If you dream of creating your own serene corner of paradise on a gorgeous island without simply swopping the urban rat race for a perpetual stream of hell-raising tourists, then the south Atlantic volcanic outpost of St Helena is exactly what the doctor ordered – especially if it includes living in an elegant 200-year-old homestead surrounded by a remarkable art collection, all set in beautiful gardens.
St Helena is widely considered to be one of the few remaining civilised, technologically connected but breath-takingly unspoilt sanctuaries left in the world, and situated a remote 2 000km off the coast of south-west Africa it’s no secret why.
Given its location, small size and even smaller permanent population, property choices on St Helena are relatively limited, so when a home as remarkable as Prince’s Lodge comes onto the market, ripples of interest reverberate around the globe.
Prince’s Lodge was built in 1808 and was originally known as Knoll Cottage because of its proximity to High Knoll Fort, themost prominent and most complete of the forts and military installations on the island and one of the Seven Wonders of St Helena.
The rambling homestead stands on two acres and boasts four large bedrooms, a spacious living room, fitted kitchen, a dining room and separate guest accommodation. The property was largely abandoned for 50 years until 1999, when the present owner acquired the home and lovingly restored it, naming it Prince’s Lodge after Richard Prince, a well-known island magistrate and merchant.
“A striking feature of the house is the collection of St Helena artworks, which is in fact the largest single collection in the world,” says the property’s realtor Vivienne Brent, of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Cape Town.
“The 500 or so framed water colours, etchings, prints, maps, lithographs, aquarelles, engravings and articles showcase the rich heritage of the island. They were collected over the years by the owner, who moved from England to South Africa and then to St Helena”.
“The Castell collection is a permanent exhibition, open to the public, with conducted tours on prearranged days by a resident curator, who lives in a nearby cottage.”
Until recently, the only way to reach this remote South Atlantic island was by sea on the RMS St Helena, the last commercially operating Royal Mail Ship, but with a commercial airline just about to launch flights this unique destination will be more accessible.
But while St Helena may be geographically remote, settling there part-time or permanently doesn’t mean you’re cut off from the world, though. Satellite TV provides an array of British and South African programming, and the island has an ADSL internet network.
But with a permanent population of just 4 550, it is extremely peaceful. Amenities include private tennis courts, a golf course, fishing and yachting facilities and Diana’s Peak National Park is home to many endemic and endangered species on the island, from the gumwood tree to the wirebird.
A full island tour usually lasts four to five hours and is a great way to view the entire landmass – an experience to see the varying contrasts in geology, nature, architecture and historical attractions.
St Helena has a fascinating past, touching many aspects of world history. It was discovered by the Portuguese in 1502, and became first a Dutch then a British possession. It was a strategically important port of call during the British Empire, until the opening of the Suez Canal in 1889 and the advent of steamships.
The island’s remote location made it a suitable place of exile for key prisoners, including about 6 000 Boer captives, Chief Dinizulu Cetshwayo, various Bahraini princes and, the most famous island prisoner of all, Napoleon Bonaparte, who died on St Helena in 1821.
“This heritage provides a significant legacy of fortifications, remains, historic buildings, and the port of Jamestown – all of which are represented in the Castell art collection, on display in the entrance hall and two large ground floor rooms in Prince’s Lodge,” says Brent.
St Helenians – also called “Saints – are mainly descended from British settlers, East India Company employees and slaves from the South Asian sub-continent and Africa, the East Indies and Madagascar as well as Chinese indentured labourers. The capital and only town on the island is Jamestown, with a population of about 880. The other main districts of population are Longwood and Half Tree Hollow.
Saints are known for their friendliness – everyone waves and greets each other, and even passing cars. English is the only language spoken on the island, although most Saints speak their own dialect.
Brent says residential properties on the island mainly consist of small cottages in Jamestown, along with a small hotel, a few B&Bs and a handful of large homes.
“Prince’s Lodge is one of these, and would be ideal for an owner who appreciates safety, peace, walking trails with splendid views and a culture of a bygone era in an equatorial climate.”
On the market fully furnished for £980 000, the price includes the art collection.