| Entry 19 of 41
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This morning I was determined that we start our sojourn into the interior of the island. After breakfast Mr Harris showed Ruth the eccentricities of his car, an old Rover 414, we signed insurance documents and off we departed.
We headed up Ladder Hill Road, which was an adventure in itself given the single track road, blind corners and the sheer drop on one side! Ruth of course was doing the driving whilst I tried to make sense of a twenty year old Ordnance Survey map produced from a Royal Air Force aerial reconnaissance mission. We passed through Half Tree Hollow and made our way to a junction at Redhill. We parked next to a public works depot and walked uphill to High Knoll Fort, which has been closed for over a year due to parts of the outer wall collapsing.
“The project, to produce a detailed assessment of High Knoll Fort, was recently given funding by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Overseas Territories Programme Fund (OTPF). As most people will be aware, parts of High Knoll Fort have fallen down on two occasions over the last couple of years and the monument has been closed to the public since February 2008. The Fort is one of the most visible, historic buildings on the island and was visited regularly by Saints and Tourists alike, before concerns about further collapse caused its closure.
The Assessment will gather information on the Fort's archaeology and history, its condition and the causes of the recent collapse. The team will produce a Conservation and Management Plan. Plans of this type are a standard part of projects involving important historical sites in the UK and allow work on the building without damaging what makes it special. The Plan will include a detailed survey of the building and a series of reports outlining its history, its present condition and providing engineering details and instructions for its future restoration and management. These reports will be supplemented by a guidebook to the Fort, professionally printed andavailable on island to guide visitors to High Knoll and provide a souvenir of their visit.
The project will combine archaeological, historical and engineering expertise, and is an essential first stage in the preservation of High Knoll. The data gathered at this stage, and the subsequent analysis and reporting, will enable structural repairs and interventions to be successfully undertaken in future projects.”
St Helena Herald – 6th February 2009
If the High Knoll Fort restoration project is anything like the airfield it will be years before the place is once again open to the public! But we took the opportunity at least to walk up to the outer walls. In typical St Helena fashion they have posted notices saying the fort is dangerous and access is strictly forbidden, however there is nothing to stop less scrupulous persons than ourselves accessing the fort just by climbing up the rubble where the wall has given way! The fort is a very impressive structure. The gun tower at the Half Tree Hollow end of the Fort affords an unobstructed field of fire across a large part of the northern sector of St Helena.
“The inside of the tower is mainly a munitions store for gunpowder and cannon balls. The inside is divided into four. Each of the four quarters is exactly the same and constructed so that gun powder can be stored in the top half of the tower and carried up steps and through doorways and openings up to the gun crews at the top by the army’s version of the navy’s ‘powder monkeys’. They were boys used on warships to carry gunpowder from the store to the guns. The top of the tower has been altered over time to house different types of guns.”
I believe that in its day this Fort, along with other batteries and fortifications, would have provided a formidable obstacle to invasion. It would be interesting to know a little about military communications in the 19th century, firepower, mutual support and reinforcement. Sadly today no weapons remain on site.
I would be particularly interested to find out what type of cannon were used around the time of the 2nd Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902). For instance did the island possess any disappearing guns, as had been deployed in Victoria, Canada; Melbourne, Australia; and Auckland, New Zealand? Those guns being Imperial armaments, but not unlike their American cousins in Hawaii and on Corregidor Island, Philippines.
“In the 1860s, with the rise of the ironclad ship and the general improvement in shipboard armament, the coast defences of the world had been extensively overhauled in an attempt to keep pace. At the beginning of this period the standard method of deploying coast guns was in open batteries, but the advent of armour and powerful guns on ships led to the adoption of armoured forts in which guns were protected by casements with enormous thickness of iron and granite to protect them. This was a very expensive method of construction; a single armoured casemate for one gun, together with it's necessary magazine arrangements, cost over £3800, without the cost of the gun being considered. Further, the slowness of the rate of fire of the heavy Rifled Muzzle-Loading (RML) guns demanded the development and construction of large fortifications with numerous guns to swamp the enemy with gunfire.
As early as 1835, Colonel DeRussey of the American army had suggested mounting a gun on a form of standing carriage in which the wheels were mounted eccentrically so that as it rolled back, it would descend behind the fort's parapet for concealment. On the face of it, this was a fairly sound idea, but one which was difficult to put into practice, largely due to the difficulty of running the gun back into it's normal firing position.”
Although Colonel DeRussey suggested the idea, it was a Scotsman, Captain Alexander Moncrief, who perfected a gun carriage design in 1868. He later became Colonel Moncrief and was knighted in 1890. He continued to improve his designs, which became standard across the British Empire.
The island fortress of St Helena was never put to the test after 1673. I believe that the German warship, the Graf Spee, was sighted off Jamestown at the beginning of WW2, but no action resulted. It faired rather better than the island fortress of Singapore in January/February 1942.
Well enough about guns, time to travel back to Jamestown. We stopped at St Paul’s Cathedral, near Plantation House (the Governor’s Residence) on our way back. A very peaceful church in a beautiful rural setting. Like other churches we have seen here the door was open and no one was guarding the silver as it were. I wish our own churches could be left open and unattended at home. A couple of interesting plaques:
“Sacred to the memory of John Melliss, formerly Surgeon in London, and afterwards in the Service of the Honourable East India Company, who died on the 25th of July 1820, in the 54th year of his Age.”
“PO/3492 Private H.S. Dobson RMLI. HMS Hyacinth, 28th December 1917.”
I recall a print upstairs at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town, with HMS Hyacinth leading a convoy of ship bound for the UK in August 1914.
We retraced our steps to the Ladder Hill Fort area. While Ruth drove the car down Ladder Hill Road, Erin joined me in jogging down the 699 steps of Jacob’s Ladder. We arrived at the Museum (bottom of the steps) before Ruth and Ailsa. We ordered a certificate each for Erin & Ailsa (£5) for climbing Jacob’s Ladder, which has to be signed by curator or some such person, so we will collect them on Thursday. The Museum is only open on certain days except when the RMS or a cruise ship lies in the Roads.
After lunch we headed out again by car, this time by trial and error to Diana’s Peak. To be exact the nearest road to Diana’s Peak.
“The greatest length of St. Helena is ten miles and a half, its breadth seven, its circumference about twenty-eight miles, and the area thirty thousand acres. There are many high mountains, particularly one called Diana's Peak, which is more than half a mile above the level of the sea. The Island is divided by a lofty chain of hills running nearly east and west, in a curved direction, and bending to the south at each extremity; and alternate ridges and valleys branch off in various directions.
The number of inhabitants may be about 4000, who are supplied with all kinds of manufactures by the East India Company's ships, in return for provisions and refreshments. Clear and wholesome springs issue from the sides of almost every hill, and the valleys abound with yams, potatoes, and water-cresses, which are grateful to mariners ; and here it is worthy of remark, that four crops may be produced in the year, the climate being a perpetual spring. Walks arched over with vines, and peach trees loaded with fruit of the richest flavor, are very common ; but gooseberry and currant bushes produce no fruit. Venomous reptiles are not met with here, but rats and caterpillars are very troublesome.
The hills of the interior are mostly covered with a rich verdure, and the valleys are fertile, supporting numerous herds of black cattle, besides a small breed of horses, with sheep, goats, &c. ; and game is found in great abundance. The voyage from St. Helena to England is generally performed in about two months ; the distance is little more than 4500 miles from the Land's End. The Island has only one harbour or roadstead, which is difficult of access.”
Saint Helena by George Hutchins Bellasis - 1815
We were certainly impressed by the change in the scenery as we progressed inland. We quickly left the arid coastline behind and within three miles found ourselves in lush valleys and forests, which could have been from anywhere in the UK. We had time to take the scenery in as the car seldom left second gear on account of the twisty narrow roads. The official speed limit is 20mph in town and 30mph in the countryside.
We had our map, a booklet entitled, ‘A description of the post box walks on St Helena’, and with a degree of luck found the correct path from where to commence our walk. There were two white landrovers parked nearby which also aided navigation.
The route to Diana’s Peak has been carved out of the overgrown flax plants, which cover the mountains choking out indigenous vegetation. We walked along a bed of soft grass in flax plants and at times were treated to exceptional views of the surrounding countryside. The weather kept changing though. At one point we could hardly see a hand in front of our face due to mist, then five minutes later it had lifted and we could see three miles. Difficult sections of the route have wooden stairs and walkways.
We stopped on top of a hill with a large single Norfolk Pine. A sign said this was Cuckhold’s Point, my guidebook referred to Cuckhold as Mount Actaeon. I am somewhat confused as my map has Cuckhold’s Point about 600 yards south of Actaeon. Who knows? We proceeded to Diana’s Peak, the largest hill or mountain on St Helena at 2700 feet above sea level. In a box we located a stamp for Diana’s Peak and duly stamped our walk book and my Bradt St Helena guide book. The children were very pleased to be standing at the highest point on St Helena – better than Slemish Mountain!
Once we retraced our step to the car we proceeded back to Jamestown by an alternative route. Alternative in that we got lost. We ended up outside Prince Andrew School when we should have been at the Boer Cemetery at Knollcombes! We retraced our steps and eventually found the Boer Cemetery down a lane. I recalled the time we visited Mafeking and Ladysmith, once besieged by Boer forces in 1899/1900. I recalled that General Cronje cut main rail line and telegraph between Kimberley & Bulawayo, which ran through Mafeking, on the 13th October 1899. The general called upon British forces to surrender and following a deadline on the morning of the 16th, he started to shell the town. I will not recount the history of the 2nd Anglo-Boer war, suffice to say that at Mafeking, under the leadership of Baden-Powell (later Lt General & 1st Baron), the British survived the siege and General Cronje ended up in the bag as it were in British captivity on St Helena.
After this we headed back to Jamestown. Erin and I proceeded down Jacob’s Ladder again whilst Ruth drove down Ladder Hill Road against rush hour traffic. She has vowed to avoid this road in future due to becoming stuck on a blind bend (couldn’t go down and couldn’t go back due to volume of traffic). Rather her than me. Put it this way, Erin and I were back at Harris’ before Ruth and Ailsa!
Before dinner we visited Father Allen and his wife at the Manse/Rectory and were made to feel most welcome. If I were staying on St Helena I would not hesitate to become a member of his parish. At 1800hrs the horn of the RMS St Helena sounded and we rushed from the Rectory to the sea wall to watch the RMS depart for Ascension Island. It felt rather strange when the islands lifeline sailed into the distance. We await her return on Sunday.
We had time to visit the Public Library en route to Harris’ and Erin & Ailsa are now members and left with several books! I noted a plaque of the outside of the Library which stated:
“In memory of the nine persons killed by the fall of 1500 tons of rock – 17th April 1890.”
Jamestown can be a dangerous place to live but only from nature, not from human beings.
| Entry 19 of 41
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