an island in the
South Atlantic Ocean best known as the site of Napoleon Bonaparte's final exile
St. Helena has an area of 47.3
square miles, with an extreme
southwest-to-northeast length of 10½ miles, and
an extreme breadth of 6½ miles. The island is
wholly of volcanic origin, although volcanic
activity ceased long ago. Its principal feature
is a semicircular ridge of mountains, within
which can be found the island's highest point,
Diana's Peak (2,704 feet).
Approximately half of St.
Helena's population is of African descent, with
the remainder being almost evenly split between
white Europeans and Chinese immigrant workers.
Jamestown, the island's only city and the capital
of St. Helena, is nestled in a deep narrow valley
that leads to the only functional harbor.
St. Helena is an overseas
territory of the United Kingdom.
It is administered locally by a Governor, who is
appointed by the British monarch. Local laws are
enacted by a unicameral Legislative Council, the
members of which are elected by popular vote. The
islands of Ascension and Tristan da Cunha are
administered as dependencies of St. Helena.
St. Helena's economy depends
largely on financial assistance from Great
Britain. The local population earns income from
fishing, raising livestock, and sales of
St. Helena was discovered on
May 21, 1502, by Portuguese Admiral Joćo de Nova
Castella on his voyage home from India, and it was he who named the island in
honor of Saint Helena, mother of Emperor
Constantine. At the time of its discovery, the
island was uninhabited. The Portuguese imported
livestock, fruit trees and vegetables, built a
chapel and one or two houses, and left their sick
there to be taken home, if they recovered, by the
next ship, but they formed no permanent
settlement. The first known permanent resident of
St. Helena was Fernando Lopez, a Portuguese in
India who had turned traitor and had been
mutilated by order of Alphonso d'Albuquerque. He
chose to be marooned on St. Helena rather than be
returned to Portugal, and was landed on the
island in 1513. He died there in 1546.
The Portuguese stopped calling
at the island about 1603, after which St. Helena
was occupied by the Dutch. The Dutch in turn gave
up possession of the island in 1651, the year
before they founded Cape Town (in present-day
South Africa). The British East India Company appropriated the island immediately
after the departure of the Dutch, and in 1659
they dispatched a small force of troops and
others under John Dutton to form a settlement.
The company was confirmed in possession by a
clause in their charter of 1661. The fort built
by the company was named after the Duke of York,
who subsequently became King James II. The island
has remained a British possession ever since.
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,
and kept it until April 22, 1834, at which time
it passed to the control of the Crown.
St. Helena's importance as a
port of call began to diminish with the opening
of the Suez Canal in
1869. The withdrawal in 1906 of the small
garrison was another cause of depression, but
during World War I
the island was again garrisoned. In 1921
Ascension Island was made a dependency of St.
Helena; Tristan da Cunha and the associated
islands of Nightingale, Inaccessible and Gough,
became dependencies of St. Helena in 1938. The
island was of strategic importance in the naval
operations of World War II.
Longwood House, Napoleon's home
during his exile, has exhibits which make it one
of the best (if not the best) Napoleonic museums
in the world. The St. Helena National Trust
maintains a museum in Jamestown which features
exhibits about the island and its history. There
are two national parks. One helps protect some of
the rare flora on the central ridges of the
island, many species of which can be found
nowhere else in the world. The second, at Sandy
Bay on the southern coast, protects other native
species, as well as the spectacular geological
structures unique to the island's volcanic
The blue flag of St. Helena has
the flag of the United Kingdom in the upper
hoist-side quadrant, and the Saint Helenian
shield centered on the outer half of the flag.
The shield features a rocky coastline and
three-masted sailing ship.
British East India Company
World War I
World War II
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