Filling an entire valley to make way for an airport can be done in a couple of years; paying tribute to a Saint’s bravery takes a little longer, it seems. But EDDIE DUFF is determined that Charlie Benjamin should have proper recognition for climbing a cliff to bring St Helena’s precious ebony back from apparent extinction. He’s launched a campaign, aiming to mark the site of that perilous climb down to the strange plant that had been spotted by his brother George and the botanist Quentin Cronk. Eddie takes up the story…
Charlie climbed down that cliff, and he came up with the ebony flower in his mouth. His two hands were gripping the rope, so he put the flower in his mouth and he came back up.
Georgie and Quentin have had the accolades, but poor Charlie, who risked his life to go down over the cliff, he hasn’t received anything.
We want to plaque there, to show where he climbed down. Georgie and Quentin saw the plant, but Charlie was the first to put his hand on it.
Even though Charlie is dead, we still have his wife, his daughter, his step daughters, and I know they would like to see something. I want local people, I want boys, I want girls, I want old men and young people to go there and actually see where he climbed.
You have to walk from the Distant Cottage Road, so it would be about a kilometre – a really nice walk. It is on one of the postbox walks. It can get a bit blowy because it is on the windward side of the island, but it is do-able.
We also want to make the ebony our national flower. Having the arum lily as the national flower doesn’t make sense to me because you can find it the world over. And it’s an invasive alien species.
We did a poll about it once before. About a thousand people took part, and 731 people voted for the ebony as our national flower even though the arum lily was there before us. They agreed that we need to be able to say, “This is St Helenian: this is special to St Helena.”
It was brought to council – not the current one – and the councillors decided the ebony couldn’t be the national flower. I can’t understand their thinking. We’re trying to promote tourism, and promote all that’s special about the island. The ebony is endemic and the arum lily is not – but they couldn’t get it.
Even now you still have people who have negative remarks, but the majority of St Helenians right now know that the ebony is our true national flower. And the majority of people would like to see Charlie Benjamin get something; some kind of accolade to say he did the climb.
When it came to me that nobody had done anything for Charlie or the ebony, I decided to go and ask the family if it would be all right to pursue this. They were quite happy, because they were very disappointed from the last time. So I began to investigate it.
What made it so easy was that Charlie’s step-daughter, Rosie Peters, was the one who was there with Charlie. She told me just about everything I needed to know, and I took it to council, and the majority were very happy to go along with it.
We went to the Attorney General, who said we didn’t need to do much: this was something we could adapt in council.
Just about everybody liked the idea I came up with, and how I wanted to proceed. Now we just need to make it happen.
- Eddie’s proposals include marking the spot where George Benjamin spotted the unusual plant that turned out to be the “extinct” St Helena ebony, and the place where Charlie made his historic climb. Both would be named in honour of the brothers, and marked on future maps of the island – just as Holdfast Tom appears on the map to show where a soldier climbed a cliff when the English landed a force to reclaim the island from Dutch invaders (though there was no such tribute to Black Oliver, the slave to guided him: he was given land, but was later shot while taking part in a revolt).