Castle Gardens, in the heart of Jamestown, is a great place to just sit and watch the world bustle by. Situated outside the Castle buildings; it’s just up the street, towards the shops. It is filled with lawns, flower beds and aged trees, some of which have been reportedly growing since before Napoleon’s day, all well maintained by the Government’s gardeners.
Despite being in the centre of town it is suprisingly quiet there. The noise of town doesn’t seem to permeate, leaving only the chirping of song birds and the cooing of doves. It’s a popular destination for eating your lunchtime sandwiches, and also for wedding-photo shoots.
Some of the plants in Castle Gardens are Endemic to St. Helena, many planted for ceremonial reasons. In 2011, for example, the island’s Girl Guides planted a Boxwood tree mellissia begoniifolia as part of the celebrations of ninety years of guiding on St. Helena.
A large anchor sits prominently displayed on the lawn. Nobody knows which ship this relates to – it was found in James Bay during wharf reconstruction work.
One feature of the gardens is the collection of ‘living sculptures’ – topiary works, fashioned from hibiscus – which you can inspect. There is a bird with an egg in a nest, a rabbit, a tortoise (possibly Jonathan) and a ladies’ hand complete with red fingernails and watch.
Bit of History
Originally the “Government Garden” it seems to have been created some time before 1682. A record from 16th January 1682 reports that a stone wall had “lately” been built to enclose a “large garden” near the Fort. It was laid out in its current arrangement in 1792/3 as the gardens of the East India Company, by soldiers in lieu of corporal punishment.
The iron railings surrounding the gardens were erected in 1821 “at considerable expense”, as a result of which drivers were prohibited from leaving their carts just outside the gardens, presumably to allow everyone an unhindered view of the (expensive) new railings.
The Fountain was added around the end of the 19th Century.
The fountain is of cast-iron construction. It was installed at the command of Governor Robert Armitage Sterndale (1897-1902). It was presumably made in Britain, but when and by whom is not known.
It is kept in working order and fish live in the pond beneath. It is much frequented by birds, it being one of the few reliable sources of fresh water for wild creatures in Jamestown. In older times people used to drink from it too.
The Water Witch Monument
On Western side, just outside Ann’s Place, stands the Water Witch monument, erected to mark the exploits of the Royal Naval vessel “Water Witch” in the capture of slave ships in the waters around St. Helena. This is the ship’s report from 2nd December 1840:
At 3 p.m. on this day chase was given to a suspicious looking Brigantine under the land who then made all sail to gain a small bay, on entering which at 4.30 p.m. she ran on shore under all sail, the crew immediately deserting her by boats. On boarding the said vessel I found a large number of slaves on board, a great many in the water who had attempted to swim on shore but the distance being too great many were drowned in the attempt, some regained the vessel and others were saved by the boats of the “Water Witch”; on mustering the slaves immediately on getting the vessel afloat, there appeared to be 245 left on board of whom 5 died immediately after taking possession.
No discussion of Castle Gardens can be complete without a mention of “Ann’s Place”.
Set in the south-western corner of the gardens, in a building that was originally the Government Stables, “Ann’s Place” is a restaurant, café, meeting place, entertainment venue, yachties hangout, and doubtless many other things too.
It provides good quality food and a fascinating nautical atmosphere, largely due to the many marine flags and penants which decorate the ceiling, all of them donated by visiting sailors.