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Plantation House

The Governor’s Residence

Art has been combined with nature to render this, in the opinion of many, the most beautiful spot on the island
T. H. Brooke, Esq.

Plantation House has been the official home of the Governor of St Helena since 1792.

 

Plantation House

Below: Description • Tours • Grounds • Giant Tortoises • History • Forest • ‘Plantation Notes’ • Walks around Plantation House • Read More

Plantation House is the Governor’s permanent residence and is designated as a Grade I Listed Building. In older histories it is sometimes called ‘Government House’.

You can’t stay at Plantation House. To find accommodation here please see our Where To Stay page.

Description

General’s Room

Plantation House is set on a broad northwest-facing slope at the head of Young’s Valley. The main centre block of Plantation House is two stories with seven bays and a central projecting porch. The windows are sashed and shuttered, the façade has cornices, parapet, and quoins. The wings projecting at back incorporate the various alterations. The interior of the house has fine state rooms with pressed zinc ceilings.

The house has 35 rooms (though past writers have claimed there to be as many as 62!) 24 are living rooms and the remaining 11 are store rooms, etc. The dining room is a massive 6.4mx10m, as it has always been the role of The Governor to entertain many guests. The library, built by Governor Lowe in 1816, boasts a total of more than 2,000 books.

Curiously, most of the living rooms have names, recorded by a brass plaque on each door. Names include the ‘Governor’s Room’, ‘Admiral’s Room’, ‘General’s Room’ and also ‘Baron’s Room’, but there are also the ‘Blue Room’, ‘Pink Room’, etc. There apparently used to be a ‘Prince of Orange’ Room, after the 1838 visit of Prince William Henry Frederick of Holland, but nobody now knows which room that was. These plates have excited much speculation. They were placed on the doors by Governor Grey-Wilson.

The current dining room will seat 25 guests, but Governor Lowe often dined no less than 60. The chandelier in the room was originally in Longwood House and was brought to Plantation House after Napoleon’s death{4}.

Governor Grey-Wilson wrote to England in 1887:

I am sitting in the library, the room we chiefly use; a large airy room with three windows and a skylight; well found in armchairs (6) and two large sofas and five tables. All the furniture of the room including small rose-wood chairs is upholstered in red cloth; very charming.

Tours

A visit to Plantation House is one of our Top Twenty things to do during a visit to St Helena.

A visit to Plantation will reveal to the Visitor the finest house he has seen in his travels through the Country
‘A Few Notes on St Helena and Descriptive Guide’ by Benjamin Grant, 1883

Tours of the State Rooms are available by appointment - please contact the Tourist Office. To whet your appetite, here are a few photographs:

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Cream Teas for tourists
{a}

Music Concert, 2016

On 1st November 2016, for the visit of cruise ship the MV Artania, Governor Lisa Phillips opened Plantation House, offering Cream Teas to tourists. The picture (left) shows some of the 520 who took advantage of the offer. Proceeds went to the Government of St Helena.

Other events have also been held at the house, including a music concert organised by Creative Saint Helena in October 2016 (right). After Governor Lisa Phillips arrived an annual Christmas Market was held in the grounds.

Photographs of important visitors are displayed in Plantation House. The most recent royal visitor was Anne, Princess Royal in 2002.

Plantation House, photographs

a charming residence and beautifully situated
Governor Gallwey

Grounds

The grounds have several features of interest. The ‘Ladies’ Bath’, near the spring below the ‘Ladies’ Garden’, was built by The East India Company for the use of the ladies of the house. The stone pillars of the associated dressing room were still in situ in 1886, but were removed to make new pillars at the White Gate Lodge. There was also a Chinese Joss House {14}.

There remain two slave graves, the ‘Butcher Graves’, in an area which is locally reputed to be haunted{6}. These are the graves of a husband, who was a butcher, as depicted by a cleaver on the gravestone, and his wife, who presumably must have worked at Plantation and been buried in the grounds. The local legend is that he killed his wife; probably started because her grave bears a skull and two arrows, and his, a butcher’s cleaver. Actually there is no evidence for this in the Records. Plantation House itself is also said to be haunted and many Saints will not willingly enter the building late at night.

The present area of the estate is about 0.49Km² but in 1800 it was about 1.4Km², additionally taking in Church Ground, Kingshurst, Kaunjee (Cronjie) Hill, the Hermitage, New Ground and Prince’s Lodge.

The grounds also contain the giant tortoises, including Jonathan. When functions are held at Plantation House a marquee is erected adjacent to the house to accommodate all the guests.

Just outside the gate, almost opposite the entrance to the Tortoises’ paddock, there is a cave. Tourists used to be told that this was where Governor Hudson Lowe kept Napoleon imprisoned!

Plantation House, main gate
Plantation House, main gate

Plantation House, from Big Rock
Plantation House, from Big Rock

Plantation House, side view
Plantation House, side view{b}

View from Plantation House
View from Plantation House{a}

Vegetable Garden {1}
Vegetable Garden{1}{c}

Garden Party
Garden Party

Gettogethers Band in the Garden
Gettogethers Band in the Garden

By moonlight
By moonlight

 

Giant Tortoises

Possibly the world’s oldest living land animal, a Giant Tortoise named Jonathan, resides in the grounds, together with several others.

History

Commemorative postage stamp

Early Governors of St Helena both lived and worked within The Castle. The area known as ‘The Plantation’ was merely a farm, or ‘plantation’, for the supply of the Governor’s table and for the growth of Yams to feed slaves{7}. The road to The Plantation was the first road built out of Jamestown, in the 1670s.

The first Government House on the site was originally owned by Governor Anthony Beale (who was ‘deposed’ by the Dutch invasion of 1673); it was sold to The East India Company in 1679. Meetings of Council were held in this house for several years.

Read’s map of 1817
Read’s map of 1817

By 1711 Governor John Roberts had erected a more suitable building, but this was allowed to fall into disrepair by his successor, Governor Benjamin Boucher, who when he left the Island is said to have taken with him all that was portable which might have been of service to him including the locks and keys{8}. In 1717 the building was reported to be so in need of repairs the roof might fall in.

Plantation House as we now know it was built 1791-2 by The East India Company, as a country or summer residence for the Governor (The Castle then became the ‘town’ residence), and Governors have continued to use the property since.

Governor Alexander Beatson (1808 - 1813) made significant improvements to the gardens and the house was added to and considerably improved by his successor, Governor Mark Wilks in 1814. Governor Hudson Lowe (he of Napoleon fame) built extensions to the house, adding the present Library, Billiard Room, Nursery, Kitchen, Offices, Coach House and Stables. His plans are on view in The Castle.

Governor Dallas moved to Longwood New House in 1832 because of the smell from the drains under Plantation House (his family contracted what was probably typhoid), and remained there for the rest of his term. The incoming Crown Governor George Middlemore appears to have re-occupied Plantation House so presumably by then the drains had been fixed.

Governor Hamelin Trelawney effected considerable repairs in 1843, and also purchased a quantity of new furniture.

Plantation House, Melliss, 1857
Plantation House: The official country residence of His Excellency the Governor of the Island, situated at a distance of about three and a quarter miles from James Town, in the Western division of the Island. There are about 280 acres of ground attached to Plantation House, which has been the residence of the Governor of St Helena for many years, consequently the grounds are laid out with great taste, and contain many rare plants, both of tropical and temperate climes. From its position on the hills the air is always cool and pleasant, even in the height of summer. In the background is seen St. Paul’s Church and old burial ground.{d}

Then the house was allowed to fall into disrepair. When Governor Patey took over in 1870 the house was so dilapidated that he protested at having to occupy it in such a condition. For a long period, beginning in 1873, the house was leased to the Military Commander in the Island, Governor Janisch instead living in Jamestown in the modern Palm Villa. Plantation House was re-occupied by Governor William Grey-Wilson in 1889, but White Ants arrived in c.1898 with inevitable consequences, not fully revealed until some thirty years later.

Old flagpole {2}
Old flagpole{2}

In 1904 Governor Gallwey had the flagpole moved from in front of the house to the roof. It is not recorded why… He entered in Plantation Notes on his departure in 1912:

I leave Plantation House 500% more comfortable and better equipped than I found it.

By 1927 the house was seriously infested with White Ants, 60 nests being found and destroyed in the vicinity. Repairs took some years, being completed in 1931. All the woodwork was replaced and the roof, which was originally slate was replaced with metal sheeting, like most buildings on the island. Electricity was installed at this time, with a shed being built to house the generators; these were not replaced until 18th April 1961 when mains electricity became available in the area and Plantation House was connected. Governor Charles Harper relocated to Prince’s Lodge during the works.

The roof was replaced (again) in 1959, this time with asbestos sheeting, and once again in 2001, this time with metal sheeting (again!). A White Ants invasion was repelled in 1965 and then nothing much seems to have changed until the kitchens were re-fitted in 2009, replacing equipment dating back to the 1930s.

New Porch
New Porch

Old Porch
Old Porch

Old Porch
Old Porch

The porch is worthy of note. In Lady Field’s book ‘The History Of Plantation House’{5} we read:{9}

The original porch was smaller and had a curved roof, but the present porch is modern, dating from 1960. It was designed by Governor Robert Alford in co-operation with the Public Works Department, but as he himself tells in Plantation Notes, in the course or construction an error was made in the dimensions of the glass panes, and the intended effect somewhat spoilt.

Here are some older views. The Chinese ‘Joss House’{10} can be seen in some (middle front). The first also shows the 2nd ‘Country Church’, later St. Paul’s Cathedral (on hill, behind).

1795
1795{e}

1809
1809{f}

1815
1815{g}

1819
1819{h}

1821
1821{i}

1866, probably from Big Rock
1866, probably from Big Rock{j}

1942
1942{k}

1962 {3}
1962{3}{l}

 

Governor Gallwey and carriage
Governor Gallwey and carriage

Nowadays the Governor’s journey to The Castle is just a short ride in the official car, but in earlier times it took a little longer and was rather more ornate. In Lady Field’s book ‘The History Of Plantation House’{5} we read:{9}

Mr William Buckley, an elderly islander{11}, gave the author some interesting details about the last Governor’s coach and Governor’s coachman on the Island. This was his father, George Buckley, who served five Governors from Governor Sterndale to Governor Harper. Buckley wore a frock-coat with brass buttons and a top-hat with a ‘comb’ (cockade). The buttons originally had a crest described by Mr Buckley as some animal like a cat, and later a crown. Horses and carriage were kept in the stables at Plantation, and the Buckley family had the adjoining house. Little William used to act as footboy sometimes opening gates and such. It is rather sad to report that the carriage was not Government property; it was hired from Mr Deason.

The Forest

Over the years the forest around the house has changed considerably. Originally mostly endemic Gumwood, most of these were cut down for firewood by the end of the 17th Century. Most of the species found are introduced and for a long time it was traditional for official visitors to the island to bring a tree from their home to be planted in Plantation Forest (for bio-security reasons this practice has now ended). In May 1977 Governor Geoffrey Guy planted a Gumwood tree. All of this has resulted in an eclectic collection of trees, including Eucalyptus, Maritime Pine, Monterey Cypress, Giant Bamboo, Bermuda Cedar, White Cape Yew, Silky Oak, Blackwood and Swamp Cypress.

‘Plantation Notes’

Plantation Notes might best be described as a log book for Plantation House. Started in 1891 by Governor Grey-Wilson, this vellum-bound book has been maintained almost continuously ever since, usually by the incumbent Governor or by other house officials, with the minor exception of the 20 year period between the mid-1930s and mid-1950s when it was lost and rediscovered (in The Castle) by Governor James Harford.

There is no prescribed formula for what must be entered into Notes and different Governors have variously recorded diagrams of the drains, how to maintain the old clocks, lists of plants growing in the grounds and a recipe for a stain for the wooden floors.

In addition, rather like modern-day Facebook™, some writers have entered criticisms of the notes made by their predecessors. For example, after the 1928/31 works Governor Harper wrote praising the works and somebody else (apparently not his successor, Governor Spencer Davis) wrote What it cost, no one knows or will ever know..

Walks around Plantation House

There are a number of walks around Plantation House which pass the many features of the area: the tortoises; the Ladies’ Bath (a natural spring); the Butcher Graves and the Big Rock viewpoint. The map below shows a short route (in Red, about 1Km), medium route (in Green, about 1.3Km) and longer route (in Yellow, about 3Km). The start point is the gate used for viewing the tortoises, where there is a small car park. The yellow walk can also be joined at Scotland.

Plantation House walks map

Read More

Below: Historic Environment Record • Article: The truth about the MP who slept rough in the Governor’s garden

HER image

Historic Environment Record

For more about our historic buildings consult The Historic Environment Record.

Article: The truth about the MP who slept rough in the Governor’s garden

By Simon Pipe, 25th May 2012{9}

MP Mark Lancaster (left) and Governor Andrew Gurr
MP Mark Lancaster (left) and Governor Andrew Gurr

For a Member of Parliament who’d spent his holidays fighting the Taliban, a mission in friendly St Helena ought to have been a walk in the park. Instead, Mark Lancaster ended up sleeping in one. Or rather, in the Governor’s garden.

He’d reckoned without the superior socialising powers of the Saints. And then, when he should be been securing his objective (a bed) under cover of darkness, he was outmanoeuvred. The story was first told in the 4th May issue of the St Helena Independent by Vince Thompson, who described how the soldier-turned-MP found himself locked out of Plantation House. The identity of the person who’d done the deed was a mystery, though. Presumably one of the staff was not aware of the extra guest, wrote Vince.

Further details of the story were let slip last weekend by Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary - and Mark Lancaster’s boss - when he met Saints in Swindolena{12} to talk about the island’s airport.

When we were in opposition I sent my number two, Mark Lancaster, who had an extremely interesting visit. He came back full of stories, not least was the very large number of people who took him to the pub one night. He then went back to the governor’s house and was locked out, and he had to sleep on a park bench outside the governor’s front door. It rained upon him, but he is a former soldier and I don’t think it did him any harm.

In fact, Mr Lancaster is still a part-time bomb disposal officer in the Territorial Army and has served as a peacekeeper in Bosnia and Kosovo. In the summer of 2006, when other MPs were off on fact-finding trips to the Caribbean, he spent his hols on a tour of active service in Afghanistan. He can rough it. He had been dispatched to St Helena to scout out the lie of the land for the airport, said Mr Mitchell.

I sent him down in 2009 and he came back with the information we needed to be sure that we should proceed with this project. I think he was taken drinking by a large number of generous Saints who wanted to show him a good time, and I understand they certainly did.

The lock-out would never have happened had he chosen to stay at Farm Lodge or The Consulate, instead of putting up at Plantation as a guest of Governor Andrew Gurr. Mr Lancaster confirms the story, and adds the crucial missing fact: who was it that locked him out? It was not some hapless member of staff after all, he reveals.

Crawled back about two am having been in the nightclub on the front, he writes in an email. Despite having given me the key, the Governor had accidentally bolted the outer door, so I spent the night on the bench rather than wake him up.

We must be grateful that Mr Lancaster - now luxuriating on the Government benches in Parliament - did not allow the incident to turn him against the airport project.

After an evening of St Helenian hospitality, he generously concedes, a bit of fresh air did me the world of good.

And it gave him a heady experience of St Helena’s greatest spectacle. Living most of my time in smoggy London, he says, the chance to lie on my back staring at the stars all night was too good an opportunity to miss.

Come the morning, he no doubt refrained from referring to his host as Governor Grrrr.

Laugh at funny Plantation House humour - LOL

Credits:
{a} Governor Lisa Phillips{b} Tourist Office{c} John Tyrrell{d} From Views of St Helena, by G.W. Melliss{13}, published in 1857{e} By W. Thomas, for ‘European Magazine’.{f} William John Burchell{g} G H Bellasis, 1815{h} John Kerr{i} James Wathen{j} John Isaac Lilley, 1861-1866{k} George Moss{l} Copyright © 1962 Film Unit, used with permission{9}.

Footnotes:
{1} This used to be for the exclusive use of the House, but is now let out to an individual (who also supplies the house on a commercial basis).{2} Also shows the old slate roof in need of some repair!{3} With brand new porch!{4} The version now on display has been much-modified from the original. An accurate reproduction of the original now hangs in Napoleon’s bedroom (where he died) in Longwood House.{5} Patten Press, 1998 ISBN 1 872229 32 8.{6} Students at Prince Andrew School studying GCSE English are taken there each year on a school trip to experience the atmosphere.{7} Curiously the yams were brought by accident - by a slave girl called Maria, who landed with some concealed about her person and planted them in an area then known as John Proud’s Lemon Garden, in which the Plantation later sat. [Image, right]

Moll map, 1732
Moll map, 1732.

{8} Governor Boucher’s pastime was riding asses up and down a shed 120m long which he had erected at Plantation, so that he could continue in all weathers!{9} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.{10} Not to be confused with Model Cottage.{11} Now deceased.{12} A large number of Saints are living in the UK in and around Swindon in Wiltshire, and the area is now informally known as ‘Swindolena’ or ‘Swindhelena’.{13} Father of John Melliss.{14} Lady Field’s book ‘The History Of Plantation House’{5} says the Joss House was situated at the northern end of a swamp further down the valley. People remembered it in the 1960s.

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