2013 Review

Read down to look back on South Atlantic happenings in 2013 – then click on the links below each month to read the best stories from the year. 

JANUARY

Banjo became the first boat home in the Governor’s Cup yacht race at teatime on New Year’s Day. Hedge Shuter and his St Helena crew arrived a few days later with tales of living on curry sauce and blocking the lavatory.

A community bid to revive Saint FM emerged after the station’s abrupt closure three days before Christmas.

Visiting adviser Graham Doig broke the record for climbing Jacob’s Ladder, by less than a second – running up on his feet and hands.

The oldest person on St Helena, Ethel Sim, celebrated her 100th birthday.

A new report on revamping Jamestown as a tourist resort proved controversial, but Ivy Ellick was more concerned with one of the city’s landmark buildings: she launched an appeal to put back its lost spire. And the Mantis group said Ladder Hill Fort would make a great luxury hotel; new homes would be built for people living there.

Click to read the top stories of January 2013

FEBRUARY

A lifeboat that broke loose during the wrecking of the MS Oliva near Tristan da Cunha was washed up on a beach in South Australia. It had drifted 5,000 miles from Nightingale Island.

SAMS Radio 1 launched, ending several weeks with no local radio station on the island. But the media organisation behind it had to drop its original name, which already belonged to rival publisher Mike Olsson. Just over a week later, the group reviving Saint FM was granted a licence to broadcast.

A view of Tristan da Cunha from space was chosen as the American space agency’s image of the day.

St Helena’s health service was said to be struggling with the spread of diabetes on the island. Writer Mike Thorpe blamed decades of cheap imports of sweet milk and other unhealthy foods.

At the airport construction site, a driver escaped with a bang on the head when he flipped the dump truck he was driving.

Click to read the top stories of February 2013

MARCH

Water supplies dwindled to perilously low levels on the most populated parts of St Helena after months of hot sun and little rain. A hosepipe ban was imposed.

Ferdie Gunnell warned fellow legislative councillors that The Run, the historic drainage waterway running through Upper Jamestown, had become a neglected health hazard.

The number of diabetics on St Helena rose by ten per cent in two years, to one in seven of the population – one of the worst rates in the world. The government said it was wrecking lives and putting the economy under strain.

Saint FM Community Radio went live. In an on-air address, chairman Julie Thomas said the closure of the original station had been like the loss of a family member; to relaunch the station, supporters had to set up transmission equipment themselves because Cable & Wireless was too busy.

It was announced that the Commonwealth Games baton would reach St Helena on 19 February 2014 on its journey round the world.

Saints voted against the idea of having a chief councillor, after ExCo decided the decision was so important it should go to a referendum.

Royal approval was given for Ascension to have its own national flag.

And an expert warned that St Helena’s unique Spiky Yellow Woodlouse, an “amazing little creature”, was struggling to survive.

Click to read the top stories of March 2013

APRIL

A picture of clouds forming a herringbone pattern over St Helena, taken by Commander Chris Hadfield from the International Space Station, was seen by millions of people around the world.

It was announced that fewer people would be invited to the Queen’s Birthday celebration at Plantation House, because of UK budget pressures.

A draft policy on farming proposed modernisation of the industry. Suggestions included restoring lost coffee plantations, fighting diseases, and attracting young people to the industry.

The new footbridge to carry people across the moat from the Customs House was finally lowered into position, 16 months after it arrived on the island in an unusable state.

The death of Baroness Thatcher brought back memories of her act of “great injustice”, as Governor Hollamby was to call it, in taking away British citizenship from people in UK overseas territories. It was restored to Saints in 2002.

Governor Mark Capes caused a storm when he dissolved Legislative Council with less than an hour’s notice – without calling a new election. He also imposed restrictions on political statements from The Castle, following a convention known as purdah. No justification was given for imposing purdah outside a formal election period – a departure from standard practice that was later described by a professor as a cock-up. Governor Capes left the island days after the announcement.

Captain Jonathan Mercer’s visit to St Helena aboard the MS Amsterdam brought back memories of his previous visit in 1973, shortly before he and 83 passengers and crew had to take to lifeboats when the Southampton Castle caught fire.

Click to read the top stories of April 2013

MAY

Calls were made by his family to celebrate the bravery of the late Charlie Benjamin, who scaled a dangerous cliff without proper climbing gear in order to retrieve a plant that turned out to be the St Helena Ebony, which had long been thought extinct.

A frigatebird chick was raised on mainland Ascension Island for the first time in more than a century.

St Helena’s general election was belatedly called for 17 July 2013 – two days short of the maximum 13 weeks after dissolution of the Legislative Council.

Efforts to end “human rights violations” in St Helena’s overcrowded prison were frustrated when executive councillors refused to consider plans for a new gaol at Half Tree Hollow. They said making a major decision would breach the new purdah rules imposed by the governor.

As the water shortage worsened, people in Half Tree Hollow and surrounding areas were warned their supply might be cut off unless they reduced their consumption. They did.

Dr Ahmad Risk, a departing locum medic, warned that young people on St Helena were being led into the grip of some of the medical world’s biggest killers because of poor diet and lack of exercise. He said front line staff did an amazing job.

A replica of Napoleon’s House was driven down Main Street on St Helena’s Day, with housing executive Andy Crowe on board, playing the part of the fallen emperor.

Planning work was well under way on building 15 experimental homes at Half Tree Hollow to help meet an acute housing need on St Helena, following an international design competition. Spanish architects BAT proposed creating bamboo plantations so the island can grow its own building materials.

Michaela Clifford became the first person born on St Helena to be named May Queen on the Falkland Islands.

St Helena’s new rescue boat went out in a heavy Atlantic swell to aid a yacht crew whose vessel had begun taking in water through a crack in its hull.

Click to read the top stories of May 2013

JUNE

Kedell Worboys, St Helena’s representative in the UK, attended a service in Westminster Abbey to mark the 60th anniversary of the Coronation of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. The flags of St Helena and Ascension flew in London’s Parliament Square

Island vet Joe Hollins distributed feed and salt licks to help distressed livestock survive the drought on parts of St Helena.

St Helena Britannica, a new book compiled from papers by St Helena historian Trevor Hearl, was launched by the Friends of St Helena. The first copy was presented to Trevor’s widow.

One of the UK pilots bidding to set up an airline for St Helena told how their plans began with a map on a kitchen floor. Captain Richard Brown of Atlantic Star warned that an air service would only be viable with direct flights from Europe, because rival destinations such as Barbados could be reached from London without people changing planes.

Seven improvised vehicles careered down the hill into Jamestown in St Helena’s first ever kart racing event, organised by the disability charity SHAPE. Cable & Wireless was declared the overall winner.

Three and a half weeks after first sailing from Cape Town, passengers on the beleaguered MV Edinburgh finally reached Tristan da Cunha. The ship had to turn back to Cape Town with engine failure, then set out again – only to find the sea was too rough for passengers to go ashore for 24 hours when they finally arrived.

A death mask of Napoleon Bonaparte was put up for auction by Bonhams in London, but island historian John Tyrrell has questioned its authenticity. It sold for £170,000 but the British government blocked its export to see if a British buyer could be found, to keep it in the UK.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London dismissed a protest over the “unpleasant” way that Governor Mark Capes dismissed elected councillors without warning.

The Royal Air Force helped transport 360 fertilized chicken eggs to St Helena to replace dwindling breeding stock. Live birds had been imported in the past, but the end of UK calls by the RMS St Helena meant this was no longer possible. Only six eggs were broken.

The skies above St Helena were judged to be dark enough for the island to become one of the world’s most attractive star-gazing destinations. It could win official recognition as a “dark sky island” within two years.

The diabetes crisis on St Helena was been picked out as one of the main targets for action by the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID). It also wanted to reduce the island’s dependence on British aid.

A special programme was broadcast by Saint FM Community Radio, marking the 40th anniversary of the fire aboard the Southampton Castle between Ascension and St Helena. It was presented by Tony Leo – who interviewed some of the survivors at the time. 

Click to read the top stories of June 2013

JULY

Bug experts were astonished by the rediscovery of one of St Helena’s smallest creatures. Conservation officer Lourens Malan spotted the missing leaf hopper on his day off. It wasn’t easy: it’s only three millimetres long.

Tony Leo hosted a 26-hour marathon radio show on Saint FM Community Radio, and raised nearly three thousand pounds to help keep the station on air.

James Herne resumed his attempt to become the first St Helenian to sail round the world, after he and his family spent several weeks on the island.

The government warned that the water shortage on St Helena was worsening, but some householders are losing the resolve to keep consumption down.

St Helena’s 2013 general election was won by candidates who campaigned to end the culture of secrecy within government. Ian Rummery, Lawson Henry and Nigel Dollery topped the voting. Bernice Olsson was elected for a fifth successive term.

For Patsy Flagg, election day was a momentous date for an entirely different reason. She held her 100th “homely coffee morning” in aid of island causes.

A journal written by one of St Helena’s most important historical figures, J C Mellis, was been found on the island’s rubbish tip. It revealed how the island’s 19th Century administrators considered digging a tunnel between Upper Jamestown at Rupert’s Valley.

Marksman Simon Henry has won St Helena’s first ever gold medal in the history of the Island Games – along with a second silver. He and Carlos Yon had earlier won a joint silver medal at the games in Bermuda.

The last whaling ship ever to call at St Helena in the days of sail was re-launched on the other side of the ocean after a long restoration project. The names of various Saints, including one John Knipe, are recorded in the log books of the Charles W Morgan at Mystic Seaport in America.

Some of St Helena’s new political leaders voiced strong objections to having to sign an oath of confidentiality, blocking them from sharing any information about government affairs. They promised an early end to the “embarrassment” of secrecy.

New councillor Lawson Henry called for pensions for Saints who spent much of their working lives on Ascension. He said they had contributed to St Helena’s economy by sending money home.

More than 100 US military aircraft touched down at Wideawake Airfield as part of a massive operation to support President Obama’s visit to Africa.

Click to read the best stories of July 2013

AUGUST

Leading Seaman Jamie Fowler headed home to St Helena for the first time in 12 years aboard HMS Richmond.

Heavy rain ended weeks of anxiety about water shortages on St Helena.

It was announced that the Reading Sports, the annual gathering of St Helenians in the UK, would move to a new venue after 34 years at Reading Rugby Club. Organisers Trevor and Vilma Toms made the decision partly because of improved facilities and lower costs.

Students and teachers celebrated an extraordinary turn-around in maths GCSE exam results on St Helena.

Executive councillors refused to reduce heritage protection status for Wrangham’s mansion in Sandy Bay in order for it to be sold. They acted only days after The Castle issued a newsletter about the importance of the island’s built heritage for future tourism.

Click to read the top stories of August 2013

SEPTEMBER

The world’s only man-made rainforest, on Ascension, could provide a model for re-greening the planet, said writer Fred Pearce in The Guardian. Scientists were divided over its ecological merits.

A strike by 65 South African workers on St Helena’s airport project ended after two days. It coincided with a visit to the island by project director Jimmy Johnston, and Nigel Kirby of the Department for International Development. The reasons for the strike were not made public.

An article in The Guardian warned that an apparent policy of depopulation on Ascension was damaging community and family life, and left teenage girls facing sexual pressures. Administrator Colin Wells said workers knew the situation when they accepted jobs on the island – where no one has a permanent right of abode.

Saints were living in such bad conditions that it may be best to knock down the worst government properties and start again, the island’s housing chief has warned. Andy Crowe said it would cost £6.5 million to sort out problems after years of neglect.

Was it a trick, or a treat? Governor Capes called a general election on Ascension – to take place on Hallowe’en.

The Castle expressed regret for purchasing blunders that led to it wasting £105,000 importing an asphalt plant from India. It proved unsafe and was written off without ever being used.

Click to read the top stories of September 2013

OCTOBER

Saint FM Community Radio went live on Ascension from 1 October.

The new Legislative Council voted to introduce a “level playing field” in funding for media organisations on St Helena, though it was not clear how this would be achieved. Councillors said it was unfair that SAMS Radio 1 and the Sentinel were state funded but Saint FM Community Radio had to stage fundraising events to stay on air. Other issues discussed included the state of health care and housing.

Deep in the cellars, something stirred… New Horizons youth organisation transformed the basement of Jamestown Community Centre into a haunted crypt for Hallowe’en. The fundraising night proved hugely successful.

Click to read the top stories of October 2013

NOVEMBER

Florence Richards – “Ma Flo” – celebrated her 100th birthday with parties at the Community Care Centre and Plantation House. She sang “Daisy, Daisy” on Saint FM Community Radio and told SAMS Radio 1: “I feel good and I all right.”

St Helena’s departing Attorney General, Ken Baddon, was praised in court for maintaining the “highest traditions” of the legal profession. He was not in court to hear the tribute by Chief Justice Charles Ekins.

Experienced island politicians Cyril Leo and Caz Yon topped the poll in Ascension’s Hallowe’en election. Seven councillors were elected.

Former policeman and soldier Martin Sutcliffe put up a £100 reward after money was stolen from a poppy collection box at St Helena’s hospital.

Governor Mark Capes sought to attract investors to St Helena by offering ten-year tax breaks. He attended receptions in Cape Town with Julian Morris, the island’s departing chief executive of economic development. A media report said the RMS St Helena brought £20 million worth of business into Cape Town every year.

The Buzzfeed website included St Helena on a list of deadly tourist destinations to be avoided by travellers, on the grounds that it was difficult to get there. Other locations included an island infested by deadly snakes, and another plagued by crocodiles.

Cyril Brooks, who served in the Royal Navy in World War Two, joined other Saints taking part in the Remembrance Sunday parade through central London.

A touch of glamour came to the South Atlantic islands when former model and double Atlantic rower Sally Kettle turned up to make a film.

Robert Peters won St Helena’s Business of the Year prize with his History on Wheels enterprise.

Two open days on Prosperous Bay Plain marked the reaching of the half-way point in the project to pour eight million tonnes of rubble into Dry Gut to carry the runway for St Helena’s new airport. On the first weekend, the figure “50%” was moulded from rubble; a week later, workers were more ambitious, and moulded the shape of an air liner.

Click to read the top stories of November 2013

DECEMBER

The big news in December was the granting of final approval for a plan to build a wharf and create a new port in Rupert’s Bay – though it wasn’t exactly a surprise.

Internet pirates were driven off Ascension, Tony Green resigned as a councillor, and the old Public Works Store in the Grand Parade went on sale for a quarter of a million pounds.

After years of pollution from the wreck of the first ship to be torpedoed south of the Equator in World War Two, Britain finally agreed to clear the remaining oil from the tanks of the RFA Darkdale in James Bay.

At Christmas, Jamestown sparkled at the Festival of Lights, and just before the New Year, Cynthia George and Raymond Hudson achieved fame posing in their scouting uniforms for a new book, Empire.

Click to read the top stories of December 2013

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