East India Company, 1658–1815
In 1657, the English East India Company was granted a charter to govern St. Helena by Oliver Cromwell, and the following year the Company decided to fortify the island and colonise it with planters. The first governor, Captain John Dutton, arrived in 1659, and it is from this date that St. Helena claims to be Britain’s second oldest colony (after Bermuda). A fort was completed and a number of houses were built. After the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, the East India Company received a Royal Charter giving it the sole right to fortify and colonise the island. The fort was renamed James Fort and the town Jamestown, in honour of the Duke of York, later James II of England. The Company experienced great difficulty attracting new immigrants, and unrest and rebellion fermented among the inhabitants. Ecological problems, including deforestation, soil erosion, vermin and drought, led governor Isaac Pyke to suggest in 1715 that the population should be moved to Mauritius, but this was not acted upon and the Company continued to subsidise the island because of its strategic location. A census in 1723 showed a total population of 1,110, including 610 slaves.
British rule, a Crown colony, 1834–1981
Under the provisions of the 1833 India Act, control of St. Helena was passed from the East India Company to the British Crown. Subsequent administrative cost-cutting triggered the start of a long-term population decline whereby those who could afford to do so tended to leave the island for better opportunities elsewhere. The latter half of the 19th century saw the advent of steamships not reliant on trade winds, as well as the diversion of Far East trade away from the traditional South Atlantic shipping lanes to a route via the Red Sea (which, prior to the building of the Suez Canal involved a short overland section). These factors contributed to a decline in the number of ships calling at the island from 1,100 in 1855 to only 288 in 1889.
In 1840, a British naval station established to suppress the African slave trade was based on the island, and between 1840 and 1849 over 15,000 freed slaves, known as "Liberated Africans" were landed there. In 1900 and 1901, over 6,000 Boer prisoners were held on the island, and the population reached its all-time record of 9,850 in 1901.
The British Nationality Act 1981 reclassified St. Helena and the other Crown colonies as British Dependent Territories. The islanders lost their status as "Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies" and were stripped of their right of abode in Britain.
Doomsday to Present
HMS Survivor 2
After Doomsday, the British government established an evacuation programme which intended to evacuate a huge number of British inhabitants to Southern Africa. However, many vessels didn't make the journey. On the 3rd June 1984 one of the earlier ships, the HMS Survivor 2 left from the busy port of Swansea (then in Wales). Roughly four days later it stranded in the south Atlantic after running out of fuel oil. The captain later admitted that the ship had to leave early because of pressure from the harbour and didn't manage to fill up the tanker. However, local fisherman from St. Helena managed to find the ship and tow it to the Island. After arriving they found that the main harbour had been decommissioned to stop any further ships from abroad evacuating to the island. With no fuel oil at the time the ship was stranded on the island. Because of the relatively great wealth and knowledge of the ship's passengers (over 20% were said to have a doctorate), the island began to flourish.
In the early 1990's contact was made with New Britain and a referendum was held that declared St. Helena's loyalty to their fellow Britons so long as they could maintain a high degree of autonomy. New Britain having little other choice accepted their demands.
In 1995, King Andrew launched the replacement RMS St. Helena to serve the island; the vessel was specially built for the Cardiff–Cape Town route and features a mixed cargo/passenger layout. This helped to further strengthen ties between the two nations.
St. Helena has a booming economy with a high standard of living and a high GDP per capita. Although the island has been relatively successful since 1983, it has seen even greater growth since oil production began in 1998. The oil industry makes up roughly half the total income in St. Helena while the rest comes from industry, where money from oil has been funded to buy natural resources, where they can be turned into new products to be once again shipped abroad. Fishing is no longer an important industry but more just a means of sustaining the population.
The Government also employs a large number of people on the island that simply help to sustain a decent quality of life.
Executive authority in St. Helena is invested in the monarch and is exercised on his behalf by the Governor of St. Helena. The Governor is elected by the people of St. Helena instead of being appointed by the King a it was before doomsday.
There are 5 seats in the Legislative Council, a unicameral legislature. 12 of the 15 members are elected in elections held every four years. The other three members are the Governor and two ex-officio officers. The Executive Council consists of the Governor, two ex-officio officers, and six elected members of the Legislative Council appointed by the Governor. There is no elected Chief Minister, and the Governor acts as the head of government. The current Governor, since November 2007, is Andrew Gurr, who succeeded Michael Clancy.