Ascension is of volcanic origin and presents a striking and inhospitable appearance from the sea. It has an area of 34 sq miles and consists of about 40 cones, the highest of which is Green Mountain (2,817 ft), conspicuous for the vegetation on its upper slopes in contrast to the lava and clinker of the rest of the island.
Vessels anchor in Clarence Bay about half a mile from Georgetown. Overlooking the settlement is Cross hill (880 ft) surmounted by two guns taken out of HMS Hood. On Cross Hill is the Redpole Monument, a white obelisk which commemorates the death, in 1817, of Commander J.T. Pasley RN of HMS Redpole, a sloop on the then St. Helena Station. At the foot of the hill is Fort Thornton, close to the Tartar Rock, which juts into the sea near the jetty.
Some three miles away to the south is Wideawake Air Field, built by the Americans during the Second World War to enable aircraft to fly from the United States to the battlefields of Northern African via Brazil, Ascension and Liberia. The aerodrome buildings are visible shortly before the vessel reaches the anchorage from South Africa or on leaving it on the outward voyage. The American Forces left the island in 1947. Ascension was discovered by the Portuguese on Ascension Day, 1501. It remained uninhabited until 1815, the year of Napoleon’s arrival at St. Helena, when the British Government took possession of it. In 1821 it was garrisoned by the Royal Marines. Until 1922, when the garrison was withdrawn, the Island was rated as HMS Ascension and was governed by a Naval Officer. Now it is a dependency of St. Helena and is occupied only by employees of Cable and Wireless Ltd., With their families and servants, in all about 175 persons.
Some vegetables are grown on the slopes of Green Mountain; there are a few cattle and plenty of fish, but the inhabitants largely depend upon imported provisions.
The Island is frequented by sea turtles, which go there to lay their eggs and about a hundred turtles are shipped to England each year used to provide Ascension’s only export; but this has ceased. The turtles weigh from 400 to 800 lb each.
Bird life abounds and adjoining the Air Field is Wideawake Fair, the nesting place of thousands of sooty terns (wideawakes). Other sea birds which may be seen are man-of-war birds, gannets and the boatswain bird; and around the vessel are usually shoals of small fish, commonly known as Black Fish.
Ascension has its own issue of postage stamps which may be purchased from officials who come on board or from the Post Office in St. Helena.
Communication with the shore is liable to be interrupted without warning by heavy rollers and passengers may not land without special permission from the Magistrate of the Island and the Master of the vessel.