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The ‘Blue Book’

The Annual Colonial Report

Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat them.{a}

A valuable reference for the history of St Helena, 1845-1973

The ‘Blue Book’

The what?

From when the Crown took over St Helena (1836) until the mid-1970s the island’s Governor was required to submit to London an annual review of ‘The Colony’. Formally the ‘Annual Colonial Report’ (though this title seems to have been dropped from 1956) these reports are invariably known as the ‘Blue Book’. We don’t exactly know why but we surmise that the report was traditionally bound with a blue cover (if you actually know please contact us).

Early reports were only two pages but the last (from 1973) was 122 pages, though by then it did include 10 pages on Ascension Island and 9 pages on Tristan da Cunha, both at the time dependencies of St Helena. Reports discussed the island’s population, occupations, public finance, taxation, commerce, production, social services, legislation, judicial system, communications and information services. There were also more general chapters on the island’s geography, climate and history{1}.

Useful because…

Want to know how many Donkeys there were on St Helena in 1967? It’s in the Blue Book (848, if you’re interested). Want to know how many ships called in 1892? 223. What £-value of beer was imported in 1909? £460. How many ‘Liberated Africans’ were on the island in 1845? 519. Whatever you are researching, if it requires statistical information the relevant Blue Book is the first place to look{2}.

In addition to the statistics, Governors also added a commentary on significant events affecting the island, and sometimes speculating on the future:

Some of the comments are quite revealing. In the Blue Book for 1903 Governor Gallwey noted The number of prostitutes in Jamestown appears to be on the decrease{5}, and in the 1970/3 report Ladder Hill Road is described as this inevitably difficult and tortuous road.

Comparison between reports can also show the changes in St Helena society. In copies of the Blue Book for 1839 the column headers for ‘coloured’ and ‘white’ population were struck through and a single column replaced both, headed ‘Population’. And yet, all the reports up to and including 1970/3 provide birth statistics for the numbers of ‘illegitimate’ children{6}, which today would be unthinkable.

And today?

Sadly (for historians) the Blue Book is no more. It seems that with the advent of regular electronic communications the need was no longer felt for an annual return. The last Blue Book was that for 1970/3, published in 1976, which included a sheet of paper confirming that this would be the last report. You can read the 1970/73 Blue Book.


{a} Adlai Stevenson


{1} Sadly, however, some of this was thought correct at the time but is now known to be inaccurate. For example (from 1970/3): St Helena was discovered by the Portuguese navigator, Juan de Nova Castella, on the 21st May, 1502. He landed at the valley where Jamestown now stands and built a chapel there which gave the valley the name ‘Chapel Valley.{2} The second is probably ‘St Helena 500’, by Robin Gill & Percy Teale, published in 1997.{3} It still hasn’t been done years later.{4} Obituaries were not normally included in the Blue Book, illustrating Dr. Arnold’s importance.{5} Governor Gallwey also gets an ‘honourable mention’ on our page Characters of St Helena for his comments on the departure of the Garrison, suggesting he took a somewhat light-hearted view of his reporting duties.{6} Which in former times were known as Spares.