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History

Were there black prisoners in the Boer camps of St Helena?

boers in jamestown 640 courtesy of John GrimshawLittle is heard of the black Africans who lived and died in the prison camps of the Anglo Boer War. One man is engaged on a search for what traces remain – and he’s heading for St Helena.

Twin Mosia is to tour the 65 known black concentrations camps set up by the British in mainland Africa, paying homage to those who died and gathering what information still remains. Virtually no records were kept.

He has now put out an appeal for evidence of black prisoners of war (PoWs) in the two camps that were established on St Helena in 1899 when the British began dispersing captured men around the Empire.

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 23.00.16Click the pic to see images of life in the Boer War camps
(courtesy of the King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum)

He is certain black men would have been among those landed on the wharf at Jamestown during the three years that Boers – now called Afrikaners – were on the island.

“During the Anglo Boer War an unknown number of black men and children were shipped to St Helena as PoWs,” says Twin in a Facebook post.

“No records of them are found and some have even denied the fact that blacks captured with Boers were sent to various PoWs camps overseas.

“Does anyone of you know their number, names etc? How many perished while in captivity in St Helena? Where are their graves?”

He also asks how many made their way back to South Africa after the peace negotiations.

Historian Paul Alexander, whose family was prominent on St Helena in the 18th and 19th centuries, lends support to Twin’s beliefs.

“From photos I’ve seen there is no doubt that there were black African prisoners together with the Boers on St Helena,” he says on Facebook.

“One of my ancestors was chief censor at the camp as he could speak Dutch (although he was St Helena born he had lived at the Cape for a while, and his son had been killed fighting against the Boers).”

Paul has written a history of his family and plans to visit the island in 2016. One of his ancestors, a Captain Alexander, was a member of the island Council under the East India Company in 1719. John Alexander (1671-1731) was a planter who lived at Bamboo Grove.

Others were closely connected with Napoleon’s captivity.

A young Fraser Alexander was involved in building up South Africa’s gold mining industry after his parents emigrated from St Helena in the 1870s to take part in the Kimberley Diamond Rush. A century later, the mining company Fraser Alexander still survives – under black owners.

Merle Martin, of the South African St Helenian Heritage Association, had also heard of black Africans among the thousands transported to camps at Deadwood Plain and Broad Bottom.

The story came to light after an article about Saints in South Africa was published on the Archival Platform website (archivalplatform.org).

“Someone commented but we couldn’t get hold of him to get more info,” Merle says in the Facebook discussion.

Can you help Twin in his quest? If so, contact him via this website here or through the St Helena Online page on Facebook. WITH THANKS to Merle Martin for alerting St Helena Online. 

READ MORE:
Boer War prisoners: life at Deadwood Camp
Who ‘disarmed’ the Boer War bomb in the tower?
Saints in Cape Town – The Archival Platform
Twin Mosia’s cycle tour to commemorate camp victims – Proudly Afrikaner website
South African St Helenian Heritage Association – Facebook page

Jonathan’s birthday… what the tortoise never taught us

We hate to disappoint the newspaper readers of Holland, but Jonathan the Tortoise will not be celebrating his birthday on 7 February… regardless of what it may say on  the Wikipedia website.

Jonathan exact birth date. If it's on Wikipedia, it must be true...
Jonathan’s exact birth date. If it’s on Wikipedia, it must be true…

Since exact age of the oldest known living creature on the world can only be guessed at, it was hardly likely that his actual birthday would have been recorded.

So it was somewhat surprising when reporter Tim Kooijman got in touch to ask how the old boy would be celebrating it.

He planned to write a story for the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad. “I’ve noticed on Wikipedia that this coming Saturday is tortoise Jonathan’s birthday,” he wrote. “People here love stories about birthdays and animals.”

Sure enough, a side-panel on the online encyclopedia gave the old boy’s date of birth as 7 February 1832 (which is 159 years after the Dutch invaded St Helena).

Tim took it well when it was pointed out that Jonathan’s actual birthday couldn’t possibly be known. He did wonder, though, how the Daily Telegraph could have been taken in, with a website video that put his age at a confidently precise 183.

A quick check was made with Kerisha Stevens at the press office in The Castle, just to check this wasn’t some promotional thing.

“As far as we know Jonathan hasn’t been ‘allocated’ a birthday,” she replied. She wasn’t sure who was responsible for the Wikipedia entry.

Tim said he’d write a story for Algemeen Dagblad all the same, because it was quite amusing. And perhaps he did: it all looks Dutch to us.

Down in Jamestown, though, Independent editor Mike Olsson rather liked the idea. “If Wikipedia says it’s his birthday, then we’ll give him a birthday,” he said. He’d have a word with Joe Hollins, the vet who hand-feeds him once a week, and rubs his neck to help the food go down.

“We’ll give him a piece of lettuce, with a candle.”

What – just the one candle?

Watch the Telegraph video here

Lost Solomon’s deeds found after 160 years

indenture 640For years, it had been believed that the deeds of several historic houses on St Helena had been destroyed by fire. But then someone pulled out a drawer from a desk in Jamestown, and made a most surprising discovery.

Behind the drawer, lost to sight for decades, were papers documenting the sale of properties once owned by the island entrepreneur, Saul Solomon.

The desk was in the basement of the building taken over by the St Helena National Trust, the very organisation set up to preserve and protect the island’s historic riches.

Click the pic to see larger image
Click the pic to see larger image

Island historian Nick Thorpe said: “There are quite a few deeds, mostly relating to the Metcalfe family, who owned Willowbank and Robinsons in Fisher’s Valley, together with a house in town.

“The gem of the find is a deed relating to the sale of several town properties for £16,000. The seller was Saul Solomon, who established Solomon’s in 1790. The buyers were his son Nathaniel Solomon, baptised 1800, and George Moss.

“Many years ago an old man called Billy Peters told me that Solomons had a fire in their office which destroyed all their deeds, but not, according to Billy, their money.

conveyance side 640“If that is the case, then these deeds discovered recently by the National Trust may be the only 19th century ones in existence with a Solomon’s connection.”

The discovery was made in early October 2014.

One of the documents, an indenture, has a plan of a property attached with string and sealed with wax.

Another, dated around the time of Saul Solomon’s death, is a “Conveyance of messuages and tenements in James Town, St Helena”.

SEE ALSO:
The ‘merchant king’ suspected of intrigue with Napoleon
Saved: ‘national treasure’ is found on rubbish dump

The ‘merchant king’ suspected of intrigue with Napoleon

Saul Solomon founded a business empire that has dominated commercial life on St Helena for more than two centuries. He was also suspected of smuggling a silk ladder to Napoleon, to help him escape from exile. Now documents relating to the sale of his properties have been found in Jamestown.

Saul Solomon. Click the pic to see the source
Saul Solomon. Click the pic to see the source

The long-lost title deeds of Saul Solomon’s properties on St Helena have added scraps of knowledge to the little that is known of “St Helena’s remarkable merchant king”, as the late historian Trevor Hearl described him.

His origins were mantled in mystery, wrote Hearl. “Where and when he was born, why and how he reached St Helena, no one yet knows.”

Tradition says he was born in London in about 1776, set sail for India in his teens, but was left on the island to recuperate from sickness – and stayed.

An internet article provides further insight, describing how Saul Solomon’s father, Nathaniel, had travelled to Holland and fallen in love with 14-year-old Phoebe de Mitz, who returned to England as his wife and bore him many children (possibly 21).

“In the early 1790s a ship bound for India dropped anchor off the Port of Jamestown on the island,” continues the internet article by an unnamed descendant of Saul Solomon’s brother, Joseph.

“A young man was carried ashore to die. The ship sailed on and the young man, Saul Solomon, remained, not to die, but to become one of the most influential men on the island.”

His business is said to have been founded in 1790 – the date shown on the company website. Young Saul set up a boarding house and general store, along with an insurance business. He also installed the island’s first printing press, and served as undertaker.

Phoebe, said to be Saul Solomon's mother. Click the pic to reveal the source
Phoebe, said to be Saul Solomon’s mother. Click the pic to reveal the source

Early success meant a need for people to help run the business, so he sent for his brothers, including Joseph. The Moss family came too, remaining prominent members of the business for many years.

And then Napoleon arrived on the island in 1815. Solomon’s readily traded with the deposed emperor’s entourage at Longwood, and profits rose.

There were frequent complaints about over-charging. The company charged 1,400 gold francs for the funeral of Napoleon’s valet.

Running up debts with suppliers in South Africa brought a rival to the island: Richard Prince arrived in Jamestown in 1813 to collect money owed, but stayed on and set up a business that competed against Solomon’s for 89 years. He left Prince’s Lodge as his legacy.

Saul Solomon also earned a reputation for “dubious loyalty” to the island government, said Hearl. “Hudson Lowe listed the Solomon brothers, with their clerk Bruce, as the chief suspects of aiding Napoleon…

“His premises… became notorious for gossip and intrigue.

“He was even said to have smuggled a silken ladder into Longwood in a chest of tea to help Napoleon clamber down a cliff into a waiting boat! Certainly Longwood’s clandestine correspondence passed through his hands – at a price.

“In 1840, as French Consul, he was among the favoured few to accompany Napoleon’s coffin aboard the Belle Poule.” According to the internet article, he received a medal for his services to the emperor.

At one time, Solomon’s issued its own copper halfpennies, which circulated alongside the East India Company coinage.

It continued to prosper as the island became a haven for American whalers and a base for the anti-slavery squadron.

Over time, family members rose to prominent roles, including on benevolent committees. “For 50 years they almost monopolised the prestigious post of Sheriff.”

The last of the family line, Homfray Welby Solomon (“King Sol”), died in 1960. The business was later nationalised – and then part-privatised.

Saul Solomon himself had died in 1852 on a visit to England. His daughter managed to get his body to the Cape, where she smuggled it aboard a ship bound for St Helena, according to a fellow passenger, Mrs Harriet Tytler.

“The burden was a terrible one for fear that if the sailors found it out, they would chuck her father overboard,” wrote Mrs Tytler. “Of course we were all under vow not to disclose the terrible fact of a corpse on board.”

The two island newspapers praised his memory fulsomely. “We have many living witnessed to his kindness to the distressed and suffering,” wrote the St Helena Herald, welcoming the news that he was to be buried on the island.

An executor’s sale took place “under the trees” in Jamestown in 1854, at which “a rare selection of most desirable dwelling places” were auctioned, including The Briars and The Pavilion, once home to Napoleon. Six properties in Jamestown’s Main Street could no longer be identified, wrote Trevor Hearl.

Saul Solomon’s modest gravestone was among those rescued when the burial ground in Jamestown was cleared, to become a children’s playground. The inscription revealed nothing of Solomon’s life, beyond the date of his death at 76.

  • Saul Solomon’s nephew, also called Saul, left St Helena as a young man and became the founder of the Cape Argus, one of South Africa’s major newspapers. His memorial is in St James’s Church, “though St Helenians do not yet claim him as a distinguished compatriot,” wrote Trevor Hearl.

SEE ALSO:
Lost Solomon’s deeds found after 150 years
The Solomon Family: St Helena

No PE teacher? Appoint one of the pupils: first head recalls the challenges of creating ‘a school like no other’

JOHN BIRCHALL has proud memories of his time setting up “a school like no other anywhere else in the world” on St Helena. He shared a few of them in a special assembly to mark on the 25th anniversary of Prince Andrew School – in a video message from China.

Some of the teachers on St Helena were somewhat nervous about the idea of moving to the big new building that was going up on Francis Plain. But young Nick Stevens had little time to dwell on the prospect: a sudden staff shortage meant he was a pupil one day, and a teacher the next.

Click the pic to read about John Birchall
Click the pic to read about John Birchall

John Birchall shares both memories in an internet address that was played to current students and staff on 3 October 2014, a quarter of a century on.

“I arrived in early summer in 1986,” he says, “to be immediately involved in a ceremony on a wet grey day on an empty Francis Plain to lay the foundation stone for Prince Andrew School.

“I recollect touring the first and middle schools to try to reassure the teachers assigned to Prince Andrew School that working in a school of this size was not quite the daunting prospect they imagined it to be.

“I recall a young Nicky Stevens being catapulted from Year 11 student to PE teacher in the space of a day on the departure of a member of staff… and being even more surprised how he quickly grew into the role under the stewardship of your current headmaster.”

Nick Stevens in his Games kit
Nick Stevens in his Games kit

The new job was the start of a career that saw Nick go on to be the creative force behind the New Horizons youth centre in Jamestown, and eventually to head St Helena’s team at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland.

He’s also been an occasional football pundit on the BBC World Service.

His mentor, Paul Starkie, was employed as an adviser from 1988 to 1992, sent out by the UK government. He went on to work in Indonesia and Belgium before returning to PAS as head teacher in 2012 – with his St Helenian wife, Lisa, and son Zac.

John Birchall has also gone a long way since leaving the school in 1989, having served as its first head teacher. He went on to work in Oman, Spain and Indonesia, before becoming academic director of a chain of colleges educating 6,000 students in China.

“The years I spent on St Helena were among the most challenging and the most rewarding I have experienced in my 42 years of education to date,” he says in an address he posted on the YouTube video-sharing website.

Paul Starkie returned as head
Paul Starkie returned as head

“When I lie at night and dream, I often find myself transported back in some way to find myself trudging up Ladder Hill, strolling Francis Plain or wandering around Longwood. Such is the lasting impact of St Helena,” he says.

In those days, some of the older pupils were paid to attend school in an arrangement with the Public Works Department.

“I recall paying wages to all the PWD students on a Friday, assisted by Miss Doris Peters and Miss Joy George,” says John.

“And I recall taking part in the community education classes, where I made what must have been the worst table every constructed on St Helena.

“My most lasting memory was leading the proceedings 25 years ago when we held the opening ceremony.

“I remember the enormous sense of pride which echoed round the hall as the entire school, resplendent in school uniform and Prince Andrew School ties, sang the Prince Andrew School song for the very first time under the musical direction of the late Mr Eric George.

Click the pic to watch John's video
Click the pic to watch John’s video

“I recollect to this day the true sense of community that prevailed, and the way in which students felt truly privileged to have such splendid surroundings to pursue their educational dreams.”

He tells pupils: “I hope this sense of Prince Andrew School being your school, and a feeling of pride in it being a school like no other anywhere else in the world, still prevails today as it did in 1989.”

He gives his congratulations for recent significant improvements in GCSE results.

John extends “a special personal thank-you” to Basil George, who was chief education officer at the time “and whose drive and vision contributed greatly to creation the school you enjoy today.”

He ends by urging the people of St Helena to “build upon the silver jubilee spirit to take Prince Andrew School to new levels in the years ahead.”

Governor Mark Capes and Basil George were among special guests who heard music pieces from the school choir and various pupils at the special assembly. It ended with student president Lizemarie Robbertse and vice student president Chrystabel Greentree speaking about the importance of striving for success.

Watch John Bircall’s address in full here

SEE ALSO:
New school head brings Saint family back home
Nick Stevens goes global from St Helena

Carnival honours the memory of St Helena exiles

The exile of Zulus and Boer War prisoners on St Helena has been commemorated in a carnival and march led by the premier of KwaZulu-Natal Province in South Africa.

zulu march 2014 450Before the event at Woodburn Stadium in Pietermaritzburg, Senzo Nchunu urged people of all cultures to unite in paying tribute to figures such as the Zulu King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo.

He said: “Natal, as it was then known, played host to many battles, conflicts and confrontations in South Africa. These resulted in many of our heroes exiled in St Helena island.

“The French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte I, spent six years in exile on St Helena island from 1815 -1821 under stringent British supervision following his defeat at Waterloo.
Importantly, 61 years later Zulu King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo, nephew to King Shaka, was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment on St Helena island.

“The King had dared defy the British, who had not recognized him as the rightful heir to the throne of the Zulu nation.

“Three years after King Dinuzulu left St Helena, more than 5,000 Boer War prisoners were also exiled in St Helena for having participated in a war against the British.

“Ten years after King Dinuzulu returned home to a Zululand which had been annexed to Natal, he led the defiance to the poll tax imposed by the British to pay for the needs of the developing territory. The King was accused of high treason and was moved to a farm in Middleburg. About 25 Zulu rebel chiefs were exiled to St Helena for their participation against poll tax.”

“These are the heroes who yearned for independence, political self-determination and the protection of their culture and languages. Now that we have achieved democracy and freedom, we must all come together and remember these heroes.”

Writer rescues Napoleon: was America ready for him?

Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 00.04.10Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 23.43.06 Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 23.43.28 Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 23.43.52 Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 23.44.22 Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 00.04.54
What would the Americans made of Napoleon, had he escaped from St Helena and started a new (and longer) life in the young United States?

The idea is explored in a debut historical novel by writer Shannon Selin – who’s also published, unusually, a video trailer for her book, Napoleon in America.

It sees him fetch up in New Orleans – once a French city – and then go around the country upsetting the ladies with pleasantries that don’t quite work.

Worse things happened across Europe in his day.

A review on the Kirkus books website tells how he is welcomed on arrival in Louisiana by cries of “Vive l’Empereur!” from Americans and French expats alike.

“Though enfeebled by his travels, Napoleon hasn’t lost his ambition or hunger for power; soon, he’s traveling around his new country and coming up with schemes every step of the way.”

The review does not say whether St Helena emerges at all favourably in the novel.

Read more here or watch the trailer here

Time-lapse videos recall historic landing

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 12.06.06Look back to a key moment in St Helena’s airport project by watching two time-lapse videos of the NP Glory 4 becoming the first ocean-going ship ever to dock on the island, in July 2012.

The first, by Scott Stander, shows the vessel being manoeuvred into position, bow-first, and the first construction vehicles being unloaded: all condensed into 53 seconds. Watch it here.

The second, much-longer video, shot by an unnamed Saint, shows the various movements of vehicles and workers. See it here.

Another video by the same Saint producer shows one of the biggest explosions on the airport construction site on Prosperous Bay Plain. See it here.

SEE ALSO: After the nerves, praise for successful docking

RFA Darkdale: Mystery of the torpedo that failed to explode

The German submarine U-68 fired off four torpedoes at the RFA Darkdale, then sped quickly away to escape the attention of the gun crews positioned above Jamestown.

The logbook recorded that all four struck home. But investigators from the Ministry of Defence say their examination of the wreck casts a new light on the historical accounts of the wrecking.

And that leaves an intriguing question for St Helena.

Kaptain Karl-Freidrich Merten’s account has been translated into English as follows:

00h15 ready for action – approach on surface

01h43 4 single shots – 4 hits

Enormous thin flame. Ship is illuminated as by day, the whole coast, harbour, barracks and batteries are lighted up in red glow.

But the December 2013 report into the state of the wreck, 73 years on, says the commander may have miscounted the number of torpedoes that struck home.

“There remains the likelihood that one may have missed its target or not exploded on impact,” it says. “This was a known problem with some types of German torpedo.

“This is supported by the evidence in the Harbour Master’s report of the Darkdale loss. He noted only three loud explosions.”

And when the investigators examined the wreck, they found evidence of only three hits, to the stern and midships.

“The only report that notes the explosion of all four torpedoes is the Torpedo Officer’s log. It would be in his interest to declare all four torpedoes as confirmed explosions but the damage to the ship does not support this statement.

“If a torpedo missed or failed to detonate there is a possibility that it may have come to rest on the surrounding seabed. The wider bay area was surveyed using side scan sonar and no evidence of a torpedo was found.

“The fate of the fourth torpedo remains unknown.”

COMMENT:

“If a torpedo missed or failed to detonate there is a possibility that it may have come to rest on the surrounding seabed. The wider bay area was surveyed using side scan sonar and no evidence of a torpedo was found.”

Simon, I know you didn’t write this but these were probably contact torpedoes, not
magnetic.  So it it missed it would have hit the coast and there would likely have
been a fourth, delayed explosion.

Side scan sonar picks up objects that are visually sticking up above the seabed.
James Bay is mostly deep sand.  The likelihood of a very heavy, long, tubular
object still sitting on top of the sand after nearly 70 years approaches zero.

They looked like these:
http://historianbook.com/german-torpedo-in-italy-shores/

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