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St Helena

ST HELENA, an island and British possession in the South Atlantic in 15 55' 26" S., 5 42' 30" W. (Ladder Hill Observatory). It lies 700 m. S.E. of the island of Ascension (the nearest land), 1200 m. W. of Mossamedes (the nearest African port), 1695 N.W. of Cape Town, and is distant from Southampton 4477 m. It has an area of about 47 sq. m., the extreme length from S.W. to N.E. being io| m. and the extreme breadth 8J. The island is of volcanic formation, but greatly changed by oceanic abrasion and atmospheric denudation. Its principal feature, a semicircular ridge of mountains, open towards the south-east and south, with the culminating summit of Diana's Peak (2704 ft.) is the northern rim of a great crater; the southern rim has disappeared, though its debris apparently keeps the sea shallow (from 20 to 50 fathoms) for some 2 m. S.E. of Sandy Bay, which hypothetically forms the centre of the ring. From the crater wall outwards water-cut gorges stretch in all directions, widening as they approach the sea into valleys, some of which are 1000 ft. deep, and measure one-eighth of a mile across at bottom and three-eighths across the top (Melliss). These valleys contain small streams, but the island has no rivers properly so called. Springs of pure water are, however, abundant. Along the enclosing hillsides caves have been formed by the washing out of the softer rocks. Basalts, andesites and phonolites, represent the chief flows. Many dikes and masses of basaltic rock seem to have been injected subsequently to the last volcanic eruptions from the central crater. The Ass's Ears and Lot's Wife, picturesque pinnacles standing out on the S.E. part of the crater ridge, and the Chimney on the coast south of Sandy Bay, are formed out of such injected dikes and masses. In the neighbourhood of Man and Horse (S.W. corner of the island), throughout an area of about 40 acres, scarcely 50 sq. yds. exist not crossed by a dyke. On the leeward (northern) side of St Helena the sea-face is generally formed by cliffs from 600 to 1000 ft. high, and on the windward side these heights rise to about 2000 ft., as at Holdfast Tom, Stone Top and Oid Joan Point. The only practicable landing-place is on the leeward side at St James's Bay an open roadstead. From the head of the bay a narrow valley extends for ij m. The greatest extent of level ground is in the N.E. of the island, where are the Deadwood and Longwood plains, over 1700 ft. above the sea.

Climate. Although it lies within the tropics the climate of the island is healthy and temperate. This is due to the south-east trade-wind, constant throughout the year, and to the effect of the cold waters of the South Atlantic current. As a result the temperature varies little, ranging on the sea level from 68 to 84 in summer and 57 to 70 in winter. The higher regions are about I o cooler. The rainfall varies considerably, being from 30 to 50 in. a year in the hills.

Flora. St Helena is divided into three vegetation zones: (i) the coast zone, extending inland for I m. to 1$ m., formerly clothed with a luxuriant vegetation, but now " dry, barren, soilless, lichencoated, and rocky,' with little save prickly pears, wire grass and Mesembryanthemum; (2) the middle zone (400-1800 ft.), extending about three-quarters of a mile inland, with shallower valleys and grassier slopes the English broom and gorse, brambles, willows, poplars, Scotch pines, etc., being the prevailing forms; and (3) the central zone, about 3 m. long and 2 m. wide, the home, for the most part, of the indigenous flora. According to W. B. Hemsley (in his report on the botany of the Atlantic Islands), 1 the certainly indigenous species of plants are 65, the probably indigenous 24 and the doubtfully indigenous 5 ; total 94. Of the 38 flowering plants 20 are shrubs or small trees. With the exception of Scirpus nodosus, all the 38 are peculiar to the island; and the same is true of 12 of the 27 vascular cryptogams (a remarkable proportion). Since the flora began to be studied, two species Melhania melanoxylon and Acalypha rubra are known to have become extinct; and at least two others have probably shared the same fate Heliotropium pennifolium and Demazeria obliterata. Melhania melanoxylon, or " native ebony," once abounded in parts of the island now barren; but the young trees were allowed to be destroyed by the goats of the early settlers, and it is now extinct. Its beautiful congener Melhania erythroxylon (" redwood ") was still tolerably plentiful in 1810, but is now reduced to a few specimens. Very rare, too, has become Pelargonium cotyledonis, called " Old Father Live-for-ever," from its retaining vitality for months without soil or water. Commidendron robustum (" gumwood "), a tree about 20 ft. high, once the most abundant in the island, was represented in 1868 by about 1300 or 1400 examples; and Commidendron rugosum (" scrubwood ") is confined to somewhat limited regions. Both these plants are characterized by a daisy- or aster-like blossom. The affinities of the indigenous flora of St Helena were described by Sir Joseph Hooker as African, but George Bentham points out that the Cpmpositae shows, at least in its older forms, a connexion rather with South America. The exotic flora introduced from all parts of the world gives the island almost the aspect of a botanic garden. The oak, thoroughly naturalized, grows alongside of the bamboo and banana. Among other trees and plants are the common English gorse ; Rubus pinnatus, probably introduced from Africa about 1775; Hypochaeris radicata, which above 1500 ft. forms the dandelion of the country; the beautiful but aggressive Buddleia Madagascar iensis ; Physalis peruviana; the common castor-oil plant; and the pride of India. The peepul is the principal shade tree in Jamestown, and in Jamestown valley the date-palm grows freely. Orange and lemon trees, once common, are now scarce.

Fauna. St Helena possesses no indigenous vertebrate land fauna. The only land groups well represented are the beetles and the land shells. T. V. Wollaston, in Coleoptera Sanctae Helenae (1877), shows that out of a total list of 203 species of beetles 129 are probably aboriginal and 128 peculiar to the island an individuality perhaps unequalled in the world. More than two-thirds are weevils and a vast majority wood-borers, a fact which bears out the tradition of forests having once covered the island. The Hemiptera and the land-shells also show a strong residuum ofpeculiar genera and species. A South American white ant (Termes tennis, Hagen.), introduced from a slave-ship in 1840, soon became a plague at Jamestown, where it consumed a large part of the public library and the woodwork of many buildings, public and private. Practically everything had to be rebuilt with teak or cypress the only woods the white ant cannot devour. Fortunately it cannot live in the higher parts of the island. The honey-bee, which throve for some time after its introduction, again died out (cf. A. R. Wallace, Island Life, 1880). Besides domestic animals the only land mammals are rabbits, rats and mice, the rats being especially abundant and building their nests in the highest trees. Probably the only endemic land bird is the wire bird, Aegialitis sanctae Helenae; the averdevat, Java sparrow, cardinal, ground-dove, partridge (possibly the Indian chukar),_ pheasant and guinea-fowl are all common. The pea-fowl, at one time not uncommon in a wild state, is long since exterminated. There are no freshwater fish, beetles or shells. Of sixty-five species of sea-fish caught off the island seventeen are peculiar to St Helena ; economically the more important kinds are gurnard, eel, cod, mackerel, tunny, bullseye, cavalley, flounder, hog-fish, mullet and skulpin.

Inhabitants. When discovered the island was uninhabited. The majority of the population are of mixed European (British, Dutch, Portuguese), East Indian and African descent the Asiatic strain perhaps predominating; the majority of the early settlers having been previously members of the crews of ships returning to Europe from the East. From 1840 onward for a considerable period numbers of freed slaves of West African origin were settled here by men-of-war engaged in suppressing the slave trade. Their descendants form a distinct element * In the "Challenger" expedition reports, Botany, vol. i. (1885).

in the population. Since the substitution of steamships for sailing vessels and the introduction of new methods of preserving meat and vegetables (which made it unnecessary for sailing vessels to take fresh provisions from St Helena to avoid scurvy) the population has greatly diminished. In 1871 there were 6444 inhabitants; in 1909 the civil population was estimated at 3553. The death-rate that year, 6-4 per 1000, was the lowest on record in the island. The only town, in which live more than half the total population, is Jamestown. Longwood, where Napoleon died in 1821, is 3^ m. E. by S. of Jamestown. In 1858 the house in which he lived and died was presented by Queen Victoria to Napoleon III., who had it restored to the condition, but unfurnished, in which it was at the time of Bonaparte's death.

Agriculture, Industries, etc. Less than a third of the area of the island is suitable for farming, while much of the area which might be (and formerly was) devoted to raising crops is under grass. The principal crop is potatoes, which are of very good quality. They were chiefly sold to ships especially to " passing " ships. They are now occasionally exported to the Cape. Cattle and sheep were raised in large numbers when a garrison was maintained, so that difficulty has been found in disposing of surplus stock now that the troops have been withdrawn. The economic conditions which formerly prevailed were entirely altered by the substitution of steamers for sailing vessels, which caused a great decrease in the number of ships calling at Jamestown. A remedy was sought in the establishment of industries. An attempt made in 18691872 to cultivate cinchona proved unsuccessful. Attention was also turned to the aloe (Furcraea gigantea), which grows wild at mid elevations, and the New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax), an introduced plant, for their utilization in the manufacture of fibre. From 1875 to 1881 a company ran a mill at which they turned out both aloe and flax fibre, but the enterprise proved unremunerative. In 1907 the government, aided by a grant of 4070 from the imperial exchequer, started a mill at Longwood for the manufacture of phormium fibre, with encouraging results. Fish curing and lace making are also carried on to some extent.

Trade is chiefly dependent upon the few ships that call at Jamestown now mostly whalers or vessels in distress. There is also some trade with ships that " pass " without " calling." 1 In thirty years (1877-1907) the number of ships " calling " at the port sank from 664 with 449,724 tonnage to 57 with 149,182 tonnage. In the lastnamed year the imports were valued at 35,614; the exports ( excluding specie) at 1787 but the goods supplied to " passing " vessels do not figure in these returns. In 1908 fibre and tow (valued at 3557) were added to the exports, and in 1909 a good trade was done with Ascension in sheep. St Helena is in direct telegraphic communication with Europe and South Africa, and there is a regular monthly mail steamship service.

Government, Revenue, etc. St Helena is a Crown colony. The island has never had any form of jocal legislative chamber, but the governor (who also acts as chief justice) is aided by an executive council. The governor alone makes laws, called ordinances, but legislation can also be effected by the Crown by order in council. The revenue, 10,287 m I 95. had fallen in 1909 to 8778 (including a grant in aid of 2500), the expenditure in each of the five years (1905-1909) being in excess of the revenue. Elementary education is provided in government and private schools. St Helena is the seat of an Anglican bishopric established in 1859. Ascension and Tristan da Cunha are included in the diocese.

History. The island was discovered on the 21st of May 1502 by the Portuguese navigator Joao de Nova, on his voyage home from India, and by him named St Helena. The Portuguese found it uninhabited, imported live stock, fruittrees and vegetables, built a chapel and one or two houses, and left their sick there to be taken home, if recovered, by the next ship, but they formed no permanent settlement. Its first known permanent resident was Fernando Lopez, a Portuguese in India, who had turned traitor and had been mutilated by order of Albuquerque. He preferred being marooned to returning to Portugal in his maimed condition, and was landed at St Helena in 1513 with three or four negro slaves. By royal command he visited Portugal some time later, but returned to St Helena, where he died in 1546. In 1584 two Japanese ambassadors to Rome landed at the island. The first Englishman known to have visited it was Thomas Cavendish, who touched there in June 1 588 during his voyage round the world. Another English 1 " Calling " ships are those which have been boarded by the harbour master and given pratique. Since 1886 boatmen are allowed to communicate with ships that have not obtained pratique, and these are known as " passing " ships.

seaman, Captain Kendall, visited St Helena in 1591, and in 1593 Sir James Lancaster stopped at the island on his way home from the East. In 1603 the same commander again visited St Helena on his return from the first voyage equipped by the East India Company. The Portuguese had by this time given up calling at the island, which appears to have been occupied by the Dutch about 1645. The Dutch occupation was temporary and ceased in 1651, the year before they founded Cape Town. The British East India Company appropriated the island immediately after the departure of the Dutch, and they were confirmed in possession by a clause in their charter of 1661. The company built a fort (1658), named after the duke of York (James II.), and established a garrison in the island. In 1673 the Dutch succeeded in obtaining possession, but were ejected after a few months' occupation. Since that date St Helena has been in the undisturbed possession of Great Britain, though in 1706 two ships anchored off Jamestown were carried off by the French. In 1673 the Dutch had been expelled by the forces of the Crown, but by a new charter granted in December of the same year the East India Company were declared " the true and absolute lords and proprietors" of the island. At this time the inhabitants numbered about icoo, of whom nearly half were negro slaves. In 1810 the company began the importation of Chinese from their factory at Canton. During the company's rule the island prospered, thousands of homeward-bound vessels anchored in the roadstead in a year, staying for considerable periods, refitting and revictualling. Large sums of money were thus expended in the island, where wealthy merchants and officials had their residence. The plantations were worked by the slaves, who were subjected to very barbarous laws until 1792, when a new code of regulations ensured their humane treatment and prohibited the importation of any new slaves. Later it was enacted that all children of slaves born on or after Christmas Day 1818 should be free, and between 1826 and 1836 all slaves were set at liberty.

Among the governors appointed by the company to rule at St Helena was one of the Huguenot refugees, Captain Stephen Poirier (1697-1707), who attempted unsuccessfully to introduce the cultivation of the vine. A later governor (1741-1742) was Robert Jenkin (q.v.) of " Jenkin's ear " fame. Dampier visited the island twice, in 1691 and 1701; Halley's Mount commemorates the visit paid by the astronomer Edmund Halley in 1676- 1678 the first of a number of scientific men who have pursued their studies on the island.

In 1815 the British government selected St Helena as the place of detention of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was brought to the island in October of that year and lodged at Longwood, where he died in May 1821. During this period the island was strongly garrisoned by regular troops, and the governor, Sir Hudson Lowe, was nominated by the Crown. After Napoleon's death the East India Company resumed full control of St Helena until the 22nd of April 1834, on which date it was in virtue of an act passed in 1833 vested in the Crown. As a port of call the island continued to enjoy a fair measure of prosperity until about 1870. Since that date the great decrease in the number of vessels visiting Jamestown has deprived the islanders of their principal means of subsistence. When steamers began to be substituted for sailing vessels and when the Suez Canal was opened (in 1869) fewer ships passed the island, while of those that still pass the greater number are so well found that it is unnecessary for them to call (see also Inhabitants). The withdrawal in 1906 of the small garrison, hitherto maintained by the imperial government, was another cause of depression. During the Anglo-Boer war of 1899-1902 some thousands of Boer prisoners were detained at St Helena, which has also served as the place of exile of several Zulu chiefs, including Dinizulu.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.-!. C. Melliss, St Helena: a Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island, including its Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology (London, 1875); E. L. Jackson, St Helena (London, 1903); T. H. Brooke, History of the Island of St Helena . . . to 1823 (2nd ed., London, 1824), in this book are cited many early accounts of the island ; General A. Beatson (governor of the island 1808-1813), Tracts Relative to the Island of St Helena (London, 1816) ; Extracts from the St Helena Records from 1673 to 1835 (compiled by H- R. Janisch, sometime governor of the island, Jamestown, 1885); Charles Darwin, Geological Observations on Volcanic Islands (1844). For a condensed general account consult (Sir) C. P. Lucas, Historical Geography of the British Colonies (vol. Hi., West Africa, 2nd ed., Oxford, 1900). See also M. Danvers, Report on the Records of the India Office, vol. i. pt. i. (London, 1887); The Africa Pilot, pt. ii. (5th ed., IQOI); Report on the Present Position and Prospects of the Agricultural Resources of the Island of St Helena, by (Sir) D. Morris (1884; reprinted 1906). (R. L. A.; F. R. C.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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