The St Helena ebony, rescued from extinction by Charlie Benjamin, has found a place in UK national ceremonial – and on his daughter’s wedding cake. Simon Pipe of St Helena Online was honoured to give a speech telling Charlie’s story.
Wendy Benjamin would have liked to have living ebony flowers at her wedding to Campbell Duncan. But they’re classed as critically endangered, and it just wasn’t going to happen.
No matter. She had them on their cake instead, crafted in icing by her aunt Mary – Charlie Benjamin’s sister.
It was given pride of place in the fine Cotswold barn where more than 150 people, mostly Saints, gathered to celebrate both the wedding, and Charlie’s unique role in St Helena’s natural history.
Most guests knew of George Benjamin BEM, the man who spotted two surviving ebony plants growing on a treacherous cliff.
Fewer knew how his brother Charlie risked his life to climb down and take cuttings from those surviving plants.
His brave act spurred a conservation effort that has brought St Helena international recognition.
Charlie did not live to give away his daughter. He died in 2007. It was Wendy’s son, Bronwyn Joshua, who took that role in the marriage at Kew Gardens, where ebonies grow today.
But through the telling of his story, Charlie could be part of the occasion.
Wedding guests were told of the ceremony that had taken place earlier in the day on St Helena, to name the site of Charlie’s brave act in his honour.
But his climb had left another legacy in UK ceremonial, they heard.
“At about this time of year, you might also see the ebony on national television” they were told. “Because here’s a coincidence: Charlie’s climb was made on the 13th of November, 1980. But Georgie actually spotted the plant on the 11th of November – the anniversary of the ending of the First World War.
“On Remembrance Sunday, the nation’s leaders mark that event by laying wreaths of poppies at the Cenotaph in London. But the Foreign Secretary lays a wreath that’s crafted at Kew, made up of plants from the UK’s overseas territories, including – very often – the St Helena ebony.
“There can be no finer tribute for Charlie Benjamin than that.
“But he has one other legacy, in his children, and their children, and as of now, his new son-on-law. And if he were with us today, he might well say that was the legacy that gave him the most joy.”