A woman collects herself in front of a commemorative
plaque on the site where slaves are buried in Jamestown, on the
British island of St. Helena, October 18, 2017
A little word is pinned on an old wooden door of the prison:
„Here are temporarily rested 325 African slaves released and
brought against their will to Saint Helena.They are now waiting
in this room their final burial“.
In front of the door, on the damp floor, are a bouquet of
tired white arums and extinct candles.
Nine years now that the bones of these former slaves,
discovered during the construction of the airport of the island
of St. Helena, have been uncovered.
Since then, the remains have been stored out of sight and
almost indifferent in cardboard boxes, in a dark room with
thick ash-stone walls.
„Nothing has been done for nearly ten years,“ indignant
Annina Van Neel Hayes, who comes every Sunday to attend the
padlocked door. She, along with friends, posted the little note
and erected an altar to pay homage to them.
To offer them a burial „is not the priority of the
authorities, the airport if“, drops the young Namibian married
to a Helene.
With this airport finally open to the public, St. Helena,
hitherto regularly served by the only way to the seas, turns a
new page of its rich history.
A site commemorating freed slaves brought to St. Helena
against their will, whose bones were discovered during the
construction of the airport of this British island, October 18,
Famous for having hosted the exile of the French Emperor
Napoleon I (1815-1821), the British island lost in the South
Atlantic has also, it is less known, served to the English
advanced base to intercept slave ships en route to the
Between 1840 and 1865, about 25,000 slaves were released and
landed at St. Helena. Almost left to their own devices, they
suffer from dysentery and smallpox. Very quickly, it is the
hecatomb. About 8,000 are buried in the Rupert Valley, narrow
– ‚Ghosts‘ –
By opening a road to get equipment to the site of the new
airport, the bulldozers discovered their bones, more than 150
The valley of „Rupert is littered with corpses of this
time“, explains to the AFP the director of the airport, Janet
Lawrence. „On our maps, there were only two cemeteries, all of
which were unreported.“
Extract from the Slave Ship Records in the Archives at
Jamestown, British Columbia, October 18, 2017
In this valley today industrial, we grew up with this heavy
past that feeds the imagination.
„Child, my father told me stories of ghosts and chains, it
was said that if there were power cuts, it was because the
power plant was built on graves,“ recalls Alonzo Henry, 36
„When we were looking for goat food, it was not uncommon to
find human bones,“ says her aunt, Deborah Fowler.
From his modest home, this fifty-year-old sees the former
hospital once reserved for slaves just released. Today it is
home to the Saint Helena fishery.
So when the first skeletons were unearthed, no one was
Archaeologists quickly dispatched to the spot discovered 325
bodies, most of them in mass graves, a handful in coffins.
Average age: 12 years.
Suddenly, St. Helena plunged into a past she had almost
– Negroes –
At school, „we learned in broad and broken history of
Napoleon“, „that of the Boers“ of South Africa, prisoners on
the island in the early twentieth century, „but there was very
little information about slaves, „says Giselle Richards, a
General view of the Rupert Valley where slaves‘ bones
were discovered near Jamestown, on the British island of St.
Helena, October 19, 2017
The fate reserved for them today in St. Helena speaks for
itself. In a lush valley, Napoleon still has an imposing tomb,
even if it is empty since the repatriation of the body in
France. More than a hundred Boers rest in a graveyard of gray
and white graves. But thousands of former slaves are buried in
Slave bones, discovered in this valley in the 1980s during
the construction of the power plant, have been re-buried. They
lie, however, under a small mound of soil covered with roots
and leaves, on the sidelines of the cemetery of St. Paul on the
heights of Jamestown, the capital.
The island’s archives testify, however, to St. Helena’s
crucial role in the abolition of slavery. The accounts of the
nineteenth century slave traders are preserved in bound leather
A boat intercepted on December 2, 1840 carried 245 slaves.
Another seized on January 17, 1841, from Benguela (Angola) and
towards Brazil, counted 308 slaves „in good health“ and 108
Some of them could be among the 325 remains uncovered during
the excavations at Rupert.
– Back to the past –
The choice of temporarily storing them in a building in
Jamestown Jail is spurring Jeremy Harris, director of the NGO
National Trust. The symbol is „inappropriate“, he thinks.
„Unfortunate“, concedes the MPP Lawson Henry AFP.
Resident of Rupert Valley recalls stories told by her
parents about the discovery of slaves on the British island of
St. Helena, October 19, 2017
„The thick stones of this old building naturally control the
temperature of the room,“ defends Janet Lawrence.
The case feeds rumors and speculation, maintained by the
opacity of the authorities on the record.
A student working on slavery is allowed to enter the room,
provided that she does not disclose anything without prior
After unsuccessfully asking to inspect the building, Jeremy
Harris broke into the room in 2014.
He demanded a transfer of the bones: the end of
non-reception. But mid-October, the authorities of St. Helena
commissioned a small group of local experts to propose, within
six months, a final burial place for the 325 bodies, probably
The infrastructure works around the airport are almost
complete, allowing now, explains Lawson Henry, to consider a
solution for the „liberated Africans“.
„With the airport, we thought future and we find ourselves
rediscovering our past,“ summarizes her husband, Alonzo Henry,
who is passionate about the subject. And for good reason, he
could be himself a descendant of a slave.