Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha

Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha[3] are British Overseas Territories located in the South Atlantic and consisting of the island of Saint Helena, Ascension Island and the archipelago of Tristan da Cunha including Gough Island. Its name was Saint Helena and Dependencies until 1 September 2009, when a new constitution came into force giving the three islands equal status as three territories, with a grouping under the Crown.

Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
Anthem: "God Save the Queen"
Location of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha (circled in red)
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Saint Helena colonial charter1657
Crown colony22 April 1834[1]
Ascension added12 September 1922
Tristan da Cunha added12 January 1938
Current constitution1 September 2009
15°56′S 05°43′W
Largest cityHalf Tree Hollow
15°56′0″S 5°43′12″W
Official languagesEnglish
GovernmentDevolved self-governing dependencies under a constitutional monarchy
Elizabeth II
Philip Rushbrook
Steven Chandler
Sean Burns
 UK government minister
Tariq Ahmad
394 km2 (152 sq mi)
Highest elevation
6,765 ft (2,062 m)
 2016 census
13.4/km2 (34.7/sq mi)
CurrencySaint Helena pound (£) (SHP) (Saint Helena and Ascension)
Pound sterling (£) (GBP)
Time zoneUTC (GMT)
Date formatdd/mm/yyyy
Driving sideleft
Calling code+290 (Saint Helena and Tristan da Cunha)
+247 (Ascension)
+44 20 (Tristan da Cunha)
UK postcode
STHL 1ZZ (Saint Helena)
ASCN 1ZZ (Ascension)
TDCU 1ZZ (Tristan da Cunha)
ISO 3166 codeSH
Internet TLD


Of volcanic origin, the islands of Saint Helena, Ascension Island, and Tristan da Cunha were all formerly separate colonies of the English crown, though separately discovered by several Portuguese explorers between 1502 and 1504.

Portuguese discovery

The Portuguese found Saint Helena uninhabited, with an abundance of trees and freshwater. They imported livestock, fruit trees and vegetables, and built a chapel and one or two houses. Though they formed no permanent settlement, the island became crucially important for the collection of food and as a rendezvous point for homebound voyages from Asia. English privateer Francis Drake very probably located the island on the final lap of his circumnavigation of the world (1577–1580).[4] Further visits by other English explorers followed, and, once St Helena's location was more widely known, English warships began to lie in wait in the area to attack Portuguese carracks on their way home from India. In developing their Far East trade, the Dutch also began to frequent the island and made a formal claim to it in 1633, but did not settle the isle and by 1651 largely abandoned it in favour of their colony at the Cape of Good Hope.

English and British colonisation

In 1657, the English East India Company was granted a charter to govern Saint Helena by Oliver Cromwell,[5] and the following year the Company decided to fortify and colonise the island with planters. The first governor, Captain John Dutton, arrived in 1659, and it is from this date that St Helena claims to be Britain's second oldest remaining colony, after Bermuda. A fort was completed and a number of houses were built. After the Restoration of the British monarchy in 1660, the East India Company received a Royal Charter giving it the sole right to fortify and colonise the island. The fort was renamed James Fort and the town Jamestown, in honour of the Duke of York and heir apparent, later King James II of England and VII of Scotland.

The Kingdom of England became part of the new Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 and then the United Kingdom in 1801; the British Empire grew into a global great power. The most important and first settled, the island of Saint Helena, had been governed by the East India Company since 1659. It became internationally known as the British government's chosen place of exile of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was detained on the island from October 1815 until his death on 5 May 1821, and it was made a British crown colony in 1834 by the Government of India Act 1833.[1] Unoccupied Ascension Island was garrisoned by the Royal Navy on 22 October 1815, shortly after which the end of the Age of Sail made its difficult location in the equatorial doldrums less important relative to its strategic importance as a centrally positioned naval coaling station. For similar reasons Tristan da Cunha was annexed as a dependency of the Cape Colony (British South Africa) on 14 August 1816, at the settlement of the Napoleonic wars. For a short period just previously, Tristan da Cunha had been inhabited by a private American expedition who named the territory the Islands of Refreshment.

The political union between these colonies began to take shape on 12 September 1922, when by letters patent Ascension Island became a dependency of Saint Helena. Lightly populated Tristan da Cunha, even today little more than an outpost with a population of less than three hundred, followed suit on 12 January 1938. The three island groups shared this constitutional relationship until 1 September 2009, when the dependencies were raised to equal status with St. Helena and the territories changed its name from "Saint Helena and Dependencies" to "Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha".

World War II and subsequent military presence

During the Battle of the Atlantic of World War II and the following several years of U-boat warfare in the Atlantic, both Saint Helena and Ascension Island were used by the Allies to base patrolling anti-surface-commerce-raider and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) forces against the Axis powers' naval units. Initially long range naval patrol flying boats were used in the effort, and later in the war during the struggle to improve air coverage over the commercially important sea lanes, air strips were built to support land based aircraft which supplied, augmented and complemented the PBY Catalina patrol planes in the vitally important ASW mission.

The United Kingdom and the United States still jointly operate the airfield (RAF Ascension Island) on Ascension, which also serves as a space-based communications, signals intelligence, and navigation nexus and hub (Ground station). One of only four GPS satellite ground antennas is located there.


The territories stretch across a huge distance of the South Atlantic Ocean with the northern-most island, Ascension, having a latitude of 7° 56′ S of the equator and the southern-most island, Gough Island, at 40° 19′ S. Between Saint Helena and Tristan da Cunha is the Tropic of Capricorn. The distance between the northern tip of Ascension Island and the southern tip of Gough Island is 2,263 miles (3,642 km) (an equivalent distance between London and the Dead Sea). The three territories lie in the Western Hemisphere and have the same time zone: Greenwich Mean Time. Daylight saving time is not observed.

Although all three territories were formed by volcanic activity, only the Tristan da Cunha group of islands are volcanically active at the moment.

The highest point of the territories is Queen Mary's Peak on the island of Tristan da Cunha, with an elevation of 2,062 metres (6,765 ft) above sea level. The mountain is listed as an ultra prominent peak.


Because of the massive distance from north to south (over 3,600 kilometres (2,200 mi)), the territories have various climates. Ascension has a warm, arid climate, with temperatures all year long into the 20 °C. St Helena is more moderate (and arid near the coasts). Tristan da Cunha, being closer to the Antarctic Circle, is much cooler and a lot wetter. The uninhabited southernmost Gough Island is wetter and has freezing winter temperatures.

Territorial waters

The territorial waters of the islands extend out to 12 nautical miles (22 km) from their coastal baselines. The Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) extend 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the islands' baselines. Despite their size, the three EEZs do not overlap or touch one another, nor do they reach the EEZs of any other country or territory. The territories have the largest EEZ of any of the British overseas territories (indeed larger than the United Kingdom's) and if included in the ranking of countries by size of EEZ, the territories would be 21st, behind Portugal and ahead of the Philippines. Neither the islands nor their EEZs are the subject of any current international dispute.

EEZs of the three territories[6]
Partkm2sq mi
Ascension Island441,658 170,525
Saint Helena444,916 171,783
Tristan da Cunha754,720 291,400

An application was made in 2008 by the United Kingdom to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to extend the limit of the continental shelf claim of Ascension Island beyond 200 nautical miles (370 km). The Commission recommended in 2010 that the limit not be extended beyond the standard limit, based on scientific surveys.[7]

Administrative divisions

Administratively, each territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha is governed by a council. The Governor of the territory presides over the Saint Helena Legislative Council, and an Administrator on Ascension Island and an Administrator on Tristan da Cunha preside over these two areas' Island Councils. See Constitution section below.

sq mi
Population[2] Administrative
Saint Helena122474,534Jamestown
Ascension Island8834806Georgetown
Tristan da Cunha18471293Edinburgh of the Seven Seas
   Main island9839293
   Inaccessible Island1450
   Nightingale Islands3.41.30
   Gough Island68260

The island of St Helena is then further divided into eight districts.[8]


This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha

The Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Constitution Order 2009 (an Order in Council of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom) enacted a new constitution for the territories, which came into effect on 1 September 2009. Although raising Ascension and Tristan da Cunha to equal status with Saint Helena, the constitution is divided into three chapters, one for each territory. Saint Helena has a Governor and a Legislative Council, whilst Tristan da Cunha and Ascension each have an Administrator and an Island Council. Notably the constitution includes (for each territory) the "fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals".[9]

PartCrown representativeCouncil
Saint HelenaGovernor of Saint HelenaLegislative Council of Saint Helena
Ascension IslandAdministrator of Ascension IslandAscension Island Council
Tristan da CunhaAdministrator of Tristan da CunhaTristan da Cunha Island Council

Saint Helena also has an Executive Council. The Governor of Saint Helena is the British monarch's representative. The three territories share the same Attorney General, and the same Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.

European Union

The territories are an Overseas Country or Territory of the European Union, with limited aspects of European Union membership applied to its administration, its laws and its citizens. It does not however form part of the European Union (the only British overseas territory that does is Gibraltar).


Most residents of St. Helena belong to the Anglican Communion through the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and are members of the Diocese of St Helena, which has its own bishop and includes Ascension Island.

Roman Catholics are pastorally served by the Missio sui iuris of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, whose office of ecclesiastical superior is vested in the Apostolic Prefecture of the Falkland Islands.


Saint Helena used sterling currency as in the United Kingdom until 1976 when it began to issue its own banknotes at par with sterling. In 1984, the territory also began to issue its own coinage, similar to the coinage of the United Kingdom but with different designs on the reverse. The Saint Helena currency also circulates on Ascension Island, but not in the other territory, Tristan da Cunha, where UK currency circulates.

The Currency Commissioners, part of the Government of Saint Helena, issue the St Helena pound banknotes and coins. There is no central bank, with the currency pegged to pound sterling which is controlled by the Bank of England in London. The Bank of Saint Helena is the territory's only bank. The bank sets its own deposit and lending rates and has branches in Jamestown on Saint Helena and Georgetown on Ascension Island. Although the bank does not have a physical presence on Tristan da Cunha, the residents of Tristan are entitled to use its services.[10]



Sure South Atlantic provide the telecommunications service in the territories. Saint Helena has the international calling code +290 which, since 2006, Tristan da Cunha shares. Telephone numbers are four digits long. Numbers start with 1–9, with 8xxx being reserved for Tristan da Cunha numbers and 2xxx for Jamestown.[11] Ascension Island has the calling code +247 and also has four-digit numbers on the island.[12] Ascension Island also held an extensive broadcast facility for international shortwave transmissions to Africa and South America.


Ascension Island, Tristan da Cunha and Saint Helena all issue their own postage stamps, which provide a significant income. The three territories each have their own Royal Mail postal code:

  • Ascension Island: ASCN 1ZZ
  • Saint Helena: STHL 1ZZ
  • Tristan da Cunha: TDCU 1ZZ


The Flag of the United Kingdom is used for all official purposes; and each of the three territories have its own flag for official use. Between 2002 and 2013 Saint Helena and Tristan da Cunha each had their own separate flags, whilst Ascension Island used the Union Flag, and before 2002 the flag of Saint Helena was used in Tristan da Cunha for all official purposes.

Saint Helena

The flag of Saint Helena was adopted on 4 October 4, 1984. It is a defaced (i.e. differentiated) Blue Ensign, i.e. a blue field with the Union Jack in the upper hoist-side quadrant and the shield from the coat of arms of Saint Helena centred on the outer half of the flag. The shield features a rocky coastline and a three-masted sailing ship, with a Saint Helena plover, also known as a wirebird, atop. It was updated in 2018 to depict a more realistic looking wirebird.

Ascension Island

The flag of Ascension Island was adopted on 11 May 2013.[13] The flag is a blue ensign design, defaced with the coat of arms of Ascension Island. Prior to the adoption of this flag, the island used the Union Flag of the United Kingdom for official purposes.

Tristan da Cunha

The flag of Tristan da Cunha was adopted on 20 October 2002, in a proclamation made by the Governor of Saint Helena under a Royal Warrant granted by Queen Elizabeth II. Prior to this, as a dependency of Saint Helena, Tristan da Cunha used the flag of Saint Helena for official purposes.

The flag is a blue ensign design, defaced with the coat of arms of Tristan da Cunha — a Tristan longboat above a Naval Crown, with a central shield decorated with four yellow-nosed albatrosses and flanked by two Tristan rock lobsters. Below this is a scroll with the territory's motto, Our faith is our strength.


Maritime transport

Each of the three main islands has a harbour or small port, situated in the islands' chief settlement (Georgetown, Jamestown, and Edinburgh). In addition St. Helena has a 118m long permanent wharf facility, built as part of the airport project, in Rupert's Bay for bulk, containerised and general cargos as well as passenger landings.[14]


St. Helena Airport received its first scheduled commercial flight on 14 October 2017.[15] Commercial flights, operated by Airlink, using an Embraer E190, are scheduled from OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg each Saturday, returning the same day (or Sunday on weekends where the extension to Ascension Island is operating).

Commercial flights between St. Helena and Ascension Island operate on the second Saturday of each month, with the aircraft returning to St. Helena on the Sunday, before continuing on to Johannesburg.[16]

A military airfield exists on Ascension Island (RAF Ascension Island), though potholes on the runway resulted in the April 2017 cancellation of all but essential personnel/supply flights as well as emergency medical evacuations.[17][18] Regular RAF flights connected Ascension with RAF Brize Norton in the UK and RAF Mount Pleasant in the Falkland Islands, a transport link called the South Atlantic Air Bridge. The flights are mainly to transport military personnel, though the RAF did allow fare-paying civilians to use them. Ascension Island is also used by the US military (which supply the base using MV Ascension) and was a designated emergency landing site for the Space Shuttle program. The islands of Tristan da Cunha can only be accessed by sea due to the lack of an airport.

Vehicular traffic

Saint Helena has 138 kilometres (86 mi)118 kilometres (73 mi) paved and 20 kilometres (12 mi) unpaved—of roads. Tristan da Cunha has approximately 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) of paved roads, while Ascension has around 40 kilometres (25 mi) paved.[19] Each island has its own vehicle registration plate system. Traffic drives on the left in all three territories, as is the case in the United Kingdom itself. Two of the nearest countries to the islands—South Africa and Namibia—also drive on the left.

See also


  1. St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Constitution Order 2009 Archived 11 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine "...the transfer of rule of the island to His Majesty's Government on 22 April 1834 under the Government of India Act 1833, now called the Saint Helena Act 1833" (Schedule Preamble)
  2. "Census 2016 – summary report" (PDF). St Helena Government. June 2016. p. 9. Archived (PDF) from the original on 17 October 2016. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  3. "St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Constitution Order 2009, see "EXPLANATORY NOTE"". Archived from the original on 12 March 2010. Retrieved 26 September 2009.
  4. Drake and St Helena, privately published by Robin Castell in 2005
  5. "History: St. Helena homepage". Archived from the original on 16 July 2012. Retrieved 24 December 2009.
  6. Archived 29 December 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  7. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine Summary of recommendations re: Ascension Island
  8. "Census 2016 – summary report" (PDF). St Helena Government. June 2016. p. 7. Archived (PDF) from the original on 17 October 2016. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  9. The St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Constitution Order 2009 Archived 11 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine The Constitution (in the Schedule to the Order).
  10. "The Bank of Saint Helena". Archived from the original on 15 July 2011. Retrieved 18 April 2010.
  11. World Telephone Numbering Guide Archived 1 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine Saint Helena and Tristan da Cunha
  12. World Telephone Numbering Guide Archived 17 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine Ascension Island
  13. "First Ever Ascension Flag to Fly". Ascension Island Government. 27 March 2013. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  14. Donaldson, Warwick; Patel, Sahil (May 2016). "Design of new permanent wharf at Rupert's Bay, St. Helena" (PDF). Civil Engineering. The maritime transport is the only posibility to bring loads and passengers to Tristan da Cunha since this island does not have its own airport.
  15. "A HISTORY MAKING WEEKEND FOR ST HELENA". St Helena. 16 October 2017. Archived from the original on 20 November 2017. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  16. "FIRST COMMERCIAL FLIGHT TO ASCENSION ISLAND". St Helena. 14 November 2017. Archived from the original on 15 November 2017. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  17. "South Atlantic Airbridge ops at Ascension Island suspended". ch-aviation. Archived from the original on 28 April 2017. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  18. Wintour, Patrick (2 May 2017). "Runway potholes halt regular Ascension Island flights". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 2 May 2017. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  19. CIA World Factbook Archived 28 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.