The island was uninhabited when discovered by the Portuguese in 1502. One of the most isolated islands in the world, it was for centuries an important stopover for ships sailing to Europe from Asia and South Africa. The British also used the island as a place of exile, most notably for Napoleon I, Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo and more than 5,000 Boer prisoners. Saint Helena is Britain's second oldest remaining colony (now termed overseas territory), after Bermuda.
Most historical accounts state that the island was discovered on 21 May 1502 by the Galician navigator João da Nova sailing at the service of the Portuguese Crown, and that he named it "Santa Helena" after Helena of Constantinople. Another theory holds that the island found by De Nova was actually Tristan da Cunha, 2,430 kilometres (1,510 mi) to the south, and that Saint Helena was discovered by some of the ships attached to the squadron of Estêvão da Gama expedition on 30 July 1503.
Geography, flora and fauna
Located in the South Atlantic Ocean, more than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) from the nearest major landmass, Saint Helena is one of the most remote places in the world. The nearest port on the continent is Namibe in Southern Angola, the nearest international airport the Quatro de Fevereiro Airport of Angola's capital Luanda. The island is associated with two other isolated islands in the southern Atlantic, also British territories: Ascension Island about 1,300 kilometres (810 mi) due northwest in more equatorial waters and Tristan da Cunha, which is well outside the tropics 2,430 kilometres (1,510 mi) to the south. The island is situated in the Western Hemisphere and has the same longitude as Cornwall in the United Kingdom.
Most resident belong to the Anglican Communion and are members of the Diocese of St Helena, which has its own bishop and includes Ascension Island. The 150th anniversary of the diocese was celebrated in June 2009. Other Christian denominations on the island include: Roman Catholic (since 1852), Salvation Army (since 1884), Baptist (since 1845), and, in more recent times, Seventh-day Adventist (since 1949), New Apostolic, and Jehovah's Witnesses (one out of every 35 residents is one of Jehovah's Witnesses, the highest ratio in the world). The Baha'i Faith has also been represented on the island since 1954.
The island had a monocrop economy until 1966, based on the cultivation and processing of New Zealand flax for rope and string. St Helena's economy is now weak, and is almost entirely sustained by aid from the British government. The public sector dominates the economy, accounting for about 50% of gross domestic product. Inflation was running at 4% in 2005. There have been increases in the cost of fuel, power and all imported goods.
The tourist industry is heavily based on the promotion of Napoleon's imprisonment. A golf course also exists and the possibility for sportfishing tourism is great. Three hotels operate on the island but since the arrival of tourists is directly linked to the arrival and departure schedule of the RMS (Royal Mail Ship), occupancy levels are very low at about 10%. Some 1,180 short- and long-term visitors arrived on the island in 2005.
Saint Helena produces what is said to be the most expensive coffee in the world. It also produces and exports Tungi Spirit, made from the fruit of the prickly or cactus pears, Opuntia ficus-indica ("Tungi" is the local St Helenian name for the plant). Ascension Island, Tristan da Cunha and Saint Helena all issue their own postage stamps which provide a significant income.
Saint Helena Tourist Attractions
Tristan da Cunha