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Island History

Read about the history of our island

The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.
Muriel Rukeyser, in ‘The Speed of Darkness’ (1968)

This is a subset of our Island Detail pages which covers items of St Helena’s history.


Napoleon said It must be recognized that the real truths of history are hard to discover. Well, we’ve done our best, but if there is something about St Helena’s history that we have not covered please contact us and we’ll try to add it in.

Jamestown by Melliss 1857 Saint Helena Island Info Island History

To read more about the people behind our island’s histories, and download some of the documents, see our Historians of St Helena page.

Information Index
Start here…

Island History
Read about the history of our island

Subject Index
These are the pages you are searching for

Historic Picture Gallery
Thumbnails that can be expanded to full size images

Historic Images Slide Show
Automated historic image show in random sequence

Today’s Images
Look at what we feature

Image Search
Find images on our site

Recording images of St Helena

Betsy Balcombe
Napoleon’s Friend

The ‘Blue Book’
The Annual Colonial Report

Boer Prisoners (1900-1902)
Home-from-home? Not really…

The Briars Pavilion
Napoleon’s Other House

A Brief History
How we got to here

Building St Helena Airport
Built and operating

The Castle
The most important of the Public Buildings

Characters of St Helena
Eccentric? Colourful? Mad? You decide…

Search our events database

Churches of St Helena
And other religious buildings

Let’s go to a movie

Comparative History
Here and there

Dark Tourism
Visiting the darker parts of our history.

Deliberately Sunken Ships
Sent to the bottom

Diplomatic Wireless Station
Or was it spying?

Discovery of St Helena
It’s not that simple

Duke of Edinburgh Playground
For Kids; For Everyone

The East India Company
John, to it’s friends

The Three ‘R’s

The ones that got away

Not all our visitors wanted to be here!

Family And Friends
How to find people on St Helena

Famous Visitors
Let’s drop a few names

The First Battle For St Helena?
Well, maybe…

Fish Processing
Exploiting our only natural resource

The Flax Industry
Economic lifeline or ecological disaster?

Forts and Batteries
Defensive military installations

The Missing Fountain Mystery
Where did it go?

The Friendly Societies
Lending a hand

Geology of St Helena
Upon this rock…

Ghost Stories of St Helena
Don’t look round, but…

For the people, by the people?

The Governor of St Helena
The British monarch’s official representative

The Governor’s Hat
If you want to get ahead…

The Great Wood Wall
Too little, too late

Old and older

The Historic Environment Record
A catalogue…

High Knoll Fort
Important, in the past and today

Historians of St Helena
Recording our past

Historic Buildings
A standing reminder

Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown
A sample

Historic Buildings In Brief - Country
A sample

Important People
They made their mark

It’s the economy, stupid

In This Week
This Week, in history

The only time St Helena has been captured

Lace Making
Over 100 years of history

Lost and almost-lost Buildings
‘In need of some work…’

Lost Ships
Our seabed is littered with wrecks

Maldivia Gardens
Fruit, flowers and much more…formerly

Maps of St Helena
Finding your way around

Memories of St Helena
‘Well, back in the day…’

Myths Debunked!
Everybody knows that…

His imprisonment, his death, and some things you maybe don’t know about him

Napoleonic Bicentenary
A reason to celebrate…

Napoleon’s Tomb
But not his final resting place

Monitoring and measuring

On This Day
Today, in history

Other Military Sites
…and related places

Postcards of St Helena
Old…and older

Quincentenary of St Helena
‘Looking Up - Looking Forward’

Radio on St Helena
A surprisingly large number of stations

Radio St Helena
The voice of the island for 45 years

Our (Other) Railway
Useful; not quite as famous

The St Helena Regiment
‘The Old Saints’

RMS St Helena
Two remarkable ships: 1978-2018

Take me home…

Rough Seas

Saint FM (2004-2012)
The Heartbeat of St Helena

Saint Helena
She gave our island her name

Maybe it’s a state of mind?

Saved Buildings
Almost lost; now restored

Slaves and slavery
Part of what makes us what we are

Exploring Space
To the stars and beyond

St. James’ Church
The oldest Anglican church in the Southern Hemisphere

St. Paul’s Cathedral
Important, but with humble beginnings

Origins of island surnames
How islanders got their family names

All the world’s a stage

Everything on St Helena starts 20 minutes late

Titbits from the records
To amuse and inform

Two St Helenas?
Our mythical sister island

Unrest and Rebellion
We’re not gonna take it!

A Very Brief History
The most important bits

‘Thar she blows!’

White Ants
A pest by any other name…

Anything that didn’t fit in elsewhere

If what you’re looking for isn’t in this index, please consult our Information Index page (the master index) or use the Page Search facility (below).

For the historically minded few places can have quite such an attraction as this small Island.
Geoffrey Kitching

Sunset over James’ Bay Saint Helena Island Info Island History
Sunset over James’ Bay

Read More

More stories on our page Read articles about St Helena.

For a chronological summary of our island’s history please see our A Brief History page; to search our history go to page Chronology.


Article: Napoleon skewered in new British exhibition

Published on The Local (FR) 5th February 2015{1}

A colourful new exhibition about French emperor Napoleon is opening in London on Thursday, showing how artists and cartoonists shaped the way the British perceived ‘The Little Corporal’.

‘The Corsican spider in his web’ by Thomas Rowlandson 1808 Saint Helena Island Info Island History

Published in 1808, ‘The Corsican spider in his web’ by Thomas Rowlandson is one of dozens of drawings, posters and other prints on display at London’s British Museum until August 16th.

The exhibition, ‘Bonaparte and the British: prints and propaganda in the age of Napoleon’ charts the rise of the young general, ending with the downfall of the Emperor who once had Europe at his feet.

Napoleon, who lived from 1769 to 1821, was a charismatic enemy with a reputation as a short, angry man: an irresistible subject for caricatures, according to historian Tim Clayton, a Napoleon expert.

He had the misfortune to come along at exactly the wrong moment, Clayton said.

I don’t suppose anybody in history had been vilified and ridiculed in the way that Napoleon was vilified and ridiculed ever before.

Flattering portraits and memorabilia collected by British admirers in the 1790s gives way to mockery, as Napoleon becomes more of a threat to Britain.

‘The Corsican pest or Beelzebub going to supper’ by James Gillray 1803 Saint Helena Island Info Island History

By the time the two countries are at war in 1803, British cartoonist James Gillray portrays Napoleon being roasted over a fire by the devil in ‘The Corsican pest or Beelzebub going to supper’.

Mocking Napoleon as ‘Little Boney’ and perpetuating the idea he was small in stature helped diminish the feeling of threat.

Because you were frightened of him, you had to belittle him, make him seem not so frightening, said curator Sheila O’Connell.

So you made him a little tiny person. And that is how he’s remained in the British consciousness ever since.

- Propaganda tool -

‘Little Boney’ appears again in 1812 as Napoleon’s Russian campaign turns into a disaster.

‘General Frost shaving Little Boney’ by William Elmes 1812 Saint Helena Island Info Island History

A cartoon by William Elmes called ‘General Frost shaving Little Boney’ shows the cold as a monster crushing the French armies and trapping Napoleon’s feet in ice.

Sold for an average of between 1 and 4 shillings each, the drawings were particularly popular in shops frequented by the London elite.

Used as a propaganda tool and sometimes controlled by the government, the satires helped forge a sense of British unity and shaped the way Napoleon was perceived through generations.

They do have an influence on shaping people image of Napoleon. The idea that Napoleon is a little, angry chap sticks, Clayton said.

The fact that he was actually of average height seems to have escaped everybody’s attention.

Cartoonists are kinder when Napoleon is less of a threat, and at times some Britons displayed admiration for the emperor.

One example is a bronze bust of Napoleon, carved in the style of a Roman emperor with idealised features, and installed in 1818 in a British aristocrat’s garden.

Featured at the entrance to the exhibition, the bust has a call for the emperor to return from exile in Saint Helena engraved at its base.

Laugh at funny Island History humour LOL Saint Helena Island Info

{a} From Views of St Helena, by G.W. Melliss{2}, published in 1857

{1} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.{2} Father of John Melliss.

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