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Time-Lapse St Helena: The Firewood Gatherer


Time-Lapse is a short story feature on the blog designed to capture segments of time, life and culture through stories told by the people of St Helena. This time-lapse post is inspired by a wonderful photograph taken by Sheila Cook.

This photo of Cheryl, the firewood gatherer, was taken in the early 80s by Sheila Cook with a Pentax SLR – well before the days of digital!  Cheryl was walking near Longwood Gate, homeward bound carrying a load of firewood.  Sheila uploaded it and others onto a St Helena community Facebook page in March 2017 which took a few people down memory lane.  Including Cheryl.

Time-lapse St Helena: The Firewood Gatherer

Time-lapse St Helena: The Firewood Gatherer
Cheryl Williams in Longwood, (1979-80), photographed by Sheila Cook


“That picture was taken 33 years ago, I was 20 then.  In those days you had to go look for small wood for the next morning so you could get up and light the fire for tea or whatever.  It was a must.  Then in the afternoons that would be your chore.  You’d get the animal’s feed, go for wood and feed the animals; it was something we had to do.

“I used to chop the wood with a sword.  If I saw a piece of big wood, I’d hide it for the next day and bring a saw as well.  That big wood would cook dinner.  But the little wood, like I had (in the photo,) was just for the tea water in the mornings.

“Then by the end of the week when you’re thinking about going into town on a Saturday night you’d get £2.50 put in your hand.  That was a lot of money.  Dan Francis those days used to charge 50 pence to come home, so we used to walk town on a Saturday afternoon and pay 50 pence for a ride back that night.

“We used to go to the dance in the community centre with the ‘Star Gazers’ band.  Those days the disco was open down the Consulate Cellar.  The other bars, White Horse and The Standard was strictly for older people.  So from the disco we would go to the community centre until 1 o’clock.  Then all climb into the back of Mr Dan Francis’ blue van.”

Time-lapse St Helena: The Firewood Gatherer

Time-lapse St Helena: The Firewood Gatherer
Cheryl Williams in Longwood today (2017) walking in the same spot where she was photographed carrying firewood by Sheila Cook all those years ago.


“Sunday mornings you’d get your dose of Castor Oil before breakfast, then after your hot tea you’d be running to the toilet!

“Mind you, there was no flush toilet!  Earth toilet.  That was another chore. Everybody took turns to empty the toilet.  Getting up at 5 o’clock mornings with the torch and going with the bucket to empty into a hole you’d just dug.  Bury it and wash the bucket out.  There used to be something called ‘chemical’ to put in.  It was awful and the smell would get on your clothes.  Public Health issued it once a month.

“You know, all those kinds of chores is what we had to do.  Now it’s so much easier but life is much harder.  Even prices and stuff like that.

“Very few people have wood stoves now.  Wood is just as expensive as electricity and gas I think.  I myself don’t have one.

“I used to live with my grandparents because my mother died.

“I remember going for the rations (food shopping) and you had to bring your own bowl to buy a pound of Blue Band margarine or even half pound of jam.  Flour wasn’t pre-packed, we used cloth bags, same for rice and sugar.  And the only milk we used to see was the tin Carnation and sweetened milk.

“Sometimes when there was nothing else my Nanna used to put sweetened milk on bread so she could send us to school with something to eat.

“That photo, just proves that we didn’t have easy times, but those were good days, there was no stress over this and that.  It wasn’t hard work to us because we were used to it.  That work didn’t hurt me, it made me stronger.”

The firewood gatherer

Time-lapse St Helena: The Firewood Gatherer
Cheryl Williams in Longwood today (2017) recalling life back when gathering firewood was part of the daily chores.


  • paul alexander

    September 11, 2017

    brilliant conceptual article. LOOKING forward to a few more time lapses

  • Ivan Gough

    September 10, 2017

    Can relate entirely to Cheryl’s story with the addition of having to walk the cattle to the pasture every morning before going to school and collect in the evening. Even that was not the end of the average day!

  • Shirley Gough

    September 10, 2017

    Thanks for sharing Cheryl’s story. We all had to do the same thing when growing up!I always tell my Grand children about how we had to work and I think this is what the generation of today needs!

  • sheila cook

    September 7, 2017

    So pleased the photo stirred a few memories. For those people who may be wondering what the person seated in the background is doing: she is Pauline Hole (wife of the attorney general at the time). We were with Mrs Guy (wife of the governor) on a painting trip to Longwood that morning..

  • Cilla

    September 7, 2017

    Brings back memories of collecting firewood from plantation forest with my sister bea and lovely friend dula. i learnt all the stuff a teenager should and should not know. but my love for plantation forest remains. a touching insight into real island life.

  • Chris Hillman

    September 7, 2017

    Wonderful to see these history items through the eyes of the people on the ground! On the Island it always struck me that the bush is getting thicker and thicker because nowadays no animals move through it feeding – they all have to be fenced in – and very few people are moving through to collect firewood either – they now use gas, kerosene or electricity – all imported. Could make the bush a major fire risk in very dry years. Beware!Keep up the brilliant work Darrinand Sharon.


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