Early Governors of St. Helena both lived and worked within The Castle. The area known as “The Plantation” was merely a farm, or ‘plantation’, for the supply of the Governor’s table and for the growth of Yams to feed slaves.
The first Government House on the site was originally owned by Governor Anthony Beale (who was ‘deposed’ by the Dutch invasion of 1673); it was sold to the East India Company in 1679. Meetings of Council were held in this house for several years.
By 1711 Governor John Roberts had erected a more suitable building, but this was allowed to fall into disrepair by his successor, Governor Benjamin Boucher, who when he left the Island is said to have taken with him “all that was portable which might have been of service to him including the locks and keys”.
Plantation House as we now know it was built 1791-2 by the East India Company, as a country or summer residence for the Governor (The Castle then became the “town” residence), and Governors have continued to use the property since.
Governor Alexander Beatson (1808 – 1813) made significant improvements to the gardens and the house was added to and considerably improved by his successor, Governor Mark Wilks in 1814. Governor Hudson Lowe (he of Napoleon Bonaparte fame) built extensions to the house, adding the present Library, Billiard Room, Nursery, Kitchen, Offices, Coach House and Stables. His plans are on view in the Castle. Governor Hamelin Trelawney effected considerable repairs in 1843, and also purchased a quantity of new furniture.
Then the house was allowed to fall into disrepair. When Governor Patey took over in 1870 the house was so dilapidated that he protested at having to occupy it in such a condition. For a long period, beginning in 1873, the house was leased to the Military Commander in the Island, Governor Janisch instead living in Jamestown in the modern Palm Villa. Plantation House was re-occupied by Governor Wiliam Grey-Wilson in 1889.
Governor Gallway entered in the Plantation House Notes on his departure in 1912:
“I leave Plantation House 500% more comfortable and better equipped than I found it.”
In 1927 the house was found to be infested with termites (“white ants”), 60 nests being found and destroyed in the vicinity. Repairs took some years and the roof, which was originally slate was replaced with metal sheeting, like most buildings on the island. Electricity was installed at this time, with a shed being built to house the generators; these were not replaced until 1961 when mains electricity became available in the area.
Considerable alterations were also made in 1960. The kitchens were re-fitted in 2009, replacing equipment dating back to the 1930s.
Today Plantation House is the Governor’s permanent residence. It is designated as a Grade I Listed building.
We cannot guarantee that you will be allowed into Plantation House during your visit. The island’s current Governor does not always permit tour parties to enter the house or grounds while he is in residence.
If a tour of Plantation House is an important part of your visit we recommend checking in advance with the Tourist Office.
Photographs of important visitors are displayed inside. The most recent royal visitor was Anne, Princess Royal in 2002.
A curious feature of the house is the series of rooms with brass plates affixed to the doors showing their use i.e. “Governor’s Room”, “Admiral’s Room”, “Baron’s Room” and “General’s Room”. These plates have excited much speculation. They were placed on the doors by Governor Grey-Wilson. The rooms were originally described as the “Blue Room”, “Pink Room”, etc and the “Prince of Orange’s Bedroom”, after the visit of the Prince of Orange in 1838.
The grounds have several features of interest. The “Ladies’ Bath”, near the spring below the “Ladies’ Garden”, was built by the East India Company for the use of the ladies of the house. The stone pillars of the associated dressing room were still in situ in 1886, but were removed to make new pillars at the White Gate Lodge. There are also a Chinese Joss House and a slaves’ cemetery, which is locally reputed to be haunted.
The present area of the estate is about 120 acres but in 1800 it was about 350 acres, additionally taking in Church Ground, Kingshurst, Kaunjee (Cronjie) Hill, the Hermitage, New Ground and Prince’s Lodge.
The grounds also contain the giant tortoises, including Jonathan. When functions are held at Plantation House a marquee is erected adjacent to the house to accommodate all the guests.
Possibly the world’s oldest living animal, a Giant Tortoise named Jonathan, resides in the grounds, together with at least five others.