Opinions

Rediscovering St Helena: A gathering of Saints in Cape Town

  • Posted on June 22, 2011

Documents on display at the celebration. Photograph credit: Brenton Maart Documents on display at the celebration. Photograph credit: Brenton Maart
21 May 2011 – the 509th anniversary of the discovery of St Helena – was a day to be honoured and celebrated. Merle Martin, founder of the South African St Helena Heritage Association, hosted a gathering in Retreat, Cape Town and, with the help of photographic tours of the island’s architecture, natural beauty, history and contemporary way of life, the party helped fill in the gaps through vibrant conversations, reading, remembering and exchanging contact details.

St Helenians – or Saints – came to South Africa after the abolition of slavery, seeking employment opportunities and a different quality of life. Initially of European, African and Asian descent, when they landed here they integrated wholeheartedly into all South African populations, including African and European, Malaysian, Chinese and Indian, and also with the local and newly freed and settled slaves. Today, St Helena descendants can be found across the span of people that make up South Africa.

Brenton Maart of the Archival Platform was at the celebration, and spoke to a number of people about their ancestral links to the island. This is what they said.

Mervin Watson

My ancestors, my great-grandparents and even one grandmother, were born on the island and came to South Africa back in the 1870s to 1890s. When I was a kid, the family always talked about St Helena, and none of them – my parents nor my grandparents that I’d been closest to – had ever been to the island. As I got older I became more interested in knowing what the family history was, and the background to it. So I decided that one day when I retire I’d go to the island. In 2001 I was able to do that. During that time I spent most of my days down in the archive digging through the records that they’d accumulated from the various churches, and finding the family links… dates of birth and death, parents’ names, and so on. Birth records were only started in 1853, so I was depending on church records for baptisms. I was able to trace some ancestors back to the 1750s… But more of the family stories have to do with South Africa.

I think Merle [Martin] has done a tremendous job thus far. I think it needs to go forward even more by being organised into some sort of society or association that’s going to have a proper format and, with some sort of negotiating power, start pulling together the threads of the St Helena heritage.

Mercia Rinquist

My mother was St Helenian. She was born on the island [and came to South Africa at the age of 19 and has] always kept her roots alive, always. As long as I can remember [my Mom] and her friends would get together and they would refer to St Helena as home. Even till the day she died, it was home. That I find quite fascinating. Although she has a family here – she married a South African, she has her children here – St Helena was always home. That for me is very telling.

She went back to the island after 33 years, for the first time. I was probably about 16 years old, and my sister and I had the privilege of going with her. That stuck with me. I visited the island again in 2004 [and] actually felt so at home; in fact someone said to me at the time that it looked as if I belonged. People are friendly; its virtually crime free… It was over the festive season, so I didn’t have an opportunity to go into the archives. But I have someone looking into [my family history] at the moment, someone on the island. I think, perhaps yes, there is place for it … to investigate bigger issues…

Iona Beukes

I am here just to find out about what this event is for. I am hanging around, checking out what people are saying about the island, or how they are linked.

My grandmother arrived in Cape Town at the age of 18, and just never went back.  She passed away in May 2004. And because she came here when she was so young, I only know her life [from] when she was here.

I didn’t ask her much about the island; I asked her about her life while she was here. I think it’s because you are only interested in your grandmother from when she was your grandmother… I think that’s a common thing here, in Cape Town. I don’t know if it’s a general thing in South Africa, [but] not a lot of people talk about their roots and where they came from… I can only tell you that if it wasn’t instilled in you, and you didn’t grow up with it, and there wasn’t a lot of talking about it in your presence, maybe that’s why we don’t ask questions. You know the very old, old, old school didn’t even like you talking about their age. “But granny, how old are you?” They don’t even like that kind of question, so you wouldn’t go any further and ask: “So why did you come here?”

I think if more people spoke about it, they would probably feel more secure in their roots, and where they come from, and I think they would get a greater sense of belonging, knowing where you fit in … We’ll probably find, if we talked more, that we are all interlinked, somehow…

Mustapha Yusuf Solomon

I was born in the Cape. My ancestors, [my grandmother and my] great-grandmother, came from the island of St Helena. She’s buried in Steenberg’s Cove, what today they call St Helena Bay. The old graveyard is still there. My great-grandmother is buried in that grave, right in front of the front door of her old house. And I am fighting to try and rebuild that graveyard. I want to sort the whole graveyard. I’ve got pictures here only of two graves that’s still there. The rest is completely wrecked. I’m asking where can I go for help, so that we can recover the grave, put a fence around it and try and rebuild, put a remembrance board up. That is a history for the young generation…  Then they can uphold the Saints, and the people of the island of St Helena.

Jolene Joshua

My dad always made reference to the St Helena ancestors, and that the Joshuas are from there, but we’ve never known how we’re connected to the island. So it’s really just to be able to leave behind, for the other generations, a heritage that they won’t have to look up, or go to the archives to find. That they actually have something on-line, where they can just click a button and see the Joshua heritage. We already have the family tree online. We’re having a Joshua reunion on Saturday, our first one, and hopefully we will be able to fill in the blanks and expand the tree that we have already.

I don’t think everyone’s interested [in pursuing their heritage research]. For some people it’s not a priority, but also I think our ancestors were not as open about a lot of the information around their roots. People are a lot more open today, and the information is a lot more accessible. Whereas those years you were told a story and you believed it. But because information is so readily available now, it’s easy to confirm whether the information is accurate.

I believe that the Joshua family is now really an international family. With the press of a button you can see, for example on social networking sites, a Joshua in America, a Joshua in Australia ... I think it would be great for someone who is a Joshua to be able to go onto the internet, put in their surname, and they can see their lineage from as far back as when that family was first established. It gives you a sense of identity; it broadens your world; you begin to see yourself as not just a Capetonian or a South African; you realise that you are a mixture of cultures, nationalities, etc. So I think it adds a new dimension to who you are, as a person.

As a mixed race there is a certain grey area in terms of “What is our culture? Who are we?” And so for me, as a coloured young woman wanting to know where I come from, there is an aspect of “Wow! I’m not just coloured.” There are facts to prove that I am from St Helena and [from] the various other cultures that make up who I am. And so now there is a definition for who I am. I’m not just “mixed”. [I] can now say, “This is who I am, and this is where I come from.” And not always be just a coloured, from somewhere in the middle, “mixed”. What this does is it creates some kind of clarity.

The South African St Helenian Heritage Association

The South African St Helenian Heritage Association is an ancestral heritage awareness project. Its objectives are to:

-  Research the untold history of the link between St Helena and South Africa.
-  Collate a register and database of people with St Helena ancestry.
-  Construct a website in order to share its research internationally.
-  Identify places with associated oral traditions, including settlements, graves and burial grounds, and to work with government agencies in contributing to heritage resource conservation.
-  Collaborate with organisations to commemorate important dates.
-  Promote heritage awareness by giving community talks.
-  Implement job creation projects through the tourism industry.

For further information, please contact Merle Martin on +97 (0)21 701 8422 or email her on .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Brenton Maart is an Archival Platform correspondent.

comments powered by Disqus
  • I am trying to trace maternal grand-mother’s ancestral roots. I am told by my late mother’s only surviving sibling, that her ancestors are from St Helena.Her name was Margaret Bushby nee Davids.Her Parents were, John and Margaret Davids who seemed to have settled in the Wellington area around 1915-1920’s
    I would be grateful if someone has any information for me to follow up on,or point me in the right direction. Many thanks

    By Hilton Gelderbloem on 06/07/2011
  • Dear Hilton Gelderbloem.  There was also a Mr Bushby who came from Britain to take up a job at Western Tannery, Wellington.  He paused at St Helena,where he fell in love with Rebecca Martin and then brought his St Helena bride with him to the Cape. In Lawrence G. Green’s book There’s a Secret Hid Away he writes: Dampier the buccaneer wrote:“Several of our men were head and ears in love with the Santa Helena maids, who tho’ they were born there, yet very earnestly desired to be released from that prison.  The young women are but one remove from English, being the daughters of such.  They are well shaped, proper and comely ...” From Merle Martin, saint.helena.island@gmail.com

    By Merle Martin on 15/07/2011
  • Pity I did not know about this.  I am a St.Helenian living in Cape Town for the past 13 years and would have loved to have been present to share my heritage.

    By Rachel on 31/07/2011
  • Thank you so much for this artlice, it saved me time!

    By Trinity on 04/08/2011
  • I am trying to trace the ancestors of my paternal grandfather Benjamin Server that was born on St.Helena island but came to settle in the Paarl area.Do you perhaps have info on the Summers family that I can follow up on.Thanks a million.  Averil Summers

    By averil summers on 07/11/2011
  • Dear Rachel
    If you give me your email address, I will put you on our mailing list. We are planning to have another St Helena Day celebration in May this year, 2012.
    Regards
    Merle Martin
    South African St Helenian Heritage Association
    saint.helena.island@gmail.com

    By Merle Martin on 16/01/2012
  • Dear Averil, thanks for telling us about your St Helena ancestors. Sorry I don’t have any info on Summers family, but some Summers descendants it seems have St Helena links. Regards Merle Martin

    By Merle Martin on 17/01/2012
  • I am trying to trace the ancestors of my paternal grandfather Jack Timm that was born on St.Helena island but came and settled in South africa( Johannesburg). Or perhaps do you have any information on the Timm family.
    Also please include me in your mailing list.

    Thanks & Regards
    PS. Also include

    By Tony Timm on 17/01/2012
  • Dear Tony
    Other Timm descendants are on our database and they have traced their greatgreatgrandfather. If you maybe know the names of your grandfather Jack Timm’s siblings and parents then you could possibly make connections and discovery some unknown distant relatives here in SA. Contact me via email. Regards, Merle Martin, Email: saint.helena.island@gmail.com

    By Merle Martin on 18/01/2012
  • I am trying to trace my great great grandmother who was born on the island in about 1858 her name was eliza ann harris she married a james adams but i dont know if she had left the island at this point.
    many thanks

    By Jayne Kynaston on 29/08/2012
  • Dear Jayne, thanks for sharing your family info.  If you have family info so far back is great for a start. Very few people know their greatgreatgrandparents details. It is possible that Eliza’s husband was also from St Helena, as the surname Adams also come up in their 1814 census. You will probably find James and Eliza’s parents listed there. That list you will find online.
    Regards
    Merle Martin
    South African St Helenian Heritage Association
    Email: saint.helena.island@gmail.com

    By Merle Martin on 30/08/2012
  • I would love to find some information about my Grandad’s background, I’ve often overheard the family members mentioning that he was from Saint Helena. He was William Bowers and married Winnifred Adams from Cape Town who had brothers one of whom was named Harold Adams. If my Grandad was a slave, he was a darn good one. smile.

    Thanks for all your effort,

    Bryan.

    By Bryan Barrath on 19/09/2012
  • I would love to find out information about my Grandmother Ethel Richards who was born in St Helena Island.One of her brothers was George Richards.They all came to South Africa.My Grandmother Ethel married Jacob Ruiters from the Eastern Cape.They had 3 children,my Mother Alice, Hazel and James Ruiters who have all passed on .

    By Gillian Holmes on 21/10/2012
  • My gg-grandfather married on St Helena bringing most of the family home (he was a Londoner) but I am in contact with a cousin on the island. My dream is to visit, especially Sandy Bay. I love reading everyone’s comments and only wish I could be at one of your gatherings. Family names on the island are Thomas, Cesar, Henry & Petty.

    By Jan Bryant on 31/10/2012
  • I am looking for info about my great grandfather’s family in Honolulu, Hawaii. One document shows my great great grandfather’s name was Monday Cruz, another document shows he was born in St. Helena, another shows England. Names found in The Hawaiian Star from 1895-1906 are Monday with surnames Cruz, Crews, and Crewes; Willliam “Monday” with surnames Crewes and Crews who was born in Penzance, Cornwall England approx 1852, dies in Honolulu 3/24/1902; and Monte with surnames Crewes and Crews born in St. Helena, dies in or around Honolulu 6/27/1906 around the age of 60 years. My questions are: Where would I find immigration records showing migration from St. Helena to Hawaii, how do I get a birth record and what info is required to do so?  Any help, suggestions or advice will be greatly appreciated.

    By Terri Sager on 20/12/2012
  • Apparently my great grandfather came from the island of St Helena.
    Do you have any information on the Buziek name, they settled on the west coast around Veldrif,
    Thanks

    By Corbyn Buziek on 26/01/2013
  • Hi I would like to find out about my family name Buziek apparently my great granfathert came from the island St Helena and then settled on the west coast near Veldrif. Do you have any information regarding the Buziek and also the Smeda surname.

    By Corbyn Buziek on 28/01/2013
  • I am also looking for my great great grandfather. According to 1910 Honolulu, Hawaii census, he was born in St Helena. The only news article I could find closing matching the name Monday Cruz from my great grandfather’s marriage certificate is a death announcement of a Monte Crewes, from St Helena, living in Honolulu at the time of death in June 1906, aged 69, which means he was born around 1837. Has anyone heard of this person? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    By Terri Sager on 31/01/2013
  • I am trying to locate the parents of my great grand father Christian David sickle. Born circa 1865. Married in Cape Town in 1890. I was told he came from st Helena . Is there any eay of verifying this.

    Thx

    By Alistair Ruiters on 17/03/2013
  • Was there any Hermans on the island?

    By A.Herman on 21/03/2013
  • I am trying to trace my grand parents roots on St. Helena. I know my grandfather Henry John Yon was born on the Island in 1875. He died in 1940 in South Africa. Don’t know when he arrived in SA.
    He was married to Christina Arendsa, she died and he remarried my grandmother in 1917 Rachel Caroline Jacobs (Bridgett) I belive she was born on the island as well. Any information would be welcome.

    By Debra Reid on 25/04/2013
  • My Father was born on the Island and goes by the name of James Bartholomew Jansen. I am trying to trace my grandfathers origin who I believe was a Saint and goes by the name either James Edwin or Edwin James. My father had many bothers and sisters of whom I only met a hand full as some of them had already passed on when I was very young. Some of the brothers and sisters are Naomi, Edith David, Rosie, Edwin. I am told that my grandmother goes by the name of Cornelia. I am trying to trace my grandfather and grandmother back to saint helena place of birth with a baptism certificate or something to prove that they are indeed Saints. Any help will do. Many thanks. Regards
    Dez

    By Desmond Jansen on 25/04/2013
  • Thanks for all your comments.
    Contact archives@sainthelena.gov.sh for all your research queries: they charge in pounds.
    Bryan Barrath - you might be a descendant of a William Bowyer (sic)who died in 1684 on St Helena in persuit of justice.
    Corbyn Buziek - about 200 fishermen from St Helena arrived in St Helena Bay in 1860 to work for Mr Stephan; your ancestor could be one of them
    Regards
    Merle Martin
    South African St Helenian Heritage Association
    0217018422
    saint.helena.island@gmail.com

    By Merle Martin on 26/04/2013
  • My mothers about to turn 90 and is set to live forever, so she says. However, she has forgotten about her St Helena roots and only remembers that she and two sisters arrived in the Cape when she was 6 years old. Their surname was Llewellyn - pardon me, but my spelling is suspect. How wouldI begin to find more detail about my St Helena ancestry. Both my grand mothers were St Helena born and my mother. CAS le Hane

    By CAS le Hane on 14/05/2013
  • hi - does anyone know anything about the LEO family tree from St. Helena?
    thanks. Bronwyn

    By Bronwyn on 30/05/2013
  • Dear Merle
    I am trying to establish the links between families Yon and Saussman, also Sassman, and St Helena. Can you help?

    Regards

    William Pick

    By William Pick on 07/06/2013
  • Hi Merle My family came to the Cape from St Helena in about 1830 He was a George Ravenscroft and was a member of the British Garrison. I am busy looking for any information about George, his wife Anne (Weller) and his sons that I know ere baptised on the island. If you have any info or can direct me to any information I would really appreciate your assistance. Visit www.ravenscroft.za.net Regards Rollo Ravenscroft.

    By Rollo Ravenscroft on 23/06/2013
  • Can anyone help? I have spent years trying to find out more about my st helena-south african heritage. I was recently given my fathers birth certificate which lists my grandparents nationality as St Helena. Does this mean that both my grandparents were born in St Helena or does this mean that they simply lived there??  I know that I am descended from a Joshua Family from St Helena but do not know what their race is and would be very grateful if someone could tell me what their race was??? I also believe the Joshua’s married into a Francis Family and there is a rumour that the francis’s were Indian/Scottish (The story going that a Scottish or Irish man in India had a relationship with an Indian woman who had an illegitimate son from that relationship and the son somehow ended up in st helena)  I would love to know more about my heritage and culture and would be very grateful for any assistance anyone can offer. P.s. the infor I have provided is all I know about my family and would be so grateful if someone could answer my questions. Were the Joshua family Black or White, where did they originate from?? Who were the Francis family and what were was their heritage?? And are there any relatives out there that know more then I do about our heritage??

    By Kimberley Winter on 25/06/2013
  • Hi, my name is Cedric Chippendale. My father died before I got to know him but I do know that his father was born on St. Helena Island. My father’s name was Walter Donald Chippendale. I do know my grandfather’s name. I am Cedric Alfred Chippendale. I would appreciate whatever help in locating my roots. God bless.

    By Cedric Chippendale on 24/07/2013
  • Hi my name is Adnaan Ismail Kemp (Joshua) BORN Donovan Sebastian Kemp(Joshua)MY late Mother was Evelyn Joshua,who was born in Cape Town,but i was told that her grand father or father was from ST Helena Island,and i would love to find out more of the Joshua heritage. unfortunately i have no clue as to what my grand father or grand mothers name were as i did not live or grew up with my biological parents as they were not married.i have other siblings but we are not very close and those whom i know does not talk about this part of their life (SADLY MY MOTHER PASSED ON IN MAY 2011) at the time when we started to form a bond) so i cant ask her those questions anymore.
    PS is it possible to still get info on the family history.
    thanks
    Adnaan Kemp (Joshua)

    By Adnaan (Donovan Sebastian)Ismail kemp (joshua) on 18/08/2013
  • My grandfather was Theodore Henry…My father is Theodore Alfred…MY Grandfather’s father was from st Helena…just want some clarity on our st Helena roots…it would be much appreciated..

    By Theodore L. Chippendale on 30/09/2013
  • My late grandfather was Norman Andrew Le Grange and was from St Helena Married in Cape Town and never returned. I would like to know more of the family in St Helena if any.

    By Trevor Norman Le Grange on 21/10/2013
  • Hi, William Pick

    I too am trying to make a connection between Yon, Kilpatricl & St Helena Island.
    Have u managed to find any information - tht u’d be interested in sharing.

    Regards
    Anisa

    By Anisa on 09/11/2013
  • Hi Anisa

    I am Cedric Chippendale. I am connected to the Yon family in that David Yon married my grandfather’s sister, Ellen Chippendale on April 25, 1893 on the Island. I have a document that traces the Yon family’s marriage from 1853 to 1898. Please give me you e-mail and I will send you a copy, if you like.

    Regards

    By Cedric Chippendale on 10/11/2013
  • Hi Cedric

    Tx for the response. My email address is
    bathocc@gmail.com

    Kind Regards

    By Anisa on 10/11/2013
  • Hi, I’m doing my wife’s “Joshua” family history, from St Helena Island to South Africa in the late 18th century? not sure of the date/dates that her “Joshua” family arrived in South Africa? or what their names as yet? I’m have 3 names: Hopewell Joshua (1),  Walter Herbert Joshua (2), Arthur Penward or Penville Joshua (3).
        We believe that Hopewell (1) was born on St Helena??, and Walter & Arthur Joshua were born in South Africa! I have a date of birth for Walter as “20th March 1884 or 1888”, and Arthur Joshua for “18th March 1890”, but were I don’t know were they where born?? and to parents ????
      Does any one know or have any information on any of the above Please? if any one as any old “Joshua” photos, birth/death/marriages certificates? family information Please? any thing that may help me!
      The above “Joshua” family parents may have come to South Africa to work in the “Gold Mines”.  Thank You.

    By Frederick Stuart on 28/12/2013
  • Hello, My grandpa James Henry Euley was born on St.Helena in 1873. His parents were Henry James Euley and Mary Ann Moyce. They also had 3 daughters Sarah Ann, Mary Jane, and Rosina Agnes. My Grandpa moved to San Francisco, California in the 1900s. The rest of his family we think we moved to Cap town or Johannesburg. Are there not any living Euleys in that area anymore.Grandpa had 10 Children and we have a large Euley family. Would love to also find any relatives of the Moyce family as well. Thank you for your time. I hope to hear from you soon. PEACE. Sincerely Abby Young

    By Abby Euley Young on 21/01/2014
  • hi guys, I really trying to find the missing pieces of the puzzle and to make sense of my family tree. I am an Easthorpe. my grand parents are (‘rosey’ Roseanne Hembert and William Douglas Easthorpe) both deceased. my grandfathers parents were John Richard Easthorpe and Mary Clothier. Then JR Easthorpe’s fahers name was Dick Henry Easthorpe.
    ihave been told that they are descendants of St. Helena island, if you can provide any assistance it will be appreciated.

    regards

    By tyrone on 29/01/2014
  • I am looking for any link to my great grandfather Harold Timm from St Helena, he cam to CPT when he was 9yrs old. I want to know are tehre ny Timms left on the island? His mothers name Louisa Timm, but not sure what her maiden surname was.
    If you can offer any help it would be greatly appreciated
    Gilbert Carstens

    By Gilbert Carstens on 30/01/2014
  • To CAS le Hane, C. B. Llewelyn played cricket for South Africa on the 1890s His mother was from St. Helena.
    Regards, William Pick.

    By William Pick on 26/02/2014
  • Hello
    Re: Hudson & Martin
    I would be grateful for any help. I too am looking for information on my Great Grandmother:

    Minnie Milora Hudson(b1870) and her father Henry Hudson(b1820).

    and Minnie’s husband,Philip Martin (b1865),my great Grandfather.

    We are not sure if they met and married in St Helena or he may have met her in CT. But it is stated that she came from St Helena.

    Both Minnie and Philip died in Cape Town and are buried in St Peter’s cemetery (now garden of remembrance) Mowbray.

    By Cheryl Stoner on 18/03/2014
  • Good afternoon, I am looking for information on my grandfather who died in South Africa. His name is Frederick John Davids (born Darries). I have searched the St James Banns of Marriage and nothing. Can anyone help?

    By Natasha Mc Mahon on 22/03/2014
  • Hi Anisa
    There is a database which includes the names of all the Yons born and registered on St Helena Island. It can be found on the St. Helena registry website.
    Regards
    William Pick

    By William pick on 25/03/2014
  • Question for William Pick

    Can you post the link to the St.Helena registry website please?

    Regards Cheryl

    By Cheryl Stoner on 26/03/2014
  • I can send you can extract from the registry. I don’t seem to have the URL but it can be found through Google. I can send you the extract if you send me an e-mail address.

    By william pick on 26/03/2014
  • Hi William Pick
    It would be great to see the extract from the registry. Unfortunately I am loath to put my email address on this public page.

    Do you belong to Merle Martin’s Facebook pages for South African St Helenian Heritage Association ? -  https://www.facebook.com/groups/449896721715308/

    I belong to it and Facebook, perhaps we can communicate through there?

    By Cheryl Stoner on 01/04/2014
  • We can communicate through facebook. I will also check Merle’s facebook pages.

    By william pick on 03/04/2014
  • Thanks William, I will look out for you on Facebook.

    As a point of interest, to others searching. i was given this to follow up on inquiries, but you need full name. DoB and any marriage details:

    archives@sainthelena.gov.sh

    By Cheryl Stoner on 04/04/2014