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Important People

They made their mark

Understanding who you serve is always a very important problem, and it only gets harder the more people that you serve.{a}

Several people really made their mark in the lives of the people of St Helena

Important People

SEE ALSO: Characters of St Helena.

How do you qualify to be mentioned on this page?

There are no fixed criteria, but broadly:

Apart from the foregoing it is only necessary that you have come to our attention. Reports are sequenced according to the year of the person’s death - this does not necessarily equate to their importance to St Helena.

George Gabriel Powell (c. 1710-1779)

What you think of George Gabriel Powell depends entirely on which accounts you read. To some he was a fierce campaigner against corruption on St Helena; to others he was as guilty, and maybe even more so, of that same thing.

He was born on the island to wealthy plantation owner Gabriel Powell, estimated in 1717 to be worth £5,000, who was widely criticised for his avarice and the cruel treatment of his enslaved. He acquired his wealth by marrying a succession of rich widows and thereby acquiring their land and livestock. George’s grandfather, also Gabriel Powell, participated in the failed 1684 rebellion and led the fight for the rights of the rebels in its aftermath, being imprisoned and subsequently becoming the island’s first (recorded) escapee. So George’s family was not liked or trusted on St Helena.

Winning the favour of the directors of The East India Company by positioning himself as a champion of anti-corruption on the island, in 1739 he was appointed a member of the four-person St Helena Executive Council. Two years later in May 1741, aged about 31, he was promoted to the rank of Deputy Governor to help the new Governor, Major Thomas Lambert, sort out the island’s affairs, but with Lambert’s sudden death Powell was appointed acting Governor in July 1742. His anti-corruption activities made him an enemy of key islanders, particularly one Councillor Dixon.

So it is that St Helena historian T. H. Brooke, Esq.{3}, later claimed that Powell had deliberately ingratiated himself with the directors of The East India Company in order to gain a position from which he could perpetrate even worse excesses. Councillor Dixon brought charges of large-scale fraud against him in May 1744. Refusing to defend himself, he claimed, like his grandfather and the rebels of 1684, that he was only prepared to submit to British law through a British Court of Justice rather than a ‘self-interested’ tribunal of The East India Company.

When the directors of the Company moved against him he simply liquidated his extensive assets and fled the island for North America, where he later became a Colonel in South Carolina’s Militia and the first Speaker of its Provincial Congress{4}.

He also had scant regard for humanity, but perhaps no less than the average man of his time. From the Records:

40s (£2), although not a derisory amount, would have been very little to a man of Powell’s means.

Sir William Webber Doveton (1753-1843)

Sir William Webber Doveton (1753-1843)
Stamp: Sir W. Doveton (1753-1843)
Quincentenary Stamp

Sir William Webber Doveton does not strictly meet our criteria for being an Important Person, in that he doesn’t seem to have done anything to benefit the people of St Helena. But he was considered important enough to have a Quincentenary Stamp to commemorate him, so we think that qualifies him for a mention here.

Sir William was the descendant of another William Doveton (or, possibly, ‘Dufton’), who arrived on St Helena in 1674. From the Records:

By December 1714 his son Jonathan had become one of the island’s premier landowners:

Little is recorded of Sir William’s other ancestors, but a family tree is available{b} as is a complete family history.

William Webber Doveton was born on 23rd November 1753, one of eight children born to John and Mary (Worral) Doveton, the others being: Elizabeth Doveton, Eleanor Doveton (Bazett), Jonathan Doveton, Gabriel Doveton, Fanny Doveton, John Doveton, and Frederick Doveton.

Sir William himself entered The East India Company’s St Helena service on 19th June 1769 (aged 15) as a writer, and in 1785 is recorded as a ‘Factor’. He rose to become a magistrate, a judge, President of Council and a popular Commandant of the St Helena Volunteers during the Napoleonic wars. For this he was presented in 1810 with a Sword of Honour, which is now preserved in the Museum of St Helena. Sir William held the role of paymaster at the time of Napoleon’s arrival on St Helena.

Deeds for what is now the Consulate state that it was sold in 1757 for £800 and re-sold 30 years later (1787) for £1,400 to Sir William, who in turn sold it to Saul Solomon in 1820.

It was also Sir William with whom Napoleon had breakfast at Mount Pleasant in October 1820, about six months before the famous prisoner passed away{5}. This was remarkable as Napoleon very rarely paid visits or took any meal with strangers, and it was the last time he ventured beyond the grounds of Longwood House. It is also noted that throughout the visit, like Napoleon but unlike his companions, Sir William kept his hat on! (More on John Tyrrell’s blog.)

The naturalist W J Burchell, The East India Company’s botanist on the island in the early 1800s, wrote warmly in his diary of Sir William’s manners and speech:

That good old man…is the best Islander and possesses an excellent heart.

He lived his entire life on the island of St Helena; his first trip away was when he was fifty-five, in 1818, when he went to England to receive his knighthood from the Prince Regent at Brighton Pavilion, on 30th January 1819, making him the only islander ever to be knighted. It was the first time he or his family had seen snow or a large town.

But Sir William had a darker side. When Governor Beatson (1808-1813) proposed to Council the abolition of Slavery on St Helena, he voted down the move, along with a Mr Leech. Both Sir W. W. Doveton & G. Doveton (his son) are listed in 1827 as slave owners.

Sir William died at the age of ninety on 13th October 1843. His grave is indexed on www.findagrave.com.


We know the Sir William had at least one son: Gabriel Doveton. Friars Lodge, which belonged to Gabriel, passed down in turn to his son, Lt. W. K. Doveton of the Artillery.

His granddaughter, Anna, became the mother of Admiral Sir Frederick Doveton Sturdes, victor of the Battle of the Falkland Islands in 1914.

Complete Family History

you can read a complete family history.

Saul Solomon (1776-1852)

Saul Solomon
Saul Solomon
Catalogue, c.1814
Catalogue, c.1814

Saul Solomon founded a business empire that has dominated commercial life on St Helena for more than two centuries. He was also suspected of smuggling a silk ladder to Napoleon, to help him escape from exile.

Born on 25th December 1776 in Margate, England, one of eleven children of Nathaniel and Phoebe Solomon, at age twenty Saul Solomon set sail for India, aiming to make his fortune, but it was not to be. The ship dropped anchor off the port of Jamestown and a young man was carried ashore to die. The ship sailed on and the young man, Saul Solomon, remained, not to die, but to become one of the most influential men on the island. In a very short time he recovered his health and joined the army, but seeing the possibility of trade with the many ships that called on their way to and from India and the Cape, he then set himself up in business, initially as a hotel-keeper, charging the exorbitant fee of 30s(£1.50) a day to tourists who had little option but to pay it. Soon he was operating on a much broader basis.

Solomon’s Emporium, 1811
Solomon’s Emporium, 1811
Letter forwarded by Saul Solomon, 1834
Letter forwarded by Saul Solomon, 1834
Advert, Almanac and Annual Register, 1856
Advert, Almanac and Annual Register, 1856{c}

His business is sometimes said to have been founded in 1790, but if he didn’t arrive until 1796… His boarding house soon expanded to include a general store. Later he included an insurance business and also installed the island’s first printing press, printing the ‘St Helena Register’ newspaper. He also served as undertaker. Early success meant a need for people to help run the business, so he sent for his brothers, Benjamin, Edward, Charles and Joseph. A family called Moss came too, remaining prominent members of the business for many years (Saul’s son, Joseph, married Hannah Moss in 1814). Saul was clearly quite a non-conformist. In 1810 he was directed to print no more objectionable remarks in the Register without permission of the Secretary.

Napoleon arrived on the island in 1815 and Solomon’s readily traded with the deposed emperor’s entourage at Longwood. Profits rose, though there were frequent complaints about over-charging; for example, the company charged 1,400 gold francs for the funeral of Napoleon’s valet{6}.

Saul Solomon also earned a reputation for questionable loyalty to the island government. Governor Hudson Lowe listed the Solomon brothers, with their clerk ex-soldier George Bruce, as the chief suspects of aiding Napoleon. Solomon’s premises (in what is now the Rose & Crown shop in Market Street) became notorious for gossip and intrigue. He was even said to have smuggled a silken ladder into Longwood in a chest of tea (or, another variant says, in a teapot) to help Napoleon clamber down a cliff into a waiting boat! Certainly Longwood’s clandestine correspondence passed through his hands - at a price. In 1840, as French Consul, he was among the favoured few to accompany Napoleon’s coffin aboard La Belle-Poule. He received a medal for his services to the emperor{7} and also, it seems, made a tidy profit servicing the needs of the French contingent, charging one of the officers 10s 6d (£0.53) for a hot bath!

One of his many business activities was the forwarding of mail dropped off by calling ships. The image (left) shows a letter bearing the hand-written inscription Forwarded from St Helena by your obedient servant Saul Solomon, 6th April 1834. Indeed, at one time Saul Solomon was the official consular agent for many nations; in 1856 Solomon & Moss was designated in The St Helena Almanac and Annual Register as consuls for France, The Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, the Brazils, Hamburg, Lubeck, Bremen and Austria, later expanded to include Portugal and the Algarves, and then Oldenburg{c}.

In around 1811 Solomon, Dickson and Taylor issued its own copper ha’pennies, which although officially only for use in the company’s shops, actually circulated alongside the East India Company coinage and continued to do so until the Crown took over the island in 1834. The business continued to prosper as the island became a haven for American whalers and a base for the anti-slavery squadron.

Saul Solomon died in December 1852 on a visit to England. His daughter managed to get his body to the Cape, where she smuggled it aboard a ship bound for St Helena. The two island newspapers praised his memory fulsomely. We have many living witnessed to his kindness to the distressed and suffering, wrote the St Helena Herald, welcoming the news that he was to be buried on the island.

Homfray Solomon, 1914
Homfray Solomon, 1914

In recognition of his many Consular appointments, the occupation given on his death certificate was not ‘merchant’ but simply ‘Consul’{c}. An executor’s sale took place ‘under the trees’ in Jamestown in 1854, at which a rare selection of most desirable dwelling places were auctioned, including The Briars and The Briars Pavilion, once home to Napoleon.

Saul Solomon’s modest gravestone was among those rescued when the lower burial ground in Jamestown was cleared in 1951 to become the Duke of Edinburgh Playground{8}. The inscription revealed nothing of Solomon’s life, beyond the date of his death, aged 76.

Solomon’s logo, 2018

Over time, family members rose to prominent roles, including on benevolent committees. For 50 years they almost monopolised the prestigious post of Sheriff. The last of the family line, Homfray Welby Solomon, died in 1960{31}. He sold the business in 1948 but it retains the name Solomons.

Clara George (1784-1859)

A formerly enslaved woman who founded a successful school.

There are several possible records in the registers that might relate to Clara. The following is based on the most likely match. Our thanks to Chris and Sheila Hillman and Ian Bruce for the research…

Clara Rich (also sometimes listed as Clara Jacob) was born into slavery in or around 1784. She was baptised at St. James’ Church on 21st November 1784. Her father was Jacob, one of the enslaved owned by Mr Wrangham (hence the use of the name Clara Jacob) but her age and mother’s name are not recorded. We don’t know when she gained her freedom but she was able to marry formerly-enslaved man Charles George on 16th August 1814; the St. James’ Church marriage register records her as being ‘free’.

She began teaching her own children, though how she became educated herself we do not know. Maybe her former owner, Mr Wrangham, was one of the more enlightened ones who paid for his enslaved to attend school{10}? In 1816 she started including her neighbours’ children too, and this soon developed into an independent school in Jamestown. Officially ‘Clara’s School’, it later became known as the ‘Ragged School’, perhaps a comment on the dress of the schoolchildren, who being poor could not have afforded to buy adequate clothing?

In 1818 her school is recorded as having 85 pupils (81 ‘Free Blacks’; 4 enslaved and no ‘Whites’). Nominally she charged 9s[£0.45] per child per quarter but according to a contemporary report only 5 of the 85 actually paid, the rest being taught free. Lessons included basic literacy and numeracy but also useful handicrafts like needlework and lace making (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{11}.)

The Records would suggest that Clara handed over operation of the school to a Miss Leah Rich (presumably a relative) in 1839. Clara herself would by then have been around 55 years old - quite old for someone formerly enslaved - and it seems she retired at that time. We certainly hear no more about her until her death - the Register for St. Paul’s Cathedral records the burial of one Clara George on 16th December 1859, aged 75, resident at Francis Vale. The burial was conducted by Rev. Edward Bennett who is listed as Chaplain to the Gaol and Hospital, suggesting she died in hospital.

You can learn more about the Rich family{d}.

Dr. James Barry (1789-1865)

Dr. James Barry (1789-1865)
Dr. James Barry (1789-1865)

Dr. Barry was St Helena’s Medical Officer from 1837-1838 but all that time kept a great secret…

James Barry qualified from the University of Edinburgh Medical School with an MD in 1812, passing the examination for the Royal College of Surgeons of England on 2nd July 1813 and subsequently qualifying as a Regimental Assistant. Dr. Barry was commissioned as a Hospital Assistant with the British Army on 6th July 1813, taking up posts in Chelsea, then the Royal Military Hospital in Plymouth, and later in India and South Africa, becoming Medical Inspector for the colony. During service in South Africa Dr. Barry apparently performed the first Caesarean section operation in the colony. Dr. Barry also served in Mauritius and Jamaica prior to coming to St Helena.

Dr. Barry arrived at St Helena on 4th September 1836{12} as Principal Medical Officer, just after the island’s takeover by The Crown from The East India Company. Dr. Barry was a vegetarian, taking a goat everywhere for its milk, and also advised patients to bathe in wine as the alcohol reduced the risk of infections. One of Dr. Barry’s successes was establishing the island’s first process of organised vaccination against disease. Dr. Barry’s place of abode is described in the Records as a cottage in Jamestown with a mango tree in the garden which, sadly, does not narrow it down enough for the building to be identified.

The interpid doctor had no concerns about challenging the establisment in many areas, particulary where medical care was deficient or not available fairly to soldiers and civilians on the same basis. Trouble with the establishment inevitably followed. As a result Dr. Barry served here for only 18 months, eventually being Court Martialed for declining a duel with another officer as a result of getting into trouble with the internal politics of the island. Dr. Barry was arrested and sent home in March 1838.

So why does Dr. Barry qualify for a mention here? Simply because Dr. Barry was not a man at all. Born Margaret Ann Bulkley, ‘Dr. Barry’ assumed the appearance of a man because women were not, at that time, allowed to practice medicine. A successful medical career spanning forty-one years would seem to challenge this restriction, and thus Dr. Barry is awarded a place on this page both for advancing fairness and equality in medicine here and for practical support in the advancement of Women’s Rights.

A booklet Dr. James Barry on St Helena (2006) by Barbara B. George BEM may be available in island and provides much more detail on Dr. Barry’s time on St Helena.

John Charles Melliss (1835-1910)

John Charles Melliss
Melliss stamps, 1975
Melliss stamps, 1975

John Charles Melliss was a notable British engineer and amateur naturalist, famed for his book ‘St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island{13}’, which remains a reference work for ecologists today.

He was born on St Helena on 23rd January 1835. His father, Lieutenant George Whalley Melliss, was an officer of the St Helena Artillery taken into the new colonial administration when the Crown took over St Helena in 1836, first as Surveyor then as Civil Engineer. He supervised the construction of the Inclined Plane that later became Jacob’s Ladder and he also published ‘Views of St Helena’, published in 1857.

After training as an engineer, and serving as an officer in the Royal Engineers, John was appointed as Government Surveyor in St Helena from 1860-1871, taking over his father’s role. In 1861 he prepared a map of the island.

Melliss’ tunnel plan
Melliss’ tunnel plan
MV John Melliss

In 1870 he devised a plan to link James Valley with Ruperts Valley via a tunnel to be constructed through Mundens Hill, though it was never attempted{30}.{15}. Then in 1871, under government retrenchment, the military took over public works making John redundant at 35 without any prospect of employment on St Helena. He returned to London, where he subsequently formed the firm of J.C. Melliss and Co., which still exists today.

In London, in 1875, he published the work for which he is best known: ‘St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island{13}’. To commemorate the book’s centenary in 1975, the St Helena Post Office published a series of stamps (right).

Melliss inspired Thomas Vernon Wollaston, a noted beetle specialist, to visit St Helena with his wife Edith in 1875-76. Wollaston studied the beetles while his wife wrote an account of the moths of the island that remained the standard work on this group for 120 years. Joseph Dalton Hooker named the genus Mellissia in his honour, which has a single species: mellissia begoniifolia, the St Helena Boxwood. He died at his Hampstead home on 23rd August 1910.

A fishing vessel in use today in St Helena bears his name: The John Melliss.

While John C. Melliss undoubtedly did much good for the people of St Helena, some of his expressed views might cause some comment today. In ‘St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island{13}’ he writes of the former enslaved population:

Their early history was that of slavery through a couple of centuries, indeed until the year 1832, when they were emancipated by The East India Company purchasing their freedom for a large sum; but, as might be expected, they possessed none of those qualifications which are absolutely necessary to command success in settlers. The habits of dependence and indolence, as well as ignorance, which so long a period of slavery had engrafted, remain to this day evident, not only in individuals, but pervading the whole character of the place.{16}

John Melliss, surgeon

Interestingly there was an earlier John Melliss, who arrived in 1812 and served here as surgeon for The East India Company, dying in 1820. He was John Charles Melliss’ grandfather. The tombstone (right) is in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

William Alexander Thorpe (1842-1918)

William Alexander Thorpe (1842-1918)
William Alexander Thorpe (1842-1918)

William Alexander Thorpe was born in Jamestown on 31st August 1842 to Henry and Susan Thorpe{17}. Little is known about his father - he probably arrived on the island as a soldier. His mother was born at St Helena, descended from the enslaved on both sides of her family. Despite his (probably) military background, business ran in the family - Henry ran a successful lemonade and ginger beer business until his death in 1854.

As an adult William first appears in the Records{18} in June 1863, aged about 20. He placed a newspaper advertisement showing he was operating ‘The General Store’, having formed a company, Messrs. W. Thorpe & Co. The advert stated that he had secured the stock of Mr. Lambert at a price which will enable them to offer to the public a large lot of first class goods at prices little more than half their value, showing an early indication that value for money would be the basis of the Thorpe’s business to follow.

But it did not last. The 16th September 1864 edition of the St Helena Guardian advised that the firm of Thorpe & Co. have this day been dissolved by mutual consent. William then teamed up with one Donald McDonald and for the next six years Thorpe and McDonald would work together.

Economic depression hit St Helena due to the steady reduction in ship calls in the later 19th Century and the reduction of the Garrison by 60% in 1870. Donald McDonald admitted defeat and sold out to William on 1st November 1870, but despite all of this economic malaise William did not just survive but significantly grew his business, mainly at the expense of competitors who were forced to sell up cheaply and leave the island. During the latter decades of the 19th Century William was in a position to buy many large country houses and expanded his farming interests to the point where he owned over 1,000 acres of land, farming forming a significant part of his business. By 1905 he had purchased the whole of the ridge lands from Scott Alexander for £1,500. Soon after he bought houses such as Woodlands, Woodcot and Mount Pleasant, in which his descendants still live today.

Thorpe’s shop, c.1900
Thorpe’s shop, c.1900{2}

Current Thorpe’s Logo
Thorpes Logo

William had a very simple business philosophy, which he communicated to his staff and customers with large signs in every shop emblazoned with the letters ‘S P Q R’. This was not the Latin phrase ‘Senatus Populusque Romanus’{19}; it officially meant ‘Service, Price, Quality and Range’, though unofficially it stood for ‘small profits, quick returns’ - very much William’s business philosophy.

His position as a leading citizen was recognised in 1892 when the St Helena government appointed him as coroner, and later as Justice for Peace. He also participated in public events - in 1897 he supported celebrations for Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee with the donation of several hogsheads of ale at a party held by Governor Sterndale at The Castle, a shrewd Public Relations move.

William does not seem to have left the island very often, only being found on passenger lists in 1908, 1909 and 1914. He seems to have been as benevolent to his two daughters as he was tyrannical to his ten sons. When his eldest daughter Ethel married in 1899 he funded a lavish wedding to which everyone including Governor Sterndale was invited. His harsh treatment of his sons probably arose from the fact that he expected them to work in his business, yet his standards would have been very exacting. William’s poor relationship with his sons may have been revealed at his funeral when they opted out of acting as pallbearers, leaving the task to his friends.

On Sunday 12th January 1918, while out riding along the path above Stoney Point, William’s horse stumbled and he fell off, hitting the ground and rolling a long way down the slope, smashing his head against a rock. It took several hours before the unconscious body was retrieved and brought back to Mount Pleasant. William died two days later on 14th January. He was buried in the Knollcombes Baptist cemetery.

Benjamin Grant of the Guardian wrote an obituary stating he had known William from his youth up and can testify that no youth can boast a career as he could! Very unassuming - never seen to keep company with anyone - abstemious in his habits - in short a youth of exceptional character. Grant also commented, no islander has died here who has left such a large amount of property and money to his children as William Alexander Thorpe.

You can read a more detailed article by Ian Bruce and Nick Thorpe, originally published in ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{20}, September 2014{21}

The image on the right is taken from a rather interesting larger picture. We would be delighted to know what occasion it depicts.

Nicholas Anthony (‘Nick’) Thorpe (1949-2022)

In the office, 2004
In the office, 2004

At home, 2018
At home, 2018

Nick was the Great-Grandson of WA Thorpe{22} and himself qualifies for a mention here.

In addition to running the family business from 1986{23} until 2014, he was also heavily involved in the island community. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of island history which he generously shared - substantial amounts of the content on Saint Helena Island Info are credited to him.

He was interested in anything old, constantly rescuing and restoring everything from antique firearms to furniture, classic vehicles to Historic Buildings{24}. He oversaw many heritage projects including rescuing the cannons from Banks Battery in 1992 and establishing the new Museum of St Helena in 2002. In addition to volunteering at the Museum of St Helena he was active on the board and as a member of the St Helena Heritage Society and the St Helena National Trust.

A quirk for which he was famous was turning up to prestigeous events (e.g. at Plantation House) casually dressed, when everyone else was in their finery, to the consternation of some governors (and the amusement of others) - he clearly did not feel the need to show off.

Dr. W. J. J. Arnold (1867-1925)

Dr. W. J. J. Arnold (1867-1925)

Wilberforce John James Arnold is commemorated on the Island’s most prominent memorial, a granite obelisk raised in 1926 by public subscription in the main square of Jamestown, as the greatest friend St Helena ever had. This is no exaggeration when it is considered that, over a period of twenty years, he carried the responsibilities of physician, surgeon, dentist, health officer, Justice of Peace, Member of Council and, on three occasions, Acting Governor.

He was born in Belfast, Ireland, on 22nd April 1867, the eldest son of a surgeon. He attended Methodist College and Queen’s College (now Queen’s University) in Belfast and qualified for medicine and surgery in 1894. His health was always somewhat frail, and in an attempt to strengthen his constitution, he spent a year away from his medical studies at sea on a clipper ship. His first medical assignment after qualification was assistant surgeon at Aberdare, a coal district in Wales, at a small hospital.

In 1900 the Anglo-Boer War brought him to St Helena with the Volunteer Medical Staff Corps, to attend the troops and the Boer PoWs’ hospital in Jamestown.

In April 1903, Arnold became the Colonial Surgeon and Health Officer for the island, a poorly paid position (around £200 p.a. ‘plus horse allowance’) where overwork was his constant companion, especially because he was usually as the only doctor and the island was plagued by multiple epidemics during his tenure, including influenza, scarlet fever, diphtheria, and whooping cough. In this capacity he helped with the investigation into the Prosperous Bay Murder. In The ‘Blue Book’ for 1904 Governor Gallwey reports:

The Colonial Surgeon, Dr. Arnold, is indefatigable in his exertions to improve the sanitary conditions of the Colony, and his efforts have been most successful. Dr. Arnold is the only civil practitioner in the Colony, and he practically has sole medical charge of the entire civil population of St Helena.

Monument to Dr. W. J. J. Arnold
Monument to Dr. W. J. J. Arnold
Dr. W. J. J. Arnold on a postage stamp
Dr. W. J. J. Arnold on a postage stamp issued to mark The Quincentenary of St Helena

He was also a Justice of the Peace and involved in the affairs of the colonial government, serving temporarily as Acting Governor of the island several times after the death or departure of one of the regular governors.

He was a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, and left the Island only twice. He had a brief residence in England in 1912 to obtain a public health diploma from the University of Oxford, and during World War 1 he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps on hospital ships and in Palestine, reaching the rank of Major, followed by a prolonged convalescence from malaria. He returned to St Helena in 1920 to cheers from the crowds at The Wharf.

His publication list includes only a single case report, but his skills and lasting legacy were in the area of public health. During his service as St Helena’s surgeon, he modernized the island’s sewer and water systems, campaigned against rats, taught the police how to administer first aid, introduced vaccination programs, and greatly improved the nutrition and health education of the islanders. No building could be built on the island without his explicit approval after a careful review of the structure’s possible health effects. Arnold’s tireless efforts paid off: the infant mortality rate and overall death rate on the island decreased by two-thirds, from 17.3 per thousand to 6.4 per thousand, between the commencement of his service in 1903 and his death 2 decades later.

It was not only his diligence and willingness to serve the Island in so many roles that earned him the love and respect of all classes, but his caring manner and the zeal which imbued all his work. He never stinted in his labours, visiting the sick and elderly, supporting charities from his own meagre funds, paying fees rather than accepting them from the poor, while living frugally as a bachelor, latterly at Maldivia by courtesy of the owner.

In November 1924 Dr. Arnold’s life was saved by an emergency operation performed by a visiting naval surgeon. Though far from well he resumed his duties, not only as the lone medical Officer, but as Acting Chief Justice and Acting Governor. In January 1925, with his health failing, Arnold was awarded the CMG (Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George) in the New Year’s Honours.

It was on 27th January 1925, while attending a ceremony at Longwood in this latter capacity, that he collapsed from a cerebral haemorrhage and died two days later, aged just 57.

It is said that half the population of St Helena flocked to his funeral. Thirty years later an elderly Saint told travel writer Lawrence Green, I tell you, a shiver went through this place the day the doctor died.

Very unusually his obituary was included in The ‘Blue Book’ for 1925, thus:

It is with the deepest regret that the death is recorded of the late Colonial Surgeon Dr. W. J. J. Arnold, C.M.G., who died suddenly on 28th January. Dr. Arnold had given a life-time of devoted service to the Colony as medical officer, and, on three occasions, he had acted as Governor. He had gained the admiration and affection of all sections of the community, by whom his loss is greatly felt. A public subscription has been started to erect a monument in his memory. Dr. Arnold was awarded a Companionship of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George in the New Year’s Honours List a few days before his death.

The monument was duly erected and formally unveiled on 17th April 1926. The inscription on his monument reads:

This monument is erected by the inhabitants of St Helena and friends overseas to the memory of The Hon. W J J Arnold, C.M.G., M.D., D.P.H.
Born April 22nd 1867 at Belfast
Died January 29th 1925 whilst administering the Government of this Colony.
Colonial Surgeon from 1903 to 1925.
Served during the Great War{25}.
And was the greatest friend St Helena ever had.

He was also commemorated on a Postage Stamp, issued to mark the Island’s Quincentenary in 2002.

His monument was given a ‘facelift’ in May 2019, in time for the inauguration of Governor Rushbrook, removing years of grime and discolouration. Conservationists later stated that the method of cleaning was incorrect and will have damaged the monument, describing it as vandalism. (Apparently the plaques on the Cenotaph have suffered in a similar way.)

More about health in St Helena on our page Health Issues.

Canon L C Walcott (1880-1951)

Winifred Ida Walcott (?-1941)

Canon Walcott c.1911
Canon Walcott c.1911

Lawrence Chase Walcott came to St Helena in April 1909 as Vicar of Jamestown and gave unstinting service to the Island community for almost forty years.

Born in 1880 of a West Indian barrister father and English mother, Walcott was educated in England and trained at St Augustine’s College, Canterbury, before being ordained in South Africa in 1906 and coming to St Helena as vicar. He soon made his mark as a diligent, single-minded and scholarly priest and pastor, winning the affection and trust of his parishioners. For several years, however, he faced opposition from country congregations who objected to a coloured priest though, as Bishop Holbech reminded them, most of them were themselves coloured.

In 1917 Walcott returned to England, but on hearing of the Bishop’s difficulty in replacing a successor, he returned to Jamestown in May 1921, accompanied by his bride, Winifred Ida. They remained to serve the island for the rest of their lives.

In addition to his parochial duties, Walcott vigorously supported Church schools, teacher training and youth work through the Church Lads’ Brigade and the Scout Movement.

He founded the first Scout troop in 1912{26}, followed in 1921 by a guide Company founded by his wife, Winifred. When in 1936 they were inspected by Lord and Lady Baden-Powell the chief Scout expressed surprise at finding a group so large and so smartly turned out in uniform on such a little island.

Any fool can camp in the sunshine.

Walcott was also a keen promoter of team games - football, hockey and especially cricket - for their character-building qualities. His influence was further strengthened through the monthly St Helena Magazine, the only island periodical, which he edited and printed for thirty years from 1921-51. For many years, when he was the only priest on the island apart from the Bishop, the distant district of Blue Hill was added to his pastoral care.

Magazine banner

He was the island’s Superintendent of Schools from 1921 to 1939 and in September 1921 he took over the Diocesan Magazine, printing it himself. He later renamed it the St Helena Magazine to allow himself more freedom of speech, whilst including a column called Diocesan Notes. He continued publishing it until his death in 1951.

With effect from 30th June 1950 Canon Walcott resigned from all his church posts, on health grounds (he was 70), though he remained Editor of the Magazine. Herbert Joshua told a packed presentation ceremony at the Paramount Cinema that Walcott’s 40+ years of service were without parallel in the history of the Diocese, also praising the St Helena Magazine because it had not been backward in voicing opinions for the welfare of the Islanders, particularly the working man.

Lawrence Walcott died at his home, Palm Villa, on 16th April 1951. He was buried next to Winifred, who predeceased him in 1941, in St. Paul’s Churchyard.

In 1986, on the 35th anniversary of his death, his memory was honoured by a large attendance of Scouts and Guides at a Requiem in the Cathedral and laying of wreaths. The new Guide Hall in Half Tree Hollow, opened on 22nd February 2002, was named the Walcott Guide Hall. He was commemorated on a Postage Stamp, issued to mark the Island’s Quincentenary in May 2002. Also as part of the Quincentenary Celebrations, a Walcott memorial was unveiled in St. James’ Church garden. Another granite stone with identical carving was placed on Canon and Mrs Walcott’s graves at St. Paul’s Churchyard.

Canon Walcott also gets an honourable mention on our page Characters of St Helena.

Eric ‘Mr. Music’ George MBE (1936-2001)

Eric M. George, MBE
Eric M. George, MBE

Eric M. George MBE was universally known on St Helena as ‘Mr. Music’ because of his lifelong contribution to the musical life of the island.

Born in March 1936 to Cecil & Dorothy George, Eric contracted polio at the age of nine. Deprived of the ability to participate in more physical activities he instead devoted his attention to music, learning the piano and joining the St Helena Band at an early age. He was a founder member of the Gettogethers Orchestra in 1974, remaining involved with both bands until just before his death. He also helped set up the Young Musicians Orchestra and the Ladies Orchestra.

Professionally he taught music in the island’s schools, starting his teaching career as soon as his own education finished at the age of 15. He was also one of those involved in the setting up of Radio St Helena, being responsible for the early schools broadcasts. Eric composed the musical ‘Fibre’, performed for HRH Prince Andrew during his visit to St Helena in 1985, and also co-wrote the Prince Andrew School song.


In 1996 he published a comprehensive history of the music on St Helena from 1940 to 1995 - ‘Music on St Helena’ - supported by audio tapes and music score sheets. You can hear Eric talking to Radio St Helena in 1997 about this project (right). In 1999 he was awarded the MBE which his family often joked stood for ‘Music Before Everything’. The award was presented to Eric at Plantation House on 8th April 1999 by Governor David Smallman.

Eric married Ivy on 7th January 1959. They had three children: Sandra, Patrick and Christopher. At Eric’s funeral his son Patrick played ‘Adieu to the Piano’ composed by Eric himself. In June 2008 a memorial plaque to Eric was unveiled at Prince Andrew School, where he taught for many years. The inscription reads:

This plaque is erected in proud memory of Eric ‘Music’ George MBE, a man with exceptional musical talents, which he willingly shared with people of all ages through both teaching and performance of music on St Helena and overseas.

You can read his obituary, published in the St Helena Herald, 23rd November 2001.


You can listen to Eric talking about music in an extract from a series he made for Radio St Helena early in 2001, just months before his death (right).

Eric’s widow, Ivy Frederica George, A.C.E. J.P., died in September 2002, aged 65.

Johnny Drummond (1956-2003)

Johnny Drummond was a strong proponent of free media on St Helena, and through his legacy made possible the creation of the island’s first independent radio station, SaintFM.

Johnny Drummond (1956-2003)

John Drummond was born in Hong Kong on 11th February 1956, the son of Margaret and Gilbert Drummond. His father was working for Cable & Wireless at the time and the family moved around the world to Mr. Drummond’s different postings, one of which was Zanzibar. Johnny always said that he learnt a lot from Zanzibar; things like respecting people without thinking about colour, religion, race or their status in society. This respect and genuine care was something that followed Johnny throughout his entire life.

Johnny was sent to boarding school but never spoke any positive words about the experience. He was not a person suited for uniformity, strict school discipline and limited scope for creativity. After boarding school, Johnny entered art school and his educational career was crowned with a degree in sculpting. Truly a man of the arts, painting, sculpting, literature and music were his passions and his general knowledge, especially in those areas was tremendous.

Johnny Drummond at The Herald

In the early eighties, Johnny’s parents came to St Helena and suggested that Johnny should join them for a holiday, which he did in 1983 - and he didn’t leave St Helena again for 18 years. In St Helena he put his knowledge into use as a teacher, becoming an established member of the teaching staff at Prince Andrew School in January 1989. In March 1998 he felt it was time to move on to something different and he successfully applied for the post as Information Officer in St Helena Government and Editor for the St Helena News. The St Helena News Media Board{27} was created the following year to move media further away from the Government of St Helena and Johnny continued as Editor for the St Helena News and its successor, the St Helena Herald until shortly before his death.

Johnny was part of the Island community. It was his home. He felt Saints should be proud of who and what they are. He took the job as Editor of the St Helena Herald because he felt it was here he could help the community; where he felt he could express the views of the people. But Johnny was never happy with the conflict within a supposedly arms-length media that survived through government funding, and recognised the need for a different organisation: a new radio station, totally independent of Government or any other bodies which would provide a truly free media for the people of St Helena. This concept later became SaintFM.

In September 2002 Johnny had to be emergency-evacuated from St Helena due to imminent liver failure. As the RMS St Helena (1990-2018) was not scheduled to call for some weeks this involved flagging down a passing ship. Johnny recovered and resumed his duties later in the year, but eventually died of cancer on 27th October 2003. He left a substantial legacy which was designated for the creation of the new media organisation he had long proposed: an independent radio station, free from government funding and supported entirely by commercial advertising. And hence in 2004 SaintFM was born.

You can read a Tribute to Johnny, published in the St Helena Herald (the newspaper he edited) on 31st October 2003.

Cathy Hopkins MBE (1946-2017)

MBE, with daughters Anne & Marianne, 2007
MBE, with daughters Anne & Marianne, 2007

Margaret Anne Catherine (“Cathy”) Hopkins, née Bell, was born in the UK on 2nd December 1946.

Cathy came to St Helena in 1970 under the VSO scheme programme. She met her husband-to-be Keith and they went back to the UK together, returning married with two daughters in 1976 to settle here.

She started working as a teacher in September 1980 for the Government of St Helena. Cathy also served as a Member of Legislative Council, from 1989 until 1992 representing Longwood West and again from 2001 to 2005 representing Alarm Forest{28} (she did not stand for re-election in 2005). She was also elected onto Executive Council. In July 1997 she became the Government of St Helena’s UK Representative, based in London, for three years until June 2000 when she returned to the role of teacher. Most recently she served as both Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Legislative Council.

But Cathy will be best remembered not for her service for the Government of St Helena but for her contribution to community life on St Helena.

In church, 2002

Cathy chaired the Art & Crafts Association and was heavily involved in Church activities, including being Organist, Churchwarden and Secretary to the St. James’ Church Restoration Action Group. She was a member, and for a while Chair, of the St Helena Heritage Society and active in the St Helena National Trust, serving as Director from 2005 to 2007. She also taught students to play musical instruments, especially the flute, and led the Young Musicians Group started by Eric George. But despite having served in high office for the Government of St Helena, Cathy could regularly be seen out on the roads of St Helena, black plastic sack in hand picking up litter - a purely voluntary activity.

She was awarded the MBE in the Birthday Honours, June 2007. The photo (right) shows her, with daughters Anne & Marianne, after the investiture at Buckingham Palace on 14th November 2007.

The award of the MBE to Mrs Hopkins was recommended in recognition of her contribution to Island life and development including in particular, her services in the teaching profession and her services as a member of the Executive Council and Legislative Council. It also takes account of her services in the voluntary sector which includes being a member of the St Helena Heritage Society and her work with the Young Musicians. Recognition has also been given to her active involvement in St Helena’s quest for the restoration of British Citizenship and for her voluntary work in the church.{f}

Her last major project, and arguably her legacy, was the creation of the St Helena Equality & Human Rights Commission, a project she started in 2008 and carried forward to the opening of the Commission on 10th December 2015 - World Human Rights Day. Cathy chaired the Commission from its creation until forced by illness to step down.

Cathy was designated the ‘Women In St Helena’ Woman of the year for 2016, her nominator describing her as the epitome of kindness and selflessness. She died of Mesothelioma (Cancer) on 2nd April 2017{29}.

Some Honourable Mentions

Although not really an Important Person as required for this page, we decided to give the following brief mentions…

Below: PC Leonard ColemanThomas R. Bruce

PC Leonard Coleman

Menorial, 2022
Menorial, 2022

PC Lenny Coleman
PC Leonard Coleman

PC Leonard (‘Lenny’) Coleman gets a mention because he is, as far as we know, the only island police officer to have died in the execution of his duty. He was shot and killed near Longwood Road while attending a domestic incident on 2nd December 1982, aged just 21. His death shocked the community. The new Police Station is named after him, ‘Coleman House’ and there is a plaque to his memory prominently displayed, unveiled by his father on the 21st anniversary of his death, 2nd December 2003. His death is marked each year by the Police or more publicly; in recent years with a church service at St. James’ Church.

Thomas R. Bruce

Postage stamp, King George V, 2s

Thomas R. Bruce gets his honourable mention because, as postmaster from 1898-1928, he was the first islander to design a postage stamp; the 1922-1937 George V stamps (example, left).

He was the grandfather of Ian Bruce. You can learn more about him and the Bruce family.

Read More

Below: More ‘Important People’Article: A Rich Ancestry on St Helena

Our Current Head of State
King Charles III
King Charles III
House of Windsor
8th September 2022 to date

More ‘Important People’

Here (right) are some people who must always be included on a page entitled ‘Important People’:

Article: A Rich Ancestry on St Helena

Published in The Independent 15th August 2008{21}

On Wednesday, Eben Welby-Solomon visited The SaintFM/The Independent. Eben said:

I have come here to do research on my family history. It has been my desire for a number of years to come back and chronicle my family history, which is quite fascinating, particularly in light of its ties with St Helena. I am a descendant of the Welby and Solomon families. In 1873 Saul Solomon (grandson of the Saul Solomon who founded Solomons) married Katherine Welby (daughter of Bishop Welby, the 2nd Bishop of St Helena). They had four children, the second oldest of which was my great grandfather. This has led me here to come and research and record a lot of that history. I have sought to seek firsthand accounts and records that provide the details and perspectives of their lives over the generations. Saul Solomon was the original founder at the turn of the 18th Century. I know there has been some speculation around exactly when he started trading here on St Helena which has been estimated to be about 1796, and Saul Solomon was one of a number of quite a big family. It is estimated that he had seventeen or eighteen siblings, bearing in mind at the time infant mortality was quite high so some of these did not reach adulthood. Saul journeyed here and set up a trading company with a number of partners. From there on, the family interests was passed through the generations to his one son, Nathaniel Solomon, and later on to his grandson Saul Solomon, from whom I am a descendant. He married Katherine Welby, who was the daughter of Bishop Welby on the island in the late 1800s as well, so they established the Welby-Solomon surname and they had four children, the first being Arthur Welby Solomon and then Cyril Welby Solomon, who’s my great grandfather and then Homfray Welby Solomon, who is quite well known on the island. He stayed on to consolidate a lot of the family interests and he passed away in 1960. This was really the end of the Solomon family dynasty and Solomons was then bought out by a number of investors and eventually ended up in Government’s hands, which is where it currently stands with some minority investors. There was also a fourth child, Mary Jessica Solomon. I am here to find out some of the detail around her whereabouts. I understand she moved back to England at some stage, but am also wanting to go through some of the Records and understand the broader family movements in the early to mid 1900s.

Solomon family tree

Eben heard a lot about St Helena and the family background on the Island when he was young but:

Unfortunately, it was very limited because a lot of the history was passed down orally. There were some photographs and a few artefacts which were passed down the generations. One also needs to bear in mind that my great grandfather left more than a century ago, in 1899. Of some interest is that Cyril bought some land in Cape Town on his arrival and that that land has passed through the generations. My father currently still resides on that land. A lot of the land has over the years been sub-divided and is now part of a residential area. The only remnants of the original farm are the existing cowsheds, which I grew up to know, and are still on the property. The cowsheds were part of a small dairy and farming enterprise they had in the early 1900s. There has certainly been a great affinity with the island of St Helena, it is my first visit here and certainly been much anticipated and it’s really exceeded all my expectations, it has been quite incredible.

Eben hopes to write a book about his family history.

I think with this oral history that has been passed down the line, my curiosity really kicked into gear and I felt that I really would love to chronicle the family history. It is such a fascinating history and not only looking at the Solomon side. As I mentioned, the Welby family was also quite prominent, Bishop Welby was the longest serving Bishop on the island, he was the second Bishop of the Diocese and also some fascinating stories which I have been able to uncover. It has been fantastic to meet some people who knew my great Uncle Homfray and to be able to account some of their stories and interactions with the family.

Eben has had a lot of help with his research into his background, he said:

People have really been incredible. A sincere thanks to everyone including Solomons, Eric Constantine in particular has been a great help and aid, as well as Tracy and Barry his colleagues. I have also had assistance from the Archives, where Lacosta and Tracy have been incredible. They actually began doing some research for me from three or four weeks before I came.

Barbara George was also kind enough to provide some research she and Trevor Hearl had done some years back. Eben is a Management Consultant by profession and has a passion for business.

I work predominantly with corporate clients in South Africa as well as the Provincial Government of the Western Cape on aspects of corporate governance and means of improving service delivery. We also have some small family interests in property and my dad has a well established engineering consulting firm in Cape Town. I am one of three boys in the family. I live in the suburb of Pinelands in Cape Town with my wonderful wife, Enid, and our two boys Christen and Matthew.


{a} Mark Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook{b} Museum of St Helena{c} ‘U.S. Consular Mail from St Helena’ (2002), by Michael D. Mueller, St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Philatelic Society (‘SHATPS’){d} Chris and Sheila Hillman{e} Radio St Helena/Museum of St Helena, digitised by Burgh House Media Productions{f} Government of St Helena, 15th June 2007{21}


{1} In the garden of St. James’ Church.{2} This image actually contains some mysteries. After conversation with the living members of the family (who still own and work in the business) we can confirm that (a) the person on the left is one of William Alexander Thorpe’s sons, though we don’t know which one; (b) the photo was taken around 1900, give or take 20 years; and (c) the shop shown might be either in New Ground or Jamestown. We cannot identify the other chap (with the hat), and we don’t know why the son is wearing a (black?) armband - it could have been for his Mother (1896), his sister (1904) or possibly his father (1918). If you can help please contact us.{3} In ‘A History of the Island of St Helena’, by T. H. Brooke, Esq., published in 1808.{4} It is worthy of note that South Carolina has an area known as ‘Saint Helena Island’. It would be nice to think it was so named by George Gabriel Powell, in memory of his place of birth, but it seems more likely it was named by the Spanish, many years earlier. So what an interesting coincidence it is that Powell ended up there!{5} This was not, it seems, Napoleon’s first visit to Mount Pleasant. According the Governor Lowe’s records for 3rd January 1816: As we were on the point of sitting down to dinner [at Plantation House], we were, to our great surprise, informed that the Emperor, in company with the Admiral, had just passed very near the gate of Plantation House; and one of the guests (Mr. Doveton of Sandy Bay) observed that Napoleon had, in the morning, honoured him with a visit, and spent three quarters of an hour at his house.{6} Why charge in Gold Francs? Well, clearly the bill was being paid by the French and in those times pretty much any form of money was accepted on St Helena. Exclusive use of Sterling didn’t arrive until after the Crown took over St Helena in 1834. A 20 gold franc coin would appear to have had a value then of around £1, making the bill £700. [Image, right]

20 Gold Franc coin

{7} As also did a number of other islanders, including George R. Bruce.{8} The bodies were not exhumed. The headstones were removed to St. James’ Church and later to Ruperts, but the graves themselves were simply concreted over. So Saul Solomon - founder of the island’s largest commercial business, then and now - lies beneath what is currently a largely-disused playground that is mooted to become a relief car-park for Jamestown. R.I.P.{9} Maiden name unknown.{10} But not enlightened enough to free them.{11} 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.{12} Note that some sources give Dr. Barry’s arrival date as 13th February 1837.{13} …including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology, published in 1875.{14} See other debunked myths.{15} Amusingly, in 2022 it was proposed that maybe a tunnel should be built through Mundens… See our page Jamestown.{16} A.W. MASON, writing in 1921, quoted this remark and added This description appears to be correct today as it was when written nearly fifty years ago, and in dealing with such a race it is vitally important in anything which the Government may inaugurate for their benefit to remember that self-reliance and initiative are - with a few exceptions - to a great degree lacking. Mason was reporting on the prospects for agriculture on St Helena. Unsurprisingly, given his negative and arguably racists views, he was not encouraging. Read the full report..{17} Their only known child, which would have been quite unusual for that period but the Records do not contain any explanation.{18} Article: ‘William A. Thorpe, 1842-1918’ by Ian Bruce & Nick Thorpe.{19} ‘the senate and people of Rome’.{20} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.{21} @@RepDis@@{22} Nicholas Thorpe born 17th May 1949, son of Donald Henry Thorpe born 3rd December 1922, son of Harold Cyril Thorpe born 7th July 1892, son of William Alexander Thorpe born 31st August 1842.{23} Initially with his brother Mike, who retired in 2004.{24} His children have inherited his passion for rescuing and restoring old buildings and are continuing his legacy, most notably with the restoration of Rock Rose and Teutonic Hall.{25} World War 1.{26} Some sources erroneously give the date as 1915 but a report of the Fourth Annual Account of the Association, published in 1913 in the UK press, refers to a St Helena troop as having been ‘lately established’, possibly following from the visit of the ‘Chief Scout’, the Duke of Connaught in 1910.{27} Incorporating the St Helena News newspaper and Radio St Helena.{28} At that time the twelve Legislative Council members each represented a constituency.{29} Greater than 80% of Mesothelioma cases are caused by exposure to asbestos. As Cathy never worked in the building trade it can only be assumed this was a secondary exposure. Asbestos was commonly used as a building material on St Helena, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. Many buildings today retain asbestos roofs.{30} It is sometimes said that the cavern in Mundens Hill in Jamestown (opposite the General Hospital) is the beginning of this tunnel, but this is not correct. Actually this cavern is the former quarry, from where (inter alia) the stone for the original spire on St. James’ Church was obtained{14}.{31} Homfray had an interesting life. In 1948 Cynthia{9} was on the SS City of Cairo, which was torpedoed. Having spent 13 days in an open lifeboat she was rescued and taken to St Helena where she met Homfray. After their marriage they returned to live in St Helena. In 1953 Homfray and Cynthia were present at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey and the Thanksgiving by the Peoples of the Commonwealth at St Paul’s Cathedral. They participated in a tree planting ceremony in Windsor Great Park and Homfrey also laid a wreath at the Cenotaph as representatives of St Helena.