St. Helena is of volcanic origin and has an area of 47 sq miles. Except at very few points, which are covered by ruined batteries, the Island is surrounded by sheer cliffs. The highest point is Diana’s Peak, 2,704 ft and the hill which is seen as the vessel approaches the anchorage, crowned with a fort and towering above its surroundings, is High Knoll, 1,900 ft.
Despite St. Helena’s barren appearance from the sea, the interior is beautifully green and contains magnificent scenery. Out of about 4,750 inhabitants approximately 50 are Europeans. The only important industry is the cultivation of flax.
Vessels anchor about 700 yds from the shore and passengers land at the steps below the battery on Munden’s Point. Jamestown, the capital, lies in a narrow ravine between Munden’s Hill and Ladder Hill, and visitors enter it by way of a bridge over a moat and through a portcullised gateway. Buildings of interest in the town are the Castle and St. Jame’s Church. From Jamestown, up Ladder Hill to the old signal station runs the famous Jacob’s Ladder, a formidable stairway ascending 600 ft in 699 steps, so steep as to cause giddiness. The stairway is in constant use by the Islanders as they go to and fro to their villages beyond.
St Helena was uninhabited when discovered by the Portuguese in 1502 and her first resident, Dom Fernando Lopez, landed in 1515. He was a Portuguese renegade, mutilated by having his nose and ears cut off, who escaped from a ship homeward bound from Goa. He hid in the woods rather than return to Portugal. For many years he lived in a cave in Chapel Valley, where Jamestown now stands, disappearing inland when ships called, until the King gave him a safe-conduct to return to Portugal. But soon, at his urgent petition, he was returned to St. Helena where he died in 1545.