It’s the economy, stupid

This Island of abandoned schemes…
Editorial comment in the Diocesan Magazine, February 1963


St Helena has never been economically self-sufficient; but it wasn’t for the want of trying.

This page is in indexes: Island History Saint Helena Island Info IndustriesIsland History, Island People Saint Helena Island Info IndustriesIsland People, Island Detail Saint Helena Island Info IndustriesIsland Detail

Industries Saint Helena Island Info

From the first settlement of St Helena in 1659 right up to the time of writing St Helena has never ‘paid its way’. The East India Company largely accepted this, seeing the strategic advantages of possession as outweighing the costs, though they still encouraged the island to support itself as much as possible. However by the time the Crown took over, in 1834, the strategic advantage was waning and in the intervening years many attempts have been made to generate self-sufficiency. We look below at many of these industries; successful and not so…

St Helena in its limited circumstances is unable to produce an exportable commodity which can compete on world markets with modern production techniques in other more favoured territories.
The ‘Blue Book’, 1970/3

Below: 1684: Salt1690: Vin de St Helena1691: Tobacco1774: Whaling1774: Dolphin Fishing1824: Silk Production1856: Postage Stamps1867: Cinchona19th Century: ‘Leaky Ships’1907: Lace1908: Fish Processing & Canning1914: Flax1935: Lily Bulbs1984: Coins1994: Coffee ProductionOthersWhy did they fail?The Future?

1684: Salt 

Salt Saint Helena Island Info Industries

The Records show a letter from The East India Company Directors in London to Governor Blackmore saying that We understand by Captain Bass that salt is very plentiful about the island, made by the heat of the Sun congealing the salt water upon or in the holes of the Rocks and proposing the creation of a salt-making industry. Seawater would be let into some valley or raised by some pumps or engines to ponds, and after the water had evaporated the salt would be collected. Captain Bass apparently proposed Rupert’s Valley for this enterprise.

We can find no evidence that this instruction was ever acted upon.

1690: Vin de St Helena 

Vin de St Helena 1690 Saint Helena Island Info Industries

In January 1690 several French Huguenots (Protestants), fleeing persecution at home under Louis XIV, arrived and were encorage to attempt the creation of a St Helena wine industry. The East India Company had been told tales of success in France, albeit with a little caution:

All the Vineroons that goe with him are likewise French protestants, but we must tell you the French are excellent servants if you keep them under and hold them sharply to their duty, but are apt to grow insolent and negligent if they be not held to their work as they are in France - and if you give them ear, they will not leave craving and asking, against which troublesome humour you must arm yourselves irresistibly if you expect to have any quietness with them.{a}

Their leader was a man by the name of Stephen Poirier, who was given the rank of Captain. The area chosen was in the area of Horse Pasture, though the exact location is not known. By June 1691 vineyard development was reported to be well under way and when Captain Dampier visited he was anxious to see the vinyards but prevented from doing so by poor weather. When one Seaman Barlow, a frequent visitor, arrived in 1694 he made no mention whatsoever of the vinyards in his Journal, though a minute of The East India Company for 1709 reports that the island produced 140 gallons of wine.

…and there the story ends. The wine production and the vinyards are never heard of again in the Records. What happened?

One theory is that, with the assasination of Governor Johnston in 1693 Captain Poirier became acting Governor. Did the vineyards fail because his attentions were directed elsewhere? The short answer is - we don’t know. No Records exist to document the industry’s fate or the reasons for its demise. Maybe an unrecorded spell of wet weather wiped out the vines; the weather on St Helena is known to be prone to bad spells. Or it could be that, coming from Northern France, the Huguenots brought vines that needed an annual frost to keep them healthy, and St Helena has never experienced frost. It would be nice to know in case anyone considers trying St Helena wine again!

Two of the Huguenots are known to have remained on St Helena. Samuel Defountain founded a family of farmers, though later disgraces brought the family name into disrepute. And Captain Poirier went on to become Governor Poirier (1697-1707).

1691: Tobacco 

Tobacco cultivation Saint Helena Island Info Industries

In 1691 The East India Company decided to turn St Helena from being supplied almost exclusively from England towards more self-sufficiency. In addition to sugar-canes, cotton and indigo, an area was set aside for growing tobacco. On maps as early as that of John Thornton, 1703 can be found an area to the east of the island entitled ‘Tobacco Valley’. It appears up to the map by R. P. Read, 1817 and then vanishes. Comparison of old and new maps suggests Tobacco Valley is now Fisher’s Valley in Longwood.

It is reported that the crop failed, due to lack of proper manuring of the soil. The industry was attempted again in 1869, but abandoned when the supplied expert from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew was withdrawn.

John Melliss{1} reports:

Although in one year no less than 18,207lbs of tobacco, and 1,620lbs of cigars, upon which a high duty is levied, were imported into the Island, not a single pound of native-grown tobacco is gathered either for home consumption or for exportation.

And yet wild tobacco is reported as being harvested and locally smoked as late as the early 20th Century and the report of the (original) discovery of Louden’s Ben’s cave says that a large quantity of island tobacco nicely done up in rolls was found there.

More recently, during the stay of the Boer Prisoners, the industry was re-tried (again!), using the prisoners’ skills, but this did not survive their departure in 1902. With current views towards tobacco and tobacco products it is unlikely it would ever be resurrected.

1774: Whaling 

Whalers Saint Helena Island Info Industries

Whaling began off St Helena after American Independence, when British whaling fleets were forced out of the Northwest Atlantic, but the industry really took off in the 19th Century. To support this flourishing industry, Governor Robert Brooke (1878-1801) proposed the creation of a whale fishing ‘depot’ on St Helena, providing transshipment for whaling products back to Britain. Two whale species were hunted: Sperm Whales, which would yield between 25 and 90 barrels of oil per whale, and Right Whales, providing useful whale bone (a component of corsets, popular at the time). Whale oil provided fuel for lighting, lubricated machines and made soap and candles. Whale oil was also popular with watchmakers, and other precision instrument manufacturers.

In 1829, 22 whaling ships were reported as visiting St Helena: two Americans and twenty British. An attempt was made to set up a whaling company in 1837, but investors declined to participate and the share offering failed. The industry declined over the following 25 years and in 1855, although a total of 46 whaling ships called at St Helena, only three were British. The industry continued to decline and when Governor Cordeaux argued upon his arrival in 1912 that the industry should be restarted he was met with indifference. The industry was finished.

You can read more about our whaling industry on our Whaling page.

1774: Dolphin Fishing 

Dolphin in the bay Saint Helena Island Info Industries
Dolphin in the bay{b}

Incredible as it may seem, with dolphins now not only a protected species but also part of our tourism industry, until relatively recently dolphins were hunted for meat. (The same, of course, could be said for whales.)

It seems likely that dolphins were first hunted, at least in significant numbers, by the whaling fleets. John Melliss{1} reports a whaling captain describing how these creatures do exhibit prismatic colours immediately they are taken on board after capture. When the whaling industry collapsed it seems local fishermen continued to hunt dolphins, in addition to their usual catch of tuna and other fish. Fishing was manual, using a hand-thrown harpoon until the 1960s when spears became common. in 1978 the Fisheries Corporation recorded the landing of 37 dolphins, though in those days it was not required that catches were sold exclusively to Fisheries, so the actual number caught would have been higher, possibly up to 200. In the 1960s dolphin meat was sold for around 6d/lb and was very popular on St Helena.

The industry did not fail, it was prohibited. Dolphin fishing became illegal in the early 1980s and the industry ceased at that time.

1824: Silk Production 

Blue Silk Saint Helena Island Info Industries
Blue Silk

In June 1824 Governor Walker decided that St Helena would be a suitable place to produce silk. Silkworms were ordered from India, but they died in transit. A second batch, supplied from China by one of the Chinese workmen arrived successfully. Mulberry bushes, the intended food for the silkworms, were planted in what is now known as Mulberry Gut near Longwood, and in mid-1827 The Briars was purchased for £6,000 to be a silk farm. The Records show that in early 1829 52lbs of silk had been sold in London for between 9s 9d and 18s 6d per lb. And then…

Actually we don’t know what happened next. Evidently the industry did not survive. John Melliss{1} reports that the Mulberry Trees remained but the silkworm has long since disappeared. The ‘Blue Book’ for 1892 reports silk being produced at Maldivia Gardens but there are no records of any sales. No reports have been found of any other income being earned, or any further silk having been produced. It is our assumption that the project was abandoned in Governor Dallas’s time before it could become established, or when control of the island moved from The East India Company to the Crown on 22nd April 1834. An attempt was made by Father Daine in 1892 to re-start the industry, but this too obviously failed as there is no record of any progress.

1856: Postage Stamps 

1912-16 pictorials Saint Helena Island Info Industries
1912-16 pictorials

St Helena’s first postage stamps were issued in 1856, and from the beginning our issued stamps were of interest to collectors worldwide. It was not realised at first that income could be earned from this. The sale of stamps was discovered to exceed that required for transmission of letters and packets, the balance being the demands of philatelists; The ‘Blue Book’ for 1892 reports income of £199, and this was up to £777 in 1908. The first pictorial stamps were issued in 1903 but it was the 1922 pictorials, designed by Thomas R. Bruce that first really excited the collectors and that design remained on sale for the next 15 years.

The first true commemorative set wasn’t issued until 1934, celebrating a century of Crown rule, followed by a Silver Jubilee issue in 1935. These were also considered very collectable and commemoratives have been issued ever since. In 1935 the Post Office was the island’s largest single revenue earner at £5,814 (28% of total revenue for the year; just ahead of Customs at 24%). Currently the St Helena Post Office issues on avrerage around 2 sets per year (the recent peak was 8 in 1999), though since 2012 worldwide philatelic sales are now handled by agents in the UK due to the transport issues associated with shipping from St Helena. You can buy St Helena stamps online from the St Helena Post Office Philately Sales website. Stamps are often bought by cruise ship visitors - they are small and easily transported.

With the introduction of the Internet and email sales of stamps for the transmission of letters and packets is in decline, but sales to collectors seem to be robust (£89,000 in 2008/9).

You can read more about our postage stamps and postal history on our Postage Stamps page.

1867: Cinchona 

cinchona officinalis Saint Helena Island Info Industries
cinchona officinalis

Cinchona was the source of an important product for the British Empire: Quinine, used to ward off malaria. In 1813 one Dr. Roxburgh, from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, recommended the introduction of Cinchona plants, in four varieties ( cinchona calisaya, cinchona officinalis, cinchona pahudiana and cinchona succirubra) from South America, and that the young plants be raised here for later transmission to India. This was acted upon in the time of Governor Elliot. Dr. Hooker, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew also advised the culture of Cinchona plants. Governor Elliot agreed with his plan, and a skilled gardener, J. H. Chalmers, was sent out from Kew, and Cinchona planting rapidly progressed. By the end of 1869 there were around 10,000 Cinchona plants, raised from seed and cuttings in a nursery at Plantation House then planted out at the Peaks. Plants were in all stages of growth, vigorous and in good health, with many approaching a metre in height. In December, 1869 Mr Chalmers reported:

It might seem premature to offer an opinion in respect to this, at so short a time from the commencement of the experiment, but considering the progress the plants have made, the extraordinarily long period of drought to which they were subjected during the very earliest stages of their growth, and perhaps, too, at times not the most favourable treatment resulting from inexperience on my part, I can express myself well satisfied with their present promising state.

All seemed well with significant income on the horizon, but in 1870 Governor Elliot was replaced by Governor Patey. The latter did not agree that Cinchona was the way forward for St Helena and, such was the power of a Governor in those days, he directed in December 1870 that the industry be terminated. The plantation was neglected, and soon totally abandoned. As far as we can tell none of the plants was ever harvested or shipped to India and the experiment, initially so promising, ended in failure purely due to Governor Patey. John Melliss{1} reports that in 1871 around 300 plants remained, reaching heights of 1.4m, and also that by 1874 some plants were thriving in a way which proves that they have the right soil and climate. Some may remain, but are likey to have been cleared as a non-endemic species.

19th Century: ‘Leaky Ships’ 

Leaky Ships Saint Helena Island Info Industries

We were intrigued to read in The ‘Blue Book’ for 1887 Governor Grey-Wilson reporting the smallest ever revenue collection in the year and stating that The falling off was due to the absence of leaky ships, not one of which arrived during 1887. We explored further…

Leaks ships, it seems, referred to a significant source of revenue for the island caused by un-seaworthy ships calling in for repair on their way up or down the South Atlantic (estimated in The ‘Blue Book’ for 1880 at £1,200 per annum). In addition to income earned by fixing the ships there were customs duties collected from the ships for goods offloaded as well as spending by their crews while repairs were being effected. A tidy little business but entirely ruined by the passage of what is described in the Report as Imperial Legislation requiring all Her Majesty’s ships to be regularly inspected and carry a sea-worthiness certificate. With fewer ‘Leaky Ships’ to repair, revenues and employment fell.

It is noted that other causes exist for the reduced revenue: the opening of the Suez Canal, diverting Orient-bound ships away from the South Atlantic; more steam-powered ships capable of completing the journey between the Cape and the North Atlantic without a stop-over in St Helena; and the advent of tinned-goods, reducing the need to stop for provisions for the ships’ crews. It seems St Helena’s economy was the victim of the inventions of the Victorian era!

In The ‘Blue Book’ for 1906 Governor Gallwey reported that in the four years I have been in the colony not a single leaking ship has called at the island.

1907: Lace 

Lace making Saint Helena Island Info Industries
Lace making

After experiments from the 1890s our lace making industry took off in 1907, organised by Bishop Holbech with a Government grant of £470, supported by an enthusiastic Governor Gallwey. Ms Penderel Moody arrived in May, to be followed by Helen Girdwood in 1908, establishing the first Government Lace School, based in what is now the Post Office building. Business was initially good and while the income was not enough to balance the island’s budget (from 1912-1914 the income from sales was just over £1,500), it did provide employment for many women at a time when there were few other opportunities. Sadly, like so many other industries on this page, events took a turn against it - Helen Girdwood became ill at the end of 1916 and had to leave St Helena. She was not replaced and the School closed at the beginning of 1917. But this was not the end of lace making on St Helena.

Lace training was revived in the 1940s when Nelly & Minnie Finnigan arrived. Classes moved into the island’s schools and public library and the craft has been handed down ever since. It is not really fair to describe it as an ‘industry’ - it provides little income for the island, though perhaps if the number of tourists dramatically increases, as has been predicted to result from the advent of the St Helena Airport, it may again grow in importance.

You can read more about our lace industry on our Lace Making page. Locally-made Lace is sold on St Helena.

1908: Fish Processing & Canning 

Emperor Brand Tuna 2005 Saint Helena Island Info Industries
Emperor Brand Tuna, 2005

Attempts have been made since the late 19th Century to start an industry processing locally-caught fish for export. Despite some short-term successes - the longest lasting was Emperor Brand Tuna (photo, right) which continued for more than 25 years, but some lasted less than a year - today fish is not exported from St Helena. To read more about the ups and downs of our fish-export industry, see our Fish Processing page.

1914: Flax 

Flax processing Saint Helena Island Info Industries
Flax processing{c}

After a few false starts from 1874 onwards, a Government flax mill at Longwood was built in 1907, funded by a grant from the Imperial Government of £4,070. Initial progress was slow but the island’s flax industry really took off with the demand for rope and fibre due to World War 1. It proceeded successfully, providing work for many and a reasonable income for the three industry owning families. At its peak flax covered over 12,000Km² of land and the industry directly employed up to 500 people.

However after World War 2 the industry fell into decline, partly because of competition from synthetic fibres, but partly because the delivered price of the island’s flax was, due to processing and shipping costs, substantially higher than world prices. Mills elsewhere in the world had automated the process by 1930; however the Government of St Helena imposed financial penalties on any mill owner who employed labour-saving techniques. The machinery in use here in 1965 was the same as that designed in New Zealand in 1900. The decision by the British Post Office in 1965 to switch to using synthetic fibres and the removal of the £5 per ton Government of St Helena subsidy dealt the final blow. Within the year the island’s flax mills closed, the last closing in 1966. The 54-year boom was over.

The full story of St Helena’s flax industry is told on our The Flax Industry page.

1935: Lily Bulbs 

Arum Lily zantedeschia aethiopica Saint Helena Island Info Industries

In 1935 the island’s Agricultural Officer, Kenneth Toms, sent some Arum Lily zantedeschia aethiopica bulbs back to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where they attracted interest. A UK firm thought the bulbs would find favour with British gardeners and so set itself up to import the bulbs for UK sale. The bulbs were found to be of high quality, and quickly became popular. They were shipped annually in the middle of the year, allowing the bulbs to be planted in time to flower at Christmas - hence their local name: Christmas Lillies. Working with the UK Colonial Office it was planned that as many as 50,000-100,000 bulbs per annum could be sold in the UK. In 1937 5,646 bulbs were exported giving income of just over £107. In 1938 this increased to 9,250 bulbs.

Unfortunately, World War 2 intervened and severely disrupted shipping of the bulbs, though in 1940 a total of 64,000 made it successfully to the UK. But the following year shipping delays meant that more than half the 41,000 bulbs shipped arrived rotten and unusable. Exports were stopped until the end of the war.

Post-war the UK had put a ban on the only source of competing bulbs, which came from Japan, so prospects for the industry seemed bright, but as always with a St Helena industry, fate had other ideas. An infestation of ‘eel worm’ reached epidemic proportions on the island, rendering most of the bulbs un-exportable. Nothing seemed able to defeat the infestation. In one year only 1,000 bulbs were exported. By the time the plague had subsided, superior Japanese bulbs were again permitted for import to the UK and the St Helena trade never resumed. In 1959 a notice in the St Helena Wirebird{8} mentions that We are again trying to build up the export trade of these bulbs but we can find no later references to this industry.

It is not known how the Arum Lily got to St Helena, but presumably it was imported by gardeners. They grow wild across the island, and in bloom are a beautiful sight. However the Arum Lily is actually an invasive species. It is our previous national flower.

1984: Coins 

Island coins 1984 Saint Helena Island Info Industries
Island coins, 1984

In the 1970s, inspired by the income earned from Postage Stamps it was suggested that, if St Helena had its own currency, money could be made by selling coin sets to numismatists. The new currency would be the St Helena Pound, ISO code ‘SHP’, and would be linked 1:1 with the British Pound, GBP. The passage of the Currency Fund Ordinance of 1975 and the Currency Regulations of 1976 established a currency board and the new St Helena pound became legal tender. The first St Helena banknotes were issued on 2nd February 1976 and the first coins were issued on 3rd January 1984.

Income was indeed earned from numismatists, though as with the Postage Stamps the returns made very little impact on St Helena’s budget. Income from the Currency Fund averaged £191,000 for the period 2006/07 to 2012/13 and, once costs were deducted for printing notes, minting coins and investment management charges, the averaged net income was £99,000 a year.

Recently the decision has been questioned. it has been pointed out that the income from coin sales goes to the Government of St Helena, but individuals and businesses on St Helena incur costs converting SHP into GBP to pay for goods and services sourced from overseas. It has been suggested that these costs may approach, or even exceed the profit gained, resulting in a net negative impact on the economy. At the time of writing this is still under review.

You can read more about our notes and coins and monetary history on our Notes and Coins of St Helena page and the article ‘St Helena’s Forgotten Currency Board(28.2Kb) may also be of interest.

1994: Coffee Production 

Coffee production Saint Helena Island Info Industries
Coffee production

Coffee was first introduced to St Helena in 1733 when Green Tipped Bourbon Coffee seeds were brought from Mocha in Yemen. It was grown only for local consumption until Napoleon praised it (The only good thing about St Helena is the coffee) during his exile here. St Helena grown beans were sent to London and caused a small sensation, based largely on Napoleon’s endorsement, and by 1845 it was selling in London at 1d per pound. In 1851 it won a Premiere Award at the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace. Any yet, in the following years export seems to have stopped. The 1900 accounts do not mention coffee production or any income from it.

The industry was revived in 1994 when David Henry, a Saint previously living in the UK, returned with plans to grow St Helena coffee in exportable quantities, using his contacts in the world coffee industry to secure overseas sales. As part of this initiatve grants were offered by the Government of St Helena for others to set up coffee growing, and several new producers joined the market in the following years.

David himself ran into difficulties with his business and left St Helena, but other producers continued. In August 2015 it went on sale in Harrods (London). Volumes remain small and the income earned does not come anywhere near to funding St Helena, but it does generate an income for the producers and employment for coffee pickers and others.

You can read more about our coffee production on our St Helena Coffee page.


We have only snippits of information about these. If you can tell us more please contact us.

  • Olive oil was successfully produced in September 1868 from olives grown at The Briars but no industry was established.

  • Potatoes were exported to the UK and the Cape in the 1890s, but the revenue earned was small (£679 in 1897 against total island expenditure of just over £13,000). Mr Mosely did attempt to re-start exports in 1909 but without success. (He also tried pears, with the same result.){7}

  • In The ‘Blue Book’ for 1905 Governor Gallwey expressed optimism that a Manganese Ore export business might be started, following a visit from a representative of the ‘Cape Manganese Ore Company, Limited’ but the following year he had to report disappointment due to the unfavourable reports of the experts on the manganese deposits, who concluded there was too little ore and it was of inferior quality. A simiar fate befel a proposed Phosphate-exporting industry the following year.

  • In 1907 a concession was granted to James Morrison & Co. to work manganese and guano deposits.

  • Potatoes and pears were grown in 1909, for export to the UK.

  • In June 1921 cotton was planted on Prosperous Bay Plain. Occasional stray cotton bushes can be seen in Half Tree Hollow but none remained on Prosperous Bay Plain even before they started building the Airport.

  • The first Cruise Ship called on 19th February 1930. Ships have called ever since but in insufficient numbers to generate significant income for the island, though local merchants and souvenir makers do benefit.

  • An attempt was made in April 1933 to start a lobster fishing industry.

  • In 1937 a failed attempt was made to grow for export Potatoes, Geranium Oil, Roman Hyacinths, Lavender and Olives.

  • In March 1981 the St Helena News Review reported that Solomon’s was exporting wool: The wool was successfully pressed into 16 bales each weighing nearly 3cwt. This is the fourth year that Solomons have shipped wool acting as brokers for others on the Island with unwanted wool. We don’t what happened next but wool is no longer exported from St Helena.

  • Coconuts used to grow on St Helena in Jamestown and in Sandy Bay, but gradually died out. They were tried again in Rupert’s in the 1980s. In December 1985 the St Helena News Review reported that the RMS had brought a crate of 100 coconut seed nuts, which had been planted in a seed bed on Mr Robert Maggot’s property, to be carefully looked after and protected from pests such as white ants. Once sufficiently developed they would be transplanted to various sites down the valley. Apparently they survived but in 2002 the trees were reported to require attention and there is no report of them since. As far as we know there are now no coconuts growing on St Helena. More on our Rupert’s page. Incidentally, we may no longer have coconuts, but Coconut Fingers are very popular!

  • It is sometimes said that Whiteweed austroeupatorium inulifolium, an invasive weed, was originally brought here to make perfume, but this story does not seem to make sense. The Wikipeda doesn’t list perfume making as one of Whiteweed’s (few) uses, and none of the histories or Records lists any attempt to start a perfume-production industry here. We prefer the theory the Whiteweed simply migrated here, with seed carried on ships from South America. But if you know otherwise please contact us.

Why did they fail? 

Is there a common cause for why all these industries failed? It can’t be Napoleon’s Curse - many failed long before he arrived. Governor Gallwey thought it was because Saints were not industrious, writing in The ‘Blue Book’ for 1903 I am afraid that the St Helenian, so long as he can live comfortably, will not look ahead, his motto being ‘Sufficient unto the day.’ but we reject that theory - there is plenty of evidence of successful entrepreneurship amongst Saints, often despite the appearance that the Government of St Helena is deliberately putting obstacles into their path.

In our view the vast majority of the failures were due to poor planning and unrealistic aims, often caused by non-islanders with no appreciation of the dynamics of St Helena. The rest we ascribe to simple bad luck. As Napoleon said: Luck is half of everything.

The Future? 

Below: TourismCannabis


Fly Here Saint Helena Island Info Industries

At present St Helena is trying to develop a significant Tourist Industry. Of course, tourists have been coming here since the island was discovered, and the first Cruise Ship called on 19th February 1930, but now the plan is to make the island self-sufficient due to income gained from ‘high-value, low-volume’ tourists. To facilitate this the UK Government spent £285m building St Helena Airport, attracted by projections{3} that this could deliver up to 30,000 tourists per annum within fifteen years of the airport opening.

The island has been developing towards this opportunity since the first airport announcement in 2005. Accommodation has and is being built; customer services training has been undertaken; tourist facilities (including signposting) have been improved; even food hygeine regulations have been tightened.

At the time of writing the scheduled commercial air service has only recently commenced, so it is far too soon to comment on the extent to which this predicted boom will be realised.


Cannabis leaf Saint Helena Island Info Industries

It has been suggested that if Cannabis production were legalised here, the island could sell its product to those American States that have legalised it, and hence reduce or even eliminate our budget deficit. A paper proposing this was submitted to Legislative Council in August 2018. At the time of writing there is a flaw with this plan: Although several American States have legalised Cannabis, even for recreational use, it remains illegal at Federal level. The Federal Government controls the ports, so while it may be legal in Colorado (for example) to possess it, it cannot be carried over State lines, and hence cannot be imported. But this is not necessarily a plan-killer. At the time of writing the UK is moving towards legalising Cannabis for medical use and recreational use may not be far behind.

Fate of confiscated plants Saint Helena Island Info Industries
Where confiscated plants end up{4}

In the meantime, St Helena does, it seems, already have a thriving Cannabis industry, albeit for purely on-island consumption. Due to our tropical climate Cannabis grows wild on St Helena. Unsurprisingly, therefore, people already cultivate, smoke and sell it, and have done so for many years. It is, however, currently treated by the Police as an illegal drug, and people are imprisoned for producing or supplying it. The recent relaxations in the law in the UK have not been repeated here. According to the ‘Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Ordinance, 2003’ it’s up to the Governor in Council to decide which drugs fall into which categories, but in that Ordinance Cannabis is assigned Class B, along with substances like Methamphetamine (‘Meth’). The maximum penalty for cultivating Cannabis is a fine of up to £10,000, or imprisonment for 14 years.

Everybody knows that smoking cannabis is common on the Island and has been so for many years. It is not a big secret that marihuana have been used as a party-maker high up in society, even among ex-patriate contract officers. If every user on this Island were to be locked up, HM Prison would need a fairly extensive extension.{d}

Stories abound! They may or may not be true. It is said that possession of fewer than thirty female plants is treated by the Courts as ‘personal use’, but there is no formal documentation of this. It is said that one enterprising grower planted his special flora in the Bishop’s garden (which he tended) and told the then-Bishop they were just attractive bushes with interesting leaves. It is said that at one time there were several growers in prison together and they competed to see who could produce the best product in an out-of-the-way part of the Prison Farm. It is said that Cannabis was imported via the RMS St Helena, being dropped over the side to a waiting fishing boat before the ship moored (though as there has been no apparent interruption in supply since the RMS ceased running this was obviously never a major supply stream). One story is, however, definitely true - that of would-be drug-importer Captain Willem Merk and his yacht ‘Frontier’.

One should consider the juxtaposition of the two items below in the Police Report published in the local newspapers{e}:

Police Report 28/3/2008 Saint Helena Island Info Industries

The first prosecution we can find{5} dates from January 1983, under the ‘Dangerous Drugs Ordinance’. Several buckets containing plants were seized. Clearly cannabis was fairly new to the island at that time because one of the confiscated plants was displayed in the Cannister window and it was requested that anybody spotting somebody with such a plant should report it to the police (there is no record that anybody did!)

Not everybody is in favour of relaxing the restrictions:

I was surprised and disappointed to see in last weeks St Helena Herald that one of our Junior Football teams is named the ‘Cannabis Kids’. How can we allow this? We should associate clean and healthy living with sports, not drugs and especially not at junior level. I feel that the community must play a bigger role to assist parents, teachers and police to keep our children safe!!

N Stevens
Concerned Teacher{f}

Various councillors were asked about legalisation during their S.A.M.S. Radio 1 ‘One Year Down’ interview in September 2018. Four spoke in favour of considering the plan. Read the detailed interview report in the St Helena Sentinel, 27th September 2018 (downloadable from the S.A.M.S. Website). The following week the Sentinel reported on a plan by Mark Brooks to grow medical marijuana in St Helena for export, which he estimates could earn initially £6m per annum and create up to 100 jobs in five years.

Either way it is clearly a hot topic: as at 1st September 2018 Cannabis had been mentioned in our newspapers 600 times since 1st January 2000.

Closing Humour Saint Helena Island Info Industries

Laugh at funny Industries humour LOL Saint Helena Island Info

In case you don’t remember, our subtitle, It’s the economy, stupid is a common variation of the phrase The economy, stupid, which James Carville had coined as a campaign strategist of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign against sitting president George H. W. Bush.


{a} The Records.{b} Robyn Sim{c} Copyright © 1962 Film Unit, used with permission{6}.{d} Mike Olsson, Editorial, St Helena Herald, 15th August 2003{6}{e} St Helena Herald, 28th March 2008{f} Letter in the St Helena Herald, 11th October 2002{6}


{1} In St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island, including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology, by John Melliss, published in 1875.{2} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.{3} Atkins, St Helena Access Feasibility Study, 2005.{4} The incinerator is in Rupert’s. It’s easy to locate after a ‘drugs bust’ - just look for the crowd of people standing downwind…{5} Our newspaper archive is extensive but there are some gaps.{6} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.{7} You can read an article about Mosely by Ian Bruce, published in ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{2}. 2017.{8} The Government newspaper{2}.

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