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St Helena

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The island of St Helena - situated in the South Atlantic Ocean approximately 2,500 miles east of Brazil and 1,200 miles west of Angola – is the UK’s second largest Overseas Territory and one of the remotest places on earth.  Its location was ideal as a rendezvous and provisioning point for ships on their way to and from the East Indies, and in 1659 it was settled by the English under the auspices of the East India Company.


Under the direction of its first Governor, Captain John Dutton, the island’s first small fortification, later named James Fort, was constructed to defend St Helena from attack. The Fort and the island’s natural defences were insufficient to prevent invasion by the Dutch and, after re-taking the Island in 1673, the East India Company expanded the island’s defences. By the second half of the 18th century, St Helena had become a fortress, and more than 1,000 ships were stopping at the island every year.


After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the island’s remote location led to it being selected by the British Government as his place of exile.  Napoleon arrived on St Helena on 15th October 1815, and died at Longwood House on 5th May 1821.  St Helena is home to some of the most breathtaking Napoleonic heritage in the world, including Longwood House, the Briars, and the Valley of the Tomb, as well as the many batteries, fortifications, gates and flag-stations built or adapted to contain its most famous resident.


Less well-known is St Helena’s central role in the suppression of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Between 1840 and 1872, 450 ships carrying more than 26,000 enslaved Africans were captured by the Royal Navy West Africa squadron and brought to St Helena, where the slaves were liberated and the crews put on trial.  The majority of the former slaves were housed in a ‘Liberated African Establishment’ set up in Rupert’s Valley, which acted as a receiving centre, hospital and quarantine zone.  Tragically, more than 8,000 men, women and children died – mostly from disease – shortly after their liberation.  Most were hastily interred in two burial grounds in the Valley, considered among the most significant physical remaining trace of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in the world.


The UK-St Helena Heritage Trust was set up to promote public education on – and preservation of – the built and cultural heritage of St Helena.  It does this by surveying and recording heritage sites at risk, organising events on aspects of St Helena’s history and heritage, and working with local and international partners to develop heritage management plans and implement restoration and conservation projects. For more information on the projects supported by the Trust, please see the ‘Heritage at Risk’ section.

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