St Helena Island Excursion

07 Sep

Last week we joined 120 other homeschoolers and left the mainland to head to the nearby St Helena Island.   I wouldn’t ordinarily join so many other people for an excursion as we tend towards family excursions (less social distractions) but this was a one off opportunity.  A lady had organised a school tour which included guides who acted as wardens and prisoners.   The school tour is also considerably cheaper than the public tour…and I mean considerably!


We traveled on the top deck of the ferry on the 20 minute journey over


Can you see the mainland in the distance?

For those who don’t know anything about the island, from 1867 until 1933 it was a prison.    The prisoners had to work hard as the prison was almost entirely self-sufficient.  Due to its location escape attempts were few and far between and only a handful were successful.  In 1979 the island become a historic national park and nowadays tours are run to the island to educate people about the history of the prison.


What the island may have looked like


This area held 48 prisoners. The "warden" is showing the corner of one cell in which twelve men slept in hammocks.


Hammock hooks - three beds on the top and three on the bottom. To fit 12 men in I'm wondering whether they had two men per hammock - one on either end. Not sure??

For several weeks prior to the excursion the boys and I read about the history of the island from several little booklets we purchased while on a much earlier trip Liam and I had made to the island.   I wanted the boys to have a little bit of information to help make the trip significant for them, especially as the trip was out of the blue and not really connected to anything we were learning about at the time.

Then the afternoon AFTER we returned from the trip I found a fantastic site that I’m sure didn’t exist when I first went looking for information.  It has historical information, pictures and printable activities for the children so at least it’ll be useful for some post-trip activities.

I’ve also ordered the book which the guide highly recommended, “The St Helena Story”.  I’m eager to read it.  I always find the history of a place more interesting to read once I’ve visited the venue.

The excursion was wonderful and the tour guides’ presentation was fabulous.  The boys loved the antics and misfortune of the two prisoners and even the stern warden.   I must say I found myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion!  I mean the prison ruins are fascinating but the guides made all the little details come to life in a more memorable way for the children.


Prisoner 98 at the mercy of the warden


The cat o' nine tails - a nasty whip that was a common punishment


A demonstration of the ferocity of the whipping


The Shot Drill punishment - prisoners had to carry an iron ball a distance, put it down, turn around, pick it up and then walk back. This was done after a long day of work for over an hour for a number of days.





There’s only ruins left on the island but they’ve been lovingly cared for and are in a much better condition than the last time I saw them.   You can’t go inside any of the ruins, however they are still quite interesting and even more so when your guide describes what they would have looked like and how each was used.


Some of the remaining stockade walls


The side of the store or supply building. This building has been repaired a little to prevent further damage


The kitchen and remailns of several other work areas


The oven


The Aboriginal exercise area. Yes that's a wallaby you can see in there. Take note of the square thing there too. More on that soon.


The white men's exercise yards - note the discrepancy in size!


The night slop hole - where the "night buckets" were emptied. Did you see this in the Aboriginal exercise yard!!

The boys were exhausted by the end of the day.  According to the guide they’d walked nearly 5 kilometres during the day.  Add that to a VERY early morning start and a 20 minute rocking trip back on the ferry and you’ve got two little boys who were asleep in the back of the car on the hour long journey home.  They never sleep in the car!


The hike up to the ruins from the ferry


Homeschoolers clearly have no idea of what it means to walk in two lines. The warden gave up asking us to do this.

Aside from some attention issues from my own boys (social distractions which are inherent in large group excursions where the kids would prefer to muck around with their friends), I enjoyed the tour and the boys came home excited and eager to share what they had learned.

Isn’t it wonderful to be able to go on an excursion with your own children?!  To think that we would miss these occasions if our children were in school.   Homeschooling rocks!


The hike back to the ferry

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 7, 2010 in Field Trips, History


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: