St. Helena has only ever been successfully invaded once. Taken from “A History of the Island of St. Helena”, by T. H. Brooke, Esq., published in 1824
In the latter part of the year 1672, whilst Captain Anthony Beale was governor, the Dutch made an attack, from four of their India ships, upon Lemon Valley, but were assailed by such showers of stones, rolled upon them from the precipices above, that they did not deem it prudent to advance. They re-embarked, and feigned a retreat until night came on, when they were directed by the light of a fire at or near to a landing-place called Bennett’s Point, said to have derived that appellation from the planter’s name who kept watch with his slave there; and it has been a commonly received opinion, that the Dutch killed the planter, and that the slave guided them up the country. But, from whatever circumstance that landing-place took its name, there is also a report that the master was the guide, and that the slave was put to death, to prevent his evidence, at any subsequent period, of that treachery; and the latter account is more consistent with a record, dated twelve years after, wherein W. Coxe, a planter, is declared to have been the person who betrayed the island to the Dutch. The party which landed is stated to have amounted to about five hundred men. If the number be not overated, it may be inferred that the attack was premeditated, and not the result of sudden thought in a homeward-bound commodore with only the crews of four Indiamen at his disposal. However this may be, tradition says that the enemy marched up Swanley Valley; but this access must have undergone a great change, (apparently from repeated torrents), as very few amongst the most active natives of the island can now pass there without infinite difficulty and danger. Upon gaining the pastures on the heights, report says that they halted to slaughter some cattle, and were afterwards met near High Peak by a detachment from the garrison, when a skirmish ensued, in which the English were overpowered by numbers and routed. The victors then proceeded to Ladder Hill, and marched a party down to attack the fort, where they were repulsed several times; but as they were in possession of the hill which completely commanded the fort, the English Governor did not deem it tenable, and retired with his people and their most valuable effects on board some English and French ships then in the roads.
The ship in which the Governor and his followers embarked proceeded to Brazil; there he hired a sloop for the purpose of cruising to windward of St. Helena, that all English ships approaching the island might be warned of their danger. In this transaction he was assisted, by a Mr. John Mitford, master of a British merchant ship called the Humphrey and Elizabeth. Amongst the persons who accompanied Governor Beale, was a planter named Coulson, and his family, including a negro slave called Black Oliver. The latter on arriving at Brazil was sold to a Mr. Abram, an English merchant, who was prevailed on to permit Oliver to embark as one of the sloop’s crew, a circumstance which unexpectedly contributed to important consequences.
The recapture of St. Helena, by Captain Munden, is mentioned in some publications as an unpremeditated measure; that he had proceeded thither merely to convoy the homeward-bound ships to England, and that he was not even aware of the island being in the hands of an enemy, until he came to take in water in the road. But there is one writer who gives a different account, which. appears fully entitled to credit. Dr. John Fryer, a passenger in the East-India Company’s ship Unity, sailed from the Downs in January 1673, with an India fleet, and many other merchant ships on, different voyages. They were convoyed down Channel, and as far as their respective destinations admitted of their continuing the same course, by six men of war, including two fire-ships under the command of Captain Munden. Near St. Jago, all the men of war parted company, making sail for that place: they were ultimately bound to St. Helena, “to meet the East-India fleet, for their better defence homeward-bound, and to prevent their falling into the enemy’s hands, who had lately possessed themselves of that island:” and, in a subsequent part of his book, Dr. Fryer says, that “Captain Munden, by the King’s command, was sent out to retake it.” The Unity, when off the Cape of Good Hope; in the month of April, met the Johanna, and other homeward-bound ships, to whom the intelligence was imparted that St. Helena had been taken; but that Captain Munden’s squadron might be expected there before the Johanna and the ships with her could reach the island. From this account it is evident that Munden knew he was bound to a hostile port.
In the mean time, the sloop from Brazil had gained her station off St. Helena, in the track of ships approaching it, and upon the 7th May (or according to some, the 14th) she fell in with Captain Munden’s squadron, then reduced to his Majesty’s ships Assistance, Levant, and Castle fire-ship, with the Company’s ship Mary and Martha. Whether the latter had accompanied the squadron from England, or had met with it off St. Helena, is uncertain. Captain Munden, upon communicating with the sloop, and finding on board her a well qualified guide in Black Oliver, had him removed to his own ship, the Assistance, preparatory to further operations.
Whatever records might have been extant, when the island was taken by the Dutch, must have been either lost or destroyed, or removed by Governor Beale, as it is not known that any were found when the English recovered their possession: but information respecting several occurrences, which happened immediately after that event, had been preserved in some notes and memoranda by a very respectable and intelligent inhabitant, who died at an advanced age, in the year 1769, the worthy Mr. Richard Beale, a native of the island, who for many years fulfilled the duties of schoolmaster there, with credit to himself and great advantage to the community. As this gentleman must have had opportunities of conversing with those who had a perfect recollection of the circumstances, and as his testimony is corroborated in some material points by other evidence, we have no reason to doubt its correctness.
The Dutch must have kept a bad look-out, for about three o’clock in the morning, a party of two hundred men, under a Captain Kedgwin, was conducted by Oliver to an opening, which on that occasion acquired its present name, Prosperous Bay. They landed quite unobserved, at a place since called Kedgwin’s Rock, and. proceeded to an accessible part of the precipice above the bay, which one of the party ascended, taking with him a ball of twine; to this a rope was afterwards fastened and hauled up, and thus the others were enabled to follow. Whilst he was in the act of climbing the dangerous ascent, his comrades below frequently called to him by name to hold fast, and “Hold Fast Tom” is the appellation by which the spot has been ever since known. Jonathan Higham, a soldier employed on this service, who afterwards settled on the island, was often heard to say, that had twenty men opposed them from above, their advance would have been impracticable. From the present appearance of the place, as well as from the account of the way in which it was ascended, one would suppose that a couple of men, with crow-bars, to loosen and roll down stones, would have been quite sufficient to stop the advance of an enemy. After the whole detachment had gained the heights, they marched through Long Wood to the place called the Hutts, where they arrived about daybreak, and stopping for refreshment at a farm-house. (the ruins, of which until lately were visible), then proceeded to the summit of Rupert’s Hill, on the east side of James’s Valley; at the same time, the ships making their appearance before the town, opened “a brisk cannonade, which, soon obliged the Governor to surrender.”
There is a laboured and improbable tradition that Munden effected his conquest partly by landing men from off the spritsail yard of his ship, upon Munden’s Point; and that the place derives its name from that circumstance. That there are parts of the coast of St. Helena against which a ship might break her jib boom, without her keel touching the ground, is certainly true; because the case actually happened, (not intentionally we may, be sure), in 1820; to a vessel called the Lady Carrington, near to Buttermilk Point: but it is at least doubtful whether, a similar event could possibly occur at Munden’s Point; and very unlikely that, without some very extreme necessity, a commander would risk his ship to effect a disembarkation in so unusual a manner. No such necessity appears to have existed upon the occasion alluded to: the operations for the recapture of the island, as already detailed would seem to be abundantly sufficient to account for success, without having recourse to extraordinary improbabilities; and it is further to be observed, that even were a party landed upon Munden’s Point rocks, they could have had no communication with the town, except by swimming, or climbing a precipice nearly perpendicular. The appellation of Munden’s Point is much more easily accounted for, from the circumstance of Captain Munden having, before his departure, placed two pieces of cannon upon the summit of that eminence which now bears his name.
The dispossession of the Dutch was not the only loss they sustained on this occasion. Less prompt in their measures to secure their conquest, than the English were to recover it, it had been in full possession of the latter, before the arrival from Holland of a ship called the Europe, in which was embarked a Governor, and probably reinforcements for the garrison; but instead of entering upon the duties to which he had been appointed, he was unexpectedly reduced to the less desirable situation of a prisoner of war, the Europe becoming a prize to Captain Munden: and by the stratagem of displaying the Dutch flag, six India ships of that nation were soon after decoyed so close in, that their Vice and Rear Admirals were taken, with a quantity of silver on board. The remaining four escaped, through the impatience of the English, who prematurely commenced the attack.
A garrison having been formed of detachments from the different ships, amounting in the whole to one hundred and sixty men, was placed under the command of Captain Kedgwin, as governor; and Captain Munden sailing with his prizes for England, upon his arrival was knighted.