On Friday 23rd October, the first day of Ascension’s Bicentenary celebrations, a flag raising ceremony took place in the capital, Georgetown. The raising of the Union flag recreated the actions of the first British Navy settlers who came ashore on 22 October 1815, planted the flag and in so doing claimed the Island in the name of King George III.
The ceremony was supported by the Band of the Royal Marines and featured speeches by the Island’s Administrator, Marc Holland and visiting military chaplain, Padre Nick Cook.
The Administrator encouraged those present to consider the conditions endured by those who first lived on Ascension:
“This weekend we will be saluting the ingenuity and determination of those early settlers to build shelter, find water and grow food. How they tamed the harsh volcanic landscape and made the inhospitable home. How they had to cope with shortages, disease and the psychological impact of isolation. And how Ascension officially became a ship and was run under naval discipline. We will pay tribute to those who dedicated their lives and sometimes paid the ultimate sacrifice to establish the basics of life on this island.
But this weekend is more than just a celebration of our military heritage, important though it is. In celebrating 200 years of British sovereignty, we will pay tribute to all the people who have made this island into what it is today.”
Photo credits: Crown Copyright 2015/LPHOT Caroline Davies RN
The bells of St Mary’s Church, Ascension, were rung yesterday evening in recognition of the British men who came ashore exactly 200 years ago to establish a garrison on the Island. Commander Dobree of HMS Zenobia and Captain White of HMS Peruvian took possession of the Island on 22 October 1815 in the name of King George III.
The ringing of the church bells in Georgetown signalled the start of a weekend of Bicentenary celebrations and was followed by a ‘Dance the Night Away’ party in Georgetown Square, attended by a large and enthusiastic crowd of locals and visitors.
Further events planned for the weekend include a Flag Raising ceremony and the official opening of the new Bicentenary Park on Saturday.
This Thursday, 22 October, Ascension Island will celebrate 200 years of British settlement on the Island.
A weekend of special events is planned to mark the occasion and excitement is building as the date draws close. The bells of St Mary’s Church will ring to announce the start of the Bicentenary celebrations and will be followed by a ‘Dance the Night Away’ event in Georgetown Square.
The British Base Commander, Wing Commander Mark Taylor, explains why it is important for Ascension’s Bicentenary to be recognised and celebrated –
“Those of us who live on Ascension today must pay tribute to all our military forebears who worked in extreme conditions from 1815 onwards to establish a fresh water supply, sanitation, military fortifications, housing and healthcare in this isolated and remote environment”.
A flag raising ceremony on Friday 23 October will re-create the original raising of the Union Flag by the Navy in 1815 and honour those who first arrived here to establish a British garrison.
Full details of the Bicentenary Weekend programme can be found here.
Ascension Island Government (AIG) and St Helena Government (SHG) are pleased to announce that Comair Limited has been selected as the preferred bidder for the provision of air services between Ascension Island and St Helena.
Comair has recently been awarded the contract for return flights between Johannesburg and St Helena. The service to and from Ascension will be an extension to this service – initially on a frequency of once every four weeks and for a trial period of one year.
Comair will utilise a Boeing 737-800 aircraft, configured for economy and business class, for the weekly Saturday service from Johannesburg to St Helena. Under the new arrangement, on one Saturday in four, the service will be extended to include a flight from St Helena to Ascension Island. This flight will take approximately two hours, with an overnight stay on Ascension Island. The flight will then depart Ascension Island on Sunday morning for St Helena Airport – and then on to Johannesburg OR Tambo International Airport.
AIG is grateful for the strong support given by Governor Mark Capes, Executive Council, Enterprise St Helena and officials on St Helena.
Governor Capes said:
“I am delighted to confirm that we plan to extend the Comair service to Ascension. A direct link between Ascension and St Helena will benefit Saints on St Helena, Ascension and the Falklands. It will allow families to stay in touch, Saints to continue to take up employment opportunities across the South Atlantic and it recognises the close ties between the two islands, which of course form part of one Territory. This is good news for St Helena, for Ascension Island and for the wider South Atlantic Community.’’
AIG and SHG will be holding detailed discussions with Comair over the coming weeks with a view to formalising a service contract that meets the requirements of both islands. Subject to these discussions, AIG and SHG hope to make a more detailed announcement in the near future.
The air service will be subject to Comair securing the required Government and regulatory approvals and obtaining the specific consents and licences associated with the agreed terms of the service agreement.
An air link between St Helena and Ascension Island will reinforce existing cultural and economic ties, offering fast and easy travel for those wishing to return home to visit friends and family, including from the Falkland Islands.
It will also provide a convenient service to tourists who wish to visit both islands during their time in the South Atlantic, and AIG is working with St Helena Tourism to strengthen a joint tourism offering.
9 October 2015
A new park for Georgetown, situated between the Exiles Building and St Mary’s Church, is starting to take shape. A number of plants and trees have been planted out and are beginning to establish themselves. When fully grown, these will provide shade and a welcome area of green so that residents and visitors have a space to sit and relax in the centre of Georgetown. The park also features a mosaic wall representing the landscapes of Ascension. A unique monument, commemorating Ascension’s Bicentenary, has been commissioned for the park and will be revealed at the official opening of the park during the Bicentenary Weekend (22-25 October 2015).
The Administrator expressed his thanks to all volunteers who have helped turn ideas for a Bicentenary Park into reality in such a short space of time – “The Bicentenary Park will provide a focal point in Georgetown for islanders and visitors alike to sit, relax and enjoy the landscape. The creation of the Park would not have been possible without the commitment of a large number of volunteers from across the Island, who have worked together to make the project a success”.
The Ascension Island Government has released an events programme for the Bicentenary weekend, from 22-25 October 2015. Thursday 22 October commemorates the actual anniversary of the garrisoning of Ascension 200 years ago. Friday 23 October has been designated by the Administrator as an additional Public Holiday to mark the occasion.
Thursday 22 October
From 21:00 Dance the Night Away in Georgetown Square
Friday 23 October – BANK HOLIDAY
11:00 Flag raising ceremony
13:30 Fun Day at Long Beach
18:00 – 20:00 Sundowners at Long Beach
Saturday 24 October
10:00 – 12:00 Bicentenary Walk on Green Mountain
13:00 US Base Extravaganza
17:30 Bicentenary Park official opening and Beating the Retreat
21:00 – 01:30 Party in the Park
Sunday 25 October 2015
10:30 – 11:30 Bicentenary Church Service
14:00 – 16:00 Treasure Trail
19:00 – 21:00 Grand finale at Fort Thornton with music and fireworks
This article is re-printed from the Islander and based on a speech given to AIG staff on 1 May.
‘How can we celebrate the Bicentenary when I don’t even know how I will get home next year or get fresh food on the table for my family’? These are some of the sentiments I encountered last week when I gave talks at the bicentenary public meeting and AIG Away Day.
My response is that you can get home to St Helena, have fresh fruit & vegetables and celebrate 200 years of British sovereignty in Ascension. They are three very different issues but it is not a case of either/or – we can achieve all three.
Finding a cost effective and convenient way of transporting people and cargo between Ascension and St Helena is my top priority. I know how important it is for Saints to get home to see family & friends on St Helena. Ascension simply could not run without its skilled, hardworking and loyal Saint work force. I know the concern that uncertainty over a successor to the RMS St Helena is causing you. That’s why I want to share with you as much information as I can.
The ‘2016 access’ issue is a complex problem and will require external support in order to resolve. We live in an isolated place and the Ascension Island Government does not have sufficient resources to underwrite a solution independently.
We now know that St Helena will have a weekly air service to Johannesburg subsidised, in the short term, by DFID. The provider, Comair, is unlikely to fly on to Ascension because of the additional time required for this extended service. The St Helena Government will shortly be announcing the final schedule for the RMS. We expect the last sailing from Cape Town to arrive here in mid May 2016. Therefore, we have one year to find a solution.
What has AIG been doing?
I have been working with Toni Bendall to come up with a range of air and sea options. We hired an external firm of consultants, who validated our earlier work and provided us with several more options. There are a number of potential solutions, though none of them are straightforward. And we face several challenges. The price, for all options, is high due to the distances involved and low passenger demand, however there is a strong preference for an air link, as opposed to continued sea services, for passengers. If the cost goes above the price of going the ‘long way’ round (via London and Jo’burg), it will be very difficult to secure financial support for the establishment of an inter-island link.
We are working with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London to explore all other options including the extension of existing, non-civilian, links to the island.. In the end it will come down to the cost.
Last week I met with representatives of all the major employers and we have agreed to go to tender for an air link, to seek firm bids from companies that are willing to operate the route. We hope to have results by September. So we should know by then what plane will operate the route for what price.
I know many of you are concerned about how you will get your belongings and cars back to St Helena. We will also be looking at chartering an additional sea cargo service, perhaps once or twice a year, which will allow you to ship your possessions home.
I know that some people have argued that we should scrap the Bicentenary celebrations until the fresh food and access issues have been resolved. I can understand that. But I say we can have food, a park and solve the 2016 access issue. Refitting the kids’ playground and building a small seating area in the main square is under AIG’s control. Securing our food supply will be challenging. But again we can doa lot on island to grow our own vegetables as we did in the 1940s with hydroponics at Donkey Plain and the Mountain farm. We are looking at more modern forms of hydroponics and re-opening the farm if it is economically viable. And we need to explore other import options as well.
We may not feel like celebrating but the Bicentenary only comes along once. It may not feel convenient to celebrate this year but that does not mean we cannot mark the achievements of our forebears in making this island fit for habitation. I urge you to get involved in helping make the celebrations a success.
Above all, I want to reassure you that you have not been forgotten and I am dedicating all my energy and time to solving this issue.
Administrator Ascension Island
4 May 2015
Friday 22 May 2015 saw the official re-opening of the Ascension Island Museum by HH Marc Holland, Administrator and President of the Heritage Society.
Over the last six months a group of dedicated volunteers have spent many hours painting and reorganising all of the museum displays according to a design commissioned from Ros Goulding, formerly the curator at the Porthcurno Museum. The displays are now organised in a chronological order and tell the story of Ascension.
Many members of the community turned out to celebrate the hard work and to enjoy the new, much improved museum.
There are many more exciting Heritage Society projects planned for 2015 including the new Community Room and the Faces of Ascension project.
With less than six months to go until the Bicentenary weekend (22-25 October 2015), plans to mark the occasion on Ascension Island are taking shape.
Following consultation with island representatives and a public vote, a logo for the Ascension200 celebrations has been chosen. The logo, which takes the shape of the island, features the Union flag to indicate 200 years of British sovereignty. Although Ascension Island was discovered by the Portuguese in 1501, it was not inhabited until it was claimed by the British Navy on 22 October 1815. A garrison was established to prevent the defeated Napoleon escaping from St Helena.
The Administrator, Marc Holland, commented, “The Bicentenary is an opportunity for us to celebrate what has been achieved so far and commit to continuing to develop the island for the benefit of all”. This was endorsed by the Bicentenary Co-Ordinator, Glenda Schutgens – “We can celebrate the ingenuity and hard work that has made this island what it is today. We can also celebrate what this island means to us. How often will we have the chance to be so closely involved in and be able to shape a world event?”.
This Bicentenary year will see the completion of a number of structural projects, chosen to protect our built and cultural heritage as well as to improve the quality of life of Ascension’s residents today. There will be new equipment for the children’s playground in Georgetown and plans have been made for the creation of a small park behind the iconic former Exiles Club building. It is also hoped that the island can raise funds to repair the clock of the Exiles Club and make use of passing military labour to repair the breached wall of the Turtle Ponds. Jane Murray-Stringer, heading up the structural Bicentenary projects, said “Both of these sites represent a key part of our island history and it is a fitting tribute to the hard work of those who have lived and worked on Ascension in the last 200 years that we do what we can to protect them for the enjoyment of future generations. AIG would like to thank Lieutenant Clegg and 69 Ghurkha Field Squadron who visited in April and started work on repairing the Turtle Ponds, as well as a number of other projects around the island. We hope to welcome them back later in 2015”.
A series of events are being organised to celebrate the Bicentenary and to generate a coming together of all parts of the Ascension Island community. These include, but are not limited to, a Bicentenary Ball, football competition, chilli cook-off, skittles competition and a live music festival. In the words of the Bicentenary Co-Ordinator – “I want Ascension200 to be part of the history of this community, my community”.
For more information relating to the Bicentenary and Ascension200 celebrations please phone Glenda on 6153 or email her.