Saint Helena is a UK Colony and tropical island in the South Atlantic Ocean), 4000 km east of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is part of the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha which also includes Ascension Island and the islands of Tristan da Cunha. Saint Helena measures about 16 by 8 kilometres (10 by 5 miles) and was named after Saint Helena of Constantinople.
The island was uninhabited when discovered by the Portuguese in 1502. One of the most remote islands in the world, it was for centuries an important stopover for ships sailing to Europe from Asia and South Africa. Napoleon was imprisoned there in exile by the British, as were Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo (for leading a Zulu army against British rule) and more than 5,000 Boers taken prisoner during the Second Boer War.
Between 1791 and 1833, Saint Helena became the site of a series of experiments in conservation, reforestation, and attempts to boost rainfall artificially.
Napoleon at Saint Helena
In 1815, the British government selected Saint Helena as the place of detention of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was taken to the island in October 1815, staying at the Briars pavilion on the grounds of the Balcombe family's home until his permanent home, Longwood House, was completed; he died there on 5 May 1821. During this period, Saint Helena remained in the East India Company’s possession, but the British government met additional costs arising from guarding Napoleon. The island was strongly garrisoned with British troops and naval ships circled the island.
The 1817 census recorded 821 white inhabitants, a garrison of 820 men on the East India Company's payroll, 1,475 men from the King's troops (infantry, engineers etc.) and 352 people as their families, 618 Chinese indentured labourers, 24 Lascars, 500 free blacks and 1,540 slaves; in total, 6,150 people on the island. In addition, the British government had sent a naval squadron under the command of a rear-admiral and consisting of a couple of men o'war and several smaller vessels. These were not counted in the Census, as most of them lived on their ships. Concerning the slaves, Governor Hudson Lowe initiated their emancipation in 1818: from Christmas of that year, every newborn child was considered a free person (though his parents remained slaves until their death).
Open Water Swimming
Saint Helena is site of one of the Triple Break swims (Triple Crown of Prison Island Swims), where swimmers challenge themselves to escape by swimming at least 3 of the world's most well-known prison island swims including Le Château d’If, Fort Boyard, Devil's Island, Île de Gorée, Robben Island, Alcatraz Island, Spike Island, Rottnest Island, and Sainte-Marguerite.
Triple Break Sites (listed by region and country)
- Mogador Island (Morocco): 2.2 km to mainland, was used as a prison in the late 1800s
- Île de Gorée (Senegal) 5.2 km to mainland, was known as the location of the House of Slaves
- Robben Island (South Africa): 7.4 km to mainland, was the former isolated prison home of Nelson Mandella and other South Africans
- Changuu (Tanzania): 34 km to mainland and 4.5 km to Zanzibar, was used in the 1860s as a prison for rebellious slaves
- Saint Helena (UK Colony in South Atlantic Ocean): 1,800 km to mainland was used as a prison for Napoleon
- Rottnest Island (Australia): 19.7 km to mainland, was used as an Aboriginal prison between 1838 and 1931 for men and boys
- Fort Denison (Australia): 1 km to mainland, was used as a prison and for hanging in the 1800s
- Cockatoo Island (Australia): 0.5 km to mainland, was used as a prison from 1839 to 1869
- Isla San Lucas (Costa Rica): 4 km to mainland, was used as a prison 1873 to 1991
- Coiba (Panama): 20 km to mainland, was used as a prison from 1919 to 2004
- Alderney Island (Alderney, Channel Islands): 15 km to mainland, was a camp for Russian slave workers for the German occupational forces during WWII
- Spitbank Fort (England): 1.3 km to mainland, built in 1878 and served later as a prison
- Île du Levant (France): 12 km to mainland, was used as a children's prison
- Fort Royal de Sainte-Marguerite (France): 1 km to mainland, was used as a military prison and where the famous Man in the iron mask was held captive
- Le Château d’If (France): 5 km to mainland, was a fortress and prison for 400 best know through the novel The Count of Monte Cristo
- Fort Boyard (France): 18 km to mainland, is an oval-shaped fort and military prison
- Île de Brescou (Brescou Fort) (France): 1.5 km to mainland, was used from late 1600s for 200 year as a state prison for crimes such as treason
- Oleron Island (Île d'Oléron) (France): 3 km “organised race” to mainland, was used as a state prison between 1789-1870
- Château du Taureau (France): 0.7 km to mainland, was used in the 1720 as a small prison (10 prisoners maximum)
- Belle-Île (France): 15 km to mainland, was used from 1902 to 1977 for children
- Ile d’ Yeu (France): 20 km to mainland, was used until 1950s the 1860s as a state prison – famous for Marshal Petain
- Saint-Martin-de-Ré (France): 16 km to mainland, was used as a transfer prison for convict destines for Devil's Island
- Makronisos (Greece): 5 km to mainland, was used in the 1946-1949 as a prison political prisoners
- Fortress of Bourtzi (Greece): 0.5 km to mainland, was used from the 1865s as a prison
- Spike Island (Ireland): 2 km off the larger Island of Cobh, was the former isolated prison home of infamous Irish inmates
- Pianosa (Italy): 18 km to mainland, was used from Roman times and later for Mafia members as a prison
- Elba (Italy): 22 km to mainland, was used as Napoleon’s prison
- Grmožur (Montenegro): 1.5 km to mainland, The “Alcatraz” of Montenego from 1843
- Mamula Fortress (Montenegro): 1.2 km to mainland, was used as a prison in the 1800s
- Cabrera (Spain): 25 km to mainland, was used in the early 18060s as a prison during the Napoleonic Wars – once housing 25,000 prisoners
- Tabarca (Spain): 21 km to mainland, was used in the 1700s as a prison
- Isla de San Simón (Spain): 0.4 m to mainland, was used from 838 to 1927 as a prison and leper colony
- Långholmen (Sweden): 0.3 km to the center of Stockholm, was used as a prison for 250 years – closed in 1975
- Alcatraz Island (U.S.A.): 2.3 km to mainland, was the former isolated prison home of Al Capone and other celebrated American criminals
- Santa Cruz (U.S.A.): 33 km to mainland, was use to house prisoner after Mexico's independence from France
- Fort Warren (U.S.A.): 11 km to mainland, was used as a prison in the American Civil War 1862
- Fort Jefferson (U.S.A.): 110 km to Key West Florida, was used as a prison for USA Civil War deserters and plotters to kill Abraham Lincoln
- McNeil Island (U.S.A.): 4.5 km to mainland, was used as a prison in the 1880s up to 1,200 inmates
- Johnson Island (U.S.A.): 5 km to mainland, was used as a prison from 1861 with up 2,500 Conference prisoners
- Peddocks Island (U.S.A.): 0.4 km to mainland, was used as a prison during World War II for Italian prisoners