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Important People

They made their mark

Understanding who you serve is always a very important problem, and it only gets harder the more people that you serve.
Mark_Zuckerberg (creator of Facebook™)

Several people really made their mark in the lives of the people of St Helena. Some are featured below…

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

Important People Saint Helena Island Info

Below: George Gabriel Powell (c. 1710-1779)Sir William Webber Doveton (1753-1843)Saul Solomon (1776-1852)Dr. James Barry (1789-1865)John Charles Melliss (1835-1910)William Alexander Thorpe (1842-1918)Dr. W. J. J. Arnold (1867-1925)Canon L C Walcott (1880-1951) & his wife Winifred Ida Walcott (?-1941)Eric ‘Mr. Music’ George MBE (1936-2001)Johnny Drummond (1956-2003)Cathy Hopkins MBE (1946-2017)Some Honourable MentionsRead More

How do you qualify to be mentioned on this page?

There are no fixed criteria, but broadly:

Apart from the foregoing it is only necessary that you have come to our attention. Reports are sequenced according to the year of the person’s death - this does not necessarily equate to their importance to St Helena.

If you think there is someone we should have included, please contact us.

George Gabriel Powell (c. 1710-1779)

What you think of George Gabriel Powell depends entirely on which accounts you read. To some he was a fierce campaigner against corruption on St Helena; to others he was as guilty, and maybe even more so, of that same thing.

He was born on the island to wealthy plantation owner Gabriel Powell, who was widely criticised for his avarice and the cruel treatment of his slaves. He acquired his wealth my marrying a succession of rich widows and thereby acquiring their land and livestock. George’s grandfather, also Gabriel Powell, participated in the failed 1684 rebellion and led the fight for the rights of the rebels in its aftermath. So George’s family was not liked or trusted on St Helena.

Winning the favour of the directors of the East India Company by positioning himself as a champion of anti-corruption on the island, in 1739 he was appointed a member of the four-person St Helena Executive Council. Two years later in May 1741, aged about 31, he was promoted to the rank of Deputy Governor to help the new Governor, Major Thomas Lambert, sort out the island’s affairs, but with Lambert’s sudden death Powell was appointed acting Governor in July 1742. His anti-corruption activities made him an enemy of key islanders, particularly one Councilor Dixon.

So it is that St Helena historian T. H. Brooke, Esq.{1}, later claimed that Powell had deliberately ingratiated himself with the directors of the East India Company in order to gain a position from which be could perpetrate even worse excesses. Councilor Dixon brought charges of large-scale fraud against him in May 1744. Refusing to defend himself, he claimed, like his grandfather and the rebels of 1684, that he was only prepared to submit to British law through a British Court of Justice rather than a ‘self-interested’ tribunal of the East India Company.

When the directors of the Company moved against him he simply liquidated his extensive assets and fled the island for North America, where he later became a Colonel in South Carolina’s Militia and the first Speaker of its Provincial Congress{2}.

He also had scant regard for humanity, but perhaps no less than the average man of his time. The Records for 17th January 1704 show:

Gabriel Powell on Tuesday whipt his slave boy aged 8 years till his back was in some places raw and on Wednesday threw him with his hands tyed into a bed of nettles which venomed and stung him to that degree that he immediately fell into convulsions and dyed. For this, fined 40s. [for reference, Arrack then sold for 6s/gallon.]

Map showing Powell’s Valley and Powell Point locations of his family estates Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Map showing Powell’s Valley and Powell Point, locations of his family estates

Sir William Webber Doveton (1753-1843)

Sir William Webber Doveton (1753-1843) Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Stamp Sir W. Doveton (1753-1843) Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Quincentenary Stamp

Sir William Webber Doveton does not strictly meet our criteria for being an Important Person, in that he doesn’t seem to have done anything to benefit the people of St Helena. But he was considered important enough to have a Quincentenary postage stamp to commemmorate him, so we think that qualifies him for a mention here.

Sir William was the descendant of another William Doveton (or, possibly, ‘Dufton’), who arrived on St Helena in 1674. The Records for 2nd December 1678 show that William Doveton hath bin on this Island near five years and yett never had any land, but he having lately married a wife he is to have ten acres of land and a cow. By December 1714 his son Jonathan had become one of the island’s premier landowners. The Records for 2nd December show that The largest plantation owners are Powell: 255 acres; Carne: 111 acres; and Doveton: 151 acres. Little is recorded of Sir William’s other ancestors, but a family tree is available (1.4Mb){a}.

William Webber Doveton was born on 23rd November 1753, one of eight children born to John and Mary (Worral) Doveton, the others being: Elizabeth Doveton, Eleanor Doveton (Bazett), Jonathan Doveton, Gabriel Doveton, Fanny Doveton, John Doveton, and Frederick Doveton.

Sir William himself entered the East India Company’s St Helena service on 19th June 1769 (aged 15) as a writer, and in 1785 is recorded as a ‘Factor’. He rose to become a magistrate, a judge, President of Council and a popular Commandant of the St Helena Volunteers during the Napoleonic wars. For this he was presented in 1810 with a Sword of Honour, which is now preserved in the Museum of St Helena. Sir William held the role of paymaster at the time of Napoleon’s arrival on St Helena.

Deeds for what is now the Consulate state that it was sold in 1757 for £800{3} and re-sold 30 years later (1787) for £1,400{4} to Sir William, who in turn sold it to Saul Solomon in 1820.

It was also Sir William with whom Napoleon had breakfast at Mount Pleasant in October 1820, about six months before the famous prisoner passed away{5}. This was remarkable as Napoleon very rarely paid visits or took any meal with strangers, and it was the last time he ventured beyond the grounds of Longwood House. It is also noted that throughout the visit, like Napoleon but unlike his companions, Sir William kept his hat on! (More on John Tyrrell’s blog.)

The naturalist W J Burchell, the East India Company’s botanist on the island in the early 1800s, wrote warmly in his diary of Sir William’s manners and speech:

That good old man…is the best Islander and posseses an excellent heart.

He lived his entire life on the island of St Helena; his first trip away was when he was fifty-five, in 1818, when he went to England to receive his knighthood from the Prince Regent at Brighton Pavilion, on 30th January 1819, making him the only islander ever to be knighted. It was the first time he or his family had seen snow or a large town.

But Sir William had a darker side. When Governor Beatson (1808-1813) proposed to Council the abolition of Slavery on St Helena, he voted down the move, along with a Mr Leech. Both Sir W. W. Doveton & G. Doverton (his son) are listed in 1827 as slave owners.

Sir William died at the age of ninety on 13th October 1843. His grave is indexed on www.findagrave.com.

Descendants

We know the Sir William had at least one son: Gabriel Doveton. Friars Lodge, which belonged to Gabriel, passed down in turn to his son, Lt. W. K. Doveton of the Artillery.

His granddaughter, Anna, became the mother of Admiral Sir Frederick Doveton Sturdes, victor of the Battle of the Falkland Islands in 1914.

Saul Solomon (1776-1852)

Saul Solomon Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Saul Solomon

Saul Solomon founded a business empire that has dominated commercial life on St Helena for more than two centuries. He was also suspected of smuggling a silk ladder to Napoleon, to help him escape from exile.

Tradition says he was born in London in about 1776, and set sail for India in 1790. The ship dropped anchor off the port of Jamestown and young man was carried ashore to die. The ship sailed on and the young man, Saul Solomon, remained, not to die, but to become one of the most influential men on the island. In a very short time he recovered his health and, seeing the possibility of trade with the many ships that called on their way to and from India and the Cape, he set himself up in business, initially as a hotel-keeper but soon on a much broader basis.

Solomon’s Emporium 1811 Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Solomon’s Emporium, 1811
Letter forwarded by Saul Solomon Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Letter forwarded by Saul Solomon
Advert Almanac and Annual Register 1856 Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Advert, Almanac and Annual Register, 1856{b}

His business is thought to have been founded in the year of his arrival, when young Saul set up a boarding house and general store. Later he included an insurance business and also installed the island’s first printing press, printing the ‘St Helena Register’ newspaper. He also served as undertaker. Early success meant a need for people to help run the business, so he sent for his brothers, Benjamin, Edward, Charles and Joseph. A family called Moss came too, remaining prominent members of the business for many years (Saul’s son, Joseph, married Hannah Moss in 1814). Saul was clearly quite a non-conformist. In 1810 he was directed to print no more objectionable remarks in the Register without permission of the Secretary.

Napoleon arrived on the island in 1815 and Solomon’s readily traded with the deposed emperor’s entourage at Longwood. Profits rose, though there were frequent complaints about over-charging; for example, the company charged 1,400 gold francs for the funeral of Napoleon’s valet{22}.

Saul Solomon also earned a reputation for questionable loyalty to the island government. Governor Hudson Lowe listed the Solomon brothers, with their clerk ex-soldier George Bruce, as the chief suspects of aiding Napoleon. Solomon’s premises (in what is now the Rose & Crown shop in Market Street) became notorious for gossip and intrigue. He was even said to have smuggled a silken ladder into Longwood in a chest of tea (or, another variant says, in a teapot) to help Napoleon clamber down a cliff into a waiting boat! Certainly Longwood’s clandestine correspondence passed through his hands - at a price. In 1840, as French Consul, he was among the favoured few to accompany Napoleon’s coffin aboard the Belle Poule. He received a medal for his services to the emperor{8}.

One of his many business activities was the forwarding of mail dropped off by calling ships. The image (left) shows a letter bearing the hand-written inscription Forwarded from St Helena by your obedient servant Saul Solomon, 6th April 1834. Indeed, at one time Saul Solomon was the official consular agent for many nations; in 1856 Solomon & Moss was designated in The St Helena Almanac and Annual Register as consuls for France, Holland, Spain, Belgium, the Brazils, Hamburgh, Lubeck, Bremen and Austria, later expanded to include Portugal and the Algarves, and then Oldenburg{b}.

At one time, Solomon’s issued its own copper halfpennies, which circulated alongside the East India Company coinage. The business continued to prosper as the island became a haven for American whalers and a base for the anti-slavery squadron.

Homfray Solomon 1914 Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Homfray Solomon, 1914

Saul Solomon died in December 1852 on a visit to England. His daughter managed to get his body to the Cape, where she smuggled it aboard a ship bound for St Helena. The two island newspapers praised his memory fulsomely. We have many living witnessed to his kindness to the distressed and suffering, wrote the St Helena Herald, welcoming the news that he was to be buried on the island. In recognition of his many Consular appointments, the occupation given on his death certificate was not ‘merchant’ but simply ‘Consul’{b}. An executor’s sale took place ‘under the trees’ in Jamestown in 1854, at which a rare selection of most desirable dwelling places were auctioned, including The Briars and The Briars Pavilion, once home to Napoleon.

Saul Solomon’s modest gravestone was among those rescued when the burial ground in Jamestown was cleared in 1951 to become a children’s playground. The inscription revealed nothing of Solomon’s life, beyond the date of his death, aged 76.

Over time, family members rose to prominent roles, including on benevolent committees. For 50 years they almost monopolised the prestigious post of Sheriff. The last of the family line, Homfray Welby Solomon, died in 1960. He sold the business in 1948 and it was taken over by South African entrpreneurs, then nationalised and part-privatised, as it remains today, still bearing the name ‘Solomon’s’.

Dr. James Barry (1789-1865)

Dr. James Barry (1789-1865) Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Dr. James Barry (1789-1865)

Dr. Barry was St Helena’s Medical Officer from 1837-1838 but all that time kept a great secret…

James Barry qualified from the University of Edinburgh Medical School with an MD in 1812. On 2nd July 1813, Dr. Barry passed the examination for the Royal College of Surgeons of England, subsequently qualifying as a Regimental Assistant, and was commissioned as a Hospital Assistant with the British Army on 6th July 1813, taking up posts in Chelsea, then the Royal Military Hospital in Plymouth, and later in India and South Africa, becoming Medical Inspector for the colony.

Dr. Barry arrived at St Helena on 4th September 1836{9} as Principal Medical Officer, establishing the island’s first process of organised vaccination. Dr. Barry was a vegetarian, taking a goat everywhere for its milk, and also advised patients to bathe in wine as the alcohol reduced the risk of infections.

But Dr. Barry served here for only 18 months, being Court Martialled for declining a duel with another officer as a result of getting into trouble with the internal politics of the island. Dr. Barry was arrested and sent home in March 1838.

So why does Dr. Barry qualify for a mention here? Simply because Dr. Barry was not a man at all. Born Margaret Ann Bulkley, ‘Dr. Barry’ assumed the appearance of a man because women were not, at that time, allowed to practice medicine. A successful medical career spanning forty-one years would seem to challenge this restriction, and thus she is awarded a place on this page for her practical support in the advancement of Women’s Rights.

John Charles Melliss (1835-1910)

John Charles Melliss was a notable British engineer and amateur naturalist, famed for his book ‘St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island, including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology’, published in 1875., which remains a reference work for ecologists today.

He was born on St Helena on 23rd January 1835. His father, Lieutenant George Whalley Melliss, was an officer of the St Helena Artillery taken into the new colonial administration when the Crown took over St Helena in 1836, first as Surveyor then as Civil Engineer. He supervised the constuction of the Inclined Plane that later became Jacob’s Ladder and he also published ‘Views of St Helena’, published in 1857..

After training as an engineer, and serving as an officer in the Royal Engineers, John was appointed as Government Surveyor in St Helena from 1860-1871, taking over his father’s role. In 1861 he prepared a map of the island.

Melliss’ tunnel plan Saint Helena Island Info Important People

In 1870 he devised a plan to link James Valley with Rupert’s Valley via a tunnel to be constructed through Mundens Hill, though it was never attempted. Then in 1871, under government retrenchment, the military took over public works making John redundant at 35 without any prospect of employment on St Helena. He returned to London, where he subsequently formed the firm of J.C. Melliss and Co., which stll exists today.

Stamp issued for the Centenery of ‘St Helena’ Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Stamp issued for the Centenery of ‘St Helena…’

In London, in 1875, he published the work for which he is best known: ‘St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island, including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology’, published in 1875.. To commemorate the book’s centenary in 1975, the St Helena Post Office published a series of stamps.

MV John Melliss Saint Helena Island Info Important People

Melliss inspired Thomas Vernon Wollaston, a noted beetle specialist, to visit St Helena with his wife Edith in 1875-76. Wollaston studied the beetles while his wife wrote an account of the moths of the island that remained the standard work on this group for 120 years. Joseph Dalton Hooker named the genus Mellissia in his honour, which has a single species: mellissia begoniifolia, the St Helena Boxwood. He died at his Hampstead home on 23rd August 1910.

A fishing vessel in use today in St Helena bears his name: ‘The John Melliss’.

While John C. Melliss undoubtedly did much good for the people of St Helena, some of his expressed views might cause some comment today. In ‘St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island, including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology’, published in 1875. he writes of the former slave population:

Their early history was that of slavery through a couple of centuries, indeed until the year 1832, when they were emancipated by the East India Company purchasing their freedom for a large sum; but, as might be expected, they possessed none of those qualifications which are absolutely necessary to command success in settlers. The habits of dependence and indolence, as well as ignorance, which so long a period of slavery had engrafted, remain to this day evident, not only in individuals, but pervading the whole character of the place.{10}

William Alexander Thorpe (1842-1918)

William Alexander Thorpe (1842-1918) Saint Helena Island Info Important People
William Alexander Thorpe (1842-1918)

William Alexander Thorpe was born in Jamestown on 1st August 1842 to Henry and Susan Thorpe{11}. Little is known about his father - he probably arrived on the island as a soldier. His mother was born at St Helena, descended from slaves on both sides of her family. Despite his (probably) military background, business ran in the family - Henry ran a successful lemonade and ginger beer business until his death in 1854.

As an adult William first appears in the Records in June 1863, aged about 20. He placed a newspaper advertisement showing he was operating ‘The General Store’, having formed a company, Messrs. W. Thorpe & Co. The advert stated that he had secured the stock of Mr. Lambert at a price which will enable them to offer to the public a large lot of first class goods at prices little more than half their value, showing an early indication that value for money would be the basis of the Thorpe’s business to follow.

But it did not last. The 16th September 1864 edition of the St Helena Guardian advised that the firm of Thorpe & Co. have this day been dissolved by mutual consent. William then teamed up with one Donald McDonald and for the next six years Thorpe and McDonald would work together.

Economic depression hit St Helena after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the reduction of the Garrison by 60% in 1870. Donald McDonald admitted defeat and sold out to William on 1st November 1870, but despite all of this economic malaise William did not just survive but significantly grew his business, mainly at the expense of competitors who were forced to sell up cheaply and leave the island. During the latter decades of the 19th Century William was in a position to buy many large country houses and expanded his farming interests to the point where he owned over 4,000Km² of land, farming forming a significant part of his business. By 1905 he had purchased the whole of the ridge lands from Scott Alexander for £1,500{12}. Soon after he bought houses such as Woodlands, Woodcot and Mount Pleasant, in which his descendants still live today.

Thorpe’s Country shop (Sandy Bay) Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Thorpe’s Country shop (Sandy Bay)

William had a very simple business philosophy, which he communicated to his staff and customers with large signs in every shop emblazoned with the letters ‘S P Q R’. This was not the Latin phrase ‘Senatus Populusque Romanus’{13}; it officially meant ‘Service, Price, Quality and Range’, though unofficially it stood for ‘small profits, quick returns’ - very much William’s business philosophy.

His position as a leading citizen was recognised in 1892 when the St Helena government appointed him as coroner, and later as Justice for Peace. He also participated in public events - in 1897 he supported celebrations for Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee with the donation of several hogsheads of ale at a party held by Governor Sterndale at the Castle, a shrewd Public Relations move.

Current Thorpe’s Logo Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Current Thorpe’s Logo

William does not seem to have left the island very often, only being found on passenger lists in 1908, 1909 and 1914. He seems to have been as benevolent to his two daughters as he was tyrannical to his ten sons. When his eldest daughter Ethel married in 1899 he funded a lavish wedding to which everyone from Governor Sterndale downward was invited. His harsh treatment of his sons probably arose from the fact that he expected them to work in his business, yet his standards would have been very exacting. William’s poor relationship with his sons may have been revealed at his funeral when they opted out of acting as pallbearers, leaving the task to his friends.

On Sunday 12th January 1918. While out riding along the path above Stoney Point, William’s horse stumbled and he fell off, hitting the ground and rolling a long way down the slope, smashing his head against a rock. It took several hours before the unconscious body was retrieved and brought back to Mount Pleasant. William died two days later on 14th January. He was buried in the Knollcombe Baptist cemetery.

Benjamin Grant of the Guardian wrote an obituary stating he had known William from his youth up and can testify that no youth can boast a career as he could! Very unassuming - never seen to keep company with anyone - abstemious in his habits - in short a youth of exceptional character. Grant also commented, no islander has died here who has left such a large amount of property and money to his children as William Alexander Thorpe.

You can read a more detailed article (714.8Kb) by Ian Bruce and Nick Thorpe, originally published in ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{14}., September 2014{15}

Dr. W. J. J. Arnold (1867-1925)

Dr. W. J. J. Arnold (1867-1925) Saint Helena Island Info Important People

Wilberforce John James Arnold is commemorated on the Island’s most prominent memorial, a granite obelisk raised in 1926 by public subscription in the main square of Jamestown, as the greatest friend St Helena ever had. This is no exaggeration when it is considered that, over a period of twenty years, he carried the responsibilities of physician, surgeon, dentist, health officer, Justice of Peace, Member of Council and, on three occasions, Acting Governor.

He was born in Belfast, Ireland, in 1867, the eldest son of a surgeon. He attended Methodist College and Queen’s College (now Queen’s University) in Belfast and qualified for medicine and surgery in 1894. His health was always somewhat frail, and in an attempt to strengthen his constitution, he spent a year away from his medical studies at sea on a clipper ship. His first medical assignment after qualification was assistant surgeon at Aberdare, a coal district in Wales, at a small hospital.

In 1900 the Anglo-Boer War brought him to St Helena with the Volunteer Medical Staff Corps, to attend the troops and the Boer prisoners’ hospital in Jamestown.

In April 1903, Arnold became the Colonial Surgeon and Health Officer for the island, a poorly paid position (around £200{16} p.a. ‘plus horse allowance’) where overwork was his constant companion, especially because he was usually as the only doctor and the island was plagued by multiple epidemics during his tenure, including influenza, scarlet fever, diphtheria, and whooping cough. In this capacity he helped with the investigation into the Prosperous Bay Murder. In the 1904 ‘Blue BookGovernor Gallwey reports:

The Colonial Surgeon, Dr. Arnold, is indefatigable in his exertions to improve the sanitary conditions of the Colony, and his efforts have been most successful. Dr. Arnold is the only civil practitioner in the Colony, and he practically has sole medical charge of the entire civil population of St Helena.

Monument to Dr. W. J. J. Arnold Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Monument to Dr. W. J. J. Arnold

He was also a Justice of the Peace and involved in the affairs of the colonial government, serving temporarily as Acting Governor of the island several times after the death or departure of one of the regular governors.

He was a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, and left the Island only twice. He had a brief residence in England in 1912 to obtain a public health diploma from the University of Oxford, and during World War 1 (‘The Great War’) he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps on hospital ships and in Palestine, reaching the rank of Major, followed by a prolonged convalescence from malaria. He returned to St Helena in 1920 to cheers from the crowds at the Wharf.

His publication list includes only a single case report, but his skills and lasting legacy were in the area of public health. During his service as St Helena’s surgeon, he modernized the island’s sewer and water systems, campaigned against rats, taught the police how to administer first aid, introduced vaccination programs, and greatly improved the nutrition and health education of the islanders. No building could be built on the island without his explicit approval after a careful review of the structure’s possible health effects. Arnold’s tireless efforts paid off: the infant mortality rate and overall death rate on the island decreased by two-thirds, from 17.3 per thousand to 6.4 per thousand, between the commencement of his service in 1903 and his death 2 decades later.

It was not only his diligence and willingness to serve the Island in so many roles that earned him the love and respect of all classes, but his caring manner and the zeal which imbued all his work. He never stinted in his labours, visiting the sick and elderly, supporting charities from his own meagre funds, paying fees rather than accepting them from the poor, while living frugally as a bachelor, latterly at Maldivia by courtesy of the owner.

In November 1924 Dr. Arnold’s life was saved by an emergency operation performed by a visiting naval surgeon. Though far from well he resumed his duties, not only as the lone medical Officer, but as Acting Chief Justice and Acting Governor. In January 1925, with his health failing, Arnold was awarded the CMG (Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George) in the New Year’s Honours.

It was on 27th January 1925, while attending a ceremony at Longwood in this latter capacity, that he collapsed from a cerebral haemorrhage and died two days later, aged just 57.

It is said that half the population of St Helena flocked to his funeral. Thirty years later an elderly Saint told travel writer Lawrence Green, I tell you, a shiver went through this place the day the doctor died.

Dr. W. J. J. Arnold on a postage stamp Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Dr. W. J. J. Arnold on a postage stamp issued to mark The Quincentenary of St Helena

Very unusually his obituary was included in the 1925 ‘Blue Book’, thus:

It is with the deepest regret that the death is recorded of the late Colonial Surgeon Dr. W. J. J. Arnold, C.M.G., who died suddenly on 28th January. Dr. Arnold had given a life-time of devoted service to the Colony as medical officer, and, on three occasions, he had acted as Governor. He had gained the admiration and affection of all sections of the community, by whom his loss is greatly felt. A public subscription has been started to erect a monument in his memory. Dr. Arnold was awarded a Companionship of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George in the New Year’s Honours List a few days before his death.

The monument was duly erected in June 1926. The inscription on his monument reads:

This monument is erected by the inhabitants of St Helena and friends overseas to the memory of The Hon. W J J Arnold, C.M.G., M.D., D.P.H.
Born April 22nd 1867 at Belfast
Died January 29th 1925 whilst administering the Government of this Colony.
Colonial Surgeon from 1903 to 1925.
Served during the Great War{17}.
And was the greatest friend St Helena ever had.

He was also commemorated on a Postage Stamp, issued to mark the Island’s Quincentenary in 2002.

Canon L C Walcott (1880-1951) & his wife Winifred Ida Walcott (?-1941)

Canon Walcott c.1911 Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Canon Walcott c.1911

Lawrence Chase Walcott came to St Helena in April 1909 as Vicar of Jamestown and gave unstinting service to the Island community for almost forty years.

Born in 1880 of a West Indian barrister father and English mother, Walcott was educated in England and trained at St Augustine’s College, Canterbury, before being ordained in South Africa in 1906 and coming to St Helena as vicar. He soon made his mark as a diligent, single-minded and scholarly priest and pastor, winning the affection and trust of his parishioners. For several years, however, he faced opposition from country congregations who objected to a coloured priest though, as Bishop Holbech reminded them, most of them were themselves coloured.

In 1917 Walcott returned to England, but on hearing of the Bishop’s difficulty in replacing a successor, he returned to Jamestown in May 1921, accompanied by his bride, Winifred Ida. They remained to serve the island for the rest of their lives.

In addition to his parochial duties, Walcott vigorously supported Church schools, teacher training and youth work through the Church Lads’ Brigade and the Scout Movement.

Any fool can camp in the sunshine.

He founded the first Scout troop in 1912{18}, followed in 1921 by a guide Company founded by his wife, Winifred. When in 1936 they were inspected by Lord and Lady Baden-Powell the chief Scout expressed surprise at finding a group so large and so smartly turned out in uniform on such a little island.

Walcott was also a keen promoter of team games - football, hockey and especially cricket - for their character-building qualities. His influence was further strengthened through the monthly St Helena Magazine, the only island periodical, which he edited and printed for thirty years from 1921-51. For many years, when he was the only priest on the island apart from the Bishop, the distant district of Blue Hill was added to his pastoral care.

Magazine banner Saint Helena Island Info Important People

He was the island’s Superintendent of Schools from 1921 to 1939 and in September 1921 he took over the Diocesan Magazine, printing it himself. He later renamed it the St Helena Magazine to allow himself more freedom of speech, whilst including a column called Diocesan Notes. He continued publishing it until his death in 1951.

In 1950 Canon Walcott resigned on health on health grounds - he was 70 - and died at his home, Palm Villa, on 16th April 1951. He was buried next to Winifred, who predeceased him in 1941, in St. Paul’s Churchyard.

In 1986, on the 35th anniversary of his death, his memory was honoured by a large attendance of Scouts and Guides at a Requiem in the Cathedral and laying of wreaths. The new Guide Hall in Half Tree Hollow, opened on 22nd February 2002, was named the Walcott Guide Hall. He was commemorated on a Postage Stamp, issued to mark the Island’s Quincentenary in May 2002. Also as part of the Quincentenary Celebrations, a Walcott memorial was unveiled in St. James’ Church garden. Another granite stone with identical carving was placed on Canon and Mrs Walcott’s graves at St. Paul’s Churchyard.

Canon Walcott also gets an honorable mention on our Characters of St Helena page.

Winifred in Guides uniform 1915 Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Winifred in Guides uniform, 1915

1982 Scouting stamp Saint Helena Island Info Important People
1982 Scouting stamp

Quincentenary postage stamp Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Quincentenary postage stamp

Memorial by St. James’ Church Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Memorial by St. James’ Church

Eric ‘Mr. Music’ George MBE (1936-2001)

Eric M. George MBE Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Eric M. George, MBE

Eric M. George MBE was universally known on St Helena as ‘Mr. Music’ because of his lifelong contribution to the musical life of the island.

Born in March 1936 to Cecil & Dorothy George, Eric contracted polio at the age of nine. Deprived of the ability to participate in more physical activities he instead devoted his attention to music, learning the piano and joining the St Helena Band at an early age. He was a founder member of the Get Togethers Orchestra in 1974, remaining involed with both bands until just before his death. He also helped set up the Young Musicians Orchestra and the Ladies Orchestra.

Professionally he taught music in the island’s schools, starting his teaching career as soon as his own education finished at the age of 15. He was also one of those involved in the setting up of Radio St Helena, being responsible for the early schools broadcasts. Eric composed the musical ‘Fibre’, performed for HRH Prince Andrew during his visit to St Helena in 1985, and also co-wrote the Prince Andrew’s School song.

In 1996 he published a comprehensive history of the music on St Helena from 1940 to 1995 - ‘Music on St Helena’ - supported by audio tapes and music score sheets. In 1999 he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (MBE) which his family often joked stood for ‘Music Before Everything’. The award was presented to Eric at Plantation House on 8th April 1999 by Governor David Smallman.

Eric married Ivy on 7th January 1959. They had three children: Sandra, Patrick and Christopher. At Eric’s funeral his son Patrick played ‘Adieu to the Piano’ composed by Eric himself. In June 2008 a memorial plaque to Eric was unveiled at Prince Andrew’s School, where he taught for many years. The inscription reads:

This plaque is erected in proud memory of Eric ‘Music’ George MBE, a man with exceptional musical talents, which he willingly shared with people of all ages through both teaching and performance of music on St Helena and overseas.

You can read his obituary (944.7Kb), published in the St Helena Herald on 23rd November 2001.

 

Eric & son Chris 1970s Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Eric & son Chris, 1970s

Eric conducts the Ladies Orchestra Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Eric conducts the Ladies Orchestra

Eric conducts the Young Musicians Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Eric conducts the Young Musicians

Award of the MBE Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Award of the MBE

Funeral procession Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Funeral procession

Memorial Plaque Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Memorial Plaque

Eric’s widow, Ivy Frederica George, A.C.E. J.P., died in September 2002, aged 65.

Johnny Drummond (1956-2003)

Johnny Drummond was a strong proponent of free media on St Helena, and through his legacy made possible the creation of the island’s first independent radio station, Saint FM.

Johnny Drummond (1956-2003) Saint Helena Island Info Important People

John Drummond was born in Hong Kong on 11th February 1956, the son of Margaret and Gilbert Drummond. His father was working for Cable & Wireless at the time and the family moved around the world to Mr. Drummond’s different postings, one of which was Zanzibar. Johnny always said that he learnt a lot from Zanzibar; things like respecting people without thinking about colour, religion, race or their status in society. This respect and genuine care was something that followed Johnny throughout his entire life.

Johnny was sent to boarding school but never spoke any positive words about the experience. He was not a person suited for uniformity, strict school discipline and limited scope for creativity. After boarding school, Johnny entered art school and his educational career was crowned with a degree in sculpting. Truly a man of the arts, painting, sculpting, literature and music were his passions and his general knowledge, especially in those areas was tremendous.

Johnny Drummond at The Herald Saint Helena Island Info Important People

In the early eighties, Johnny’s parents came to St Helena and suggested that Johnny should join them for a holiday, which he did in 1983 - and he didn’t leave St Helena again for 18 years. In St Helena he put his knowledge into use as a teacher, becoming an established member of the teaching staff at Prince Andrew School in January 1989. In March 1998 he felt it was time to move on to something different and he successfully applied for the post as Information Officer in St Helena Government and Editor for the St Helena News. The St Helena News Media Board{19} was created the following year to move media further away from the Government of St Helena and Johnny continued as Editor for the St Helena News and its successor, the St Helena Herald until shortly before his death.

Johnny was part of the Island community. It was his home. He felt Saints should be proud of who and what they are. He took the job as Editor of the St Helena Herald because he felt it was here he could help the community; where he felt he could express the views of the people. But Johnny was never happy with the conflict within a supposedly arms-length media that survived through government funding, and recognised the need for a different organisation: a new radio station, totally independent of Government or any other bodies which would provide a truly free media for the people of St Helena. This concept later became Saint FM.

In September 2002 Johnny had to be emergency-evacuated from St Helena due to imminent liver failure. As the RMS St Helena was not scheduled to call for some weeks this involved flagging down a passing ship. Johnny recovered and resumed his duties later in the year, but eventually died of cancer on 27th October 2003. He left a substantial legacy which was designated for the creation of the new media organisation he had long proposed: an independent radio station, free from government funding and supported entirely by commercial advertising. And hence in 2004 Saint FM was born.

You can read a Tribute to Johnny (512.6Kb), published in the St Helena Herald (the newspaper he edited) on 31st October 2003.

Cathy Hopkins MBE (1946-2017)

2017 Saint Helena Island Info Important People
With MBE 2007 Saint Helena Island Info Important People
With MBE, 2007

Margaret Anne Catherine (“Cathy”) Hopkins, neé Bell, was born in the UK on 2nd December 1946.

Cathy came to St Helena in 1970 under the VSO scheme programme. She met her husband-to-be Keith and they went back to the UK together, returning married with two daughters in 1976 to settle here.

She started working for the Government of St Helena as a teacher in September 1980. Cathy also served as a Member of Legislative Council, from 1989 until 1992 representing Longwood West and again from 2001 to 2005 representing Alarm Forest{20} (she did not stand for re-election in 2005). She was also elected onto Executive Council. In July 1997 she became the Government of St Helena’s UK Representative, based in London, for three years until June 2000 when she returned to the role of teacher. Most recently she served as both Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Legislative Council.

But Cathy will be best remembered not for her service for the Government of St Helena but for her contribution to community life on St Helena.

In church 2002 Saint Helena Island Info Important People

Cathy chaired the Arts & Crafts Group and was heavily involved in Church activities, including being Organist, Churchwarden and Secretary to the St. James’ Restoration Action Group. She was a member, and for a while Chair, of the St Helena Heritage Society and active in the St Helena National Trust, serving as Director from 2005 to 2007. She also taught students to play musical instruments, especially the flute, and led the Young Musicians Group started by Eric George. But despite having served in high office for the Government of St Helena, Cathy could regularly be seen out on the roads of St Helena, black plastic sack in hand picking up litter - a purely voluntary activity.

She was awarded the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Birthday Honours, June 2007. The photo (right) shows her, with daughters Anne & Marianne, after the investiture at Buckingham Palace on 14th November 2007.

The award of MBE to Mrs Hopkins was recommended in recognition of her contribution to Island life and development including in particular, her services in the teaching profession and her services as a member of the Executive Council and Legislative Council. It also takes account of her services in the voluntary sector which includes being a member of the Heritage Society and her work with the Young Musicians. Recognition has also been given to her active involvement in St Helena’s quest for the restoration of British Citizenship and for her voluntary work in the church.{c}

Her last major project, and arguably her legacy, was the creation of the St Helena Equality & Human Rights Commission, a project she started in 2008 and carried forward to the opening of the Commission on 10th December 2015 - International Human Rights Day. Cathy chaired the Commission from its creation until forced by illness to step down.

Cathy was designated the ‘Women In St Helena’ Woman of the year for 2016, her nominator describing her as the epitome of kindness and selflessness. She died of Mesothelioma{21} on 2nd April 2017.

Some Honourable Mentions

Although not really an Important Person as required for this page, we decided to give the following brief mentions…

Below: William John BurchellDenzil IbbetsonThomas R. Bruce

William John Burchell

William John Burchell gets his honourable mention because of the drawings and watercolours he left behind.

Redwood by Burchell Saint Helena Island Info Important People
Redwood, by Burchell{d}

Burchell was engaged on St Helena by the East India Company as botanist & schoolmaster from 1805 to 1810. He clearly spent a lot of his time here making drawings and watercolours, which provide an invaluable record of the island just before Napoleon Bonaparte arrived. Many of his images are reproduced on Saint Helena Island Info. They are Copyright © the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and used with permission{15}.

Denzil Ibbetson

Denzil Ibbetson also gets his honourable mention because of the drawings and watercolours he left behind, but also for his contribution to the Theatre.

‘Landing of Napoleon’ 1815 Saint Helena Island Info Important People
‘Landing of Napoleon’, 1815{e}

Ibbetson was one of a handful of British Army officers who were on St Helena for the full six-year period of Napoleon’s exile. He arrived in 1815 with Napoleon aboard the Northumberland, and left in 1823, two years after the Emperor’s death. He was a talented amateur artist, famous for his drawings of Napoleon, and was also the chief commissary officer on St Helena. When Ibbetson was not feeding the army or making drawings of Napoleon he was often to be found performing on the stage of the St Helena Amateur Theatre. As well as acting in 43 plays between 1816 and 1823, he was also theatre manager and the accountant.

Thomas R. Bruce

Thomas R. Bruce gets his honourable mention because he was the first islander to design a postage stamp.

He was postmaster 1898-1928 and designed the 1922-1937 George V stamps. He also painted The ‘Rollers’ of 1846, from an earlier sketch by an unknown artist. He was the grandfather of Ian Bruce.

You can read more about him and the Bruce family.

Read More

More stories on our page Read articles about St Helena.

Article: A Rich Ancestry on St Helena

Published in the St Helena Independent 15th August 2008{15}

On Wednesday, Eben Welby-Solomon visited The Saint FM/Independent. Eben said:

I have come here to do research on my family history. It has been my desire for a number of years to come back and chronicle my family history, which is quite fascinating, particularly in light of its ties with St Helena. I am a descendant of the Welby and Solomon families. In 1873 Saul Solomon (grandson of the Saul Solomon who founded Solomon & Co.) married Katherine Welby (daughter of Bishop Welby, the 2nd Bishop of St Helena). They had four children, the second oldest of which was my great grandfather. This has led me here to come and research and record a lot of that history. I have sought to seek first hand accounts and records that provide the details and perspectives of there lives over the generations. Saul Solomon was the original founder at the turn of the 18th Century. I know there has been some speculation around exactly when he started trading here on St Helena which has been estimated to be about 1796, and Saul Solomon was one of a number of quite a big family. It is estimated that he had seventeen or eighteen siblings, bearing in mind at the time infant mortality was quite high so some of these did not reach adulthood. Saul journeyed here and set up a trading company with a number of partners. From there on, the family interests was passed through the generations to his one son, Nathaniel Solomon, and later on to his grandson Saul Solomon, from whom I am a descendant. He married Katherine Welby, who was the daughter of Bishop Welby on the island in the late 1800s as well, so they established the Welby-Solomon surname and they had four children, the first being Arthur Welby Solomon and then Cyril Welby Solomon, who’s my great grandfather and then Homfray Welby Solomon, who is quite well known on the island. He stayed on to consolidate a lot of the family interests and he passed away in 1960. This was really the end of the Solomon family dynasty and Solomons was then bought out by a number of investors and eventually ended up in Government’s hands, which is where it currently stands with some minority investors. There was also a fourth child, Mary Jessica Solomon. I am here to find out some of the detail around her whereabouts. I understand she moved back to England at some stage, but am also wanting to go through some of the Records and understand the broader family movements in the early to mid 1900’s.

Solomon family tree Saint Helena Island Info Important People

Eben heard a lot about St Helena and the family background on the Island when he was young but:

Unfortunately, it was very limited because a lot of the history was passed down orally. There were some photographs and a few artefacts which were passed down the generations. One also needs to bear in mind that my great grandfather left more than a century ago, in 1899. Of some interest is that Cyril bought some land in Cape Town on his arrival and that that land has passed through the generations. My father currently still resides on that land. A lot of the land has over the years been sub-divided and is now part of a residential area. The only remnants of the original farm are the existing cowsheds, which I grew up to know, and are still on the property. The cowsheds were part of a small dairy and farming enterprise they had in the early 1900s. There has certainly been a great affinity with the island of St Helena, it is my first visit here and certainly been much anticipated and it’s really exceeded all my expectations, it has been quite incredible.

Eben hopes to write a book about his family history.

I think with this oral history that has been passed down the line, my curiosity really kicked into gear and I felt that I really would love to chronicle the family history. It is such a fascinating history and not only looking at the Solomon side. As I mentioned, the Welby family was also quite prominent, Bishop Welby was the longestserving Bishop on the island, he was the second Bishop of the Diocese and also some fascinating stories which I have been able to uncover. It has been fantastic to meet some people who knew my great Uncle Homfray and to be able to account some of their stories and interactions with the family.

Eben has had a lot of help with his research into his background, he said:

People have really been incredible. A sincere thanks to everyone including Solomon and Company, Eric Constantine in particular has been a great help and aid, as well as Tracy and Barry his colleagues. I have also had assistance from the Archives, where Lacosta and Tracy have been incredible. They actually began doing some research for me from three or four weeks before I came.

Barbara George was also kind enough to provide some research she and Trevor Hearl had done some years back. Eben is a Management Consultant by profession and has a passion for business.

I work predominantly with corporate clients in South Africa as well as the Provincial Government of the Western Cape on aspects of corporate governance and means of improving service delivery. We also have some small family interests in property and my dad has a well established engineering consulting firm in Cape Town. I am one of three boys in the family. I live in the suburb of Pinelands in Cape Town with my wonderful wife, Enid, and our two boys Christen and Matthew.

Closing Humour Saint Helena Island Info Important People

Laugh at funny Important People humour LOL Saint Helena Island Info


Credits:

{a} Museum of St Helena

{b} ‘U.S. Consular Mail from St Helena’ (2002) by Michael D. Mueller (St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Philatelic Society (SHATPS)).

{c} Government of St Helena, 15th June 2007{15}

{d} William John Burchell

{e} Denzil Ibbetson



Footnotes:

{1} In ‘A History of the Island of St Helena’, by T. H. Brooke, Esq., published in 1808.

{2} It is worthy of note that South Carolina has an area known as ‘Saint Helena Island’. It would be nice to think it was so named by George Gabriel Powell, in memory of his place of birth, but it seems more likely it was named by the Spanish, many years earlier. So what an interesting coincidence it is that Powell ended up there!

{3}

{4}

{5} This was not, it seems, Napoleon’s first visit to Mount Pleasant. According the Governor Lowe’s records for 3rd January 1816: As we were on the point of sitting down to dinner [at Plantation House], we were, to our great surprise, informed that the Emperor, in company with the Admiral, had just passed very near the gate of Plantation House; and one of the guests (Mr. Doveton of Sandy Bay) observed that Napoleon had, in the morning, honoured him with a visit, and spent three quarters of an hour at his house..

{6}

{7}

{8} As also did a number of other islanders, including George R. Bruce (6.6Mb).

{9} Note that some sources give Dr. Barry’s arrival date as 13th February 1837.

{10} A.W. MASON, writing in 1921, quoted this remark and added This description appears to be correct today as it was when written nearly fifty years ago, and in dealing with such a race it is vitally important in anything which the Government may inaugurate for their benefit to remember that self-reliance and initiative are - with a few exceptions - to a great degree lacking.. Mason was reporting on the prospects for agriculture on St Helena. Unsurprisingly, given his negative and arguably racists views, he was not encouraging. Read the full report. (134.2Kb).

{11} Their only know child, which would have been quite unusual for that period but the Records do not contain any explanation.

{12}

{13} ‘the senate and people of Rome’.

{14} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.

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

{16}

{17} World War 1 (‘The Great War’).

{18} Some sources erroneously give the date as 1915 but a report of the Fourth Annual Account of the Association, published in 1913 in the UK press, refers to a St Helena troop as having been ‘lately established’, possibly following from the visit of the ‘Chief Scout’, the Duke of Connaught in 1910.

{19} Incorporating the St Helena News newspaper and Radio St Helena.

{20} At that time the twelve Legislative Council members each represented a constituency.

{21} Greater than 80% of mesothelioma cases are caused by exposure to asbestos. As Cathy never worked in the building trade it can only be assumed this was a secondary exposure. Asbestos was commonly used as a building material on St Helena, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. Many buildings today retain asbestos roofs.

 

20 Gold Franc coin Saint Helena Island Info Important People

{22} Why charge in Gold Francs? Well, clearly the bill was being paid by the French and in those times pretty much any form of money was accepted on St Helena. Exclusive use of Sterling didn’t arrive until after the Crown took over St Helena in 1834. A 20 gold franc (picture, right) coin would appear to have had a value then of around £1{6}, making the bill £700{7}.



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