L'autre Sainte-Hélène - The other St. Helena

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The island of St. Helena

Longwood House

Other sites in the island

Main habitations

The island of St. Helena is located at 5o 45 of west longitude and at 15o 56 in the southern latitude, in the middle of the South Atlantic. The closest coast is in Africa, at 1200 miles, while South America is at 1800 miles with Brazil. Ascension island is located at about 800 miles north-west from St. Helena.

Being located between the Equator and the Tropic of Capricorn, the island is exposed to the trade winds that blow steadily in this part of the globe, from southeast to northwest.

St. Helena position in the South Atlantic

St. Helena map - Moll 1732
Map of St. Helena, Moll, 1732

The island consists of mountains that rise abruptly out of the blue ocean, and surrounded by deep valleys.
St. Helena map - 1670
Map of St. Helena, 1670

St Helena map - Bellin 1760
Map of St. Helena, 1760

In the middle of the island, Diane's Peak, the highest point, rises to about 820 meters above sea level. The only maritime access are those of the bay of Jamestown, the main town of the island, Prosperous Bay, the landing point of the English during their capture of the island, and Sandy Bay in the south. A short distance from the coastline, water is already 30 feet deep and descends rapidly to 100 meters and over.

St Helena by satellite

This is what the French commissioner, the Marquis de Montchenu, had written in his report upon his arrival at St. Helena in June 1816:

"All descriptions of St. Helena that I had read before arriving only gave me a very imperfect idea of this island. But, from here, I have reached the conclusion that it is not possible to write about it without embellishment. This is the most isolated, the more unaffordable, the most difficult to attack, the poorest, the most unsociable and the dearest place in the world."

As of the Russian commissioner, Count Balmain, he wrote to his Court:

" As it is not possible to give a description of St. Helena different from those already well-known in Europe, I would simply repeat that this place is the world's saddest, most inaccessible, easiest to defend, most difficult to attack, most expensive and, above all, most appropriate to the use we make of it now. "

What is less known is that, long time ago, people used to believe that there were two islands of St. Helena, the second one being called "St. Helena Nova". It was supposed to be located some degrees East from St. Helena, at
4o of west longitude and at 16.5o in the southern latitude. The mistake was caused by the difficulty at the time to measure longitude. Although latitude measurements were pretty accurate, mistakes occur on the longitude which was started to be measured correctly only from the 18th century: the problem was caused by the rotation of the Earth which made measurements at sea very difficult to achieve.

The two St. Helena islands
The two St. Helena islands

At the time, they could have called this ghost island.... "The other St. Helena"...

St. Helena Nova

It is less known, unless you are from Australia, that there is another "real" St. Helena island. It is located off the coast from Brisbane and was named as such when it was first used in 1828 for an Aboriginal prisoner surnamed "Napoleon". The fame of St. Helena as an "prison-island" had crossed the seas ! For more information about this Australian St. Helena, visit the St. Helena Island National Park web site

To continue your visit at the heart of the real island of St. Helena, during Napoleon's time, check the other main sites, then get inside the famous Longwood House, and finally also check where key residents lived in other noticeable habitations.

Copyright © Albert Benhamou Publishing 2012  - All rights reserved.