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St. Helena

( Originally Published 1851 )



The island of St. Helena stands entirely detached from any group, and is about 1200 miles from the nearest land, on the eastern coast of Southern Africa. An imperceptible point in the Atlantic Ocean, this rock is nine leagues in its greatest circumference. Steep shores form for it a natural and nearly impregnable rampart. It is divided into two unequal parts by a chain of mountains intersected by deep valleys. The coast is very barren in appearance, but a rich verdure covers the interior of the island, even to the tops of the mountains, from which springs of pure and wholesome water exude on every side. The cultivation of almost all the fruits and commodities of Europe and Asia succeeds here. The pasturage feeds a great many oxen, sheep and goats, a resource highly valued by navigators.

It has a population of about two thousand per-sons, of which five hundred are whites, and 1,500 are negroes, the garrison not included. A company has recently been formed for fitting out some whale ships from this place.

Jamestown, on the north-west coast, is the only city and port of St. Helena. The approaches are defended by good fortifications. It being the ordinary place of refreshment for ships returning from India, it often presents the appearance of a noisy market place. At the time of its discovery in 1502, the interior was only one large forest, and the gum-tree even grew on the edges of the rocks suspended over the sea. Fernando Lopez, a Portuguese renegado, who in 1513 obtained the favor of living in exile here, first stocked the island with goats, hogs, poultry, and other useful animals. The Portuguese having in time deserted it for their establishments on the southeast coast of Africa, it was taken possession of by the Dutch, and abandoned by them in 1651 for the Cape of Good Hope. The English afterwards established themselves here. It was granted to the East India Company by Charles II., and was the only resting-place in the Atlantic possessed by them for the refreshment of their ships. The island is ten and a half miles long by 1 broad, and about 28 miles in circumference.

The principal plain in the island, called Long-wood, situated in the eastern part, has become celebrated by the residence of Napoleon Bonaparte. The illustrious captive arrived at St. Helena in November, 1815, and died there May 5th, 1821. The spot where he lies ` quietly inurned ' is in a deep valley, surrounded by a small iron railing, and covered with a coarse brown stone, lying about eight inches above the level of the ground, without an inscription. His sepulchre is overhung by three weeping willows of a very large size; and a few yards to the south of it is a spring from which he used to take his water. This interesting spot is distant from Jamestown about two miles and a half, and is approached by an excellent road connecting the two places. The body of Napoleon is deposited in a mahogany coffin, which is placed within three other cases: on the external one is the inscription, General of the French. By his side lies the sword which he wore at Austerlitz.

Recent visiters to Bonaparte's tomb describe the fresh planting of a set of young willows around it, cuttings from the parent trees, by the present governor, as the old ones are fast going to decay Longwood is now a farmhouse, and no part but the limner billiard room remains inhabitable; the other apartments being converted into stables, granaries, &c. The new Longwood House, which is an excellent dwelling, has never been occupied, and is apparently fast falling into ruins.

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