From Church to the Court House – All Part of the Tour

Basil briefing the Voyager tour party.

Basil briefing the Voyager tour party.

THE JAMESTOWN TOUR | Sharon Henry

Did you know, in her heyday St Helena welcomed over 1,000 visiting ships in a year? Or, that the ‘picture’ above the Arch is the Coat of Arms of the English East India Company who colonised and governed the island from 1659 – 1834? These tasty trivia morsels are dispensed to 19 attentive passengers, fresh off the cruise ship MV Voyager that is visiting for the day. Basil George of Magma Way Tours is the guide on the historic Jamestown walk.

Shading under wide brimmed hats the tour party troop behind Basil on the wharf, sea flat and glossy in the background. “You know, I’m the first face of St Helena that you see,” says Basil after introducing me to the party. “So anybody coming behind can only be an improvement!” Such is Basil’s humour. His happy nature is infectious and everyone soon joins in with the banter.

The Arch, entrance to Jamestown bearing the East India coat of arms.

The Arch, entrance to Jamestown bearing the English East India Company’s coat of arms.

A photo op from on top of the Arch, looking into the Grand Parade Square.

A photo op from on top of the Arch, looking on to the Grand Parade Square.

Demonstrating how people used to glide down the Ladder in years gone by.

Demonstrating how people used to glide down the Ladder in years gone by.

Basil is a self made historian and a fountain of island knowledge. Donned casually in jeans, utility vest and cap, his bright blue eyes twinkle as we move onto his favourite segment of the tour.

Jacob’s Ladder a concrete stairway rising 600ft up the steep valley side has 699 steps. It was built in 1829 by Governor Charles Dallas as a funicular to connect Jamestown with the country.

“We used to slide down the ladder after school,” says Basil of his younger years. “I’ll give a little demonstration, although I’m a little geriatric!”

He runs spritely up 20 steps and spreads himself across the top of the handrails. “So you take all the weight on your back, and use your hand and foot as brakes.” Much to his audience’s delight, he smoothly slides to the base, hands squeaking from friction. On touchdown he’s treated to a round of applause. I should mention, Basil is 79 years old!

We move on and I get chatting to a lady. “When this cruise was advertised it was sold out within weeks,” she tells me, “and it was taken out of the brochure because there was a waiting list. We’ve had to fight for a cabin, it’s been that popular.”

The island's court room.

The island’s court house.

The Court House is the next stop. “In 1673 King Charles II gave a Charter to St Helena,” says Basil, “it gave our ancestors full English citizenship as if they’ve been living in East Greenwich in perpetuity.” This was revoked in 1983 through the British Nationality Act 1981. After some strong campaigning and lobbying, full citizenship was restored to St Helena in 2002 coinciding with the 500th anniversary of the island’s discovery.

A request was made for Basil to speak in ‘Saint’ dialect. “I’ve got a neighbour and his chainsaw wasn’t working see,” launches Basil. “We say ‘pa’ as an endearment. So I said, ‘Hey Gordon pa wha gorn wrone wit you chainsaw?’ ‘Oh,’ he say, ‘it be fut pa!'”

This draws a hesitant trickle of laughs as the tour party try to decipher the dialect. “We say ‘gorn’ for gone and ‘wrone’ for wrong,” Basil explains. “When you analyse it; ‘it be’ is using old English, and ‘phut’ is a good English word [meaning to break down]. But I don’t want to be talking to you like that!”

Inside the Castle courtyard.

Inside the Castle courtyard.

Castle Gardens, also referred to as the Public Gardens.

Castle Garden, also referred to as the Public Gardens.

The marble monument of HM Waterwitch in the Castle Gardens is a memorial for the crew who died onboard 1839-43.

The marble monument of HM Waterwitch in the Castle Gardens is a memorial for the crew who died onboard 1839-43.

We move on to the cobbled-stone courtyard of the Castle, home to St Helena Government. Basil shouts to be heard over squawking mynah birds. “We have very good Archives here going back to 1673. Going to our racial origins, my wife traced my family tree back to some of the early settlers. My grandmother’s family has a military background and she married a Boer prisoner. Another branch goes back to one of the Chinese who stayed here, and there are three branches of slaves. That’s the mix – pot luck however you come out!” he laughs.

“That’s a good gene pool,” quips a lady.

Heading for St James Church entrance, right next door to the prison.

Heading for St James Church entrance, right next door to the prison.

Inside the oldest Anglican church in the southern hemisphere, St James.

Inside the oldest Anglican church in the southern hemisphere, St James.

Not much traffic as the party head up Main Street.

It’s a Sunday, so not much traffic as the party head up Main Street.

Time to write some postcards.

Time to write some postcards.

I trail behind the pack with a gentleman, “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he tells me. “I’m now 76 and must see this before I pack up! I used to be involved with setting up television services in the Commonwealth and we always looked at St Helena and say when are they going to have a television service! But it never happened! This was back in the 50s and 60s. Being here is better than what I was expecting. No commercialism anywhere, everybody’s natural and seemingly happy and content. Perhaps you’re not underneath but it comes over as if you are all quite calm and enjoying life!”

We amble up through Main Street and cameras work overtime on the Georgian building facades.

Brigadier Hugh Willing commanded the Falkland Islands' garrison in the '90s.

Brigadier Hugh Willing really enjoyed the walking tour of Jamestown.

One of the tour party is Brigadier Hugh Willing, a lecturer onboard the Voyager, covering military and colonial history. “I’m not paid,” he tells me, “but they cover all my expenses on the ship. I do one lecture a day.”

Hugh tells me he served with the Gurkahs during his military career. He also reveals he took command of the Falklands garrison in the early 90s. “I’ve been all over the world and I find St Helena one of the very most interesting places,” he tells me. “There’s so much history and it’s so beautifully preserved. This is definitely one of the highlights for all of our passengers.”

The tour finishes with refreshing coffee and cake at the Consulate Hotel.

Magma Way Tours owner, Basil George.

Magma Way Tours owner, Basil George.

The tour concludes with coffee and cakes at the Consulate Hotel.

The tour concludes with coffee and cakes at the Consulate Hotel.

 

Additional reference: Philip Gosse, St Helena 1502-1938

10 thoughts on “From Church to the Court House – All Part of the Tour

  1. Basil George, such a lovely man. His tours are informative and fun, the best way to get to know Jamestown!! In fact all the tours I have been on on St. Helena have been great!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We too where on the Voyager and had a wonderful day on St Helena. I was the ‘ strange’ one in the t-shirt with my cousins Charlie and Maisie on the front! My thanks to all who spoke to me.
    Loads of wonderful memories. Everyone so friendly and helpful. I will be in touch and also hope to return.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. O , I DO miss the island ….. our stay in July was WAY too short ….. ( and I think I lost (or found) my heart and my soul there !! )

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We booked our trip on the Voyager nearly two years ago and it was sold out within days. We spent a wonderful day being shown round St Helena by Pat and Darrin Henry – and what a treat it was! We finally met Sharon for tea and cake at the hotel. Thank you so much!! Your island is stunning and the memories will stay with us for ever.

    Liked by 1 person

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