The Island of St. Helena lies in an isolated position in the South Atlantic. The nearest mainland, the west coast of Africa, is over 1,000 miles away.
The main drawback to the island is the difficulty of communication with the outside world. As there is no air service, airmail letters via Ascension or Cape Town make the final part of the journey by sea, on the island’s own vessel, the RMS St. Helena, which runs from Cardiff to Cape Town, calling at Ascension and St. Helena en route.
Cable & Wireless PLC has in recent years installed a modern telecommunication link with the outside world through radio, telephone, telex, facsimile and, in 1995, a television service.
Plans are now underway to construct St. Helena's first airport by 2010.
The population of 5,644 (1987 census) is of mixed origin, descended principally from British settlers, soldiers and seamen, slaves from South-east Asia and Madagascar, and small numbers of Chinese and African labourers. Nevertheless English has been the only language. Excellent medical, educational and social services follow English practice, while long-established Friendly Societies still play an important role in the community. In a word, the island’s prevailing culture and customs are essentially British.
St. Helena was discovered by the Portuguese in 1502, on 21st May, now celebrated annually as the island’s Feast Day. The first recorded English visitor was Thomas Cavendish in 1588. The island was claimed by the Dutch in 1633, but remained virtually uninhabited until settled and fortified by the English East India Company in 1659, as a vital supply base for homeward bound Indiamen. This was confirmed by Royal Charters until 1834, when it came under the direct government of the British Crown. Napoleon lived in exile in St. Helena from 1815 until his death in 1821. The island's importance as a mid-ocean staging post increased, until 1869, when the opening of the Suez Canal robbed it of its economic role.
By the 1967 Constitution, Government of the Colony is by the Legislative Council. Lacking major industries or export potential, St. Helena is never likely to become self-sufficient and by far the greatest part of the Colony’s revenue is a grant from the British Government, plus development aid allocated to various projects within the terms of the Development Plan. These are presently centred on attracting overseas investment, and developing select tourism.
Sport plays an important part in the life of St. Helena and the levelling and opening of the Francis Plain playing field with its much improved facilities including a 400 metre running track was welcomed. Football is the most popular game but there is strong competition in cricket, tennis, rounders, badminton, skittles and rifle shooting (.22 and .762).
last updated: 22/06/07