Napoleon Bonaparte lived at Longwood House from 10th December 1815 until his death on 5th May 1821. It had formerly been the summer residence of the Lieutenant Governor and was made secure for the use of Napoleon during the early months of his exile (during which time he lived at Briar’s Pavilion).
In 1858 Longwood House was purchased by the French Government. The current curator (and Honorary Consul of France), Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, has been instrumental in conservation work to preserve and restore the Emperor’s furniture and contents.
Plantation House is the official residence of the Governor of St Helena. It was constructed in 1792 by the East India Company as a country residence for the Island’s Governors. It is also home to the world’s oldest reptile, Jonathan the Tortoise, thought to have been hatched in 1832, one of four Seychelles Giant Tortoises brought to the Island in 1882. Tours takes place on Tuesdays at 11am visiting both the ground and first floors of the residence. On Wednesdays visitors can visit the library at Plantation House, described as the ‘heart of the house’ with over 2,000 volumes (10.30 am to 2.00 pm).
Jamestown was founded by the East India Company which had wrested control of the island from the Dutch in 1659, and named after the Duke of York, who would later become James II. The main street has many fine Georgian buildings, over 100 of which are listed. Jamestown today has a population of around 600 people and was granted city status by Queen Victoria on 6 June 1859. Amongst the landmarks are the Castle (which houses the main administrative offices), St James’s Church, the oldest Anglican church in the Southern Hemisphere which dates from 1774, the prison and the post office.
Jacob’s Ladder has 699 steps which were originally constructed in 1829 as part of a funicular railway from Jamestown to Ladder Hill Fort, the main Fort for the island. The machinery and rails were removed in 1871. There is a model of the railway in the excellent museum at the foot of Ladder Hill. Prior to the construction of the railway it is believed that a rope ladder was used by soldiers garrisoned at the fort. Climbers are advised that it is much tougher than it looks but if you succeed you qualify for a certificate.
High Knoll Fort is one of a series of strongholds and military installations constructed during the Napoleonic Wars to protect the island in the event of an invasion. Also known as the Citadel, High Knoll Fort stands at 1916 ft (584m) above sea level on the high ground above Jamestown with commanding views of the island. During the Second Boer War (1899-1902) some of the 6,000 prisoners of war from South Africa were held here.
The Heart-Shaped Waterfall is on land which was originally purchased by France in 1858, along with Longwood House and Napoleon’s Tomb. In 2007 it was transferred to the St Helena National Trust which, with the support of islanders, improved the footpath and refurbished the woodland trail that leads from the Barnes Road, at the southern end of James Valley, up to the base of the waterfall and constructed a viewing platform for hikers.
Distance 1 mile; Difficulty rating 3/10; Allow 1 hour each way.
Napoleon stayed at Briar’s Pavilion for the first few months of his exile on St Helena, whilst work at Longwood House was being completed to make the property secure. Briars Pavilion was in the grounds of an estate in the hands of William Balcombe, an East India Company administrator. Napoleon struck up a friendship with the Balcombe family, particularly his teenage daughter, Lucia Elizabeth (‘Betsy’), much to the disapproval of Sir Hudson Lowe. Governor of St Helena, who suspected William Balcombe of involvement in clandestine correspondence with Paris and manoeuvred to have the family removed from the island.
Napoleon’s tomb is located in the Sane Valley, near Longwood, a place he chose himself. He was interred here after his death in 1821, but in October 1840 his remains were exhumed and repatriated to France with full honours. You can see them at Les Invalides in Paris.
The eastern half of St Helena was once covered with a huge swathe of native forest known as the Great Wood but by the 20th century only a few native gumwood trees survived. In 2000 the Millennium Forest Project was launched. The total land area designated for reforestation now amounts to over 600 acres (250 hectares). Visitors can assist the project by planting a tree.
Diana’s Peak rises 823 metres above sea level and on a clear day the views are fantastic. A number of the island’s endemic plants and species are found here, including tree ferns, the blushing snail and golden sail spider. The walking is not difficult, but it can be a bit slippery. The trail to reach Diana’s Peak goes close to where astronomer Edmund Halley set up an observatory during his stay on the island (1677-78).
Distance 2½ miles; Difficulty rating 5/10; Allow 3 hours in total.
Amongst Napoleon’s entourage on St Helena was his faithful aide-de-camp, Count Henri-Gatien Bertrand and his family. Bertrand had taken part in the Egypt campaign (1798), at Austerlitz (1805) and with great distinction at Leipzig (1813) after which he was given the title Grand Marshal of the Palace. He had accompanied the emperor to Elba in 1814 and took part in the Battle of Waterloo (1815). The house, near Longwood, which was built for Bertrand, has been refurbished in the last few years and has been converted into a guest house and restaurant.
Half Tree Hollow is St Helena’s most populous district with around 22% of the island’s 4500 inhabitants. It is located at the top of Ladder Hill within easy reach of Jamestown and has expanded considerably over the last 30 years, as a satellite town to the capital, where most residents work. The New Apostolic Hall, which was inaugurated in 1994, is the first landmark building that can be seen if arriving by ship.