Eddie campaigns to honour man who saved the ebony

Filling an entire valley to make way for an airport can be done in a couple of years; paying tribute to a Saint’s bravery takes a little longer, it seems. But EDDIE DUFF is determined that Charlie Benjamin should have proper recognition for climbing a cliff to bring St Helena’s precious ebony back from apparent extinction. He’s launched a campaign, aiming to mark the site of that perilous climb down to the strange plant that had been spotted by his brother George and the botanist Quentin Cronk. Eddie takes up the story…

Charlie climbed down that cliff, and he came up with the ebony flower in his mouth. His two hands were gripping the rope, so he put the flower in his mouth and he came back up.

Georgie and Quentin have had the accolades, but poor Charlie, who risked his life to go down over the cliff, he hasn’t received anything.

We want to plaque there, to show where he climbed down. Georgie and Quentin saw the plant, but Charlie was the first to put his hand on it.

Even though Charlie is dead, we still have his wife, his daughter, his step daughters, and I know they would like to see something. I want local people, I want boys, I want girls, I want old men and young people to go there and actually see where he climbed.

You have to walk from the Distant Cottage Road, so it would be about a kilometre – a really nice walk. It is on one of the postbox walks. It can get a bit blowy because it is on the windward side of the island, but it is do-able.

We also want to make the ebony our national flower. Having the arum lily as the national flower doesn’t make sense to me because you can find it the world over. And it’s an invasive alien species.

We did a poll about it once before. About a thousand people took part, and 731 people voted for the ebony as our national flower even though the arum lily was there before us. They agreed that we need to be able to say, “This is St Helenian: this is special to St Helena.”

It was brought to council – not the current one – and the councillors decided the ebony couldn’t be the national flower. I can’t understand their thinking. We’re trying to promote tourism, and promote all that’s special about the island. The ebony is endemic and the arum lily is not – but they couldn’t get it.

Even now you still have people who have negative remarks, but the majority of St Helenians right now know that the ebony is our true national flower. And the majority of people would like to see Charlie Benjamin get something; some kind of accolade to say he did the climb.

When it came to me that nobody had done anything for Charlie or the ebony, I decided to go and ask the family if it would be all right to pursue this. They were quite happy, because they were very disappointed from the last time. So I began to investigate it.

What made it so easy was that Charlie’s step-daughter, Rosie Peters, was the one who was there with Charlie. She told me just about everything I needed to know, and I took it to council, and the majority were very happy to go along with it.

We went to the Attorney General, who said we didn’t need to do much: this was something we could adapt in council.

Just about everybody liked the idea I came up with, and how I wanted to proceed. Now we just need to make it happen.

  • Eddie’s proposals include marking the spot where George Benjamin spotted the unusual plant that turned out to be the “extinct” St Helena ebony, and the place where Charlie made his historic climb. Both would be named in honour of the brothers, and marked on future maps of the island – just as Holdfast Tom appears on the map to show where a soldier climbed a cliff when the English landed a force to reclaim the island from Dutch invaders (though there was no such tribute to Black Oliver, the slave to guided him: he was given land, but was later shot while taking part in a revolt).

 

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Lost Solomon’s deeds found after 160 years

indenture 640For years, it had been believed that the deeds of several historic houses on St Helena had been destroyed by fire. But then someone pulled out a drawer from a desk in Jamestown, and made a most surprising discovery.

Behind the drawer, lost to sight for decades, were papers documenting the sale of properties once owned by the island entrepreneur, Saul Solomon.

The desk was in the basement of the building taken over by the St Helena National Trust, the very organisation set up to preserve and protect the island’s historic riches.

Click the pic to see larger image

Click the pic to see larger image

Island historian Nick Thorpe said: “There are quite a few deeds, mostly relating to the Metcalfe family, who owned Willowbank and Robinsons in Fisher’s Valley, together with a house in town.

“The gem of the find is a deed relating to the sale of several town properties for £16,000. The seller was Saul Solomon, who established Solomon’s in 1790. The buyers were his son Nathaniel Solomon, baptised 1800, and George Moss.

“Many years ago an old man called Billy Peters told me that Solomons had a fire in their office which destroyed all their deeds, but not, according to Billy, their money.

conveyance side 640“If that is the case, then these deeds discovered recently by the National Trust may be the only 19th century ones in existence with a Solomon’s connection.”

The discovery was made in early October 2014.

One of the documents, an indenture, has a plan of a property attached with string and sealed with wax.

Another, dated around the time of Saul Solomon’s death, is a “Conveyance of messuages and tenements in James Town, St Helena”.

SEE ALSO:
The ‘merchant king’ suspected of intrigue with Napoleon
Saved: ‘national treasure’ is found on rubbish dump

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The ‘merchant king’ suspected of intrigue with Napoleon

Saul Solomon founded a business empire that has dominated commercial life on St Helena for more than two centuries. He was also suspected of smuggling a silk ladder to Napoleon, to help him escape from exile. Now documents relating to the sale of his properties have been found in Jamestown.

Saul Solomon. Click the pic to see the source

Saul Solomon. Click the pic to see the source

The long-lost title deeds of Saul Solomon’s properties on St Helena have added scraps of knowledge to the little that is known of “St Helena’s remarkable merchant king”, as the late historian Trevor Hearl described him.

His origins were mantled in mystery, wrote Hearl. “Where and when he was born, why and how he reached St Helena, no one yet knows.”

Tradition says he was born in London in about 1776, set sail for India in his teens, but was left on the island to recuperate from sickness – and stayed.

An internet article provides further insight, describing how Saul Solomon’s father, Nathaniel, had travelled to Holland and fallen in love with 14-year-old Phoebe de Mitz, who returned to England as his wife and bore him many children (possibly 21).

“In the early 1790s a ship bound for India dropped anchor off the Port of Jamestown on the island,” continues the internet article by an unnamed descendant of Saul Solomon’s brother, Joseph.

“A young man was carried ashore to die. The ship sailed on and the young man, Saul Solomon, remained, not to die, but to become one of the most influential men on the island.”

His business is said to have been founded in 1790 – the date shown on the company website. Young Saul set up a boarding house and general store, along with an insurance business. He also installed the island’s first printing press, and served as undertaker.

Phoebe, said to be Saul Solomon's mother. Click the pic to reveal the source

Phoebe, said to be Saul Solomon’s mother. Click the pic to reveal the source

Early success meant a need for people to help run the business, so he sent for his brothers, including Joseph. The Moss family came too, remaining prominent members of the business for many years.

And then Napoleon arrived on the island in 1815. Solomon’s readily traded with the deposed emperor’s entourage at Longwood, and profits rose.

There were frequent complaints about over-charging. The company charged 1,400 gold francs for the funeral of Napoleon’s valet.

Running up debts with suppliers in South Africa brought a rival to the island: Richard Prince arrived in Jamestown in 1813 to collect money owed, but stayed on and set up a business that competed against Solomon’s for 89 years. He left Prince’s Lodge as his legacy.

Saul Solomon also earned a reputation for “dubious loyalty” to the island government, said Hearl. “Hudson Lowe listed the Solomon brothers, with their clerk Bruce, as the chief suspects of aiding Napoleon…

“His premises… became notorious for gossip and intrigue.

“He was even said to have smuggled a silken ladder into Longwood in a chest of tea to help Napoleon clamber down a cliff into a waiting boat! Certainly Longwood’s clandestine correspondence passed through his hands – at a price.

“In 1840, as French Consul, he was among the favoured few to accompany Napoleon’s coffin aboard the Belle Poule.” According to the internet article, he received a medal for his services to the emperor.

At one time, Solomon’s issued its own copper halfpennies, which circulated alongside the East India Company coinage.

It continued to prosper as the island became a haven for American whalers and a base for the anti-slavery squadron.

Over time, family members rose to prominent roles, including on benevolent committees. “For 50 years they almost monopolised the prestigious post of Sheriff.”

The last of the family line, Homfray Welby Solomon (“King Sol”), died in 1960. The business was later nationalised – and then part-privatised.

Saul Solomon himself had died in 1852 on a visit to England. His daughter managed to get his body to the Cape, where she smuggled it aboard a ship bound for St Helena, according to a fellow passenger, Mrs Harriet Tytler.

“The burden was a terrible one for fear that if the sailors found it out, they would chuck her father overboard,” wrote Mrs Tytler. “Of course we were all under vow not to disclose the terrible fact of a corpse on board.”

The two island newspapers praised his memory fulsomely. “We have many living witnessed to his kindness to the distressed and suffering,” wrote the St Helena Herald, welcoming the news that he was to be buried on the island.

An executor’s sale took place “under the trees” in Jamestown in 1854, at which “a rare selection of most desirable dwelling places” were auctioned, including The Briars and The Pavilion, once home to Napoleon. Six properties in Jamestown’s Main Street could no longer be identified, wrote Trevor Hearl.

Saul Solomon’s modest gravestone was among those rescued when the burial ground in Jamestown was cleared, to become a children’s playground. The inscription revealed nothing of Solomon’s life, beyond the date of his death at 76.

  • Saul Solomon’s nephew, also called Saul, left St Helena as a young man and became the founder of the Cape Argus, one of South Africa’s major newspapers. His memorial is in St James’s Church, “though St Helenians do not yet claim him as a distinguished compatriot,” wrote Trevor Hearl.

SEE ALSO:
Lost Solomon’s deeds found after 150 years
The Solomon Family: St Helena

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No PE teacher? Appoint one of the pupils: first head recalls the challenges of creating ‘a school like no other’

JOHN BIRCHALL has proud memories of his time setting up “a school like no other anywhere else in the world” on St Helena. He shared a few of them in a special assembly to mark on the 25th anniversary of Prince Andrew School – in a video message from China.

Some of the teachers on St Helena were somewhat nervous about the idea of moving to the big new building that was going up on Francis Plain. But young Nick Stevens had little time to dwell on the prospect: a sudden staff shortage meant he was a pupil one day, and a teacher the next.

Click the pic to read about John Birchall

Click the pic to read about John Birchall

John Birchall shares both memories in an internet address that was played to current students and staff on 3 October 2014, a quarter of a century on.

“I arrived in early summer in 1986,” he says, “to be immediately involved in a ceremony on a wet grey day on an empty Francis Plain to lay the foundation stone for Prince Andrew School.

“I recollect touring the first and middle schools to try to reassure the teachers assigned to Prince Andrew School that working in a school of this size was not quite the daunting prospect they imagined it to be.

“I recall a young Nicky Stevens being catapulted from Year 11 student to PE teacher in the space of a day on the departure of a member of staff… and being even more surprised how he quickly grew into the role under the stewardship of your current headmaster.”

Nick Stevens in his Games kit

Nick Stevens in his Games kit

The new job was the start of a career that saw Nick go on to be the creative force behind the New Horizons youth centre in Jamestown, and eventually to head St Helena’s team at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland.

He’s also been an occasional football pundit on the BBC World Service.

His mentor, Paul Starkie, was employed as an adviser from 1988 to 1992, sent out by the UK government. He went on to work in Indonesia and Belgium before returning to PAS as head teacher in 2012 – with his St Helenian wife, Lisa, and son Zac.

John Birchall has also gone a long way since leaving the school in 1989, having served as its first head teacher. He went on to work in Oman, Spain and Indonesia, before becoming academic director of a chain of colleges educating 6,000 students in China.

“The years I spent on St Helena were among the most challenging and the most rewarding I have experienced in my 42 years of education to date,” he says in an address he posted on the YouTube video-sharing website.

Paul Starkie returned as head

Paul Starkie returned as head

“When I lie at night and dream, I often find myself transported back in some way to find myself trudging up Ladder Hill, strolling Francis Plain or wandering around Longwood. Such is the lasting impact of St Helena,” he says.

In those days, some of the older pupils were paid to attend school in an arrangement with the Public Works Department.

“I recall paying wages to all the PWD students on a Friday, assisted by Miss Doris Peters and Miss Joy George,” says John.

“And I recall taking part in the community education classes, where I made what must have been the worst table every constructed on St Helena.

“My most lasting memory was leading the proceedings 25 years ago when we held the opening ceremony.

“I remember the enormous sense of pride which echoed round the hall as the entire school, resplendent in school uniform and Prince Andrew School ties, sang the Prince Andrew School song for the very first time under the musical direction of the late Mr Eric George.

Click the pic to watch John's video

Click the pic to watch John’s video

“I recollect to this day the true sense of community that prevailed, and the way in which students felt truly privileged to have such splendid surroundings to pursue their educational dreams.”

He tells pupils: “I hope this sense of Prince Andrew School being your school, and a feeling of pride in it being a school like no other anywhere else in the world, still prevails today as it did in 1989.”

He gives his congratulations for recent significant improvements in GCSE results.

John extends “a special personal thank-you” to Basil George, who was chief education officer at the time “and whose drive and vision contributed greatly to creation the school you enjoy today.”

He ends by urging the people of St Helena to “build upon the silver jubilee spirit to take Prince Andrew School to new levels in the years ahead.”

Governor Mark Capes and Basil George were among special guests who heard music pieces from the school choir and various pupils at the special assembly. It ended with student president Lizemarie Robbertse and vice student president Chrystabel Greentree speaking about the importance of striving for success.

Watch John Bircall’s address in full here

SEE ALSO:
New school head brings Saint family back home
Nick Stevens goes global from St Helena

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Barry and Merrill, the Umbrella-ella-ella fellas

umbrella barry francis merrill lawrence 640Click the pic to hear Barry Francis and Merrill Lawrence on guitars in a rather good rendition of the song, Umbrella. Nicely filmed by Vision Media, too.

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Welcome to St Helena Airport…

Airport newsletter number 51: click the link at the bottom of the story to read it

Airport newsletter number 51: click the link at the bottom of the story to read it

St Helena’s airport will officially be known as… St Helena Airport.

So says the 51st Airport Update, reporting the decision by executive councillors. “The name is strongly supported by the aviation industry and has instant recognition for passengers,” it says.

The newsletter also reports on open days at the end of September, at which about 1,600 people – a third of the island population – saw the completed work to fill in Dry Gut and create an extra 400 metres of level ground for the runway.

The structure of the building that will house services such as the air traffic control has also been completed.

And the update tells of Craig Yon’s success in earning a blasting qualification that gives him a key role in setting explosives. An examiner came from Namibia to assess him.

Click to read: Airport Update 51 (.pdf file).

  • There was talk of St Helena’s first and only airport being called St Helena International. But the last word of that name would have been rather superfluous. If it wasn’t not going to be an international airport, then where would the aeroplanes fly to – Francis Plain?
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Sailing for St Helena with a floorboard for a rudder

The yacht Benguela is the same type as a former Governor's Cup Yacht Race winner

The yacht Benguela is the same type as a former Governor’s Cup Yacht Race winner. Picture: 2 Oceans Maritime Academy

When the rudder failed on the yacht Benguela, its crew tried lashing a floorboard to a pole to take its place.

It worked, well enough to steer the 42-foot sail training vessel to within reach of rescue boats from St Helena.

Now the principal of the 2 Oceans Maritime Academy in Cape Town has thanked “all of St Helena” for the kindness shown to the yacht’s seven crew.

Sean Cumming said the Fast 42 vessel had just made its fourth visit to the island in a year and a half, on a voyage to enable student yachtsmen to notch up sea miles.

Its sister yacht, Diel, also visited in March 2014 on a training voyage from Cape Town to Rio and back via Tristan da Cunha.

Sean said: “Benguela suffered rudder failure in the early hours of Monday 29 September, due east of St Helena, while on the return leg to Cape Town.

“The skipper and crew attempted to repair the steering and drifted to a position north-east of the island.

“Around 0730 Universal Time they were able to set up a jury rudder using the spinnaker pole and a floorboard lashed to it.

“This allowed the vessel to make its way slowly towards the island under power until they were due north.

“I then made contact with Sean Burns of the Governor’s office, who was extremely helpful. He then contacted the relevant emergency personnel, who sent vessels out to assist, eventually towing Benguela back Jamestown.”

Trevor “Otto” Thomas, skipper of the fishing vessel MFV Extractor, agreed to accompany the island’s rescue vessel on the operation because of the distance and heavy seas anticipated.

“I would like to commend all involved in the assistance of Benguela,” said Sean Cumming. “You can imagine how stressful this has been for 2 Oceans, the parents of the crew, and family.

“We were updated on the progress through the office of the Governor and are extremely grateful to all who assisted.

“St Helena is a wonderful island to visit and we are so grateful that the rescue crew are so professional and friendly. The hospitality extended to the crew has been amazing. We will continue to visit the island as part of our yachtmaster programme.

“Thank you, all of St Helena.”

SEE ALSO:
Island crews hailed for ten-hour rescue operation
2 Ocean Maritime Academy
2 Ocean’s Fast 42 yachts

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Island crews hailed for ten-hour rescue operation

Fishing vessel Extractor joined the rescue operation. Picture: Bruce Salt

Fishing vessel Extractor joined the rescue operation. Picture: Bruce Salt

Rescuers have been praised after venturing far out in heavy seas to bring a yacht crew to the safety of St Helena.

The ten-hour operation began when a call for assistance was received from the yacht Benguela, 80 miles north of the island with rudder problems.

The rescue boat Lima put to sea from Jamestown with the island’s offshore fishing vessel, MFV Extractor, soon after the alarm was raised at about 9.30am on Monday, 29 September 2014.

Rescue boat Lima. Picture: Bruce Salt

Rescue boat Lima. Picture: Bruce Salt

“Given the sea conditions and the likely action required, support was sought from the skipper of the Extractor,” said a government statement.

“The yacht had limited steering but was able to head, at slow speed, towards St Helena.

“When it was 25 to 30 miles from the island the rudder failed completely. The sea rescue boat had made good progress and arrived on the scene to ensure the safety of the seven persons on board.”

The two rescue boats worked together under skippers Craig Scipio and Trevor Thomas to tow the yacht back to St Helena, arriving in James Bay at about 8pm.

“All crews of the Lima, Extractor and Benguela were uninjured but tired after a long rescue deployment,” said the statement.

Benguela is one of two Fast 42 yachts used for sail training by the 2 Oceans Maritime Academy in Cape Town. It was on a “mileage voyage” to St Helena, giving trainees the chance to build up ocean experience.

The MFV Extractor was only brought to Jamestown in April 2014 after being purchased by a specially created consortium to allow the island to exploit the rich fishing grounds around its offshore sea mounts.

extractor 450 by BruceSaltClick to see a gallery of Bruce Salt’s Extractor pictures

St Helena’s Chief of Police, Trevor Botting, said: “This was a challenging rescue in heavy seas but the sea rescue team, working with the skipper and crew of the Extractor, did a fantastic job in ensuring the safety of the Benguela and its crew.

“I am grateful to the skipper of the Extractor for the support given to the sea rescue crew but not surprised at the level of support given when needed.

“Working together, they provided a professional and timely response to those in need in the waters surrounding St Helena.”

Governor Mark Capes praised both crews. “Thanks to their courage, professionalism and well honed seafaring skills, the operation ended happily with the safe return of all concerned,” he said.

SEE ALSO:
Sailing for St Helena with a floorboard for a rudder

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Alonzo walks it to win mountain bike challenge

Alonzo Henry has won St Helena’s first ever mountain bike competition after snatching the lead on a challenging section of the course.

He and Rémi Bruneton were the first pair away from the start at Millennium Forest, with the Frenchman setting a fast pace over the five-mile route to Cox’s Battery and back.

St Helena Wirebird reports that Rick Walters, Ross Leo and Michael Davis, starting slightly later, were hot on the leaders’ heels.

Click to watch Andy Day’s videoScreen Shot 2014-09-25 at 23.49.42

“At the bottom of the valley there is a dangerous drop zone so all riders were advised to get off their bikes and walk this area,” says the Wirebird report. “It was here that Alonzo Henry took advantage and got into lead position and continued to hold his position to the finish line at the Millennium Forest.”

He finished in a time of 27.01 minutes, with a clear 48-second lead over Rémi. Ross Leo finished third in 28.10.

Sixteen riders in all took part, all finishing in well under an hour. The remaining 13 were: Rick Walters, Nigel McMichael, Lizemarie Robbertse, John Woolacot, Michael David, Hannah Lowe, Louis Allen Youde, Deon Robbertse, Michael Moors, Derrick Alexander, Dennis Leo and Steven Theron.

Riders were briefed by Merrill Joshua, the island’s tourism projects manager and an adventure sports enthusiast.

The National Trust ran a cafe, SanRay’s sold food and soft drinks, and Leroy Fowler dispensed pop corn and candy floss. Various family activities were run by Creative St Helena and the National Trust. A children’s cycling trail was set up through the Millennium Forest.

Alonzo’s prize was a trophy and a GoPro camera – popular for filming adventure activities. To see what they can do, have a look at these films by island cameraman Julian Beard:

Swimming with whale sharks
St Helena motorcyle ride
More Julian Beard videos

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Hotel plans win support from ExCo

A large hotel could be built on Jamestown’s Waterfront.

Executive councillors gave approval for the idea to be explored as a future option – after endorsing a separate plan to convert numbers 1, 2 and 3 Main Street into four-star accommodation.

Both ideas were put before the council at a special meeting on Tuesday, 23 September 2014.

A press release says tourism experts have advised that accommodation of a high standard will be needed when the island’s airport opens in 2016.

The council approved the option to develop the Government-owned building into a hotel with at least 30 bedrooms.

The former East India Company building would have a restaurant and bar that could cater for up to 90 people.

A new building would be constructed at the rear to provide accommodation, including hotel rooms with disabled access – if planning permission is given.

The press release said: “This four-star hotel will complement other local initiatives in developing tourist accommodation, and will serve as a catalyst for economic development, including the involvement of local producers and service providers.

“Executive Council also considered an option for the development of a larger hotel at the Waterfront and approved the exploration of this option for the future.

“Further detailed design work will now proceed for the development of 1, 2 and 3 Main Street as a quality hotel. The public will be kept informed and will have an opportunity to view the plans and drawings once these have been finalised.”

  • Executive Council also noted a positive meeting at the Rock Club to consult on the development of a solar farm around the site of the current rifle range at Half Tree Hollow.  “There was overwhelming support for the project,” said the press release.
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