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The Three ‘R’s

Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.{d}

St Helena was quite advanced in its attitude to education


Probably the definitive work on the history of education here is Dorothy Evans’ 1994 book ‘Schooling in South Atlantic Islands, 1661-1992’. The section on St Helena covers 194 pages with only a few photographs. We can’t hope to cover that level of detail here, so what follows is a collection of highlights. If you want the detail, you’ll have to buy the book!

This page concentrates on academic education. See also our page Lace Making for the Lace-Making School. Religious ‘Sunday Schools’ are not directly covered.

The Three ‘R’s in education apparently refer to Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. How educated do you have to be not to see the flaw in that{7}?{e}

An Overview

The Church had control of the schools in the early years and Clerics doubled as teachers but with an emphasis on religious education{8}. The history of education on St Helena can be portrayed as the gradual transfer of that control from Church to State. The first non-Cleric schoolmaster was appointed at the end of the 17th Century; the last of the church schools were closed when education came under exclusive State control in 1941. In the interim, there were Church schools, Charity schools, schools operated by The East India Company and schools operated by the Crown.

Perhaps surprisingly the original controllers of St Helena, The East India Company, believed it was important for the people of St Helena to be educated. Even as early as 1678 - only 19 years after the island was settled - a memo from the Directors in London instructs The Governor of St Helena that the people should lay aside all unnecessary and frivolous excuses and be so much friends to their Children as to send them to the said Schoole, and keep them there as constantly as possibly they may. A proclamation from the period reads:

Whereas it hath pleased the Honourable East India Company to have so much regard and respect unto the good and welfare of their Island, and all the Inhabitants thereof, That they have ordered and appointed a publick School to be kept at their own Charge to teach the Children of the said Inhabitants to Read and to Instruct them in the Principals and Fundamentals of the Christian Religion, As well the Blacks as the English.

Note the last words As well the Blacks as the English. Remarkably, education was not just offered to the children of wealthy landowners. Everybody was given the opportunity to attend school - even the enslaved, though in the latter case only if their master would allow them the time off. The Reverend William Swindle was appointed to the island on 3rd December 1673 with the mission to preach once and catechize every Lord’s Day and to teach or direct the teaching of children as their schoolmaster and also as many of the Negro children as are capable of learning. Exactly who would decide which of the enslaved children were capable of learning is not made clear. Presumably it was Rev. Swindle himself. Sadly we don’t know how many enslaved children he actually enrolled in his school.

Of course, in many cases the opportunity to attend school was worthless because for most of their history schools on St Helena required pupils to pay fees. Ordinary people just couldn’t afford that so their children went uneducated.

Company Head School40--40
Company Lower School3624482
Plantation House School-372663
Evening School (adults)-10430134

Schools developed as the population grew. For a long time there was a two-tier system: The ‘Head’ or ‘Upper’ School focussed on providing an education fit for the children of The East India Company officials, destined for university or a Company career, while the other schools taught a more ‘practical’ curriculum (for this reason the Upper School is often referred to as the ‘Grammar School’). Attendance at the various schools in November 1818 is shown in the table (right) and note that a total of 328 enslaved or formerly-enslaved children were in school - about ⅔ of the total. On the other hand, figures quoted in ‘A History of the Island of St Helena, 2nd Edition’, by T. H. Brooke, Esq., published in 1824{9} give the annual contribution from The East India Company as £1,000 and that by the Benevolent Society, who ran the only Charity schools, as £250. A little mathematics shows that £1,000 was spent on 122 pupils, while the remaining 282 pupils shared £250 - a difference per-pupil of ten times. Inequality in education in this form continued right up to 1941 when education came under exclusive State control.

An article in the July 1901 edition of the Parish Magazine lamented that only half the people coming to get married could sign their names in the Register. In 1903 Governor Gallwey was similarly distressed to discover than many islanders seeking to emigrate to South Africa were unable to do so because they could not meet that country’s requirement for basic literacy. Compulsory Schooling was not introduced until the Education Ordinance 1903, effective 1st January 1904, and then only for children aged 6 to 14. The Secondary Selective School, the island’s first school to provide Secondary education, did not open until 29th April 1946.

Things have improved! Latest figures{f} show there around 50 nursery children, 300 in Primary schools, 230 at Prince Andrew School and 45 doing vocational apprenticeships. 49% of pupils achieve Grade C or above in GCSE English and Maths.

It is a miracle when curiosity survives formal education.{g}

Some key people

Here are a few heroes and villains from the education story:

Rev. Richard Boys
Rev. Boys
Canon Walcott
Canon Walcott
Basil George
Basil George

Not one cow…


A former teacher claims that they once gave their students a Geography assignment to draw a picture of where milk comes from. The children produced many beautiful drawings of tins of Carnation Milk, but not one of a cow.

Academic education is the act of memorizing things read in books, and things told by college professors who got their education mostly by memorizing things read in books.{h}

Premises, Premises

Sadly most of the early school buildings are no longer around for you to explore. The old ‘Head School’ building, drawn in 1810 by William Burchell (below) no longer exists, probably a victim of the White Ants, and we don’t even know exactly where it was{11}. The former Boys’ School was opposite St. John’s Church, but there are flats there now. The Girls’ School was probably for a time in Garden Hall in Castle Gardens, now occupied by SAMS Radio 1 and The Sentinel, but later moved to the ‘Head School’ building in Napoleon Street. The original Half Tree Hollow school was in a building next to Half Way House in upper HTH which is now a private house{12}. You can probably explore the former Sandy Bay School, now the home of S.H.A.P.E., but note that this is the mid-20th Century purpose-built building; for most of the school’s history it was based in St. Peter’s Church.

Pilling School is said to be haunted.

Note that although our current schools are open during school hours, you can’t just wander in and look around. For reasons of child safety all visitors must report to reception and be escorted around the building, which distracts staff from other important work. If you have a good reason for visiting an active school first contact the Education Directorate and discuss your needs with them.

D KinnardADB I Vernon
Op Inspect1824Ludimagist

One you can explore is the former School in Napoleon Street Jamestown, now the Community Centre. Built in 1824 by Governor Walker, the school was actually constructed by ‘free men of colour’, i.e. the formerly enslaved. Opening the school the Governor said of these workers: This work may be called their first fruits and pledge that the native population will be adequate to all the labours of the island. An inscription above the main door (reproduced, right), cut by the same Corporal Galway as created the plaque above the main entrance to The Castle, can be (broadly) translated as After a long period in disrepair, this new building is at last completed!

The Community Centre is not in frequent daytime use and is behind locked gates but you can clearly see the building from the street, and if you really must get in you need to ask around and see if you can borrow the key.

Locations: ⋅ ‘Head School’ today ⋅ Secondary Selective, Ladder Hill ⋅ Former Half Tree Hollow school at Half Way ⋅ Former school, Sandy Bay ⋅ Former Teacher Training Centre ⋅ Longwood 1st School, 2005 (now offices)

The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.{i}

‘Clara’s School’

‘Clara’s School’ (later known as the ‘Ragged School’) is particularly interesting. It was founded by Mrs Clara George, who had been born into slavery, married formerly enslaved Charles George in 1814 and began teaching her own children. Then in 1816 she included her neighbours’ children too, and this developed into an independent school in Jamestown. It later became known as the ‘Ragged School’ though we don’t know why - maybe a comment on the dress of the schoolchildren, though a letter in The Herald dated 26th January 1854 said: I trust to see at no distant day a Ragged or Industrial School established under the management of a Master or Mistress, suggesting that the term was actually used at the time to describe any trade school.

In 1818 the school is recorded as having 85 pupils (81 ‘Free Blacks’; 4 enslaved and no ‘Whites’). Many of Clara’s pupils were young children who were being taught to read and write and also girls who were learning skills with their hands such as needlework and lace making{18}. This attracted the attention of the Benevolent Society. The Council reported to their headquarters in London on 12th January 1824:

For some years a poor woman of the name of Clara George has kept a large and flourishing school in the Town, mostly very young, which the Committee have agreed henceforth to take under their auspices, and to admit 15 at the Society’s expense. This is from a desire to assist a poor woman of no ordinary merit, who has had to struggle through almost insurmountable difficulties, for a period of 7 or 8 years both in obtaining proper books for the children, and in raising sufficient money to pay the rent of her schoolroom. She charges 9s[£0.45] per child per quarter but nearly half of the number, which consists of about 80, she instructs gratuitously. The school was exhibited at the annual examination (at only a day or two notice) and it afforded the most unequivocal testimony of the constant attention paid to the children.

By 1826 the school had 125 pupils where, helped by a Mrs Rich (a sister-in-law) and a Mrs Phillips, they had a crafts class of 14 being taught lace making, knitting and needlework. It is said that Governor Walker ‘supported’ the school but we do not know if this meant financially.

The Records for 1860 include an instruction By Command of His Excellency [Governor Drummond Hay]: Required at the Ragged School, Rhubarb Hall, Four forms 14 feet in length (each). The room to be coloured and cleaned. Steps required at the entrance. Rhubarb Hall was in Market Street though the building later burned down and a more modern house now stands there.

In 1864, with the approval of (and, presumably, funded by) Governor Elliot, the school was relocated to larger premises in the cellars of the Benevolent Society. In 1868 The ‘Blue Book’ lists the school as having 34 boys and 44 girls (78), now in the charge of Emma Rich.

The school is listed as Closed in 1887 (Clara herself died in December 1859).

What schools were there, and when?

The list is (almost) endless! Schools were created and later ceased operation. They were merged and de-merged. Boys were split from girls, then re-joined, then split again, then finally rejoined. It is, as they say, Complicated. Fortunately Dorothy Evans comes to our rescue, publishing the following chart in her 1994 book ‘Schooling in South Atlantic Islands, 1661-1992’:{14}

Memorise that - there will be a test later!

Note references to the ‘Gosse Central School’, named in honour of Dr. Philip Gosse. There are also references to ‘Hussey’ schools, run by the Hussey Charity established in 1865 for the education of the ‘Liberated Africans’ of St Helena, and Benevolent Society schools, run by the Benevolent Society founded in 1814 by Governor Mark Wilks.


Since Dorothy Evans’ book was published there have been further changes. We now only have four schools:

However, as at the time of writing there are ongoing discussions that would amalgamate all the Primary schools into one, in a new building co-located with Prince Andrew School. Nothing ever remains static in education… Part of the development is to keep the system dynamic.{k}

Incidentally, one effect of the opening of Prince Andrew School seems to have been the near-elimination of the regional dialects that used to exist here. This is explored on our page Speak Saint.

A study reported in The Sentinel on 20th December 2018 compared St Helena exam passes with those in the UK, and concluded that it seems St Helena’s Key Stage 2 results would put our schools around the level of the poorer schools in the UK.

Any teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be!{l}

Recognise anybody?

The two photographs below were taken in the late 1970s (around ). The first was, apparently at the Secondary Selective School, probably in the Staff Room. The second is an unidentified Primary school. See if you recognise anybody…

Education Observances

For more annual events see our page This Year.

World Teachers’ Day

World Teachers’ Day is celebrated in the island’s schools on 5th October, or on the Friday/Monday nearest to the date. There are no public celebrations.

International Day Of Education

The UN International Day Of Education was celebrated in the island’s schools on 24th January 2020, as far as we know for the first time.

Take your child to the library day

The Take your child to the library day on the probably should be celebrated on the island, but as far as we know isn’t.

Read More

Below: Must ReadAnother perspectiveArticle: An Island School, Thirty Years Ago - A Former Pupil ReminiscesArticle: Blue Hill School, 1904 OnwardsArticle: New School for St HelenaArticle: Closing Ceremony at Longwood First School

Must Read

Anyone wanting to know about the history of education on St Helena should read Dorothy Evans’ 1994 book ‘Schooling in South Atlantic Islands, 1661-1992’. The book is still in Copyright so we can’t provide a downloadable version but it should be available in specialist booksellers and there is apparently a copy in the Public Library in Jamestown.

Miss Evans is to be congratulated on her fine contribution to the growing bibliography of the island communities of the South Atlantic Ocean - she certainly is a valued Friend to these people.{m}

Another perspective

Rev. Edward Cannan in his 1991 book ‘Churches of the South Atlantic Islands’ devotes half a chapter to education and tells the story from the church-perspective. As he says, the section is confined to the contribution to education made by the Church.

Article: An Island School, Thirty Years Ago - A Former Pupil Reminisces

FoSH Logo

By Elizabeth Thurston née Cross, published in the ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{15} Number 5, Spring 1992{16}{14}

The Secondary School for the Island of St Helena was placed on the cliff top above Jamestown in old army buildings and was attended by selected children of secondary school age. Those that lived nearby, as I did, walked to school, but those from other parts of the island were collected by mini-bus. This was red, and ably driven by Charlie Thomas, a popular man with the children.

The Headmaster was called Mr Broadway, and he and his staff taught all the general subjects, but the standard of education was a lot lower than that expected of Secondary School children in England. At thirteen or fourteen years of age, a ‘General Schools Examination’ is taken, and I have a certificate dated 6th October 1959, showing that I achieved distinction in this exam, in English, Arithmetic, History, Geography and General Knowledge.

At one end of the playground, was the main school building, constructed of stone, and next to it a small stone out-house where daily milk was made by older pupils. This was made in large tureens by mixing water with milk powder supplied by UNICEF, and a beaker-full was then given to each child entitled to it. Whether this was for all the younger pupils or just the poorer ones, I cannot remember.

On the landward side of the playground, were classrooms opening out on to a long veranda, the Colonnade, where sometimes large centipedes (much bigger than English ones) appeared. Although not normally afraid of insects, I can remember one incident where I was distinctly unhappy at the appearance of a very large centipede. One also had to look out for scorpions, and as one can imagine, this was particularly treacherous for island children who were usually bare-footed.

The playground's seaward side had a wall which sloped towards the sea, with a sheer drop below of some 600 feet and no protective railings. At break times, many children sat on this wall with their backs to the sea, showing no fear whatsoever, but it took a lot of courage for me to sit there, and I rarely did so.

Just outside the school, at the far end of the playground, was the ‘Redoubt’, a stone-built circular look-out point, which looked down on Jamestown and was near the top of the ‘Ladder’. This was the iron ladder which ran from Jamestown straight up the cliff-side to the top.

The pupils who attended Secondary School used to toil up this ladder, and at the end of the day, go down using the traditional method, face up across the step, forearms on one rail, feet or ankles on the other, and then sliding all the way down. I mastered this and went down on a number of occasions, but did not need this for school, as I lived on the cliff top nearby.

On New Year’s Day, the Annual Treat was held on Francis Plain, in which all the schools on the island took part, everyone sharing in the general festivities, races, competitions, etc., and then having a sort of giant picnic. Here in England, we cannot imagine what it is like to do all this on New Year’s Day, where we are likely to be indoors with the heating on, and wearing thick jumpers.

This is just a general picture of life at Secondary School, where we also did sport as well as the academic subjects, and most of us were happy and contented. The few English children on the island, such as myself, fitted in perfectly well, and we were all like one big family.

Article: Blue Hill School, 1904 Onwards

By Stedson Frances, published in The Sentinel,30th September 2021{14}

Blue Hill School (undated)
Blue Hill School (undated)

Blue Hill School Established

The Hussey Charity Trustees hired ‘in perpetuity’ from Government, the land for the school ‘The School Ground’ for one shilling per year from 1906. First payment to be made 30th September 1907.

School opened January 1907 under headship of Caleb John.

A year later at the prize giving it received high praise from the St. Helena Diocesan magazine:-

A good beginning has been made by this school - it is the first school that has been run on modern lines and modern teaching methods from the commencement. Thanks to the Master in charge of it, Mr. C. John, the School is in good working order and has thoroughly justified the pains taken in its inauguration. May it ever continue to be as it is now, a boon to the dwellers in the far west. The school, composed of less than 40 scholars is an easy handful to manage. They are, in an open country, as happy as can be. They have the best School playground in the island and cricket goes on at every opportunity, the boys at one pitch and the girls at another.

Mrs Ruth Pridham started her school days there from the age of 5. Mr. Caleb John was the only teacher at the time with 50 children aged 5-14. He had read a lot and was well educated and every child could read and write when he/she left. Mrs. Pridham later became a teacher herself, as did Elizabeth Young, one of her pupils who became Head teacher at Blue Hill in 1984, after Miss Evelyn Bagley retired, until the closure of the school in 1990.

In 1930 the school was re-named the ‘Bishop Holbech Memorial School’ by Rev. Walcott to commemorate the special regard the Bishop had for this school. Caleb John retired in 1941 when the Church and State schools amalgamated. He subsequently became a member of the Board of Education. Dying in 1952 he was buried at the Church of St. Helena and the Cross near to the place he had served for most of his life.

Reorganisation 1941-60 under Government Control rather than the Church.

Half Tree Hollow, Sandy Bay and Blue Hill schools all became ‘Junior Schools’ and the senior children transferred to Gosse Central School at St. Paul’s. Blue Hill School went back to its former name and was in the charge of 2 ‘pupil teachers’ - Harriet Williams and Evelyn Bagley - who had started teaching in 1941. It was now a Junior and Infant School. Miss Bagley, on leaving school at 15 was undecided about her future, as she needed to care for her mother. She was invited to become a teacher by the then E.O. Mr. Rawlings. With others she attended a weekly class for pupil teachers in Francis Plain Pavilion. At first as planned, she had only junior children, as the seniors were supposed to go to the Gosse Central School, but that was so far away to walk each day then, and parents were not happy. The children kept drifting back to their own school. So Algernon Broadway was eventually appointed in 1943 to teach the senior children there - for an interim period till 1945, followed by Edward Benjamin for a short period before the parents could be persuaded to send them to Gosse school. The Governor of the time - Major William Bain--Grey, gave the Education Department his full support. Mr. Benjamin told Dorothy Evans in 1991 Now they have ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels. Then we just had spirit levels! He was followed by George Lawrence who was Head from April 1946 until June 1951 when Miss Bagley was appointed to the Headship where she served until retiring in 1984. Others remembered that the changeover was far from smooth for many other areas of the island.

In 1988 another major re-organisation of the Education Department took place and the district schools became ‘ First Schools’ under the guidance of Cheltenham College with which the island had an invaluable link for many years - sadly and inexplicably broken in recent times. This offered teacher training and continuity, the staff of the College becoming friends, several visiting the island and so really respecting the islanders and understanding the needs. This was the new ‘Three Tier System,’ Blue Hill being the smallest first school with 10 pupils plus 4 pre-school children, one trainee teacher, one assistant teacher and a Headteacher - Elizabeth Young. However, the numbers were so small and that was a problem. By 1989 the unpopular decision was that the school should close. The parents managed to get the time extended until June 1990 when the children had to attend St. Paul’s First School from September of that year. Of course, now they did not have to walk all that way!

The Blue Hill Field Centre was established in the former school building - a popular residential centre for various groups on the island in that beautiful spot.

Article: New School for St Helena

Published in Overseas Development No 7, June 1989{14}

A new upper school has been opened on the remote South Atlantic island of St Helena as part of Britain’s £5 million aid-funded project to revitalise the island’s education system. The school was formally opened earlier this month by Mr John Taylor MP who was visiting the island and the school has been named after HRH Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, who visited St Helena in 1984 when the decision to build the new school was announced. The project involves changing the island’s education system from a two-tier primary and secondary system to the three-tier first, middle and upper school structure. Buildings, equipment and teaching standards are being upgraded and experts from Britain are helping local staff to create a new curriculum for St Helena’s schools.

The school was designed by London-based architects James Cubitt and Partners and built by St Helena’s own Public Works Department under supervision of Taylor Woodrow Management and Engineering Ltd.

Equipment and furniture have also been supplied through Hertfordshire Country Council and the North Hertfordshire Division is to provide important education planning advice and teacher training for the local education staff.

The school will help meet the changing needs of the island and its 5,500 population. Adult education classes will be offered and a particular feature of the school will be its large hall which will provide a much-needed focal point for community activities on the island.

St Helena is a small mountainous volcanic island in the Atlantic 1,200 miles west of Angola. It has no airport and depends almost entirely on her own passenger and cargo ship the RMS St Helena.

Article: Closing Ceremony at Longwood First School

Published in the St Helena Herald, 15th August 2008{14}

On Tuesday, 12th August at 10am, a closing Ceremony was held at Longwood First School. This was the last First School on the island to be closed. The pupils of Longwood First will now be amalgamating with those of Harford Middle, and thus the school will now be known as Harford Primary School.

The Ceremony was opened with a speech by the Head Mistress, Mrs Eileen Hudson who commented on what a sad occasion this was for the staff, pupils and parents of the school. Everyone was then invited to join in with the singing of the school song. The ceremony continued with a brief history of the school and songs and poems performed by the pupils, expressing their sadness of leaving the school and also a closing in the chapter of the Longwood Community. Three previous Head Teachers also reflected on their time at Longwood First, along with the present Headmistress.

A prize presentation was presented[sic] by the Chief Education Officer, Miss Pamela Lawrence, to those year 3 pupils who sat their Standard Attainment Tests (SATs). Outstanding achievements went to:

The Ceremony came to a close around 11am, with a song performed by some parents expressing their reflections of the closing of Longwood First. Bishop James then wished everyone well in there future move to Harford and ended with a prayer and blessing.

The Longwood First School buildings were used as the offices of Basil Read during the airport construction.


{a} William John Burchell{b} G.W. Melliss{17}{c} Copyright © South Atlantic Media Services Ltd. (SAMS), used with permission.{d} G. K. Chesterton{e} Anon{f} SHG State of the Island report, 2015{14}{g} Albert Einstein{h} Elbert Hubbard{i} H. L. Mencken{j} Radio St Helena/Museum of St Helena, digitised by Burgh House Media Productions{k} Basil George, Chief Education Officer, 1992{14}{l} Arthur C. Clarke{m} Tony Cross, writing in the ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{15} Number 9, Spring 1994


{1} Now the Jamestown Community Centre.{2} Currently the Fire Station and Public Solicitor’s Office, but both of these are ‘temporary’ (though they have been there for around a decade!){3} Commonly but incorrectly known as ‘Half Way House’.{4} Renamed the ‘St Helena Community College’.{5} This 1950s building has quite a history. First it was the Infant’s School, then the Teacher Training Centre, then the Adult & Vocational Education Centre{4} and then the Police Station. Before any of that the site was the Middle Graveyard.{6} The conclusion reached on Social Media was that this is the Secondary Selective School, and the teacher is Mrs Mabel Yon.{7} The original, as posted on Social Media said How educated do you have to be to not see the flaw in that?…we corrected it{8} In 1677 an invoice records the delivery of 264 books worth £18 2s (£18.1), though actually only about 30% of these were educational; the rest were bibles and other religious books.{9} A revised and updated version of ‘A History of the Island of St Helena’, by T. H. Brooke, Esq., published in 1808.{10} We can only guess…{11} Some think it was in Napoleon Street on the site of the later Head School, now the Jamestown Community Centre, but features in the drawing seem to suggest upper Jamestown and in the Records the building is sometimes referenced as the ‘Upper School’. It is not identified on Lafitte’s map of 1781, but this is no surprise because it was not a military institution.{12} By a peculiar twist of circumstance the original Half Way House building is now a ruin and the former school seems to have inherited the name Half Way House!{13} For the ‘PC’ amongst you it’s worth remembering that while boys in the early 1800s might have been interested in learning lace making, they would not have dared to admit it.{14} @@RepDis@@{15} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.{16} Now, of course .{17} Father of John Melliss.{18} Clara is the first recorded teacher of lace making on St Helena, though presumably the skill existed prior to her teaching it, passed down from mother to daughter{13}.