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Titbits from the records

To amuse and inform

I would like to say a few words, and here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!
‘Albus Dumbledore’, in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

We quote elsewhere extensively from the Records, and here are some items that are interesting but didn’t fit in anywhere else.

Titbits from the records

Below: Long arm of the law • Healthcare • Equality & Human Rights • Environment • Life on St Helena • Men of the cloth • Read More

Records

Other Records-based pages:

• A Brief History

• A Very Brief History

• Chronology

• On This Day

• In This Week

• Comparative History

• Royalty

• Island History

For the pre-discovery history of St Helena, see our pages Geology of St Helena, Before Discovery and Endemic Species.

The long arm of the law

The long arm of the law

Here are some items related to the somewhat capricious legal system in the ‘before days’, particularly under the East India Company Governors.

Interested in our current laws? They can be read and downloaded from www.sainthelena.gov.sh/legislation-of-st-helena-ascension-tristan-da-cunha.

Below: Uncivil Actions • Leaky Ship • Ingenious Defence • Avoiding the death penalty • Desertion • Governor’s Powers • Schrubb • Just Punishment? • Masters & Slaves • ‘Riding the Wooden Horse’ • Other

Uncivil Actions

12th April 1680: A soldier is taken to court regarding a planter’s wife for: uncivil actions, attempting to breach her chastity and being guilty of horrible swearing. Also accused of denying the existence of the Holy Spirit, proclaiming there is no reason to fear death as there is no afterlife. His religious views do not interest the court. Sentenced to be set astride the Wooden Horse for two hours with a bag of shot at each ankle.

This seems to be the first mention in the Records of the punishment of Riding the Wooden Horse.

Leaky Ship

22nd June 1686: Young Thomas Eastings (14), convicted of many thefts, is sentenced to be whipped and then sent off aboard a dangerously leaky ship, the Resolution, needing someone to man the pumps.

The ingenuity of the punishment impresses. Pumping a leaky ship was a very long way from being a popular occupation!

An Ingenious Defence

9th July 1688: The Attorney General prosecutes Parrum for selling Punch without a licence. Parrum’s defence is that he does not sell Punch - he sells his customers six lessons of musieck for a dollar and gives a bowl of Punch into the bargain.

The Records do not show the verdict in this interesting case. It reminds us of a store in the UK in the 1980s which, attempting to circumvent the (then) Sunday-trading restrictions, claimed it was selling customers an Orange - for £1,000, with a free three-piece suite.

Avoiding the death penalty

2nd June 1692: An (unidentified) slave is convicted of an (unspecified) crime and sentenced to death, but because he is not within the pale of the Church (i.e. not a Christian) the sentence is commuted to some punishment next to death (also unspecified).

Given that many slaves were actually executed (often for relatively trivial offences), presumably many of them also not Christians, so we have no idea why this one was spared.

Desertion

31st March 1703: Ralph Gates convicted of quitting his post at Banks. Sentenced to ride the Wooden Horse for one hour.

It’s not as if he fled the island…

Governor’s Powers

5th January 1725: Dr. Wignall is said to be always drunk and nearly killed Governor John Smith by giving unsuitable medicines, his excuse being he had nothing else to give{1}. Dr. Wignall, for drunken disorderly conduct, is placed in the Stocks for one hour. He reportedly sings and swears the whole time.

This item illustrates the almost unlimited power of East India Company Governors to exact their revenge on anyone that displeased them. The Governor’s power was, however, slightly curtailed in 1754:

31st December 1754: Governor Dunbar having quarrelled with Mr. Dixon and confined him, the Council agree that a Gov. although chief in administration has but a single vote and cannot consequently have power in himself to confine any Gentleman of Council.

A Schrubb

29th September 1745: Henry Baker, a tailor, is ordered to leave the Island for saying that Lieut. George Hay is a Schrubb. (We have no idea what a ‘Schrubb’ might have been, but clearly it was not a compliment.)

An Internet search revealed nothing useful so ‘Schrubb’ was either a very serious accusation or Lieut. George Hay was a close friend of Governor Dunbar.

Just Punishment?

18th April 1757: Moll, a slave woman, is sentenced to 3 sessions of 100 lashes plus being branded on the cheek. Her crime: stealing 1 rupee (about £0.92).

The punishment seems rather harsh, though nowhere near as severe as others mentioned here.

15th July 1789: William Whaley is convicted of Highway Robbery for stealing a piece of cloth from a sailor in the street and running away with it. He is hanged.

The charge of ‘Highway Robbery’ seems to have been laid with the aim of maximising the available penalty. Whaley could not have been hanged if convicted only of theft.

15th January 1800: Job, Mr. Defountain’s slave, is sentenced for robbing James Warren, a Soldier, on Half-Tree-Hollow road. Warren was drinking and Job snatched the bottle from him. Job was hanged on 24th January.

Hanging seems an excessive punishment for stealing a swig of (probably) Arrack, but then slaves were routinely subjected to extraordinary penalties for very minor offences.

Masters & Slaves

Initially a slave’s word could not be taken against that of a Master:

13th December 1779: Woodberry, a slave, accuses his master of cruel punishment. The Court decides that a slave’s word cannot be taken against his master’s.

The following incident resulted in a change to the law:

11th June 1787: William Worrall and his slave are caught stealing sheep. They are seen by other slaves who report the offence. As the word of a slave cannot be taken against a free man, only Worrall’s slave is tried and convicted. Worrall himself gets no penalty but receives £15 compensation for the loss of his slave.

‘Riding the Wooden Horse’

Wooden Horse

The Records make many references to ‘Riding the Wooden Horse’. As far as we can tell this was a variation of a form of torture popular in Medieval times.

WARNING: the following explanation is not for the squeamish!

The ’Horse’ was a wooden block, raised on legs to rather more than waist height. The block had a triangular cross-section, with the sharp end pointed upwards. The victim was placed straddling the block. The sharp end thus hurt the victim’s groin area. Because the block was high, the victim’s legs could not reach the ground, so the sharp edge was forced into the groin by the victim’s weight. In the original torture, weights were added to the victim’s legs… More here: WARNING: Explicit Content.

The aim of the original torture was to inflict extreme pain and even physical damage. We assume the punishment version to have been less extreme. Maybe the block was not as sharp. Maybe it was set lower, so that the victim could partially support him or her (yes, it was used on women) weight. Almost certainly weights were not added. The Records refer to, but do not actually describe the punishment, assuming the reader would be entirely familiar with the details.

If you’re coming here to visit you may be interested to explore other darker parts of our history.

Other

Whipping as a punishment was not abolished until 1950, and the Flogging Ordinance remained on the statute book until 1966.

The last execution on St Helena was on 2nd February 1905, but the punishment wasn’t abolished until it was discontinued in the UK.

Women were first allowed to serve on juries by the Juries (Amendment) Ordinance, 1965.

Until as late as 2019 all motoring offences on St Helena were criminal offences - there were no civil offences{2} As a result you got a criminal record for minor vehicular transgressions - 35mph in a 30mph limit, for example - and the Police were unable to prosecute people for contraventions like illegal parking because a criminal record would have been a disproportionate punishment (and hence contrary to the person’s Human Rights).

This was corrected in the 26th July 2019 Legislative Council when a motion by Cllr. Brian Isaac to decriminalise certain minor offences was unanimously approved.

It was also decided that the change would be retrospective, meaning people’s past criminal records for these offences would be expunged.

Courthouse today
Courthouse today{a}

Healthcare

Healthcare

An idea of the medical care available at the time is given by these items:

Below: Medicinal Swig • Arrack • Caring? • Until recently…

A Medicinal Swig

At the beginning of the 18th Century Brandy was being consumed in great volume:

30th May 1710: The people are described as very sickly, sending down every day to the Governor for [permission to buy] Brandy.

6th June 1710: Demands from the stores for brandy are reported as 20 Hogsheads, about 4,500 Litres, per annum - 12 Litres per day.

Arrack

14th March 1715: The East India Company Directors write: We are surprised at the large demands for Arrack. The people are grown sottish. The place is less healthful than formerly and diseases more rife.

This contrasts with:

23rd January 1678: The East India Company Directors write: We understand that Arrack is acceptable upon ye island and in case you would be attacked we send 2 Butts for encouraging your men.

Many 18th Century Governors attempted to control Arrack, and the Punch Houses in which it was sold. Some of these attempts led to mutinies.

Caring?

16th March 1736: John Long, a prisoner, complains that he is suffering from The Flux and prays to be excused work at the fortifications{3} until he is better. Council members Alexander and Goodwin agree. Council member Crispe is of the opinion that the most effectual way to cure him is to hang him.

Until recently…

Discrimination in healthcare lasted until at least the 1960s. Dr Ian Shine arrived in 1960 and in his book ‘Upon This Rock’ he noted:

There were two clinics in Jamestown. The Saints lined up to be examined on a wooden table in a hut behind the hospital (which doubled as a mortuary); ex-pats and the privileged came to the front of the hospital to be examined on a comfortable examination couch inside the hospital. Once the senior medical officer left St. Helena, I combined the clinics requiring everyone to join a single queue for the comfortable couch. A single line was more efficient, and it did wonders for ex-pat health - after this change they hardly ever attended the clinic.

Equality & Human Rights

Fundamental rights belong to the human being just because you are a human being.
Desmond Tutu

Equality & Human Rights

The early Records show scant regard for either of these!

Below: Freedom of movement • Value of a life • Freedom of Expression • Fair Justice • Value of Women • Freedom of Association • Equality in Healthcare • Freedom from Discrimination

Freedom of movement

20th March 1680: Two freemen having sold their land in order to return to England are allowed to goe but none in future who have received land or cattle from the Company are to sell until they know whether they will be allowed to leave.

The idea that ‘freemen’ needed the Company’s permission to leave the island gives a clue to exactly how ‘free’ a freeman was in 1680.

The value of a life

1st October 1688: Elizabeth Cothorne pleads to Council she cannot pay her debt due to her slaves having died. Council concludes she killed her slaves by overwork and ill-treatment, but then debates only the debt and not her treatment of the slaves.

Council might have expressed more concern if she had killed a dog.

17th January 1704: Gabriel Powell{4} on Tuesday whipt his slave boy aged 8 years till his back was in some places raw and on Wednesday threw him with his hands tyed into a bed of nettles which venomed and stung him to that degree that he immediately fell into convulsions and dyed. For this, fined 40s.

11th July 1781: Sergeant-Major James Youd is tried for the murder of his woman slave by cruelly beating her with a wooden staff and causing a mortal head wound. Incomprehensibly he is acquitted.

13th July 1785: Elizabeth Renton, a shopkeeper’s wife, is acquitted of murder after stabbing her slave girl under the left shoulder causing a wound nearly five inches deep.

Freedom of Expression

3rd March 1690: Sergeant Hailes has complained that Parrum’s wife did say openly God curs the Island and all that is upon it. (Free speech was not a big thing in 1690.)

Fair Justice

12th March 1690: At the court on this day Jack, a son of Black Oliver (and hence ‘a Black’) was charged that he behaved himself very imprudently. Even though the jury found him not guilty, he was sentenced to be flogged before he was discharged!

30th August 1724: Totty, a slave, tried for repeatedly running away and leading a booters life. The Gentlemen of the Jury, several of whom have already been great sufferers of the said Totty, petition to have him executed.

Totty was duly executed. Nobody seemed to notice or care that the jury were also plaintiffs.

Value of Women

10th February 1703: Governor Poirier reports: It hath pleased the Almighty to give my wife a happy deliverance yesterday of a… I say no more but be sure it shall neither be Bishop of London nor Colonel in the King’s Army.

Governor Poirier clearly had a firm view on the value of women.

Freedom of Association

6th November 1716: Sentence is passed against Huff, a soldier, for having a child by one of The East India Company’s slave women: That he be sett this evening publicly on the Wooden Horse with his face blacked over and that henceforth he be looked upon as no other than a Black.

The sentence in this case was clearly aimed at preventing the soldiers from inter-breeding with slaves. It would be nice to think this was to protect the slave women from sexual harassment by soldiers but sadly we suspect that was not the reason.

3rd August 1736: Mary Gurling’s child is examined by the Council and two midwives, who pronounce it a black man’s child. Mary Gurling is sentenced to be severely punished and imprisoned till she tells who is the real father (which she does on 14th September).

We deduce that Mary Gurling was white and a married woman, and that she had claimed during her pregnancy that her husband was the father. Then, after a month in prison (an impressive feat in itself!):

14th September 1736: Mary Gurling confesses that her child’s father is Andrew, a ‘Black’. She is sentenced to receive 39 lashes; he is castrated.

The castration of a male slave for the ‘crime’ of having sex with a white woman was considered normal at the time.

Equality in Healthcare

24th January 1807: Measles arrives on St Helena on a ship from Cape Town. The subsequent epidemic kills at least 150 people.

The burial records (held by the Church, which dealt with all official burials) for May are reported thus:

3rd May 1807: From 1st March to 1st May, 58 Whites and 102 Black, but many more Blacks have been carried off by the measles, the exact number of whom has not yet been ascertained as they had not yet been Christened and their burials of course not registered in the Church Books.

So even in death slaves were not afforded the same respect as their masters.

Freedom from Discrimination

The Church often celebrates its role in the ending of slavery, but it is interesting to note that only a few years earlier it was complicit in blatant racial discrimination.

22nd May 1815: PUBLISHED NOTICE: Appropriated Pews in Town Church: No Slaves or Free Blacks are to occupy any of the Pews.

The Environment

Redwood
Redwood{b}

As elsewhere at the time, ecology was unknown and immediate economic need was the primary driver in environmental decisions.

Goats and the environment

23rd October 1744: Thomas and James Greentree are fined £10 each for refusing to impound their goats at Peak Gut for inspection (the goats stand accused of destroying the Ebony trees). They are told they have been treated mercifully and warned that disobeying the law is looked upon as the beginning of rebellion and anyone guilty of rebellion would be executed.

In response:

9th July 1745: The East India Company directs that Goats are of more use here than Ebony, a wonderfully environment-friendly decision!

Life on St Helena

Life on St Helena

These excerpts give an idea of what life was like on St Helena in the ‘before days’:

Below: Contentious persons • Loose women • Restorative Justice • Scandalous Kissing • Mad as a March hare • Government First • Entrepreneurship

Contentious persons

22nd December 1679: Many contentious persons on frivolous occasions trouble one another by complaining of words spoken some months or years before. All such complaints must in future be made on the following Council day. Such frivolous complaints have occasioned the Governor and Council to spend much precious time to compose their impertinent brablings and squabblings.

Loose women

1st August 1683: The East India Company Directors write: We heard very scandalous reports of loose women going on board our ships. For the future suffer none to board upon any pretence without a lycence in writing.

These ‘loose women’ feature frequently in the Records (loose men don’t seem to be mentioned). For example:

26th August 1707: Mrs. Clavering is charged with scandalizing the whole Island and sentenced to be duckt in the sea at the Crane (i.e. at the Wharf). On appeal her sentence is reduced. To whom she appealed - and how - are not recorded.

Restorative Justice

21st May 1717: Ripon Wills is summoned for wilfully destroying 40 Lemon Trees, and is fined £1 per tree but if he plant double the number in some other place his fine to be lessened (an early example of Restorative Justice).

Scandalous Kissing

11th May 1741: Governor Robert Jenkins reports to The East India Company massive fraud on the island, involving most of the senior Council members including Duke Crispe.

7th January 1742: Governor Robert Jenkins complains that Duke Crispe had permitted ‘A Kissing Dance’ at the party after the wedding of Ensign Scott to his daughter Miss Martha Doveton Crispe. Apparently a ‘Kissing Dance’ was a scandalous occurrence!

If you can provide more details please contact us.

Mad as a March hare

20th May 1805: Part of a letter from Samuel Peach, member of the Garrison, to his friend Edward Larken in England: Governor is mad as a March hare, dreaming of nothing but great guns, mortars and invasion.

The Governor in question would have been Governor Robert Patton who, in the opinion of the editor of this website, was probably more sane than average for a Governor of The East India Company.

Government First

23rd October 1809: Notification issued that on arrival of a vessel with cargo for sale, the Government may first purchase. Afterwards Govt. Servants and Landholders and after three days, Shopkeepers.

The dominant role the Government of St Helena plays in St Helena is still a topic of debate, where something like 80% of the island’s population depend directly or indirectly on Government Employment.

Entrepreneurship

1st October 1828: William Rookes and James Unsworth are convicted of selling, for drinking, the rum in which the body of a dead person had been preserved while aboard ship. 18 months hard labour.

In our view this is taking entrepreneurship a little too far!

Men of the cloth

Men of the cloth

These excerpts demonstrate that the island’s early clergy did not always set such a good example:

Below: Mr Humphreys • Dr John Kerr • Parson Thomlinson • Parson Jones • Parson Giles • Mr White • Rev Boys & Father Daine

Mr Humphreys

Mr Humphreys seems to have been the first cleric to get into trouble, only 28 years after the first Chaplain, William Noakes, arrived:

20th April 1699: Complaint against Mr Humphreys that he threatened to beat Matthew Bazett and had hit Elizabeth Bostock.

16th August 1699: Mr Humphreys again in trouble for insulting Governor Poirier.

Dr John Kerr

His successor, Dr John Kerr, was no better:

11th February 1703: Dr John Kerr, the chaplain, reported to be a dangerous man for assaulting people, worse than ever Mr Humphreys was. He is accused of insulting Governor Poirier, the UK Government and all the Stuart kings!

19th January 1704: Dr John Kerr, the chaplain, accused of stirring up dissent and being a drunk. His talent lay more to Bacchus{5} than to his own profession, being never better pleased than when his face is of a scarlet dye by his dearly beloved Punch.

25th January 1704: Dr John Kerr places his bloody hand on one of Governor Poirier’s proclamations, and then beats his servant barbarously for informing on him.

31st January 1704: Dr John Kerr accused of insulting Governor Poirier, telling him to return to France from whence he came.

Parson Thomlinson

17th September 1716: Parson Thomlinson, having been in trouble in August for selling Arrack to a soldier, is accused by Governor Pyke of being a troublemaker.

8th October 1717: Parson Thomlinson is reprimanded by Governor Isaac Pyke for omitting parts of the set liturgy and threatened with being sent home. (Governor Isaac Pyke was a strict Anglican.)

26th May 1719: Parson Thomlinson’s negligence of funeral duties causes Governor Isaac Pyke to order no gratuities to be paid without his signature.

Parson Jones

Parson Jones arrived in mid-1719 to replace Parson Thomlinson and was very soon (as they say) on a roll:

30th June 1719: Parson Jones admits to striking Mr Tovey during an argument. Mr Tovey complains of suffering from a swollen eye.

24th November 1719: Parson Jones is reprimanded for insolent behaviour and has his gratuity stopped.

Parson Giles

Parson Jones’ successor, Parson Giles, was clearly not much better:

28th November 1723: Parson Giles found guilty of many instances drunken and disorderly conduct; accused of drinking 4 to 6 pints of Arrack a day. Leniency shown to him because of the cloth he wears.

Mr White

26th July 1732: Mr White our Chaplain and his wife have for a long time led very scandalous and immoral lives, the woman having been drunk almost every day since she has been upon the Island and Mr. White himself often in the same condition and always Rude and troublesome. It goes on to imply he is having affairs.

Rev Boys & Father Daine

Rev. Richard Boys was so spectacularly difficult he gets an entry on our page Characters of St Helena. So too does Father Daine, though for rather different reasons.

Read More

Article: Archive To Archive

By Johnny Drummond, published in the St Helena News 9th March 2001{6}

Archives door plaque
Archives door plaque

The Archives, as most people know, are situated in the Castle. There is no sign outside{7} and anyone passing the door might think that it is some kind of storeroom, which of course is exactly what it is. But the Archive is more than a storeroom full of dusty books; it is the most important complex of rooms on the Island outside of the museum.

The St Helena Archives contain records of the history of the Island going back to 1673. The records are a meticulously hand-written account of transactions and instructions between the East India Company in London and the Governors of the Island at the time. Almost every important document relating to the history of St Helena is held in this rather confined space{8}. Narrowly spaced steel shelves support an incredible wealth of information including copies of the St Helena Guardian, 1851- 1923, The Diocesan Magazine, 1899-1947, The Wirebird, 1955-1966, St Helena News Review, 1958-1986 and the St Helena News to the present day. All Government documents, Gazettes, Ordinances and Legislation from the 1800s onwards as well as a tremendous number of other papers.

There are two members of staff, Maureen Stevens, the Custodian of Records and Barry Williams, the Assistant Custodian of Records. Apart from maintaining this Island treasure the main function of the Archive staff is to conserve these priceless historical records for posterity and for future generations. Barry explained that restoration must be done with the minimum damage or alteration to the original book or document, which in most cases are in a very fragile state and need to be handled extremely carefully indeed. The job of restoration is a precise and painstaking procedure requiring time and a lot of patience. In the case of a book, the pages must first be collated to make sure that they are in the correct order. Any fragments of pages must also be carefully stored so that they can be replaced as the work progresses. The book must first be ‘pulled’ or stripped down then each folio is separated into pages, which are then individually restored and any holes filled using special parchment. The pages are then covered with sheets of transparent tissue, which are ironed on to hold the pieces in place. Large documents are put through a specialised laminating machine. The pages are then put into folios, which are stitched together by hand and bound into a volume. Covers are added to protect the pages; these can be covered with a variety of cloths or leathers. The final job is to put the title of the book on the spine or cover; this is done with a special letterpress, which prints the letters through gold foil and onto the book. Any other tooling is done by hand. Unfortunately Barry doesn’t have a wide range of embossing tools to further embellish his work.

A tremendous amount of restoration has already been done but there is still a lot to do. Barry said that the Archive receives a great many enquiries from overseas by post but this has increased greatly since the introduction of e-mail. Maureen does the major part of the research and answers correspondence and enquiries as well as dealing with visitors with specific requests.

The Archive is open to members of the public who wish to do their own research. The Archives will form part of the new museum complex when it is eventually opened, Barry expressed some concern about the proximity of the Run, which goes directly beneath the building. If by some chance the Run were to overflow the consequences for the Island’s Archive and Heritage could be disastrous.

Note:

At the time of writing The Archives have still not become part of the new museum complex and remain in The Castle. The staff have changed but the rest of the article is still applicable.

Laugh at funny Titbits from the records humour - LOL

Credits:
{a} Michel Dancoisne-Martineau{b} William John Burchell

Footnotes:
{1} The Governor was saved only when a passing ship happened to have the right medicine for his illness.{2} In American terminology, everything was a felony - there were no misdemeanours.{3} Prisoners and slaves provided most of the labour for the building of the island’s forts.{4} Father of George Gabriel Powell.{5} Bacchus was the Roman God of Wine, the same as the Greek God Dionysus.{6} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.{7} Now, there is - see picture.{8} Sadly the ‘almost’ includes church records, which have largely not been added to the collection; military records, which were returned to London; and company records (e.g. for Solomons or Thorpes), which are held in the relevant company’s archives (not always accessible).

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