In this episode of season 3 of 80 Days: an exploration podcast, we’ll be talking about Saint Helena, a volcanic tropical island in the South Atlantic Ocean, and one of the most isolated points of land in the world. Saint Helena is more than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) from its nearest mainland neighbour. The nearest port is Namibe in Angola. It was uninhabited up until its discovery by the Portuguese in 1502, and was later taken over by the British. Used for much of its life as an island of exile, its most famous inhabitant was Napoleon Bonaparte, who was exiled there after his defeat at Waterloo. The island today has a population of just over 4500, and is roughly the size of Staten Island in New York or San Marino, at just 121 square kilometeres, or 47 square miles, and its climate is generally mild.
Its inhabitants, known locally as “Saints”, are the descendants of sailors, settlers and slaves, and are said to be fiercely loyal to the British monarchy. The island’s economy is dependent on British grants and remittances, and up until recently its only link to the outside world was by a Royal Mail Ship, the St Helena, which made a five-day journey from Cape Town in South Africa, every three weeks.
Here are a few things you may want to read/watch more about:
- Of general interest: Saint Helena Island Information website is a very useful resource for learning about a wide range of topics; the following books also provide more detailed accounts of historical events: T. H. Brooke’s “History of the Island of St Helena – from its discovery by the Portuguese to the year 1823” , “St Helena: a maritime history” by Trevor Boult, and “Saint Helana and the Cape of Good Hope…” by Edwin F. Hatfield
- A promotional video by Saint Helena Tourism
- The website of the now-retired RMS St Helena cargo/passenger ship
- Read more about Fernão Lopes, the island’s first hermit/resident: here or here
- RadioLab (WNYC) episode about ridding the goat plague from an island in the Galapagos, achieved by the use of ‘Judas goats’; well worth a listen
- William Dampier describes the island in his account of his circumnavigation of the world
- Profile of Dr Barry O’Meara, companion of Napoleon (Trinity College Dublin alumni profile)
- A letter written in English by Napoleon during his time as a prisoner on Saint Helena, determined to learn the language of his captors to fill his time. It was sent to his English teacher for correction.
- Extracts from the diary of Rear-Admiral Sir George Cockburn, who conducted Napoleon to the island of Saint Helena
- 1836: Darwin on Saint Helena and the Birth of a Volcano
- “Dr James Barry: the Irishwoman who fooled the British Empire” – article in the Irish Times (Michael du Preez and Jeremy Dronfield, 2016)
- We could go on and on with interesting links to learn more about Saint Helena, but that should be enough to keep you reading and listening for a while!
Music you heard was from the following sources:
- Mary Black’s version of “The Isle of Saint Helena” (Bony’s Away); we also recommend Nic Jones’ version
- Unofficial ‘national anthem’ of the island, by Dave Mitchell: “My Saint Helena Island”
Thanks to Fran Hobbs for his insightful interview about life on the island. A massive thanks to all of our patrons on Patreon who are supporting season 3. If you’d like to join them and see what rewards are available for supporters, and get a peek behind the curtain check out www.patreon.com/80dayspodcast. We really appreciate the support and input!