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Myths Debunked!

Everybody knows that…

Things are not what they appear to be: nor are they otherwise.{b}

When researching this website we are told many things that ‘everybody knows’, many of which prove to be untrue…

Myths Debunked!{c}

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

SEE ALSO: You may also be interested in our page Ghost Stories of St Helena which also discusses superstitions.

By the way: 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’s absolutely true!

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 short‘Captured at the Battle of Waterloo…’‘In the steps of Napoleon…’Hurricane that accompanied Napoleon’s DeathMahogany for Napoleon’s CoffinNapoleon’s CurseNapoleon and JonathanNapoleon’s DeathNapoleon’s PenisNapoleon never gave up

He was short

Napoleon at The Briars
Napoleon at The Briars

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. Incidentally, he also was not about 6m tall, as might be deduced from this contemporary image (right)!

‘Captured at the Battle of Waterloo…’

Contrary to common belief{2} Napoleon neither surrendered nor was captured at the Battle of Waterloo. He returned to France after the battle but discovered that the people were no longer behind him. He abdicated on 22nd June 1815 and left Paris. As the battle-victorious Coalition troops advanced across France he fled to Rochefort and considered an escape to the United States, but instead sought asylum from the British aboard HMS Bellerophon on 15th July 1815.

‘In the steps of Napoleon…’

Napoleon bust

It is sometimes said to visitors that when you alight at The Wharf{3} 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

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 1821 records that the day was a beautiful day, bright with sunshine. We tend to believe the newspaper! So how did the hurricane story come about? Well it seems{d} 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{5}, unaware that anybody would take his report seriously, let alone incorporate it into an otherwise scholarly and reliable history.

Mahogany for Napoleon’s Coffin

There is a story that, due to a shortage of mahogany on the island at the time, some or all of the mahogany used to build Napoleon’s coffin was sourced from the dining room table of one Captain James Bennett, serving at the time on the island. This tale was investigated by Trevor Hearl and again in 2021 by Colin Fox{15} (a descendant of Captain Bennett), both of whom concluded the story, though circulating since at least the end of the 19th Century, cannot be proven to be true. According to Colin Fox, records show the ordering of the following for building the coffin, with no indication that there was any difficulty in sourcing any of the items: 34ft of Honduras mahogany @ 1s 10d = £3 2s 4d; 46(ft of) Spanish mahogany @ 4s 6d = £10 7s 0d; 1 box sheet tin for inner coffin = £5 0s 0d; Lead for the coffin = £8 3s 8d.

The only possibility (advanced by Colin Fox in his article) is that some wood was needed at the last minute, either due to a shortfall or to repair some damage that had occurred in transit, and that Captain Bennett’s table provided this, though he could only conjecture this as his researches uncovered no firm evidence of it.

Napoleon’s Curse

Napoleon charicature

Whenever something fails on St Helena, be it Windshear 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 weather in Longwood but he doesn’t seem to have articulated any particular negativity about the island or its ordinary inhabitants (and he said he liked our coffee). 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


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:{e}

Book, Napoleon in America, 2014

  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 apparently 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 poisoning 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. Napoleon’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…

Napoleon never gave up

In 2010 Denzil Ibbetson’s diary was discovered in New Zealand (where his son emigrated in 1864). By some readings it records that in 1815, even while aboard the HMS Northumberland heading for exile, Napoleon was still imagining himself invading and conquering Britain with an army of 200,000 infantry and 6,000 cavalry, saying he believed the people of Britain would welcome him. The Daily Mirror UK ‘newspaper’ thought this story worth printing (labelled ’HISTORY’), as did ABC News Australia and CBS in America. John Tyrrell, however, disputes this interpretation, believing the defeated former-Emperor was merely re-living his past plans, not setting out new ones (see his posting johntyrrell.blogspot.com/‌2010/‌06/‌napoleon-plotted-invading-england-after.html). So: nice headline but probably just another Napoleon myth.

João da Nova Myths

As our discoverer, João da Nova is also subject to some myths that have arisen over the past years.

Below: St Helena’s Discovery DatePortuguese ChapelJoão da Nova’s Seal?

St Helena’s Discovery Date

João da Nova
João da Nova

The Island of St Helena was discovered on 21st May 1502 by the Galician navigator João da Nova, sailing in the service of the King 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 page Discovery of St Helena.

The Portuguese Chapel

The Chapel
The Chapel{f}

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{7} 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 armoury and tackling; building with the timber a chapel in this valley, from thence called Chapel 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 (Cavendish says 1571).

João da Nova’s Seal?

Supposed Seal

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

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

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 F. Oswell Jones.

Percy Teale was clearly taken in by the seal. He reproduced it in his 1978 book ‘Saint Helena 1502 to 1659 - Before the English East India Company’ (and also added ‘Castella’ to da Nova’s name, gave the date of our discovery as 21st May and said that the original Portuguese Chapel was built from one of da Nova’s wrecked ships).

In 2001 the Q5 Committee advertised that It was last seen in The Castle during the 1940s 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.

In and around Jamestown

Below: Wellington House and the Duke of WellingtonCastle Gardens FountainNaming of ‘The Consulate Hotel’Ladder HillLadder Hill GunsMundens Tunnel

Wellington House and the Duke of Wellington

Wellington House

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

Memorial Fountain

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 killed 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

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, The Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, the Brazils, Hamburg, Lubeck, Bremen, Austria, Portugal and the Algarves, and Oldenburg{d}. 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 Solomons took over the Royal Hotel, probably in or around 1910, it was renamed The Consulate Hotel, but in honour of Saul Solomon’s many other consular appointments, not the American one.

Ladder Hill

John Thornton, c1700
John Thornton, c1700{1}

It’s called Ladder Hill because Jacob’s Ladder runs up it, right? Actually, no. While it is commonly assumed that ‘Ladder Hill’ is so named because it is ascended by our Seven Wonders tourist attraction, Jacob’s Ladder, this is actually not the case - the name is much older. The name Ladder Hill appears in the Records for 1695 and a route by that name is reported as having been ‘improved’ in 1718{8}, but the Jacob’s Ladder we know today was not created until the Inclined Plane was broken up in 1871. Ladder Hill is so-named because of the rope ladder that was the first means of ascent, prior to the construction of either the roadway we now know as Shy Road/Ladder Hill Road or the Inclined Plane. You can see this ladder on a c1700 map by John Thornton (right). Hence the hill became Ladder Hill, the road when built was Ladder Hill Road and the fort was Ladder Hill Fort, all long before our Jacob’s Ladder was constructed.

The Ladder Hill Guns

Elswick Mark VIIs

It is a commonly held belief that the large ‘modern’ guns at Ladder Hill, to the west of Ladder Hill 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 PoWs, 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 Mundens Tunnel

In 1870 John Charles Melliss devised a plan to link James Valley with Ruperts Valley via a tunnel to be constructed through Mundens Hill, though it was never attempted{9}.

Amusingly, in 2022 it was proposed that maybe a tunnel should be built through Mundens… See our page Jamestown.


Below: ‘Moncat’Monkeys of Half Tree HollowSea Serpents

The ‘Moncat’

Moncat identikit!
Moncat identikit!

Moncat and Noah

Carnival, 2016
Carnival, 2016

Starting in July 2014, sightings were widely reported of a monkey- or cat-like creature, said to be living wild on St Helena. It was christened the ‘Moncat’ (or possibly ‘Monkat’ or ‘Monkcat’). Sightings were reported by residents, primarily in Ruperts 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 £20 prize for a photograph and a local newspaper offered £300. The back-story proposed was that it was an African animal that had stowed away on the Basil Read ship NP Glory 4 and somehow evaded port security. A local artist even contributed a sketch (right), based on reports from those claiming to have seen the creature.

Despite months 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 ‘Moncat’ simply hopped back on the NP Glory 4 and went home…

Moncat 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.{g}

There were no follow-up reports… but then on 26th April 2018 The Sentinel reported a further sighting, out at South-West Point in Blue Hill. There was even a rather blurred photograph, though in fairness the image could have been anything from a small domestic cat to a lion! The mystery continues… There have been no reported sightings since.

Maybe if you are very lucky you will spot the Moncat…

The Monkeys of Half Tree Hollow

The Records report:

A local tale adds that the wood in Half Tree Hollow was full of monkeys, with no tails, that used to hurl stones at passers by. Whether there ever were tail-less monkeys in HTH, how they might have got there and what happened to them when the wood was cleared, we can’t tell. Maybe ancestors of the ‘Moncat’?

Sea Serpents

{10}‘Sea Serpents’

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. However, note also the following in the Records: (sadly we have no idea what the ‘sea serpent’ exhibit actually was.)

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 St Helena (1990-2018) the editor of this website spotted, in the ship’s official log, a record of the sighting of a mermaid, described as blonde, 36DD. Perhaps one of the passengers was sunbathing…

Geology & Geography

Below: AtlantisHas no Golden Sandy Beaches‘la Nouvelle’


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…

St Helena has no Golden Sandy Beaches

Golden Sand
Golden Sand

Sandy Beach

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 (second photo, below).

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.

If you look at the picture below (of Sandy Bay from the Gates of Chaos) - you can clearly see some patches of golden sand on the valley slopes (highlighted):

St Helena ‘la Nouvelle’

New St Helena

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?.

And plenty more…

Below: Suez CanalStay clear of the pool!Story which may or may not be trueOther sundry tales

The Suez Canal

Suez Canal illustrated

The Suez Canal links the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, thus providing a much shorter route for ships travelling between Europe and the Far East, which previously had to travel to the South Atlantic and around the southern tip of Africa. When it opened in 1869 it cut the distance between London and Mumbai (“Bombay”) from 19,800Km to 11,600Km - about 40%, and also avoided the stormy seas around the Cape of Good Hope.

The opening of the Canal is the reason usually given for the decline in ship calls to St Helena. However the facts do not support this. Look at the graph below, which shows the number of ships calling at St Helena for each year from 1834 to 1890 (for a few years there is no data). It can be seen that ship calls began to decline in 1856/7, twelve years before the Canal opened, and declined steadily in each following year. The opening of the Suez Canal is marked on the graph and it can be seen that it had absolutely no effect on the trend.

direct route, and via St Helena

For what it’s worth, our theory is that the decline is due to sailing ships being replaced by steamships, which could travel longer distances without calling into port. Note that when the SS Great Britain, one of the world’s first steam-propelled ships, called here in September 1852, she hadn’t intended to - her call was only because she found herself unexpectedly short of coal due to stronger headwinds than expected. Otherwise she would have travelled non-stop to Cape Town, using the more direct route (map, right), completely by-passing St Helena. As the technology improved in the 19th Century, and as more shipping lines switched to steamships, the calls at St Helena gradually fell off. The Suez Canal had, it seems, no impact whatsoever. That is just another myth.

Unless someone can tell us otherwise

Stay clear of the pool!

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 rumour 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 rumour 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.{i}

A story which may or may not be true

The following story was printed in the St Helena Wirebird{14} in April 1961. We have no idea if it’s true or just a sailor’s tale but its charming, either way:


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 succeeded 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 launched 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 The Netherlands.

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 tales

Below: ‘Myths’ that turned out to be trueSimple misnomersTrue or myth?Ones we do not believeSimple misinformation

‘Myths’ that turned out to be true

Simple misnomers

True or myth?

The following may be true or may be myths, we have no idea! Please contact us if you can help…

Ones we do not believe

Simple misinformation

Scientific beliefs are supported by evidence, and they get results. Myths and faiths are not and do not.{j}

Read More

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

The Horse

Published in the St Helena Herald 4th September 2009{12}

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 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.


{a} St Helena Travel (group){b} Gautama Buddha{c} ‘The Tower of Babel’, by Pieter Bruegel (The Elder){12}{d} ‘U.S. Consular Mail from St Helena’ (2002), by Michael D. Mueller, St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Philatelic Society (‘SHATPS’){e} 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{12}{f} From ‘Insula d. Helenæ’ by Theodore de Bry, 1601 Copyright © The Hebrew University of Jerusalem & The Jewish National & University Library{12}{g} Copyright © South Atlantic Media Services Ltd. (SAMS), used with permission.{h} St Helena National Trust{i} ‘Across Islands and Oceans{12}{13}{j} Richard Dawkins


{1} A higher resolution but monochrome version of this map exists.{2} And also the lyrics of the ABBA song ‘Waterloo’.{3} Which cruise ship passengers and ‘yachties’ still do.{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} He may have been inspired by the Bible, which reports a storm in a similar manner at the point of Jesus’ death.{6} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.{7} A revised and updated version of ‘A History of the Island of St Helena’, by T. H. Brooke, Esq., published in 1808.{8} The improvement seems to have been made more to make invaders using it (as the Dutch did) more visible than for the convenience of travellers.{9} It is sometimes said that the cavern in Mundens Hill in Jamestown (opposite the General Hospital) is the beginning of this tunnel, but this is not correct. Actually this cavern is the former quarry, from where (inter alia) the stone for the original spire on St. James’ Church was obtained.{10} Actually a ‘photograph’ of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ (the ‘photograph’ is now known to have been a hoax). Maybe Nessie was having a summer holiday in the South Atlantic…?{11} 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 Social Media, but sadly we can’t remember what the story was behind the photo.{12} @@RepDis@@{13} Read the full chapter here.{14} The Government newspaper{6}.{15} The latter’s investigation is published in the ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{6}, October 2021.