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Maps of St Helena

Finding your way around

There are few results of man’s activities that so closely parallel man’s interests and intellectual capabilities as the map.{b}

St Helena has been mapped, accurately and not so accurately, for five hundred years

Note: this page concentrates on internal maps of St Helena Island. For more information on where St Helena sits on the world map see our page Where is St Helena?{2}.

Historic maps

Here are some examples of early maps of St Helena, showing a progression in the understanding of the island’s layout from a ‘blob with valleys’ towards the structure we know today.

These first maps relate to the period of Portuguese possession of St Helena, 1502-1633.

You may also be interested to read this 2002 study{c}.

Below: First-known map of St Helena, 1506Benjamin Wright, 1598Willem Lodewijcksz, 1598Theodore de Bry, ‘Insula d. Helenæ’, 1601John Seller, ‘Hydrographer to the King’, ‘A New Mapp of the Island of Saint Hellena’, 1675Alain Manesson Mallet, 1683Early Dutch, Pieter Van Der AA, c.1700, LeidenJohn Thornton, ‘A New Mapp of the Island of Saint Hellena’, London, 1703H. Moll, 1732Van Keulen, 1735French, probably by Jacques-Nicholas Bellin, 1753Lafitte, 17811805, Phillips?W. Innes Pocock, probably 1815German Map, 1815George Thomas, HMS Northumberland, 1815Clearly dated 1816, but the creator’s name is not legibleLieut. R. P. Read, ‘St Helena’, 1817M. Marchaud - Map of Ille Ste. Hélène - 1821-1850Capt. Edmund Palmer, ‘Military Sketch of the Island of St Helena’, 1850-52Rousseau, ‘Map of Ile Sainte Hélène’, 1853Melliss, 1860Fowler, 1863Royal Engineers, ‘The Island of St Helena’, 1872Imray and Jenkins, 1884Boer PoW, 1902USA Navy, 1921Admiralty, 1922HMSO, 1954Late 20th CenturyRecently for saleRecent, c.2000Official Tourist Map, 2014Official Tourist Map, 2017

First-known map of St Helena, 1506

First-known map of St Helena, 1506

This first-known map of St Helena is by Valentim Fernandes, a German printer who lived in Portugal from 1493. This map is part of a collection of manuscripts compiled by him in 1506/10 relating to recent Portuguese discoveries.

While far from an accurate representation of St Helena it does at least establish that the island was considered worthy of note by 1506.

So much for the claim that the Portuguese tried to keep the existence of St Helena a secret!

Benjamin Wright, 1598

Benjamin Wright, 1598

The 1618 version by Jodicus Hondius & Petrus Bertius

This is an example of a map quite widely published in the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. This instance is by Benjamin Wright, 1598 (if you look closely you can see his signature at the bottom of the map, just to the left of the cartouche), but this was a copy of an earlier map by Barent Langenes in Middelburg in 1597 and all are thought to derive from an even earlier Portuguese map that apparently no longer exists (probably lost in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755).

Between 1598 and 1650 variants of this basic map were re-published by various people on at least 12 occasions, including Barent Langenes, Benjamin Wright, Petrus Bertius and Cornelius Claesz. The 1618 version by Jodicus Hondius & Petrus Bertius (right) has different monsters!

Benjamin Wright superimposed

The island has a more accurate shape (see it with the current map superimposed, right), and yet this map originated before 1600; around 100 years before most of the ones immediately below which do not represent the island’s shape or orientation correctly. A puzzle!

Curiously, it also shows a settlement in the approximate location of Sharks Valley. We think this was intended to depict ‘Chapel Valley’ and was simply an error on the part of the map-maker.

Note ‘Pomar’, Portuguese for Garden, at the head of the valley, and ‘ribeira dagoa’, Portuguese for Dry River, indicating the Portuguese origins of the map.

Willem Lodewijcksz, 1598

Willem Lodewijcksz, c.1598

Other versions:
French version
French version
E Roger, Amsterdam, 1702
E Roger, Amsterdam, 1702
Colour version
Colour version

Willem Lodewijcksz was a Dutchman who travelled with Cornelius de Houtmaan in a voyage starting out in 1595. This map was also re-published in French in 1601, in French again in 1609 and again in Dutch in 1617. A near-identical version was published by E Roger in Amsterdam, 1702.

We can identify what is now James Valley [Jamestown] by the depiction of (presumably) the Portuguese Chapel - the only building shown.

As with the Wright map, note ‘Pomar’, Portuguese for Garden, at the head of the valley, probably indicating that the island was still in Portuguese hands at the time.

You can download the full page on which the map appears{e}.

See also What does Lodewijcksz’s map depict?

Theodore de Bry, ‘Insula d. Helenæ’, 1601

de Bry’s map, from 1601

Detail from de Bry map 1601

This 1601 drawing by German-calligrapher Theodore de Bry is more a view of the island than a true map; not atypical of 16th and 17th Century representations. An interesting feature is the depiction of The Portuguese Chapel and the many characters out-and-about amongst the hills provide entertainment. We assume the image on the hills behind Chapel Valley (extract, right) is a goat-hunt.

All of the following maps relate to the period of English/British possession of St Helena, 1659-

John Seller, ‘Hydrographer to the King’, ‘A New Mapp of the Island of Saint Hellena’, 1675

John Seller, ‘Hydrographer to the King’, 1675

The island shape is inaccurate, and this feature is shared with many other maps up to Read’s of 1817 (below). James Valley is disproportionally large, perhaps reflecting the view that everything happens in Jamestown; nothing happens ‘up country’ - a common view, even today.

James Fort is now named, as are Sandy Bay, Lot and Lot’s Wife, but Orange Tree Valley, Hogg Valley and Tobacco Valley (top left, in what we now know as Longwood) no longer exist. Many estates have their owner’s name recorded. Diana’s Peak does not feature.

The Dutch invasion - recent history at the time the map was made - is recorded in the text below James Fort. Note also that fortifications are also shown at Ruperts and Banks Valley.

Alain Manesson Mallet, 1683

Alain Manesson Mallet, 1683

This map comes from the book ‘Description de l’Univers’, published in 1683 by Alain Manesson Mallet, the French cartographer; originally in the form of a copper engraving.

It is not an accurate representation of the island, either in terms of island shape or internal configuration - it doesn’t even show Chapel Valley. All we can really learn from this map is that St Helena has a lot of valleys!

Interestingly, note that the sea in which the island sits is described as the Ocean Ethiopien - the Ethiopian Sea. We have seen this name used in other early maps. The odd thing is that Ethiopia is on the other side of Africa… The answer can be found by examining the 450BCE map on our page Before Discovery

Early Dutch, Pieter Van Der AA, c.1700, Leiden

Early Dutch map, c.1700

The mapmaker was Dutch but the legend is in French and Dutch (the title is French).

As was normal at the time, this is more a work of art than it is an accurate representation of the place depicted, though note the many similarities with the Alain Manesson Mallet, 1683 map: the island is still shown as square, but this time eight features are identified, most of them valleys. The full index of places named is:

‘Bear Valley’: Banks Valley

‘Crack Valley’: Ruperts Valley

‘Church Valley’: James Valley

‘Drie Valley’: Youngs Valley

‘Soure Valley’: Friars Valley

‘Apple Valley’: Lemon Valley

‘Box Mountaine’: Diana’s Peak

‘New Rock’: Egg Island

John Thornton, ‘A New Mapp of the Island of Saint Hellena’, London, 1703

Thornton’s map, from 1703

Not actually a New Mapp at all - derived from John Seller’s 1675 map (above).

Thornton also produced a detailed map of ‘Jamestown’ (below). Thornton did not (as far as we know) actually visit St Helena to draw his map, so his depiction of The Fort as being triangular may not be definitive. Note the water supply to The Fort - the ‘fried egg’ shape to the right, presumably indicating a pond with an island - which may relate to the structure discovered when converting 1-3 Main Street in 2016. ‘The Bridge’ (bottom left) presumably crossed the eastern branch of what-is-now The Run, not explicitly shown but perhaps indicated by the green colouring of the eastern valley floor, to which ‘the Watering Place’ (middle) may be related. The ‘path that goes up into the Country’ (right) is, presumably, the zig-zag up the western side of the valley (now Shy Road / Ladder Hill), not the older Cow Path, although the latter remained in use until more than 30 years after the date of this map. The map is definitely not to scale but some have suggested that the structure labelled ‘the Spring House’ is the same one as depicted in the undated drawing of upper Main Street, rather than the current rising point at Chubb’s Spring. Finally, look in the top right corner and you will see the original Jacob’s Ladder - a rope-ladder!

Thornton, 1690s-1700s?

Here is another map credited to Thornton. We cannot formally attribute this map because, although it appears to be genuine, it does not seem to have been published anywhere. Our best information is that it was either made for a private client, or was made by a student of Thornton and never intended to survive. Either way, the island shape and detail makes us think it pre-dates his published 1703 map. This copy was bought in a Car Boot Sale in the UK. If you have any information on this map please contact us.

H. Moll, 1732

H. Moll’s map, from 1732

1770s variation
1770s variation

The island shape is reasonably accurate, a feature not shared by other maps at the time, but James Valley is too large, as with Thornton’s (above) and the Fort is still triangular (it was re-engineered to its current shape in 1708). The interior is reasonably detailed and the Latitude and Longitude given are almost correct. The legend reads: This Island belongs to ye English East India Company whose ships usually touch here for a recruit of fresh Water and Provisions.

A variation was published around 40 years later (right). If anything this seems to be even less accurate than the original.

Van Keulen, 1735

Van Keulen’s ‘map’, from 1735

Admittedly not strictly a map - more of a view - Johannes II Van Keulen’s ‘Gezigt van de N.W. zyde van ’t Eylandt St Helena’ is nevertheless a valuable map-like image. The title translates as ‘View from the North West side of the Island St Helena’.

Flagstaff (‘Vlagge Stok’) is shown clearly on the left, as are the batteries along the north-west coast. Longwood (‘Langbos’) and Alarm House (‘huys’) can be seen behind Jamestown, which is named as ‘Capel Valey’. Young’s (‘Joneos’) and Lemon (‘Limon’) Valley are shown but there is little other detail. It should be noted that Van Keulen was Dutch - the nation that had unsuccessfully tried to seize St Helena sixty years earlier.

French, probably by Jacques-Nicholas Bellin, 1753

French map, probably by Bellin, 1753

We were initially unable to date this map, but were contacted by Deirdre Boys who says I’m not an expert but I think it may be by Jacques-Nicholas Bellin. I have a map of Africa he produced in 1764, labelled ‘TOM III No. 70’ which is similar to how the map on your website is labelled. I have found a map online very similar to yours produced by Bellin 1753{d}.

Lafitte, 1781

Lafitte, 1781

Jamestown by Lafitte, 1781

Mr Lafitte (full name ‘Louis-Francois-Gregoire Lafitte de Brassier’) was a Frenchman but describes himself as ‘Colonial Engineer’. His map is of particular value because it includes, as an insert, a fairly detailed town plan of Jamestown showing that the lower part was already extensively built-up at that time.

Lafitte the spy!

What is interesting about Louis-Francois-Gregoire Lafitte de Brassier is that he was French, but clearly had access to St Helena enough to draw quite a detailed map. England and France were continually at war with each other at that time, and in 1781 they were engaged in the 1778-1783 Anglo-French War (about support for America), so there is no way the island authorities would have aided an enemy in mapping their defences. This must therefore be a covertly-drawn spy map! The accompanying text in French goes into great detail about the island’s defences. Download the full map.

Ian Bruce and the editor of this website have written an article about Lafitte and his maps, published in ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{3} #48, August 2019, which explores more about his history and how the maps came to be made. You can read an extended version of the article, with additional information.

In 2021 Edward Baldwin donated much of his personal collection of St Helena items to the Museum of St Helena, including his Lafitte Map - the copy-from-memory made by Lafitte after his original was confiscated. It is now on display at the Museum of St Helena.

Unsurprisingly given the military significance of St Helena, it seems Lafitte was not the only spy…

1805, Phillips?

1805, Phillips?

The authorship of this map is uncertain but it has been dated to 1805. It has broadly the correct orientation, and Jamestown is shown in the correct place (though the scale is wrong). Other features are fairly accurately located but also not correctly to scale.

W. Innes Pocock, probably 1815

Lieut. W. Innes Pocock, RN, 1815

Part of ‘Five views of the Island of St Helena.’, London, 1815 by Lieut. W. Innes Pocock, RN.

Pocock’s was one of many documents published at around this time, reflecting the increasing attention given to the island as a result of Napoleon’s exile here. The island shape follows that of most contemporary maps and, apart from Jamestown and Plantation House, this map is significantly less detailed.

German Map, 1815

German Map, 1815

Ansicht von James Town auf der Insel St. Helena is interesting because the sketch of the island is reasonably accurate for the time, but the inset map is not, either in shape, scale or detail (Diana’s Peak is labelled roughly where The Barn actually is), though the orientation is fairly accurate. This shape is also, as far as we can tell, unique; we have not seen any other maps with close approximations to this design.

‘Batterie auf dem Leiterberg’ is Ladder Hill Fort (‘Leiterberg’). Note also the three scales just above the whole-island map: in German Miles (5); English Miles (6) and French Miles(7) - which explains why the Metric System (Km, Kg, etc.) was needed in Europe!

Our thanks to Deirdre Boys{4} for discovering this one.

George Thomas, HMS Northumberland, 1815

George Thomas, HMS Northumberland, 1815

An unusual map because it concentrates on the coastline and the inshore sea features, with nothing noted inland. The full title is A Survey of The Bank of Soundings and Dangers around The Island St. Helena by Mr. George Thoms. on His Majesty Ship Northumberland [under] Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn, in 1815 HMS Northumberland brought Napoleon to St Helena in October 1815 and presumably surveyed for this map during the visit, with the intention of providing useful defence information against an expected rescue attempt. Published by John Horsburgh, Hydrographer to the East India Company, 1st January 1817.

Clearly dated 1816, but the creator’s name is not legible

Unreadable creator, 1816

The date of this map is clear but the image is not of high enough resolution to read the name of the creator{5}. The map is interesting because it is as accurate as the Palmer map, but pre-dates it by 40 years. Another map mystery…

Lieut. R. P. Read, ‘St Helena’, 1817

Read’s 1817 map

This shares the peculiar island shape with Thornton’s 1703 map, suggesting that Moll’s map was either ignored or not available to Read. Indeed, it could be almost a coloured-in version! However the map is now far more detailed in terms of the places marked, and even identifies the names of property owners. It is the last we’ve seen to refer to The Castle as James Fort.

Note also in the bottom right corner the reproductions of Napoleon’s signature.

You can access an online version of this map here:

Look closely and you will find a house intriguingly named The Castle of Otranto

M. Marchaud - Map of Ille Ste. Hélène - 1821-1850

M. Marchaud - Map of Ille Ste. Hélène - 1821-1850

At first glancethis one seems to be another like Read’s map with the peculiar island shape, but on closer investigation it is actually much closer to the 1816 map with the undecypherable name, just rotated 108°. It is therefore quite an accurate island shape. Sadly the image we can find is too small to identify any interesting details.

Capt. Edmund Palmer, ‘Military Sketch of the Island of St Helena’, 1850-52

Capt. Edmund Palmer, 1850-52

The first military map, and we had also thought it to be our first map to represent the true shape and topology of St Helena, until the 1816 map turned up. The orientation (against North) is also accurate.

Rousseau, ‘Map of Ile Sainte Hélène’, 1853

Rousseau Map, Ile Sainte Hélène, 1853

Most of the features marked are as today, though the area to the north of Longwood seems to be shown as a desert - probably as a result of the destruction of the ‘Great Wood’.

Melliss, 1860

John Melliss ’ Map, 1860

Focussing primarily on the island’s geology, this map was included in ‘St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island{6}’.

Fowler, 1863

Fowler’s Map, 1863

A good map full of interesting detail, including the old costal road from Jamestown to Ruperts and the location of the Longwood New House. Published in Fowler’s ’Views of St Helena’, 1863.

The Royal Engineers, ‘The Island of St Helena’, 1872

Royal Engineers, 1872

This is a re-drawing by the Royal Engineers of Edmund Palmer‘s 1850-2 Military Map, with much updating and additional detail.

This map is in several parts, as per the index shown.

We have a high-resolution assembled map{i}, but at 1.8Gb it’s not practicable for uploading to this site. Instead we have the various segments{i} as individual downloads{7}: Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX, Part X and Part XI

Imray and Jenkins, 1884

James Imray 1884 map

Taken from page 273 of ‘Atlantic Ocean Pilot: The Seaman’s guide to the navigation of the Atlantic Ocean, with numerous illustrations, charts and plans’, by James Frederick Imray and Henry Davenport Jenkins, 1884.

This is the first truly detailed map of St Helena, even including depths in the immediate vicinity of the coast (as would be expected, given its source).

Boer PoW, 1902

Boer PoW map, 1902

Drawn by Boer PoW Capt. De Framond and illustrated with sketches by another prisoner, Erich Mayer, dated to 1902.

A wonderful piece of artwork! Unsurprisingly the Boer camps feature. Curiously, consider the annotations on both Manati Bay and Prosperous Bay - maybe considering escape or hoping for rescue?

smaller map

An alternative version also exists without the illustrations (right).

USA Navy, 1921

USA Navy 1921 map

Very detailed and still remarkably accurate. Exactly why the US Navy needed such a detailed map is not clear…

Please Note the full-resolution map is 12,179x9,009px 5.3Mb, so may take a while to load!

Admiralty, 1922

Admiralty 1922 map

Also very detailed and still remarkably accurate. Perhaps made in response to the US Navy 1921 map (above)?

Please Note the full-resolution map is 12,179x8,165px 8.5Mb, so may take a while to load!

1916 version
1916 version

There is also a 1916 version of this map (right) which seems not to differ from the 1922 version in any material respect.

HMSO, 1954

HMSO map, 1954

A fairly detailed map, also included in The ‘Blue Book’ for 1954. HMSO is ‘Her Majesty’s Stationary Office’. Note the inclusion of roads only suitable for Horse Drawn Traffic.

Late 20th Century

Late 20th Century map

We date this map based on it showing the Diplomatic Wireless Station, which operated from 1966 until the late 1970s. The style suggests it may be from the 1960s or 1970s.

If you can help us date this map and identify its origins please contact us.

Recently for sale

Map recently for sale

A few years ago this map was being advertised on the Internet for sale (on site www.map.hu). It is, however, out-of-date (it does not show the St Helena Airport).

Recent, c.2000

Recent island map, c.2000

This was the standard Tourist Map during the first years of the 21st Century. It remains in use but has (officially) been replaced by the one below.

Official Tourist Map, 2014

2014 Tourist Information Office map

Produced in 2014 by the Tourist Information Office this was the official visitor’s map until 2017.{k}

Official Tourist Map, 2017

2017 official map

This is the official visitor’s map, produced in 2017 by the Tourist Information Office.{k}

If you look closely you will spot an apparent error. St. Martin’s-in-the-Hills Church seems to be shown as being somewhere up on Horse Pasture. Actually it’s at High Point in St Pauls, to the South West.

If Man 1 asks Man 2 for directions, Man 2, realizing that Man 1 is a weak, direction-asking type of male who probably also reads owner’s manuals, could decide to attack Man 1’s village and plunder his women. Man 1 is not about to run that type of risk.{l}

Recent maps

Here are some more recent maps. Note that you can buy printed maps of St Helena in Jamestown at the Post Office, including large-scale versions suitable for exploring the island.

Below: Official Island Map, 2020Official Tourist Map, 2021Interactive map by Google™

Official Island Map, 2020

2020 official island map

This is the official island map, produced in 2020 by the Government of St Helena.{m}

Note that this is the highest resolution image available in digital form, though printed maps are on sale in higher resolution.

Official Tourist Map, 2021

2021 official map

Additional data
Additional data

This is the official visitor’s map, produced in 2021 by the Tourist Information Office. Additional data appears on page two (right).{k}

You can download both pages as a single package.

Interactive map by Google™

Theoretically this should be the most up-to-date map of St Helena.

Interactive map, by Google Maps™{n}

Specialist maps

Finally, a few specialist maps.

Below: Districts MapMap on a 1934 Postage StampNapoleon’s restrictionsWatercoursesWatercourses & Rainfall, 1992Geology of St HelenaFlax processing locationsPostcard map, 1902Sea floor, 2016Drone Zones, 2017Churches & Burial SitesSeamounts, 2019‘Sailing to The Cape’, 2019Jamestown map

Districts Map

Districts of St Helena

Our own creation! Used as the index for the island’s districts.

Map on a 1934 Postage Stamp

Map on 1934 postage stamp

This postage stamp map identifies a few, apparently randomly selected, features (why is Man & Horse featured but not the Heart Shaped Waterfall?)

Napoleon’s restrictions

Map of Napoleon’s restrictions

Map design from c.1820, but this copy probably drawn up later, showing the area where Napoleon was allowed to ride unrestricted. (Napoleon complained that much of the area enclosed was actually unsuitable for riding.)

St Helena Watercourses

St Helena watercourses

Our own extract from other maps, intended to show the location of the Heart Shaped Waterfall but also to illustrate the numerous other watercourses on St Helena{8}. However, ‘watercourse’ should not be treated as synonymous with ‘river’ - most of these are tiny streams, and many are dry except in the wet season.

Watercourses & Rainfall, 1992

Rainfall and primary water courses

Shows our primary watercourses and the rainfall isohyets (like contours). Part of the Article: Meeting St Helena’s Water Demands on our page Water.

The Geology of St Helena

Geology of St Helena

Approximate geology of St Helena, from our page Geology of St Helena.

Flax processing locations

Flax locations, 1874 to 1966

St Helena National Trust map, showing the Flax processing areas on the island during the period 1874 to 1966.

Postcard map, 1902

Postcard map, 1902

The locations of the Boer PoW camps are shown on this postcard map, as are the Napoleonic sites, making it a sort-of Exiles map.

Sea floor, 2016

Sea floor map, 2016

Also showing the ‘Seamounts{n}.

Drone Zones, 2017

Drone Zones Map, 2017

Shows where and when you can fly a Drone in relation to the airport. More on our page Fly here.

Please Note In December 2019 the permissions for the ‘no fly’ zone were relaxed, allowing a drone to operate in this zone if (a) the activity is for a ‘legitimate research purpose’ (not explained) and (b) St Helena Airport is notified in advance.

Churches & Burial Sites

Churches & Burial Grounds

Based on a graphic by Chris and Sheila Hillman.

Seamounts, 2019

Seamounts map, 2016

Although St Helena is the only above-water land for hundreds of Km in any direction, there are areas of shallow water (‘Seamounts’) in the vicinity, which are particularly useful for offshore fishing. This map shows the locations of the nearby seamounts; of which Bonaparte and Cardno are most often used for fishing from St Helena.

‘Sailing to The Cape’, 2019

Sailing to The Cape map, 2019

We created this one for our page Before Discovery. It illustrates the route taken by early sailing ships to avoid sailing directly into the Trade Winds.

Our Jamestown map

We created this one for our page Jamestown (it’s also used on our page The Run).

__:Principal Roads;__:The Run;1:The Castle;2:Jacob’s Ladder;3:Tourist Information Office;4:Museum of St Helena;5:The Wharf;6:Castle Gardens;7:The Leisure Park;8:The Mule Yard;9:Duke of Edinburgh Playground;10:Grand Parade;11:Post Office;12:The Hospital13:Pilling School14:Post Office15:St. James’ Church
You can download a much more detailed map of Jamestown, issued in 2020{r}.

See also the maps depicting the development of our road network on our page Roads.

Not exactly a map, but…

The image below from Google Earth™{s} shows the whole of Jamestown, The Briars, Ruperts and (most of) Half Tree Hollow. Only a satellite or a very high-flying aircraft can capture this view! This is a clickable version - hover your mouse and the area or object will identify itself. In some cases you can click to go to the page.

Pilling SchoolBrewery YardSt. James’ ChurchKingdom Hall (Jehovah’s Witnesses)New Apostolic ChurchCommunity Care CentreRuperts wharfBulk fuel farmHospitalCastleJacob’s LadderLadder Hill FortMaldiviaCastle GardensFisheries CorporationSure HeadquartersMuseum of St HelenaDuke of Edinburgh PlaygroundThe WharfMundens BatteryTourist Information OfficeGrand ParadeConstitution HillField RoadShy RoadLadder Hill Road‘Haul Road’ (to Airport/Longwood)Side PathThe BriarsHalf Tree HollowJames BayRuperts BayJamestownSeaviewMundens HillRupertsLadder Hill

Jamestown, The Briars, Ruperts, Half Tree Hollow

The Middle of the Middle of Nowhere

St Helena is sometimes described as being ‘in the Middle of Nowhere’, but a posting on Social Media caused us to ask: where is the Middle of the Middle of Nowhere?

Establishing the middle of an irregularly shaped object requires more science than we can muster but based on treating the island as broadly rectangular, its middle is roughly as shown below:

A curious addition

We were alerted in October 2023 to the map below, then for sale on an online map vendor. The illustration in the bottom left corner is, shall we say - curious. Is it supposed to depict a St Helenian woman? It certainly doesn’t look like one, if only because toplessness (and in this case, near nakedness) is not, and never has been, part of our culture. So why is it there?

But look much closer and you can see something intriguing. Look at the labels Man and Horse Point (lower left) and Horse and Pasture Pt. (middle left). Both have been truncated. So our first thought was that the image had been added onto the original rectangular map, for some purpose unknown. But then we researched a bit more and came across the following:

As you can see, the St Helena map in the bottom right has exactly the same shape as the one above, and even has the two truncated labels indicated above (look closely). So what seems to us to have happened is that someone took the second image, extracted the St Helena map, and added the curious image to fill the gap. If we’re right, we hope anyone who was willing to pay the asking price of US$375.00 on the online map vendor was aware of this…

Spot the error!

We found this map on the Internet. We don’t know its origins but we did spot an error. See if you can find it too.

Answer here.

Read More

Below: What does Lodewijcksz’s map depict?New maps for St Helena?Not where we thought it was…Article: Mapping a Changing Island

What does Lodewijcksz’s map depict?

Lodewijcksz’s map, colour version

If you study Lodewijcksz’s 1598 map closely you will see that the ships are depicted firing, perhaps at each other. And are those English crosses on the foreground ships? Deirdre Boys sent us the following explanation…

I think I know what is depicted in the Willem map. De Houtman’s 1595-1597 trip to look at a route to Asia to find spice supplies started off with 4 ships. Much of the crew was decimated by disease and fighting and they ended up burning one of the ships before returning - sounds as if they only had crew enough left to sail 3 ships. I’ve seen Willem described as a clerk / midshipman and he produced his own book, and contributed work to a publication by Cornelius Claesz, and it is the latter that the map appears in. On the return journey they tried to stop at St Helena for water, but Portuguese ships prevented them landing. By the time they returned to The Netherlands so few crew had survived that they need help docking. I think this unsuccessful attempt at landing on St Helena is what is being portrayed. I think the flags with the crosses are on Portuguese ships and the fleeing ship is Dutch. The pictures below are pictures I have found of ships from the Dutch-Portuguese war (Portuguese on the left and Dutch in the middle). The other picture is a painting of Portuguese caravels and depicts a variety of flags, some of which are crosses{d}.

New maps for St Helena?

Published in The Independent, 9th October 2015{9}

The GeoInformation Group Supports St Helena’s Multi-Million Pound Economic Development

The UK Map team within The GeoInformation Group has been commissioned by St Helena Government to create a cartographic database for the island’s new 1:25,000 and 1:10,000 scale mapping.

The South Atlantic island, one of the most isolated, inhabited islands in the world, currently relies on Ordnance Survey maps dating back to 1990. Dramatic development changes to accommodate the island’s first and only international airport due to open early 2016 and other new key changes including a major road, in-filled valley and new wharf, render the existing maps out of date.

Having assessed the current OS maps at the equivalent scale, the Government felt that adapting these to St Helena might not be the best option for visually representing the island, comments Samantha Cherrett, Environmental Data & GIS Manager for St Helena Government. We are looking for mapping that accurately represents the island whilst being familiar to visitors. The GeoInformation Group will create a cartographic design afresh giving us the flexibility to adapt the map visually to emphasise the island’s important environmental and historical features.

A key consideration for The GeoInformation Group is to ensure that the various map elements are effectively communicated. For example, roads on the existing maps are all shown with the same symbol, which is very misleading since many of the roads are single track, steep in places and of varying quality. In addition to this, there is limited detailed mapping for the island that shows the information needed so this process has prompted the update of many GIS layers.

The new maps are to be primarily used by tourists and local businesses, however, it is envisaged that the digital product may be used by the GIS department as a base map. Finding places on the island can be deemed quite difficult; directions regularly include It’s next to Mrs Henry’s House.

We consider The GeoInformation Group professional, competitively priced and possessing excellent experience with more detailed mapping, concludes Cherrett. We felt that they are best placed to provide us with a high quality product.

The maps aim to be printed in time for the first flights in late February 2016.

See the following Article to see how that deadline is going…!

Not (quite) where we thought it was…

Press Release issued by the Government of St Helena 25th January 2018{10}{9}

St Helena moves 732 metres on the map

St Helena Government is in the process of creating a new detailed topographic map of St Helena, the first update since 1990. Since then, a lot of things have changed, not just a new airport being built with regular scheduled flights and the imminent decommissioning of the much loved RMS.

Revised location

In 1990, Satellite Navigation Systems (‘SatNavs’) were still an expensive novelty, mostly used by the military. Nowadays, GPS (Global Positioning System) receivers are everywhere, very inexpensive and almost everyone with a smart phone has the ability to find their position with an accuracy of about five metres anywhere on the planet. The 1990 series St Helena 1:10,000 and 1:25,000 topographic maps are based on the old Astro DOS datum setup by the UK’s Directorate of Overseas Surveys (DOS) in 1971. Back then, GPS did not exist and far less precise astronomical methods were used to work out positions in the open ocean like St Helena Island. It turns out that the Astro DOS datum in St Helena is 732 metres off from truth (today’s GPS position). This means that anyone using a GPS in default setting mode with the 1990 series maps will plot their position 732 metres out, which on St Helena could be a serious mistake.

Of course, if you select the Astro Dos 71/4 option in GPS receivers this error goes away but this isn’t the ideal situation for safety reasons. In the ideal world your GPS position in default mode should match up exactly with the map, so this has necessitated preparation of new maps by SHG. The construction of the new airport, associated roads and port facilities has also warranted the update as well of course.

During 2015 and 2016, geodetic surveyors led by Murray Henry from SHG re-surveyed the Island visiting many of the original 1971 trigonometric stations and also surveying all of the post box walk tracks. The surveyors used state-of-the-art geodetic grade GPS receivers to get centimetre accurate positions of the trigonometric stations. The new datum is called the St Helena Geodetic Datum 2015 (SHGD2015) and is directly compatible with the default GPS datum which is called WGS 84.

A geodetic consultant from Australia, Richard Stanaway, who first visited St Helena as a tourist in 2009 was engaged to compute the new coordinates and work out the difference with the old coordinates. These transformations were checked using different GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to validate them with the latest satellite imagery over St Helena.

St Helena hasn’t really moved 732 metres; that is just the error of the old datum, but the Island is moving a few centimetres each year as she drifts away from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The GPS base station at Longwood run by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of NASA can monitor this tectonic motion precisely. St Helena is a key station in the international monitoring network.

Further information or the full report on this project, entitled ‘Geodetic Datum Modernisation for St Helena’ is available on request from Samantha Cherrett (samantha.cherrett@enrd.gov.sh) or Devlin Yon (devlin-yon@enrd.gov.sh) at Essex House, Tel: (+290) 22270.

We were going to make a copy of the report available as a download but (for no apparent reason) the Government of St Helena won’t let us…

Article: Mapping a Changing Island

By Sam Cherrett, published in the St Helena Connection No. 18{9}

Imagine arriving on holiday at your destination airport, collecting your luggage, picking up your hire car, driving out of the airport towards your accommodation, only to glance down at the map you have and discover that the airport and the road you are on do not exist. Not only are you trying to navigate a new place, but you don’t even know where you are starting from in the first place.

Well, that’s what was going to happen on St Helena… until now.

In July 2014, as part of the lead up to air access to the island, the need for an island map showing the new airport and access road was identified; the existing map is now 25 years old, and even excluding the extensive changes to the airport site at Prosperous Bay Plain, there have been enough developments on the island during this time to make the current map out of date and unsuitable for purpose. It is time for an update.

The first step in the process involved contacting Britain’s national mapping agency, the Ordnance Survey (OS), since they have been creating St Helena’s maps for over 100 years. Sadly, in the last 25 years, restructuring of the OS now means that they concentrate predominantly on maintaining the high quality mapping of Great Britain and no longer have the resources to undertake bespoke overseas projects. Their website now states that in fifteen short years, we’ve changed from a centuries-old venerable mapping company into a big data powerhouse. In one way, this is a sad result for St Helena’s maps; there is something comforting about travelling such distance to a UK Overseas Territory and having the familiarity of an OS Landranger type map as you would if you were in the UK. On the other hand, it provides us with some freedom to move away from any content restrictions and current cartographic display that would have been applied by the OS, and allows us to create and tailor the map to be relevant to St Helena.

After obtaining quotes from several interested parties, a company was chosen to create new 1:10,000 and 1:25,000 scale raster maps and the process of updating all the information to go into these new maps has begun. Our first problem was that the latest base data we had was a satellite image from 2009, already out of date itself and not wholly suitable for creating the most up to date map we need. New aerial imagery is preferable but not possible, so in March 2015 we became the proud owners of a new 0.5m pixel satellite image, dated November 5th 2014.

Derived from the stereo imagery is a new digital elevation model (DEM) accurate to within 1m and some of the most comprehensive and accurate data this island has seen in at least 25 years. Both the imagery and the DEM clearly show the airport development, airport access road and changes in terrain on Prosperous Bay Plain and will be invaluable for updating all other island map information.

As part of the map update, we are reviewing what else might have changed, what is new and what might be missing. These changes include moving incorrectly placed islands, amending buildings that are now ruins, adding a new wharf, wind turbines and a solar farm and simply checking the names of places across the island. An open day was held in March allowing the public to contribute to these amendments, asking opinions on changes and showcasing some potential designs. A further consultation period was be held at the end of May and then an additional one will be held in September as and when the first draft appears.

We have already identified two major problems with place names. Firstly, there is some debate as to which way round the three peaks are, an issue which I understand was also prominent during the last map update. The problem is that over the past 200 years, there have been numerous inconsistencies, and even 80 years of official Ordnance Survey maps may have had it wrong, showing Mount Actaeon, not Diana’s Peak, as the highest. The matter is not helped by the signs on each peak differing from the existing map, as well as from the maps provided on information boards on the peaks, in other printed literature and how they are known by locals. After a few passing comments by people, we even went as far as to resurvey the heights of all three peaks, fortunately confirming that the middle one is the highest. We think we have reached an evidence-based conclusion, but not everyone may be pleased by this.

The second item of issue is the name of the rock known as Nigger’s Head. Informally, this rock is now also known as Gorilla’s Head by many and appears as both in island literature.

Raising the issue of formally renaming it has caused a bit of a stir, with some strong opinion in favour of leaving it as is, as well as for changing it. Arguments for both include historical significance on the island and objectionable association of the two words, but many feel that the ‘N-word’ is offensive and should not be used on a modern map. A visitor to St Helena may not understand the historical significance but may only see the word itself. The debate is still raging, but whatever decision is made, it will not be made lightly.

Throughout this whole process we are aware that we have the difficult task of creating a map during a period of time where the most changes are happening. Creating a map that is not out of date and factually incorrect after 12 months is a hurdle we have to cross. One thing is certain though, when the flights start arriving, visitors will be able to explore this wonderful island with a map that matches what is on the ground. They may still get lost, but it won’t be because of an out of date map.

Sam Cherrett is employed by SHG to work jointly on a funded Geographical Information System (GIS) data sharing and accessibility project for the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI) as well as providing GIS support to the Environmental Management Division. Her main aim is to help improve and update St Helena’s spatial data, identify gaps in available spatial information and make all of St Helena’s data more accessible.


Spot the error - Answer

If you look at the centre of the map you will see ‘Saint Matthews[sic] Cathedral’. St. Matthew’s has always been an important church but it never had Cathedral status.

{a} Google Earth™{b} Arthur H. Robinson{c} St Helena Virtual Library and Archive{d} Deirdre Boys{4}{e} John Carter Brown Library, Brown University{9}{f} From ‘Insula d. Helenæ’ by Theodore de Bry, 1601 Copyright © The Hebrew University of Jerusalem & The Jewish National & University Library{9}{g} UK National Archives MPH 1/251{9}{11}{12}{h} Clemens Paulusch{i} Museum of St Helena{j} Historical Papers Research Archive, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg{9}{k} Tourist Information Office{l} Dave Barry, ‘Why men never stop to ask directions’, in ‘I’ll Mature When I’m Dead’ (2010){m} Government of St Helena{9}{n} Google Maps™{o} Diagram from the Article: Meeting St Helena’s Water Demands{p} Ken Denholm{q} St Helena Airport Limited{r} Government of St Helena{s} Kindly supplied by Ian Bruce, September 2018


{1} A higher resolution but monochrome version of this map exists.{2} Our page Two St Helenas? may also be of interest.{3} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.{4} Who describes herself as a Paediatrician with a long standing love of history and an interest in miniature / small maps of Africa and its islands from 1500 - 1800.{5} Unless you have a copy of that magic software they use on CSI to blow up a 2px-by-2px scrap into an A0 full-resolution poster, in which case please let us know the details (and send us a copy of the enlarged map).{6} …including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology, by John Melliss, published in 1875.{7} Part I is just sea so we have not included it. Sadly, part XII is missing.{8} From our page The Heart Shaped Waterfall.{9} @@RepDis@@{10} Not, as you might have assumed, 1st April…{11} Not to be confused with the St Helena Archives.{12} Download the full map.