Saint Helena – Napoleon’s last home

Saint Helena – Napoleon’s last home

Saint Helena is famous for being the place where Napoleon Bonaparte spent his last years in exile. But that is not the only thing that makes the island interesting. It is unique both in its location and in its historical heritage. Sometimes it is said that St. Helena is “frozen in time.

Where is it

Saint Helena is one of the most remote places on the planet. It is located in the southern Atlantic Ocean. The coast of Africa is 1850 km to the east. Brazil is 3,300 km to the west. The nearest piece of land – Ascension Island – is 1300 km to the north-west. The remotest inhabited island on the planet, Tristan da Cunha, lies 2,450 km to the south.

General description

The island is of volcanic origin and lies on a mid-Atlantic ridge. It is based on hard rock formations. Mountains on the island reach up to 700 meters in height. The highest of them is Diana Peak, 818 meters above sea level.

The size of the island is about 16 by 8 kilometers, and the area is 122 km 2 . This makes it the second largest British Overseas Territory after Bermuda.

It received its name after St. Helena of Constantinople.

The population is just over 4500 people.

Life on the island is slow and measured. There are no big shopping centers or large enterprises.

St. Helena

Only a few small stores are open until 4 pm. The counters, as a rule, are almost empty. Most goods and food are brought in by ships from the “mainland” about twice a month. Because of this, they are quite expensive. People try to buy everything they need for themselves.

Most people are eager to leave these places, especially young people. There is even a saying here, “a departing ship takes two families off the island.

But there are people who are simply in love with St. Helena. They are infinitely devoted to its charm, mild climate and the measured flow of life.

Interesting fact – When an airport was being built on the island, some locals were against it. They thought that the development of air travel would destroy the centuries-old way of life of the islanders.

St. Helena

As you can imagine, getting to the island is quite difficult. It looks like a piece of old Britain. Coming here, you get into another world. That’s why they say the island is “frozen in time”.

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The island is governed by the governor, who is appointed by the Queen of England.

Despite the remoteness from civilization, there is the Internet, two local newspapers, its own radio stations and TV channels. The island has a public library. And it’s the oldest library in the southern hemisphere. The island has its own second-level Internet domain (.sh).

Until 1966, there was a mono-economy, based on the cultivation and processing of New Zealand flax. But gradually the flax was superseded by artificial fibers, ropes and fabrics. Now the economy of the island is almost entirely supported by the British authorities.

Climate and Nature

The climate on Saint Helena is maritime tropical and mild. There are frequent trade winds.

Climatic conditions vary throughout the island. Temperatures in Jamestown generally range from 21-28 o C in the summer (January through April) and 17-24 o C the rest of the time. Temperatures are on average 5-6 o C lower in the central areas. Precipitation on the coast is much less than in the central part of the island, where the annual rainfall is 750-1000 mm.

The island was once covered with unique native vegetation. But after New Zealand flax began to be grown here on an industrial scale, it displaced almost all the local flora. Therefore, the modern landscape is very different. Almost all of the island’s mammals are introduced from the continent.

The nature of Saint Helena

There are many endemic bird species. The local variety of plover has become the national symbol of St. Helena. It is depicted on the island’s coat of arms and flag.

The coat of arms of Saint Helena

Saint Helena coat-of-arms

History of the island

The island was discovered on May 21, 1502 by the Galician navigator Joao da Nova. But there is much controversy about it.

In those days there were a large number of sea voyages around the planet (this is the era of the Great Geographical Discoveries). It is quite possible that he did not find St. Helena then, but other islands of the Atlantic, such as Tristan da Cunha or Ascension Island. Because of the inaccuracy in determining coordinates, there may have been an error in identifying a particular island.

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According to other sources, it was discovered by the Eschwan da Gama expedition on July 30, 1503.

The island turned out to be uninhabited. For centuries it was an important transit point for expeditions en route from Europe to Asia and southern Africa. Ships approached the island to replenish water supplies, repair and rest the crew. Sometimes sick sailors stayed here. They would rest, recuperate, and on the way back the ship would take them home.

But in 1869 the Suez Canal was put into operation, and the important transit role of St. Helena had practically ended. Thus, for example, the number of ships coming here dropped from 1,100 in 1855 to 288 in 1889.

Saint Helena sights

The Town of Jamestown.

This is Saint Helena’s most distinctive and largest population center. The town is rather elongated and densely built up. Its long winding streets wind through a valley with occasional rock falls from the slopes. They can even destroy buildings.

The city starts from the coast in the northwestern part of the island. This is also where the only available place for ships to dock. And from here stretches a narrow valley for more than 2 kilometers into the interior of the island. In it, surrounded by steep cliffs, lies the town of Jamestown. He is also the capital and only port of the island.

Jamestown, capital of Saint Helena

Jamestown is the capital of Saint Helena

Jacob’s Staircase

A distinctive feature of Jamestown is Jacob’s Staircase. These are the 699 steps that lead from the town to the former fort at the top of the mountain. It was built in 1829.

Jacob's Staircase

Jacob’s Stairs.

Nowadays Jacob’s Steps is of interest only to the few tourists. At night it is illuminated. Every year on it is arranged something like a race, in which anyone can take part.

Jacob's Staircase in Saint Helena

St. Helena Museum

Here are the historical and modern exhibits of the island. The museum is located in a late 18th-century stone building at the foot of Jacob’s Steps. The museum officially opened on May 21, 2002.

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Longwood House – Napoleon’s Residence

Napoleon spent most of his exile on St. Helena in this house. The residence is quite cozy. It still contains some 19th century furniture and household items.

The house has become a museum and is maintained by the French government.

The British chose St. Helena to exile Napoleon Bonaparte. He was sent here in October 1815. While Longwood House was being built, Napoleon lived in a small house called Briars. It was in the garden of William Balcombe, an English merchant. William’s daughter, Elizabeth, spoke French and actually became an interpreter. The family’s communication with Napoleon aroused the suspicion of the local governor. As a result, the Balcombe family was forced to leave the island and return to England.

Napoleon moved to his home at Longwood House and lived out the rest of his days here. He died here on May 5, 1821.

Longwood House in Saint Helena

Longwood House – Napoleon’s last residence

Interesting fact – Napoleon once praised the coffee growing on St. Helena. And after his death, this variety became a great success in Paris, but not for long.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s Tomb

The tomb should hardly be called a landmark, but it is an iconic place nonetheless. It is located near the residence of Longwood House.

Napoleon's Tomb in Saint Helena

It is worth knowing that Napoleon was originally buried on Saint Helena, but in 1840 the remains were moved and buried in Paris.

Saint Helena in tourism

As you may recall, this is one of the most remote islands in the world. There is an airport here, but air service is not yet very developed.

Since 2018, the ship M/V Helena sails to the island from Cape Town. Before that, there was the RMS St. Helena about 30 times a year. Sometimes ships go to the island of Tenerife.

The special attraction of the island is its remoteness, but few tourists are willing to spend 5-6 days on the ship to get to it.

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St Helena seafront

Ships do not come close to the coast of St. Helena. They are anchored nearby, and goods and passengers are sent to the island by small boats.

There is a small airport at the eastern end of the island. As of October 14, 2017, South African airline Airlink began weekly flights to St. Helena from Johannesburg. It is worth remembering that there is some risk involved in landing and taking off here because of the strong winds.

It was expected that the airport will increase the number of tourists to 30,000 people. But so far the island is visited by 3-4 thousand people a year.

Napoleon’s last resting place

St. Helena is a remote British territory located in the South Atlantic Ocean, about 1,950 km west of the southwest coast of Africa. The closest land is Ascension Island, a U.S. Air Force auxiliary airfield site, located 1,125 km to the northwest.

The remotest inhabited island in the world, Tristan da Cunha, is 2,100 km to the south. St. Helena was uninhabited when it was discovered by the Portuguese in 1502, and during the 17th century British troops were stationed there. For a long time it was an important stopover on the way to Europe from Asia and South Africa. Its importance diminished considerably after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Its most famous resident was Napoleon Bonaparte, exiled by the British from 1815 until his death in 1821. You can still visit his flower-grown grave and home. Today there are approximately 4,000 permanent residents.

St. Helena is of volcanic origin. It is located on the Central Atlantic Ridge and consists mainly of rugged terrain and perpendicular cliffs 500 to 700 meters high. The only real place to moor a ship is on the northwest side of the island in James Bay. Sandwiched between the steep cliffs in a valley 2.5 kilometers long is the town, capital and port of Jamestown.

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Jamestown is the most peculiar settlement of Saint Helena. The town is rather long, thin and densely populated, with cohesive, long and winding streets. Shrubs and trees adorn only some of the streets, and the surrounding landscape is rough and steep. Rockfalls often occur, destroying buildings. A striking feature of the city is Jacob’s Staircase of 699 steps. It was built in 1829 to connect Jamestown to the former hill fort. The stairs are very popular with tourists – there is even an annual race, and participants come from all over the world. Other places of interest include the St. Helena Museum, the impressive Fort High Knoll, as well as the residence of Napoleon.

Longwood House in the settlement of the same name is another place where Napoleon spent much of his time on Saint Helena. This is where he died. All the furniture and furnishings of those times have been restored to the original – the house is now a museum and belongs to the French government.

As one of the most remote islands in the world, Saint Helena has no airports and is very difficult to get to. The only route is from Cape Town, with visits to Ascension Island and Wallfish Bay along the way.

Life on St. Helena flows slowly and heavily. There are almost no stores, and those that are – are open a few days a week until 4:00 pm. Supermarket shelves remain empty most of the time until the ship arrives, and then supplies disappear again. There is no mobile network on the island, Internet connections are irregular and slow, and the economy is weak and almost entirely dependent on aid from the British government. Unemployment is a constant problem, so many residents work abroad. Tourists have to spend six days by ship to reach these places – last year only 3,200 visitors arrived on the island.

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