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Maldivia Gardens

Fruit, flowers and much more…formerly

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  

From Side Path
From Side Path

Below: History • Maldivia Today • Read More

History

‘Maldivia’ on Read’s map, 1817
‘Maldivia’ on Read’s map, 1817

It’s not certain when Maldivia Gardens was first created but the Upper Garden and Concord House appear in the Records for 28th 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 Bencoolen. 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{1} (below) shows the extent of the gardens in the 1830s:

1830s plan. Heart Shaped Waterfall direction is Left; Central Jamestown is Right.
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 catalogues many fruits grown at Maldivia Gardens, including sweet oranges, Yellow East Indian Mango{2}, Guava, Gooseberry & Dates, as well as many attractive grasses, flowers, shrubs & trees. He does however report the area to be infested with the ‘Vine Beetle’ anoplognathides verautus which devastates grape vines.

The ‘Blue Book’ for 1898 records the Purchase of ‘Maldivia’ for £391, which might be confusing because earlier records would seem to imply that the estate was already in Government of St Helena hands. The explanation{5} is that during the time King Dinuzulu and his entourage were exiled on St Helena they not only lived at Maldivia House but also it was owned by the Natal Government. In 1898 it was re-purchased by the Government of St Helena.

It is apparent the Maldivia was intended to replace the earlier Botanical Gardens in mid-Jamestown, at that time exhausted and sold to the War Office for extension of the Jamestown Barracks. The ‘Blue Book’ for 1899 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 ‘Blue Book’ for 1903 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’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 also 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

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 Dinuzulu and his family, who moved out of Rosemary Hall when the winter weather became too cold for them. Dinuzulu 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 F in the shade.

Photographs

Gardens from south, 1894
Gardens from south, 1894

Gardens, c.1900
Gardens, c.1900

Maldivia House, 1903
Maldivia House, 1903

Maldivia House, 1970s
Maldivia House, 1970s

 

Maldivia Today

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

Maldivia House is privately occupied.

From Mundens Hill (The Briars is just seen, top left)
From Mundens Hill (The Briars is just seen, top left)

From Constitution Hill
From Constitution Hill{c}

Read More

Article: Maldivia, St. Helena

By John Tyrrell, published on his blog on the 14th February 2008{4}

Maldivia Chalet

Here is the very pleasant and peaceful place where we stayed.

It is in Maldivia, situated in the Upper Jamestown valley. The area is named after slaves from the Maldives who worked in the gardens, then a Government Plantation, after they arrived on the island in 1735.

March 17. Capt. Pelly of the Drake at the distance of 150 leagues from land took up a Boat with ten Blacks of the Maldive Islands who were drove out to Sea and near perishing-three died on board, 5 Men, 1 woman and 1 boy landed here.

(From the Jamestown Records)

It is about a mile from Jamestown to Maldivia, and a similar distance from Maldivia to the Briars, but a much harder climb.

Walking to Jamestown

What we had not realised was that we were very close to one of the few private houses that Napoleon ever visited on the island - Maldivia House, then the home of Major Charles Robert George Hodson (1779-1858). He was over 6 foot tall, and Napoleon nicknamed him Hercules.

Maldivia House

Napoleon’s visit came on the evening of Sir George Cockburn’s Ball, on November 20th 1815. Having spotted the house in the valley below when accompanying the Balcombes’ carriage as it left the Briars for the ball, he descended and was welcomed in by Major Hodson. Apparently Napoleon characteristically tweaked the nose of Major Hodson’s young son. Major Hodson lent Napoleon’s party some horses for the return journey to the Briars. Napoleon in return invited him and his wife for dinner at Longwood on January 4th 1816. Hodson attended Napoleon’s funeral, and also the exhumation in 1840. He died at Bath in 1858.

Below is a view of the upper Jamestown Valley from the track that Napoleon would have used.

Upper Jamestown

View above Maldivia

Above is a view looking out to Jamestown and the sea from the modern road above the Upper Jamestown Valley.

Finally it should be noted that King Dinuzulu also spent some time at Maldivia during his period of exile in the 1890s. He seems to have enjoyed his period of exile more than Napoleon, and apparently his granddaughter still lives on the island.

Laugh at funny Maldivia Gardens humour - LOL

Credits:
{a} G.W. Melliss{1}, 1839{b} Oswell Blakeston, 1957{c} Tourist Office

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Footnotes:
{1} Father of John Melliss.{2} 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.{3} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.{4} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.{5} As offered by Sizakele Gumede, writing in ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{3} #48, August 2019{4}.

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