Saint Helena 2

Saint Helena

A third discovery story, told by the 16th-century historian Gaspar Correia, holds that the island was found by the Portuguese nobleman and warrior Dom Garcia de Noronha, who sighted the island on his way to India in late 1511 or early 1512. His pilots entered the island onto their charts and it has been suggested that this event was likely decisive in leading to the utilization of the island as a regular stopover for rest and replenishment for ships en route from India to Europe, from that date until well into the seventeenth century. An analysis has been published of the Portuguese ships arriving at St Helena in the period 1502–1613.

The Portuguese found the island uninhabited, with an abundance of trees and fresh water. They imported livestock, fruit trees and vegetables, and built a chapel and one or two houses. The long tradition that João da Nova built a chapel from one of his wrecked carracks has been shown to be based on a misreading of the records. They formed no permanent settlement, but the island was an important rendezvous point and source of food for ships travelling by Cape Route from Asia to Europe, and frequently sick mariners were left on the island to recover before taking passage on the next ship to call at the island.

Englishman Sir Francis Drake probably located the island on the final leg of his circumnavigation of the world (1577–1580). Further visits by other English explorers followed and, once Saint Helena’s location was more widely known, English ships of war began to lie in wait in the area to attack Portuguese India carracks on their way home.

In developing their Far East trade, the Dutch also began to frequent the island. The Portuguese and Spanish soon gave up regularly calling at the island, partly because they used ports along the West African coast, but also because of attacks on their shipping, the desecration of their chapel and religious icons, killings of their livestock, and destruction of their plantations by Dutch pirates.

The Dutch Republic formally claimed Saint Helena in 1633, although there is no evidence that they ever occupied it. The Dutch lost interest in the island after establishing their colony at the Cape of Good Hope.

East India Company (1658–1815):

Saint Helena 3
A View of the Town and Island of Saint Helena in the Atlantic Ocean

In 1657, Oliver Cromwell granted the East India Company a charter to govern Saint Helena and, the following year, the company decided to fortify the island and settle it with planters. A tradition, which had its origins in the early 20th century, that the early settlers included many who had lost their homes in the 1666 Great Fire of London, was shown to be a myth in 1999.

The first governor, Captain John Dutton, arrived in 1659, making Saint Helena one of Britain’s earliest colonies outside North America and the Caribbean. A fort and houses were built: Jamestown had been founded, “in the narrow valley between steep cliffs”.

After the Restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, the East India Company received a royal charter, giving it the sole right to fortify and colonize the island. The fort was renamed James Fort and the town was called Jamestown, in honor of the Duke of York, later King James II.

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