Luckily we had to make a stop at St Helena as we had a deal of cargo to unload there. The ship had to anchor in the bay, there being no harbour for ships on the island. Boats from the island took the passengers ashore to Jamestown, the biggest settlement there. This stands in a valley that looks like a giant’s stroke in the cliffs. The village is not far above sea-level, but the road to the top of the island crawls in a series of ‘lefts’ and ‘rights’ until it gets there. For the active there is a Jacob ’s ladder of steps, 699 in all, tiring to climb up but devastating to come down! Jamestown is a very pleasant place, rather like a village in Cornwall or Devon. The centre of it is the church, a very beautiful old building, full of the most astonishing graves and monuments. There are several tearooms, all of which seemed to be full of passengers all the time we were there. Margery and I duly climbed up and down the Jacob’s ladder and then went to a cafe to have some teach, which one needs after the ‘trek’.
Then we and many other passengers joined one of the mini-buses that were soliciting people for the drive round the island. It was wonderful to see the different views of the sea and then suddenly to reach the top and admire the lovely trees and plants, many with bright flowers that form the coverage at the top.
We first passed the governor’s ‘palace’, Plantation House (built in 1792), a very beautiful house among the trees and gardens bright with flowers, with lush green grass as the background. Below the house was a fine tennis court on which the people were engaged in playing. Then we went on to Longwood House where we saw the smaller ‘palace’ which had been the home of Napoleon from 1815 until his death in 1821. Here the mini-bus stopped and we could wander through the garden and it surroundings, we could see the lovely stream with its waterfall at the end and the big rock from which a lovely view over the sea can be
had. Here was a big brass plate which told viewer, in English and in French, that this was Napoleon’s favourite resting place when he was imprisoned there. We were not allowed to go into his dwelling because termites had eaten the woodwork in it.
Near Napoleon’s viewing point was his first grave. He had been buried there when he died but, during the time of his nephew’s reign in France, the French government applied for permission from the British government to exhume his coffin so that it could be reburied in Paris, where it is on display today. Next to the first grave is a big brass plate stating in French that the crew of the French warship Belle-Poule had, on such and such a date (actually 15 October 1840), removed the coffin and taken it back to France.
Later, when Margery and I went to Paris, we saw the coffin there.
At the top of the valley leading from Jamestown to the upper surface stood two old batteries, one on each side, each with a dozen or so of the old cannons of the ships of the Trafalgar era, guns which I thought would be 24-pounders, so placed that they covered the landing place entirely. They were in a very strong position, as they could be trained down to bombard any of the old ‘wooden walls’ of that period, but none of those old ships would have been able to reply to the bombardment. No wonder that Napoleon was never rescued, in spite of several efforts to do so.
Soon after this the sounding of the Durban Castle’s syren made us all hasten down to the jetty, from where we were carried back to our ship, very tired but full of admiration for the beauty of St Helena. If the ships of the Union Castle Line had continued to stop at St Helena when we retired we would probably have bought a place there to bask in all that beauty and those many wonderful historical memories, but we did not like the prospect of being almost completely cut off from the world.
So our ship continued its trip to Southampton but, in the English Channel, we met heavy fog, which meant that we had to slow down to a snail’s pace and sound our siren every few minutes, while all around us other ships, big and little, were doing the same. We were all very pleased that we came through this experience without any trouble.