Jurisdiction Project

Saint Helena

Saint Helena is an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. The island of St Helena has two dependencies, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, which consists of Tristan da Cunha, Gough Island, Inaccessible Island, and the Nightingale Islands. Located in the South Atlantic, these islands are among the most isolated inhabited locations in the world. Despite their poor economy and considerable geographic distance from the UK, the islands maintain a strong British sense of identity.

Land: St Helena is 122 sq. km (47 sq. mi.), Ascension Island is 90 sq. km (34.75 sq. mi.), and Tristan da Cunha is 98 sq. km (37.84 sq. mi.). Highest elevation in the group of islands is 2,060 m on Tristan da Cunha. The highest elevation on Ascension Island is 858.6 m, and on St Helena 818 m

St Helena is located in the South Atlantic Ocean, 1,950 km (1,212 mi.) off the Southwest coast of Africa, and 2,900 km (1,800 mi.) off South America. 5 43 West, 15 56 South. Ascension Island is located 1,120 km (696 mi.) northwest of St Helena and Tristan da Cunha is located 2,334 km (1,450 mi.) to the South. GMT (year round).

Latitude and Longitude:
5 43 West, 15 56 South.

Time Zone:

Total Land Area:


St. Helena enjoys a mild sub-tropical climate, cooled by the Southeastern trade winds. Average temperature of 20-25° Celsius/summer, 13-19° Celsius/winter. Tristan da Cunha has a temperate climate with rapid changes and a wide temperature ranging from 4-26° Celsius. It averages 66 inches of rain. Ascension averages 20-31° Celsius at sea level, with the weather on Green Mountain approximately 10° Celsius lower. It experiences showers throughout the year, with heavier rains occurring January through April.

Natural Resources:
Fish, coffee


Total GDP:
2000 10,100,000.00 USD

Per Capita GDP:

% of GDP per Sector:
  Primary Secondary Tertiary
1987 6% 48% 46%

% of Population Employed by Sector
  Primary Secondary Tertiary

External Aid/Remittances:
St Helena External Revenue (2002/3): Budgetary Aid from UK: £ 6,492,000; Shipping Aid from UK: £ 2,262,000; Development Assistance from UK: £ 5,217,000; UN Development Programme: £ 246,000; European Development Fund: £ 122,000; Total Aid for 2002/3 = £14,339,000. Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha are economically self-sufficient, and do not receive external aid.

Real Growth Rate: The GDP has –2% growth rate average over the five years between 1998-2003. The St Helena economy is highly dependent on aid from the United Kingdom, which accounts for approximately one-third of its annual budget and the vast majority of its investment capital. When this subsidy began to drop in the 1990s, this led the island government, which is its dominant employer, to cut back. Consequently, by 1997 the unemployment rate reached 20%. This situation was aggravated by the residents’ inability to live or seek employment in the United Kingdom, due to the erosion of rights for citizens of Overseas Territories that began with the Commonwealth Immigration Act 1962 and culminating with the 1981 British Nationality Act. Unable to find work at home or to search in the UK, the alternative of finding work in the Falkland Islands and Ascension Island attracted many Saints. As a result of a substantial lobby (see Citizenship Commission for further details), in 2002 St Helena’s residents were once again granted the right to live and work in the UK. Today, approximately one-third of Saints are employed overseas. This has had a major impact on the island economy, and is the major influence on why the unemployment rate has levelled off. The lack of outside investment in the island remains a going concern. A major stumbling block is that transportation to St Helena remains extremely difficult. While many islands focus energy on the tourism sector, the prospect of St Helena becoming a major destination is quite unlikely due to the difficulty of transportation – in 2003 only 2,959 tourists landed on its shores. One solution often bandied about is that of establishing an airport, a cause led by the St Helena Leisure Corporation (SHELCO). An independent research and development company focused solely on bringing an airport to the island, it has spent over £2 million on studies since 1999. The government has followed suit with its own studies and consultations, but to date there is little tangible progress.

Labour Force:
1998 3,500

Year: Unemployment Rate (% of pop.)
2001 12.7%
1998 18.1%
1997 20%

Construction, crafts, fishing. Total GDP (2000/1): £7.080 million ($US 10.1 million). GDP (1987): Agriculture and fishing 6%, industry (mainly construction) 48%, services 46%. More recent or detailed figures are unavailable.

Niche Industry:
Premium coffee.



Imports and Exports:

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Partners Outside EU:
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Number of Airports:
There is no airport on St Helena island, or Tristan da Cunha. Ascension Island has an airstrip under the control of United States Space Command. Runway is 3,054 x 46 m (10,019 x 150 ft). Military flights between Brize Norton (Oxford, UK) and Ascension Island occur 6-7 times/month, and 20 seats are reserved on each flight for civilians. These flights are booked through Andrew Weir Shipping, Ltd.

Number of Main Ports:
RMS St Helena, a 7,000 tonne vessel with room for 125 passengers is the major contact with the outside world. The ship visits St Helena and Ascension Island six times a year. St Helena is five days’ sailing from Cape Town. St Helena is also visited on occasion by private yachts, although it lacks a proper harbour facility at Jamestown, where large ships must anchor and have their contents ferried inshore aboard smaller boats. Most of Tristan da Cunha’s cargo and mail is brought via fishing vessels, which arrive 6 times/year, as well as the RMS St Helena and the South African Antarctic survey ship, Agulhas, which each visit once a year.



No public transit. Car rentals, licensed taxis, and guided tours are available on St Helena. In 2000 there was a total of 198 km of roadways (St Helena 118 km paved, 20 km unpaved; Ascension Island 40 km paved; Tristan da Cunha 10 km paved, 10 km unpaved). Car rentals also available from Tourist Office on Ascension Island.


Other Forms of Transportation:

Economic Zones:
The economy is open to investment. However, given its isolation and the lack of skilled workers, it is very difficult to attract investment. The St Helena Business Development Agency, a quasi-autonomous NGO, was established in 1995 in order to promote local commercial development.

Energy Policy:

Year Total Energy Production (Mwh) Thermic (Mwh) Geothermic (Mwh) Other (Mwh) Total Energy Consumption (Mwh) Domestic (Mwh) Commercial (Mwh) Public Service (Mwh) Industry (Mwh) Public Lighting (Mwh)


Official Currency:
St Helenian pound (SHP)

Banking and Insurance:
Number of Banks and Credit Unions:
Number of Agricultural Credit Unions:
Number of Insurance Companies:

 The SHP is on par with the British pound sterling. Most foreign currencies can be exchanged at the Department of Finance Cash Office in Jamestown. Travelers cheques can be cashed at the Department of Finance – there is a 1% commission charge, and a limit of 3 cheques. Foreign currency may also be exchanged while aboard the RMS St Helena, with a 1% commission charged.

Financial Services:
The Bank of Saint Helena, created April 2004. Has two branches, one in Jamestown, and one on Ascension Island. Both provided limited services. For example, the branch on Ascension Island does not have cheque withdrawal facilities, so customers can only withdraw cash. It only accepts cash deposits, and does not process credit cards. A wide range of insurance products are available from Solomon & Company, by way of their longstanding relationship with Royal and SunAlliance.

While the delivery of mail is limited to the infrequent schedule of visiting ships, it has full telecommunications capabilities and internet access through the Cable & Wireless company. This company also introduced television to the island in 1995, providing access to 3 channels (all external). St Helena has a weekly newspaper and a radio station, both run by the government-subsidized St Helena News Media Services. Ascension Island also has a weekly newspaper. Ascension Island is a major coaxial submarine cable relay point.

Public Ownership:
The government is a major force in the St Helena economy. Of the 2,139 employed in 1999-2000, 1,334, or 62%, worked for the government. The dominant company on the island, Solomon and Company, has 62.5% of its shares held by the government. This company is involved in such diverse areas as livestock farming, electrical and refrigerator services, a variety of retail outlets, fuel services, and auto shop, as well as insurance and shipping agent services. The government is in the process of privatizing Solomon and Company, and the company aims to be publicly owned within 5 years. Many other businesses are subsidised by the government.

Land Use:
Freehold – private land, ownership transferable. There is one National Park: Diana’s Peak National Park (81 hectares). There are also various ordinances in place to protect St Helena’s 50 endemic plant species, 40 of which are threatened with extinction, and the approximately 300 species of endemic invertebrates. 40% of Tristan da Cunha’s total landmass is under environmental protection. Gough Island is a World Heritage site, and Inaccessible Island is a nature reserve. Ascension Island has 2 endemic bird and 5 endemic plant species. There is a proposal to turn Green Mountain into Ascension’s first National Park. Visitors must gain permission from the respective Administrators prior to entering either Tristan da Cunha or Ascension Island; in order to do so they must provide proof of medical insurance that covers medical evacuations, as well as proof of ample finances while visiting, and proof of a return ticket off-island. Within Tristan da Cunha, no one is allowed to visit the nature reserves of Gough or Inaccessible Islands.

St Helena is reliant on food imports from United Kingdom and South Africa. Residents of Tristan da Cunha grow much of their own food, although each family is limited to 2 cows and 7 sheep in order to conserve the limited grazing land.

Marine Activity:

Maritime claims: 12 nautical miles. Exclusive fishing zone: 200 nautical miles

Marine Life:

Critical Issues:
Jobs do not tend to pay well on the island of St Helena. Consequently staff attrition is a major problem in both public and private sectors as many locals leave posts, even skilled ones, for better-paying menial jobs elsewhere. Critical Needs: Employment, outside investment, improved external transportation, inadequate harbours and anchorages.



Political System:
Parliamentary democracy. No ministerial system. St Helena Government: As a British Overseas Territory, the St Helena government is solely responsible for internal matters. International affairs and defence are handled by Great Britain. St Helena’s government consists of two branches, the legislative and the executive. The Legislative Council includes three ex officio members (the Chief Secretary, the Financial Secretary, and the non-voting Attorney General), twelve members that are elected by the population every four years, and the Speaker, who is elected by the Legislative Council. The Speaker, who is charged with maintaining order of business, does not vote unless there is a tie. The purpose of the Legislative Council, according to constitution, is limited to passing legislation. However, they also handle questions and motions. It also meets regularly to brief Councillors and to hear their views. Executive Council consists of the same three ex officio members as Legislative Council, and five members nominated and elected by the Legislative Council. The Governor is obliged to consult Executive Council and must act on their advice except when exercising executive authority over the Dependencies (Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha) or in the administration of public service. Each of the five elected members of Executive Council chair a Council Committee. As there is no ministerial system, Council Committees regulate and manage government business. The five major departments of St Helena (Agriculture and Natural Resources, Education, Employment and Social Service, Public Health, Public Works and Services) all report to a Council Committee. Council Committees are not responsible for running departments on a day-to-day basis; rather, they set policy, which must be implemented by public officers. The Council Committees are composed of a mix of elected members and public officers. The Chief Secretary is Governor’s major policy advisor, responsible for conduct of government business. Office of the Chief Secretary is headed by Deputy Secretary. It advises and supports Chief Secretary. Office of the Chief Secretary also advises and provides support to Executive Council, Legislative Council, various government departments, potential investors, private sector, general public, and the Statutory Boards and Committees. The Governor of St Helena appoints an Administrator to represent him in each of the dependencies. On Tristan da Cunha the Administrator acts as head of government, but must act upon the advice of the 11 member Island Council. 8 of the Councillors are elected via general election, the other 3 Councillors are appointed. Since November 2002, the Administrator of Ascension Island has been head of a local council. Legal System: The dependencies have their own police forces operating under the umbrella of the St Helena Police Force. 3 courts preside in St Helena: the Magistrates Court, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal. There is also a procedure to appeal to the Privy Council of England and Wales. On Ascension Island cases are handled promptly, with the police inspector standing as the public prosecutor and the defendant usually represented by a lay person. Cases are heard by two justices of the peace, sitting with the Chief Magistrate (which is one of the Administrator’s various roles). More serious cases and appeals heard by the Circuit Judge when he is in St Helena every 6 months. On Tristan da Cunha the Administrator also acts as the Magistrate when the need arises.

Political Parties:
As there are no political parties on St Helena, candidates run as independents. St Helena’s 12 Legislative Councillors are elected every 4 years. The 8 elected councillors on Tristan da Cunha are selected in a general election held every 3 years.

Important Legislation:
British Overseas Territories Act, 26 February 2002: Restored British citizenship rights to citizens of British Overseas Territories. Consequently allows right of entry and to work in Britain. Wideawake Agreement, 1 October 2003: Agreement between United Kingdom and United States opening Wideawake Airfield on Ascension Island to civilian charter traffic. Previously only military traffic permitted. International treaties handled by Britain.

Principal Taxes:

Associated Power:
United Kingdom

In 1673 King Charles II issued a Royal Charter granting full benefits of British citizenship to citizens of St Helena. This right began to wither with The Commonwealth Immigration Act 1962, which removed their right to abode in the United Kingdom, although they were still termed citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies. This process culminated in the 1981 British Nationality Act, which removed the previously held rights for all citizens in British Dependent Territories. As such, St Helena’s residents were no longer able to live or seek work in Britain. This is a matter of grave concern on St Helena because of its high level of unemployment. The only place its residents had free entry to seek work in was the Falkland Islands. In 1992 the Synod of the Anglican Church on St Helena passed a resolution to support the “restoration of full rights of citizenship of those British subjects who are Saint Helenian.” The Bishop’s Commission, charged with researching the history of St Helena’s citizenship, was formed to further this cause. Findings were compiled into a booklet and presented to the Bishop at a special church service 3 March 1996. The group was subsequently re-designated the Citizenship Commission and included wider spectrum of interested parties. Had 13 members, including Speaker and two elected members of Legislative Council. More recently, a UK-based branch has formed. Was self-financed through popular support of locals. Based argument on guarantee of full citizenship in 1673 Royal Charter. In 1999 UK government published White Paper on the Overseas Territories. It recognized Commission’s work, and promised full British citizenship would be granted to any Dependent Territory citizens that desired it. This was followed by the 2002 British Overseas Territories Act, which granted the people of St Helena the rights of full British citizenship, including the right to live and work there.



Population (by year): St Helena: 4,186 (2003); 5,157 (1998); 5,270 (1994). Ascension Island: 1,018 (2003). Tristan da Cunha: 276 (2003). Population (by age)(2004): <15: 1,399; 15-64: 5,298; >65: 718.

Island Area (km sq.) Population % of Total Population
Ascension 90 1,018 18.5%
Tristan da Cunha 98 276 5.1%
Saint Helena 122 4,186 76.4%

Year Resident Population

Age of Population: 0-14 15-24 25-49 50-64 65 and up
2004 1399 0 0 0 718


The St Helena population is rapidly decreasing, while its dependencies stay relatively the same.

Crude Birth Rate:
2004 12.68%

Life Expedctancy:

Crude Death Rate:
2004 6.47%

British, African, Asian

Class Division:


Anglican (majority), Baha’i, Baptist, Jehovah’s Witness, New Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Salvation Army, Seventh Day Adventist

 97 % (1998)

Education System:
On St Helena education is provided free between ages 4 and 18; school attendance is compulsory between ages 5 and 15. Based on British system and curriculum; however, curriculum is formulated on St Helena according to local needs and culture. There are three First Schools on the island, which handle nursery school for ages 3 to 4, and proper schooling for those 4-7. There are two middle schools, which cover ages 7 to 11. In St. Paul’s there is an amalgamated school that handles students from 3 to 11. There is one high school that handles education from ages 11 to 18. Teachers are trained at the Teacher Education Centre in Jamestown. For further education, students must travel to the United Kingdom or South Africa. On Ascension Island education is provided for all children between the ages of 5-16; likewise, nursery school is provided for those as young as 3. These services are provided at the Two Boats School. A new plan allows select students from Ascension to Attend Chichester College in the UK for free. There are also plans underway to expand the scope of free education from 3-18. Tristan da Cunha also provides free education from 3-15 at its single school, with school being compulsory from 5-15.

Total Pre-schools:()
Total Primary Schools  
First Level:
Second Level:
Third Level:
Total Secondary Schools:
Total Professional Schools


Number of Schools per Island:


Students Enrolled:


Medical Services:
The main health care facility is the General Hospital in Jamestown. Capable of most emergency and elective care, it has 58 beds. More sophisticated treatment is referred to South Africa or Britain. Outpatient services are provided in 6 clinics across the island; likewise, there is a portable radiology service that travels the island. Dental services are provided in a unit located beside the hospital. The government operates a 39-bed home for elderly that do not require fulltime-nursing care. Two other facilities house those with mental and physical disabilities. Health care is free for islanders up to the age of 16 on St Helena, and it is heavily subsidised for all other residents. There is a separate health care system in the two dependencies. Both provide free health care to their residents. Ascension Island has a 15 bed hospital with 2 doctors. Medical evacuations are made to the United Kingdom by RAF when services/diagnosis are unavailable, with the medical expense covered by the employer or insurance. Tristan da Cunha has a local hospital with 1 doctor, 4 nurses, and a part-time midwife. Medical evacuations are much more difficult to arrange here, and consists of contacting nearby ocean vessels which are in turn asked to transport the person in question to Cape Town.


 Discovered by a Portuguese mariner in 1502, the island was used as a victual station on return passage from East India by Portuguese, Dutch and English sailors. Formally claimed by the Dutch in 1633, their plans to fortify the island were never acted upon. In 1658 the East India Company of England decided to fortify and settle St Helena. Arrived following year with 400 men, including soldiers and planters, aiming to develop St Helena as a permanent base for supplying passing ships. First settled by Europeans (primarily British), their numbers were augmented by slaves from Madagascar, East Indies, and China. Formally granted to East India Company in 1673, and its ownership continued until 1834, when the island became a Crown colony. Ascension Island became a dependency of Saint Helena in 1922, and Tristan da Cunha in 1938. Historically, Saint Helena’s economy has been closely linked to the shipping industry, providing supplies to ships as they passed by. For example, in 1860 1,044 ships stopped on the island. The invention of steam engines, and later the creation of Suez Canal, led to a dramatic halt in visitations to the island. Consequently the St Helena economy collapsed. The flax industry emerged as a leading employer on St Helena beginning the early 1900s, but this collapsed in the second half of the twentieth century. Since then the island economy has been largely reliant on aid from the United Kingdom.


Recent Significant Events:

Music, Dance, Handicraft and Patrimony:


“About Ascension Island,” Ascension Island Government. Retrieved from http://www.ascension-island.gov.ac/ascension.htm December 12, 2004. “About the Administrator,” Ascension Island Government. Retrieved from http://www.ascension-island.gov.ac/administrator.htm December 12, 2004. “Ascension Aux AF,” WorldAeroData.Com. Retrieved from http://worldaerodata.com/wad.cgi?airport=wideawake January 17, 2005. Ascension Conservation. Retrieved from http://www.ascensionconservation.org.ac/index.htm December 8, 2004. “Ascension Island Police,” Ascension Island Government. Retrieved from http://www.ascension-island.gov.ac/police.htm December 12, 2004. “Ascension Island,” Saint Helena. Retrieved from http://geosciences.ou.edu/~bweaver/Ascension/ai.htm November 17, 2004. “Ascension Island Savings Bank,” Ascension Island Government. Retrieved from http://www.ascension-island.gov.ac/bank.htm December 12, 2004. Bank of Saint Helena. Retrieved from http://www.sainthelenabank.co.sh/ December 14, 2004. Bannister, Simon and Angela Wiggesworth, “Saints on the March,” Geographical, 0016741X, June 1998, Vol. 70, Issue 6. Retrieved from database: Canadian Business and Current Affairs, January 16, 2005. “British Overseas Territory Act 2002,” Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. Retrieved from www.uk-legislation.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts2002/20020008.htm November 16, 2004. “Commerce,” St Helena Development Agency. Retrieved from http://www.shda.helanta.sh/Facts/commerce.htm November 14, 2004. “Country Profiles [Saint Helena],” Foreign & Commonwealth Office Country Profiles. Retrieved from http://www.fco.gov.uk/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1007029394365&a=KCountryProfile&aid=1018965250019 November 13, 2004. “Frequently Asked Questions,” St Helena Tourism. Retrieved from http://www.sthelenatourism.com/FFfaq.shtml November 15, 2004. “General Info,” St Helena Tourism. Retrieved from http://www.sthelenatourism.com/GIdemography.shtml November 15, 2004. Helanta ISP [Cable & Wireless]. Retrieved from www.cwsthelena.sh/ November 16, 2004. “National Park Proposal,” Ascension Conservation. Retrieved from http://www.ascensionconservation.org.ac/HTML/National_park_01.htm January 6, 2005. Obsidian Group Ltd. Retrieved from http://www.obsidian.co.ac/ November 17, 2004. Romey, William D. “Stop off at Tristan da Cunha,” Focus, 00155004, Summer 1998, Vol. 45, Issue 2. Retrieved from database: Canadian Business and Current Affairs, January 18, 2005. Royal Mail Ship St Helena. Retrieved from http://www.rms-st-helena.com/ November 16, 2004. Royle, Stephen A. A Geography of Islands: Small island insularity. New York: Routledge, 2001. “Saint Helena,” CIA – The World Factbook. Retrieved from www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/sh.html November 10, 2004. Saint Helena Institute. Retrieved from http://website.lineone.net/~sthelena/ November 13, 2004. Saint Helena – The Island in the South Atlantic Ocean. Retrieved from www.sthelena.se November 10, 2004. Saint Helena: The Official Government Website. Retrieved from www.sainthelena.gov.sh/ November 10, 2004. “St Helena & Dependencies Single Programming Document & Indicative Programme 2004-2007,” European Union. Retrieved from http://europa.eu.int/comm/development/body/csp_rsp/print/hel_spd_en.pdf November 19, 2004. St Helena Development Agency. Retrieved from http://www.shda.helanta.sh/ November 15, 2004. St Helena Education Department. Retrieved from http://www.education.gov.sh/ November 16, 2004. “St Helena Environmental Charter,” Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Retrieved from www.fco.gov.uk/Files/KFile/sthelenacharter,0.gif November 17, 2004. “St. Helena: Introduction of Air Access, Outline Proposal to the Government of St Helena,” St Helena Leisure Corporation Limited, 2 February 2004. Retrieved from http://www.shelco.sh/shelco_qa.pdf November 17, 2004. St Helena National Trust. Retrieved from http://www.sthelenanattrust.org/ November 16, 2004. St Helena News Media Services. Retrieved from www.news.co.sh November 17, 2004. The Islander [Ascension Island Newspaper]. Retrieved from http://www.the-islander.org.ac/November 18, 2004. “Tristan da Cunha,” Saint Helena. Retrieved from http://geosciences.ou.edu/~bweaver/Ascension/tdc.htm November 17, 2004. Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic Ocean: The Official Website. Retrieved from http://website.lineone.net/~sthelena/tristaninfo.htm December 22, 2004. Two Boats School. Retrieved from http://www.tbs.edu.ac/Home.htm December 12, 2004. “Visiting Ascension Island,” Ascension Island Government. Retrieved from http://www.ascension-island.gov.ac/visitors.htm December 12, 2004. “Written Ministerial Statements,” United Kingdom Parliament. Retrieved from http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200203/cmhansrd/vo031112/wmstext/31112m01.htm January 17, 2005.


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