THIS Island is situated in 15deg. 55min. south latitude, and 5deg. 49min. west longitude, from Greenwich. Its length is ten miles and a half; breadth, six miles and three quarters ; and its circumference about twenty-eight miles. It lies within the limit of the south-east trade wind, and is distant four hundred leagues from the coast of Africa, six hundred from that of South America, and twelve hundred from Cape St. Vincent in Portugal, the nearest point of Europe. The voyage from this country is usually performed in ten weeks.
It consists of one vast rock, perpendicular on every side, like a castle, in the middle of the Ocean, whose natural walls are too high to be attempted by scaling ladders ; nor is there the smallest beach except at the Bay, called Chapel Valley Bay, which is fortified with a strong battery of large cannon planted even with the water, and farther defended by the perpetual dashing of prodigious waves against the shore, which, without further resistance, makes the landing difficult.
On rounding what is called Munden's Point, the eye is suddenly relieved by a view of James-town, seated in a narrow valley between two lofty mountains ; and the interspersion of trees among the white houses, has an effect picturesque and pleasing in a high degree. This valley, known by the name of James's Valley, is on the N. W. and leeward side of the Island, in which situation there is a good anchorage from eight to twenty-five fathoms; and fresh water is conveyed in leaden pipes to the wharf from a spring two miles distant, which affords a plentiful supply. The surf, at times, is tremendous, particularly about Christmas, and many lives were lost in approaching and leaving the shore, until a new wharf and landing place were constructed by Governor Brooke.
Upon landing and passing the drawbridge, the way leads between a line of heavy guns and a double row of trees, of a lively green, generally in full leaf. The town is entered by an arched gateway, under a rampart, or terrace, forming one side of a parade about one hundred feet square.—On the left side are the Government House and main guard-room ; the former is enclosed with a wall, having the semblance of embrazures, and is called the Castle ; it contains the Governor's habitation, and the offices of government.—The church, fronting the gateway, is a neat, and not inelegant edifice.—The principal street commences between it and a pallisade inclosing the Company's garden—it consists of twenty-eight houses, most of them neat and well constructed, and divides into two other streets ; one on the east, leading to that side of the country ; the other proceeding to the upper part of the valley, where are situated the barracks, the new garden, and the hospital. In this street are a number of shops, well stored with European and Indian commodities; but the houses in general are far inferior to those in the lower part of the town, where the principal inhabitants reside.—The two hills, between which the town is situated, are Rupert's on the east, and Ladder Hill on the west.—The roads by which access is gained into the interior, are formed on the sides of these hills, and the ascent is so easy and safe, that carts and oxen pass along without danger or difficulty.—For the first mile or two, the traveller observes little else than nakedness and sterility, but his curiosity is soon gratified by the sudden prospect of verdure, woody heights, neat dwellings, and cultivated plantations.
The island is unequally divided by a lofty chain, or ridge of hills, running nearly east and west.—From this chain alternate ridges and valleys branch off in various directions. Diana's Peak, towards the east end of this chain, is the highest point of the island, and rises nearly two thousand seven hundred feet above the level of the sea.—From the summit of this peak, no point intercepts the horizon ; the whole island is beneath the scope of vision ; the ridges and hollows diverging from the chain, are traced to the sea. Houses and plantations diversify the prospect, and the contrast of verdant and naked mountains, renders the scene at once novel, picturesque, and majestic.
Thunder, lightning, or storms, rarely disturb the serenity of this mild atmosphere. The rain is divided more after the manner of our temperate climates than of the tropical ones ; every month has its share, but July, August, and September, seem to be the most stormy. The luxuriance of vegetation increases in proportion to distance and height from the sea ; and upon the very summits of the interior hills, oxen are to be seen up to their knees in grass. Fruits, particularly vines, figs, oranges, and lemons, ripen best in the valleys near the sea.—From a garden more interior, but finely watered and sheltered, of no greater extent than three acres of ground, twenty-four thousand dozen apples of a large size, were gathered in one season, besides peaches, guavas, grapes, and figs, in abundance. The hopes of the farmer are frequently disappointed in the cultivation of wheat, barley, and oats, either from drought, or from the depredation of rats, which are frequently so numerous, as to destroy the most promising crop. Potatoes, cabbages, peas, beans, and other vegetables, are raised in great plenty.
The breed of cattle and sheep on the island, is originally English ; the beef is of an excellent quality ; but in consequence of the great demand from the Company's shipping for fresh provisions, a bullock is seldom allowed to attain the age of four years.—Rabbits abound in some situations ; pheasants and partridges are become numerous, since the Government has given them protection ; and every garden is enlivened by the notes of the Canary bird.
Of fish, it has been computed that seventy-six species frequent the coast. Those most commonly taken and used are mackarel, albecore, cavalloes, jacks, congers, soldiers, old wives, and bulls-eyes ; and of shell fish, long-legs and stumps ; these two last resemble the lobster in taste and colour, and have the same kind of tail. Upon an average of five years, from 1801 to 1805 inclusive, one hundred and sixty-five ships touch annually at St. Helena ; and in war time, the long detention for convoy experienced by large fleets (the crews and passengers of which are frequently equal to the whole population of the island) occasions such an extra consumption of stock and refreshments, that the mere productions of the island itself could never be adequate to such exigencies, were it not supplied with ample quantities of salt meat fromEngland and of rice from Bengal. These articles, as they are cheaper than fresh provisions, constitute the principal food of the inhabitants and garrison. Salt meat is issued to them from the Company's stores under prime cost, and every other article, at only ten per cent. advance, including freight. Beef is sold at 6½d. per pound alive, having been raised to that price since 1808, and as it is principally destined for the King's, or the Company's shipping, no person can kill even his own ox without permission from the Governor, a rule which has existed since the year 1752.
By the registered returns of the year 1805, the population of the island is stated at five hundred and four white inhabitants, one thousand five hundred and sixty blacks, of whom three hundred and twentynine were free ; making a total of two thousand and sixty-four, exclusive of the garrison and civil establishment of the Company.
The island comprises only one parish ; but, for the more regular performance of the county and parish officers' duties, it is divided into three districts, viz. the east, the west, and the south, or Sandy Bay division. There are two churches, one in the town, and another in the country. Strangers, whilst they, remain at the island, are accommodated in private houses, at the rate off one guinea per day each, for which an excellent table, good wines, and comfortable lodgings, are provided.
By repeated charters from the Crown of Great Britain, the possession of St. Helena is assigned in perpetual property to the East India Company, as Lords Proprietors, with powers of sovereignty and legislation. The supreme and executive authority within the island, is vested in the Governor, and a Council composed of the Lieutenant Governor, and senior civil servant, but sometimes a fourth member is added, as the Court of Directors judge proper. They are the representatives of the Lords Proprietors, and the superintending agents of all their concerns at the island. They are also Justices of the Peace, and Commissioners of Oyer and Terminer and Gaol Delivery, and they exercise the jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Court, in granting letters of administration, and proving wills, &c.
The Governor is exclusively entrusted with the powers of the Secret Committee of the Court of Directors.—When the Council are not assembled, the authority of the whole Board concentrates in him ; and, by charter from the Crown, when there is occasion, he may exercise the powers of captain-general. He is allowed a town and country residence, and a liberal table at the Company's expence, with servants, horses, &c. The Lieutenant-Governor has likewise the privilege of a town and country house, some land, servants, and a few horses. The other member or members of Council are each allowed a town residence—there are houses also for the engineer, chaplain, and head surgeon.
The military force of the island in 1808, was composed of a corps of artillery, commanded by a lieutenant-colonel, a regiment of infantry, and five companies of white and black militia, who were on the footing of volunteers ; but this force has been lately augmented by forty of the royal artillery, commanded by a captain and two lieutenants, and the 53d regiment of foot, five hundred strong.
The civil establishment consists of an accountant, paymaster, storekeeper, and the Secretary to Government, with their assistants.
St. Helena is gifted with considerable attractions and advantages, both local and natural : the temperature and salubrity of the climate are not exceeded in any part of the world ; the variations of heat and cold are moderate, and generally fluctuate near the point most congenial to animal existence ; it is fanned by a constant and equable wind, surrounded by plenty and variety of fish, and refreshed by numerous springs of excellent water ; the seclusion of its inhabitants is relieved by the frequent arrival of visitants and this intercourse chequers and corrects their uniformity of life, and tends to improve both the manners and the mind. The climate seems to be peculiarly adapted to the constitution of Europeans, of whom many have resided here for a long series of years, without suffering any malady.
The only endemic disorders to which the natives are subject, are of the catarrhal kind : these, as they belong to the inflammatory class, may in some measure account (notwithstanding their general robust health) for the few instances among the islanders, of longevity.
The anchorage in the road is safe and sheltered ; and though the vessels riding there sometimes drive to sea, this is owing rather to the steep declivity of the bank, than to the force or impression of the wind.—The surf is occasionally high and dangerous ; but the ocean beyond it is never ruffled by those hurricanes, which in other climates occasion so much distress. The approach from the south-east is smooth and commodious ; and on departing for Europe, the ship glides away before a gentle and steady breeze.
London : Printed for J. and E. WALLIS, 42, Skinner-street, Snow-hill; and J WALLIS, jun. Marine Library, Sidmouth.
J. Pittman, Printer, Warwick-Square, London.
Notes about this version of the Broadside:
The plate and text were scanned from an original copy. OCR software was used to generate a text file which was carefully proof-read against the original.
Contributed by Barry Weaver.
Details of the original:
A Descriptive Sketch of The Island of St. Helena, ...
Published Augt. 8, 1815, by J & E. Wallis 42, Skinner Street, Snow Hill, London. and J. Wallis Junr. Marine Library, Sidmouth, Devon.
Size: 46 x 30 cm.
Plates: One uncoloured aquatint: Saint Helena from the Roads.
British Library shelfmark: Not in the catalogue.
Library of Congress call number: Not in the catalogue.
Not in Abbey.
Last updated: 21 December, 2011