1502 “On 21st May, St. Helena Day, the uninhabited Island
was discovered by the Portuguese admiral, Joao da Nova
Castella, who was returning home after defeating a
fleet belonging to the Zamorin, or ruler, of Calicut,
on the west coast of India. Da Nova anchored in the
lee of the Island opposite a deep valley. A timber
chapel was built in the valley which later became the
site of Jamestown.
1513 Fernando Lopez, a Portuguese prisoner on his way home
to Portugal, marooned himself on the Island. Apart
from a visit to Europe, when he confessed his sins to
the Pope, he spent his remaining 30 years on the Island
in solitary occupation. This story may not be true,
but like Ascension Island’s first inhabitant the
figment of a fertile imagination.
1588 The English explorer, Captain Thomas Cavendish, landed
on 8th June whilst on the last stage of his voyage
around the world on his ship Desire. He found that the
Island had been regularly used by Portuguese sailors
on their voyages to and from the East Indies. As well
as a church, two houses had been constructed,
vegetables and herbs planted, and the Island was now
home to many pigs and goats which had been left to
1591 Abraham Kendall, captain of the Royal Merchant, part
of the first fleet of English East Indiamen on their
way east, landed with a crew suffering from scurvy.
They later recovered.
1592 King Philip II of Spain and Portugal warned his fleet
not to touch St. Helena on their return from Goa.
English captains had learned of the rich pickings, and
were lying in wait at St. Helena to capture the laden
Portuguese ships on their way home.
1593 Captain Lancaster, returning from the first trading
voyage of the East India Company, anchored off Chapel
Valley on 3rd April in order to refresh his crew.
1633 On 15th April, the Dutch government of the United
Provinces claimed possession of the Island. There is
no evidence that it was ever acted upon, let alone that
they either fortified or occupied the Island.
1657 The Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell granted a new
charter to the East India Company. This gave the
Company the right to fortify and colonize any of it’s
establishments, and to transport settlers, stores and
ammunition. Because of the potential importance of St.
Helena as a fortress and staging post on the way home
from India, the Company prepared to claim the Island.
1659 On 5th May, John Dutton took possession `with trumpet
and drum’ of the English East India Company’s first
settlement – the still uninhabited Island of St.
Helena. The building of the fort was commenced
immediately, and a little town sprang up in Chapel
Valley; this first settlement was subsequently named
Jamestown, after King James II.
1661 The first Royal Charter of King Charles II confirmed
the Company’s right to possess, fortify and settle the
Island of St. Helena on behalf of the Crown.
Captain John Dutton departed during the summer, and his
position was taken over by his lieutenant, Robert
Stringer, who was left with a mere 30 men with which
to garrison the Island.
1667 Despite attempts to attract settlers, colonists only
came in small numbers, but some victims of the Great
Fire of London arrived during this year. Each settler
was given a parcel of land in freehold, but with it
went the responsibility to assist in the maintenance
of the fortifications and to act as part of the
1671 The East India Company, mindful of the spiritual need
of their employees, sent the first of a long sequence
of Church of England Chaplains. An early, modest
little church was replaced by a slightly bigger one in
1674, but this was probably not called St. James until
replaced again by the present church in 1774. Another
church was built shortly afterwards near the present
1673 On 1st January, a Dutch force under Jacob de Gens
captured St. Helena. The Governor and his followers
made their escape, and later an English force was
assembled to reclaim the Island. On 15th May, Captain
Richard Munden forced the Dutch to surrender. This was
the last, and indeed only, dispute concerning
possession of the Island.
The second Royal Charter of Charles II to the East
India Company, issued on 16th December, dealt
specifically with St. Helena, and sought to correct the
mistakes shown up by the Dutch capture, to confirm yet
more clearly the significance of the Island as a
fortress, and to emphasize it’s importance to the
1676 Year-long visit to the Island of the young astronomer
Edmund Halley, to map the stars of the southern
1682 The Laws and Constitution for the Island of St. Helena
reaffirmed by the Company in London, as `agreeable to
the nature of the people and not contrary to the laws
and statutes of the Kingdom of England’.
1684 Brief insurrection of several planters and soldiers,
who marched on the fort when their ringleader Adam
Dennison had been imprisoned after a quarrel. Four
were hanged, and some banished from the Island. A
trial the following year resulted in a further five of
the mutineers being executed.
1693 The `Jackson Conspiracy’, in which 27 soldiers seized
the fort (killing the Governor), and escaped from the
Island on the Company ship Francis and Mary.
1706 Two Company ships stolen by the French as they lay at
anchor in the Roads.
1708 Following commercial rivalries between the original
English East India Company and a New East India Company
created in 1698, a new Company was formed by
amalgamation, and entitled the `United Company of
Merchants of England Trading to the East Indies’. St.
Helena was then transferred from the old to the new,
and the United East India Company became Lords
Proprietors of the Island.
1709 The short-lived Breakneck Valley Gold Rush:-
The volcano, unlike Ascension and Tristan, is now
extinct. Being an ocean volcano, it holds no valuable
minerals. Ignorance of that fact encouraged vain
hopes in the early years, as this optimistic ruling
22nd February 1709
A Declaration by the Governor and Council
For the encouragement of any person that shall be
industrious towards finding a mine (of Gold or
Copper) he shall have as a reward for his trouble, two
hundred and fifty pounds for the gold and one
hundred and fifty pounds for the copper mine; and
this rainy season being the most proper time for
looking into all the water-falls and streams, we
desire that they may apply themselves diligently
thereabouts, being assured there are such mines upon
This assurance came from a certain Captain Mashborne,
a member of the Council, who claimed to have found gold
and silver in Breakneck Valley, while searching for
Lime was eventually found in good quantity near Sandy
Bay, but no metals. When his sample was sent to be
assayed in England it proved to be no more that iron
pyrites, and thus ended the `St. Helena Gold Rush’.
Governor Roberts, who had arrived the Previous year,
found that there were many laws and orders which had
been issued in earlier years and were now obsolete.
His revised laws confirmed trial by jury and enclosure
of the land. One of the Governor’s chief ambitions was
to persuade the land-holders to fence their properties;
crops were ruined and trees being destroyed by the
wandering herds of sheep, goats and cattle.
1736 Old Will, one of the first settlers of 1659, died at
the age of 104 years.
1761 Maskelyne and Waddington set up an observatory to
observe the transit of Venus, following a suggestion
first made by Halley on his visit nearly a century
1766 Civil and Military Fund set up for the relief of widows
and orphans of Company Officers.
1774 The first Parish Church in Jamestown had been showing
signs of decay for many years, and finally a new
building was erected. St. James’ is now the oldest
Anglican church south of the Equator.
1783 The `Christmas Mutiny’ erupted, caused by soldiers
angry at the new rules and restrictions on liquor
consumption. Almost a hundred mutineers were condemned
to death, but only ten were executed.
1792 Governor Robert Brooke drew up a code of laws for the
control and protection of slaves, which limited the
authority of the master and extended that of the
magistrates. The importation of slaves was also
1795 The St. Helena Corps took part in the capture of the
Cape from the Dutch.
1804 The Emperor Napoleon laid plans to capture St. Helena
from the English. Decres, the Navy Minister, had
organize eight ships and fifteen hundred men, but
before they set sail the Emperor altered the
destination to Surinam.
1806 The ill-fated attempt to capture Buenos Aires, with the
St. Helena Brigade.
The St. Helena Telegraph System installed, the first
outside Europe, to replace signal guns previously
used to warn of attack.
1814 A Benevolent Society was founded by Governor Wilks to
provide the means of education to `the children of
slaves, free blacks and the poorer classes of the
1815 Napoleon Bonaparte surrendered to the British after his
defeat at Waterloo and was interned on the island. He
stepped ashore from HMS Northumberland on 17th October.
In order to prevent any escape the military presence
was increased and the population doubled in size. In
the following year, Governor Wilks was placed by a
British Government appointee, Lieutenant-General Sir
1817 Birth of Saul Solomon on 25th May, later to become one
of the leading South African politicians of the 19th
Century, and known as `The Member for Cape Town’.
1818 Following an incident when a slave owner was fined a
statutory ú2 for whipping a young slave girl, Hudson
Lowe convened a meeting of the inhabitants, urging the
abolition of slavery on the Island; and so, as a first
measure, all children born of a slave woman after
Christmas Day were to be free, but considered as
apprentices until the age of 18. Masters were also to
enforce the attendance of these free-born children at
church and Sunday schools.
1821 Napoleon died at Longwood on 5th May. Most of the
troops were sent away and Hudson Lowe sailed for
1828 Ladder Hill Observatory was built and fitted with the
finest instruments. A tramway up to it was built by
Lieutenant Mellis and the St. Helena Artillery.
1830 For the next four decades, St. Helena became the centre
of the South Atlantic whaling industry, with as many
as a thousand ships calling each year, and with
resident consuls from the United States and Norway.
1832 The East India Company finally abolished slavery on the
Island, purchasing the freedom of the 614 slaves for
the sun of ú28,062-17s-Od.
1833 Under the India Act dated 28th August, the Island was
no longer to be ruled by the Honourable East India
Company, but from 22nd April 1834 by His Majesty’s
1836 The first Colonial Governor, Major-General George
Middlemore, arrived on 24th February and formally took
possession of the Island in the name of King William
IV. The Company flag was lowered and replaced by the
Standard of Great Britain. Middlemore was `long
remembered for his bad manners and his discourtesy’ and
for his unenviable task of making savage spending cuts
and sacking former Company servants.
1838 Once the British Government took over, the annual
subsidy of ú90,000, which it had cost the East India
Company to maintain the Island, was removed. The order
of the day was belt-tightening economy, and there were
many cases of hardship when Company servants were
dismissed from their posts. Many families and over a
hundred young men, finding life so hard and with no
prospect of improvement, emigrated to the Cape of Good
With no old age pensions, friendly societies were
founded to provide sickness, death and old age benefits
on St. Helena as in England. The Mechanics and
Friendly Benefit Society was instituted this year,
followed by the St. Helena Poor Society in 1847, the
Foresters in 1871, the St. Helena Church Provident
Society in 1878.
1840 The body of Napoleon, which has been buried at Sane
Valley in 1821, was removed and transferred with
appropriate ceremony to the French frigate La Belle
Poule on 15th October to be taken back to Paris.
Her Majesty’s Government established a Vice-Admiralty
Court at the Island for the trial of vessels engaged
in the slave trade on the west coast of Africa. Large
numbers of ships were captured and brought to St.
Helena during the following ten years. The ships were
to be sold or broken up while the human cargoes were
fed, clothed and kept at the Liberated African Depot
in Ruperts Valley. Most of the slaves who recovered
were given passage to the West Indies or British Guiana
as labourers; some chose to remain as servants or on
various public works.
This work of liberating slaves brought money and
employment to the Island, but also the scourge of White
Ant. These minute creatures were among the timbers of
a slave ship from Brazil, which was broken up and
stored in Jamestown. Their destructiveness was so
great and their appetite for timber, books, furniture
and paper so rapacious that a very large sum of money
had to be spent over the next several decades to
rebuild property in the town.
1845 The first Baptist minister, the Reverend James Bertram,
arrived from Cape Town in July. At first a meeting
place was provided by Mrs Janisch, mother of the future
governor; in 1854 a mission chapel was built.
1849 On 7th March the first Bishop of Cape Town, Robert
Gray, arrived (St. Helena had been included in the See
of Cape Town when it had been established two years
previously). This was the first visit by a Bishop and
thus the first confirmations on the Island – a total
of 366. Bishop Gray made two further visits in 1852
1851 St. Helena coffee wins a premier award at the Great
Exhibition at the Crystal Palace.
1858 Queen Victoria grants the right to buy and hold
Longwood House and the Tomb to Napoleon III of France
and his heirs in perpetuity. The Tricolor still flies
over these two small patches of `French Territory’.
1859 The Diocese of St. Helena was established by Queen’s
Order in Council, and included the islands of Ascension
and Tristan da Cunha, and until 1869 the British
residents of Rio de Janeiro and other towns on the
eastern seaboard of South America as well as the
Falklands. The first Bishop, Piers Claughton, was
consecrated in Westminster Abbey and arrived later the
same year, remarking in a letter home that it was `so
English in its character as to make us feel ourselves
1860 The Island’s first Royal Visit when Queen Victoria’s
second son, Prince Albert, arrived on HMS Eurylaus in
1868 The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew superintended the
planting of cinchona trees for quinine production; the
scheme was abandoned soon after.
1871 Jacob’s Ladder of 700 steps was constructed by the
Royal Engineers, one step being covered over in later
1874 The flax industry was started when a hundred acres were
planted by the Colonial and Foreign Fibre Company. The
first mill was established in Jamestown, with a 7hp
steam engine and three stamping machines. The problems
of transport from the country into town was one of the
reasons for the failure of this first attempt at an
industry that was later to become so dominant.
1875 One of the periodic attempts to utilize the seas around
St. Helena was begun this year, when the barque
Elizabeth was fitted out as a whale ship and manned by
islanders, some of whom had crewed the American whalers
which used the Island as a base. However, by this
time, the South Atlantic whale fishery was in decline,
and the venture failed.
1884 Death in office, on 10th March, of Hudson Janisch, at
the age of 59. The first, and so far only, Governor
of St. Helena to have been born on the Island. He is
still remembered as an important chronicler of the
1885 Five mynah birds were brought from India by Miss Phoebe
Moss and released near her home at The Briars, to
control cattle tics. Instead, they themselves
multiplied out of control to become a worse pest.
1890 Following the Zulu Wars, Chief Dinizulu, son of
Cetawayo, and his family were exiled to the Island for
nine years. Dinizulu became a convert to Christianity,
and was baptized and confirmed by the Bishop.
In April one of the worst rock falls ever in Jamestown
killed nine people.
1898 Visit by Joshua Slocum in his yacht Spray on the first
solo circumnavigation of the world.
1899 In November the first submarine cable was landed by the
Eastern Telegraph Company. This connected the Island
to Cape Town and was the first stage in the link north
to Ascension and thence to Europe and England.
1900 Once again St. Helena became an important place of
imprisonments when the first of some six thousand South
African Boer prisoners arrived in April. The principal
camp was out at Deadwood Plain. A temporary wave of
economic improvement came to the Island, as the
population reached it’s all-time record of 9,850.
1904 After much debate, compulsory education was introduced
for all children up to the age of 14 years. This
applied to all schools whether run by the Government,
the Benevolent Society or the Hussey Charity.
1907 The flax industry, which had become moribund, was re-
established by the Government, and lace making was
again reintroduced. Both of these were backed by
experts sent out to assist the Islanders. Shortly
after, another attempt to garner a harvest from the sea
was commenced by a private investor, but the mackerel
did not appear as expected and the canning factory
1911 S.S. Papanui, en route from Britain to Australia with
emigrants, arrived in James Bay on fire. The ship
burned out and sank, but it’s 364 passengers and crew
were rescued and looked after on the Island.
1914 With the outbreak of the Great War, the defunct St.
Helena Volunteer Corps was re-established, and the flax
1921 The first St. Helenians left to work on Ascension
1941 Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship HMS Darkdale was torpedoed
off Jamestown by a German submarine; 41 people were
1945 `The Hundred Men’ left for the United Kingdom as
1947 Visit of Princess Elizabeth and the Royal Family aboard
HMS Vanguard on 29th April, during a Royal Tour to
1951 The one and only year in it’s entire history when,
thanks to a flourishing flax industry, the Island
exports (just) exceeded it’s imports.
1957 Visit of HRH Duke of Edinburgh during his round the
world tour on HMY Britannia.
Arrival of three Bahraini princes as prisoners of
Britain, who remained until released by a writ of
habeas corpus in 1960.
1965 Closure of the flax mills after the British Post
Office’s decision to use synthetic fibres to tie it’s
1969 First elections under the new constitution for a
twelve-member Legislative Council.
1977 The Union-Castle Line mailship service was replaced by
Curnow Shipping using the RMS St. Helena, a coastal
passenger and cargo vessel that had been used between
Vancouver and Alaska.
1980 Rediscovery of the endemic flowering shrub, the St.
Helena Ebony, believed to have been extinct for over
1982 The RMS St. Helena was requisitioned by the Ministry
of Defence to help in support of the Falklands
Conflict, and sailed south with the entire crew
volunteering for duty.
1988 After decades of planning, the realisation of the
three-tier school system began with the September term
when the Prince Andrew School was opened for all pupils
of 12 onwards. Middle schools would take the 8 to 12
year old children, and the First schools from 5 year
1989 Prince Andrew launched the replacement RMS St. Helena
on 31st October at Aberdeen. The vessel was specially
built for the Cardiff-Cape Town route, and featured a
mixed cargo/passenger layout. At the same time, a
shuttle service between St. Helena and Ascension was
planned, for the many Saint Helenians working there and
on the Falklands. The idea was finally abandoned in
1994, with no alternative to take it’s place. The
Island has fewer links to the rest of the world than
it had 200 years ago.
1992 The Bishop’s Commission on Citizenship was established
at the Fifteenth Session of Diocesan Synod.