Information Category | 15-12-07 02:25 GMT | Posted by Ian Chicken

A Historic Look
The Quest for Water

The quest for fresh water on Ascension Island has been the priority of everyone since landing there. This was one of the main reason why passing ships did not land there.

In the 1670's a Dutch traveller John Struys and 300 of his countrymen werer nearly left on Ascension by the British after they where captured on neardby St Helena. Not finding any water the British relented and they where taken home.

It was not until 1701 when William dampier was Marooned on the island after his ship the Roebuck sprung a leak and sank.

He and his crew went ashore and set up camp. It is said that they follwed a goat to the water. The site has been nown ever since as Dampiers Spring or Dampiers Drip.

His writings though suggest that the spring that beras his name is not the site he actually found. He describes the site fog bound and beyond the mountain peak. This suggest that he in fact found water in what is known as Breakneck Valley on the South east of the island, where as dampiers is on the West.

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1815 saw the first arrivals of the garrison. and under the charge of Captain James White (HMS Peruvian) they were ordered to dig for water. He instructed Lieutenant Hobson and crew dug a well near long beach but this proved unfruitful. Three more sites where dug nearer the water but they only produced salt springs.

Captian Dobree (HMS Zenobia) reported to Admiral Cockburn of the lack of fresh water, stating that only 2 sites had been found, Dampiers and another, that were useful enough to supply water for 50 crew.

William Roberts was sent to Ascension by Cockburn in 1816 to take over control of the island.

He set about trying to improve conditions. Dampiers Drip now had a permanenet prty there living in caves collecting the water.
Pipes and guttering were built to allow the capture of the water, which was put in to barrels. These were then carried by Mule down to Georgetown.
He also improved teh road which then enabled carts to be used which could carry 70 gallons of water a day down to the capital.

In 1823 General Edward Nicholls took over from Roberts and oversaw many new projects, including, New Buildings, Water Tanks, etc.

Nichols reign lasted till 1828 when Captain William Bate took charge. Conditions where still not good and he set about improving conditions, realising that the daily transport of water was wasteful, water supplies was his first priority.
He started by having a 500 ton water tank built in Dampiers Ravine, (a spot he chose himself).

Left: Water cathment area on Green Mountain behind the cowshed

The summer of 1929 was taken up by the plan for the water supply. From the tank at Dampiers a pipe system was constructed down to resevoirs and then on to Georgetown. It was Lieutenant Brandreth who was the mastermind of its construction.

Over the years that followed a 1200 ton tank was built in Georgetown, and a request for pipes was sent. They were slow to arrive and so Bamboo was used to connect the first system. The ordered pipes soon replaced these.

Brandreth returned to Ascenion to oversee the rest of the construction and locate any new sources of water. In Breakneck Valley they dug and found a spring. The problem though was it happened to be on the wrong side of the mountain.

His solution to the problem was to dig a tunnel through the mountain to the farm. This was dug between May and October 1932. The water from here was then pumped up through the tunnel and into the system already completed.


1863 saw the water catchments built on the mountain. Between them the system proved its usefullness by lasting for over 100 years. Some of the system is still in view today.
These days the island is supplied with water from the desalination plants that were installed at the Power station at English Bay and by the Americans for their use.