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Communications

Getting the message

The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things!{a}

We’re not exactly up-to-date but we can still communicate with the world

Communications

This page is about general communications to and from St Helena. For this site’s contact details please see our page Contact Us. If you are trying to contact friends or family or find a pen-pal on St Helena our page Family And Friends may be helpful.

Post

Below: Posting to St HelenaDelivery to/from St HelenaPosting from St HelenaInternal postNo longer ‘Royal’

Snail Mail

Posting to St Helena

Post

St Helena issues its own postage stamps. See our page Postage Stamps to learn more about these and also the island’s early postal history. You may also be interested in our collection of St Helena postcards.

We can send and receive post, both letters and small packages (larger packages require sea freight).

The correct postal address for sending things to St Helena is:

Recipient’s Name
House Name or ‘Near …’ (few St Helena houses have numbers - see our page Houses and Housing)
Area (e.g. Jamestown / Half Tree Hollow)
Island of St Helena
STHL 1ZZ
South Atlantic Ocean

Note that the postcode (‘zip code’) ‘STHL 1ZZ’ applies to the entire island, and also that the ‘South Atlantic Ocean’, while strictly unnecessary, does seem to help prevent letters being routed to California, South Carolina or Australia!

Some people have Post Office Boxes, as we do. There is no letter delivery to your home or office - you have to collect your letter from the main Post Office in Jamestown or from a shop near your home - so a Post Office Box is easier and more reliable. Our address is:

P.O. Box 37, Jamestown, Island of St Helena, South Atlantic Ocean, STHL 1ZZ

Note that, although 5,000 miles from the UK, St Helena has a UK postcode - STHL 1ZZ. This was introduced because mail for St Helena was regularly being routed to St Helens in Merseyside, UK.

If sending mail to St Helena it is best to complete a customs declaration at the sending post office. By declaring that the contents are of ‘no commercial value’{4} you may save the recipient from having to open the packet at the Post Office here so that its contents can be examined and assessed for import duty.

For our contact details please see our page Contact Us.

Delivery to/from St Helena

Your letter or parcel is first routed to the UK. From there it is routed to Johannesburg, South Africa, and thence to St Helena.

After mail arrives on a flight it can take several working days to make it into post boxes.

For bulkier items see below.

Posting from St Helena

When sending post from St Helena you need to take your letter or parcel to the Post Office in Jamestown, open normal office hours - there are no letter boxes around the island. At the Post Office they will provide you with a customs form and sell you the appropriate stamp. You can then drop your letter into the posting box in the Post Office building.

St Helena internal post

You will see from the above that there is no point whatsoever in posting a letter in St Helena to a St Helena destination{25}. Government departments and larger local businesses employ messengers. Smaller businesses and individuals deliver their post by hand (though these days a lot goes by email).

Read about Our first Air-Mail, which preceded the Airport by around 50 years…

No longer ‘Royal’

Since the final departure on 10th February 2018 of the RMS St Helena (1990-2018), mail for St Helena is no longer designated ‘Royal’. It’s now just ‘Mail’. It’s still handled by the Post Office (part of the Government of St Helena), but it no longer has the stamp of royalty.

Freight

Below: Sea FreightAir Freight

Sea Freight

MV Karoline
MV Karoline{b}

In January 2024 it was announced that, with effect from March 2024, the sea freight service will be provided by MACS Maritime Carrier Shipping Gmbh (‘MACS’). Sailings will operate to a monthly schedule, using the ship MV Karoline for the Cape Town-St Helena voyages. The previous provider, Meihuizen International, using the ship MV Maria da Paz{6} is scheduled to make its last call in mid-February 2024. The service theoretically operated to a six weekly schedule, but in practice call intervals were more like eight weeks.

The incoming ship docks at the new jetty in Ruperts (but at the time of writing is not unloaded there - see below).

The ship also serves Ascension Island, and has a small number of passenger cabins available for those who prefer not to or cannot travel by air.

To send packages to St Helena contact Richard James International Ltd., Chittening Ind. Est., Bristol BS11 0YB, United Kingdom; +44 117 982 8575.

Inauguration

The first Sea Freight service was operated by AW Ship Management Ltd.. The MV Helena{7} sailed from Cape Town to St Helena and back, with a capacity of approx. 250 TEU on a four-weekly cycle.

Commencement of the service was officially supposed to await the retirement of the RMS St Helena (1990-2018), but actually the RMS St Helena (1990-2018) suffered engine problems in March/April 2017 and missed an entire voyage so the MV Helena made a single trip, arriving on 3rd April with 698.36 tonnes of cargo.

The MV Helena made her first official voyage for St Helena in March 2018, leaving Cape Town on 1st and arriving at St Helena on the 7th, docking at the new jetty in Ruperts. Because the infrastructure wasn’t yet ready she could not be unloaded onto the jetty - the cargo had to be lifted by the ship’s cranes onto waiting Lighters and carried round to the Jamestown wharf!

Unloading

At the time of writing the Ruperts Jetty has still not commenced operations, so cargo continues to be lifted by the ship’s cranes onto waiting Lighters and carried round to the Jamestown wharf for landing.

History

Previously all freight was carried to and from St Helena by the RMS St Helena (1990-2018). Prior to that it was carried by ships of the Union Castle Line, and before that by the many ships that called at St Helena, military and civilian.

Air Freight

DHL logo

The international courier service DHL has an operation here - DHL St Helena Express Limited. This can ship packages to or from St Helena on every flight, which makes it possible for an item to travel from anywhere in the world to St Helena (or vice-versa) in days rather than months.

In October 2017 Solomons announced that from 4th November it would be operating an Air Freight service between St Helena and South Africa. Few details were announced but a contact was provided: freightagent@solomons.co.sh.

Telephones

For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen.{c}

Fixed-line and mobile (‘cell’) telephone services on St Helena are currently provided by Sure under an exclusive monopoly contract with the Government of St Helena.

Below: Calling to St HelenaCalling from and within St HelenaTelephone HistoryRadio TelephonesMobile TelephonesText Messaging

Calling to St Helena

Telephones

The international dialling code for calls to St Helena is 290{8}. In most countries, St Helena is treated as a ‘high-cost destination’ and you may need to contact your telephone service provider to get calls to St Helena un-barred.

If you don’t know the number of the person you want to call, and your local international directory enquiries can’t help, call (+290) 22222 (08:30 - 16:00h GMT Monday to Friday) and the Sure Operator will help (but only from 08:30 - 16:00h GMT Monday to Friday). The telephone directory is available online. In 2021 90% of St Helena households had a fixed-line telephone{d}.

St Helena is on GMT with no daylight saving time:

{9}

For our contact details please see our page Contact Us.

Calling from and within St Helena

St Helena has its own automated telephone exchange which can route calls locally or overseas. For local calls dial the five-digit number{10} (there are no area codes). For international calls dial ‘00’ followed by the country code and telephone number - on some telephones international calls may be barred because of the expense{11}.

You can reach the operator and local directory enquiries on (+290) 22222 (08:30 - 16:00h GMT Monday to Friday). In an emergency: Dial (+290) 999 for fire, police, ambulance or other emergency.

There are payphones and telephone kiosks around the island; these take cash or telephone cards (which can be purchased at the offices of Sure in Jamestown - open normal office hours - and some other shops, also mostly in Jamestown). A few payphones accept credit cards.

Telephone History

Old switchboard
Old switchboard, in use until 1983, now in the Museum of St Helena

GPO telegraph insulator
GPO telegraph insulator{1}{e}

Prior to the installation of the first telephone system the island had an internal telegraph service, primarily for military purposes but with use extended to the civilian population. The system was set up in 1866 with the maximum length of a single message set at 25 words. In 1880 a message of 10 words sent from lower Jamestown to Maldivia Gardens would have cost 1s (£0.05). Only individuals paid for Telegrams - Government and Military messages were sent free.

Telephones were introduced to St Helena by the War Office in 1898, to improve communications with the island’s many lookout posts and signal stations. Control was transferred to the Government of St Helena in 1906 but in 1907 due to financial difficulties the system almost closed and was taken over privately. In 1914 there were 17 telephones, and The ‘Blue Book’ for 1928 records that the telephone system had 33 instruments and 41 miles of wire. The profit for the year was £39. The system was taken over by the Government of St Helena in 1953.

In the 1960s there was one telephone exchange, at Ladder Hill Fort, with a single operator who connected all calls. Dr. Ian Baker, writing in ‘One Man’s Island’ and recalling a visit in the 1960s reports:

The Consulate had a telephone, but you didn’t just dial a number. You picked up the telephone and waited. After a brief chat with the operator she asked you who you wanted. Not a number or even a house; the name of the person. The response might be So-and-so? I just saw him go by so I’ll call him for you in twenty minutes when he gets to his office. Or maybe So-and-so? No, not today, lovie. He’s gone fishing.

In 1973 a Business Line cost per month was £0.83 and a residential line per month was £0.67. In The ‘Blue Book’ for 1970/3 it is reported that:

The telephone system now comprises some five route miles of multi-core cable supported on the electricity supply poles and some thirteen and a half route miles of open bare-wire lines on telephone poles. These figures exclude individual service lines. Service in Jamestown and in the adjacent country areas is given from the cable system and it is planned to replace, eventually, all open trunk lines by supported multi-core cables. The present Manual Exchange at Ladder Hill Fort has a capacity of 120 lines. This Exchange at present controls 65 subscribers on direct lines and 131 subscribers on party lines. There are 52 party lines. The Manual Exchange is very fully loaded and as a result development of the telephone service is restricted. There are at present 11 public telephones available, two in Jamestown and the remainder in the rural areas, from which some 1,400 calls are handled annually.

The system remained manual until 1983. Due to the shortage of exchange lines, many people used a shared line (‘Party Line’) and there was an ingenious system for the parties to know for whom was an incoming call: one ring for party 1; two rings for party 2; etc., sometimes with as many as five parties sharing a line. The potential for error was immense! This ended when the island’s first automated telephone exchange was commissioned on 16th April 1983 at an installation cost of £100,000. At commissioning the system had 488 active telephones (and a capacity for 600) with three-digit telephone numbers. Governor Massingham made the first automatically-handled telephone call to George Stevens, Manager of the Government Telephone System. The first public telephone, at White Gate, was introduced in November the following year.

The Government Telephone System was taken over by Cable & Wireless on 21st August 1989.

The current PABX-based system went live over the weekend of 27-29th July 1990 and introduced International Direct Dialling and (unfortunately) local call charges. At this time the three-digit numbers were changed to four digits by adding a 2 for Jamestown numbers, a 3 for Half Tree Hollow and 4 for everywhere else. The new exchange initially gave capacity for 1,200 lines, but it was modular and was continually extended - by 2009 there were 2,900 lines in use.

The four-digit numbers continued until 1st October 2013. From that date they all became five-digit by adding a 2 to the front (thus losing the regionalisation created in 1990). The new system designated 2xxxx numbers as landlines, 5xxxx numbers as mobile users on a contract and 6xxxx as mobile users with pay-as-you-go, though mobile telephones were not actually introduced until September 2015. Only these groupings were defined.

Radio Telephones

The first radio telephone link, between St Helena and Ascension Island, opened on 7th May 1957. This was followed by a link through to the UK (via Ascension Island) in October of the same year. A link to South Africa was launched ten years later in December 1967. This system remained in use until it was replaced by the (current) satellite-based system.

Mobile (‘Cell’) Telephones

Mobile Phones cartoon

Mobile Phones

A mobile telephone service came into operation on St Helena in September 2015 (the first call made was from Sure to the SAMS Radio 1 studio). The network is designed with a 2G GSM layer and a 4G LTE layer to support data services.

Mobile numbers use the ranges 5XXXX and 6XXXX.

Due to the topology of St Helena with deep valleys and guts, there will be some small areas with no coverage.{f} Sea coverage is not part of the planned coverage area.

For pricing information please contact Sure.

Roaming{12} was introduced shortly after service launch. Roaming handsets need to be 900MHz GSM and Band 3 1,800MHz LTE. Please Note users on Social Media in 2018 reported that roaming often does not work here, or is very expensive, but that most mobile telephones will accept a Sure SIM Card, which can be purchased at the airport or at their offices in Jamestown.

In 2021 73.7% of St Helena households had access to a mobile phone{d}.

Some satellite telephone systems also work here, with limited coverage.

Text Messaging (SMS)

Local SMS service was available at launch with international SMS available from November 2015. However at the time of writing there is an unresolved incompatibility which means that SMS messages sent to St Helena mobile Devices from overseas are rarely received.

Internet and Email

Internet and Email

In the summer of 2016, the United Nations declared access to internet as a Human Right. While we are just beginning to realize the internet’s potential for our island and with the prospects of a high speed cable arriving on our shores, perhaps now is the time to re-evaluate the importance of information technology for EVERYONE. Can we truly reach our fullest potential if access to the World Wide Web is available only to those who can afford it?{g}

Below: OnlineAccessing the Internet in St Helena‘Wi-Fi Hotspots’Submarine Fibre-Optic CableDirect Satellite Link ServicesInternet HistoryInternet Day

Internet services on St Helena are currently provided by Sure under an exclusive monopoly contract with the Government of St Helena. At the time of writing the date on which this monopoly contract will expire is under review. It was scheduled to end on 31st December 2022; was extended to 31st December 2023, and looks likely to be extended further, perhaps until December 2024. The following will be revised when updates are issued.

Island website: South Atlantic Media Services Ltd. (SAMS)

St Helena Online

Many St Helena organisations have websites but this is far less common than in the UK or America. At the time of writing local people do not use the Internet to find out local information - a telephone call is cheaper, or just ask a friend! Organisations tend to have websites only if they wish to communicate with Saints or Non-Saints overseas.

A search on Google™ for ‘Saint Helena’ will bring up many sites that are in California, which has an area called ‘Saint Helena’, or South Carolina, which has an area known as ‘Saint Helena Island’. For this reason it is best when using Google™ to append to your search ‘-napa -carolina -california’, which will remove many of these irrelevant results.

Accessing the Internet in St Helena

Internet access on St Helena is slower and more expensive than in most developed countries. For technical details and pricing information please contact Sure.

Assuming you are a short-term visitor to St Helena you are best to access the Internet via your mobile (cell) Device. Otherwise, because you will not have a telephone account, you will need to use one of the few Internet Kiosks, mostly in Jamestown, which are very expensive.

If you are staying longer you can sign up for a ‘Broadband’ Internet Access package, delivered via your telephone line and billed on your telephone account (this should be available even if you are renting accommodation but check with your landlord). Broadband Internet was introduced in 2007, but until 2023 data transfer speeds on St Helena were dramatically slower than in most other countries and monthly data transfer limits were extremely low. Connection of the island to ‘The Cable’ has improved speeds, reduced costs and made Unlimited data packages available, though Internet access on St Helena remains slower and more expensive than in most developed countries. For details of what is on offer contact Sure.

In 2021{d} 66% of St Helena households had Internet access. This is expected to increase dramatically following introduction of the new Internet tariffs. 62.4% of households have Internet access via a wired connection and 24.0% via a Mobile Phone (some have both).

An interesting feature of Internet connections on St Helena is that your location does not have a fixed IP Address. Each time you connect you are assigned the next available IP Address from the pool, so you are very unlikely to get the same one twice. This can cause problems with some web security systems, though it can also make it harder to track you online{13}.

There is also a persistent belief that Sure monitors what its customers do online. Proponents of this belief usually claim the collected data is reported to the Government of St Helena, though for what purpose is never made clear. It must be remembered that older people on St Helena remember a time when their government did not pay due respect to individuals’ privacy, which is probably the basis of the belief. No evidence of any such monitoring has ever been found but despite a complete lack of supporting evidence for the belief, many users access the Internet via a VPN.

So is St Helena now ready for Digital Nomads? See our page Industries for our thoughts…

‘Wi-Fi Hotspots’

No free Wi-Fi
No free Wi-Fi

Because Internet access was so expensive on St Helena, and bandwidth so limited, the convention often found in developed countries whereby larger corporations{14} provide free Wi-Fi access to all comers just did not happen. Wi-Fi access was provided in a few locations (all of them at the time of writing in Jamestown) by Sure, but at a cost, usually charged to your Internet Account. See the SURE website to learn more.

It was hoped that with the new Internet tariffs (including unrestricted connection options) this might change but, sadly, the exclusive licence held by Sure prevents it, as was discovered at The Mule Yard, who announced that from 1st October 2023 free Wi-Fi would be available to its customers and then were instructed by Sure to withdraw the offer (see image, right). Curiously, therefore, if you set up your domestic or business network so that it is unsecured, and others not part of your household/company connect to it, you commit an offence under the Telecoms Ordinance 1989, but the person who connected does not…

There’s a statistical theory that if you gave a million monkeys typewriters and set them to work, they’d eventually come up with the complete works of Shakespeare. Thanks to the Internet, we now know this isn’t true.{h}

Submarine Fibre-Optic Cable

Fibre-Optic Cable Routes

Fibre-Optic Cable Project logo

Although two submarine fibre-optic cable projects began in the South Eastern Atlantic in the 2010s, both coming close to St Helena, only one actually progressed. The island has now been connected to this one - the Equiano™ Cable.

This connection has dramatically improved Internet services on St Helena at a fraction of the cost. Services based on the Internet including telephones are also improving because the new connection has removed the inevitable constraints imposed by a satellite connection.

Equiano™

Equiano™ is a subsea cable from Portugal to South Africa, owned and operated by Google™, according to whom:

Named for Olaudah Equiano, a Nigerian-born writer and abolitionist who was enslaved as a boy, the Equiano™ cable is state-of-the-art infrastructure based on space-division multiplexing (SDM) technology, with approximately 20 times more network capacity than the last cable built to serve this region.

More about Equiano™ at cloud.google.com/‌blog/‌products/‌infrastructure/‌introducing-equiano-a-subsea-cable-from-portugal-to-south-africa.

In July 2019 the Government of St Helena announced that it has issued a letter of intent to connect the island to Equiano™. The 1,140Km branch to Saint Helena was completed in 2021 so this cable will provide the first fibre-optic connectivity from St Helena to the outside world through both Europe and South Africa.

Compared to the current satellite link ‘The Cable’ will bring almost incredible amounts of capacity. The Government of St Helena estimates that it will deliver several hundred gigabits per second - far more than the island’s population of around 4,400 people{15} could possibly use. The plan is therefore to turn the island into a communications hub, with satellites in space linking via ground-stations on the island to the world via ‘The Cable’. The Government of St Helena believes St Helena’s position in the South Atlantic and its political and physical stability make it an ideal and almost unique location for this use.

Cable station location

A route survey was conducted in August 2019 and at the end of the year the Government of St Helena announced that it had signed an agreement with Google™ to land ‘The Cable’ at St Helena, aiming to commence service in 2022.

On 6th February 2020 Sure announced that it had no plans to upgrade domestic and small-business Internet connections to Fibre-Optic delivery when the Equiano™ Cable arrived in 2022, meaning ordinary users would not see the full benefits of the new system.

It was announced on 2nd November 2020 that the island’s link to ‘The Cable’ would be via Telecom Egypt.

The St Helena Government was granted funding by the 11th European Development Fund in February 2018 for a sub-marine fibre-optic cable to the island and is responsible for managing the project. It signed a contract with Google™ in December 2019 for the construction of ‘The Cable’ link that will branch off the main Equiano™ cable running between Portugal and South Africa. The St Helena Government owns the branch and is responsible for developing ‘The Cable’ landing station. Its key objective is to ensure all residents on St Helena have access to reliable, high capacity bandwidth at affordable prices{16} and plans to introduce a regulator to enforce Key Performance Indicators which will be provided for in the new telecoms licence that will come into force on 1st January 2023. It is also working towards earth stations, digital businesses and digital nomads being located on the island, and for this additional demand for services to assist in the lowering of prices for residents. ‘The Cable’, along with the associated high speed internet, is scheduled to be operational in 2022.{i}

The ‘Modular Cable Landing Station’ arrived by Sea Freight on 16th March 2021. Engineers to fit it had arrived on a previous flight. ‘The Cable’ itself arrived on 29th August 2021 - see images below{b}:

Having arrived, the connection to ‘The Cable’ had to be made and activated. This took until mid-2023. As a result of connection being completed new Internet tariffs became available from 1st October 2023 featuring some unlimited packages and speeds up to ↓20Mbps/↑1Mbps at £120 per month (plus 10% government tax). While still slower and more expensive than elsewhere in the developed world this was a significant improvement over what was previously available to St Helena Internet users (other than those using Starlink).

Below: ‘Starlink’‘OneWeb’

Starlink logo

Before the new Internet tariffs were announced by Sure in September 2023 the fastest connection available had a speed limit of just under ↓2Mbps/↑0.7Mbps, a data cap of just under 31Gb per month and cost £160 (plus 10% government tax) per month. In 2023 people on St Helena discovered they were able to connect to the Internet via the Starlink service, which offers a direct-to-consumer Internet service delivered from a vast network of low-earth-orbit satellites. Speeds and data quantities reached those that could be achieved by direct connection to ‘The Cable’. Technically, operating a Starlink system on St Helena was supposed to be illegal under the 1989 Telecoms Ordinance, which gave Sure an exclusive monopoly to provide telecommunications services on St Helena, but the Government of St Helena soon discovered that: 1. its ability to ban such systems was curtailed by limitations in the Ordinance; 2. that it did not have the equipment necessary to prove use of a Starlink system (necessary for a successful prosecution); and 3. the volume of Starlink users (thought to have reached around 400 by 1st September 2023) would make it impracticable to prosecute them all. It is widely believed that this drove the announcement of the new Internet tariffs. Despite these new tariffs it is expected that some users in outlying districts (such as Blue Hill, Sandy Bay and Levelwood) may find that, due to the long telephone lines over which the new service will be delivered, they cannot achieve anything close the advertised ↓20Mbps/↑1Mbps speed, and may choose to retain their Starlink systems. Whether the Government of St Helena will attempt to prosecute these users is not known.

‘OneWeb’

OneWeb logo

It was noted that people on St Helena should also be able to connect to the Internet via the OneWeb service, once this is fully operational, but people chose Starlink instead because it had better coverage in 2023.

On 22nd December 2021 Executive Council approved plans for OneWeb to establish a base station facility at Bottom Woods, which would link via ‘The Cable’. A lease was signed on 28th June 2023. OneWeb will buy capacity on ‘The Cable’, which revenue will offset some of the operating costs of ‘The Cable’. Whether this deal affects the legality of using OneWeb on St Helena is not clear.

Internet History

Dial-up Internet connection was first introduced to St Helena in 1996, but this required a call to Ascension Island and out onto the Internet from there. The first local dial-up service was introduced in 1999.

Permanently-on (‘broadband’) Internet connections were launched in November 2007 with island-wide availability completed by the end of 2008. The dial-up service ended in 2010. Wi-Fi Internet was first offered in February 2008 (the first ‘hotspot’ being at Ann’s Place).

Until Starlink systems became available in 2023, the fastest Internet connection available on St Helena had a speed limit of just under ↓2Mbps/↑0.7Mbps, a data cap of just under 31Gb per month and cost £160 (plus 10% government tax) per month. Hence the attraction of Starlink systems with 200Mbps speed and no data cap, though the cost was considerably higher - around £700 to purchase and ship the equipment and £200 per month for the service.

Internet traffic upon connection

On 1st October 2023 Sure’s systems started using the Equiano Cable rather than the satellite connection. New Internet tariffs were introduced, the fastest package available having a speed limit of up to ↓20Mbps/↑1Mbps{17}, no data cap and a cost of £120 (plus 10% government tax) per month. The cheapest package, at £13.30 (plus 10% government tax) per month, has a cap of just under 15Gb per month and a speed of up to ↓2.5Mbps/↑0.5Mbps - roughly the same as what previously cost £82 (plus 10% government tax) per month. The free Internet period{18} was withdrawn.

You can read an article about the effects of the changeover, from which the diagram (right) was taken.

Internet Day

29th October is, apparently, ‘Internet Day’. On St Helena, until 2023, we would have needed to celebrate having one of the slowest and most expensive Internet connections on the planet, so nobody bothered. Maybe with the new Internet tariffs somebody might suggest marking the day…

Radio

Below: ZHHMilitary RadioWeather RadioBroadcast Media

ZHH

St Helena Radio{19} (callsign ‘ZHH’) can be found on VHF Channel 16. It is the primary communications channel for all visiting ships, including yachts. Formerly operated by Sure South Atlantic (and its predecessors) from 29th November 2018 responsibility passed to the Police.

St Helena Radio keeps a continuous watch on International Distress Frequencies MF 2,182KHz and VHF Channel 16. It also monitors HF channels ITU channel 1217, ITU channel 807 and ITU channel 414, providing radio assistance to visiting ships or yachts as well as local boats. It also acknowledges, relays and assists with distress calls for St Helena, Ascension Island, or for any vessels at sea within the reception range of St Helena.

Military Radio

Before World War 1 Marconi was contracted by the British War Office to set up a chain of military wireless stations throughout the Empire, including one on St Helena, to communicate with naval ships, although the network was not actually completed until after the war had ended. The only station actually operating on St Helena during World War 1 was a small Morse Code station run by the Royal Marines from Ladder Hill Fort.

There was much concern that other radios operating in the harbour might interfere with the RM Morse Code station, so restrictions were imposed in May 1917. These were extreme to the point of being neurotic. They required ships in harbour to unplug aerial wires from their radios and to hang the plug-ends onto the main rigging where they could be clearly seen from the shore, to ensure compliance. Additionally, physical access to the equipment was denied to the crew, the harbour master being given the authority to seal the doors of radio rooms of all ships in harbour.

The RM Morse Code station was dismantled in 1920, rather than (as might have been more helpful) it being re-deployed for civilian use.

R N Wireless Station, St Helena (ZHH)

1941 photo ‘Deadwood Station’
1941 photo ‘Deadwood Station’
Direction Finding

Royal Navy Wireless Station, 1940s

We know the Royal Navy operated a military radio station on St Helena during World War 2. Sadly we know almost nothing about it (its operations were shrouded in war-secrecy), so the following is rather sketchy, but we think reasonably accurate. The badge (left), on a Christmas Greeting from 1943, is part of the little firm evidence we can find of its existence.

Note that it had the callsign ‘ZHH’ - as is employed today by St Helena Radio{19}.

The station was in what is now Half Tree Hollow, along what is currently named Wireless Station Drive. It was a concrete block built structure and we do not know if it was demolished or is now one of the houses along there.

It is understood from local stories circulating at the time that the St Helena station worked in conjunction with one on Ascension Island in Direction Finding - using radio to locate German ships and U-Boats operating in the South Atlantic. The principle is simple. If St Helena and Ascension both receive a signal transmitted by an enemy ship, and if both note the direction from which the signal originates, then where the lines cross on the map is the location of the vessel. The diagram (right) illustrates. For a more detailed explanation see the Wikipedia.

We also think it may have had a role in coordinating naval operations in the South Atlantic, using the sub-Atlantic cable to relay messages to and from London.

Finally we know they monitored the frequency 500KHz, which was by way of being an international distress frequency at the time. Watch was kept carefully because earlier the distress call sent by the SS City of Cairo had been missed on the island. Apparently, although Cable & Wireless also monitored the same frequency, the RN Station was in a better position and often received signals that Cable & Wireless could not. Apparently the Admiralty station in the UK (‘GZZ’) often called St Helena in the early hours of the morning, perhaps to check that the operator was awake! The station was also responsible for receiving and decoding ‘Admiralty General Messages’ send to the island’s military commanders, transmitted from Rugby in the UK every day at 3am and 3pm. This function was later replaced by the Diplomatic Wireless Station.

If you can provide any further information, please contact us.

Weather Radio (GHH)

There was a weather radio station located on St Helena in the 1960s, on the air under the British callsign GHH. This station operated with a 1kW Racal transmitter and an inverted V antenna system. Jamestown Meteo was in use for the teletype transmission of weather information to England on two Shortwave channels, 6824KHz and 9044KHz. The reception of station GHH was reported occasionally in Europe and in North America, and a few QSLs have been received. There is one prepared QSL card from station GHH in the Indianapolis QSL Card Collection.

Broadcast Media

The focus of this page is bi-directional communications; broadcast media are covered elsewhere. Newspapers are discussed on our page Our Newspapers; Broadcast Radio is covered on our page Radio on St Helena and its associated pages; and Television is detailed on our page Television.

Communications Companies

Below: Eastern Telegraph CompanyCable & WirelessSure South Atlantic Ltd.Maestro Technologies

The Eastern Telegraph Company

The Eastern Telegraph Company was formed from the coalescence of four communications companies, which took place on 6th June 1872.

Late in 1899 St Helena was connected to Cape Town, and shortly afterwards to London (via Ascension Island), by an undersea telegraph cable (CS Anglia laid the Cape Town to St Helena cable in November 1899 and CS Seine laid the St Helena to Ascension section in December 1899), allowing telegrams to be sent almost instantaneously to the UK and, via other connections, anywhere in the British Empire. The article below discusses this further.

From The ‘Blue Book’ for 1899:

The Eastern Telegraph Company have now got a station here. The line was first laid from the Cape to St Helena and connection established on November 24th last. On the 15th December of the year under report, the line was extended to Ascension, and then through communication with England, via St Vincent, was established. The charge per word is 4s{20}.

It was hoped that the ability to exchange messages immediately with London might result in an increase in the number of ships calling, thus benefiting the island’s economy, but sadly this was not the case. In The ‘Blue Book’ for 1904 it was reported that only five vessels had availed themselves of this facility in the year.

On 18th September 1901 the ETC purchased (from the Moss family) land in ‍The Briars‍ to build its base of operations. The site today remains the base of their successor, Sure.

The EIC Badge was issued during World War 1 to help distinguish genuine employees from enemy spies!

Cable & Wireless

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Over the following years the Eastern and Western Telegraph Companies merged along with others such as The China Submarine Telegraph Company and The British-Indian Submarine Telegraph Company to form the, wonderfully named, Imperial and International Communications Ltd, which in 1934 became Cable & Wireless.

The company took over the island’s telephone system in August 1989 and was responsible for various upgrades to the network including the current automated PABX (1990). They also introduced Television in 1995, the Internet in 1996 and Broadband in November 2007 with Wi-Fi Internet from February 2008.

Cable & Wireless provided communications services on St Helena until their South Atlantic operations were sold to Batelco (a Bahraini Telecommunications Company) in 2013 and became Sure.

(More at atlantic-cable.com/‌CableCos/‌CandW/‌index.htm.)

Sure South Atlantic Ltd.

Sure logo

Electronic communications (telephones; Internet/email; Mobile Telephones; Television) are currently provided on St Helena by Sure South Atlantic Ltd., owned by Bahraini company Batelco, under monopoly licence from the Government of St Helena. Sure has its offices in the Bishop’s Rooms in Jamestown (at the bottom of Napoleon Street), its operations base at The Briars, an antenna array on Putty Hill and various transmitter sites for Television and Radio{21} around the island.

For more see the Sure South Atlantic website.

Prior to 2013 services were provided by Cable & Wireless, and prior to that by the Eastern Telegraph Company{22}.

Sure’s exclusive monopoly licence originally expired at the end of 2022 but was extended in 2022 to 31st December 2023 and extended again in July 2023 until 30th June 2025.

Maestro Technologies

Maestro Technologies logo

On 9th September 2022 the Government of St Helena announced that the preferred bidder to build the island’s new data and voice networks, based on Fibre-Optic and 5G distribution technology, was Maestro Technologies (Maestro).

Although the Maestro project was supposed to be completed by 31st December 2023, by mid-2023 little progress had been made and in August 2023 the Government of St Helena began negotiations with Sure for a further extension, as a result of which the new Internet tariffs were introduced from 1st October 2023.

At the time of writing it is not known whether the Maestro project will ever be completed or will be abandoned.

Read More

Article: St Helena’s part in the ‘Victorian Internet’.

By J C Grimshaw, published 11th April 2011 with some additional detail from atlantic-cable.com/‌Cables/‌1899StHelena/‌index.htm{23}{24}

At the time of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 (Isandlwana, Rorke’s Drift et al) it took twenty days for a message to travel from Southern Africa via steamer to the Cape Verde islands and on by telegraph to London. As this remained the situation at the outbreak of the Second Boer War in October 1899 a quicker and more direct route was urgently required. The Eastern Telegraph Company contracted the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company to manufacture and lay the necessary cables which were to link Cape Town - St Helena - Ascension Island and St Vincent in the Cape Verde Islands. Messages could then be routed over the Western Telegraph Companies’ existing cables from St Vincent via Madeira to Carcavelos, Portugal. From there to Porthcurno in Cornwall they again travelled over the Eastern network.

The Cable Ship Anglia laid the 3,825Km first stage from Cape Town to St Helena, completing it by 24th November 1899, and while CS Anglia returned to the UK for more cable CS Seine laid the section from St Helena to Ascension Island, a distance of 1,560Km, completing it by 15th December 1899. CS Anglia then laid 3,660Km of cable from Ascension Island to St Vincent, Cape Verde Islands, completing the task by 21st February 1900 only four months after the start of the war.

Cable warning at St Helena
Cable warning at St Helena{2}{j}

In 1901 the Eastern Telegraph Company contracted the same company to manufacture and lay another set of cables from St Vincent to Madeira, 2,090Km, and from there a 2,550 cable to Porthcurno. CS Anglia and CS Britannia carried out this work. To provide an alternative route in case of cable failure another cable laid by CS Anglia in the same year was that from Ascension to Freetown, Sierra Leone, a distance of 2,085Km.

In 1902 the final link in the global network of cables owned and operated by British companies was made with the laying of the Pacific cable from Canada to Australia. The Pacific Cable, jointly owned by the British Government and the Governments of Canada, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, New Zealand, Tasmania and Western Australia in a unique partnership arrangement was, effected in obedience to the strong desire of the people of the wide-spread British Empire to utilize electricity for the accomplishment of Imperial consolidation, and to ensure that ‘The All Red Line’ touched only the territories of the British Empire.

Some parts of the line had been completed considerably earlier. In 1866, the Great Eastern connected Ireland to Newfoundland, by 1870 Suez was linked to Bombay and from there to Madras, Penang and Singapore. Australia was linked to British telegraph cables directly in 1870, by extending a line from Singapore to Port Darwin and by 1872, messages could be sent direct from London to Sydney.

To complete the network, the final major cable laying project was the trans-Pacific section. The route selected was Bamfield, Vancouver Island - Fanning Island - Fiji - Norfolk Island. From Norfolk Island, two cables would be laid, one to Southport, Queensland, with a landline to Sydney, while the other would land at Doubtless Bay, Auckland and in total 14,500Km of cable would be required.

It was decided to lay the Bamfield-Fanning Island section in one continuous length. At the time no cable ship existed that could carry the cable to do this, so the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company had CS Colonia built. Laying of the 6,400Km long cable began at Bamfield on 18th September 1902, reaching Fanning Island on 6th October. Fanning Island had been formally annexed to Great Britain in 1888.

The CS Anglia which had been used to connect Cape Town and St Helena then laid all the sections from Fanning Island to Australia and New Zealand during 1902.

The ‘All Red Line’ was inaugurated on 31st October 1902 and the Imperial Defence Committee was able to report to the British Government, The dependence of the United Kingdom on cable stations situated upon foreign territory has been generally eliminated.

Britain dominated the international cable networks and no other country possessed such an extensive network. In 1896 there were 30 cable-laying ships in the world, 24 of them owned by British companies. The Eastern Telegraph Company controlled almost 50 per cent of the world’s submarine cables while other British companies owned another 30 per cent of the cable routes. These figures underestimate the extent of British domination of worldwide telegraphic traffic because, apart from a number of transatlantic cables, most of the submarine cables owned by non-British companies were local links connecting to British long-distance routes.

More about the cable and its history at atlantic-cable.com/‌Cables/‌1899StHelena/‌index.htm.

LOL

Credits:
{a} Lewis Carroll, in ‘Through the Looking Glass’{b} Copyright © South Atlantic Media Services Ltd. (SAMS), used with permission.{c} Stephen Hawking{d} 2021 Census, taken 7th February 2021.{e} Chris and Sheila Hillman{f} Sure announcement{g} Equality & Human Rights Commission Newsletter, July 2020{23}{h} Ian Hart{i} Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, House or Lords#, 10th February 2021{23}{j} atlantic-cable.com/‌Cables/‌1899StHelena/‌index.htm ‘courtesy of and copyright © 2013 Andy Parker’

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Footnotes:
{1} Photographed at the Man & Horse Signal Station. ‘GPO’ is ‘General Post Office’, the old name for the British post & telecommunications entity.{2} As far as we know this sign is still there. The cable, of course, isn’t.{3} According to a handwritten note on the back of the photograph.{4} Assuming, of course, that they are.{5} There is only one!{6} Locally known as the ‘Maria De Lay’ because of its poor schedule keeping.{7} Formerly the MV Eemslift Christiaan built in 1998 and previously operating in Gibraltar, she was 101m long, had two 40-tonne cranes and the capacity to carry 20 foot and 40 foot containers. She was purchased in 2016 and re-named after a local naming competition.{8} This prefix is shared with Tristan da Cunha; Tristan numbers are 8xxxx.{9} Please Note All ‘current’ times on Saint Helena Island Info are calculated from your Device’s clock, so are only as accurate as you make them…{10} Until 1st October 2013 they had just four digits. If you are given an old four-digit number, just add a 2 to the front: hence 2900 becomes (+290) 22900.{11} Contact Sure for latest prices.{12} That is, the ability of a visitor with an overseas mobile telephone to connect to the local network, or of a local mobile telephone customer to connect to a network overseas.{13} Though presumably if you do something particularly egregious it will be possible for Sure to identify who was using what IP Address at any particular time.{14} Or, in the case of south Africa, the government.{15} The total resident population on 7th February 2021 was 4,439, 4,118 of which were St Helenian and the remainder visitors, temporary workers, etc.{d}{16} Our emphasis.{17} The service is delivered to the user premises through the ordinary telephone system, so speeds vary and are expected to be lower in more remote districts such as Blue Hill, Sandy Bay and Levelwood. Fibre-to-the-user connections are available but only if the consumer bears the full installation cost.{18} Under the previous tariffs, from midnight until 6am the Internet was free - you could download as much data as you wanted without it impacting on your montly data allowance, limited only by the speed of your connection.{19} Not to be confused with our former national radio station, Radio St Helena.{20} £0.20{21} SAMS Radio 1 & SAMS Radio 2. SaintFM Community Radio organises its own transmission.{22} You can read a history of Cable & Wireless and its antecedents at atlantic-cable.com/‌CableCos/‌CandW/‌index.htm.{23} @@RepDis@@{24} See more blogs.{25} The story goes that one Christmas a chap decided to post all his local Christmas cards, so he took them to the Post Office, bought stamps and posted them. A few days later he was stopped by the postman{5} and asked if he would mind taking ‘some letters’ and delivering them to his neighbours. The ‘letters’ were his Christmas cards…

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