Longwood, St Helena

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St Helena, Ascension
and Tristan da Cunha
16 Napoleons exole St Helena June1970.jpg
Longwood House in Longwood
Island: St Helena
Population: 715  (2008)
Local Government

Longwood is a village and district of the island of St Helena in the South Atlantic territory of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. In 2008 the whole district had a population of 715, compared with a population of 960 in 1998.

The area of the district is 12.9 square miles[1] (which is second only to Blue Hill). It includes the settlement of Hutt's Gate, with its St Matthew's church. The district also contains the island's only existing golf course.

Map showing Longwood's location

The district contains Prosperous Bay Plain, which is where the proposed St Helena Airport is to be sited.

There is a weather recording station in the Longwood district. Readings of temperature, air pressure and visibility are automatically read and communicated every 3 hours.[2]

Longwood House

Longwood House

Longwood House was the residence of the deposed Emperor of the French, Napoleon Bonaparte, during his exile on the island of St Helena, from 10 December 1815 until his death on 5 May 1821. It stands on a windswept plain s4 miles from the capital, Jamestown.


Formerly the summer residence of the Lieutenant Governor, Longwood House was converted for the use of Napoleon in 1815. The British Government recognised its inadequacy as a home for the former Emperor and his entourage, and by the time of his death had built a new house for him nearby, which he never occupied.

In February 1818, the Governor Sir Hudson Lowe proposed to Lord Bathurst to move Napoleon to Rosemary Hall, a house that became available and was located in a more hospitable part of the island, sheltered from the winds and shaded, as Napoleon had preferred.[3] However, the revelations of General Gaspard Gourgaud in London brought Lord Bathurst to the opinion that it was safer to keep Napoleon at Longwood, where an escape was harder to undertake. The building of the new house therefore only began in October 1818, three years after Napoleon's arrival on the island.

Napoleon's main medical physician, Barry Edward O'Meara wrote letters describing the issues of Napoleon and his suite while in captivity, and sent them clandestinely to a friend at the Admiralty in London.[4]

The Emperor died of stomach cancer on 5 May 1821. He was buried near Longwood in a dale that became known as "the Valley of the Tomb", beneath a plain slab (because the French and British officers could not agree on the inscription). Later the Emperor's body was disinterred and carried to France at the orders of King Louis-Philippe, to be buried in state at Les Invalides in Paris.

After Napoleon's death

Longwood House, in 2008

After Napoleon's death in 1821, Longwood House reverted to the ownership of the East India Company and later to the Crown, and was used for agricultural purposes. Reports of its neglect reached the Emperor Napoleon III (Bonaparte's nephew) and from 1854 the Emperor negotiated with the British Government for the transfer of Longwood House to France. In 1858 it was transferred to the French Government along with the Valley of the Tomb for a sum of £7,100. Since then they have been under the control of the French Foreign Ministry and a French Government representative has lived on the island and has been responsible for managing both properties. In 1959 a third property, the Briars, where Napoleon spent the first two months while Longwood was being prepared, was given to the French Government by Dame Mabel Brookes.

As a result of the depredations of termites, in the 1940s the French Government considered demolishing the building. New Longwood and the Balcombe's house at the Briars were both demolished at this time, but Longwood House was saved, and it has been restored by recent French curators. The stone steps at the front are the only part of the original fabric to survive.

In 2006 Michel Dancoisne-Martineau donated the heart-shaped waterfall valley to the St Helena National Trust. In 2008 he donated the land surrounding the Pavilion at the Briars to the French Republic.

Longwood House is now a museum owned by the French government. It is one of two museums on the island, the other being the Museum of St Helena.[5]



On leaving the University of Oxford, in 1676, Edmond Halley visited St Helena and set up an observatory with a 24-foot-long aerial telescope with the intention of studying stars from the Southern Hemisphere.[6] The site of this telescope is near St Matthew's church in the district. The 2,231 feet high hill there is named for him and is called Halley's Mount.

Halley's Observatory was in use 1677-1678. Having returned to Britain in 1678, Halley published Catalogus Stellarum Australium in 1679, which included details of 341 southern stars. These additions to present-day star maps earned him comparison with Tycho Brahe. Halley subsequently was awarded with his Masters from Oxford and Fellowship of the Royal Society.

In 1686 Halley published the second part of the results from his Helenian expedition, being a paper and chart on trade winds and monsoons. In this he identified solar heating as the cause of atmospheric motions. He also established the relationship between barometric pressure and height above sea level. His charts were an important contribution to the emerging field of information visualization.

In the 19th/early 20th centuries, an observatory (in use 1840-1849) was situated in Longwood village and two further observatories were erected in the Hutt's Gate area: one in use 1892-1924 and the second in use 1925-1975.

Outside links


  1. "Statistics of the territories of the United Kingdom". GeoHive. http://www.geohive.com/cntry/gb-subs.aspx. Retrieved 2013-10-05. 
  2. MeteoGroup St Helena WMO
  3. Albert Benhamou, L'autre Sainte-Hélène: la captivité, la maladie, la mort, et les médecins autour de Napoléon, 2010, p.138, extract from the Lowe Papers
  4. Inside Longwood Barry O'Meara's clandestine letters
  5. St Helena — The Island in the South Atlantic Ocean
  6. Gazetteer - p. 7. MONUMENTS IN FRANCE - page 338

Further reading

  • Jean-Paul Kauffman, The Dark Room at Longwood (2000)

Coordinates: 15°56′S 5°40′W / 15.933°S 5.667°W / -15.933; -5.667