St Helena Online

Tag: waste

Saved: ‘national treasure’ is found on rubbish dump

Drawings of The Run feature in a book that was found on St Helena's landfill site.
Drawings of The Run feature in a book that was found on St Helena’s landfill site.

A journal written by one of St Helena’s most important historical figures has been found on the island’s rubbish tip.

Historian Nick Thorpe has described the hand-written book by 19th Century engineer John Charles Melliss as “something of a national treasure” – and it was nearly lost.

It is not known how it came to be thrown on to the landfill site at Horse Point, where it was discovered by Denis “Oxie” Young.

J C Melliss condemned "miserable" huts occupied by freed Africans in the old China Town
J C Melliss condemned “miserable” huts occupied by freed Africans in the old China Town

Entries by the celebrated historian and naturalist include his report on a plan to dig a tunnel between Upper Jamestown and Rupert’s Valley.

In another, he urged the demolition of a collection of “miserable” huts in the island’s former China Town, occupied at the time by Africans liberated from captured slave ships, and the descendants of Chinese workers.

J C Melliss is acclaimed as the author the 1875 work, St Helena: A Physical Historical and Topographical Description of the Island, described by the late historian Trevor Hearl as the most impressive book ever written about St Helena.

His descriptions of endemic plants are still cited by conservationists.

The work found by Denis gives a new insight into living conditions on St Helena at a momentous time in its history.

Denis took his find to show his brother-in-law, Mike Thorpe, at his home at Oakbank.

By chance, Oakbank had also been the childhood home of the very man whose book Denis had found on the rubbish tip.

Mike immediately recognised its significance, and took photographs that he then passed on to his brother, Nick.

Had Denis not spotted the hand-written work, it might easily have been covered up by other waste within days and lost to history.

Nick said: “I haven’t seen the journal, but some extracts show discussion on a tunnel to Rupert’s, and water distribution – all very current. This is something of a national treasure.”

The water map shows how spring water was supplied to parts of the island that have been caught up in the drought crisis of 2013, including the governor’s residence at Plantation House.

The book also contains drawings showing the poor state of The Run, the watercourse through Jamestown, with proposed repairs; and also a report on the condition of a building that had been used as “the Ragged School”.

It is not clear what will happen to the collection – or whether Denis can be required to hand it over to the island’s government.

And an investigation may be needed to discover how it came to be thrown away.

  • Melliss's signature on a document dated 1871 - a year after he reportedly lost his job
    Melliss’s signature on a document dated 1871 – a year after he reportedly lost his job

    The new discovery may cause island historians to review the story of John Charles Melliss – as recounted in St Helena Britannica, a book of papers by Trevor Hearl that was published only in June 2013. Its account of the Melliss family activities – which included building Jacob’s Ladder – says that in 1870, “the military took over public works making ‘J.C.’ redundant at thirty-five without any prospect of employment.” Melliss had “little choice in 1871 but to leave the island”. But that is at odds with one entry in the collection found on the rubbish tip by Denis Young. The report it contains on the Ragged School building is signed “J C Melliss, Colonial Engineer” – and dated 1871.

Revealed: plan to tunnel through to Rupert’s Valley

J C Melliss reported on the possibility of digging a tunnel from Upper Jamestown to Rupert's Valley
J C Melliss reported on the possibility of digging a tunnel from Upper Jamestown to Rupert’s Valley

Records found abandoned on St Helena’s rubbish tip reveal how the island’s administrators considered digging a tunnel between Upper Jamestown at Rupert’s Valley.

When John Charles Melliss was the Colonial Engineer on St Helena, the only path leading into Rupert’s Valley was the coastal route round Munden’s Point.

The island’s prison had been built in the upper part of Rupert’s, and attempts had been made in the early 1860s to establish a settlement there, known as Hay Town after Governor Drummond Hay.

Now a brief report on the planned tunnel has been saved from being destroyed before island historians had even realised its existence, in a hand-written book found by Denis “Oxie” Young on the island’s landfill site.

Melliss’s copy of the report is dated 14 January 1870.

It is headed: Memorandum with reference to a proposed tunnel Rupert’s Hill for the purpose of connecting Rupert’s Valley with James Town. 

As Colonial Engineer, Melliss advised that the tunnel could be dug through 580 yards of Rupert’s Hill, starting in the quarry that still exists near the hospital in Upper Jamestown.

His report described a thick bed of volcanic rock running almost horizontally through the hill.

He wrote: “…it is proposed to drive a tunnel through this bed of stone, which is soft and easily worked, for the purpose of connecting by level way Rupert’s Valley, which contains a good building ground, with James Town…”

The commencement of Hay Town had been made possible in the 1850s with the establishment of a reliable water supply for Rupert’s Valley, piped into the valley from The Briars.

At the time of Melliss’s report on the tunnel scheme, Rupert’s Valley was still being used intermittently as a holding camp for Africans liberated from slave-running ships.

The island’s 32-year role as a liberation station would not come to an end until two years later. The horrors of the time were revived by the excavation of hundreds of graves in the valley in 2007.

In 1875, Melliss published an account of the unloading of a slaveship – “a scene so intensified in all that is horrible that it almost defies description.”

He recounted going aboard one ship, and finding that “the whole deck, as I picked my way from end to end, in order to avoid treading upon them, was thickly strewn with the dead, dying and starved bodies of what seemed to me to be a species of ape which I had never seen before.”

Despite this recent memory and the associations it must have had for islanders, he was able to comment in his tunnel report on the “good building ground” to be found in Rupert’s Valley.

Melliss’s own father, G W Melliss – the man who built Jacob’s Ladder in Jamestown – had drawn out a plan dividing the length of Rupert’s Valley into building plots.

Modern-day historian Nick Thorpe said he could not recall ever reading about Melliss’s report of the tunnel scheme.

In fact, the tunnel idea would emerge again in the 20th Century, according to a document held in the UK’s National Archives at Kew in London.

The record is dated 1932-1946 and headed: St Helena: construction of roads; proposed road tunnel from Jamestown to Ruperts Valley.

In the 21st Century, the need for a good road route between the two places has surfaced once again, with plans for Rupert’s Valley to become the main location for unloading goods brought by sea.

Bottoms up: Mike creates his own beer garden. With no beer…

In Mike Durnford's garden, the glass is always greener - it's recycled
In Mike Durnford’s garden, the glass is always greener – it’s recycled

A man walks into every bar in St Helena and says: “I’ll have 586 bottles of Windhoek Beer. No ice. And barman – serve them empty.”

That may not have been quite how the conversation went.

But the point is that Mike Durnford has used 24.5 crates’ worth of beer bottles in his garden, and he’s keen to make one thing clear: “I didn’t drink them all myself.”

Bottles protect my hic... hish... hibiscus
Bottles protect my hic… hish… hibiscus

As a result, he missed out on producing a large quantity of first-class compost activator.

The bottles are now buried neck first – or bottoms-up, if you prefer – in Mike’s garden.

They’re wonderful for stopping the grass from creeping into his hibiscus border, resulting in some fine lawn edging. 

“The glass is so strong that I can use a petrol strimmer along the edge of the bottles when trimming the lawn and they do not break,” boasts Mike, who is the island’s climate change and pollution officer.

He may not have consumed all the beer himself, but the pictures clearly show that when he marked out the edge of his lawn, he wasn’t walking in a straight line…

waste wheel 800Click the waste wheel to see what St Helena throws away

Mike, whose job involves peering into randomly selected bin liners every three months to analyse what people are throwing away at the dump on Horse Point, is keen to see glass recycling on an even larger scale on St Helena.

He wants to see bottles crushed to be used as a substitute for some of the aggregate – rubble – used in construction work.

It’s not as if there’s a shortage of glass. “The island imports approximately 134 tonnes of beer bottles every year, which equates to 123 cubic metres of crushed glass per year,” says Mike.

“This ‘free’ waste material could then be utilized in the many on-going construction projects across the island, including development of the airport, and would contribute towards the green status that St Helena is striving towards.”

Thirteen per cent of the material going into the landfill site is organic – and that’s simply a waste. It could be composted and then used to enrich the soil for growing fruit and vegetables.

Keeping food out of “the dump” would also make it less attractive to birds – especially pigeons. That in turn would reduce the risk of bird-strike for planes coming in and out of the airport, which is being built nearby.

The biggest contributors to the landfill site – at 21%- are steel cans and tins, according to the latest quarterly survey.

“Alternative uses for this waste stream is essential due to the high volume of imports of
tinned food and drinks,” says Mike.

“One option would be to restrict the import of beer in cans, only importing beer in glass bottles, knowing that these bottles could then be recycled.

“But other re-use ideas need to be sourced in order to significantly reduce the volume (uncrushed) being landfilled.”

Mike produces a “waste wheel” every three months showing what St Helena is throwing away. The next one is due in July 2013.

He says the data helps identify opportunities for recycling “which the island desperately needs more of, similar to the successful operation being undertaken by SHAPE [the disability charity] to recycle paper and cardboard.”

It’s all vital stuff. But what Mike doesn’t explain is how he got the labels off 586 beer bottles…

Click any thumbnail to see full-size images:


SEE ALSO: Message is in the bottles for reducing St Helena’s waste

Message is in the bottles for reducing St Helena’s waste

Bottle house picture by Tatum Design. Scroll down for a gallery of bottle-building images
Bottle house picture by Tatum Design. Scroll down for a gallery of bottle-building images

Bottles, metal cans and kitchen waste have been found to be the most common items going into St Helena’s landfill site at Horse Point – locally known as “the dump”.

Click the graphic to see what St Helena throws away
Click the graphic to see what St Helena throws away

Islanders are being encouraged to take up composting to deal with uncooked food scraps, and the disability charity SHAPE has set up a recycling centre that could deal with cardboard – if people can be persuaded to separate it out from other waste.

Work is also in hand to start crushing glass bottles to mix with aggregates for building work.

In the meantime Mike Durnford, the island’s climate change and pollution officer, has come up with an even greener solution to the beer bottle surplus, according to Sherilee Thomas, one of the hosts of an Environment Week exhibition.

She said: “Mike did a project at home where he used Windhoek glass bottles for decorative garden use. It’s very attractive and it actually stops his grass from growing into his hibiscus plants.”

St Helena Online suggests another possibility: using bottles as a building material. Houses, grottoes and even chapels have been built around the world using bottles and “cob” materials such as straw and mud.

See the picture gallery for examples:

(Note: this story has been amended to correct a paragraph saying that glass recycling was not a possibility for St Helena – prompting comments from two readers suggesting otherwise)

Prison plans in hand as Castle sets out vital projects

Basic designs are being drawn up for moving St Helena’s “unfit” prison out of Jamestown. Planning advice is being sought, according to a spokesman for St Helena Government (SHG).

First, a new unit for young people with challenging behaviour must be built at Half Tree Hollow to make way for the prison to move into the unit’s current home at Sundale.

The prison building is to be taken over – aptly – by SHG’s legal department. The move is not expected before 2015.

The information was provided in response to a question by John Turner of the St Helena Campaign for Freedom of Information, after the government published an outline of various projects that are vital to island life.

The Infrastructure, Utilities and Construction Programme was drawn up with the help of UK advisers after SHG was rebuked for falling behind with maintenance and large-scale projects – partly because of problems finding contractors.

Executive councillors were given a confidential report on progress in early July, but said they wanted the public to be given more information on important works.

Three projects involve energy supplies.

Replacements for ageing equipment at the power station is now being tested, and a trial of photo voltaic cells – to harness the energy of the sun, and reduce the use of diesel – is being evaluated. Approval has been given for six extra wind turbines, and work has begun to appoint a contractor to manage renewable energy projects.

Several projects tackle housing issues:

  • encouraging owners to rent-out empty homes
  • finding sites to build homes for low earners
  • raising living standards in SHG housing
  • improving welfare facilities, and moving Barn View social care residents to the Community Care Complex
  • refurbishing sheltered housing at Longwood and building six new units at Plantation Cape Villa

The first year of the rental project involves identifying the reasons people are reluctant to rent out empty homes, and find ways to overcome them.

Work on government-owned housing involves clearing a backlog of maintenance, as well as converting properties and building new homes.

Infrastructure projects include work on electricity supply, including for the airport, and on developing a sustainable water supply – which includes providing treated water to all island communities.

Upgrades and renovations of the government’s property estate includes work to:

  • clear a backlog of maintenance of government buildings
  • build a new fire station
  • move government departments to free up buildings for the private sector.

No buildings have been let as a result of the government reorganisation in Jamestown, but a spokesman pointed out that the programme was at an early stage.

Another project involves setting up a sustainable system for waste, including recycling, prompted in part by a need to move the existing landfill site near Longwood to avoid causing a hazard to aircraft.

An adviser is currently on the island and a consultation is due soon.

The government is also redeveloping hospital facilities to cope with more residents and visitors, expected once the airport is built.

This includes providing better laboratory facilities for diagnosing medical conditions, and for carrying out tests needed to export processed food.

‘Unfit’ prison to close by 2015 amid human rights failings
£48,000 a year for someone to solve island housing shortage
Government property for sale ‘effectively, now’
Jobs for island contractors after years of under-spending

Update on the Infrastructure, Utilities and Construction Programme

Development Assistance Planning Mission
– UK report on SHG infrastructure delays

Island media, 17 February 2012

St Helena Independent: waste dumping and recycling – airport jobs – Essex House – polytunnels – link with NHS in Devon – Youth Parliament elections – and the man who travelled 5,000 miles to trim donkeys’ hooves

Columnist Vince Thompson looks back at a 2011 report on the island’s waste dumping problem – which has now become pressing because the existing tip at Horse Point is too close to the new airport runway and creates a hazard. Vince says the report appears to say that kerb-side collection of recyclable waste could only work if people were forced to do it. ‘This is complete nonesense,’ he says – referring to his own experience of introducing such a system in the UK.

‘By the way,’ he concludes, ‘the report includes an Action Plan. The final action in the plan was scheduled for completion by December last year. I don’t think any of the actions have even started yet.’

Basil Read, the company building St Helena’s airport, has taken on 15 Saints – out of 54 people who were interviewed in mid-January. Roles filled so far include a foreman, administrator and site agent. Six plant operators and six general labourers have been taken on. Further plant operators are still needed.

The paper praises improvements to historic details at Essex House in Jamestown, following concerns about whether they needed planning consent.

A team of advisers has been shown round tourism sites and businesses on the island, including polytunnels being used by Martin Joshua to grow salad crops. He said growing crops year-round under cover was the sustainable way to reduce imports, but more sites were needed. A visiting trainer is to run a week-long course on covered production from February 27.

Plans to set up a link between St Helena and a group of National Health Service trusts in Devon have been explained to Councillor Cyril Gunnell during a visit to the UK. He went to Devon with Dr Suresh, who is to be the island’s next senior medical officer.

Elections to St Helena’s Youth Parliament are to be held on 2 March 2012, with the election period starting on 25 February. Potential candidates need to fill in a self-nomation form.

A farrier from the UK has travelled the 5,000 miles to St Helena to clip the hooves of the island’s donkeys – and train islanders how to do it when he’s gone. Colin Goldsworthy, who worked at The Donkey Sanctuary in Devon for 30 years, said the animals on St Helena were in much better condition than expected. He worked for free but had the honour of having a donkey named after him.

See also these stories from the St Helena Independent:

Saint ‘desperate’ for bone marrow donor
Columnist attacks ‘disgusting’ tourism plan
Castle stair tower ‘must come down’, says Trust