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St Helena, Ascension, & Tristan da Cunha

St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha are British Overseas Territories. This single territorial grouping, which until 2009 was known as “St Helena and Dependencies”, consists of the South Atlantic islands of St Helena, Ascension and, in the Tristan da Cunha Group, Tristan da Cunha, Gough Island, Nightingale Island and Inaccessible Island. St Helena, despite its small size and a population of around 4,000, has a fully functioning government, elected representatives and small departments mirroring those of a much larger territory and population.

St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha now constitute a single British Overseas Territory under that name. The constitutional arrangements are found in the St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Constitution Order 2009, SI 2009 No. 1751 (“the Constitution Order”). This Order in Council was made on 8 July 2009. The Constitution of the Territory (“the 2009 Constitution”) is attached as a Schedule to the Constitution Order. The territorial grouping of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha is one of the 14 British Overseas Territories. These are Territories under Crown sovereignty and are listed in Schedule 6 of the British Nationality Act 1981 (as amended by the British Overseas Territories Act 2002).

A series of three articles were published in the Daily Mail newspaper in July 2014. On 15 July 2014, under the Daily Mail headline “‘A culture of sexual abuse of children’: Shocking report claims British overseas territory of St Helena is rife with child abuse, domestic violence and sexual exploitation”, the readership was told that there was an unpublished report by a respected charity, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, which had found that “sexual violence and brutality were endemic” on the island of St Helena. The article suggested that the charity had called for a review of policing and that residents had told the Daily Mail that the island was worse than Pitcairn Island, where six men in a population of 47 had been convicted of dozens of sexual offences.

The Daily Mail went on to report that there might have been a cover up, that the island was “a safe haven for sex offenders” and a “sanctuary for paedophiles”, and that “the abuse of children was ‘routine’”. St Helena was described as an island “ripe for exploitation by more sophisticated visitors”, a potential “paedophiles’ paradise”. “There are dark forces at work on St Helena”, one unidentified British police officer is quoted as saying.

These news stories contained sensational criticisms about the people and Government of St Helena, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for International Development (DFID). The contents of the articles were lurid, shocking and damning. These articles unwittingly gave a totally misleading and distorted view of the people of St Helena and of the institutions that serve them. The island of St Helena, along with all its 4,000 inhabitants, had been labelled “a Gary Glitter type tour destination”: an island of sex abusers and paedophiles. The absurdity of these allegations, as the Inquiry found them to be, was lost in the welter of rumour and innuendo which later news stories were only too willing to echo.

In the 2017 Saint Helena General Election the count took 6 hours to complete with the results announced at just before 3 am on Thursday 27th of July 2017. 49% of those eligible cast votes. This was down by 6% compared to 2013 (55%), 9% compared to 2009 (58%) but better than 2005 (47%).

St Helena

St Helena has an area of 121km2 and lies 1,900km from the west coast of Africa and 3,000km from South America. The population is 4,084 (2008 Census). The administrative center is Jamestown. The island for a time was not accessible by air and instead relied upon the Royal Mail Ship St Helena, both for the transport of individuals and for the shipping of supplies to the island. An airport is currently under construction and opened in mid 2016. Many roads on St Helena are single lanes. Vehicles travelling downhill must give way to those travelling uphill. Driving is on the left. Drink drive laws are strictly applied with a limit of 50 micrograms of alcohol per 100ml of breath.

St. Helena was discovered by Juan de Nova Castella, a Portuguese navigator, on May 21st, 1502, and gained its name from the fact that the day of discovery was the anniversary of the feast-day of Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine. In 1651 the East India Company took possession of the Island, and on April 3rd, 1661, Charles II. granted the Company a Charter. In 1672 the Dutch gained possession of the Island, but in the following year were driven out by Sir Richard Munden and Captain Keigwin. On December 16th, 1673, Charles II. regranted the Island to the East India Company, and in their possession it remained until 1815 when, having been selected as a residence for Napoleon, an arrangement was made, by which the Governor was to be appointed by the Crown with full powers, and the East India Company were to bear the expense, equivalent to an average of the three preceding years. The remainder of the expense attendant upon the safe custody of Napoleon was borne by the British Government.

The sight of St. Helena must have smitten the heart of Napoleon with dismay. Its appearance from the sea is gloomy and forbidding. Masses of volcanic rock, with sharp and jagged peaks, tower up round the coast and form an iron girdle which seems to bar all access to the interior. And the few points where a landing can be effected were then bristling with cannon, so as to render the aspect still more formidable. The whole island bears evidence of having been formed by the tremendous agency of fire, but so gigantic are the strata of which it is composed, and so disproportioned to its size, that some have thought it the relic and wreck of a vast submerged continent. Its seared and barren sides, without foliage or verdure, present an appearance of dreary desolation.

There never was a question of greater moment and difficulty presented to the consideration of a Ministry than that which arose in July, 1815, when the British Government received the astounding intelligence that Napoleon Bonaparte had surrendered himself to England, and was on board His Majesty's ship of war, the Bellerophon, in Torbay. How was he to be treated? in what character ought he to be received? was he the prisoner or the guest of England? was he to be regarded as an outlaw, and dealt with as hostis humani generis? Each of these views had its advocates. In truth it was a case without a precedent. Vanquished at Waterloo by the combined armies of the Allied Powers, he fled through Paris and reached Rochefort, from which port, owing to the presence of British cruisers, he found escape by sea impossible.

If he had fallen into the hands of the Prussians, it was the intention of Blucher to have him shot over the grave of the Due d'Enghien in the ditch of Vincennes.1 In truth, Napoleon had merely the choice of the nation to which he must give himself up, and not of the mode in which he was to be disposed of by that nation. It must not be forgotten that be had already escaped from Elba, and the result was the battle of Waterloo and the loss of sixty thousand men.

Napoleon himself suggested the nearest parallel which history affords. "I come," he said, in his famous letter to the Prince Regent, "like Themistocles, to seek the hospitality of the British nation. I place myself under the protection of their laws." As regards Napoleon, he did not exhibit in misfortune that magnanimity without which there is no real greatness, and that he concentrated the energies of his mighty intellect on the ignoble task of insulting the Governor of St. Helena, and manufacturing a case of hardship and oppression for himself.

It is doubtful if any period in the life of any man has been so minutely recorded as that which covered the captivity of Napoleon in St. Helena. It is no exaggeration to say that every day is accounted for and, during the first thirty months of the time, one might, with almost equal truth, substitute "hours" for "days." The memorialists and all who were brought into contact with the Emperor hastened, while the subject was still fresh in the memory, to commit to paper, impressions, remarks, and conversations. Indeed, during the captivity, the residents in St. Helena were largely employed in letter-writing to friends at home.

Napoleon had been confined on St Helena at 46 yrs of age in good health. Popular myth suggests that the proximate cause of Napoleon's death was cancer of the stomach. Medical historians today believe that he died of a perforated ulcer and liver abscess from Malta fever (a bacterial infection due to Brucellosz's). Napoleon himself, expiring at 51 after a lifetime of robust health, suspected otherwise and ordered a thorough autopsy. His suspicions were well-founded. So clever was the crime, however, that until recent developments in forensic science, it was impossible to prove a case of murder, let alone name the killer. Sten Forshufvud and Ben Weider concluded he was murdered with slow doses of arsenic compounded by tartar emetics, bitter almonds and calomel.

As news spread of Napoleon's death, responses were mixed. "What an event!" an admirer in Paris remarked. On the other hand, Talleyrand noted, "it is no longer an event, it is only a piece of news."

After the death of Napoleon the Island reverted to the East India Company, and this continued until April 22nd, 1834, when it was taken over by the British Government.

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Page last modified: 03-01-2018 18:30:34 ZULU