Maps of St Helena

Finding your way around

There are few results of man’s activities that so closely parallel man’s interests and intellectual capabilities as the map.
Arthur H. Robinson

St Helena has been mapped, accurately and not so accurately, for five hundred years.

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

Maps of St Helena Saint Helena Island Info

Below: Historic mapsRecent mapsSpecialist mapsRead More

Note: this page concentrates on internal maps of St Helena Island. For more information on where St Helena sits on the world map see our Where is St Helena? page{1}.

Historic maps 

Here are some examples of early maps of St Helena, showing a progression in the understanding of the island’s layout from a ‘blob with valleys’ towards the structure we know today:

First-known map of St Helena 1506 Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

First-known map of St Helena, 1506.

This first-known map of St Helena is by Valentim Fernandes, a German printer who lived in Portugal from 1493. This map is part of a collection of manuscripts compiled by him in 1506/10 relating to recent Portuguese discoveries.

While far from an accurate representation of St Helena it does at least establish that the island was considered worthy of note by 1506.

So much for the claim that the Portuguese tried to keep the existence of St Helena a secret!

Early Dutch map by Benjamin Wright c.1598 Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Early Dutch map by Benjamin Wright, c.1598.

The island has a more accurate shape, and yet this map is dated at 1598; around 100 years before the ones immediately below. A puzzle!

Curiously, it also shows a settlement in the approximate location of Fisher’s Valley. We think this was intended to depict ‘Chappell Valley’ and was simply an error on the part of the map-maker.

Credited to Benjamin Wright, Amsterdam.

Early Dutch map c.1700 Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Early Dutch map, Pieter Van Der AA, c.1700, Leiden.

The mapmaker was Dutch but the legend is in French and Dutch (the title is French).

As was normal at the time, this is more a work of art than it is an accurate representation of the place depicted. The island is shown as square (just like the one above), and only eight features are identified, most of them valleys. La Valée de l’Eglise (‘Church Valley’) is now James Valley. The full index of places named is:

‘Bear Valley’: Banks Valley

‘Crack Valley’: Rupert’s Valley

‘Church Valley’: James Valley

‘Drie Valley’: Youngs Valley

‘Soure Valley’: Friars Valley

‘Apple Valley’: Lemon Valley

‘Box Mountaine’: Diana’s Peak

‘New Rock’: Egg Island

Thornton’s map from 1703 Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

‘A New mapp of the Island of Saint Hellena’, London, John Thornton, 1703

The island shape is strange, which is shared with all other maps until Rousseau’s (below). James Valley is disproportionally large{2}.

James Fort is now named, as are Sandy Bay, Lot and Lot’s Wife, but Orange Tree Valley and Tobacco Valley (top left, in what we now know as Longwood) no longer exist. Diana’s Peak does not feature.

The Dutch invasion - recent history at the time the map was made - is recorded in the text below James Fort.

H. Moll’s map from 1732 Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

H. Moll’s map, from 1732

The island shape is reasonably accurate, a feature not shared by other (later) maps, like Pocock’s and Read’s. The interior is also reasonably detailed, though James Valley is too large. The Latitude and Longitude given are almost correct too. This Island belongs to ye English East India Company whose ships usually touch here for a recruit of fresh Water and Provisions.

Van Keulen’s ‘map’ from 1735 Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Van Keulen’s ‘map’, from 1735

Admittedly not strictly a map - more of a view - Johannes II Van Keulen’s ‘Gezigt van de N.W. zyde van ’t Eylandt St Helena’ is nevertheless a valuable map-like image. The title translates as ‘View from the North West side of the Island St Helena’.

Flagstaff (‘Vlagge Stok’) is shown clearly on the left, as are the batteries along the north-west coast. Longwood (‘Langbos’) and Alarm House (‘huys’) can be seen behind Jamestown, which is named as ‘Capel Valey’. Young’s (‘Joneos’) and Lemon (‘Limon’) Valley are shown but there is little other detail. It should be noted that Van Keulen was Dutch - the nation that had unsuccessfully tried to seize St Helena sixty years earlier.

Lieut. W. Innes Pocock R.N 1815 Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

By W. Innes Pocock, probably 1815.

Part of ‘Five views of the Island of St Helena.’, London, 1815 by Lieut. W. Innes Pocock, R.N.

The island shape has reverted to that of Thornton’s map (above), though apart from Jamestown and Plantation House this is significantly less detailed than either.

French map undated c.1815 Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

French map, undated c.1815

We estimate this map’s date from the level of detail, and would like to know more about it. If you can help, please contact us.

We assume the French interest in St Helena arises from Napoleon Bonaparte’s exile here.

Read’s 1817 map Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

‘St Helena’, by lieut. R. P. Read, 1817

This shares the peculiar island shape with Thornton’s 1703 map, suggesting that Moll’s map was either ignored or not available to Read. Indeed, it could be almost a coloured-in version! However the map is now far more detailed in terms of the places marked, and even identifies the names of property owners.

You can access an online version of this map here:

Look closely and you will find a house intriguingly named The Castle of Otranto

Capt. Edmund Palmer 1850-52 Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

‘Military Sketch of the Island of St Helena’, by Capt. Edmund Palmer, 1850-52

The first military map, and also our first map to represent the true shape and topology of St Helena. The orientation (against North) is also accurate.

Rousseau Map Ile Sainte Helene 1853 Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Rousseau Map of Ile Sainte Helene, 1853

Most of the features marked are as today, though the area to the north of Longwood seems to be shown as a desert - probably as a result of the destruction of the ‘Great Wood’.

John Melliss ’ Map 1860 Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Melliss’ Map, 1860

Focussing primarily on the island’s geology, this map was included 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.

Fowler’s Map 1863 Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Fowler’s Map, 1863

A good map full of interesting detail, including the old costal road from Jamestown to Rupert’s and the location of the Longwood New House. Published in Fowler’s ’Views of St Helena’, published by Day & Son, 1863.

James Imray 1884 map Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Imray and Jenkins map, 1884

Taken from page 273 of ‘Atlantic Ocean Pilot: The Seaman’s guide to the navigation of the Atlantic Ocean, with numerous illustrations, charts and plans’, by James Frederick Imray and Henry Davenport Jenkins, 1884.

This is the first truly detailed map of St Helena, even including depths in the immediate vicinity of the coast (as would be expected, given its source).

Boer PoW map 1902 Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Boer PoW map, 1902

Drawn by an un-named Boer prisoner and dated to 1902.

Unsurprisingly the Boer camps feature. Curiously, consider the annotations on both Manati Bay and Prosperous Bay - maybe considering escape or hoping for rescue?

USA Navy 1921 map Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

USA Navy 1921 map

Very detailed and still remarkably accurate. Exactly why the US Navy needed such a detailed map is not clear…

NB: the full-resolution map is 12179x9009 pixels, so may take a while to load!

Admiralty 1922 map Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Admiralty 1922 map

Also very detailed and still remarkably accurate. Perhaps made in response to the US Navy 1921 map (above)?

NB: the full-resolution map is 12179x8165 pixels, so may take a while to load!

Late 20th Century map Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Late 20th Century map

We date this map based on it showing the Diplomatic Wireless Station, which operated from 1966 until the late 1970s. The style suggests it may be from the 1960s or 1970s.

If you can help us date this map and identify its origins please contact us.

Recent maps 

Here are some more recent maps:

Recent island map c.2000 Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Recent island map, c.2000

This was the standard Tourist Map during the first years of the 21st Century. It remains in use but has (officially) been replaced by the one below.

2014 Tourist Office map Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Current official tourist map

Produced in 2014 by the Tourist Office this is the official visitors’s map.{a}

You can buy current maps of St Helena in Jamestown at the Post Office, including large-scale versions suitable for exploring the island.

Map recently for sale Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Map recently for sale

This map was recently being advertised on the Internet for sale (on site www.map.hu). It is, however, out-of-date (it does not show the St Helena Airport).

Interactive map by Google™

Theoretically this should be the most up-to-date map of St Helena.

Interactive map, by Google™ Maps{b}

Specialist maps 

Finally, a few specialist maps:

Districts of St Helena Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Districts Map

Our own creation! Used as the index for the island’s districs.

Map on 1934 postage stamp Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Map on a 1934 Postage Stamp

This postage stamp map identifies a few, apparently randomly selected, features (why is Man & Horse featured but not the Heart Shaped Waterfall?)

Map of Napoleon’s restrictions Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Napoleon’s restrictions

Map design from c.1820, but this copy probably drawn up later, showng the area where Napoleon Bonaparte was allowed to ride unrestricted. (Napoleon complained that much of the area enclosed was actually unsuitable for riding.)

St Helena watercourses Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

St Helena Watercourses

Our own extract from other maps, intended to show the location of the Heart Shaped Waterfall but also to illustrate the numerous other watercourses on St Helena{3}. However, ‘watercourse’ should not be treated as synonymous with ‘river’ - most of these are tiny streams, and many are dry except in the wet season.

Geology of St Helena Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

The Geology of St Helena

Approximate geology of St Helena, from our Geology of St Helena page.

Flax locations 1874 to 1966 Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Flax processing locations

St Helena National Trust map, showing the Flax processing areas on the island during the period 1874 to 1966.

Postcard map 1902 Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Postcard map, 1902

The locations of the Boer Prisoner camps are shown on this postcard map, as are the Napoleonic sites, making it a sort-of Exiles map.

Seamounts map 2016 Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Seamounts map, 2016

Although St Helena is the only above-water land for hundreds of Km in any direction, there are areas of shallow water (‘Seamounts’) in the vicinity, which are particularly useful for offshore fishing. This map, by maps.ngdc.noaa.gov/viewers/bathymetry{4} shows the locations of the nearby seamounts; of which Bonaparte and Cardno are most often used for fishing from St Helena.

Sea floor map 2016 Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Sea floor map, 2016

Alternative to the above, also showing the ‘Seamounts’{b}.

Drone Zones Map 2017 Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Drone Zones Map, 2017

Shows where and when you can fly a Drone in relation to the airport. More on our Fly here page{c}.

See also the maps depicting the development of our road network on our Roads page.

Read More 

Below: New maps for St Helena?Not (quite) where we thought it was…Article: Mapping a Changing Island

More stories on our page Read articles about St Helena.

New maps for St Helena?

Published in the St Helena Independent, 9th October 2015{4}

The GeoInformation Group Supports St Helena’s Multi-Million Pound Economic Development

The UKMap team within The GeoInformation Group has been commissioned by St Helena Government to create a cartographic database for the island’s new 1:25,000 and 1:10,000 scale mapping.

The South Atlantic island, one of the most isolated, inhabited islands in the world, currently relies on Ordnance Survey maps dating back to 1990. Dramatic development changes to accommodate the island’s first and only international airport due to open early 2016 and other new key changes including a major road, infilled valley and new wharf, render the existing maps out of date.

Having assessed the current OS maps at the equivalent scale, the Government felt that adapting these to St Helena might not be the best option for visually representing the island, comments Samantha Cherrett, Environmental Data & GIS Manager for St Helena Government. We are looking for mapping that accurately represents the island whilst being familiar to visitors. The GeoInformation Group will create a cartographic design afresh giving us the flexibility to adapt the map visually to emphasise the island’s important environmental and historical features.

A key consideration for The GeoInformation Group is to ensure that the various map elements are effectively communicated. For example, roads on the existing maps are all shown with the same symbol, which is very misleading since many of the roads are single track, steep in places and of varying quality. In addition to this, there is limited detailed mapping for the island that shows the information needed so this process has prompted the update of many GIS layers.

The new maps are to be primarily used by tourists and local businesses, however, it is envisaged that the digital product may be used by the GIS department as a base map. Finding places on the island can be deemed quite difficult; directions regularly include It’s next to Mrs Henry’s House.

We consider The GeoInformation Group professional, competitively priced and possessing excellent experience with more detailed mapping, concludes Cherrett. We felt that they are best placed to provide us with a high quality product.

The maps aim to be printed in time for the first flights in late February 2016.

See the following Article to see how that deadline is going…!

Not (quite) where we thought it was…

Press Release issued by the Government of St Helena 25th January 2018{5}{4}

St Helena moves 732 metres on the map

St Helena Government is in the process of creating a new detailed topographic map of St Helena, the first update since 1990. Since then, a lot of things have changed, not just a new airport being built with regular scheduled flights and the imminent decommissioning of the much loved RMS.

Revised location Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

In 1990, Sat Navs were still an expensive novelty, mostly used by the military. Nowadays, GPS (Global Positioning System) receivers are everywhere, very inexpensive and almost everyone with a smart phone has the ability to find their position with an accuracy of about five metres anywhere on the planet. The 1990 series St Helena 1:10,000 and 1:25,000 topographic maps are based on the old Astro DOS datum setup by the UK’s Directorate of Overseas Surveys (DOS) in 1971. Back then, GPS did not exist and far less precise astronomical methods were used to work out positions in the open ocean like St Helena Island. It turns out that the Astro DOS datum in St Helena is 732 metres off from truth (today’s GPS position). This means that anyone using a GPS in default setting mode with the 1990 series maps will plot their position 732 metres out, which on St Helena could be a serious mistake.

Of course, if you select the Astro Dos 71/4 option in GPS receivers this error goes away but this isn’t the ideal situation for safety reasons. In the ideal world your GPS position in default mode should match up exactly with the map, so this has necessitated preparation of new maps by SHG. The construction of the new airport, associated roads and port facilities has also warranted the update as well of course.

During 2015 and 2016, geodetic surveyors led by Murray Henry from SHG re-surveyed the Island visiting many of the original 1971 trigonometric stations and also surveying all of the post box walk tracks. The surveyors used state-of-the-art geodetic grade GPS receivers to get centimetre accurate positions of the trigonometric stations. The new datum is called the St Helena Geodetic Datum 2015 (SHGD2015) and is directly compatible with the default GPS datum which is called WGS 84.

A geodetic consultant from Australia, Richard Stanaway, who first visited St Helena as a tourist in 2009 was engaged to compute the new coordinates and work out the difference with the old coordinates. These transformations were checked using different GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to validate them with the latest satellite imagery over St Helena.

St Helena hasn’t really moved 732 metres; that is just the error of the old datum, but the Island is moving a few centimetres each year as she drifts away from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The GPS base station at Longwood run by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of NASA can monitor this tectonic motion precisely. St Helena is a key station in the international monitoring network.

Further information or the full report on this project, entitled ‘Geodetic Datum Modernisation for St Helena’ is available on request from Samantha Cherrett (samantha.cherrett@enrd.gov.sh) or Devlin Yon (devlin-yon@enrd.gov.sh) at Essex House, Tel: 22270.

We were going to make a copy of the report available as a downnload but (for no apparent reason) the Government of St Helena won’t let us…

Article: Mapping a Changing Island

By Sam Cherrett, published in the St Helena Connection No. 18{4}

Imagine arriving on holiday at your destination airport, collecting your luggage, picking up your hire car, driving out of the airport towards your accommodation, only to glance down at the map you have and discover that the airport and the road you are on do not exist. Not only are you trying to navigate a new place, but you don’t even know where you are starting from in the first place.

Well, that’s what was going to happen on St Helena… until now.

In July 2014, as part of the lead up to air access to the island, the need for an island map showing the new airport and access road was identified; the existing map is now 25 years old, and even excluding the extensive changes to the airport site at Prosperous Bay Plain, there have been enough developments on the island during this time to make the current map out of date and unsuitable for purpose. It is time for an update.

The first step in the process involved contacting Britain’s national mapping agency, the Ordnance Survey (OS), since they have been creating St Helena’s maps for over 100 years. Sadly, in the last 25 years, restructuring of the OS now means that they concentrate predominantly on maintaining the high quality mapping of Great Britain and no longer have the resources to undertake bespoke overseas projects. Their website now states that in fifteen short years, we’ve changed from a centuries-old venerable mapping company into a big data powerhouse. In one way, this is a sad result for St Helena’s maps; there is something comforting about travelling such distance to a UK Overseas Territory and having the familiarity of an OS Landranger type map as you would if you were in the UK. On the other hand, it provides us with some freedom to move away from any content restrictions and current cartographic display that would have been applied by the OS, and allows us to create and tailor the map to be relevant to St Helena.

After obtaining quotes from several interested parties, a company was chosen to create new 1:10,000 and 1:25,000 scale raster maps and the process of updating all the information to go into these new maps has begun. Our first problem was that the latest base data we had was a satellite image from 2009, already out of date itself and not wholly suitable for creating the most up to date map we need. New aerial imagery is preferable but not possible, so in March 2015 we became the proud owners of a new 0.5m pixel satellite image, dated November 5th 2014.

Derived from the stereo imagery is a new digital elevation model (DEM) accurate to within 1m and some of the most comprehensive and accurate data this island has seen in at least 25 years. Both the imagery and the DEM clearly show the airport development, airport access road and changes in terrain on Prosperous Bay Plain and will be invaluable for updating all other island map information.

As part of the map update, we are reviewing what else might have changed, what is new and what might be missing. These changes include moving incorrectly placed islands, amending buildings that are now ruins, adding a new wharf, wind turbines and a solar farm and simply checking the names of places across the island. An open day was held in March allowing the public to contribute to these amendments, asking opinions on changes and showcasing some potential designs. A further consultation period was be held at the end of May and then an additional one will be held in September as and when the first draft appears.

We have already identified two major problems with place names. Firstly, there is some debate as to which way round the three peaks are, an issue which I understand was also prominent during the last map update. The problem is that over the past 200 years, there have been numerous inconsistencies, and even 80 years of official Ordnance Survey maps may have had it wrong, showing Mount Actaeon, not Diana’s Peak, as the highest. The matter is not helped by the signs on each peak differing from the existing map, as well as from the maps provided on information boards on the peaks, in other printed literature and how they are known by locals. After a few passing comments by people, we even went as far as to resurvey the heights of all three peaks, fortunately confirming that the middle one is the highest. We think we have reached an evidence-based conclusion, but not everyone may be pleased by this.

The second item of issue is the name of the rock known as Nigger’s Head. Informally, this rock is now also known as Gorilla’s Head by many and appears as both in island literature.

Raising the issue of formally renaming it has caused a bit of a stir, with some strong opinion in favour of leaving it as is, as well as for changing it. Arguments for both include historical significance on the island and objectionable association of the two words, but many feel that the ‘N-word’ is offensive and should not be used on a modern map. A visitor to St Helena may not understand the historical significance but may only see the word itself. The debate is still raging, but whatever decision is made, it will not be made lightly.

Throughout this whole process we are aware that we have the difficult task of creating a map during a period of time where the most changes are happening. Creating a map that is not out of date and factually incorrect after 12 months is a hurdle we have to cross. One thing is certain though, when the flights start arriving, visitors will be able to explore this wonderful island with a map that matches what is on the ground. They may still get lost, but it won’t be because of an out of date map.

Sam Cherrett is employed by SHG to work jointly on a funded Geographical Information System (GIS) data sharing and accessibility project for the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute as well as providing GIS support to the Environmental Management Division. Her main aim is to help improve and update St Helena’s spatial data, identify gaps in available spatial information and make all of St Helena’s data more accessible.

Closing Humour Saint Helena Island Info Maps of St Helena

Laugh at funny Maps of St Helena humour LOL Saint Helena Island Info


{a} Tourist Office

{b} Google Maps™

{c} St Helena Airport


{1} Our Two St Helenas? page may also be of interest.

{2} Presumably because everything happens in Jamestown; nothing happens ‘up country’ - a common view, even today.

{3} From our The Heart Shaped Waterfall page.

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

{5} Not, as you might have suspected, 1st April…


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