St Helena Online


Same-sex marriage approved for St Helena: opponent calls for society to embrace the result

Marriage between same-sex couples has been approved by St Helena’s legislative council by nine votes to two – meaning weddings could take place within weeks.

Rainbow island graphic by John Turner
Rainbow island graphic by John Turner

The Honourable Cyril Leo warned of a “deep divide” on the island and said he feared a negative reaction from “homophobic elements” in society.

But he said people should embrace the outcome of democratic debate. Councillors should “make love our greatest quest,” he said.

The Hon. Kylie Hercules, supporting the Marriage Bill, said: “We are dealing with people’s lives and emotions.”

And the Hon. Christine Scipio-o’Dean said: “We cannot discriminate. We must not, and we must strive to ensure equality.”

The Hon. Anthony Green explained that an attempt to present the same bill to the previous legislative council in 2016 had faltered.

A legal challenge to the existing marriage law – passed in 1851 – was due to be heard in the Supreme Court in January 2018 and could be appealed all the way to the Privy Council in London – a process that could take years.

“This law is silent on whether marriage between two persons of the same gender is permissible,” he said.

Barristers from the UK were on standby to represent various parties.

He said that denying same-sex couples the same marriage rights as other people would breach their human rights under the St Helena Constitution.

Cyril Leo and Brian Isaac were the only councillors to vote against the bill becoming law. Dr Corinda Essex abstained.

She said she knew her view would be controversial. “I have no objection to same-sex relationships and indeed I respect them,” she said. “I know a number of people who have entered into them. I am no way homophobic in any respect.

“However I believe that can be achieved through civil partnership.”

She added: “I believe very strongly that marriage was ordained not just in the Christian faith but in all the [main] faiths of the world… [as being] between a man and a woman.”

But she said the public had now had a proper chance to express their views and understand the issue – referring to a series of consultation meetings, and two petitions for and against same-sex marriage.

She said: “The number signing the two petitions was very similar. I had a lot of people lobbying me and saying we have serious concerns about this bill being passed. I do agree that the rights of minorities are important.

“But let us not deceive ourselves that the decision we make is going to be popular whichever way it goes because it is still an extremely emotive and sensitive topic on the island.

“We do need to be aware that worldwide, attitudes are changing and moving forward and we need to be more open minded. … and put our personal views aside and consider the bigger picture.

“As a result of that I will not be opposing the bill.”

The Hon. Brian Isaac said there other issues that caused distress to people on the island and deserved to be given higher priority.

The European Court of Human Rights had already declared that civil unions fully protected the rights of same-sex couples so there was no need for same-sex marriage, he said.

And he pointed out that members of the parliament on Bermuda, another UK overseas territory, had just voted to rescind a law allowing same-sex marriage. St Helena should look to the reasons they had done that, he said.

The Hon. Cruyff Buckley said he was a Christian but supported a change in the law. “This bill ushers in a new level of respect for minority groups,” he said.

The Hon. Derek Thomas said he was one of the councillors who blocked the progress of the bill a year ago because too few members of the public had expressed a view on it. The public had now had a fair say and he saw no justification for objecting.

The Hon. Lawson Henry said the St Helena Constitution – the supreme law of any country – guaranteed protection of equal rights.

“It is simply about equality,” he said “If this house cannot uphold the constitution then why are we here today, and why do we have a constitution? This bill has never been about religion, it is about equality and protection of minority groups.”

Many members sitting round the table had supported human rights legislation, “but some of them seem not to have supported equality,” he said.

He also warned St Helena Government would face heavy costs in the courts if the bill was rejected, and the island’s reputation would be damaged.

“We are a fledgling economy that has just gone into a new form of access,” he said, referring to the opening of the island’s airport.

“People who would like to visit this island will be looking at things like this. If they feel this is an island that can’t uphold its constitution [it] will cause more damage.”

The courts could nullify the existing marriage law and criticise the legislative council because members “can’t protect minority groups under our own constitution.”

Anthony Green, closing the debate, dismissed the reference to Bermuda. “We do not follow the Bermuda constitution,” he said. “We have our own constitution.” He praised Cyril Leo’s call for people to embrace the decision.

Governor Lisa Phillips will now be asked to ratify the bill and make it law, giving people on St Helena the same rights as same-sex couples on Ascension, Tristan da Cunha and most other UK overseas territories outside the Caribbean.

Speaking later in the traditional adjournment debate, Lawson Henry said it was a great day for St Helena.

St Helena’s 2017 Marriage Bill does not compel ministers to marry same-sex couples if it conflicts with religious doctrine. It also deals with other aspects of marriage law, including allowing weddings to take place outside places of worship.

House that: Andy auctions stamp painting for island charity

first day cover by andy crowe 1280Andy Crowe’s vivid paintings of St Helena’s capital city provided a colourful theme for a set of postage stamps. And now one of them is to be sold at auction to raise some capital for an island charity.

Readers are invited to place sealed bids in time for the auction on 17 March 2016.

Andy went to St Helena to improve social housing on the island, but made his mark in other ways as well: not least as a costumed stand-in for Napoleon at community events.

In his spare time he indulged his talent as an artist. The colours and shapes of buildings in Jamestown were a favourite theme.

Back home in the UK at the end of his contract, he has decided to take time out of housing work to chance his arm – as he puts it – as a working artist. He’s already built up a full order book.

He was so delighted to have his paintings chosen for the island stamps that he has decided to sell off his favourite, showing Main Street, for an island cause.

He says: “The proceeds will go to a St Helena charity, yet to be decided (mainly because I have no idea what the painting will sell for).

“I have also offered to auction a painting, again for a St Helena charity, when the RMS St Helena is moored in London.”

He bought up 100 copies of the first day cover showing his stamps and gave half of them to family and friends. He is selling signed copies of the rest at £15 a time – having allowed the Post Office to reproduce the originals for no fee.

The original of his Main Street scene will be auctioned as part of a sale at the Grosvenor Auction House in The Strand, London. Details can be found on Andy’s website (see the link below).

As St Helena’s first housing officer, Andy had to address severe problems with the state of government housing, as well as coming up with designs for new rented homes. Funding for them is still awaited. The job was challenging, but life on the island was rewarding.

On his website, Andy tells how he developed his technique of using a palette knife and brushes to produce of paintings of Frigiliana in Andalucia, where he had his first solo exhibition in 2009.

On St Helena, he found it “a challenge to apply the same knife and brush angles” to the rugged volcanic cliffs and vivid colours of Jamestown.

He arrived on the island in 2012 and by December 2014 his collection was large enough to warrant an exhibition in the Museum of St Helena.

“The exhibition was a great success, resulting in 12 commissions and the honour of having four of my paintings reproduced as postage stamps,” he says.

Contact Andy to find out more via his website, (click on More in the top menu).
Place a bid for the painting at

I wanted the people’s stories, says St Helena film-maker

Ivy Ellick speaks of painful truths in Dieter Deswarte's BBC film
Ivy Ellick speaks of painful truths in Dieter Deswarte’s BBC film

It was the people that mattered to Dieter Deswarte when he turned up on St Helena, one man and his camera on a shoestring budget, hoping to capture the spirit of an island emerging from obscurity.

The BBC gave him half an hour to tell the world about the Saints as they wait for an airport to transform their lives. That’s probably more screen time than it had spared the island in the previous 80 years.

Belgian film-maker Dieter Deswarte
Belgian film-maker Dieter Deswarte

It turns out to be quite a story: a hard one, but a beautiful one too. The “cinematic” scenery helps.

So do those who allowed the young Belgian film-maker into the private world from which outsiders are normally, politely, excluded.

He thanks them all for helping him make St Helena: An End To Isolation, as part of the BBC’s Our World series.

Father Dale Bowers tells how today’s Saints are descended from the poor who got left behind when the island’s fortunes failed in the 19th century. So many of the island’s problems are rooted in that fact.

Dieter describes Father Dale as “quite outspoken”; a man of good ideas.

The radio veteran Tony Leo is in there, chatting away on Saint FM, holding life together. For Dieter, the community-owned station is an important symbol of a people finding their own voice. He likes Tony, a lot.

Father Dale Bowers, by Dieter Deswarte
Father Dale Bowers, by Dieter Deswarte

We see Trevor Thomas, painting his fishing boat and complaining that anyone who voices concern about change is dismissed as negative.

“It was really tragic that he passed away the last week I was there,” says Dieter.  “It shook things up completely.

“I’m really grateful to the family that they still felt happy for me to use the footage of him. He was a really prolific speaker and writer and he had his way with words. It’s not bad to be a critic, but he was one.”

In her trim garden, Ivy Ellick, the retired senior government official, quietly acknowledges the realities of historic sex abuse that has brought the island unwelcome, and unrepresentative, attention.

“When I started, that was not known about,” says Dieter. “I couldn’t ignore what was happening because it’s very much part of the island opening up, but I didn’t just want that one aspect of the island.

Trevor Otto Thomas died during the making of the film. Picture by Dieter Deswarte
Trevor Otto Thomas died during the making of the film. Picture by Dieter Deswarte

“It was really hard for people to speak about it but I was really pleased with what Ivy has done for me. I’m so grateful for her words. We spoke about it for quite a while.

“It is an issue on the island that people are often not confident to speak up about because of privacy, living in a small community.

“I know some more detail but the detail is not so important here; it’s trying to bring out the fact that the island is opening up and these issues are coming to the surface, and how it’s taken so long.”

The other great island sadness is in there too: the going away. The airport may be only months away from opening, but for now, the pain of parting goes on as parents leave the island – and often, their children – to find a way out of extreme hardship.

In the film, it’s Melanie Caesar who hugs her teenage daughters on the wharf and boards the ship to go away to work, knowing she will not see them for the best part of a year.

Melanie Caesar, by Dieter Deswarte
Melanie Caesar, by Dieter Deswarte

“It was a very emotional goodbye,” says Dieter. “I’m really grateful to Melanie and her family, to let me observe these quite intimate moments.

“They almost forgot that I was there. I heard that from Rebecca and Kanisha afterwards.

“Because St Helena is quite a private community it has been challenging to enter people’s personal lives. It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s about listening to people; making people feel you are there for them to tell their story, and not to tell your own story.”

Fly-on-the-wall television has become a tainted form in the UK, but Dieter seems to have made it work for the island he came to love on his three visits in as many years.

“It’s been great to get some feedback from people from St Helena who are pleased,” he says, a few days after seeing his break-through first film go out on the BBC News Channel and BBC World News. “It’s such a relief. Most people felt happy it was just Saints telling the story.

The RMS St Helena approaches the island. Picture by Dieter Deswarte
The RMS St Helena approaches the island. Picture by Dieter Deswarte

“I did speak to the governor and quite a few other expats. I just decided not to include them. I wanted proper Saints.

“The BBC wanted something that would be quite observational in its character. I think they were very happy with the result.”

That’s not the end of it. “There’s talks here and there about a few things that might come off the back of it. It might be broadcast in Belgium, where I’m from.”

Not all those who were filmed survived the edit, but they might yet have their moment on screen – maybe the big screen.

“As we speak I am still editing a longer version of the film for festivals and other broadcasters,” says Dieter, who’s been based in London since graduating from Goldsmith’s University.

“In the longer film, there will be more people. For this particular short programme I felt Ivy, Trevor, Father Dale, Melanie and Tony, they were a good representation of the island.

“It was about finding a good balance between opinions. The airport comes with good and bad, and it was important to raise questions about it and not say it’s all terrible, but it’s a necessity that this will have to happen. At least, that’s how I see it: something needs to change for the island to change as well.”

Those charged with trying to promote St Helena as a welcoming tourist destination are unhappy about media coverage of the sex abuse inquiry, but Dieter does not believe that including it in the film will have a damaging effect.

“My series producer from the BBC is still very keen to go to St Helena, regardless of all he has heard about it,” he says.

“It’s not the travel show: I don’t think it will deter people from visiting the island. If anything it will make them more curious. Above all, I hope it tells them something about the people living there.”

Watch the film on the BBC iPlayer here

See a trailer here And read more on the BBC website

Click any thumbnail for a gallery of larger images:

Watch online: St Helena film shows the beauty, and the truth

Saints: click the pic to see a larger image
Saints: click the pic to see a larger image

The BBC has screened a revealing documentary that captures the beauty and charm of St Helena, but also confronts the realities of life on the island.

People in the UK can see at on the BBC iPlayer at any time up to 20 April 2015.

The half-hour film tells its story through six Saints who reflect on the way things have been, and what they might become. Among them is the late Trevor Otto Thomas, a much-loved fisherman and observer of island life.

Trevor O Thomas aboard MFV Extractor. Picture by Bruce Salt
Trevor O Thomas aboard MFV Extractor. Picture by Bruce Salt

Before his unexpected death in December 2014, he told of his concerns about what the airport will mean for the islanders’ way of life.

“Britain is not going to put an airport here for £400m and then we live the same old way we did 20 or 30 years ago,” he says in the film.

“They will want changes. It’s coming.

“People feel as though they are not being listened to and it makes you angry. And then when you say something that is contrary to what is being presented to you, you are being ‘negative’.”

Ivy Ellick, formerly a senior government official, laments the departure of many Saints for new lives overseas, and hopes the airport will “quench that thirst to leave the island… and will hopefully bring our Saints back.”

Viewers watch Melanie Caesar hug her children on the sea front as she prepares to leave them for a year or more to work overseas, having abandoned the struggle to support them on the meagre income she can earn on the island. The pain is clear to see.

Father Dale Bowers also makes a number of telling observations on the hardships of island life, for which director Dieter Deswarte made several visits to St Helena.

Saints is billed as “a film about a small place becoming part of a bigger world; a coming-of-age story about a small community growing up in a globalised world.” It was screened several times over the weekend of 20-22 March 2015 on BBC Freeview channels.

Reaction on Facebook has been positive. The film has also prompted some people to post messages on the site recalling their own family separations.

One said: “I’ve been on that sea front crying my eyes out a few times.”

Watch the film on the BBC iPlayer here

See a trailer here And read more on the BBC website

Don’t get too puffed up, Marcus, but… you’ve been framed

With the mask and goggles that protect him from the daily risk of an explosion – to say nothing of his vast balloon – Marcus Henry looks like a desert wanderer who’s been blown badly off course.

But now it’s his ego that’s in danger of being over-inflated.

His picture has earned a temporary place in one of the world’s most prestigious photographic exhibitions, at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Picture by Jon Tonks, used with permissionClick the pic to see a larger image

Jon Tonks’s picture of him was one of just 60 chosen from more than 4,000 images submitted for the annual Taylor Wessing portrait exhibition, which runs until 22 February 2015.

The picture also appeared at the top of page three of the Independent newspaper’s Saturday magazine.

In a short video on Jon’s website, Marcus and weather station colleagues Garry and Marvin explain how they release a hydrogen-filled balloon into the sky every day to measure atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity and wind speed.

The clothing they wear helps prevent static electricity making sparks when they pick up the balloon, and igniting the very highly flammable hydrogen inside it.

Jon visited St Helena as part of his Empire project, in which he travelled to several of Britain’s most remote overseas territories (and Gibraltar). A picture of young men on Tristan da Cunha was included in the Taylor Wessing exhibition in 2012.

Photographs from his South Atlantic travels also appeared in the Observer and Sunday Times magazines.

He said he was really pleased to be selected for the Taylor Wessing exhibition a second time.

“I never expected Marcus to get in,” he said, “but I’ve always enjoyed the story behind his job on St Helena and thought it was worth go.”

Now – has anyone seen Marcus’s camel? It must have floated off on the wind.

Click to watch: The St Helena Balloon Men 

See also: 
Raymond and Cynthia achieve a uniform kind of fame
‘Nationettes’ star in Sunday Times Magazine
The Taylor Wessing Prize



Abuse: don’t drag down the good with the bad, says blogger

A robust defence of St Helena has been posted by ex-pat blogger Paul Tyson in response to a Daily Telegraph investigation into alleged mishandling of child abuse.

In a piece titled Angry and Saddened, he says the good people in island society are being dragged down with the bad ones.

“My great sadness is the overall picture that has been painted of the island and its people,” he says: “one of sexual predation and of a dirty seedy place of the night, all of which could not be further from the truth.

“Now I am not trying to deny that wrongs were done in the past, and neither do I know whether wrongs continue now, but I do know that this article does not reflect St Helena and its people today, in 2015 at the start of a hopefully bright new era.”

Paul has attracted 1,300 online followers with his striking photographs and descriptions of local life since arriving on the island in 2014 with his teacher wife and two young children. He has enthusiastically taken on volunteer work as well as writing his blog, Two Years in the Atlantic.

He admits he has limited knowledge of the abuse crisis and cannot dispute the facts in the Telegraph’s story. But he challenges the paper’s interpretation of the facts.

He quotes one line that says: “In HM Prison Jamestown, seven out of 11 prisoners are paedophiles.”

And he comments: “To me, this could just as easily read, the authorities are now doing their best to correct this situation.”

He also writes: “A fortnight is such little time on St Helena, but clearly not enough to cast a picture of a place and its people.”

That is a familiar complaint – but two weeks is actually an unusually long time for a writer to spend on a single story, and it is rare for a journalist to spend more than a few days on the island – or to interview so many people.

Paul picks out the reporter’s descriptions of drinkers playing suggestive games at Donny’s Bar on the seafront, early on a Friday evening.

“What Tom neglects to tell anyone is that the night in question was ladies’ night, a special one off where ladies were invited to let their hair down and be a little naughty.

“Show me a hen do or ladies’ night in the UK that does not get a little saucy.”

Paul also criticises the reporter’s descriptions of weekend drinkers going from bar to bar. “Jamestown at the weekend is one of the most relaxed, enjoyable friendly nights out I have had,” he says.

“I do not contest the facts within this article, the cases that have been brought, the apparent cover-ups, the whistle-blowing stories and subsequent job losses make for very difficult reading.

“But let’s be clear, St Helena is one of the safest places I have ever visited. Its people are lovely and friendly; my children can play outdoors without fear of cars, kidnapping or indeed abuse.”

Read Paul’s blog post in full here

Ivy exposes years of inaction over St Helena sex abuse

Click the pic to see the Telegraph's article
Click the pic to see the Telegraph’s article

The Daily Telegraph has published a front-page exclusive alleging years of failure to act on warnings of sex abuse on St Helena – “the British island where child rape was just a game”. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has praised the paper’s investigation. SIMON PIPE reflects from a distance.

When the Daily Mail ran shock stories on child abuse on St Helena, it was denounced for irresponsible journalism by the island’s executive council. Then a lawyer published the expert report that St Helena Government had chosen not to make public, and it became clear that the Mail’s reporting was faithful and accurate. There was no retraction by ExCo.

In fact, it would have been irresponsible – reprehensible, even – for the Mail to keep quiet about such disturbing revelations, made by highly regarded experts.

Now the scandal has spread to the front page of one of the world’s most respected newspapers, backed up with a double-page spread and a piece in the leader column.

Click the pic to see the Telegraph’s front-page story

Telegraph special correspondent Tom Rowley, helped by Andrew Turner, travelled to the island and spoke to 51 people to flesh out new information about what had been going on while Britain told the world there was no problem of abuse.

Chief among them was one of the most respected people on the island: Ivy Ellick OBE, sometime head of three separate government departments during her long career in public service. The Telegraph could have added that she was also a long-standing churchwarden.

The paper quotes her saying that she warned the British government about child abuse as far back as 2002. It says at least 20 children were abused between her raising the alarm and action being taken. And that throughout this time, the UK repeatedly told the United Nations there was no evidence of sexual exploitation on the island.

The British ex-pats now occupying senior jobs on the island were not around when all this was going on. The current public crack-down on abusers has taken place during their time in office.

But the Telegraph also follows the St Helena Independent in pointing out that the St Helena Government “largely buried” the Lucy Faithfull Foundation report, publishing only a three-page summary of its 85 pages.

The Telegraph's leader. Click for a larger image
The Telegraph’s leader. Click for a larger image

Governor Mark Capes claimed that the rest had been kept from the public to protect victims, but when the report was leaked on the internet, no victims were directly identified.

In fact, much of the leaked report was severely embarrassing to the police, suggesting that some officers avoided dealing with crime because they did not like confrontation.

It even named one officer, Jeromy Cairns-Wicks, as a probable paedophile. He has since been jailed for 11 years – a vindication of the Lucy Faithful investigators, one might think.

An inquiry was ordered into the police. It was not published.

The leaked report was only a first draft, but St Helena Online understands that the final version was not substantially different.

The St Helena Independent published two extracts from the report to demonstrate that a great deal of it could have been published without any harm being caused to victims.

One was a damning description of conditions at the island’s challenging behaviour unit, which was described by the investigators as being redolent of a Victorian lunatic asylum.

The rival, government-funded Sentinel newspaper denounced the Independent for exposing the scandal. No effort was made to report honestly the Independent’s reasons for publishing a story of very clear public interest and concern.

Not exactly in the highest traditions of public service journalism, then.

The Sentinel even argued that it was right that the full report should be kept secret – a strange position for any newspaper to adopt.

A legal problem then came to light, and the Independent’s revelations had to be stopped almost as soon as they had begun – for the time being.

In the meantime, reports had emerged of strained relations between police and social workers in tackling complaints of abuse. Two UK social workers turned whistle-blowers to highlight what they saw as continuing failures to act effectively. They lost their jobs, and launched employment tribunal cases. Their statements – yet to be tested in a full hearing – make disturbing claims about how they were treated.

Their case led to the first revelations in the Daily Mail. Then the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London appointed Sasha Wass QC to investigate their allegations of a cover-up.

The Telegraph quotes the FCO as saying that it believed it had done what it could.

In fact, the UK government discreetly drew attention to the problems of abuse in its 2012 White Paper on Britain’s overseas territories. Money would be made available to address the issue, it said.

No direct reference was made to St Helena, but it provided the spur for stories in the St Helena Independent and St Helena Online that made it clear the island had severe problems.

Those reports, which began appearing from July 2012, were sympathetic to the difficulties of those trying to rehabilitate known offenders in woefully inadequate conditions, on an island where victims could have no prospect of avoiding contact with their abusers – or avoiding retribution if they complained.

Given the global publicity about abuse on the far-smaller British territory of Pitcairn, it was clear that it would be possible to interest the UK media in St Helena’s troubles. There was no desire to cause the kind of reputational damage suffered by Pitcairn.

But even the suggestion of a cover-up on St Helena would be enough to draw media interest, once the story got out by other means.

In the English town of Rotherham, where more than a thousand girls were said to have been assaulted and raped, claims of concerns being suppressed by police and officials only added to the media wildfire.

Remarkably similar claims were made about the official response on St Helena: against that background, it was inevitable that the media would latch on to the island’s story once it got further afield, attracted as much by the cover-up claim as by the abuse itself.

The Mail and the Telegraph have had a go. Channel Four television is also known to be interested. The tribunal hearings – if they happen – will inevitably produce more negative publicity.

St Helena Government has welcomed the announcement of the Wass inquiry and the barrister’s expected arrival on the island in March. If nothing else, they bring the prospect of ending some of the speculation, and allowing the island to move on.

On the other hand, it is difficult to see how SHG can justify publishing only a three-page summary that presented a somewhat different picture from the full Lucy Faithfull report, while the UK government insisted on publication of nearly the whole of the very harrowing report on the Rotherham case.

Sasha Wass may or may not declare a cover-up, especially as there was never an intention that the full report would be published, even in the new era of so-called open government.

But we can expect much more of the truth to come out in the Wass report.

One thing is now clear: there will be no shortage of people willing to talk to her about St Helena’s dark secrets. Unlike the Telegraph, she will also have access to serving government officials.

And the island will suffer far more damaging publicity than it might have done, had the Lucy Faithfull report had been published in full in the first place – with a few details removed to protect victims.

  • The Telegraph reported David Cameron saying: “Let me commend the Telegraph on its report from St Helena. It is a very important issue and it is absolutely right that wherever we are looking in the world we root out problems of paedophilia and sexual abuse and we are very, very tough on it, as we should be in St Helena and everywhere.”

Read more from the Telegraph:
Foreign Office ‘was warned British island couldn’t cope’
How did sex abusers get away with it for so long?
‘A lot of dark things do happen on this island’ – video

See also:
The Sundale Scandal – St Helena Independent’s Lucy Faithful extract
‘A culture of sexual abuse of children’ – Daily Mail, July 2014
Top barrister to investigate child abuse cover-up claims – November 2014

The Saints who will be lighting candles this Christmas, because they can’t afford electricity: a councillor’s tale

Many old people on St Helena will spend Christmas in poverty, too poor even to pay for electric lighting, the island’s Legislative Council has heard. The Honourable BRIAN ISAAC told of their troubles at the December 2014 sitting of the council. Here is an extract of his adjournment debate speech. 

Many people are proud to tell how they have lived through the Second World War, and recall the days of hardship on the island. They call those days the Good Old Days.

Picture by St Helena Government
The Hon Brian Isaac

There was strong family support and the island flourished with an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables and fish.

Pay was low and work was hard. Transport was mainly by donkeys and there were few cars. Respect and discipline played a major role in everyone’s lifestyle.

Candles and wood were the main means of lighting and cooking, and for those who could afford a battery-operated radio, that was a luxury.

Social welfare never existed. Families supported each other. And for those who had no family support, the church gave a few shillings a week out of what was called the black box, and later called the parish and then the poor relief.

Social welfare came in later in the Sixties.

We have now moved very much into the 21st century and those days are long gone. But memories live on.

In this modern age of computers, the internet, telecommunications and television, and air access on the horizon, many of our senior citizens are still suffering hardship in silence.

I am aware of the recent improvements in the benefits system, the basic island pension, and the free medical care for those on benefits.

But the fact remains that many cannot cope with the high cost of living on the island, and  especially those living alone on £50 and £60 a week. Many of these people, when you meet them on the street, will give you a big smile and a warm Hello, but deep down they are suffering in silence.

Many have said that a few years ago they were given an additional payment at Christmas and Easter as a gesture of goodwill by the government, but now they feel they cannot buy anything extra at Christmas or even give their their grandchildren a little chocolate.

It saddens me to say that while many of us will enjoy the best of this Christmas season, many of our elderly will see a “meek and mild” Christmas

Many of our elderly have now reverted to using candles for lighting, which can become a health hazard; and using paraffin gel for cooking fuel, which again is a health hazard in close surroundings. They cannot afford the high cost of electricity.

I recall when social services provided subsidy for water and electricity for those suffering hardship, but this is now just a memory.

I feel it will get harder for these unfortunate people before we see it getting any better.


Councillor Isaac, a member of the island’s social and community development committee, said the government lacked the funding to implement some recommendations of York University’s Sainsbury Report, which led to the 2013 St Helena Social Policy Plan. 

At the time of the plan’s publication, the island had 196 people receiving income related benefit, 32 unemployed people on benefits, and 587 people living on the basic island pension. The report said: “We aim to empower Saints to take control of the present and the future to make the island self-sufficient on all fronts… as well as protecting and supporting vulnerable groups.”

It added that social bonds were strong in St Helena communities. “This sense of society and community flows through all aspects of Saint life, and that needs to be the basis of future social cohesion on the island,” it said. 

Read the social policy plan here

Christmas reflection on a year of tribulations and triumphs

Sean Burns, the Acting Governor of St Helena, has issued the following Christmas message: 

When we found out that we were coming to St Helena, our friends on Tristan assured us of a warm welcome. We were not disappointed. It was astonishing how many people here approached us in the street to welcome us and tell us about friends they had down on Tristan.  It was a great start. Thank you.

Reflecting on the last year or so, it has been a busy time for everyone.  The airport project has continued on track and on budget. We have visited the site three times over the last nine months and never ceased to be amazed at what everyone has achieved there. The Dry Gut fill is an astonishing piece of work.

After much deliberation and discussion, decisions were taken on the Jamestown hotel and Enterprise St Helena, with its refocus on supporting local businesses, both new and existing, has seen a significant increase in the number of loans and grant applications it has received and approved. Economic development is on the way.

In the education sector we saw some of the best results and I was honoured to represent the Governor at the awards ceremony at Prince Andrew School only a few weeks ago, where so many of the students received their well-deserved awards.

We also recognise the work of charities and others in the voluntary sector who do so much to enrich their community – and of our sporting youth who were such fine ambassadors for St Helena at this year’s Commonwealth Games.

2015 promises to be an even busier year as the airport opening fast approaches. We also have work on the Rupert’s Wharf project, hospital refurbishment, the new prison and new fire station to push forward. These projects are all for the benefit and long term wellbeing of the community at large.

Later on in the year we look forward to welcoming visitors and dignitaries to the island for the bicentenary of Napoleon’s arrival here, when an exciting programme of events is being organised.

Work continues on providing a sea freight service to St Helena and Ascension after the RMS, as does the contract to provide an air service to the Island.  We should be able to say more about these in the next few weeks. There is still a considerable amount of work to do as we prepare for airport certification and there are many across SHG and elsewhere engaged in this work.  We look forward to seeing test flights in July!

But there have also been problems to address this year, not least around safeguarding those most vulnerable in our society. We have taken steps to increase capacity in this area and with the help of our partners in London, and have secured additional staff and other resources to improve and embed the way we approach these difficult issues.

The creation of a new Safeguarding Directorate is a really positive move as is the opening of Ebony View, which will replace the Challenging Behaviour Unit in February.

As you know, the Foreign Secretary has commissioned an Inquiry into the way we manage these issues. The team arrives in March and will be here for just over two weeks. We welcome this and look forward to delivering those recommendations that come from the Inquiry. We have a real opportunity here to make a big and lasting difference.

So as you can see, we have many challenges ahead, but as we all pull together I am confident we can achieve a great deal over the next twelve months.

Christmas is also a time when we remember those who have lost close friends and family and think of those who are unwell or lonely at this time.  Our thoughts and prayers go to you all.

The Governor is looking forward to returning to the Island on 3 January, just in time to welcome the arrival of the yachts taking part in the Governor’s Cup, the first big event of the year.  Both he and Mrs Capes send their best wishes for the Christmas period and wish you all a peaceful and happy time over the festive season.

Marina and I join them in this and wish you all a Happy Christmas and New Year.

When Jonathan met Sally – and the story went global


Jonathan stares at the camera, beak open wide
Jonathan the tortoise, pictured by Guy Gatien

The BBC’s prestigious From Our Own Correspondent programme evidently has a fascination for St Helena: the island has featured on it at least four times in the space of five years. Judged against the size of the island’s population, this might make it – unofficially – the most interesting place on the planet, in the eyes of one BBC editor, at least.

Strange, then, that the BBC refused to answer a Freedom of Information request a couple of years ago, asking how many programmes it had recorded on St Helena in the 80-plus years of the corporation’s existence.

It claimed the matter was editorially sensitive, but it may well be that it didn’t want to admit that the answer, as far as anyone can recall, would be “none”. Foreign and independent documentary crews have been out, but Britain’s state broadcaster has not done so well.

From Our Own Correspondent, though, has enjoyed rich pickings from the island – this time, with a piece on Jonathan the tortoise, the world’s oldest known living creature.

The full text of Sally Kettle’s piece was published in the St Helena Independent on 14 March 2014 and can be found on her website.

Sally achieved the distinction of having an extract played on BBC Radio 4’s Pick Of The Week programme a couple of days later, when it was introduced with the question, How can you tell whether a 200-year-old tortoise is happy?

Jonathan’s age dropped to a mere 182 in the piece itself (leaving aside the fact that his exact age isn’t known; he could be 20 years younger).

It was Sally’s passionate delivery of her script that really stood out. Click here to listen.

She describes watching Joe the Vet feed Jonathan, whose blindness and blunted beak have made it difficult to find food for himself – but whose greedy hunger almost cost Joe the tip of a finger on one occasion. 

As often reported, the old boy has no difficulty mating, producing what Joe calls “a noise like a loud, harsh escape of steam from a giant battered old kettle, often rounded off with a deep oboe-like grunt.”

Sally reports that her piece was picked up “like crazy” on Twitter, the micro-blogging site.

Her website also includes an interview with the St Helena Wirebird, in which she talks about the visit she made (at two weeks’ notice) to film a documentary about St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and Ascension.

She says she can see the benefits of the island’s airport project, including medical support, work opportunities and tourism.

“But I can also appreciate the drawbacks that are perhaps difficult for outsiders to understand,” she says. “I spoke to the head girl at Prince Andrew School and she explained her reticence. She told me that the voyage on the RMS prepares you for the gentleness of the island; it gives you time to think about the journey and appreciate the remoteness the islanders’ experience. When tourists arrive on the plane they will just step off without that appreciation. I can see her point. The trouble is the airport is coming, and I’m not sure everyone is prepared for it.”

Carnival catcall echoes round the world – St Helena on From Our Own Correspondent
Jonathan the Tortoise on From Our Own Correspondent
Sally Kettle website
Rower Sally heads for islands (the easy way)