Through the centuries Jamestown has been a popular provisioning stop for sailors. Fruit trees flourished in the valleys and goats roamed the hills – offering fresh supplies to passing ships. But the diminishment in shipping meant the market for fresh food dwindled. While it was once a vital and productive port, Saint Helena gradually became a forgotten outpost of the British Empire.
Eventually, entire generations of farmers and workers left the little island seeking employment and opportunity elsewhere. The pomegranate, mango, coconut, pawpaw and banana trees as well as the goats, cows and chickens that were once found in great numbers – and produced enough to meet the needs of both islanders and passing sailors – were supplemented by supplies brought in by the monthly mail ship.
Entering the shops and grocery stores, we discovered that the self-sufficiency that once marked the island was replaced by a reliance on the outside world. Fresh supplies including eggs, onions, potatoes and meat came from South Africa. Milk, cheese, frozen and canned foods were coming from the EU.
But the airport’s construction – which brought back young, highly-skilled Saints as well as an international collection of expats – is transforming the island. Local produce, which was limited to a couple of crops and has been in chronic short supply, is being grown by a new generation of farmers. Thursday, the day the local produce is brought into the shops, results in a good-natured scrum. The island’s extreme dedication to mannerly conduct is overlooked and pushing past an elderly lady is completely acceptable when there’s a gorgeous leafy lettuce at stake.
Enchanted by the island’s charms
Ships and yachts have typically only remained in the Jamestown harbour for as long as it takes to provision. We expected our visit to be similarly short – but we fell in love with the quirky little island and our one week visit stretched to six.