blank Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

Myths Debunked!

Everybody knows that…

blank Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

Scientific beliefs are supported by evidence, and they get results. Myths and faiths are not and do not.
Richard Dawkins

While researching for this website we were told many things that ‘everybody knows’, many of which proved to be untrue. We detail them here.

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

Myths Debunked! Saint Helena Island Info{a}

Below: Wellington House and the Duke of WellingtonThe Castle Gardens FountainNaming of ‘The Consulate Hotel’The Ladder Hill GunsThe Portuguese ChapelJoão da Nova’s Seal?Our First English VisitorSt Helena has no golden sandy beachesThe St Helena SecretThe ‘Monkcat’How St Helena was formedNapoleon MythsSea SerpentsSt Helena ‘la Nouvelle’St Helena’s Discovery DateA story which may or may not be trueOther sundry myths; some actually true!Read More

If you have a story or ‘fact’ about St Helena you’d like us to investigate, please contact us.

You may also be interested in our Ghost Stories of St Helena page.

 

Wellington House and the Duke of Wellington

Wellington House Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

Here’s an enduring myth. It’s a popular belief that Wellington House is so-named because Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington stayed there during his visit in 1805. But actually he didn’t. In Jamestown he stayed at (Old) Porteous House, just across the road from Wellington House, which was destroyed by fire on 2nd April 1865 and recently re-built. He also stayed at The Briars. Wellington House is named in his honour - that’s all.

The Castle Gardens Fountain

Castle Gardens Fountain Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

Memorial Fountain Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

It is sometimes said that the fountain in Castle Gardens (left) is the centre part of the Rockfall Memorial Fountain that once stood in Main Street, Jamestown (right). Even though they don’t even look similar, let’s explode this myth.

The Memorial Fountain was erected in 1891, in memory of those killied in the 1890 rockfall. It remained in Main Street until it was removed in c.1944/5. The Castle Gardens Fountain was installed in 1897, to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, at the command of Governor Robert Armitage Sterndale and remains today. So unless the centre of the Memorial Fountain was capable of being in two places at once for around 50 years, the story must be untrue.

Naming of ‘The Consulate Hotel’

Consulate Hotel Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

It is sometimes said that ‘The Consulate Hotel’ is so-named because the owner, Saul Solomon, was the American Consul and operated the American Consulate from there. It’s a plausible story, but it isn’t true.

In the 19th Century Saul Solomon was indeed Consul for many nations, including France, Holland, Spain, Belgium, the Brazils, Hamburgh, Lubeck, Bremen, Austria, Portugal and the Algarves, and Oldenburg{b}. But not America. America appointed its own Consuls from the opening of their consulate in 1831 until its closure in 1908, and it was not located at the hotel - it was at the northern end of Main Street next to (old) Porteous House.

When the Solomon family business took over the Royal Hotel, probably in or around 1910, it was renamed The Consulate, but in honour of Saul Solomon’s many other consular appointments, not the American one.

The Ladder Hill Guns

Elswick Mark VIIs Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

It is a commonly held belief that the large ‘modern’ guns at Ladder Hill, to the west of the fort, originally came from HMS Hood. This is not true.

Firstly, they are not the same type as were fitted to HMS Hood, which carried 2 x 2 BL 13.5-inch guns; 10 x 1 QF 6-inch guns; 10 x 1 QF 6-pounder guns; 12 x 1 QF 3 pounder Hotchkiss guns; and 7 x 18-inch Torpedo tubes. The Ladder Hill guns are Elswick Mark VII wire breech loaders with a six inch calibre; maximum range with full charge and 30° elevation: 25,000 yards; standard naval and coastal defence guns for 50 years.

Secondly, the Ladder Hill guns were ordered in 1902 (manufactured, 1903) to help guard the Boer prisoners, though they did not arrive until after the prisoners had left. HMS Hood was still in service until 2nd April 1911 and not disposed of until 4th November 1914, sometime after the Ladder Hill guns arrived.

But we think we may know how the myth arose. In 1905 the 3-pounders on the forward superstructure of HMS Hood were removed, and the 3-pounders in the lower fighting tops were also removed while the ship was in reserve from 1907-09. It may be that it was mis-reported that these had been sent to St Helena. But our guns are not 3-pounders…

The Portuguese Chapel

The Portuguese Chapel Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

It is known that the early Portuguese discoverers of St Helena built a chapel near their landing place in what is now Jamestown, thus giving the valley its original name ‘Chapel Valley’. It is sometimes said that João da Nova himself built the original chapel, using timber from a wrecked ship of his fleet. ‘A History of the Island of St Helena, 2nd Edition’, by T. H. Brooke, Esq., published in 1824{1} has that the discovery by da Nova was “accompanied with the loss of one of the fleet, a large carrack; but whether from having accidentally run aground, or intentionally broken up as unseaworthy, seems uncertain. The mariners, it is said drew on shore her weather-beaten sides, and all the armory and tackling; building with the timber a chappell in this valley, from thence called Chappell Valley”.

However, this has been disproved. Luis de Figuerido Falcão, Secretary of the Portuguese Government, reports that all four of da Nova’s fleet returned intact to Lisbon on 11th September 1502. A more reliable date for the Chapel’s construction is c.1570.

João da Nova’s Seal?

Supposed Seal Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

The image (right) is claimed to be taken from the seal of João da Nova, the discoveror of St Helena. Conveniently, it gives the year of our island’s discovery.

There are, however, a number of issues with this:

  • There is no tradition of which we are aware of creating a Seal when you discover a place. That’s not to say that it didn’t happen; justt that it’s unheard of, as far as we know.

  • The name is given as ‘João da Nova Castella’. Historians now believe that the ’Castella’ bit is a later invention, first appearing in John Barnes’ ‘A Tour Through the Island of St Helena’ (1817). Prior to that the name is always given as simply ‘João da Nova’. John Barnes, who was ‘Town Mayor’, is not generally recognised as an authority on 16th Century Portuguese history and should we believe that, writing 300 years after João da Nova’s death in 1509, he was the first to render the man’s name correctly and that both modern and early scholars and chroniclers of Portuguese history are wrong? We think not!

Given the above we think it probable that this ‘Seal’ is a (relatively) modern invention with no historical value. Some say it was created in the 1950s by artist Oswell Jones.

In 2001 the Q5 Committee advertised that “It was last seen in the Castle during the 1940’s” saying that they were “anxious to know the whereabouts of this seal and would be grateful for any information concerning the location of this important piece of island heritage”. We understand that nothing was ever produced, and again infer that this was because there was no verifiably 16th Century object to discover.

Our First English Visitor

It is usually said that Cavendish was the first Englishman to visit St Helena (in 1588), but actually he wasn’t. The first was William Barrett, who arrived on 31st January 1584, describing the island as “fruitful of all things which a man can imagine”. But Cavendish was a famous navigator and Barrett wasn’t…

St Helena has no golden sandy beaches

Golden sandy beach Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

Every tourist brochure says this but actually it is incorrect. St Helena does have golden sand in significant quantities, complete with sea shells. Sadly, none of it is at the seashore. It can be found on high ground, usually around 500m above sea level…

These deposits were first discovered in the 18th Century when looking for sources of lime to make lime mortar for building and repairing fortifications. As a result much of what was there has been ‘quarried out’, but a lot remains and you can see an example on the hills above the Sandy Bay (black sand) beach - just look up into the hills for a golden patch.

Geologists theorise that the elevation of these beaches in not caused by the sea level falling but by the land rising. These beaches were once, they believe, at sea level, but the land was forced upwards by volcanic activity, leaving them - literally - high and dry.

The St Helena Secret

da Nova stamp Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

Many of the island histories claim that, after da Nova discovered St Helena in 1502 the Portuguese kept its location a secret. ‘A History of the Island of St Helena, 2nd Edition’, by T. H. Brooke, Esq., published in 1824{1} reports that “The Portuguese are supposed to have been anxious to conceal the situation of St Helena from the knowledge of other nations, and are said to have succeeded in keeping the secret until it was visited by Cavendish” (in 1588). But Brook himself admits that other non-Portuguese visited before Cavendish, including Japanese ambassadors and some slaves of unknown origin. Philip Gosse’s ‘St Helena 1502-1938’ also has “For many years the island and its whereabouts remained a secret known only to its discoverers”.

However, ‘Ships at St Helena, 1502-1613’{11} refers to documents compiled by one Luis de Figuerido Falcão, Secretary of the Portuguese Government, who writing in 1607 used records not only of the Portuguese but also the Spanish to compile a list of shipping movements in the South Atlantic from 1497 to the early 1600s. He records not only that one of da Nova’s fleet was captained by a Florentine, one Fernão Virnet, but also that in a subsequent call, in July 1503 by a fleet led by Estevão da Gama, one of these ships was captained by João de Bueno, an Italian. So at least two non-Portuguese knew of St Helena’s existence within a year of its discovery.

Given its strategic importance as a watering station in the middle of the South Atlantic, it is unimaginable that neither of these ‘foreigners’ would have spread the word of St Helena’s discovery. Strong circumstantial evidence supports the idea that Sir Francis Drake located the island on the final lap of his circumnavigation of the world (1577-1580), though it is highly likely that he would have already heard where to look! Added to which, Cavendish wasn’t the first Englishman to visit - William Barrett was, arriving on 31st January 1584 thus preceding Cavendish by four years. And before that Edward Fenton set out a plan to occupy the island in 1582 and use it as a base to plunder Dutch shipping, which means he not only knew about St Helena but had understood its strategic value.

So whatever the Portuguese might have wanted, it is reasonably likely that the fact of St Helena’s discovery would have been known outside Portugal within one or two years of the event, and widely known within the next eighty.

The ‘Monkcat’

Monkcat Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

Carnival, 2016 Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!
Carnival, 2016

In 2014/5 sightings were widely reported of a monkey- or cat-like creature, said to be living wild on St Helena. It was christened the ‘Monkcat’. Sightings were reported by residents, primarily in Rupert’s and Jamestown, mostly at night or early evening. Even workers for the St Helena National Trust found unexplained paw prints up at the Heart Shaped Waterfall, though they did admit the prints might have been made by a ‘large cat’. The Government of St Helena offered a prize for a photograph. The back-story proposed was that it was an African animal that had stowed away on the Basil Read ship MP Glory 4 and somehow evaded port security.

Despite weeks of claimed sightings, no confirmation was ever found and the photograph prize was never successfully claimed (photos submitted were all judged to be domestic cats). In our opinion the entire story is almost certainly a myth, although another possibility is that, having explored St Helena the ‘Monkcat’ simply hopped back on the MP Glory 4 and went home…!

Monkat again?

All had gone quiet until August 2017 when the Sentinel reported a new sighting:

A Roads Works crew found a small burrow in the Blue Hill area on August 11th. Next to the burrow was a rabbit carcass, which had been turned inside-out and picked to the bone. The crew called the National Trust, and Denny Leo drove out to see the burrow that same day. “The way the carcass was eaten with its head and everything picked to the bone, it has to be a meat eater, and there’s not really anything like that here,” Denny said. “It could have been a cat, but the size of the burrow suggests something bigger.{c}

There were no follow-up reports…

How St Helena was formed

In the past, the existence of St Helena, isolated as it is towards the middle of the Atlantic, was explained thus:
When the lost continent of Atlantis, which joined Africa to South America, sunk into the sea, St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, being the highest peaks on the former continent, were the only places that remained above sea level.

Quaint though this story is, nowadays we know better…

Napoleon Myths

Unsurprisingly, given his significance in St Helena history, Napoleon gives rise to more myths than any other individual or place.

Below: He was shortIn the steps of NapoleonThe Hurricane that accompanied Napoleon’s DeathNapoleon’s CurseNapoleon and JonathanNapoleon’s DeathNapoleon’s Penis

He was short

No, he was not. He was actually 1.7 metres tall, average height for the period. The short-man suggestion came from British propaganda during the Napoleonic Wars.

In the steps of Napoleon

Napoleon charicature Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

It is sometimes said to visitors that when you alight at the Wharf you do so “where Napoleon walked”. Sadly this isn’t so. In 1815 the Wharf was configured differently and the landing place would not have been at the end, as it is today; it would have been roughly where the ‘middle steps’ are now. Also the wharf has been extended and reconstructed so many times since 1815 that none of the fixtures from Napoleon’s time remain.

A few of the buildings date from Napoleon’s time, so you could say you walk past buildings that Napoleon walked past, but that’s about it. Sorry.

The Hurricane that accompanied Napoleon’s Death

Death of Napoleon Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

Some of the island histories report that, at the moment of Napoleon’s death, a hurricane swept over St Helena. Forsyth’s ‘History of the Captivity’{4} reports that “While he was dying a violent hurricane swept over the island, which shook many of the houses to their foundations, and tore up some of the largest trees. As the tempest raged and howled, it seemed as if the spirit of the storm rode upon the blast to tell the world that “A mighty power had passed away to breathless Nature’s dark abyss.””.

However, the Annual Register for 5th May 182l records that the day was “a beautiful day, bright with sunshine”. We tend to believe the newspaper! So how did the hurrican story come about? Well it seems{b} it comes from a letter written by }American Consul William Carrol. As William Carrol was not appointed until 4th February 1831, he may not even have been on St Helena ten years earlier when Napoleon died. In our opinion, William Carrol simply made it up, unaware that anybody would take his report seriously, let alone incorporate it into an otherwise scholarly and reliable history.

Napoleon’s Curse

Napoleon charicature Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

Whenever something fails on St Helena, be it an RMS Breakdown, wind shear at the Airport or rain on the St Helena’s Day Parade, sooner or later someone will say it is due to ‘Napoleon’s Curse’. Napoleon is said, during his exile here to have set a curse on St Helena “for all time”.

Suspiciously, the words of the curse are never quoted. Research in the many documents surviving from the time of Napoleon’s imprisonment show that none of them mentions a curse. Indeed, Napoleon may have railed against his captors (especially Governor Lowe) and complained about the Longwood weather but he doesn’t seem to have articulated any particular negativity about the island or its ordinary inhabitants. None of the island histories, from Brooke in 1824 to Gosse in 1938 mentions the Curse either.

So it seems the Curse is simply a late 20th invention; more convenient than ascribing failure to bad planning, bad management or simple misfortune.

Napoleon and Jonathan

Jonathan Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

One charming story often told is that Jonathan the tortoise is so old he actually met Napoleon. Delightful though the idea may be, Jonathan was not brought to St Helena until 1882, and then he was around 50 years old, so Napoleon died around 11 years before Jonathan hatched. There was a giant tortoise here from 1776 to 1918 (unnamed, female) and theoretically she and Napoleon might have met, except that he was never invited to Plantation House and tortoises do not, as a rule, make social calls.

Napoleon’s Death

Officially, Napoleon died of stomach cancer, but many far more colourful stories exist. We cover three of them below:{d}

Book, Napoleon in America, 2014 Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

  1. Napoleon did not die; his death was faked to cover his escape from St Helena, an embarrassment to his Captors. He lived out his days in America.

    During Napoleon’s captivity, there were real plans to get him off St Helena and it not surprising that rumours began to spread even before his death that the prisoner held on St Helena was no longer, in fact, Napoleon. Before the Internet and digital imaging, and with St Helena many weeks travel from St Helena, it was not an easy story to refute. The story seems to first appear in print in 1947, in a self-published book by one Pierre Paul Ebeyer, a Cajun-American whose family aparently revered Napoleon as a second God, which does not give any weight to the story’s credibility. His only evidence was the fact that Napoleon rarely showed himself to any Englishman after 1817. The story was elaborated by another American, Thomas G. Wheeler, writing in Time Magazine in 1974. The story relies on Napoleon being replaced by a double, a Mr Robeaud, though no evidence has ever been found that such a person even existed. Despite there being no actual evidence for the story whatsoever, propelled by its charm several books and even films have been made of it. Notably, these can always be found in the Fiction section, not under History.

  2. Napoleon’s death was not due to cancer; he was poisoned by his Captors to prevent him ever escaping and regaining power, and to save the considerable cost of imprisoning him.

    A Parisian doctor observed in 1829 that the opinion that Napoleon had succumbed to poison “was for a long time accepted in Paris, and it is still current in the departments, these tales being not only rumours among the people but were spread and accepted by educated persons of the best social classes”. This theory is rather better founded than the others. A Swedish dentist, Sven Forshufvud, in 1961 compared the account of Napoleon’s illness made by his valet, Louis-Joseph-Narcisse Marchand, with the symptoms of Arsenic poisining and found a match. As the story developed, in some variations Napoleon was deliberately poisoned by the British; in others it was the French, hoping to make him ill enough to be shipped back to France but accidentally overdosing him. It is even sometimes suggested that the Arsenic was accidentally administered, being a compound used in the colouring of the wallpaper at Longwood House. Sadly for this quaint story, the original autopsy was performed by a competent doctor under, for the time, near ideal conditions, and its conclusions witnessed by many, including many of Napoleon’s supporters. The verdict was unequivocably stomach cancer.

  3. Napoleon died and was buried in Sane Valley, but it was not his body that was collected by the French in 1840. The real body was cremated and his ashes are buried under Westminster Abbey.

    Very soon after 1840 there were rumours circulating in Paris that Napoleon’s grave on St Helena had been found empty because the “sacrilegious English” had removed the body years before, but this is the least credible of the stories because there is no evidence whatsoever to support it. Napolen’s coffins (there were four, one inside the other) were opened in 1840 when the body was exhumed and his body was reported to be in an “excellent” state of preservation (score 1 for the Arsenic theorists - Arsenic is a preservative!) It is furthermore highly unlikely that ashes could have been buried in Westminster Abbey without some record being kept, and no such record exists.

Napoleon’s Penis

There is a persistent story that, at some point after his death, Napoleon’s penis was removed from his body. Indeed, periodically something is advertised for sale on the Internet as being said appendage - described in 1990 by The Sun newspaper as “Napoleon’s not-so-Boney parte”.

No substantive evidence has ever been supplied for the story, and none of the vendors of the supposed severed member has ever been willing to submit their object for independent evaluation. The post-mortem was witnessed by many people who would certainly have noticed if anything was removed from Napoleon’s body, so if it was done it must have been while the body was unattended - not impossible but highly improbable. And when his body was exhumed in 1840 for transport to Paris it seems likely that if anything was missing somebody would have noticed.

Sadly Napoleon’s body has long since decomposed, so the obvious test cannot be performed…

Sea Serpents

‘Sea Serpents’ Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!{5}

There are at least two old stories of vessels encountering ‘Sea Serpents’ near to St Helena. On 6th August 1848 the corvette HMS Daedalus reported sighting one a few hundred miles south-east of St Helena, at about 5pm. Described as an “enormous serpent” with its head held constantly about 4 feet above the surface, and at least 60 feet long, it apparently passed “rapidly, but close under the lee quarter” then headed off to the south west. The sighting was reported by Captain Peter M’Quhae and verified by one Lieutenant Drummond.

Closer to St Helena, at 6:30pm on 12th December 1857, just 10 miles north east of the island, Captain Harrington of the merchant vessel Castilian reported a “huge marine animal which reared its head out of the water within 20 yards of the ship”. Estimated to be over 200 feet long and with a head perhaps 12 feet across, it “appeared to be moving slowly towards the land”. The report was backed up by Chief Officer William Davis and Second Officer Edward Wheeler. A letter from Captain Harrington describing the incident appeared in the Times in London on 4th February 1858, provoking considerable controversy. In subsequent correspondence Harrington stated that an earlier sighting of the same animal had occurred two years earlier, but declined to provide any details.

So are there monstrous sea creatures living just off St Helena? We doubt it, for two main reasons: Firstly it is well known that judging the size of an object seen at sea is difficult, due to the lack of reference points - other objects with which a comparison may be made. So what was seen by these sailors may well have been a great deal smaller than their reports would suggest. Secondly, both sightings occurred when the light was failing (5pm and 6:30pm), and as any motorist who has driven on the open road at twilight knows, it is very easy to mistake what one is seeing at this time of day.

But if you’d prefer to believe the sea around St Helena is inhabited by ‘Sea Serpents’ and other creatures unknown to science we aren’t going to try and stop you. Maybe you’d like to come here and see for yourself?

Incidentally, one day while travelling on the RMS this website’s Editor did spot, in the ship’s official log, record of the sighting of a mermaid, described as “blonde, 36DD”. Perhaps one of the passengers was sunbathing…

St Helena ‘la Nouvelle’

New St Helena Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

This myth is no longer in circulation, but from around the middle 1600s to the early 1700s it was widely believed that there were two St Helenas, side-by-side in the South Atlantic - the real one and another, known as ‘I Ste Helene la Nouvelle’ (‘New St Helena’). Maps in this period showed both, but New St Helena never existed - it was simply a navigational error caused by ship’s captains running across actual St Helena and miscalculating their longitude. You can read all about it on our page Two St Helenas?.

St Helena’s Discovery Date

João da Nova Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!
João da Nova

The Island of St Helena was discovered on 21st May 1502 by the Galician navigator João da Nova, sailing at the service of Portugal. Anchoring in what is now James Bay, it is said that he named it ‘Santa Helena’ after St Helena of Constantinople, whose Saint’s Day falls on 21st May”.

Actually, we think not! We do believe it was discovered by João da Nova, but we think he discovered it on 3rd May 1502, not 21st May. To learn why please see our Discovery of St Helena page.

A good way to get to know the Saints, I found, was to listen to their two-hour daily radio broadcast. It takes the place of an island newspaper by reporting anything and everything that happens locally. My interview was repeatedly broadcast between the two big news events of the week: one being that a car knocked over a road sign in town, the other from the local doctor describing as “nonsense” the rumor that people were catching venereal disease by swimming in the town’s pool. “The only way to catch VD in the pool,” the doctor explained over and over, “is if you are doing something other than swimming in it.” It was evidently a persistent rumor because they rebroadcast the doctor’s message every day during my stay on the island. I can imagine the unfaithful husband explaining to his wife that he must have caught some germs in the public pool. Most of the islanders, myself included, decided to stay clear of the pool just in case.{e}

A story which may or may not be true

The following story was printed in the St Helena Wirebird{10} in April 1961. We have no idea if it’s true or just a sailor’s tale but its charming, either way:

{6}Coffin/boat Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

This strange story goes back to the days when St Helena was uninhabited. It tells of a Dutch seaman who was tried and sentenced to death for mutiny on board a Dutch vessel bound for the East. This sentence was later changed and it was ordered that the man be left ashore at St Helena.

A day or two before the ship put in here one of its officers died and so arrangements were made on board for the body to he buried on the shore at St Helena. Thus the ship would leave one dead and one live body behind.

The ship duly arrived in what is now James Bay, and the burial was solemnly carried out according to the custom of the day. The boats pulled off from the shore leaving only the mutineer behind to wave them goodbye.

While preparations were being made on board to set sail, our lonely prisoner on shore was also busy. Working hard, he succcedcd in opening the recently filed-in grave. He took up the coffin, removed the body which he reburied without a coffin and from the lid of the now empty box he made a pair of paddles. Off to the waters’ edge he went, struggling with the coffin. He launced his curious boat in which he paddled off to the ship which had only an hour or so previously landed him here and which lay immovable only a short distance from the shore because of the profoundly calm weather. The tide ebbing, the prisoner gradually paddled his way to the ship from where his companions on board were beginning to view the approach of the so strange boat with the utmost curiosity. When he arrived alongside they were a little startled but full of admiration for the occupant’s courage.

The incident was touching; there floated the poor wretch in a coffin. It was now put to the question whether or not he should be received on board. Some would have the sentence put into execution, but at last the Captain taking into consideration the strangeness of the event, allowed mercy to prevail in his heart, and the man was taken on board and safely returned to Holland.

It is believed that this seaman lived for a number of years thereafter and took pains to relate to many how miraculously he had been delivered by Providence (and coffin). What happened to his famous boat is not recorded.

Other sundry myths; some actually true!

Some local myths don’t really lend themselves to analysis. Other stories were thought to be myths but later found to be true. We list some of these below:

  • It is said that when the Bellstone is struck (to make it ring), the striker is granted a wish. We’re not sure exactly how you would test this scientifically, but the litany of failed projects which could, apparently, have been prevented with a simple trip to Levelwood suggests it doesn’t work.

  • For a long time it was thought the story of ‘Louden’s Ben’ was a myth, until his cave was discovered in 1897 by a hunting party.

  • It is said that Man & Horse Cliff is so-named because a man once galloped his horse over the cliff and fell 180m to his death. No Records{7} or island histories support this explanation, but neither do they offer any alternative reason for the name.

  • The St Helena Giant Earwig labidura herculeana is sometimes described as ‘legendary’ but this is inaccurate. It is known to have existed, but has now been declared extinct.

  • It is sometimes claimed that the Butcher’s Graves carry a skull, two arrows and a butcher’s cleaver because the male, a butcher, killed his wife. The story is widely recounted but no Records{7} have been found to confirm or deny it.

  • Local legend has it there was once a ship’s anchor in the Heart Shaped Waterfall’s plunge pool. This may or may not have been true, but it certainly isn’t there now.

  • Local singer Matty John is sometimes described as a “legendary island musician” but he was definitely real! He was recorded by the 1962 film crew{8} and you can hear an example of him singing on our Speak Saint page.

  • Due to a story circulating on the island at the time, the St Helena News on 23rd July 1999 thought it necessary to reassure its readers that humans and animals could not be infected by a computer virus…

  • 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{7} 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.

  • We can state (with almost complete certainty) that it is not true that the staff at the Community Care Complex have been issued with instructions specifying what to do in the event of Rollers.

  • And finally, in our various sources we found many references to the “legendary hospitality of the people of St Helena”. Let us assure you this is no legend - it is absolutely true!

Read More

More stories on our page Read articles about St Helena.

Article: “Who said there were no horses on the Island?”

Published in the St Helena Herald 4th September 2009{3}

A strange creature has been discovered living wild below Diana’s Peak. Experts believe it may be a legendary beast called ‘a horse’.

Island tradition has it that horses roamed on Deadwood Plain in the Before Times, possibly as long ago as the period known to historians as ‘The Seventies’. It was thought they were extinct on St Helena.

The Horse Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

The exact location of the creature’s discovery is being kept secret, but it was found in Woodlands. It was found by Fenny Fowler, who said:

I was planning to eat it, but then Nick Thorpe said it might be one of St Helena’s lost endemics.

The horse is similar to those found in the UK, except that it has only two legs.

It’s only a very subtle difference,” said Nick “but it may be enough for us to say it is a separate species. It could be the world’s only two-legged quadruped. It’s also quite unusual for horses to wear smelly trainers”.

The creature’s discovery sparked a bio-security alert in the Invasive Species Department. However, it turned out the animal’s legs were protected under new human rights legislation introduced on the island this week.

The horse is expected to take part in the Girl Guides procession through Jamestown on Saturday before joining in celebrations in the Mule Yard.

Closing Humour Image Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

Laugh at funny myths humour - LOL Saint Helena Island Info Myths Debunked!

Someone suggested it was disciminatory for this page only to include ‘Myths’ and omit ’Mythters’…


Credits:

{a} ‘The Tower of Babel’, by Pieter Bruegel (The Elder){3}.

{b} ‘U.S. Consular Mail from St Helena’ (2002) by By Michael D. Mueller (St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Philatelic Society (SHATPS)).

{c} This item is reproduced{3} with permission from South Atlantic Media Services Ltd (SAMS)

{d} For a more detailed account of these theories and a discourse into why conspiracy theories exist see the paper ‘Conspiracy on St Helena? (Mis)remembering Napoleon’s Exile’ by Michael Sibalis{3}.

{e} ‘Across Islands and Oceans{3}{9}



Footnotes:

{1} A revised and updated version of ‘A History of the Island of St Helena’, by T. H. Brooke, Esq., published in 1808..

{2} There are three ‘Wirebird’ publications that should not be confused: The Government Newspaper (1955-1966), the Tourist Office Blog (current) and the Magazine of Friends of St Helena (current).

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

{4} History of the Captivity of Napoleon at St Helena; from the Letters and Journals of the late Lieut.-Gen. Sir Hudson Lowe, and Official Documents Not Before Made Public. By William Forsyth, M.A., 1853.

{5} Actually a ‘photograph’ of the Loch Ness Monster. (The ‘photograph’ now known to be a hoax.) Maybe Nessie was having a summer holiday in the South Atlantic?

{6} It should be obvious, but just in case: this is NOT an actual photograph of the 16th Century events depicted in the story. It came from Facebook™, but sadly we can’t remember what the story was behind the photo.

{7} 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.

{8} The 1962 Film Unit consisted of Charles Frater, Bob Johnston and Esdon Frost who came to the island and made a half hour film called “Island of Saint Helena”, many sound recordings and photographic stills. The full film is available on YouTube™ www.youtube.com/watch?v=YngeIbFUEVw.

{9} Read the full chapter here (6.2Mb).

{10} The Government newspaper{2}.

{11} An article by Beau W. Rowlands, printed in ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{2}. Number 28, Spring 2004{3}.



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