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Saint Helena is an island in the South Atlantic Ocean and a British overseas territory. One of the most isolated islands in the world, St. Helena is Britain's second oldest remaining colony after Bermuda.
Portuguese explorer Joao da Nova discovered Saint Helena in 1502, finding a wealth of good timber and fresh water. Although they founded no permanent settlement on the island, the Portuguese used Saint Helena as a crucial stopping place for ships returning from Asia.
The East India Company
In 1657, Lord Protector of the British Commonwealth Oliver Cromwell granted the East India Company a charter to govern the island of St. Helena. Soon thereafter, the company sent planters and soldiers to settle the island; the Castle of St. John, an imposing stone fort, was constructed to solidify the company's hold on the island. Much as the Portuguese had done, however, the East India Company used St. Helena primarily as a refueling base for its fleet of vessels.
In 1815, the British Government exiled the vanquished Napoleon to St. Helena, hoping that the isolated nature of the island would prevent him from escaping his exile, as he had done from the island of Elba. Napoleon remained on the island until 1821, when he died from gastric cancer.
A Crown Colony
In 1834, the British government transferred control of St. Helena from the East India Company to the Crown. In addition to its continued importance as a naval base, the island became an important exporter of fine, high-grade coffee.
St. Helena Today
As of 2009, St. Helena is officially a British overseas territory, meaning that all residents are accorded full British citizenship rights. A February 2008 census calculated the population of the island---which covers only 162 square miles---at 4,225 people.