St Helena - History detail - Friends of St Helena - St Helena
When St Helena’s was discovered, it was covered with unique indigenous vegetation, such as a remarkable cabbage tree species. The island's hinterland must have been a thick tropical forest but the coastal areas were likely also quite green. The contemporary landscape is very different with widespread bare rock in the lower areas, however inland it is green, mainly because of introduced vegetation. There are no indigenous land mammals, but cattle, cats, dogs, donkeys, goats, mice, rabbits, rats and sheep have been introduced, and native species have been adversely affected as a result. The significant change in landscape must be linked to these introductions. As a result, the string tree (Acalypha rubrinervis) and the St Helena olive (Nesiota elliptica) are now extinct, and many of the other endemic plants are threatened with extinction.
There are several rocks and islets off the coast, including: Castle Rock, Speery Island, the Needle, Lower Black Rock, Upper Black Rock (South), Bird Island (Southwest), Black Rock, Thompson's Valley Island, Peaked Island, Egg Island, Lady's Chair, Lighter Rock (West), Long Ledge (Northwest), Shore Island, George Island, Rough Rock Island, Flat Rock (East), the Buoys, Sandy Bay Island, the Chimney, White Bird Island and Frightus Rock (Southeast), all of which are within one kilometre (0.62 miles) of the shore.
Uninhabited when first found by the Portuguese in 1502, Saint Helena was garrisoned by Britain during the 17th century (to be utilised as a refreshment station for ships going to and from the East). It gained fame as the place of Napoleon Bonaparte's exile, from 1815 until his death in 1821, but its importance as a port of call declined after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Saint Helena has three smaller dependencies: Ascension Island is the site of a US Air Force auxiliary airfield; Tristan da Cunha has a very small community reliant on fishing for income; Gough Island has a meteorological station.
Saint Helena's most well-known resident, of course, was Napoleon, who was sent there by the British. Apparently Elba was not far enough away. He died there, and you can visit his amazing gravesite in a flower-laden glade, but his remains were exhumed and are now at Les Invalides in Paris. You can visit his two residences on the island. He stayed at The Briars for about two months, and lived the rest of his life in a respectable house in Longwood. Both can be visited by appointment.