Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Descendants of the Saints: St Helena Heritage

Many St Helenians came to the Cape shortly after the abolition of the slave trade in 1832 because there was a shortage of labour in the Colony. 

Between 1873 and 1884 the Cape government shipped 22 232 St Helenian immigrants to the colony. The  Emigrants Advice Office was established in London in 1887, through which financial support was provided by the government to employers of artisans and domestic labour. The newcomers from St Helena moved into relatively empty areas east of the city such as District Six and Woodstock. These became overcrowded before the turn of the 19th c.

St Helenians integrated with various South African communities - European, African, Malay, Khoi, Chinese - and the local freed slaves, as well as slaves who had been liberated by the British Western African Squadron from slaving vessels which were still trading illegally after the abolition of slavery.

The South African St Helenian Heritage Association was founded by Merle Martin. The Association's mission is to promote awareness, preserve and protect St Helena Island Heritage in South Africa. Merle is compiling a list of descendants whose ancestral lineage can be traced back to St Helena Island:

'My aim is to get people to come and tell us their stories. I was always interested in searching my family tree. I've heard so many people say they have ancestors from the island. My paternal grandmother was from the island. Our motto is: We do know our roots.'

Merle mentions: 'My research has shown that St Helenians arrived in the Cape from 1795 until 1949 when SA barred St Helenians from entering. Also, note that that the total of 22 232 immigrants stated above would have included mostly temporary residents of St Helena who were freed off slaving vessels.'

Anyone wishing to know more or to share information is welcome to contact Ms Martin by email: or phone 021 7018422
Read descendants' stories at

Rediscovering St Helena: a Gathering of Saints in Cape Town    

Alice Armstrong with her eldest son Jack  aged about 2 or 3 and her mother Ann Maria.
The person on the right is not identified.

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