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Gay marriage rights close to becoming law on St Helena

A bill to allow same-sex marriage on St Helena was approved by the island’s executive council on 5 December 2017 – raising the possibility that gay couples could legally wed within weeks.

The same bill will allow people to have their marriages solemnised at venues such as The Castle, the governor’s residence at Plantation House and hotels.

Exco’s vote cleared the way for a new marriage law to go before the legislative council for final approval at its sitting on 15 December 2017.

The decision was made only a day before Australia legalised same-sex marriage, provoking scenes of celebration that were reported around the world.

The existing law had resulted in a challenge in court – because it apparently assumed that any marriage would be between a man and a woman, leaving it unclear whether gay couples could marry.

A new law would settle the matter without the need for a court ruling.

The issue had sharply divided opinion on St Helena, with two petitions drawing similar levels of support for and against gay marriage.

If passed, the Marriage Ordinance 2017 will allow clergy to decline to perform a marriage ceremony if it is forbidden by their branch of religion.

This is the second attempt to pass a new marriage law addressing equality. An earlier version went before the previous legislative council in December 2016 but was withdrawn during later committee discussions.

After the 2017 general election, the new social and community development committee  (SCDC) was asked to look at the matter again.

Seven public meetings were held in October and two public petitions were organised – one in favour of equal marriage, the other opposing it.

A St Helena Government statement said: “Overall, there was no clear majority view, with similar numbers expressing support for enacting the marriage bill and for enacting legislation for civil partnerships.

“The marriage bill expressly permits two people of the same gender to marry; thereby ending the uncertainty that is the subject of current court proceedings. Although that is the most conspicuous feature of the bill, it also deals with other aspects of marriage.

“The bill provides that clergy may decline to solemnise a marriage (for instance between two persons of the same gender) if such a marriage is not in accordance with the rules or customs of the relevant communion or denomination.”

If the new law is passed, rules for approving non-religious premises for civil weddings and solemnising marriages will need to be approved by the executive council.

Airport begins to receive weekly flights

The airport on St Helena has begun to receive weekly flights from South Africa. There are hopes that this development will increase tourism on the island, and boost its economy.

Before the airport was built St Helena was only accessible via a boat journey from Africa which covered thousands of miles and took weeks to complete. This made it difficult for people to reach the island. The building of an airport on the island did not initially solve this problem, as dangerous wind conditions delayed the start of regular flights.

Now, with the introduction of weekly flights, islanders and tourists alike can more easily reach St Helena. This increased flow of visitors could provide a much-needed boost to the island’s economy.

Tourists can, among other things, go diving, visit the various sites paying homage to St Helena’s long and varied history, or experience a tour of downtown Jamestown with guide Basil George.

A recent visitor to the island was a journalist from The Associated Press, a global online news platform based in New York City.

Read the original story here.

The secret is out: St Helena makes Lonely Planet world top ten

Lonely Planet's guide promises
Lonely Planet’s guide promises “a year’s worth of travel inspiration to take you out of the ordinary.”

St Helena may have to change its “Secret of the South Atlantic” slogan: it has been named in the top ten regions to visit in 2016 by the world-renowned Lonely Planet guides.

The accolade brings “significant global tourism profile” just in time for the scheduled opening of St Helena’s first airport, said the island’s economy chief, Dr Niall O’Keefe.

But global recognition may have come too soon for the island, which will not have anywhere near the number of new hotel beds that island leaders hoped would be in place by the time of the airport opening.

“The wider world can now access the adventure, heritage and natural beauty of St Helena by air,” said Dr O’Keeffe. But he admitted that “much work remains to be done to develop our accommodation and tourism services in the years ahead”.

The Lonely Planet website says: “One of travel’s last truly remote destinations will become a little less so in 2016. St Helena, now accessible only by ship, will gain a long-mooted airport.

“Tourists are unlikely to overrun this speck in the South Atlantic Ocean, but the islanders are building a 32-room hotel just in case. Whatever happens, it won’t change the relaxed pace of life here, nor lessen the lure of a place as curious now as it was when Charles Darwin swung by in 1836.”

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 21.54.31St Helena ranks number ten on the list of top regions, which is headed by Transylvania, West Iceland and Cuba’s Valle de Viñales. New Zealand’s Waiheke Island also features on the list, but it doesn’t match St Helena’s remoteness – it’s only 35 minutes by ferry from the city of Auckland.

All ten feature in Lonely Planet’s new Best of Travel 2016 book, along with the world’s top ten countries, headed by Botswana, Japan and the USA.

Lonely Planet describes the 11th edition of the annual publication as a “collection of the hottest trends, destinations, journeys and all-around best travel experiences for the year ahead… a year’s worth of travel inspiration to take you out of the ordinary and into some unforgettable experiences.”

It adds: “Each destination featured has passed through our agonising selection process to win a place on Lonely Planet’s hallowed Best in Travel list.”

Governor Mark Capes welcomed the international plug for the St Helena tourism industry, which could bring “enhanced quality of life” for residents.

He said: “This recognition from Lonely Planet once again underlines how St Helena continues to achieve tremendous success on a global scale with limited resources and the challenges that our remoteness bring.”

Lawson Henry, the councillor in charge of economic development, paid tribute to all those involved in the island’s tourism industry for helping to achieve the top-ten listing.

Dr O’Keeffe will attend an award ceremony in London on Sunday 1 November 2015, along with Enterprise St Helena marketing manager Chanelle Marais, London representative Kedell Warboys MBE and Mairi McKinistry of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

It coincides with the World Travel Market.

  • The Best of Travel guide may be right to highlight the attractiveness of St Helena as “the Galápagos of the South Atlantic”, but the lead-in time involved in publishing a book has led to it being slightly out of date in one respect. It says: “…the airport will doubtless change St Helena eventually, but it won’t make it any less exciting or curious as a destination in the short term. Mobile phone reception will remain a rumour…”

Last chance: to St Helena on the RMS – Lonely Planet travel article

Top 10 Regions in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2016

  1. Transylvania, Romania
  2. West Iceland
  3. Valle de Viñales, Cuba
  4. Friuli’s wine regions, Italy
  5. Waiheke Island, New Zealand
  6. The Auvergne, France
  7. Hawaii, USA
  8. Bavaria, Germany
  9. Costa Verde, Brazil
  10. St Helena, British Territories

Owen George

55 years of the St Helena Association (UK)

By Owen George MBE

The St Helena Association was the brainchild of two headmistresses from St Helena, Mrs Lilian Corker and Miss Cardwell – a Saint and an ex-pat respectively. They were supported by another retired teacher, Miss Nel Lebreton, and Mr Fred (Sonny) Ward, who were also Saints. They decided in the latter part of 1959 that something ought to be done by our UK Saints to entertain people coming from the island to seek employment and support their families back home.

Having been inspired by pictures shown by Fred Ward, they contacted as many Saints as possible in and around London to convene an informal meeting.

I was approached by Fred Ward in Reading in November 1959, a month after I arrived here in the UK, to ask if I would support the idea. I agreed, and became a member at the association’s inaugural meeting in London in January 1960. As enthusiastic, loyal, patriotic and fun-loving people, we soon became established as The St Helena Association.

A non-political constitution was drawn up, with the objective to support charitable organisations on the island for Saints in need, and individuals who merited it.

But our first priority was to entertain Saints who immigrated, and those here on holiday. The knock-on effect from that was to start organising dances, the first of which was held in Victoria Hall in Bloomsbury Square, London.

We also decided to introduce an annual membership fee in order to accumulate revenue, but this did not work in practice. With membership growing fast and furious, collecting the fees became an arduous task for the secretary and treasurer, who already had full-time work, and so after three years it was abandoned.

The loss of this income put more emphasis on organising extra dances, one in spring, and one in autumn.

With increasing support, it became obvious a larger hall was necessary, and Hammersmith Town Hall became our new venue.

On reflection, 1964 was a year of radical changes. Cyril Brooks became our third chairman and presided for 24 years. The vice chairman’s post was created, and I was elected, and accompanied our chairman throughout that period.

Because the attendance for our London dances was increasing, I had a brain-wave to increase the sequence by organising an SHA branch dance in Reading. This caused some concern with our committee members, but our secretary and treasurer (the late Bert Joshua) saw it as progress.

Since this was a success, I encouraged other Saints to organise dances in their own districts, not only to support our London and Reading dances, but to sustain the continuity within our community. It would provide for people who could not attend the main dances, especially our students here on training and Saints coming on holiday, and it would enhance support to our island’s charitable organisations.

My theory was to work with the people, for the people, and I have the satisfaction of seeing that is still embraced today.

In the same year I decided to record Christmas messages for St Helena at our autumn dances on reel-to-reel tapes, and called the programme Keeping In Touch. The tapes were sent home to a friend, William (Billy) Stevens, who transmitted them on Christmas Day after the Queen’s Speech.

(Billy Stevens, known as The Ham of Half Tree Hollow, broadcast from the Three Tanks area every Sunday morning, charging three pence for a request. His role as a radio pioneer is mentioned in an article on the Saint Helena Island Info website).

Some years later Radio St Helena was formed, and took over the Keeping In Touch programme. For a short spell, Eddie Leo and his wife Audrey assisted with the programme.

It provided an important opportunity for Saints to keep in touch with their relatives, but when the internet became available, it was made redundant.

After 16 years, Hammersmith Town Hall became unavailable, and for a while we were organising dances in Fulham and Early town halls, but shortly they also became unavailable.

By then, our five branch organisers were also putting on dances, and with our annual Sports Day, contributions for St Helena were not affected.

In 1978 I made plans to entertain the children within our community, because they were restricted to accompanying their parents at our dances. If successful, it would be another source of revenue to support our objectives.

So on Sunday on the August Bank Holiday weekend of 1979, I organised our first St Helena Sports Day at the Reading Rugby Football Club.

I had no committee except my family to organise the mini sports, and on the day I employed volunteers – mostly former boy scouts from St Helena and some of the branch organisers. What started as the Saints’ Mini Sports Day became St Helena Sports Day, also sentimentally known as the Saints, Relatives and Friends Reunion Day.

I ran it for ten years, then invited our committee to continue. All went well for a while, then for diverse reasons our supporters began to lose interest and the situation was becoming serious. But from 2010 the expertise of Trevor and Vilma Toms came to the fore, and they revitalised this nostalgic event, recapturing the interest of our supporters here and beyond these shores.

In April 1986, our secretary and treasure took ill and was told by his doctor to retire from all activities with immediate effect. This could not have happened at a worse time, because for divers reasons other people found they could not continue. That situation left just the chairman and me.

I was given charge of our accounts and everything else related to the secretary-cum-treasurer’s post.

We were on the threshold of becoming dormant, and this was the time that showed the importance of the branch organisers, because without them we could not maintain our objectives. The only support for our island was coming from their dances, and of course Sports Day functions.

I kept in touch without our chairman to see if any people came forward to stand as committee members. Unfortunately, two years elapsed and the situation did not change, so I put forward a plan to try for the last time to recruit.

I took the opportunity at a dance in Cirencester to contact people there, and explained that our association would become history if we could not get enough people to join our committee.

Eight people responded, and with the help of Derek Bellord I immediately arranged to convene a meeting a month later in Portsmouth. The result is that we are here today.

Prior to that meeting our chairman decided not to stand again, and I was elected to fill the void. I accepted the post on the understanding that I would be looking for a replacement after one term, because I wanted a free hand to practise any theory I might have that would enhance our community of Saints, relatives and friends even further.

I was successful in convincing Keith Joshua to become our new chairman, and I was subsequently elected as president.

As time moved on we progressed from strength to strength, and became a registered charity.

I consider myself to have been fortune to be in a position to develop our association, but there can be no development without a beginning, and we thank the people who dreamt of such a plan in November 1959.

I resigned because of ill health, but with the satisfaction of knowing our committee will keep that dream alive, maintain our objectives, and continue to put smiles on sad faces back home.

Two St Helena Associations? That was banking on trouble…

We started out with the title SHA, and subsequently added (UK). It became necessary through a dispute with another organisation that decided it was the SHA. Both treasurers were summoned by the bank to get it sorted, because there were problems when donations were made by cheque.

Naturally, emergency meetings were convened by both parties, and it was mutually agreed that a representative from each would attend the other’s meeting, and after some discussion, I was elected.

I attended their AGM in Faith House, in Tufton Road in London, and the matter was sorted, but not before discussions to convince their chairman, who was adamant about not changing – until I pointed out that our inauguration was in January 1960, and theirs in April 1964.

To settle the argument, my friend Bishop Edward (Ted) Cannan suggested, “Since we solely support the Diocese of St Helena, why don’t we change our title to St Helena Diocesan Association, and perhaps Owen’s association will change to SHA (UK)?”

Both parties agreed, and so did the bank.

Ironically I became a member of the SHDA, and their chairman and I became the best of pals.

Owen A George

St Helena Association (UK!) – website
Reading Sports – picture galleries and stories
Radio on St Helena –

Explosion to make St Helena’s Airport

Ten million cubic metres of rock have been shifted in the making of St Helena’s first airport, dislodged from Prosperous Bay Plain and the route of the access road in 383 explosions over the course of three years. Read more here or click on any of the thumbnail images to view a gallery of pictures, courtesy of construction firm Basil Read.

Fishing vessel MV Extractor

St Helena’s first island-owned offshore fishing vessel arrived on the island on 19 April 2014, with friends and family of her crew waiting to welcome them ashore. Bruce Salt photographed the vessel’s arrival, a round-the-island trip, and the return from the first fishing expedition. Click on any of the thumbnails to see a slideshow of Bruce’s images.

Sharon Wainwright (1960-2011) – a tragic loss

St Helena Airport Timeline

2011 continued

15 August: Sharon Wainwright, St Helena Government’s airport project manager, died suddenly in London.

In a tribute, Governor Andrew Gurr wrote:

“Sharon was so vibrant and full of life that we are all finding it hard to come to terms with her passing. Her death is more than untimely; it is a disaster of considerable proportion for all of us.

“She will live in our memories for many years to come, and when the airport is eventually opened, whenever that may be, the many thousands who enjoy that facility and the benefits that it brings for decades to come, will owe gratitude to that memory.”

A YouTube tribute was published on the first anniversary of her death:

Next page: 2011: after 68 years, momentous news
Return to Airport Timeline index

St Helena airport project website

Black and white picture of a man and baby riding on Jonathan's back

Tortoise tales

Black and white picture of a man and baby riding on Jonathan's back
Visitors are asked to get off Jonathan’s back. Picture supplied by Nick Thorpe

Jonathan the tortoise is the oldest known living creature in the world – around 160-180 years of age – so it’s not surprising that St Helena’s best-loved resident gets written about quite a lot. Read all about him here.

Sculpture could help Jonathan live on for centuries

A life-sized bronze sculpture of Jonathan the tortoise has been proposed to commemorate the life of St Helena’s oldest resident. But there is another possibility: a stone carving.  Continue reading →

Jonathan the tortoise: a slow heart-throb keeps on going

His great age means he can barely see or smell the grass, and his beak is so blunt he has to be fed by hand. But Jonathan, the oldest known creature in the world, enjoys a vigorous private life. Continue reading →

The great survivor: how Jonathan turned out not to be extinct

St Helena’s most celebrated living resident has been found to be one of the last survivors of a species that was thought to have been killed off by hungry mariners. JOE HOLLINS, the island’s vet, describes how Jonathan the tortoise turned out to be one of the last of his species. Continue reading →

Death of Lonesome George is a bleak warning for St Helena

The death of a giant tortoise in the Galapagos Islands gives a gloomy foretaste of the sadness to come when St Helena’s best-loved inhabitant passes on. Preparations have begun in readiness for the day when Jonathan the tortoise, the oldest known creature in the … Continue reading →

In pictures: St Helena’s natural wonders, by Andrew Gurr

Click on this gallery to see a picture of Jonathan with the Commonwealth Games baton. Continue reading →

Art for heart’s sake: best anti-smoking posters chosen

Jonathan features on one of the prize-winning entries in a competition to design the best poster to illustrate the risks of smoking. Artist Cameron Johnson had Jonathan advising people to live longer, just like him, by staying off tobacco. Continue reading →

Keep your distance, please: Jonathan gets some privacy

The paddock that has been home to St Helena’s oldest resident for more than 100 years is to be given a makeover. The island’s planning board has given approval for new fencing to protect Jonathan from the attentions of over-enthusiastic tourists. Continue reading →

Love nest planned for the oldest old romantic in the world

Jonathan the tortoise may still have the energy for romantic love-ins with his young lady companions, but it seems the attention of tourists on St Helena may be too much for him. Continue reading →