A Long Look
A History that dates back to the 1500's
Red Lion on Green Mountain.
Built in 1863 as the new marine quarters
(Note the lack vegetation at this point)
King Manuel of Portugal wanted to send a fleet of ships to India, so led by the Spanish Nobleman (from Galicia) Jöao da Nova (Castelia, a debated part of his name) on March 5th 1501, they set sail from Port Belem, Portugal.
He passed the island on March 25th 1501 and named it Conception, after sighting it on the feast of the Annunciation (Though this visit is not recorded).
A year later on his return from the far east he found and named St Helena. He passed Conception this time due to it having little to offer.
Now the Portuguese were sending numerous expeditions, some 130 ships were sent between 1500 and 1509
Problems arose in India, with Zamorin of Calicut, which King Manuel wanted to sort out so, on April 6th 1503, led this time by Alphonse d'Albuquerque (later the Viceroy of India) another fleet of four ships (St James, Holy Spirit, St Christopher & Catarina) set sail from Lisbon for India. Deciding not to take he coastal route around Africa, he took the sea bound route instead.
On the May 3rd 1503 they arrived at the island and stayed overnight. Supposedly he named the island Ascension due to him arriving there on Ascension Day (As listed in the roman catholic church calender), but other accounts suggest that the island had already been called this by someone else.
d'Albuquerque did not land, and set sail again. He was also part of an expedition led by Tristão da Cuña who discovered the island which has his name and makes up the third island of this small group.
1589 saw a Dutch traveller,
Jan van Linschoten arrive, on the 28th May. They stopped due to the fact one of the ships in the group was
damaged and leaking. He wanted to get everything ashore, but in the end
the ship had extra equipment installed to deal with the leaks. They then
continued on their way back home. Again surprisingly they did not go
"there commeth not a ship in twentie yeares into that iland, because there is nothing in it to be had"
"A multitude of
ragged, craggy, sharpe pointed hard rocks for miles along the shore and up
toward the land. appearing white with
the dung of sea foule, of which there were innumerable of several kinds. The most desolate
barren land (and like a land thatt God has cursed) thatt my eies beeheld......I conceave the whole world
affords nott such another peece of ground,most part the collour of burnt
the substance stones, somewhat like pumice stones, the rest like cinders
and burnt earth".
Cemetery at Comfortless Cove
The island by this time was being used as make shift "Post Office" with south bound ships leaving mail ashore in bottles, for the north bound ships to pick up and take back home.
Robert Everard send a party ashore In 1693 to search the island for signs of life, They climbed to the peak of hill which had a cross on it (Origin Unknown) and as such named it Cross Hill, after find nothing else they returned.
Captain James Cook on HMS
Resolution call and stayed there for five days in May 1775
he was with George Foster (Naturalist) who remarked on the stark views of the island.
HMS Endymion, Captained by Sir Thomas Williams found on September 8th 1799, 15 American crew from a ship which had been wrecked there.
With WWI breaking out the garrison was put on alert and in 1915 a
wireless station was built behind cross hill to aid ship to shore
communication. The islands association with St Helena came to fruition
when in 1921 an insurrection by the resident Kroomen resulted in 'Saints'
being brought in to work.
Ascension remained under the British Board of Admiralty. The Navy finally reached the point when they did not need a station on the island and so they departed on 22nd October 1922.
1939 saw WWII break out and the islands defences where increased as such by the installation of two 6in guns from HMS Hood on Cross Hill above Georgetown. It also brought the Americans to the island to build the Wide awake Airstrip. They arrived on 30th March 1942, with 1500 men from the 38th Engineer Combat Regiment and 8000 tons of equipment to build the airstrip and the tank farm.
the only wartime action seen by the island was in 1941, when on December 9th the german U-boat U-124 approached to try and sink and ships and destroy the cable station. It was fired upon by the Cross hill battery and before it could do any damaged it retreated.
On May 20th 1942 the airfield was declared open and the first plane arrived in July 1942, it was 3000 yards long and eventually saw some 25000 planes use it.
The American contingent by 1943 totalled some 4000 service personnel who covered areas such as Engineers, Aircrew, Infantry, Submarine Bomber crews etc.
with the end of the war in 1945 the Americans left and the island returned to its peaceful, quiet state with about 170 people left for Cable & Wireless.
By 1947 the Runway was closed. The Americans did not stay away for long they started plans to return to the island to construct a station for the Eastern Test and Missile Range. The Agreement was signed in 1956 and by 1957 they started construction with Station 12 opening that year. They also constructed a town 'The Base' for the staff to live in which is still in existence today and has been continually improved and expanded
The sixties saw a large expansion with the Tracking, Telemetry and Relay (T.T.R.) site at Pyramid point being built in 1963 and with the BBC and CSO arriving on the island in 1964.
The BBC built a large transmitter site at English Bay, also built was the Islands Power Station and Two Boats Village was started.
More U.S. sites where built on Cross Hill, Red Hill, and South Gannet Hill and the USAF Base was established
In 1965, with Gemini and Apollo missions getting underway NASA decided to build a tracking station at Devils Ashpit and Cable & Wireless to connect them by satellite with an earth station on Donkey Plain. The runway was also extended by 1300 yards.
The Red Lion and Farm complex
The island was also the a relay point for a coaxial submarine cables running from South Africa to the United Kingdom and also links that went to South America and West Africa.
At this point it was felt someone else should watch over the Island, so in June 1964 Cable and Wireless handed over control of the island when an Administrator was appointed.
Harold Wilson's Labour Government, it's said, did not want to be publicly seen supporting the then apartheid government of South Africa’s wish to improve their telecommunications to the rest of the world by installing a submarine coax telephone cable, so he would not allow the 100% government owned (and hence had no choice) Cable & Wireless Plc to run any of the relay stations for the project.
So the political solution was for Cable & Wireless to allow a South African company to operate the repeater station on Ascension Island.
The South Atlantic Cable Company came in to being in the mid 1960's to run a cable from South Africa up to the United Kingdom.
The cable to South Africa was ceased in 1992 (It was replaced by a new one which did not land at Ascension) and SACC left.
1982 saw the island heavily used by the British forces who where tasked to the Falklands. The RAF had Vulcan bombers based there, and teh island was used a supply station for the task force. With all the traffic coming in and out of the island, Wideawake afiled became the busiest airport in the world.
These days there are satellite Earth Stations on the Island (operated by C&W) these carry traffic to St Helena and the rest of the world.
More recent times a tracking site for the European Space Agency flight's out of Kourou in French Guiana.