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A review of a Story of Bones

The Film “A Story of Bones” and the subsequent media articles had me questioning everything, from my identity to my sanity.

I understood that the basis of the story line would be that the Liberated African remains removed from Rupert’s Upper Burial Ground during planned excavations in 2008 were still being stored in the Pipe store some 14 years later after a promise of reburial. I accept that. It is not a fact that I am proud of, but it is a fact. This part of our history is certainly something that we need to talk more about.

The film implies that nothing has been done over the 14 Years. It asks ‘so why has it taken so long? Is it colonialism? Is it racism? Is it unnecessary bureaucracy?’ However, disappointingly at no point does the film ask the question ‘is it the desire to do what is right as more information becomes available?’

If you looked no further than the film and the associated media you might not be aware that anything is being done at all. Yet there is a Liberated African Advisory Committee (the LAAC) that has worked in the background for some time to try to do what they believe is right…

The LAAC produced a Master Plan for reburial of the Liberated African Remains, setting out some of the recent history. From this we derive a timeline:

Event Timeline

1950s – 1970s.
Human remains were periodically disturbed in Rupert’s Valley, through housing construction and weather.
1985.
Construction of St Helena Island’s Power Station and Mid-Valley Fuel Farm disturbs large numbers of graves.
A Committee of Enquiry recommends that the remains be reinterred in Rupert’s Valley, and that the opening of the power station be accompanied by a multi-faith ceremony of blessing. Instead, the remains are reburied in land adjacent to St Paul’s Cathedral in the centre of the island 10 years later. St Helena Government subsequently apologises for its actions
2006.
Human remains are revealed in geotechnical test pits dug in Rupert’s Valley for the Airport Project (Atkins).
2007.
Archaeological evaluation in Rupert’s Valley reveals skeletons in the lower and upper graveyards. Environmental Statement for the Airport Project published.
Cultural Heritage, particularly around Rupert’s and the Liberated Africans, is a key part of the Environmental Statement. It was this research that led to the subsequent publications by Dr Andrew Pearson (Infernal Traffic 2011 A. Pearson, B.Jeffs, A. Witkin, H. MacQuarrie )
2008.
Airport Project planning documentation, including Environmental Statement, approved by Executive Council. Archaeological excavation is carried out in a part of the upper graveyard, to facilitate construction of the Airport Haul Road. 325 human skeletons are exhumed and placed in archival storage boxes in the Pipe Building, Jamestown. This work was led by Dr Andrew Pearson and his team. Community engagement and awareness raising took place throughout the excavation.
Initial agreement with International Slavery Museum in Liverpool for loan of artefacts.
(End 2008). Airport Project ‘paused’.’
Project Outline and Estimate’ Report prepared by Ben Jeffs and Dr Andrew Pearson, followed by outline ossuary design.
2009.
(Early 2009). Advice sought on how to meet the requirements of the Environmental Statement in light of the ‘Pause’.
Osteological Analysis of excavated remains commences, led by Dr Andrew Pearson.
Reinterment Options Paper prepared by Dr Andrew Pearson and Ben Jeffs.
Following discussions with the Executive Council, the Acting Governor advises preference for an Ossuary in Rupert’s December 2009.
2010.
(March 2010). Outline design proposal for an Ossuary endorsed by Executive Council.
2011.
Specifications for an Ossuary prepared by Dr Andrew Pearson and Ben Jeffs.
Planning application submitted for an Ossuary in November.
Planning application approved. Design, Build and Operate Contract signed for the Airport. Excavation monograph Infernal Traffic by Dr Andrew Pearson published.
2012.
Civil, Society, Tourism and Leisure Committee recommends reverting to original plans for reburial in Rupert’s, following lifting of the ‘Pause’ and approval of the Airport Project.
Air Access designated lead on Liberated African Remains (primarily due to having oversight of on-site environmental mitigation process).
Haul road construction commences in Rupert’s Valley.
Airport Project works in upper Rupert’s Valley, away from the haul road, disturbed the graves.
These are inspected by the Museum of St Helena before being re-covered. Spoil excavated in the upper valley, within the construction corridor for the new fuel farm, is also found to contain much comminute human bone: this material was up-cast derived from Power Station construction deposited there in 1985.
Samples from the human remains in the Pipe Building are taken, to facilitate stable isotope and DNA analyses (EuroTAST project).
2013.
Draft Rupert’s Development Plan recognises heritage considerations, including the African graveyards, as being of ‘material significance’ to planning decisions.
2014.
Stakeholder Group established, chaired by Director St Helena National Trust.
Dr Andrew Pearson contracted to advise on potential for relocation of the Liberated African Remains.
Liberty Bound exhibition opens at International Slavery Museum, Liverpool.
Haul Road construction completed. No human remains were encountered during its construction.
(August 2014). Possible relocation of human remains from the Pipe Building considered and rejected.
Rupert’s Valley Development Plan in the process of revision.
Human bone disinterred during Air Access works, on ground immediately above the 2008 excavation area (December).
2015.
Survey carried out on-island and amongst key stakeholders in the scientific community to consider options for reinternment of Liberated African Remains. Response largely in favor of reburial in Rupert’s.
2015/16.
Proposal for use of site near St Michael’s Church/Temporary Fuel Farm Area.
Call for ideas/designs for the reburial/memorial site.
Extensive discussion with the Executive Council around timing of reburial. Strong preference for this to take place following demobilisation of the Airport Project. Large construction works and heavy plant operations near to the proposed site in Rupert’s are not deemed ‘quiet and restful’ but it was noted that these construction works would be temporary.
2016.
Proposed site designated a burial ground – approval granted by Executive Council.
2017.
Executive Council mandate for LAAC.
Artefacts loaned to International Slavery Museum returned to St Helena.
2018.
LAAC Report on Reinterment Options endorsed by Executive Council.
Reburial continued to be a preferred option – options for an Ossuary ruled out.
Executive Council directed that the materials returned from the international Slavery Museum are displayed at the St Helena Museum until near the date for reburial to allow the local community to engage on this topic.
Executive Council further directed that the grave goods are then reburied with the human remains they were unearthed with.
2019.
2019/2020 LEMP team responsible for clearance of invasive species and completion of minor landscaping at both burial grounds in Rupert’s in advance of further funding for large-scale landscaping.
£20,000 Funding received from FCO for Project support to progress Reburial, Interpretation and Memorialisation.
Dec 2019 Project Co-ordinator and Archaeologist contracted to deliver on 8 specific work components, namely:

1. Determine the process for NCA designation and draft a Cultural Heritage Management Plan.
2. Produce proposal and EoI for Geophysics survey in Rupert’s Valley, commission work.
3. Produce business case and cost concept for interpretive signage, commission work.
4. Produce business case and cost concept for coffins.
5. Produce business case and cost concepts for artefact replicas.
6. Produce plan for Landscaping and Protection for known and newly identified burial grounds.
7. Produce Memorialisation and Reburial Plan.
8. Compile Terms of Reference for Design Consultant for Interpretive Centre, Memorial and Reburial sites.
2020.
Public information sessions held by LAAC in Rupert’s and Jamestown to inform the local community on 7 work deliverables conducted by Project Coordinator.
Project deliverables completed in end March 2020.
(March 2020).Limited travel opportunities due to COVID-19 Shipping and procurement delays.

The above timeline tells the modern history of the Liberated African graveyards in Rupert’s Valley. Not much of this appears in A Story of Bones. But it is important that you know this. The story of the Liberated African Remains deserves to be much more.

Most worrying is that A Story of Bones is classified as a documentary. I expected the film to also tell the significance of the story behind the bones and how they got there. To tell the whole story from the Vice Admiralty court set up here in June 1840. As an aside, Charles Hodson the Judge for the Court was the former owner of my 4 x Great Grandparents – James and Susannah (Susan) Lawrence and Charles and Mary Riley before they were emancipated in 1827. There are direct links from the Liberated African story with the wider story of slavery on St Helena that resonate today.

The original Depot receiving the captured vessels was in Lemon Valley where it was operational from 1840 -1844 after which it was moved to Ruperts. At Lemon Valley bodies were buried at Sea and near the buildings due to the narrowness of the valley (Infernal traffic). At Rupert’s there are two known graveyards, not one as suggested in the film. It makes me question why is only one shown? Why is one more significant than the others? If it matters how we chose to remember then surely we should remember them all?

I felt that only the part of the story that could be sensationalised has been told in the film with lots of subliminal messaging to push the colonial and colour element. The film says the Pipe Store is a wing of the prison. The Master Plan says it was a store for pipes and plumbing materials that was turned to a flax museum. The film says the burial at St Pauls is on the outskirts of the cemetery. If you live on St Helena you can visit St Paul’s cemetery and see that the burial took place in the area designated for non-Anglican faiths, a quiet, shady, restful spot. The scene with the gun, the scene chosen from a local drama Dottie Comes Home, the scene at the public meeting, even the scene showing the royal wedding being watched by a local household were all chosen to paint a picture of St Helena. This picture does not put these images into the context of the St Helena I know: no wonder the impression it gives is skewed. Even more disappointing, it bears no resemblance to the 2017 screening of the first cut of the film on-island. What changed?

Perhaps more so than the actual film are the inaccuracies in the media that surrounds it all that troubles me. In particular this quote from one of the filmmakers accusing the Government of gaslighting… “We did have some problems with not being allowed access to certain places and people of influence. The island is 77% run by the British Government so if they want to shut something down then that’s how it intends to work. The issues we found were more geared to closed doors and less with lack of communication. The government was very persistent in letting us know that there was nothing to worry about and that everything was just fine. So, there was definitely a lot of gaslighting going on. We do anticipate that this will get worse as this documentary starts to get more momentum at different film festivals and on the BBC Network, however it is a story that needs to be told and we intend to tell it,” said Curran. Source:https://thehollywoodtimes.today/first-time-filmmakers-make-stand-tribeca-2022/

Gaslighting? A pretty serious accusation when much of the historical footage was taken from the records produced by the St Helena Government and there is much in the public domain… Similarly, there seems to be a theme along the lines: Eager to stay on schedule, the Government ordered the excavation of 325 individuals and stored them in a wing of the island’s prison, where they have been boxed, in desperate conditions, since 2009. But as the contractors pushed on and bones kept surfacing, the responsibility was placed in Annina’s charge, as the project’s Environmental Officer. She poignantly confessed that ‘every time we find another piece of human remains, I can’t sleep that night.’ The repeated delays in reburying and memorializing these victims of slavery is compounded by Annina’s discovery of tapes revealing that the UK Government knowingly disturbed the burial grounds for decades. Outraged, Annina resigns and sets out to hold the Government accountable. Feeling increasingly isolated on the island, Annina looked to the outside world for help. There she found an ally in Peggy King Jorde, a renowned African American preservationist whose work – thirty years earlier – was born of a similar struggle, and produced New York’s African Burial Ground National Monument.

Source: https://goodpitch.org/project/a-story-of-bones/

Annina van Neel arrives from Namibia to help with the construction and is present when the remains of thousands of “freed slaves” are uncovered. Heeding her increasing discomfort with how the bones are handled, Nina campaigns tirelessly to honor their legacy and integrate them into the history of the island – their fate is, after all, intertwined with that of Napoleon’s.

Source: https://tribecafilm.com/films/story-of-bones-2022

As the Environmental Officer for Saint Helena’s doomed airport, Annina witnessed the unearthing of a terrible secret – a mass burial ground of 8,000 formerly enslaved Africans. Haunted by this injustice – and echoes of her childhood in Apartheid Namibia – she now fights for memorialisation of these forgotten victims. Source: http://film-directory.britishcouncil.org/a-story-of-bones It’s disappointing that these sources do not mention that the history of the Liberated African Remains has been known on-island and carried through our local stories since the original burials in the 1800s. The recent work through the Airport Environmental Statement and beyond has helped us to document this.

Having done my research my sanity is restored. As most of you will know, I worked on the Airport Project. I wasn’t directly involved in this element of the project but I did witness some of the work being done. It is documented, both on-island and via scientific texts, in documents such as the Environmental Statement, the Reinterment Options Paper, Infernal Traffic, the Eurotast study, the LAAC Options for Reburial, the LAAC Master Plan and others. I know I didn’t imagine it all.

Yes, it has been challenging. But very quietly, over a number of years, the local community has been making progress to reach the outcome it wants. The LAAC has co-ordinated with stakeholders to reach agreement on the burial site in Ruperts. Prince Andrew School and our students there have given up their time to construct caskets for the reburial. Our local Museum has served as custodian of the grave goods and told the story of the Liberated Africans to anyone willing to listen.

Led by the LAAC and with the assistance of local volunteers, from early 2022 the Liberated African remains now reside in Rupert’s. Each individual is being transferred into a casket and being readied for reburial. This did not happen through adverts in the local paper or through a Facebook appeal: hands were needed and the community quietly came together to use the limited funding available to get the best result possible.

It has been a long, often frustrating journey to get where we are but I’m comfortable with the fact that it has taken 14 years, simply because the outcome now will be much better than that proposed 14 years ago.

I know that the storyline behind A Story of Bones is chosen because it is one that will sell. I hope it isn’t to the detriment of our community and that it will actually help to fund the whole story being told. My favourite line from the film is… “It’s not an African story, it’s not a black story, it’s a human story”. And it is our story. It matters how we choose to remember…

cousins

Cushions and T’ings in exchange for your farthings

Education was the least of the family’s priorities.

An 8 year old girl arrives home from school, has a piece of bread with jam or sometimes with just sugar on it and then settles down for the evening. She’s not doing home-work; instead she will work through the night to assist her Mum in putting the finishing touches to table cloths, hankies, table mats and so on. Tomorrow, she will get up and go to school with whatever sleep she has managed, unless she is able to fain a headache.

Her Mum will take two suitcases off merchandise in the morning to one of the many Royal Mail ships which call at a small island in the South Atlantic Ocean.

The year is 1952, the island is St Helena, and the little girl is Olga Crowie (now Laban) then of New Ground.

Mrs Pritchard, whose husband was on the island working for the British Government had a store in the canister and would supply material to the island ladies who would then make these wonderful items for retail.

Whilst the income was very meager, the Crowie family needed every penny they could get to buy food. Times were hard, there were no shoes, very little money and Olga remembers walking up Jacobs Ladder with gunny bags of shopping, unless she could hitch her bags on donkeys travelling out of Jamestown. Education was the least of the family’s priorities.

Yet, Olga remembers happiness. She remembers life being simple, the sharing and caring and ‘Aunties and Uncles’ next door. Most islanders were ‘in the same boat’ when it came to the level of hardship. She loved playing 5 and 10 stones with neighbouring children.

She remembers vividly stopping at the house of a lady who lived near the Police Station at White Wall and asking for some water knowing full well that the lady would offer her a slice of bread for her final leg home.

The items sold on Royal Mail ships would have then been transported all over the world, the story of how they came to completion and the little girl who worked all night with her Mum to finish them, perhaps never being told, the case for many countries who sell their goods to western first world societies perhaps? Without this trade, things would have been decidedly more difficult for the family financially.

At fifteen, Olga moved to the UK with her Mum, a stark contrast to island life. Yet, during a very difficult period in the UK, she found her needle and thread again and created a beautiful cotton blanket. She displays the blanket proudly and the amount of detail is simply awe-inspiring. “Let beauty come from ashes”.

After many years of living abroad, Olga and her husband Paul decided to return to the island of St Helena for good in 2006. Olga hadn’t been back since her departure in 1961. Through the leafy sunshine of Little Varneys in Alarm Forest, Olga once again began to weave her magic.

This time, there is no boat in the harbour waiting for merchandise, this time there are no tight deadlines or excuses of a headache to avoid the long hours of toil for food money.

The cushions, covers, table clothes, needlework in picture frames etc which she proudly displays are indicative of time consumption, meticulous detail, vibrancy. When folks suggest that creativity has only recently surfaced on the island, Olga’s story (as many others) show that this is far from the truth. Saints the world over continue to amaze with their creativity in kitchens, joinery workshops, art exhibitions, music venues etc. Some of our market might not be world-class, but given half a chance, it could be. With the transcendence of each year / decade, market demands change, there is a market (albeit competition is rife) for arts and crafts, if we can really believe in the authenticity of our product.

As the cable arrives, folks will be able to showcase their efforts quickly and less expensively online. A special place, talented people, what’s to stop us but our own lack of belief in our product?  Dare we to think outside of the confines of these forty seven square miles? Dare we use our talents to showcase the journey as opposed to the destination? Dare we find help for the challenges in life which are blocking our creativity? Dare we have a creative purpose beyond money and fame?

cousins
St-Helena-cousins

Olga’s goods are heirlooms, to be handed on to her daughters. Machines now do the work much faster for larger quantities, what is that machine’s story? Made in Germany in the year 2017 and it cost £80k. Can we even validate the efforts of machines against the hard toil and ingenuity of a human being?


same-sex-marriage. St Helena

Same-sex marriage approved for St Helena

Marriage between same-sex couples has been approved by St Helena’s legislative council by nine votes to two – meaning weddings could take place within weeks.


The Honourable Cyril Leo warned of a “deep divide” on the island and said he feared a negative reaction from “homophobic elements” in society.
But he said people should embrace the outcome of democratic debate. Councillors should “make love our greatest quest,” he said.
The Hon. Kylie Hercules, supporting the Marriage Bill, said: “We are dealing with people’s lives and emotions.”
And the Hon. Christine Scipio-o’Dean said: “We cannot discriminate. We must not, and we must strive to ensure equality.”
The Hon. Anthony Green explained that an attempt to present the same bill to the previous legislative council in 2016 had faltered.
A legal challenge to the existing marriage law – passed in 1851 – was due to be heard in the Supreme Court in January 2018 and could be appealed all the way to the Privy Council in London – a process that could take years.
“This law is silent on whether marriage between two persons of the same gender is permissible,” he said.
Barristers from the UK were on standby to represent various parties.
He said that denying same-sex couples the same marriage rights as other people would breach their human rights under the St Helena Constitution.
Cyril Leo and Brian Isaac were the only councillors to vote against the bill becoming law. Dr Corinda Essex abstained.
She said she knew her view would be controversial. “I have no objection to same-sex relationships and indeed I respect them,” she said. “I know a number of people who have entered into them. I am no way homophobic in any respect.
“However I believe that can be achieved through civil partnership.”
She added: “I believe very strongly that marriage was ordained not just in the Christian faith but in all the [main] faiths of the world… [as being] between a man and a woman.”
But she said the public had now had a proper chance to express their views and understand the issue – referring to a series of consultation meetings, and two petitions for and against same-sex marriage.
She said: “The number signing the two petitions was very similar. I had a lot of people lobbying me and saying we have serious concerns about this bill being passed. I do agree that the rights of minorities are important.
“But let us not deceive ourselves that the decision we make is going to be popular whichever way it goes because it is still an extremely emotive and sensitive topic on the island.
“We do need to be aware that worldwide, attitudes are changing and moving forward and we need to be more open minded. … and put our personal views aside and consider the bigger picture.
“As a result of that I will not be opposing the bill.”
The Hon. Brian Isaac said there other issues that caused distress to people on the island and deserved to be given higher priority.
The European Court of Human Rights had already declared that civil unions fully protected the rights of same-sex couples so there was no need for same-sex marriage, he said.
And he pointed out that members of the parliament on Bermuda, another UK overseas territory, had just voted to rescind a law allowing same-sex marriage. St Helena should look to the reasons they had done that, he said.
The Hon. Cruyff Buckley said he was a Christian but supported a change in the law. “This bill ushers in a new level of respect for minority groups,” he said.
The Hon. Derek Thomas said he was one of the councillors who blocked the progress of the bill a year ago because too few members of the public had expressed a view on it. The public had now had a fair say and he saw no justification for objecting.
The Hon. Lawson Henry said the St Helena Constitution – the supreme law of any country – guaranteed protection of equal rights.
“It is simply about equality,” he said “If this house cannot uphold the constitution then why are we here today, and why do we have a constitution? This bill has never been about religion, it is about equality and protection of minority groups.”
Many members sitting round the table had supported human rights legislation, “but some of them seem not to have supported equality,” he said.
He also warned St Helena Government would face heavy costs in the courts if the bill was rejected, and the island’s reputation would be damaged.
“We are a fledgling economy that has just gone into a new form of access,” he said, referring to the opening of the island’s airport.
“People who would like to visit this island will be looking at things like this. If they feel this is an island that can’t uphold its constitution [it] will cause more damage.”
The courts could nullify the existing marriage law and criticise the legislative council because members “can’t protect minority groups under our own constitution.”
Anthony Green, closing the debate, dismissed the reference to Bermuda. “We do not follow the Bermuda constitution,” he said. “We have our own constitution.” He praised Cyril Leo’s call for people to embrace the decision.
Governor Lisa Phillips will now be asked to ratify the bill and make it law, giving people on St Helena the same rights as same-sex couples on Ascension, Tristan da Cunha and most other UK overseas territories outside the Caribbean.
Speaking later in the traditional adjournment debate, Lawson Henry said it was a great day for St Helena.
St Helena’s 2017 Marriage Bill does not compel ministers to marry same-sex couples if it conflicts with religious doctrine. It also deals with other aspects of marriage law, including allowing weddings to take place outside places of worship.

Brian Issac

The Saints who will be lighting candles this Christmas.

Many old people on St Helena will spend Christmas in poverty, too poor even to pay for electric lighting, the island’s Legislative Council has heard. The Honourable BRIAN ISAAC told of their troubles at the December 2014 sitting of the council. Here is an extract of his adjournment debate speech. 

Many people are proud to tell how they have lived through the Second World War, and recall the days of hardship on the island. They call those days the Good Old Days.

There was strong family support and the island flourished with an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables and fish.

Pay was low and work was hard. Transport was mainly by donkeys and there were few cars. Respect and discipline played a major role in everyone’s lifestyle.

Candles and wood were the main means of lighting and cooking, and for those who could afford a battery-operated radio, that was a luxury.

Social welfare never existed. Families supported each other. And for those who had no family support, the church gave a few shillings a week out of what was called the black box, and later called the parish and then the poor relief.

Social welfare came in later in the Sixties.

We have now moved very much into the 21st century and those days are long gone. But memories live on.

In this modern age of computers, the internet, telecommunications and television, and air access on the horizon, many of our senior citizens are still suffering hardship in silence.

I am aware of the recent improvements in the benefits system, the basic island pension, and the free medical care for those on benefits. 

But the fact remains that many cannot cope with the high cost of living on the island, and  especially those living alone on £50 and £60 a week. Many of these people, when you meet them on the street, will give you a big smile and a warm Hello, but deep down they are suffering in silence.

Many have said that a few years ago they were given an additional payment at Christmas and Easter as a gesture of goodwill by the government, but now they feel they cannot buy anything extra at Christmas or even give their their grandchildren a little chocolate.

It saddens me to say that while many of us will enjoy the best of this Christmas season, many of our elderly will see a “meek and mild” Christmas

Many of our elderly have now reverted to using candles for lighting, which can become a health hazard; and using paraffin gel for cooking fuel, which again is a health hazard in close surroundings. They cannot afford the high cost of electricity.

I recall when social services provided subsidy for water and electricity for those suffering hardship, but this is now just a memory.

I feel it will get harder for these unfortunate people before we see it getting any better. 

Councillor Isaac, a member of the island’s social and community development committee, said the government lacked the funding to implement some recommendations of York University’s Sainsbury Report, which led to the 2013 St Helena Social Policy Plan. 

At the time of the plan’s publication, the island had 196 people receiving income related benefit, 32 unemployed people on benefits, and 587 people living on the basic island pension. The report said: “We aim to empower Saints to take control of the present and the future to make the island self-sufficient on all fronts… as well as protecting and supporting vulnerable groups.”

It added that social bonds were strong in St Helena communities. “This sense of society and community flows through all aspects of Saint life, and that needs to be the basis of future social cohesion on the island,” it said. 

Govenor Gurr

The inside story on St Helena, by former governor Andrew Gurr

While cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell was in Swindolena in May 2012, telling Saints about their island’s bright opportunities, Andrew Gurr was just 30 miles away in Oxford, sharing insights from his four years as governor (2007-2011). The two men were speaking at exactly the same time.
A recording of Mr Gurr’s talk has now been passed to St Helena Online, with some parts removed to avoid offending individuals. Here are some of the insights he offered, as he delivered them at the annual meeting of the Friends of St Helena. More will follow in coming days.
On the Foreign Office
It is a fascinating place to visit. I got a bit fed up with it but there’s some interesting rooms there. One of the most fascinating is a small oval room. During most of my time as governor it was the room in which the junior ministers with specific responsibility for British overseas territories had their office. In prior times the whole of India had been run from that room, so quite an amazing place.
On Mrs Gurr
It’s a great privilege being a governor. I must pay tribute to my wife right at the beginning. Being a governor’s wife is, believe me, quite difficult. A governor’s wife does all sorts of interesting things. She feeds another stream of information into one’s reserves of information about the government that you would not otherwise get, and I felt sorry for my predecessor, who wasn’t accompanied by his wife, for that reason. Being a governor’s wife is a full time job, absolutely unpaid.
On the islands

Being governor seems to me to be different, depending on the territory. The whole role changes. We were in the Falklands for five years, where I was chief executive. When the governor was away I acted as governor.  That added up to over 12 months, so I had a rough idea of what being a governor was about.
I believe when I went to St Helena the governor had considerably more power and influence than they had when I left the Falklands. There are a number of reasons for that. Having three islands made life more complicated: three very different islands economically. St Helena was broke financially and needed a lot of help.
Ascension kind of covered its own costs because it was a dignified and souped-up labour camp, because you can’t really live there unless you are working there.
And Tristan da Cunha is absolutely unique. My conclusion, having been there, is that it is probably one of the few truly communist societies in the world that actually works. They really do work for each other and it is part of their whole psyche, and that’s terribly interesting.
Saints dominate St Helena and Ascension too, and increasingly they have a big influence on things in the Falklands, but the Falklands economically dominate the other islands because of the conflict of ’82 and the military and the squid money that flows, up to £30 million a year. And they have just had a very good year in the Falklands.
So there is a lot of inter-relationship between four very different islands, and as governor of three of them one has quite a complicated time.
On power
By power I mean influence, really, and trying to make things happen and indeed having the levers to pull to do that.
My predecessor Mike Clancy had been a chief secretary in a previous existence and I think it led him quite naturally to cover both roles.
There was a kind of vacuum where there wasn’t the duality that you would get, say, in a corporate organisation with a chairman – the governor – and the chief executive as main  operating officer.  That really didn’t exist, so I went into a situation on St Helena where the governor actually just jumped into a power vacuum.
Isolation of course helped that – or didn’t help it, depending on your point of view – but when your boss is 4,000 miles away and can’t get at you for at least three weeks, however he does it, you are on to a winner.
On democracy
I have to say that democracy was less  developed that it had become on the Falklands. The councillors, although they had democratic power, were more reticent to wield it. They had no control of real happenings; not in total, anyway. There was big area of the civil service over which they had very little influence indeed.
On the law
There are quite a few laws that are wildly out of date, and some that are quite different to UK laws and tailored to the island.
The governor is in the unviable position of presiding over a legal system that does not have equality of arms in the court room, and there’s very little one can do about that because there is no private sector solicitor on the island, so who is going to defend those who are being prosecuted by the government?
The answer is the lay advocates, and the lay advocates are trained and managed by the public solicitor. The public solicitor is a government appointment; the public solicitor reports to the governor and so does the Attorney General.
So you have this rather unequal combat in a courtroom with lay people defending, professional QCs [barristers] prosecuting and the governor somehow in the middle if there is a problem with that; but not directly in the middle because a lot of the reporting from the legal side is done informallyand certainly very effectively.
I praise all the public solicitors I dealt with. Neil Davidson and the new one, Debbie, are both tremendous and do a great job with the lay advocates.
(Mr Gurr told St Helena Online: “I would be full of praise for those who acted as lay advocates, but the fact remains that you have a QC prosecuting and an amateur defending, and under anybody’s judgment that is not a fair position. I don’t know how you solve it: you can’t spend money.”
On recruitment
There’s a recruitment problem. The governor is responsible for individual appointments  and sackings – not many – on the civil service.
Imagine trying to recruit doctors and nurses from that distance. Believe me,  interviewing over a jumpy video link is really not a good thing. On meeting them on island, you don’t recognise them at all – they look nothing like they do on the screen.
On the missing population
One of the big problems, thinking about the people in the civil service and the private sector, is a lack of middle managemen;  indeed, the lack of middle, because demographically, half of the population who should be there between the ages of 20 and 40 are somewhere else – they are here [in the UK], on the Falklands, or on Ascension.
Tose are years when you generate wealth, when you breed children and they are mising and that core of the population of St Helena not being there puts it out of balance.
That’s one of the big things about the airport, sucking people back in, to get back to a demographically balanced picture on the island.
On advisory group
When I got [to St Helena] there had been a lot of criticism about a group called the management team, because it was accused of making decisions, which was unconstitutional, so we disbanded it.
A clamour of public opinion was reacted to and I formed what I called the governor’s advisory group, which was more flexible.
On women
One of the things that astonished me… I looked round my advisers and nearly all of them were female, and it really says a great deal about the island and the ability of the ladies to get through the work. They are very competent.
I have to say it, that the men aren’t as competent generally. I hate to say it. I wish they were. There was something of the same on the Falklands – not as much as on St Helena.
It’s partly to do with schooling and culture and all sorts of things but it’s an interesting observation.
(In a separate conversation, Mr Gurr said: “I think it makes a nonsense of the Commonwealth people coming and talking about how we have to help girls. They are in charge.”)

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