Precursor to Discovery Up to the early part of the 15th century, no European navigator had sailed further down the west African coast than Cape Bojador, a headland on the northern coast of Western Sahara, about a thousand miles south of Gibraltar, although antiquarian stories told of expeditions that travelled further. For example, Pliny the Elder and Arrian of Nicomedia wrote about the Phoenician navigator, Hanno "the Navigator", who travelled down the west African coastline, possibly as far as the equator, about 500 BC
Discovery and Earliest Years, 1502-1658 Most historical accounts state the island was discovered on 21 May 1502 by the Galician navigator João da Nova sailing at the service of the Portuguese Crown, on his voyage home from India, and that he named it "Santa Helena" after Helena of Constantinople. Given this is the feast day used by the Greek Orthodox Church, it has been argued that the discovery was probably made on 18 August, the feast day used by the Roman Catholic Church.
East India Company Rule, 1658-1815 The idea for the English to make claim to the island was first made in a 1644 pamphlet by Richard Boothby. By 1649, the East India Company ordered all homeward-bound vessels to wait for one another at St Helena and in 1656 onward the Company petitioned the government to send a man-of-war to convoy the fleet home from there. Having been granted a charter to govern the island by the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth Oliver Cromwell in 1657, the following year the Company decided to fortify and colonise St Helena with planters. A fleet commanded by Captain John Dutton (first governor, 1659-1661) in the Marmaduke arrived at St Helena in 1659.
British Crown Rule, the Napoleonic Period, 1815–1821 In 1815 the British government selected Saint Helena as the place of detention of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was brought to the island in October 1815 and lodged at Longwood, where he died on 5 May 1821. During this period the island was strongly garrisoned by regular British regimental troops and by the local St Helena Regiment, with naval shipping circling the island. Agreement was reached that St Helena would remain in the East India Company's possession, with the British government meeting additional costs arising from guarding Napoleon.
East India Company Rule, 1821 - 1834 After Napoleon's death the thousands of temporary visitors were soon withdrawn. The East India Company resumed full control of Saint Helena and life returned to the pre-1815 standards, the fall in population causing a sharp change in the economy. The next governors, Thomas Brooke (temporary governor, 1821–1823) and Alexander Walker (1823–1828), successfully brought the island through this post-Napoleonic period with the opening of a new farmer’s market in Jamestown, the foundation of an Agricultural and Horticultural Society and improvements in education.
British Crown Rule, 1834 - 1981 The British Parliament passed the India Act in 1833, a provision of which transferred control of St Helena from the East India Company to the Crown with effect from 2 April 1834. In practice, the transfer did not take effect until 24 February 1836 when Major-General George Middlemore (1836-1842), the first governor appointed by the British government, arrived with 91st Regiment troops. He summarily dismissed St Helena Regiment and, following orders from London, embarked on a savage drive to cut administrative costs, dismissing most officers previously in the Company employ. This triggered the start of a long-term pattern whereby those who could afford to do so tended to leave the island for better fortunes and opportunities elsewhere. The population was to fall gradually from 6,150 in 1817 to less than 4,000 by 1890. Charles Darwin spent six days of observation on the island in 1836 during his return journey on HMS Beagle.
British Crown Rule, British Dependent Territory, 1981-2002 The British Nationality Act 1981 reclassified St Helena and the other crown colonies as British Dependent Territories. The islanders lost their status as 'Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies' (as defined in the British Nationality Act 1948) and were stripped of their right of abode in Britain. For the next 20 years, many could find only low-paid work with the island government and the only available employment overseas for the islanders was restricted to the Falkland Islands and Ascension Island, a period during which the island was often referred to as the "South Atlantic Alcatraz".
British Crown Rule, British Overseas Territory, 2002-present Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, and the same year the British government published a review of the Dependent Territories. This included a commitment to restore the pre-1981 status for citizenship. This was effected by the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, which restored full passports to the islanders, and renamed the Dependent Territories the British Overseas Territories. The St Helena National Trust was also formed the same year with the aim of promoting the island's unique environmental and culture heritage. A full census in February 1998 showed the total population (including the RMS) was 5,157 persons.


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