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Maldivia Gardens

Fruit, flowers and much more…formerly

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Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?
Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Maldivia Gardens were formerly one of the island’s more productive plantations

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

Maldivia Gardens [Saint Helena Island Info:Maldivia Gardens]

Below: HistoryMaldivia TodayPhotographs

History

It’s not certain when Maldivia Gardens was first created but the “Upper Garden and Concord House” appear in the Records{1} for October 1700. In 1735 the English ship Drake, under Capt. Pelly, picked up ten Maldivians adrift in a boat 725Km off St Helena, near dead from exhaustion. Seven of them recovered - five men, one woman and a child - and the men were put to work making a new plantation garden at the top (southern) end of Jamestown, which when completed was named after them: Maldivia Gardens. This was probably an extension of whatever existed in 1701.

The history of these Maldivians is itself interesting. Accounts differ as to whether they were treated as slaves or accorded the status of ‘Free Blacks’. A letter to the East India Company in London dated 17th March 1735 says “wee shall keep them at Work for their Living till we hear from Honours how they Shall be sent back to their own Country”. A later letter, dated 5th July of the same year bemoans the shortage of slave labour on the island, and it seems reasonable to assume that the Maldivians (being, of course, African) would have been at least pressed into labour to earn their keep. A letter dated 16th April 1736 records that “The Blacks Capt. Pelly left here desire to return to their native Country & Capt. Crompton carried them to Bencolen. Wee treated them well & they seem highly pleased with their kind Usage which we hope will be of service to such of our Countrymen who trade among them”. The records are silent on whether the Maldivians actually made it back home - Bencoolen was, at the time, a thriving slave-port and one wonders…

It is thought the 1730s Gardens might have extended further north, but some land was taken to build the hospital in 1741. The Gardens were improved, and probably extended in around 1788. ‘A History of the Island of St Helena’, by T. H. Brooke, Esq., published in 1808. makes reference to the building of gardens throughout Jamestown in Governor Brooke’s time, by disaffected soldiers as an alternative to corporal punishment.

A plan drawn by G.W. Melliss{2} (below) shows the extent of the gardens in the 1830s:

1830s plan. Heart Shaped Waterfall direction is Left; Central Jamestown is Right. [Saint Helena Island Info:Maldivia Gardens]
1830s plan. Heart Shaped Waterfall direction is Left; Central Jamestown is Right.{a}

‘St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island, including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology’, by John Melliss, published in 1875. catalogs many fruits grown at Maldivia Gardens, including sweet oranges, Yellow East Indian Mango{3}, Guava, Gooseberry & Dates, as well as many attractive grases, flowers, shrubs & trees. He does however report the area to be “infested with the ‘Vine Beetle’ anoplognathides verautus which devatstates grape vines”.

The 1898 ‘Blue Book’{4} records the “Purchase of ‘Maldivia’ for £391”, which is confusing because earlier records would seem to have implied that the estate was already in Government of St Helena hands. It is apparent the Maldivia was intended to replace the earlier Botannical Gardens in mid-Jamestown, at that time exhausted and sold to the War Office for extension of the Jamestown Barracks. The 1899 ‘Blue Book’{4} reports vines being planted but there is no report of any wine being produced; maybe grapes were sold, being included in the fruit listed below.

The Gardens were significant producers of fresh fruit and vegetables until well into the 20th Century. In the 1903 ‘Blue Book’{4} Governor Gallwey writes:

The Government Gardens in Jamestown are the nearest approach to a Botanical Station in the Colony. The soil is very poor, which, added to the fact that the annual rainfall in Jamestown is only seven inches, makes it impossible, with the unskilled labour and small funds available, to attempt more than a careful supervision of the fruit trees in the gardens.

The ‘Blue Book’{4}s for 1903 to 1927 show the Gardens producing fruit that was sold to the general public, though usually making a profit of only a few pounds per annum. But in 1927 it seems costs exceeded income by £15, thus wiping out the accumulated profit from previous years, and there is no mention of any further sales.

In the 1930s the Government of St Helena imported four hives of bees to St Helena to improve plant pollination and alsio provide a source of honey. Three of these were sited in the Maldivia Gardens and Philip Gosse in 1938 reported them to be thriving. He also reported that “At Maldivia by Jamestown there still grow a few banana trees which produce short, thick, yellow fruit, delicious and scented, unrecognizable as belonging to the same family as the tasteless and enormous plantains which pass for bananas in England.”.

The upper end of the Gardens is where Governor Blackmore fell to his death in 1690.

Maldivia House

One of the most beautiful houses in St Helena was Maldivia, a home tucked quietly away on a site between two submerged streams in a bosky stretch of the valley beyond the road turning up to Ladder Hill.{b}

Maldivia House [Saint Helena Island Info:Maldivia Gardens]

Maldivia House too is a bit of a mystery. It is thought a house pre-existed the creation of the Gardens and was known as Concord, being re-named Maldivia House when the Gardens were created. However, Crallan, who was an expert in architecture, proposes that the Maldivia House now standing is not that original structure and is either a 19th Century total re-build, or at least a major structural alteration retaining few is any original features. The current building is a single storey three-bay x 2 house with verandas, sashed windows and extensive gardens.

Oswell Blakeston (see quote, above) reports that Maldivia House was used in the late 18th Century as the island’s first hospital, built by Governor Lambert in 1741. While Rear Admiral Cockburn was living at The Castle from October 1815 until June 1816 meetings of the Council were held at Maldivia House. During the remainder of Napoleon’s exile here the house was occupied as a winter retreat by one Major ‘Hercules’ Hodson (in the summer he lived at Oakbank), the Judge Advocate, and Napoleon visited it on 20th November 1815 when he was living at the Briars - one of his first excursions. One Captain James Bennett bought Maldivia House from Major Hodson in 1826 and the property remained in the family until 1890 and was leased to several tenants; one such was Lady Ross, widow of Governor Patrick Ross. From 1893 to 1895 it was the home of Dinizulu and his family, who moved out of Rosemary Hall when the winter weather became too cold for them. Dinizulu and his immediate family moved again in 1895 to Francis Plain House, but leaving his uncles behind at Maldivia House (apparently they did not get on!) Later in his life Dr Arnold lived there.

Grant’s Guide to St Helena from 1883 describes the house as having a “very healthy situation at the head of the Town” and remarked on the abundance of home-grown fruit and vegetables. ‘St Helena, The Historic Island, From Its Discovery To The Present Date’, by E. L. Jackson, published in 1905. describes it as “the most healthy residence in Jamestown, and the heat at no time registers 80 degrees in the shade”.

Maldivia Today

What remains of Maldivia Gardens is now divided into small-holdings and is privately farmed.

Maldivia House is privately occupied.

Photographs

Gardens from south, 1894 [Saint Helena Island Info:Maldivia Gardens]
Gardens from south, 1894

Gardens, c.1900 [Saint Helena Island Info:Maldivia Gardens]
Gardens, c.1900

Maldivia House, 1903 [Saint Helena Island Info:Maldivia Gardens]
Maldivia House, 1903

Maldivia House, 1970s [Saint Helena Island Info:Maldivia Gardens]
Maldivia House, 1970s


Credits:

{a} G.W. Melliss{2}, 1839

{b} Oswell Blakeston, 1956



Footnotes:

{1} The St Helena Records is a collection of documents dating back to the earliest days of St Helena, held in the Government of St Helena Archives. The Archives can be accessed in person or via email - see our Family And Friends page for more. From the records and other sources we have compiled an events database, which drives our events-based pages e.g. On This Day page. You can search our events database in various ways on our Chronology page.

{2} Father of John Melliss.

{3} “Of which there is a tree at Maldivia Gardens which has borne fruit since 1827, and whose branches extend over an area of forty feet in diameter, bears fruit abundantly, and is considered by travellers and others capable or judging to be equal in flavour to any Mangoes in the world”.

{4} Formally the ‘Colonial Annual Report’ - a document setting out the island’s income, expenditure and other administrative matters for the year.



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