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So near, and yet so far

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted…{m}

Ruperts is the valley next to James Valley, yet it is rarely visited by tourists‍‍

Why ‘Ruperts’

Strictly, it should be written Rupert’s - it’s named after a ‘Rupert’ - but the apostrophe is never included.

It is commonly told that the valley is so named because Prince Rupert of the Rhine (1619-1682) landed there when he visited St Helena on a voyage home from India. Only one historical document seems to exist to support this claim, but it would be strange for Prince Rupert to have landed in this valley, when the main settlement (such as it was) was in Chapel Valley (now James Valley) just next door. Ruperts Valley was then Seine Valley and was uninhabited. The Wikipedia seems to accept this explanation, but we have uncovered an alternative.

In the 1650s, Prince Rupert, after an outstanding military career on the side of the King in the English Civil War, upon defeat is said to have turned to piracy, operating on the South Atlantic Trade Route. Dutch captain Jan Riebeck, travelling up from the Cape in February 1652, writes about his ship being equipped with numerous guns for the fear of Prince Rupert. It is said Rupert used St Helena as a base, preferring the less populated valley to the east of James (then Chapel) Bay - and hence it is now known as Ruperts Valley.

Believe whichever explanation you prefer; we lean towards the latter.

What’s in Ruperts

Starting at the sea (the northern end) there is an area usually referred to as ‘Ruperts Beach’, but don’t expect golden sands littered with deckchairs. The sea meets the land in a number of rocky outcrops, though an increasing amount of sand is now in evidence (see below). Swimming is possible as the bay is relatively sheltered and there are no undercurrents. People often meet for barbecues in the area just above the beach; a real family occasion. A bar opened in 2018 and proved immediately popular.

The rest of the valley is mainly industrial, with just a few houses. A gantry sticks out from the beach into the sea, which is used when a fuel tanker is offloading (the beach is always closed to the public at this time). Further along, a temporary wharf was built to allow Basil Read’s ship to offload materials needed for the construction of our airport. After this had finished use a permanent wharf replaced it, it being planned that all goods and cargo will be unloaded in Ruperts leaving Jamestown for passengers: cruise ships and yachts{3}.

There are no entertainment venues in Ruperts.{4}

Further up the valley are a few small industrial units; the island’s Power Station, where the diesel-powered generators produce much of the island’s electricity (though some is produced from renewable sources); and the original and new Bulk Fuel Installations (BFI), where the island’s fuel stocks are stored. This original facility was recently expanded for the storage of aviation fuel in conjunction with the airport, though at the time of writing this new installation has never been completed{5}.

Beyond this the valley rises steeply to Deadwood, and is largely uninhabited.

A Bellstone has been discovered in scrub above the valley, but it is not as readily accessible as its larger and more famous cousin in Levelwood.

Worthy of mention is the Haul Road, which starts in Ruperts Valley and climbs sharply up the hillside heading for the Airport Site. Built for the conveyance of materials for airport construction, when construction was complete it was re-made into a permanent route for public vehicular traffic between Ruperts and Longwood. The section between Bottom Woods opened in 2016 but the section from Ruperts to Bottom Woods did not open until June 2019. A map of its route can be seen on our page Building St Helena Airport.

The culvert that directs the little water that flows in the valley down into the sea was cut in 1862 by the newly-‘Liberated Africans’ who lived there. This was of significant benefit to the costs of the construction - they were not paid for their labours, whereas an island labourer would have earned 7s a day (7s=£0.35).

Hay Town House

The houses are mostly modern-built but Hay Town House (photo below) is older. It was built in 1862 by Governor Drummond Hay as part of a planned re-development of the valley made possible by the establishment of a reliable water supply piped into the valley from The Briars, the estate to be known as Hay Town. The plan never actually took off and Hay Town House seems to be the only building from the project. Described by Crallan as 2 St., 3-bay x 2 house, inscribed stone on North corner, Verandah North end, D. central, West, W.s sashed.

Older Photographs

The Fish Landing Stage was built by Frank Robb & Associates St Helena Island (FRASHI), who in 1965 obtained a licence to establish a fishing industry on St Helena. This failed, like so many other of our industries. The jetty was further extended in 1984. The current road into Ruperts from the west was built in the 1960s by Governor John Field. The previous route via Mundens Fort, built in the early 1700s, was closed in 1981 due to undercutting by the sea above Romans Cove (more on our page Roads). More recently we got the New Jetty

The New Jetty

For five centuries, ships arriving at St Helena had to moor in either James Bay or Ruperts and offload or take on people and supplies using small boats (‘Lighters and Tenders’) which shuttled back and forth. Kings and Queens and other dignitaries, tourists, Saints and other visitors all landed and departed this way. Cruise Ships often failed to land passengers because alighting from a tender by jumping onto the Jamestown Wharf, with the swell carrying the tender continuously up and down, was considered by some Captains to be too risky for their passengers (or, maybe, for their insurers.)

Then in 2011 the plan to build an airport contained within it a less-noticed plan to build a proper jetty in Ruperts, just beyond the fish landing stage - one that ships could actually tie up against for direct boarding and offloading. This was completed in June 2016 - shortly after the airport was completed. The irony of this - that we finally get a proper ship loading and offloading facility just when we stop really needing it - seemed to go largely unremarked.

However, as is often the case on St Helena, there was a problem. Until February 2020 - nearly four years after the new jetty was completed - ships still weren’t using it. The reasons for this were complex but at the heart was the fact that the Government of St Helena still hadn’t taken over the jetty from Basil Read. Apparently somebody had noticed that the new jetty was right under the (notoriously unstable) cliffs on Mundens Hill and hence in danger from rockfalls, and we understand that there was a dispute between the Government of St Helena and Basil Read about who should pay for the necessary rock stabilisation works. Until this was resolved ships could tie up next to the new jetty, but their cargo was unloaded onto lighters and carried round to James Bay… Only on St Helena However, after the Government of St Helena terminated its relationship with Basil Read in October 2018 responsibility fell unequivocally on the Government of St Helena. A contract was placed to effect the necessary rockfall protections and work was begun in January 2020. Governor Rushbrook formally opened the new jetty on 18th February 2020 in the presence of Mr Eric Beaum from the Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development of the European Commission, who funded the jetty’s construction, but the Jetty could not at that time be brought into use as the rockfall works had not been completed.

There are pictures of the new jetty, under construction and completed, below:

The first ship to offload there was Basil Read’s MV Greta, delivering supplies on 4th July 2016. It may be portentous, but the ship was due to dock the day before but was held out in the bay due to unfavourable sea conditions…

Since the new jetty was completed it has been noticed that the amount of sand on Ruperts Beach has increased. Divers in Ruperts Bay and James Bay are also noticing that the amount of sand on the sea floor is decreasing, with items becoming uncovered that have laid hidden for perhaps centuries. In 2019 a barnacle-encrusted Olive Jar, thought to be several hundreds of years old, was located amongst the moorings in James Bay. The change in the sea dynamics due to the presence of the new jetty is the proposed explanation.

Always a place for leisure…

The photographs below are taken from a family album, dated to around 1942. They show Ruperts beach being used as a place of leisure, much as it is today:

Other matters

Below: Ruperts and SlaveryIsolationI’ve got a lovely bunch…And also…Cotton…and our railway…and Turtles

Ruperts and Slavery

When St Helena was the dropping-off point for people found on board captured Slavers, from 1840 until the 1870s, many of the captives were taken to Ruperts to recover or, sadly, to die. As a result, many graves were discovered from 2008 during the early stages of the airport project and construction of the Haul Road. This topic is covered in detail on our page The Slave Graves. How many enslaved lived in Ruperts at any one time is not certain but it must have been in the low thousands, making Ruperts then a very crowded place.

The map below was created in 1861 by Melliss for a planned re-development of the valley made possible by the establishment of a reliable water supply piped into the valley from The Briars (that never happened). It is useful to see the known burial sites for the ‘Liberated Africans’ and also the location of the ‘Depot’ (labelled African Establishment on the plan). Notice the location of the Jail (where the Power Station is today). The route labelled ‘From Jamestown’ is the old route via Mundens - Field Road was not built for another over-100 years.


Animal Quarantine Station, Ruperts
Animal Quarantine Station, Ruperts

Ruperts is close to Jamestown but separated from it and, until the ‘Haul Road’ was opened in 2019 it had little through traffic, particularly in the upper valley. It was therefore a convenient and safe place to isolate people and animals. The Leper Hospital was sited there from 1909 to 1955.

Since 1999 animals in quarantine are held there. The Quarantine Station was officially opened in November 1999 by Governor David Smallman. A contemporary press release reports that The building has been purposely designed to accommodate cattle, pigs, sheep, poultry, cats and dogs. Previously High Knoll Fort had been used.

I’ve got a lovely bunch…

… of coconuts. And so too did Ruperts Valley, in 1985. This from the St Helena News Review:

When it returned from Ascension Island the RMS St Helena (1990-2018) brought an unusual consignment. This was a crate of 100 coconuts that had been flown in from Antigua in the Caribbean.

Coconuts used to grow on St Helena in Jamestown and in Sandy Bay, but gradually died out. The new batch of coconuts will be grown in Ruperts Valley as part of the plan to landscape the valley.

The coconuts arrived as seed nuts with their husk intact. These are now planted in a seed bed on Mr Robert Maggot’s property where they can be carefully looked after and protected from pests such as white ants. Once all the nuts have sprouted and are sufficiently developed they will be transplanted to various sites down the valley.

Coconuts are slow growing trees and it will be a few years before they bear any fruit or resemble the tall swaying palms that are commonly seen along the beautiful beaches elsewhere.{n}

Apparently they survived but in 2002 the trees were reported to require attention and there is no report of them since. As far as we know there are now no coconuts growing on St Helena. If you know otherwise please contact us.

And also…Cotton

Cotton was also planted in Ruperts. A few wild cotton bushes can still be found on the hillsides, but nobody collects or processes the cotton. Some has spread as far as Half Tree Hollow.

…and our (other) railway

Last, but by no means least, mention must be made of our other railway, which served the desalination plant built in Ruperts in 1901 to provide water for the c.5,000 Boer PoWs housed on the island until 1902. More can be read on our page Our (Other) Railway. Some say the bricks left over from building the chimney were used to build the ‘Brick House’ in Jamestown.

The image below from Google Earth™{o} shows the whole of Jamestown, The Briars, Ruperts and (most of) Half Tree Hollow. Only a satellite or a very high-flying aircraft can capture this view! A clickable version of this image appears on our page Maps of St Helena.

…and Turtles

Baby turtles, 2023

For some time Green Turtles Chelonia mydas have been coming up on the beach at Ruperts and laying eggs. Left alone these do not hatch but in recent years the St Helena National Trust has been collecting and incubating them. In 2015 only a single egg hatched, the baby being released back into the sea, but in 2023 41 out of 144 laid eggs successfully hatched. The photograph (right) shows the babies making their way to the sea.

2020 Development Plans

Stand and Deliver
Stand and Deliver

As long ago as 2015 development of Ruperts had been proposed. At that time the intention was basically to tidy up and improve the appearance of the valley for the benefit of residents and its other users - the island as a whole. Sadly no progress was made.

In 2020 new, far more radical plans were announced. These envisaged turning almost the entire valley into an industrial site, including closing off the beach and restricting access to the many historical sites. The underlying assumption was that, following completion of the new Jetty, the valley would now be used almost exclusively for industrial purposes. No provision was made in the plans for the long-proposed slave-grave memorial despite international interest in the tourism value of the proposal.

The plans were widely unpopular, both with residents of Ruperts and also with the people of the island concerned with preserving the island’s heritage and history. However Governor Rushbrook supported the plan and, with the support of Executive Council, the plan was approved. On 22nd December The Sentinel reported that exploratory digging had already begun towards the construction and work was still in progress at the time of writing, though the new Customs Post had been erected by May 2022 (right).

The impact of these developments on the proposals for the future of the ‘Liberated African’ Remains Removed from Ruperts Valley was resolved by moving the reburial site further up the valley.

The Mundens Tunnel

In 2022 it was proposed that a tunnel through Mundens might be built, connecting James Valley with Ruperts Valley.

The original idea came from John Charles Melliss, who in 1870 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}.

However, the 2022 plan did employ this cavern as a starting point, proceeding approximately north-west and coming out roughly where Field Road reaches the valley floor.

The logic to the tunnel is to improve the link between Jamestown and Ruperts for use by goods traffic, thus avoiding the steep and narrow Field Road and also the bottleneck caused by Napoleon Street. The initial design showed the tunnel being downhill from the Jamestown end due to the difference in height between the two endpoints.

At the time of writing this is little more than an idea. No attempt has been made to establish whether the rock is suitable for tunnelling, or to seek a source of the considerable funds that would be required to complete the project.

Read More

Article: Archaeologists find graves containing bodies of 5,000 slaves on remote island

Published in The Guardian, 8th March 2012{7}

Skeletons buried in the slave graves

Some of the finds from the graves
Some of the finds from the graves

British archaeologists have unearthed a slave burial ground containing an estimated 5,000 bodies on a remote South Atlantic island. The corpses were found on tiny St Helena, 1,900Km off the coast of south-west Africa.

Those who died were slaves taken from slave traders by the Royal Navy in the 1800s. Many of the captives died after being kept on British ships in appalling conditions or in refugee camps when they reached the island.

The dig, held in advance of the construction of a new airport on the island, revealed the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade.

The Middle Passage was the name of the route taken by ships transporting slaves from Africa to the new world. It was the second leg of a triangular journey undertaken by European ships. The first leg would involve them taking manufactured goods to Africa, which they would trade for slaves. After the Africans were delivered to the US, the ships would take raw materials back to Europe.

Experts from Bristol University led the dig. One of them, Prof Mark Horton, said: Here we have the victims of the Middle Passage - one of the greatest crimes against humanity - not just as numbers, but as human beings. These remains are certainly some of the most moving that I have ever seen in my archaeological career.

St Helena was the landing place for many of the slaves captured by the navy during the suppression of the trade between 1840 and 1872. Earlier in the century, St Helena was where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to. He died there in 1821. About 26,000 freed slaves were brought to the island, with most being landed at a depot in Ruperts Bay. Terrible conditions on the ships meant many did not survive their journey. Ruperts Valley - an arid, shadeless and always windy tract - was also poorly suited for use as a hospital and refugee camp for such large numbers.

The university archaeologists have so far unearthed 325 bodies - in individual, multiple and mass graves - and expect to find about 5,000. Only five individuals were buried in coffins - one adolescent and four stillborn or newborn babies. The others had been put directly in shallow graves before being hastily covered. In some cases mothers were buried with their children.

Dr. Andrew Pearson of the university said 83% of the bodies were those of children, teenagers or young adults. Youngsters were often prime material for slave traders, who sought victims with long potential working lives.

Most causes of death could not be established on the bodies as the main killers - dehydration, dysentery and smallpox - leave no pathological trace. But experts found Scurvy was widespread on the skeletons and several showed indications of violence, including two older children who appeared to have been shot.

The team found evidence the victims were from a rich culture, with a strong sense of ethnic and personal identity. A few had managed to retain items of jewellery such as beads and bracelets, despite the physical stripping process that would have taken place after their capture. A number of metal tags were also found on the bodies that would have identified the slaves by name or number.

Pearson, the director of the project, said: Studies of slavery usually deal with unimaginable numbers, work on an impersonal level and, in so doing, overlook the individual victims. In Ruperts Valley, however, the archaeology brings us quite literally face-to-face with the human consequences of the slave trade.

Excavated artefacts will be transferred to Liverpool for an exhibition at the International Slavery Museum in 2013. The human remains will be re-interred on St Helena.


{a} Hokke Larsen{b} Social Media User{8}{c} Mark Westmoquette{d} Andrew / Peter Neaum{e} John Coyle{f} Copyright © 1962 Film Unit, used with permission{g} Neil Fantom{h} Johnny Clingham{i} Government of St Helena{j} awshipmanagement.com{k} Google Earth™{l} Government of St Helena{m} Martin Luther King, Jr., from the ‘I have a dream’ speech, 1963{n} St Helena News Review, December 1985{7}{o} Kindly supplied by Ian Bruce, September 2018{p} Copyright © South Atlantic Media Services Ltd. (SAMS), used with permission.


{1} Photo taken before the New Jetty was built, but the landing stage remains unaltered - and now it’s a lot more sheltered from the waves.{2} Haytown House, centre; #1Building, centre-lower.{3} It should be noted that there is not general agreement to this. Many merchants warehouse their goods in Jamestown and do not see the logic of offloading in Ruperts and then transporting the goods up the valley then back down into Jamestown (there being no direct road to connect the two valleys).{4} There used to be one: the ‘Wicked Wahoo’ bar. It closed because the land on which it sat was needed for ‘development’. The owner now runs the fish-selling van and fish shop in The Market, still with the name ‘Wicked Wahoo’ (appropriately). Note that the bar was built from old Shipping Containers, a very common construction material on St Helena.{5} Because the new facility has much greater storage capacity it would require refilling less often, resulting in a reduction in fuel costs both for vehicles and electricity generation, so completion and commissioning of the facility out to be a priority, but it was not until June 2023 that the Government of St Helena advertised for a ‘Consultant’ to finish the work.{6} See other debunked myths.{7} @@RepDis@@{8} Posted on Social Media and used with the poster’s permission but they wish to remain anonymous.{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{6}.