St Helena was discovered on 21 May 1502 and since then has been fought over among nations, and drawn and exiled many remarkable people, including Charles Darwin, Napoleon Bonaparte, Dinizulu kaCetshwayo, Boer Prisoners of War, many captains of the seas and even a renowned astronomer.


1502: St Helena was discovered by Portuguese navigator Juan da Nova on 21 May, and named the island in honour of Emperor Constantine's mother, Saint Helena, to mark her birthday.  

1513: The Island’s first resident, Dom Fernão Lopez, called St Helena home having been marooned for becoming a traitor in India.

1588: Thomas Cavendish became the first Englishman known to have visited the Island during his first attempt to circumnavigate the world. He stayed for 12 days and described the valley (initially called Chapel Valley) where the Island’s capital Jamestown is situated.

1633: The Dutch took possession of the Island but abandoned it in 1651 when they settled in the Cape of Good Hope.

1659: St Helena appointed its first Governor, Captain John Dutton under the English East India Company who built the first settlement in James' Valley.  In 1661, a Royal Charter was issued, giving the East India Company the sole right to fortify and colonize the island "in such legal and reasonable manner the said Governor and Company should see fit".

1673: The Island was captured by the Dutch on 1st January and retaken by Sir Richard Munden a few months later. New policies were instituted for the conduct of Island affairs under a new charter granted by Charles II.

1676: English astronomer Edmund Halley arrived on the Island to observe the transit of Mercury and Venus and the positions of 341 stars in the Southern hemisphere.

1775: Captain Cook visited the Island on his second circumnavigation of the world.

1815: Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled in St Helena by the British government in October 1815 and lodged at Longwood House, where he died six years later in May 1821, still a prisoner. During this period the island was strongly garrisoned by the regular British regimental troops, local St Helena Regiment troops and naval shipping circling the island.  Agreement was reached that St Helena would remain in the East India Company's possession, the British government meeting additional costs arising from guarding Napoleon and the East India Company.

1834: Administration was transferred to the British Government after 162 years under the East India Company.

1869: St Helena's importance as a port of call greatly diminished with the first steamships and the opening of the Suez Canal.

1890: Chief Dinizulu, king of the Zulu nation, began his seven year confinement on St Helena as punishment for leading a Zulu army against the British from 1883 to 1884.

1900: General Cronje and 514 other Boer prisoners were sent to St Helena.  The last group of Boer prisoners arrived in 1902, making a total of 6,000.  All Boer prisoners departed in 1903.

1906: Withdrawal of the British Army garrison, causing much unemployment and financial hardship on the remaining population.

1922: The first motor car – an Austin Seven – was brought to the island.

1968: First General Election held.

1981: St Helena was reclassified at a British Dependent Territory, along with other crown colonies, under The British Nationality Act. Consequently the ‘Saints’ lost their status as citizens of the United Kingdom (as defined in the British Nationality Act 1948).

1982: RMS St. Helena was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence to help in support of the Falklands Conflict, and sailed south with the entire crew volunteering for duty.  Prince Andrew began his relationship with St Helena in 1984 with a visit to the island to mark the Island celebrating 150 years under The Crown.  

1989: Prince Andrew launched the replacement RMS St. Helena at Aberdeen.

1989: The St Helena Constitution took effect and provided that the Island would be governed by a Governor and Commander-in-Chief, and an Executive and Legislative Council.  

2002: On 21 May, British citizenship was restored to ‘The Saints’.  The St Helena National Trust was also launched