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Museum of St Helena

Come view our history

What then is, generally speaking, the truth of history? A fable agreed upon.{a}

All of St Helena’s history summarised in one place

SEE ALSO: For more information see the Museum’s website.

Visit Our Museum

The Museum of St Helena is in Jamestown, at the foot of Jacob’s Ladder as you walk through to the Grand Parade.

Museum History

The origins of our current Museum began in 1854 with the opening of the first St Helena Museum:

Over the next century there were developed a number of small museums around the island, including one at Plantation House where they exhibited items from Napoleon’s House at Longwood. Eventually Longwood House was itself developed into a fully-fledged Museum, as it remains today.

The first St Helena Museum had various locations, most notably in Garden Hall, now the home of SAMS Radio 1 and The Sentinel.

In 1959 a ‘Historical Exhibition’ was held in the newly-completed Cannister building. In the fortnight it was open some 350 school children visited the Exhibition, and during the visit of a Cruise Ship some 80 tourists also visited the exhibit. It was concluded that a more permanent museum, in which many aspects of island life and history might be displayed, would be a worthwhile project.

In November 1979, with the establishment of the St Helena Heritage Society, the idea a proper Museum of St Helena began to form. On the 23rd May 1980 the society opened its first museum at Broadway House. Over the next 20 years the Museum collection grew substantially, as residents contributed items from their family collections and new items were discovered in and around the island.


Eventually the collection out-grew the space available at Broadway House. This led to the establishment of the ‘New Museum Appeal’. As a result of this appeal the Government of St Helena allowed the St Helena Heritage Society to lease the Old Power House building (formerly the site of the island’s electricity generators) in Lower Jamestown, at the foot of Jacob’s Ladder for a twenty-year period from 1st May 1998 at a pepper corn rent of £1.00 per annum{1}. The Museum opened in the refurbished Old Power House years ago on 21st May 2002, the day the island celebrated its Quincentenary - to learn more listen (right) to an interview with the conversion Project Manager, Tony Dunne, by Ralph Peters of Radio St Helena on 6th April 2000 and see the article A new home for the Museum (below).

Many of the exhibits were salvaged from the ships lost or scuttled off St Helena.


The Museum provides vital curation and stewardship of sensitive historic items on behalf of the community, with limited financial resources. The Museum also has an extensive physical and digital archive of images, video and documents all relating to the island’s heritage. It has a gift shop that sells history-related and other souvenirs and hosts cultural and historical exhibitions.

Future Plans

There are plans to incorporate the adjacent building, the former PWD Stores, into a greater Museum, Library, and Archives and form a ‘Cultural Centre’ for the island. You can see the plans{c}.


International Museum Day

Visit any time - you don’t have to wait until International Museum Day

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Article: A new home for the Museum: the Old Power House

By Gay Denbow, published in ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{2} #25, Autumn 2002{3}

It all started on 6th March 2000. The task ahead was a mammoth one, that of halting further deterioration of the Old Power House (OPH) in order to give it a new lease of life as the National Museum of St Helena.

Before work could begin on the roof, the Energy Division vacated their offices, which were under the same roof but parted from the main hall by a dividing wall. The Public Works & Services Division (PW&SD) had to clear out the old engines and all of their stores from the building. All was going well until a big hole appeared in the road immediately in front of the OPH. This road was in fact a bridge over a waterway known as The Run, which flows under the whole of the building out to the seafront. PW&SD quickly reinforced the bridge and as a bonus for the OPH, two large grills were installed which would take any water away from the building in the event of flooding in the area.

By 9th March the building was clear of rubbish, scaffolding was in place and work started on stripping the roof. This was a dangerous task because the cladding was full of rust and white ants had had a feast on the timbers. Then, 60cm of the wall had to be removed from the top, which would be replaced with a ring beam with Box Outs accurately built, to support the new roof trusses. Most of the old stones that were removed were then used on the face of the ring beam to tie in with the existing stonework. All materials for the roof, imported from Cape Town, were on site by the end of April, when six roof trusses were put in place with the help of a large crane from PW&SD. Jacob’s Ladder nearby provided the ideal spot for some great pictures of the operation. The installation of the purlins, insulation and roof cladding were all completed without incident in brilliant weather.

On the west wall, part of the restoration involved removing all windows at ground level that had been added at a later date, and replacing these in the original positions. These positions could be easily identified by the red stone, which had been used to highlight the original window openings. To replace any red stone which was beyond repair, we were given some that came from the long demolished Steeple of St. James’ Church. The old rendering was chipped out of the west wall and re-pointed. The local lads were good at cutting this stone and after some training did die pointing in keeping with the old style. Due to concerns over several large cracks on the comer of the west wall, the ground was dug out to foundation level and fortunately the foundation was found to be sound. It was therefore decided that under-pinning was unnecessary.

The front of the building was also a mishmash of various alterations. To remedy this, the front door was taken out and restored to the original position, and the window above was also returned to its full height. The beautiful archway of stone over the front door was also returned to its former glory after being cleaned and re-pointed.

Our two trainees, Barry Zervanro and Gregory Phillips, were responsible for all of the cleaning and pointing of the front wall. They did an excellent job, but were somewhat embarrassed by the number of compliments they received from passers-by!

Six months after work started, we were pleased to hear that the St Helena Government had granted us permission to take over the area previously occupied by the Energy Division. On the front wall the newly acquired door was also restored to its original position and the window above was built up.

While all of this restoration work was going on externally, stanchions were erected inside to support the joists and timberwork for the gallery floor. And having acquired the whole of the building, half of the partition wall and all of the small office walls were to create more space upstairs. Some windows on that east wall upstairs were also removed and only what appeared to be the original three were retained. On the ground floor openings were made to provide a new entrance into what is now the shop area, and on the south wall facing the terrace an opening was made for the new fire escape and another to provide an entrance into the small store. The building of the fire escape presented new challenges as, with The Run below, a bridge had to be built from the building to the terrace. Also on the ground floor a new toilet was installed with special features to cater for the disabled.

A lot had been achieved in just over a year, which included all of the floorboards in place upstairs. However, on the ground floor, a special concrete base was prepared for the bronze cannon of the ’Witte Leeuw’, between the joists under the boards in one area. This became our first exhibit, as it was put in place while work continued around it. The electrician Brian Yon had been on site for some time too, installing the vast amount of lighting and also the complicated fire alarm system. July 2001 saw the installation of the banisters on the gallery floor by Colin Yon, and the very grand staircase. So grand is it, that Mrs Joyce Thorpe remarked on a later visit that she would like to be a bride walking down those stairs! The shop front modelled on an old picture of Mr Jackson’s shop in Main Street, and handcrafted by Alan Richards, is another of the many attractive features of this fine building.

On 2nd November 2001, merely nineteen months into the project. worked stopped when funds were exhausted. Following a worrying time of three and a half months, and the excitement of February 2002, when the St Helena government gave us the extra funds, it was a mad scramble to complete the project. We did, however, take a brief break to organise an evening of music and poetry on 16th March, to celebrate the restoration of that grand old building. The ground floor was packed, the entertainment a success, and the comments on what had been achieved so far were very encouraging.

Back on track, painting, varnishing and electrical work was in earnest, while Alan Richards pulled out all the stops to make the thirty plus showcases. The first of these was delivered in early April and there was even more painting going on with Tessa and Mure Smith forming part of the hard-working team. Edward Baldwin on his holiday here worked jolly hard too, and did a fine job cleaning up the bronze cannon, setting up the coin display and kitting out the beautiful East Indiaman. Several other visitors and islanders gave up their time to help too. Sarah Holland was ably assisted by Liz Young and also had a lot of support from students from Prince Andrew School.

At one time we enlisted the help of some three-day workers. Although four of them reported for duty one day, news reached us later in the week that they would not be coming back because they really didn’t want to work that hard! The mad scramble continued up to the very last. While Alan Richards worked all hours to complete the showcases, we had our trainees in the yard next to the Museum plinths for the exhibits. Much effort was made to set up the Museum shop and even more effort had to be made to transport most of the collection from Broadway House, its old home.

The end result is that we now have a fine building, housing a splendid collection, something that all concerned can be justly proud.

DGY Contractors and Adrian Fowler were the two contractors who completed most of the construction work. Trainees Henzil George in the early days, and Barry Zervanro and Gregory Phillips for most of the time, gained valuable experience in many aspects of restoration work, all under the guidance of Tommy Dunne, the Project Manager. Towards the end, Robert Williams and Aubrey Stevens were also employed to help. Apart from those mentioned, invaluable help was willingly given during construction by the Fire Department, the Police, the Energy Division, PW&SD and the Works Committee of the Heritage Society.

{a} Napoleon{b} Radio St Helena/Museum of St Helena, digitised by Burgh House Media Productions{c} St Helena Connection #18, June 2015


{1} The lease was clearly renewed on or before 1st May 2018…{2} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.{3} @@RepDis@@