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Famous Visitors

Let’s drop a few names

Some people come into our lives, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same.{k}

Read about some of St Helena’s many famous visitors

King George VI & family, 1947

The 12 of May, in the morning betimes, we discovered the Iland of S. Helena, whereat there was so great joy in the ship, as if we had bene in Heaven{l}

Lots of famous people visited St Helena. Some came specifically to see the island or somebody on it; some simply passed through on their way to somewhere else; and one became famous because he didn’t know the island was here until he found it... Whichever way, we list those we know about here and add others after they arrive or as we find out about them.

Also note that, for some visitors their stay here was far from voluntary; they are discussed on our page Exiles.

Fish and guests in three days are stale.{m}

Index by Name

HRH Prince Alfred (1860) HRH Prince Andrew (1984) HRH Anne, The Princess Royal (2002) Lord and Lady Baden-Powell (1936) Captain William Bligh (1792) Sir Thomas Cavendish (1588) Fletcher Christian (1784) Duke of Connaught (1910) Captain James Cook (1771) Captain Dampier (1691) Charles Darwin (1836) Dürer’s Rhinoceros (1515) HRH The Duke of Edinburgh (1957) HRH Edward, Prince of Wales (1925) HRH Edward, Duke of Edinburgh (2024) Empress Eugénie (1880) E M Forster (1929) Prince William Henry Frederick of Holland (1838) HRH King George VI (1947) SS Great Britain (1852) Edmond Halley (1677) Prince Albert William Heinrich of Prussia (1880) Prince de Joinville (1840) Sir James Lancaster (1603) Princess Marie Louise (1938) Nevil Maskelyne (1761) Horatio Nelson (1776) Johan Nieuhof (1658) João da Nova (1502) ‘Raffles’ (1816) Lord Roberts (1900) Joshua Slocum (1898) William Thackeray (1817) Evelyn Waugh (1930) The Duke of Wellington (1805)

16th Century

Below: 1502: João da Nova1515: Dürer’s Rhinoceros1588: Sir Thomas Cavendish

1502: João da Nova

Probable appearance of da Nova’s ships
Probable appearance of João da Nova’s ships{7}

João da Nova
João da Nova

João da Nova is credited with discovering and naming St Helena. It is also recorded that he landed to take on water. The date of his discovery is disputed - see our page Discovery of St Helena for more. How long he stayed and just what he did here, apart from taking on water, is also questioned - see our page Myths Debunked! for this.

In view of these uncertainties we think it best to keep this entry to a minimum, allowing these other pages to tell the various stories.

João da Nova was fortunate, because God revealed to him a small island, which he named St Helena and where he took in water, although he had already done so twice since departing India, first at Melinde, then at Mozambique. God appears to have created this island in that very location in order to nourish all those who come from India, as everyone endeavours to call there since its discovery, for it offers the best water on the whole journey or at least that which is necessary and which one requires on the return voyage from India.{n}

As mentioned above, João da Nova’s name is often given as ‘João da Nova Castella’ but this is incorrect. The name is given as ‘João da Nova’ in all the contemporary Portuguese documents. The ‘Castella’ (meaning ‘of the castle’) seems to have been introduced in error by 19th Century historians. A bit like Linschoten’s error in reporting our discovery date… You can read a more detailed article about the origins of the Castella name by Ian Bruce, originally published in ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{8}, 2019{9}

You can read a contemporary account of his activities, published in 1571 (translated 1752).

1515: Dürer’s Rhinoceros

No, we’re not kidding!

Rhinoceros, 1515
Rhinoceros, 1515{o}

In 1515 the then Portuguese Governor of India was presented by a local royal with an unusual gift - a live Indian Rhinoceros. Unsure what to do with his new ‘pet’ the Governor decided to ship the beast back to Lisbon, for the amusement of the Portuguese king.

The Rhino left India in January 1515, travelling with stop-overs at Mozambique; the newly-discovered St Helena; and the Azores, arriving in Lisbon on the 20th May. Later that year the famous German artist Albrect Dürer received a sketch of the animal and produced a woodcut based on it. Woodcut printing was a new invention in 1515 so the image was widely reproduced and is still popular today, despite its obvious inaccuracies - it is commonly known as ‘Dürer’s Rhinoceros’.

Loading a Rhino onto and off a 16th Century ship must have been a major operation, so we don’t know if the animal actually landed on St Helena, or merely gazed at the island from the bay, but the idea of a Rhinoceros loose on St Helena is appealing.

For more, search out a BBC Podcast in the series ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’, #75 ‘Dürer’s Rhinoceros’.

Dürer’s Rhinoceros was not the only notable animal to be ‘in transit’ at St Helena. ‘Old Bet’, the first elephant ever to be brought to America stopped here on 17th February 1796 en-route from India to New York, when the ship carrying her took on board several pumpkins and cabbages, some fresh fish for ship’s use, and greens for the elephant, as well as landing 23 sacks of coffee (St Helena Coffee had started production at that time but clearly wasn’t meeting local demand!)

You can read the full story here: www.nhmag.com/‌editors‌_‌pick/‌1928‌_‌05-06‌_‌pick.html.

1588: Sir Thomas Cavendish

Sir Thomas Cavendish, 19th September 1560 - May 1592, was an English explorer and privateer known as ‘The Navigator’ because he was the first who deliberately tried to emulate Sir Francis Drake and raid the Spanish towns and ships in the Pacific and return by circumnavigating the globe.

Sir Thomas Cavendish

He stopped at St Helena arriving on 8th June 1588 in The Desire, thought be the first Englishman to land on the island{10} Cavendish’s report of his visit{11} is as follows:

Cavendish stamp
Cavendish stamp

The eighth day of June by breake of day we fel in sight of the yland of S. Helena, seven or eight leagues short of it, having but a small gale of winde, or almost none at all ; insomuch as we could not get into it that day, but stood off and on all that night.

The next day being the 9. of June having a pretie easie gale of wind we stood in with the shore, our boat being sent away before to make the harborough ; and about one of the clocke in the afternoone we came unto an anker in 12. fathoms water two or three cables length from the shore, in a very faire and smooth bay under the Northwest side of the yland.

This yland is very high land, and lieth in the maine sea standing as it were in the middest of the sea betweene the maine land of Africa, and the maine of Brasilia and the coast of Guinea: And is in 15. degrees and 48. minuts to the Southward of the Equinoctiall line, and is distant from the cape of Beuna Esperanza betweene 5. and 6. hundreth leagues.

The same day about two or three of the clocke in the afternoone wee went on shore, where wee found a marveilous faire & pleasant valley, wherein divers handsome buildings and houses were set up, and especially one which was a Church, which was tyled & whited on the outside very faire, and made with a porch, and within the Church at the upper end was set an altar, whereon stood a very large table set in a frame having in it the picture of our Saviour CHRIST upon the Crosse and the image of our Lady praying, with divers other histories curiously painted in the same. The sides of the Church were all hanged with stained clothes having many devises drawen in them.

There are two houses adjoyning to the Church, on each side one, which serve for kitchins to dresse meate in, with necessary roomes and houses of office: the coverings of the said houses are made flat, whereon is planted a very faire vine, and through both the saide houses runneth a very good and holsome streame of fresh water.

There is also right over against the saide Church a faire causey made up with stones reaching unto a valley by the seaside, in which valley is planted a garden, wherein grow great store of pompions and melons: And upon the saide causey is a frame erected whereon hange two bells wherewith they ring to Masse; and hard unto it is a Crosse set up, which is squared, framed and made very artificially of free stone, whereon is carved in cyphers what time it was builded, which was in the yeere of our Lord 1571.

This valley is the fairest and largest lowe plot in all the yland, and it is marveilous sweete and pleasant, and planted in every place either with fruite trees, or with herbes. There are fig trees, which beare fruit continually, & marveilous plentifully: for on every tree you shal have blossoms, greene figs, and ripe figs, all at ones: and it is so all the yere long: the reason is that the yland standeth so neere the Sunne. There be also great store of lymon trees, orange trees, pomegranate trees, pomecitron trees, date trees, which beare fruite as the fig trees do, and are planted carefully and very artificially with very pleasant walkes under and betweene them, and the saide walkes bee overshadowed with the leaves of the trees: and in every voyde place is planted parceley, sorell, basill, fenell, annis seede, mustard seede, radishes, and many speciall good hearbes: and the fresh water brooke runneth through divers places of this orchard, and may with very small paines be made to water any one tree in the valley.

This fresh water streame commeth from the tops of the mountaines, and falleth from the cliffe into the valley the height of a cable, and hath many armes out of it, which refresh the whole yland, and almost every tree in it. The yland is altogether high mountaines and steepe valleis, except it be in the tops of some hilles, and downe below in some of the valleis, where marveilous store of all these kinds of fruits before spoken of do grow: there is greater store growing in the tops of the mountaines then below in the valleis: but it is wonderfull laboursome and also dangerous traveiling up unto them and downe againe, by reason of the height and steepnesse of the hilles.

There is also upon this yland great store of partridges, which are very tame, not making any great hast to flie away though one come very neere them, but onely to runne away, and get up into the steepe cliffes: we killed some of them with a fowling piece. They differ very much form our partridges which are in England both in bignesse and also in colour. For they be within a little as bigge as an henne, and are of an ashe colour, and live in covies twelve, sixteen, and twentie together: you cannot go ten or twelve score but you shall see or spring one or two covies at the least.

There are likewise no lesse store of fesants in the yland, which are also marveilous bigge and fat, surpassing those which are in our countrey in bignesse and in numbers of a company. They differ not very much in colour from the partridges before spoken of.

Wee found moreover in this place great store of Guinie cocks, which we call Turkies, of colour blacke and white, with red heads: they are much about the same bignesse which ours be of in England: their egges be white, and as bigge as a Turkies egge.

There are in this yland thousands of goates, which the Spaniards call Cabritos, which are very wilde: you shall see one or two hundred of them together, and sometimes you may beholde them going in a flocke almost a mile long. Some of them, (whether it be the nature of the breed of them, or of the country I wot not), are as big as an asse, with a maine like an horse and a beard hanging downe to the very ground: they will clime up the cliffes which are so steepe that a man would thinke it a thing unpossible for any living thing to goe there. We tooke and killed many of them for all their swiftness: for there be thousands of them upon the mountaines.

Here are in like manner great store of swine which be very wilde and very fat, and of a marveilous bignesse: they keepe altogether upon the mountaines, and will very seldome abide any man to come neere them, except it be by meere chance when they be found asleepe, or otherwise, according to their kinde, be taken layed in the mire.

We found in the houses at our comming 3. slaves which were Negroes, & one which was borne in the yland of Java, which tolde us that the East Indian fleete, which were in number 5. sailes, the least whereof were in burthen 8. or 900. tunnes, all laden with spices and Calicut cloth, with store of treasure and very rich stones and pearles, were gone from the saide yland of S. Helena but 20 dayes before we came thither.

This yland hath bene found of long time by the Portugals, and hath bene altogether planted by them, for their refreshing as they come from the East Indies. And when they come they have all things plentiful for their reliefe, by reason that they suffer none to inhabit there that might spend up the fruit of the yland, except some very few sicke persons in their company, which they stand in doubt will not live untill they come home, whom they leave there to refresh themselves, and take away the yeere following the other Fleete if they live so long. They touch here rather in their comming home from the East Indies, then at their going thither, because they are thoroughly furnished with corne when they set out of Portugal, but are but meanely victualled at their comming from the Indies, where there groweth little corne.

The 20. day of June having taken in wood & water and refreshed our selves with such things as we found there, and made cleane our ship, we set saile about 8. of the clocke in the night toward England. At our setting saile wee had the winde at Southeast, and we haled away Northwest and by West. The winde is commonly off the shore at this yland of S. Helena.

He also referred to St Helena rather unflatteringly in ‘Principal Navigations, 1598-1600’ thus:

The island of St Helena, where the Portugals used to relieve themselves.

He stayed for twelve days, departing on 20th June. Cavendish House, at Prince Andrew School, is named after him.

Incidentally, by being here in June, he missed involvement in the defeat of the Spanish Armada, which arrived off England in July 1588 and was defeated by Sir Francis Drake and the Winds of God but without the help of Sir Thomas Cavendish!

17th Century

Below: 1603: Sir James Lancaster1658: Johan Nieuhof1677: Edmond Halley1691: Captain Dampier

1603: Sir James Lancaster

On 16th June 1603 Sir James Lancaster visited St Helena in the ships Dragon and Hector, on his return from his first voyage equipped by The East India Company. The visit is important mostly because it was the first visit by The East India Company. As a result, ships of The East India Company started routinely calling at St Helena on their route northwards from The Cape.

Sir James wrote of his visit thus:

The sixteenth in the morning wee had sight of the Iland of Saint Helena: at the sight whereof, there was no small rejoycing among us. Wee bare close along by Shoare, the better to get the best of the Road, in the Harbour, where wee came to an anchor, right against a small Chapel, which the Portugals had built there, long since. Our ships rode in twelve fathom water, which is the best of the Harbor. At our going a shoare, wee found by many writings, that the Carracks of Portugall had departed from thence, but eight dayes before our comming. In this Iland, there is very good refreshing of water, and wild Goats, but they are hard to come by, unlesse good direction be given for the getting of them. And this course our Generall tooke, he appointed foure lusty men, and of the best shot he had, to goe into the Iland, and make their abode in the middest of it, and to every shot, he appointed foure men to attend him, to carrie the Goats that hee killed, to the Rendevous: thither went (every day) twentie men, to fetch home to the ships, what was killed. So there was no hoyting or rumour in the Iland to feare the Goats withall. And by this means, the ships were plentifully relieved, and every man contented. While wee stayed here, wee fitted our shipping, and searched our Rother, which wee hoped, would last us home. All our sicke men revovered their health, through theshore of Goats and Hogs, wherewith wee had refreshed our selves, having great need of good refreshing: For, in three moneths, wee had seene no land, but were continually beated in the sea. The fift day of July, wee set saile from this Iland.

It is also said that Lancaster found an Englishman, from Suffolk, named John Segar, who had been left here for misconduct by some other ship. The story goes that the poor fellow was so filled with joy at the sight of his countrymen, and at hearing the sound of his native tongue, that he lost his senses, and eventually died.

1658: Johan Nieuhof

Johan Nieuhof, 22nd July 1618 - 8th October 1672, was a Dutch traveller who wrote about his journeys to Brazil, China and India.

Johan Nieuhof

Nieuhoff’s description of his visit to St Helena in 1658 reads as follows:

On the last day of March 1658 the fleet arrived safely without any remarkable accident at the Isle of St Helens[sic]. The Isle of St Helens is situate under 16 deg. 15 min of Southern Latitude at a great distance from the Continent. It is very surprising to conceive so small an island at so vast a distance at sea, round about which there is scare any Anchorage, by reason of the vast depth of the Seas. It is about 7 leagues in Circumference, covered all over with rocky Hills, which in a clear day may be seen 14 leagues at sea. It has many fine Valleys, among which the Church-Valley and the Apple-Valley are the most remarkable. In the Church-Valley, you see to this day the ruins of a Chapel, formerly belonging to the Portugueses; the whole Valleys are plante with lemons, oranges and Pomegranate trees. At that time the island was destitute of Inhabitants, but since the English have made a settlement here.
After the Portugueses had left it, a certain hermit, under the pretence of devotion, used to kill great numbers of wild goats here, and sell their skins, which the Portugueses having got notice of it, they removed him from thence. At another time certain Negroes with two Female Slaves were got into the Mountains, where they increased to the number 20, till they at last were likewise forc’d from thence. The Valleys are excessive hot, but on the hill it is cool enough; Tho’ the heat is much tempered by the Winds and frequent Rain showers which fall sometimes several times in a day; which, with the heat of the Sun-beams, renders the soil very fruitful.
After we had sufficiently refreshed ourselves here, and provided what necessaries we thought fit, or could get, we left this island the last day of May.

1677: Edmond Halley

Edmond Halley{12}, 8th November 1656 - 14th January 1742, was an English astronomer, geophysicist, mathematician, meteorologist, and physicist who is best known for computing the orbit of the eponymous Halley’s Comet. He was the second Astronomer Royal in Britain, succeeding John Flamsteed.

Halley’s observations
Halley’s observations
Commemmorative stamp featuring Halley’s visit

Edmond Halley
Halley’s Observatory site
Halley’s Observatory site
Commemorative coin
Commemorative coin

He visited St Helena, arriving in February 1677{30} at the age of twenty, and stayed until March 1678. St Helena was chosen for being the southern-most territory under British rule at the time. Here he set up an observatory with a great sextant specially constructed of 5½ foot radius fitted with telescopes in place of sights, his own 2 foot quadrant and several telescopes of different focal lengths up to 7.3m.

Halley had been told to expect clear skies on St Helena. Sadly he was disappointed. Writing to one of his patrons, Sir J. Moore, on 22nd November 1677 Halley complained:

But such hath been my ill fortune, that the Horizon of this Island is almost always covered with a Cloud, which sometimes for some weeks together hath hid the Stars from us, and when it is clear, is of so small continuance, that we cannot take any number of Observations at once; so that now, when I expected to be returning, I have not finished above half my intended work; and almost despair to accomplish what you ought to expect from me.

His observation site is near St. Matthew’s Church in the Longwood district. The 680m high hill there is named for him; Halley’s Mount. Originally a stone building, the observatory was re-discovered some 300 years later in December 1968, though only the footings of the buildings remained, as they do today. A plaque placed at the site on 7th September 1977 reads:

1677 - 1678

It is claimed that Governor Field was less than helpful, providing no assistance to Halley in transporting all his equipment from The Wharf to the site chosen for the observatory. This involved using the predecessor to our current Side Path, a mere track created by the Portuguese in the 1500s.

Halley observed the positions of 341 stars in the Southern hemisphere, publishing his results in Catalogus Stellarum Australium. In addition he made two other important observations:

Halley visited again in 1700, on his return from exploring the Antarctic.

Isaac Newton used pendulum measurements taken here by Halley when formulating his theories explaining the Equatorial Bulge.

Read about present day astronomy on our page Astronomy. For more about Halley and his many discoveries you could download and read the article ‘St Helena, Edmond Halley, the discovery of Stellar Proper Motion, and the mystery of Aldebaran{p}{9}.

Incidentally, Halley may have been a renowned astronomer, but his understanding of our own planet was less than perfect. He apparently supported the theory that the Earth was actually hollow, with the possibility of life forms living in a huge cavern under the surface, the basis of the 1864 novel ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ by Jules Verne

1691: Captain Dampier

William Dampier (1651-1715) was an English explorer and navigator who aboard Roebuck became the first Englishman to explore parts of what is today Australia, and the first person to circumnavigate the world three times.

Captain William Dampier

He visited St Helena during the return leg of his first circumnavigation, arriving on 20th June 1691 and staying 6 days, but all was not well with his expedition; Roebuck was dangerously short of supplies. From the Records:

It was fortunate that The East India Company decided to disregard its resolutions against all trade with interlopers, though how much was for humanitarian reasons and how much to prevent a riot is not clear.

Of his visit, Dampier himself reported:

The common landing-place is a small bay, like a half-moon, scarce five hundred paces wide between the two points. Close by the sea side are good guns, planted at equal distance, lying along from one end of the bay to the other, besides a small fort a little further in from the sea, near the midst of the bay. All which makes the bay so strong, that it is impossible to force it. The small cove, where Captain Munden landed his men when he took the island from the Dutch, is scarce fit for a boat to land, and yet that is now fortified.

There is a small English town within the great bay, standing in a little valley between two high steep mountains. There may be about twenty or thirty small houses, whose walls are built with rough stones; the inside furniture very mean. The Governor has a pretty tolerable handsome low house by the fort. But the houses in the town before mentioned stand empty, save only when ships arrive here for their owners have all plantations farther in the island, where they constantly employ themselves. But when ships arrive, they all flock to the town, where they live all the time that the ships be here for then is their fair, or market, to buy such necessaries as they want, and to sell off the produce of their plantations.

Their plantations afford potatoes, yams, and some plantains and bananoes. Their stock consists chiefly of hogs, bullocks, cocks and hens, ducks, geese, and turkeys, of which they have great plenty, and sell them at a low rate to the sailors, taking in exchange shirts, drawers, or any light clothes, pieces of calico, silk, or muslin; arrack, sugar, and lime-juice, is also much esteemed, and coveted by them. But now they are in hopes to produce wine and brandy in short time, for they do already begin to plant vines for that end, there being a few Frenchmen that are to manage that affair. This I was told, but I saw nothing of it, for it rained so hard when I was ashore, that I had not the opportunity of seeing their plantations.

Had we all come directly hither, and not touched at the Cape, even the poorest people among them would have gotten something by entertaining sick men. For commonly the seamen coming home are troubled, more or less, with scorbutick distempers{14}, and their only hopes are to get refreshment and health at this island, and these hopes seldom or never fail them, if once they get footing here. For the island affords abundance of delicate herbs, wherewith the sick are first bathed, to supple their joints, and then the fruits, and herbs, and fresh food, soon after cure them of their scorbutick humour. So that in week’s time, men that have been carried ashore in hammocks, and they who were wholly unable to go, have soon been able to leap and dance. Doubtless the serenity and wholesomeness of the air contributes much to the carrying off these distempers; for here is constantly a fresh breeze.

While we stayed here, many of the seamen got sweethearts. One young man, belonging to the James & Mary, was married, and brought his wife to England with him; another brought his sweetheart to England, they being both engaged by bonds to marry at their arrival in England; and several other of our men were over head and ears in love with the Santa Helena maids; who, though they were born there, yet very earnestly desired to be released from that prison, which they have no other way to compass but by marrying seamen or passengers that touch here. The young women born here are but one remove from English, being the daughters of such. They are well-shaped, proper, and comely, were they in a dress to set them off.

You can read a fuller account from Dampier’s 1697 book ‘A new voyage round the world…’.

He departed on 2nd July towards England, accompanied in Roebuck by the Princess Ann, the James & Mary and the Josiah.

It is likely he visited again on the return leg of his second expedition, also aboard Roebuck, but it isn’t recorded. He did stop at Ascension Island where on 21st February 1701 the Roebuck, suffering from two years at sea, sank, marooning him and his crew for five weeks until a passing ship of The East India Company discovered them and took them home.

The Dampier Seamount, about 800Km N.E. of St Helena, is named after him. Captain Dampier’s route is depicted on the ‘Voyage to New Holland{15} map which also illustrates the route taken by early sailing ships to allow for the trade winds in the South Atlantic.

18th Century

Below: 1761: Nevil Maskelyne1771: Captain James Cook1776: Horatio Nelson1784: Fletcher Christian1792: Captain William Bligh

1761: Nevil Maskelyne

Nevil Maskelyne, 6th October 1732 - 9th February 1811, was the fifth English Astronomer Royal, holding the office from 1765 to 1811.

Nevil Maskelyne

Assisted by Mr Robert Waddington and travelling on the ship Prince Henry, he set up an observatory here in 1761, at the commission of the Royal Society, to observe the Transit of Venus, following a suggestion first made by Edmond Halley. The Directors of The East India Company in London wrote to The Governor of St Helena:

His Majesty having been graciously pleased to encourage the making observations on the transit of the planet Venus over the Sun’s disk on the 6th June next and proper persons being engaged by the Royal Society for the purpose two of them, Mr. Charles Mason and Mr. Jeremiah Dixon proceed to Fort Marlborough on H. M. Ship Seahorse and the other two Revd. Mr. Nevil Maskelyne and Mr. Robert Waddington take passage on the Prince Henry to St Helena. As this is done to make some improvements in Astronomy which will be of general utility the two last named gentlemen are upon their arrival and during their stay to be accommodated by you in a suitable manner with diet and apartments at the Company’s expense and you are to give them all the assistance as to materials, workmen, and whatsoever else the service they are employed upon may require.

Maskelyne Observatory Plaque

However, bad weather prevented any useful observations. Instead Maskelyne used his journey to develop a method of determining longitude using the position of the moon, which became known as the lunar distance method. In addition he also wrote his observations of the tides at St Helena and later on various other astronomical phenomena observed here during his visit. A plaque (right) was placed at the site of his observations on 7th September 1977.

Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon also visited St Helena in October 1761, returning from observing the Transit in South Africa.

Read about present day astronomy on our page Astronomy.

It appears Maskelyne, despite being a priest of the Church of England, might have been something of a bon viveur. An itemised account of his expenditure shows that his expenses for one year’s board on St Helena were about £110 plus a drinks bill of £91 (not including drink on board ship of £50).

1771: Captain James Cook

Captain James Cook, 7th November 1728 - 14th February 1779, was a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy.

Captain James Cook
On a postage stamp

He visited the island twice, in 1771 and in 1775. His first visit caused quite a furore, even though he didn’t actually set foot on the island…

James Cook’s first voyage (1768-1771) was an expedition to the South Pacific aboard HMS Endeavour. Returning home to England, HMS Endeavour stopped at St Helena from the 1st to 4th May 1771. As far as anybody knows Cook did not disembark, but the Admiralty later commissioned John Hawkesworth to write an account of the voyage. Basing his account on the ship’s logs and other documents Hawkesworth attributed the following observation to Cook:

All kinds of Labour is here performed by Man, indeed he is the only animal that works except a few Saddle Horses nor has he the least assistance of art to enable him to perform his task. Supposing the Roads to be too steep and narrow for Carts, an objection which lies against only one part of the Island, yet the simple contrivance of Wheelbarrows would Doubtless be far preferable to carrying burdens upon the head, and yet even that expedient was never tried. Their slaves indeed are very numerous: they have them from most parts of the World, but they appeared to me a miserable race worn out almost with the severity of the punishments of which they frequently complained. I am sorry to say that it appeared to me that far more frequent and more wanton Cruelty were exercised by my countrey men over these unfortunate people than even their neighbours the Dutch, fam’d for inhumanity, are guilty of. One rule however they strictly observe which is never to Punish when ships are there.

Unsurprisingly the landowners of St Helena took exception to this description of their island, particularly because it seemed to have been made by such an eminent person. So on disembarking at Jamestown during his second visit, in 1775, Cook soon found that the inhabitants of St Helena were not altogether happy with him. When they explained the reasons for their ire Cook was mortified.

Teased by Mrs. Skottowe, the Governor’s wife, Cook had no answer except to blame the absent philosophers who had written the words in his name but had not consulted him. Fortunately his explanation was accepted, and after his visit he described himself agreeably surprised with the prospect of a Country finely diversified with hill and valley, Wood and Lawn and all laid out in enclosures. He later wrote In the account given of St Helena, in the narrative of my former voyage, I find some mistakes. Its inhabitants are far from exercising a wanton cruelty over their slaves; and they have had wheel carriages and porters’ knots for many years. This note I insert with pleasure.

However one of Cook’s travelling companions later noted that there are many wheelbarrows and several carts on the island, some of which seemed to be studiously placed before Captain Cook’s lodgings every day.

During his second visit he wrote (somewhat more diplomatically):

As to the genius and temper of these people, they seemed the most honest, the most inoffensive and the most hospitable people we have ever met with of English extraction.

1776: Horatio Nelson

Young Nelson

{s}Friday 5th July 1776 was an important day in the colony of America, but on St Helena it was just a normal day. At around 5pm the standard alarm - six cannon shots - was fired to warn of an approaching ship. The latter promptly identified herself as the Royal Naval frigate HMS Dolphin under Captain James Piggott, en-route from Bombay to England. She stated she was calling in for water and some stores.

Permission was granted for the ship to anchor and it did so. The ship remained in St Helena until Sunday when, at 6pm HMS Dolphin weighed anchor and made sail.

The visit of HMS Dolphin would have been completely unremarkable, except for one thing. One of the men on board was a young midshipman, not yet 18, returning to England for health reasons. His name: Horatio Nelson.

It is not clear whether the young Nelson actually set foot on St Helena, but we like to think he did, and thus England’s saviour 29 years later at the Battle of Trafalgar qualifies to be one of our Famous Visitors.

1784: Fletcher Christian

Fletcher Christian

Fletcher Christian closeup sketch

Fletcher Christian, 25th September 1764 - 20th September 1793, of Mutiny on The Bounty fame which occurred on 28th April 1789, visited St Helena sometime in 1784, aboard HMS Eurydice returning from India. We are trying to find out about his visit. If you can help please contact us.

By a strange coincidence, Captain Bligh (his opponent in the Mutiny on The Bounty) also visited St Helena in 1792.

1792: Captain William Bligh

Captain William Bligh, 9th September 1754 - 7th December 1817, was an officer of the British Royal Navy and a colonial administrator. He is most famous for the Mutiny on The Bounty which occurred on 28th April 1789 during his command of HMS Bounty.

Captain Bligh

From 1791 - 1793 he was Captain of the HMS Providence and arrived at St Helena in December 1792 during his second attempt to ship a cargo of breadfruit trees to Jamaica.

I landed at 1 o’clock when I was saluted with 13 guns, and the Governor received me. In my interview with him I informed him of my orders to give into his care 10 breadfruit plants, and one of every kind (of which I had five), as would secure to the island a lasting supply of this valuable fruit which our most gracious King had ordered to be planted there. Colonel Broke[sic] expressed great gratitude, and the principal plants were taken to a valley near his residence called Plantation House, and the rest to James Valley.Few places look more unhealthy when sailing along its burnt-up cliffs huge masses of rock fit only to resist the sea, yet few places are more healthy. The inhabitants are not like other Europeans who live in the Torrid Zone, but have good constitutions the women being fair and pretty. James Town, the capital, lies in a deep and narrow valley, and it is little more than one long street of houses; these are built after our English fashion, most of them having thatched roofs. Lodgings are scarce, so I was fortunate in finding rooms with Captain Statham in a well-regulated house at the common rate of twelve shillings a day. The Otaheitans were delighted with what they saw here, as Colonel Brooke showed them kind attention, had them to stay at his house, and gave them each a suit of red clothes.

The Records tell us that the breadfruit plans left by Bligh all died because of a lack of attention. Curiously, though, a plant does grow wild on St Helena which is known locally as ‘Breadfruit’, though it is actually the Fruit Salad Plant monstera deliciosa, sometimes known as the ‘Swiss Cheese Plant’, and is not related in any way to the plants Bligh introduced.

Bligh visited again in 1799, arriving with orders to escort a Merchant Fleet of The East India Company back to Britain.

By a strange coincidence, Fletcher Christian (his opponent in the Mutiny on The Bounty) also visited St Helena in 1784.

19th Century

Below: 1805: The Duke of Wellington1816: ‘Raffles’1817: William Thackeray1836: Charles Darwin1838: Prince William Henry Frederick of Holland1840: Prince de Joinville1852: SS Great Britain1860: HRH Prince Alfred1880: Empress Eugénie1880: Prince Albert William Heinrich of Prussia1898: Joshua Slocum

1805: The Duke of Wellington

Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, 1st May 1769 - 14th September 1852, was a British soldier and statesman and one of the leading military and political figures of the 19th century.

The Duke of Wellington

Briars Pavilion Plaque

In 1805 he visited St Helena on his voyage home from a distinguished military career in India, arriving on 20th June and departing on 9th July. Curiously he stayed in Briars Pavilion, the same building to which Napoleon would later be exiled after Wellington defeated him at the Battle of Waterloo (Napoleon was subsequently moved to Longwood House, where he remained until his death).

Wellington’s life spared on St Helena?

The following appeared as a Letter to the Editor in one of our local newspapers on 19th June 2015{9}:

Dear Editor,

There has been a lot of publicity recently about the importance of the Battle of Waterloo. It was not great armies that won the battle. It was an ordinary sailor in a battle with the sea at St Helena.

The uninhabited island of St Helena was settled on the 5th May 1659 by the British as a British Island. It was key as a strategic place to safeguard The East India Company’s sailing ships trading with the Far East, laying the foundations for Britain to become a great trading nation. A number of famous people came here, visitors as well as prisoners.

One of the people who stopped at St Helena was the Duke of Wellington (Sir Arthur Wellesley at the time) in 1805, ten years before Napoleon arrived as a prisoner. Wellington was on his way back to England from India. The boat taking Wellington from the ship to the landing steps capsized in the rough seas, the island ‘rollers’. Three people were drowned. Wellington couldn’t swim and would have drowned too if he hadn’t been rescued by a sailor. It was an ordinary sailor at St Helena who saved Wellington to be at the Battle of Waterloo.

It was not great armies that won the battle on a fateful day it was a pebble of the people that turned the tide of history

Yours faithfully
Basil George

Maybe this gives a subtext to the following quote:

I know St Helena very well.{u}

Did the Duke of Wellington stay at Wellington House?

It’s a popular belief that Wellington House is so-named because Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington stayed there during his visit in 1805. But actually he didn’t. In Jamestown he stayed at (Old) Porteous House, just across the road from Wellington House, which was destroyed by fire on 2nd April 1865 and recently re-built. He also stayed at The Briars. Wellington House is named in his honour - that’s all{16}.

1816: ‘Raffles’


Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles (1781-1826) was employed by The East India Company in 1795, and had a long and interesting career including founding Singapore while he was the Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen, the former British territory in what is now Indonesia.

In 1816 he was serving as Lieutenant-Governor of Java, and was recalled to London to report on some local issues, sailing from Batavia on 25th March and stopping at St Helena on 18th May. During his stay he visited Napoleon, but did not form a good impression of the defeated former-Emperor, writing:

I saw in him a man determined and vindictive, without one spark of soul, but possessing a capacity and talent calculated to enslave mankind. I saw in him all this capacity, all this talent, was devoted to himself and his own supremacy. I saw that he looked down on all mankind as his inferiors, and that he possessed not the smallest particle of philosophy. I looked upon him as a wild animal caught, but not tamed. He is, in short, all head and no heart - a man who may by his ability command respect, but by his conduct can never ensure the affection of anyone.

1817: William Thackeray

William Thackeray was a famous 19th Century novelist, best known for writing the novel Vanity Fair.

William Thackeray

He visited St Helena but, like Nelson, a long time before he was famous. He was aged six at the time.

Thackeray was born in India. in 1817 his mother sent him back to England, while she remained behind in Calcutta, so he was accompanied on the voyage by a servant. His ship called en-route at St Helena and Thackeray had the opportunity to go ashore. While on land he saw, but did not actually meet Napoleon and the story goes that Thackeray’s servant told him the former Emperor ate three sheep a day and all the children he could get his hands on. Whether this ‘information’ had any impact on the young Thackeray and his later career is not known.

1836: Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin, 12th February 1809 - 19th April 1882, was an English naturalist and geologist, best known for his contributions to evolutionary theory and for his publication On the Origin of Species in 1859.

Charles Darwin

St Helena, situated so remote from any continent, in the midst of a great ocean, and possessing a unique Flora, excites our curiosity.

He spent six days of observation on St Helena in 1836 from 8th to 14th July, during his return journey on the first voyage of the HMS Beagle, staying in what is now the vicarage for St. Matthew’s Church and writing:

Darwin sketch
Sketch in Darwin’s notebook{17}

The Beagle staid at St Helena five days, during which time I lived in the clouds in the centre of the Island. It is a curious little world within itself; the forbidding aspect of which has been so often described, rises abruptly like a huge black castle from the ocean. Near the town, as if to complete nature’s defence, small forts and guns fill up every gap in the rugged rocks. The town runs up a flat and narrow valley; the houses look respectable, and are interspersed with a very few green trees. When approaching the anchorage there was one striking view: an irregular castle perched on the summit of a lofty bill, and surrounded by a few scattered fir-trees, boldly projected against the sky.

The next day I obtained lodgings within a stone’s throw of Napoleon’s Tomb: it was a capital central situation, whence I could make excursions in every direction. During the four days I stayed here, I wandered over the island from morning to night, and examined its geological history. My lodgings were situated at a height of about 2,000 feet; here the weather was cold and boisterous, with constant showers of rain; and every now and then the whole scene was veiled in thick clouds.

At this season, the land moistened by constant showers, produces a singularly bright green pasture, which lower and lower down, gradually fades away and at last disappears. In latitude 16°, and at the trifling elevation of 1,500 feet, it is surprising to behold a vegetation possessing a character decidedly British. When we consider that the number of plants now found on the island is 746, and that out of these fifty-two alone are indigenous species, the rest having been imported, and most of them from England, we see the reason of the British character of the vegetation. Many of these English plants appear to flourish better than in their native country; some also from the opposite quarter of Australia succeed remarkably well. The many imported species must have destroyed some of the native kinds; and it is only on the highest and steepest ridges, that the indigenous Flora is now predominant.

The English, or rather Welsh character of the scenery, is kept up by the numerous cottages and small white houses; some buried at the bottom of the deepest valleys, and others mounted on the crests of the lofty hills. On viewing the island from an eminence, the first circumstance which strikes one, is the number of the roads and forts: the labour bestowed on the public works, if one forgets its character as a prison, seems out of all proportion to its extent or value. There is so little level or useful land, that it seems surprising how so many people, about 5,000, can subsist here.

Although he extensively studied our natural environment there is no record of him having seen the Wirebird, and in fact he believed all the birds have been introduced within late years.

I so much enjoyed my rambles among the rocks and mountains of St Helena, that I felt almost sorry on the morning of the 14th to descend to the town.

Darwin was the first to propose the volcanic origins of St Helena.

The complete works of Charles Darwin can be read online at: darwin-online.org.uk.

Did Darwin discover Windshear on St Helena?

According to the UK Public Accounts Committee{v} Windshear’, a well-known concept in airport construction, produces dangerous conditions on the airport approach and had been observed on St Helena by Charles Darwin in 1836.

Is this true?

Well, of course, Darwin would not have used the term ‘Windshear’, this being a term coined when aviation began, nearly 100 years after Darwin’s visit here. So what did he say about our wind?

His book ‘Geological Observations on the Volcanic Islands’ (Smith, Elder & Co., London, 1844) discusses St Helena in Chapter IV. In this he does refer to that side of the island exposed to the violent north-western winds (note: his convention was to describe where the wind blew to; nowadays we refer to where the wind blows from). But that is the only reference we can find. Naturally he did not comment on any specific difficulties that might be encountered landing Aircraft here!

Our conclusion is that the UK Public Accounts Committee’s description of Darwin’s findings is rather fanciful. Windshear was a phenomenon known to Saints, and they even tried to tell the Airport designers that it might be a problem at the early stages of planning, but of course the airport was being designed by ‘experts’, so the Saints’ comments were ignored…

Darwin Day

12th February is Darwin Day, though as far as we know there have never been any celebrations on St Helena. Maybe it’s because he failed to spot our Wirebird, arguably our most important and certainly our best-known endemic species.

1838: Prince William Henry Frederick of Holland

Early in 1838 a grandson of King William IV, Prince William Henry Frederick of Holland, visited the island. One of his claims to fame (apart, of course, from being royalty) was that he was Wellington’s staff officer during the Spanish campaigns against Napoleon, and also served at the Battle of Waterloo. The ‘Prince of Orange’, as he was known, stayed at Plantation House and one of the rooms was named after him, but has since been renamed and no records exist to show which room it was. Nothing else is recorded about his visit.

1840: Prince de Joinville

The French Prince de Joinville, 14th August 1818 - 16th June 1900, was an admiral of the French Navy.

He arrived here in 1840 to collect the body of Napoleon I and return it to France. The remains were transported aboard the frigate La Belle-Poule, which had been painted black for the occasion.

1852: SS Great Britain

Above we extended the definition of a ‘famous visitor’ to include a Rhinoceros and here we extend it further to mention a famous ship.

The SS Great Britain, one of the world’s first steam-propelled ships, called here in September 1852, but she didn’t intend to. Indeed initially she steamed past, but then changed her mind…

The SS Great Britain


Great Western Steamship Company


Isambard Kingdom Brunel


William Patterson


19th July 1843



Maiden voyage:

26th July 1845

In service:



Bristol, England


3,674tons load draught




50ft 6in




Single screw propeller


11 knots

SS Great Britain

Fresh from a major refit, on 21st August 1852 the SS Great Britain set out from Liverpool bound, ultimately, for Australia via the Cape, the first time she had travelled the route. She was scheduled to travel non-stop to Cape Town, arriving on 17th September. Unfortunately, the voyage did not go as planned. In the South Atlantic the ship ran into heavy headwinds, slowing her progress. This in turn caused another problem - she was running out of coal.

There was much dispute at the time as to why the coal was short, with some claiming the owners, Gibbs, Bright & Co., had reduced the amount of coal loaded to make room for more paid-for cargo, but whatever the cause, on 18th September Captain Matthews faced a critical decision: the ship was still 723 miles away from Cape Town with no indication that the headwinds would drop and based on recent consumption he did not have enough coal to complete the journey. His route was on the direct straight-line to the Cape so he did not have the option to continue by sail{18}, and there were no coaling stations on that part of the African coast. St Helena was 1,036 miles to the Northwest; further than the Cape but, given that he would be running with the wind not against it, retracing his route seemed to be his only option. He was, at least, certain to be able to pick up coal on St Helena.

So he called a meeting of the passengers and announced his intention to go back to St Helena. Understandably there was outrage at the delay, but this held no sway. The SS Great Britain turned to head Northwest and arrived at St Helena on 21st September.

Strangely it seems it took more than a week to refill the ship with coal (we cannot ascertain why). During their stay on the island many of the passengers took advantage of the island’s Newspapers to send ‘we are well’ messages to friends and family at home. Others used the island press to vent their frustrations at what they saw as the total misconduct of their voyage so far, claiming inedible food, ‘unhealthy’ toilets and absent service, to the extent that Captain Matthews felt duty bound to respond:

Captain B.R. Matthews presents his compliments to the Editor of the Advocate, and begs to inform him that he has neither time nor inclination to reply to the various absurd statements made by some of his passengers respecting his ship and owners.

He regrets the press should, by publishing statements made by so many inexperienced men, fan inevitable grievances and annoy those who best know how to conduct themselves for the general happiness of all.

Steam-ship Great Britain
St Helena, 28th September 1852{w}{19}

Coal replenished, the SS Great Britain set out from St Helena on 29th September to continue her journey to Australia - uneventfully as far as we can tell. She made the journey on a regular basis thereafter until 1882 and we have no other reports of unscheduled stops at St Helena so we assume that on future voyages her owners learned their lesson and stocked up with extra coal.

According to the book ‘The Voyages of the Great Britain’ (2003), the SS Great Britain took the opportunity during its visit to recruit crew, taking onboard ten Saints as stewards.

Some other famous ships have called but they were either Cruise ships (e.g. the Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen Mary II) or were carrying famous visitors mentioned elsewhere on this page.

1860: HRH Prince Alfred

Prince Alfred

HRH Alfred, later Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, 6th August 1844 - 30th July 1900, was the second son and fourth child of Queen Victoria.

He arrived here in September 1860 at the age of 16 while serving as a naval officer aboard HMS Euryalus, en route home from The Cape and Tristan da Cunha. A contemporary report of his visit reads as follows:

He was then an officer serving in the Royal Navy, on board HMS Euryalus. His visit of course threw the island into a fever of excitement. Triumphal arches, etc., lined The Wharf and streets, and, all preparations completed, they awaited the Prince; but the ship not arriving the day expected, the vexation of the people was great. However, after three days’ suspense the Prince landed, and the people of St Helena were able to render a hearty welcome, and to give vent to their excitement. The Prince honoured the Governor by dining at Plantation. He attended a ball at The Castle, and sailed again on the evening of the same day he arrived.

1880: Empress Eugénie

At Napoleon’s Tomb
At Napoleon’s Tomb

Doña María Eugenia Ignacia Augustina de Palafox-Portocarrero de Guzmán y Kirkpatrick, 5th May 1826 - 11th July 1920 was the last Empress consort of the French from 1853 to 1871 as the wife of Napoleon III, Emperor of the French. She called here on 12th{20} July 1880 on her way from her visit to the grave of her son in South Africa. She was entertained by the Governor at The Castle, but no festivities marked her call, out of respect to her deep mourning. She visited the tomb and Longwood.

1880: Prince Albert William Heinrich of Prussia

Prince Albert William Heinrich of Prussia, grandson of Queen Victoria, visited on 15th August 1880. Nothing is recorded about the visit.

1898: Joshua Slocum

Joshua Slocum

Plaque in Castle Gardens
Plaque in Castle Gardens{21}

Joshua Slocum, 20th February 1844 - 14th November 1909, was a Canadian born naturalised American who became the first man to sail single-handedly around the world. In his self-built 37-foot yawl Spray he set sail on 24th April 1895 from Boston, Massachusetts heading south. He stopped at St Helena during his return journey, arriving on 14th April 1898. He spent two nights in Plantation House, staying in the West Room which was supposed to be haunted, though there is no record of his sleep being disturbed. On April 20th he sailed for Ascension Island in the company of a goat smuggled on board. This goat devoured his straw hat and his map of the West Indies and damaged, among other implements, the Spray’s precious flying jib. Despite this, he arrived back in Boston on 27th June of that same year having covered a distance of more than 74,000km

20th Century

Below: 1900: Lord Roberts1910: Duke of Connaught1925: HRH Edward, Prince of Wales1929: E M Forster1930: Evelyn Waugh1936: Lord and Lady Baden-Powell1938: Princess Marie Louise1947: HRH King George VI1957: HRH The Duke of Edinburgh1984: HRH Prince Andrew

1900: Lord Roberts

Lord Roberts

Lord Roberts was Commander in Chief of the British forces fighting the Boers in South Africa, one of the 2 most senior officers in the war (the other was the more-famous Lord Kitchener). He travelled to St Helena aboard the transport ship Canada, arriving in James Bay at 13:30h on 16th December 1900. He was expected to arrive on 17th, so everything had been planned for the following day. His arrival a day early threw everything into some confusion, not the least because 16th was a Sunday and (in those days) not a day for holding celebrations. But that was not the only gremlin in the plans…

Lord Roberts himself never came ashore. His wife, two daughters and other members of his party (including General Kelly-Kenny) came ashore, and visited Napoleon’s Tomb and the (then) only Boer PoWs Camp at Deadwood Plain. Lord Roberts, however, remained aboard the Canada, where he was visited by Governor Sterndale.

The official reason given for Lord Roberts’ non-landing was an injury caused by falling from his horse, fracturing a small bone in his right arm and slightly injuring his knee. However some historians believe this may have been a diplomatic excuse and that he was concerned that Britain’s harsh policies in South Africa during the war might lead to trouble from any Boer PoWs he might happen to meet. According to his Wikipedia entry:

Strategies devised by Roberts, to force the Boers to submit, included concentration camps and the burning of farms. Conditions in the concentration camps, which had been conceived by Roberts as a form of control of the families whose farms he had destroyed, began to degenerate rapidly as the large influx of Boers outstripped the ability of the minuscule British force to cope. The camps lacked space, food, sanitation, medicine, and medical care, leading to rampant disease and a very high death rate for those Boers who entered. Eventually 26,370 women and children (81% were children) died in the concentration camps.

Either way the visit was brief; Canada left St Helena the same night.

1910: Duke of Connaught

The Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn visited on 24th October 1910 with the HRH The Duchess of Connaught and HRH Princess Patricia of Connaught on the HMS Balmoral Castle, on their way to South Africa to open the first Parliament of the Union of South Africa. The party landed at 10:30h and were met by Governor Gallwey. They visited The Castle, the hospital, the lace school and a flax mill.

The Duke also held the title ‘Chief Scout’ and it may be no coincidence that two years after his visit, in 1912, a scout troop was established on St Helena by Canon Walcott.

Photographs exist of the celebrations (below):

1925: HRH Edward, Prince of Wales

UK article

Edward, 23rd June 1894 - 28th May 1972, was Prince of Wales from 1910 until he became King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Empire, and Emperor of India, on 20th January 1936. He was King until his abdication on 11th December 1936.

He visited in 1925 on HMS Repulse (the largest ship to have visited St Helena to that date), arriving on 3rd August. You can read an article about St Helena published in the UK in advance of Edward’s visit (right). In a speech on his arrival in Jamestown he paid his respects to Napoleon’s memory thus:

I need not assure you of the deep interest with which I set foot on an Island whose name is so well known to all students of History, not only because it was here that were written the closing pages of a great and romantic life story - the story of the Emperor whose mortal remains now lie on the banks of the Seine, where many soldiers of France have found a resting place…

The speech also celebrated St Helena’s loyalty to the Empire, and acknowledged the importance of the flax industry on which much of your material prosperity depends. The full text is on display in The Castle.

His guided tour included The Castle, the Lace Works, various Flax Mills, Longwood House and Napoleon’s Tomb, where he planted a tree. He also attended a dance at Plantation House. His visit to Jonathan is best forgotten…

1929: E M Forster

{x}E M Forster

E M Forster, 1st January 1879 - 7th June 1970, was an English novelist, short story writer, essayist and librettist. Many of his novels examined class difference and hypocrisy, including A Room with a View (1908), Howards End (1910) and A Passage to India (1924).

He visited St Helena in 1929 on a cruise to South Africa organised by the British Association. He was not impressed with South Africa, intensely objecting to the racial discrimination against the black majority inhabitants, but he loved St Helena, describing it as an island of gentle birds and gentle people. He later wrote:

Views over crags of lava and the soft radiant sea, and birds of fairy-white called ‘love terns’ nest in the crevices. Have seldom seen such a touching island, all the volcanic sternness and the live things perched about in it, longing for kindness and company. Some day we will go and give it to them.

Unfortunately his dream did not come true - he never returned to St Helena.

1930: Evelyn Waugh

{y}Evelyn Waugh

Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh, 28th October 1903 - 10th April 1966, was an English writer of novels, biographies, and travel books.

We know he visited because in his book ‘Remote People’, 1931 he wrote:

We stopped at St Helena, where I should not the least object to being exiled…

Sadly we know no more - unless you can help.

1936: Lord and Lady Baden-Powell

Postage Stamp, Lord Baden-Powell

Lord and Lady Baden-Powell arrived at St, Helena on 11th May 1936, on the ship Llandovery Castle.

Their visit was marked with celebrations by the island’s scouts and guides.

Scouting was started on St Helena in 1915 by Canon L C Walcott. Guiding was started in 1921 by his wife Winifred. The photo (below), from a contemporary newspaper, shows Lord & Lady Baden-Powell with Canon Walcott & Winifred

1938: Princess Marie Louise

Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein

Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein, 12th August 1872 - 8th December 1956, was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

She visited in 1938. Apart from that we know nothing about her visit, but watch this space - we’ll put in details when we find them! (If you can help please contact us.)

1947: HRH King George VI

George VI, 14th December 1895 - 6th February 1952, was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 11th December 1936 until his death. He was the last Emperor of India and the first Head of the Commonwealth.

He became (at the time of writing) the only reigning monarch to visit the island, arriving on 29th April 1947 when the King, accompanied by HRH Queen Elizabeth, HRH Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) and HRH Princess Margaret were travelling from South Africa aboard HMS Vanguard.

Having looked round a dilapidated Longwood House almost destroyed by White Ants, the King signed the visitors’ book and expressed his concern at its perilous state and his hope that the French Government would take the necessary steps to restore the historic house. On his return to England the King called in the French Ambassador and again expressed his hope that the French Government would urgently begin restoration of the house. (The King got his wish, though not in his lifetime!)

Someday people will discover St Helena for the splendidly beautiful place it is.{z}

The visit was filmed by Pathé News - read the article below for some remarks on this film.

1957: HRH The Duke of Edinburgh

HRH Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, 10th June 1921 - 9th April 2021, was the husband of the late Queen Elizabeth II and father of King Charles III.

He arrived at St Helena on 22nd January 1957 while travelling around the world aboard the newly commissioned HMY Britannia, during which he opened the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne and visited the Antarctic. The welcome address was read by Homfray Solomon and the Duke was presented with gifts for HRH Queen Elizabeth II including a lace table set. He then visited the (new) General Hospital, Longwood House, Napoleon’s Tomb, a flax mill and watched a cricket game on Francis Plain. He also opened the new playground in lower Market Street (now known as the ‘Duke of Edinburgh Playground’). After dinner onboard with government officials and selected Saints, the Royal Yacht sailed at around 11pm, for Ascension Island.

The visit is recorded in the St Helena Wirebird{29} of February 1957 and you can see a film of the Antarctic/Atlantic parts of the tour here: ‘Southward with Prince Philip(extract, below{aa}{22}).

1984: HRH Prince Andrew

HRH the Prince Andrew, 19th February 1960 -, is the second son and third child of the late Queen Elizabeth II and brother of King Charles III.

He visited St Helena as a member of the armed forces, arriving on 5th April 1984, travelling aboard the HMS Herald. In addition to massive celebrations with marching and singing, a dance was held at the Paramount Cinema and Prince Andrew was treated to a performance of ‘Fibre’, a musical about life for flax workers, produced by children from the island’s schools{23}. After ‘novelty sports’ on Francis Plain he departed at 9pm the following day.

It was announced in advance that there would be no alcohol on sale during the event on Francis Plain, resulting in a veritable flood of letters of protest in the St Helena News Review!

The island’s secondary school, built in the 1980s and officially opened in 1989, is named after him, in honour of the visit{24}.

The image (below) shows him stepping ashore, alighting from his launch by swinging on the rope, just as everyone still does: islanders, visitors, Governors and even royal personages!{ab} Note also Governor Massingham in full traditional uniform, including the Governor’s Hat. While alighting from the boat before Prince Andrew Governor Massingham very nearly fell into the water.

After the visit Prince Andrew sent the following message to Governor Massingham:

Would you please convey my sincere thanks to the people of St Helena for making my short visit such an enjoyable and memorable one. From the first moment to the last farewell your open hearted friendliness made my visit a joyful and deeply moving experience. I am sure that no-one who has the privilege of meeting the Saints wants his first visit to be the only one; I certainly hope that it may be possible to return one day. It will be my great pleasure to convey loyal greetings to Her Majesty from the Saints.

21st Century

Below: 2002: HRH Anne, The Princess Royal2024: HRH Edward, Duke of Edinburgh

2002: HRH Anne, The Princess Royal


HRH Anne, The Princess Royal, 15th August 1950 -, is the second child and only daughter of the late Queen Elizabeth II and sister of King Charles III.

She arrived here on 15th November 2002, travelling on the RMS St Helena (1990-2018). After a welcoming speech from Governor Hollamby (right) and parade in Jamestown she visited the Museum of St Helena and General Hospital, then unveiled the dedication plaque for the island’s Community Care Centre (photo, left).

The following day she visited the various Napoleonic sites; opened the Quincy Vale sheltered accommodation{25}; and attended an agricultural show on Francis Plain and a concert at Prince Andrew School.

We have a small gallery of photos from the visit and other images (below). You can also read a report from the St Helena Herald 29th November 2002{9}.

2024: HRH Edward, Duke of Edinburgh


HRH Edward, the Duke of Edinburgh, 10th March 1964 - , is the youngest brother of King Charles III.

He arrived at St Helena on Tuesday 23rd January 2024, the first Royal ever to arrive by air, flying in a privately-owned Dassault Falcon 2000S which closely tracked the scheduled commercial air service from Johannesburg, arriving some 45 minutes later. He met Jonathan the tortoise and a reception was held at Plantation House that evening to celebrate St Helena’s sporting heritage and pedigree, for invited guests only. Legislative Council was also present.

The second day began with a visit to the Museum of St Helena and a cup of St Helena Coffee followed by exploring Jacob’s Ladder. He then planted an endemic tree, the St Helena Gumwood Commidendrum Rotundifolium in Castle Gardens, followed by a public event in Grand Parade with speeches of welcome, a brief address by the Duke (right) and a walkabout, including a dance display organised by Creative Saint Helena. This was followed by a visit to New Horizons. He also visited the Princess Royal Community Care Centre (named for his sister) and was taken on a sight-seeing tour around the island, including meeting Duke of Edinburgh Award winners at Rosemary Plain.

On Thursday he planted a tree at The Millennium Forest and met with the St Helena National Trust before visiting Longwood House and Napoleon’s Tomb. He went out in a boat to see Whale Sharks and also visited SHAPE. There was a reception in the evening at Plantation House for community leaders.

On Friday he formally opened the St Helena Airport (he had originally been scheduled to do this in 2016, until the Windshear problem was uncovered). He then left for Ascension Island in an RAF Boeing C-17.

after the visit the Government of St Helena issued the following statement:

HRH The Duke of Edinburgh departed St Helena earlier today after a momentous four day visit.

The Duke met with a wide variety of community groups and even our very own Jonathan the tortoise.

The Duke follows in the steps of many other Members of The Royal Family who have visited the island over the years.

It was a pleasure to host the Duke, who was presented with two gifts from the people of St Helena, a handmade lace tray cloth and a wooden inlayed coffee table made, to mark his visit. Both were made on the island by local artisans.

Interestingly, the British media covered the visit, as did to a lesser extent media worldwide, but it seemed that the only aspect that interested most of them was the Duke meeting Jonathan the tortoise

The Sentinel printed a four-page pull-out feature on the visit in its 1st February edition.

Infamous visitors?

It has been suggested that we have a separate page for Infamous Visitors. We’re keeping this under review, but in the meantime, here’s one that might qualify…

Did ‘Jack the Ripper’ visit St Helena?

This story is summarised from an article on 7 News, Australia, published 7th November 2019{9}. We’re not entirely convinced by the evidence, but whatever!

One of the greatest murder mysteries in history is the identity of the serial killer, ‘Jack the Ripper’, who in 1888 murdered and dismembered several women in the dark lanes of Whitechapel, near to the London docks. The killer has never been formally identified, possibly because he (she?) was a well-connected person in Victorian England, and so able to evade punishment. Many theories exist about his identity and one candidate was Frederick Bailey Deeming.

Frederick Deeming

Frederick Deeming was born on 30th July 1853 in Leicestershire, UK, and at 12 was apprenticed as a plumber. He became obsessed with knives, building a small collection and also making them for sale. By 18 he was bragging that he had …killed a man. It was partly an accident, but it changed my life. Later that year he ‘found’ a woman, Min Cooper, dead on the front doorstep of his home. Police investigated him for her murder but could not make a case. Not long after, he ran away to sea and ended up in Australia, where he assumed the alias Albert Williams. In his time there he became associated with several more murders, many of which included mutilations. With police and creditors at his heels, he and his family - which now included two children - left for London in 1887.

He would therefore have been in London when the ‘Whitechapel Murders’ were committed, and the way the victims were mutilated struck chords with some of the crimes he was suspected of committing in Australia.

He was never charged with being ‘Jack the Ripper’, though he was arrested in Montevideo in 1889, charged with fraud and brought back to England to serve two years in jail. He returned to Australia where he murdered his entire family, a crime for which he was convicted and hanged on 23rd May 1892.

And the St Helena connection?

In his 1887 flight from Australia to London his ship stopped at St Helena, where he was forcibly disembarked for attempting to swindle his fellow passengers. We do not know how long he spent here. It seems he found a ship that took him to South Africa, and thence back to the UK.

As far as we know, and remarkably for him, during his spell on the island he didn’t actually murder anybody…

Read More

Article: The day a tortoise turned turtle for the King of England

By Simon Pipe, 13th June 2014{9}

Royal party board a vehicle
Royal party board a vehicle{6}
Royal Party at Longwood House
Royal Party at Longwood House

Flags flapped and flickered in various shades of grey as King George VI stepped ashore on St Helena, a small island, somewhere off the coast of France. Quite a long way off, actually - and the same goes for the rest of the text that accompanies newly released archive footage of the royal visit. One is left wondering whether it is possible to libel a tortoise.

The five-minute British Pathé news film, now made public on the YouTube website, shows the King and Queen stepping ashore at The Wharf on 29th April 1947. They were accompanied by the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. The royal party are seen looking round Napoleon’s badly dilapidated home at Longwood, and then admiring Jonathan the tortoise on the governor’s lawn. The King even crouches down to try to feed him a banana, which the old boy appears to treat with some disdain. There is also brief footage of two unnamed young Saints showing the traditional technique for sliding down Jacob’s Ladder, at an impressive speed.

Notes for the film

The film is silent - it would have been shown in cinemas with a scripted voice-over, and music - so viewers must rely on the accompanying text to learn what is going on in the pictures. But the text isn’t too reliable. For one thing, it says the men are sliding down ‘St Jacob’s Ladder’. And the location of the film is given as ‘St Helena, France’: a bit of a slip, given that The Queen was later to summon the French Ambassador to explain why his government had allowed Longwood House to fall into severe neglect.

But the greatest indignity is suffered by old Jonathan, who even in 1947 was considered impressively ancient. The notes refer to several shots of the royal family observing a giant turtle. Turtles are indeed found in the waters around St Helena, but they’re not often seen eating bananas on the governor’s lawn, a thousand feet or so above sea level{26}.

Eventually the royal party make their way back to the landing steps, with several straw bonnets and pith helmets in evidence in the large crowd.

The royal party stopped at the island on their way back from South Africa, on their first overseas visit after World War 2 - as noted by future Governor David Smallman in ‘Quincentenary’, his history of the island. He says that the present Queen Elizabeth clearly remembered her first experience of arum lilies growing in the wild. She had celebrated her 21st birthday a week earlier.

As the royal party prepared to leave the island, His Majesty told the crowd: This is the first occasion on a which a reigning Sovereign has ever set foot on St Helena. I wish to tell you how much The Queen and I, and our daughters, have enjoyed our brief visit. We wish you all prosperity in the future. Mr Smallman also notes that The Queen’s remonstrations led to the posting of a French official to care for the Napoleonic properties on St Helena.

The online notes record that the film ends with more daytime shots of the royal party looking around from the deck of HMS Vanguard. Hmmm - nice beaches. That looks a bit like Ascension Island

Watch the film on YouTube™:


{a} Sainte Hélène Voyage{b} Tim Cattley{c} Office of the Governor{d} Government of St Helena{e} Copyright © South Atlantic Media Services Ltd. (SAMS), used with permission.{f} St Helena News (group){g} St Helena Airport Limited{h} Encyclopaedia Britannica{9}{i} ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{8}, originally from the Illustrated London News, 7th August 1880{j} Fly Airlink{k} Franz Schubert{l} Jan Huygen van Linschoten{m} John Lyly{n} João de Barros, Portuguese chronicler, 1552{9}{o} Albrect Dürer{p} John C. Brandt, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of New Mexico{q} Derek Richards{r} ‘Young Nelson’ by John Francis Rigaud, c.1800{s} Based on a longer story published in ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{8} #30, Spring 2005{9}{t} J.C. Grimshaw (John){u} Duke of Wellington{v} ‘£285 million airport fiasco has unquestionably failed British taxpayers’, 14th December 2016{w} St Helena Advocate, 28th September 1852{9}{x} E M Forster by Dora Carrington, 1924-5{y} Evelyn Waugh by Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964){z} Frank Gillard{28}{aa} Crown Copyright{9}{ab} Still from an Anglia TV film ‘St Helena - island in exile’, made in 1984 and discussing the impact on St Helena of the British Nationality Act 1981{ac} Radio St Helena/Museum of St Helena, digitised by Burgh House Media Productions


{1} Not to be confused with Mrs Bolwell.{2} Not the explorer, who visited in 1691.{3} The people are identified on the reverse of the photograph as follows: FRONT Mrs Bowell{1}; HRH Duke of Connaught; HRH Duchess of Connaught; Governor Henry Gallwey; HRH Princess Patricia; Mrs Moss; Mrs Chevalier; Miss Chevalier. REAR Captain Buckley; Captain Dampier{2}; Major Lowther; Lord Hamilton of Dulwell; Commander Warner; Captain Worthington; Mr Chevalier; The Bishop of St Helena; Mr Moss; Mr Solomon; Mr Dovell; Dr. Arnold; Lieutenant Blake; Captain Grant; Commander Evans. Some of these spellings possibly incorrect - it was a very old photograph!{4} The Duke was shown a painting created by Percy Fantom.{5} The prince’s dancing partner was Miss Deborah Yon.{6} The vehicle in the picture is an Austin 12, 1535cc 4-cylinder side-valve, year likely to be about 1946/7. See also our page Classic Cars.{7} Showing the Insignia of the ‘Knights of Christ’, a medieval Catholic militant Order of Chivalry of the Knights Templar which had been suppressed in Europe but was allowed to operate in the Kingdom of Portugal.{8} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.{9} @@RepDis@@{10} It is thought that Sir Francis Drake located the island on the final lap of his circumnavigation of the world (1577-1580), but didn’t land here. William Barret also described the island in the mid-1580s.{11} From The Prosperous Voyage of M. Thomas Candish esquire into the South Sea, and so around about the circumference of the whole earth, begun in the yere 1586, and finished 1588.{12} Although the spelling ‘Edmund’ is quite common, ‘Edmond’ is what Halley himself used.{13} …including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology, by John Melliss, published in 1875.{14} Scurvy, we assume.{15} Which we now call Australia.{16} See other debunked myths.{17} We assume it is a ‘selfie’ of Darwin on the cliffs of St Helena.{18} To avoid the prevailing north-westerly headwind, sailing ships heading for Cape Town travelled down the Western side of the Atlantic, close to South America, then steered due East to the Cape. This is why only Northbound ships called at St Helena.{19} In our view Captain Matthews might have benefitted from some 21st Century media-management training!{20} Some records say 17th.{21} The plaque refers to him having lectured in this building, but is now located on a small stone pedestal in the gardens. We understand the building in question to have been Garden Hall, the building in the northern corner of Castle Gardens, at the time the Museum of St Helena and currently occupied by South Atlantic Media Services Ltd. (SAMS). The plaque was erected there in 1980 (when the building was occupied as a house by one Fred Ward and family), and moved later to its present position.{22} Some of the images below are extracted from this film.{23} The songs were: Time Will Not Wait; The Winding Road; Work Day; Orders, Orders; Complaints; Another Layer; Scotching; Strip and Wash; Together; The Chopper; Four Footed Beasts; Baling; Stand You Down and No Choice, following the work day for workers in the flax mills.{24} We have heard it claimed that he laid the foundation stone but this is incorrect. Construction did not begin until some years later. We think this may be a confusion with Princess Anne unveiling the dedication plaque for the Community Care Centre.{25} Now converted to government housing since the opening of the Community Care Centre.{26} See Jonathan the tortoise.{27} Please first read this warning.{28} BBC journalist, covering the visit.{29} The Government newspaper{8}.{30} Some sources, e.g. ‘St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island{13}’, refer to his arriving in 1676.


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