2012: the year of change, part 2 – April to June

The Honeymoon Chair was wrecked, St Helena’s cricketers won international glory, the St Helena Independent was reborn, plant saviour George Benjamin died, work began on the airport haul road, students were left without maths teachers, Edie Timm was awarded an MBE, plans were unveiled for “the world’s greenest hotel”, and Saints celebrated St Helena Day and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

APRIL

Vandals put lives at risk by tampering with the multi-million pound rockfall nets above Jamestown.

Dr Sarel Bloem left the island after seven years as senior medical officer, having arrived on the island in 2005 on a three-month stand-in posting.

Photographer Robyn Sim was named St Helena’s young businessperson of the year. Aaron’s Adventure Tours picked up the tourism award, and Stevens Family Butchers claimed the livestock prize. Winner Gary Stevens said he wanted to expand his herd but needed more land.

Councillors were called to The Castle at short notice to be told there wasn’t enough money to pay for a planned new jetty at Jamestown, to make it easier to land cruise passengers and cargo. Efforts were being made to reduce costs or find new funding. A UK official later said that jumping ashore at the old landing steps was an essential part of the St Helena experience.

Leaking oil from the wartime wreck of the Darkdale eventually prompted the UK government to send out experts to assess it.

At the launch of the new Environmental Management Directorate, boss Tara Pelembe said the island’s environment was “the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, the food that we eat, the energy we use in our houses, the landscape we enjoy, the sea where we fish and also importantly, our culture and our inspiration, our history and our business.”

The P&O cruise ship Arcadia circled St Helena without landing any passengers, resulting in estimated losses of £10,000 for island traders, despite “millpond” sea conditions. The company refused to acknowledge a succession of complaints or express regret.

The UK’s inability to deport political agitator Abu Qutada prompted a suggestion from a Daily Mail reader: exile him to St Helena. Writer Quentin Letts specifically suggested sending him to Blue Hill.

The much-loved Honeymoon Chair on Jamestown seafront was swamped when the frame supporting a luxuriant bougainvillea collapsed under its weight, just as workmen moved in to trim it. There was widespread anger. The incident threw up an island puzzle: no one was sure how long the seat, or the tree, had been there.

The St Helena Independent was relaunched, a month after being closed down in the face of competition from the new, government-funded Sentinel. Well-wishers had rallied round to support owner Mike Olsson in response to public outcry and a Facebook campaign. The paper’s front page said: “We’re back – thank you for your support.”

St Helena’s cricketers won the final match of their Africa tournament, against Morocco. Had they scored just three more runs in two of their games, they’d have been in the final. They scored 113 against Rwanda – to lose by a single run. Father and son Gavin and David George each scored 48 runs to secure victory against Gambia. And in the match against Mali, Dax Richards alone scored more than the entire rival team.

The team’s exploits later made the front page of the UK’s Daily Telegraph, which picked out 57-year old Gavin George as one of the star players.

An astronomer arrived see whether St Helena’s night skies were clear enough for an international ranking – only to suffer a week of cloud. On his final night on the island, the fog cleared and Steve Adams managed to take a spectacular picture showing the whole of the island’s sky. Steve later reported that he was giving the island a gold-star rating.

MAY

An advert for a new headteacher at Prince Andrew School said candidates should have “a well-developed sense of humour.”

Plans to build “the world’s greenest hotel” at Broad Bottom were unveiled by developer Shelco after several years of negotiation. The scheme included improving habitat for the endemic wirebirds, and eradicating rats that killed their chicks.

It wasn’t only wirebirds that were worried about rats. There was widespread concern that they were on the increase just as pest controllers were being laid off. St Helena Government discounted the claims. Henry Thorpe told how he’d survived “rat fever” after dragging himself to a phone to call for help.

George Benjamin BEM, the man who rediscovered two endemic plants that were thought to be extinct, died on 30 April 2012. In tributes, Basil George told how George started working in a flax mill at 15 before developing a love for St Helena’s plant heritage, and Rebecca Cairns-Wicks described the dramatic efforts to reach the ebony plant George spotted growing on a dangerous cliff. Another tribute said his dedication had “left the island with a far richer legacy then we would otherwise have had.”

Work began on building a 14-kilometre haul road from Rupert’s Bay, so that construction vehicles – too large to be lifted ashore at Jamestown and be driven through the arch – could reach the airport construction site.

A report found that the frame over Jamestown’s Honeymoon Chair was already in a dangerous condition when it collapsed in April.

The UK’s Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, held a meeting with Saints and island-watchers in Swindon – and said he was delighted to be in Swindolena. Basil Read’s Jimmy Johnson also addressed the meeting. Mr Mitchell revealed that he was having frequent briefings on St Helena’s airport project – the UK’s biggest single overseas aid project. In an interview, he spoke of the desirability of transparency in government, but said it was for St Helena’s councillors to bring it about (it later transpired that they had no wish to do so).

Mr Mitchell was asked why the new landing stage in Rupert’s Valley had not been built as a permanent facility. He replied that it was now planned to build a long-term wharf, rather than go ahead with a jetty in Jamestown. He said: “I think I’m right in saying the decision is made not to build the jetty.”

The minister also gave Saint FM and Radio St Helena a lengthy interview.

Leoni Ellick, aged 19, was crowned Miss St Helena 2012.  The runner-up sashes went to Ashton Yon and Sasha Bargo.

Some very silly sporting events were staged on the seafront on what organiser Nick Stevens called “the best St Helena Day for years”. A parade included a ship carrying an aircraft, symbolising changing methods of reaching St Helena. The day raised two and a half thousand pounds for New Horizons youth centre.

The island’s museum celebrated its tenth birthday on St Helena Day. In an audio interview, Edward Baldwin described the logistical challenges of planning the museum, with a very poor internet connection between the island and Friends of St Helena members in the UK.

The owner of the classic yacht Queequeg accepted compensation approaching a quarter of a million pounds after its government-owned mooring snapped. It was driven on to rocks and rapidly broke up, as seen in a series of dramatic photographs by Bruce Salt.

British politican Mark Lancaster told how he slept rough in the garden of Plantation House after returning late from a “fact-finding” tour of Jamestown drinking establishments, only to find that governor Andrew Gurr had absent-mindedly locked him out. “After an evening of St Helenian hospitality,” he said, “a bit of fresh air did me the world of good.”

Scottish lawyer John MacRitchie was named as St Helena’s first-ever chief magistrate. It later emerged that one of his ancestors had held public office on the island in the days of the East India Company.

JUNE

At the annual garden party to mark the Queen’s Birthday, Nick Stevens of New Horizons youth centre was awarded St Helena’s Badge of Honour, for services to the island.

Celebrations of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee included a “village fair” in Main Street, a parade, and the lighting of official jubilee beacons, sent out from the UK. Jubilee medals were presented to members of emergency services and the military.

Six extra wind turbines at Deadwood Plain were approved by the planning board, with support for others to be put up elsewhere on the island.

Locking MP Mark Lancaster out of Plantation House smoothed negotiations to secure UK funding for St Helena’s airport, claimed former governor Andrew Gurr. “On all my subsequent visits to Westminster to lobby, I was heralded as the bloke who locked Mark out,” he said.

The high cost of phone charges on the island prompted a debate among executive councillors, as negotiations continued over renewal of the exclusive licence to supply telecoms services. Media could not report the councillors’ comments because of a policy of meeting in secret.

A lack of maths teachers meant students had to be taught by staff from other departments. The island’s physiotherapist, a maths graduate, gave extra lessons in his spare time after a public appeal for help. Students eventually did well in maths GCSEs, but at a public meeting, new education director Colin Moore said island teachers must be properly trained and rewarded if severe problems in school were to be resolved.

Earl Henry was elected as a new councillor, taking the place of Michael “Newpence” Benjamin, who had stepped down because of ill health. Writer John Turner blamed “closed” government for a low turnout, and launched a Facebook page calling for more transparency.

On 15 June 2012, approval was given for the proposed Wirebird Hills eco resort, the largest development ever submitted to planners besides the island’s airport.

Edie Timm – newly awarded an MBE – told how she overcame a severe stammer to become a teacher in the UK and then on St Helena, after being denied overseas training because of her handicap. “People used to laugh at me,” she said. Governor Capes praised her “tremendous strength of character”.

Wirebirds remained on the official list of endangered species, despite numbers increasing, because of the possible impact of St Helena’s new airport being built close to one of its breeding grounds.

Potential disaster was averted when a large rock was caught in safety netting above Jamestown.

Archaeologist Dr Andy Pearson secured a British library grant to begin preserving historic documents in the island’s archives, and teach islanders who to make digital copies of them.

The prospect of phone masts springing up across the island emerged when Cable & Wireless signed a new contract that included bringing a mobile phone service to St Helena.

Nick Thorpe reported panic-buying in the shops after port officials in Cape Town refused to load a cargo because an export document was missing. It meant several weeks without onions.

The UK government’s new White Paper on its overseas territories called for greater transparency in government, to improve decision-making and public engagement. It also promoted seven principles of public office. St Helena’s executive councillors later defended their policy of meeting in secret and withholding minutes and agendas from the public.

Henrietta Timms, a visitor from England, claimed a new women’s marathon record in the St Helena Festival of Running, as well as winning two other races.

The UK offered to help its overseas territories in the treatment of sex offenders – a challenge in isolated communities, including St Helena.

SEE ALSO:
2012 Review: January to March
The best stories of 2012 

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