently for the St Helena Herald, and her articles have informed many of the history pages on Saint Helena Island Info.

Chris and Sheila Hillman

Chris is a former Director of the St Helena National Trust. In addition to various articles on subjects such as signal stations, Chris and Sheila are putting together a database of names connected with St Helena based on the church records, memorials, EIC staff, clerics, governors, passengers and ships. At the time of writing{6} this has more than 600,000 records. It is not yet in the public domain - we will provide a link when we hear it has been published.

Ian Mathieson

Ian is the author of Friends of St Helena publication, St Helena Connections, and often writes about current affairs as well as historical matters. He describes himself as:

A geographer with an interest in how places work and why they are the way they are; not an historian.

Ian also runs Miles Apart:

Dr Alexander Schulenburg

Dr Schulenburg is a social anthropologist and historian with research interests in, inter alia, St Helena; slavery, especially on St Helena; and the East India Company. He has published widely on the history of St Helena, including for the Wirebird Magazine, The Journal of the Friends of St Helena, which he edited from 2001-10. His full biography and a list of his publications can be found at www.historian.london.

He also runs the St Helena Institute website with its St Helena family history forum groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/st-helena-genealogy/info. Alexander is married to a St Helenian.

St Helena National Trust

St Helena National Trust [Saint Helena Island Info:Historians of St Helena]

The St Helena National Trust has published many leaflets and articles about aspects of St Helena’s history, some of which can be downloaded from Saint Helena Island Info. Others should be available from the St Helena National Trust website.

Bloggers

We also recommend the blogs of JC Grimshaw and John Tyrrell (who also writes for the Wirebird Magazine), both of which provide an invaluable source of factual but readable information on the history of St Helena{9}.

Others

There are some other people worthy of a brief mention:

  • Governor Alexander Beatson’s book ‘Tracts relative to the Island of St Helena’ (1816) is worth a mention. It is mostly concerned with the state of the island in the early 1800s, and as such is an invaluable reference, but it also contains some earlier historical information.

  • Mr Wilfred Thatham was a retired Headmaster from Eton who lived here with his wife and was government archivist during the 1970s. In addition to helping Percy Teale and Hugh Crallan he also did research for the benefit of various island families, compiling information on their specific houses.

  • Stephen Royle was a professor at Belfast University and probably his most important work was the book ‘The Company’s Island’ a history of the East India Company period of governance of St Helena. More detail at pure.qub.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/stephen-royle(6008909d-3c48-4f4b-afa4-3f26ae06697a)/publications.html. He also wrote a good biography of Dr Arnold.

  • Dr Andrew Pearson headed the Rupert’s Bay excavations has published on St Helena. An archaeoligist by training, he has also written about the history of the liberated African period. More at pearsonarchaeology.com/page_2346207.html.

  • Tony Cross also wrote a complete history of the island, albeit in somewhat abridged form, in his book ‘St Helena including Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha’. He also wrote for the Wirebird Magazine.

  • Beau Rowlands wrote a book ‘Fernão Lopez’ published in 2007.

  • Robin Castell, owner of Prince’s Lodge, has published many illustrated books on St Helena history, all of which are available in print from our Museum of St Helena.

Read More

Below: Wirebird MagazineArticle: “A Brief Description of St Helena, 1680’

Wirebird Magazine

Members of The Friends of St Helena receive two free Wirebird Magazines each year. These feature many history articles on St Helena or related subjects, which will be invaluable to anybody interested in St Helena history. The 40 plus editions of Wirebird have a searchable index on the The Friends of St Helena website.

Article: “A Brief Description of St Helena, 1680’

briefdescriptionofsthelena1680_1 [Saint Helena Island Info:Historians of St Helena]

briefdescriptionofsthelena1680_2 [Saint Helena Island Info:Historians of St Helena]

More stories [Saint Helena Island Info:Historians of St Helena]

More stories on our page Read articles about St Helena.

closinghumourimage [Saint Helena Island Info:Historians of St Helena]

Laugh at funny historians humour - LOL [Saint Helena Island Info:Historians of St Helena]

Debating our island’s discovery date, which is far from certain.


Credits:

{a} by William John Burchell, botanist & schoolmaster (on St Helena from 1805 to 1810). Copyright © the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, used with permission{10}{11}.

{b} Ed Thorpe

{c} www.eggsa.org/library/main.php?g2_itemId=2610641{10}



Footnotes:

{1} A historical note mentions that “Towards the end of his stay on the island, Robert Brooke had become very ill, so much so that his nephew had to sign all the documents”.

{2} A revised and updated version of ‘A History of the Island of St Helena’, published in 1808..

{3} Father of John Melliss.

{4} Or maybe ‘Louisa’ - sources differ.

{5} Her husband was the island’s chemist

{6} .

{7} About whom we currently have no information - if you can help please contact us.

{8} While technically this might be considered an advertisement (which Saint Helena Island Info does not carry) we actually see this more as a service to anyone wanting to learn more about our extraordinary island.
Saint Helena Island Info receives no income from any sales and takes no responsibility for any commercial arrangements into which you may enter..

{9} See more blogs.

{10} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.

{11} Strictly, permission was given to the St Helena Heritage Society to use Burchell’s images for “any Museum of St Helena purpose”, which we consider applies to sainthelenaisland.info.



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