8°: [6 ff. unpaginated, including title printed in orange], [57 ff. unpaginated,], 37 pp., [5 ff., unpaginated], all letterpress with leaves gilt-topped; bound in early 20th Century half blue straight-grained morocco with decorative gilt spine, marbled endpapers; bearing the bookplates of the famous solicitor Alexander Meyrick Broadley and the legendary spy Sidney George Reilly (Very Good, internally clean and crisp with only very light even toning, except for top half of final leaf which has been excised (having been an advertisement); binding in stellar condition with only very light shelf-wear).
The present Almanac and Annual Register for St. Helena for the year 1850 provides a vast wealth of contemporary information on the island found nowhere else. It captures St. Helena during its economic heyday when it was World-famous for having once been the final home of Napoleon Bonaparte (from 1815 to 1821) while still a major waypoint for global shipping, yet at the same time one of the most isolated places in the world (being 1,950 km from the nearest mainland). Fuelled by both its small, yet vibrant and unique local community, and the thousands of mariners who passed though the island annually, during the early through mid-19th Century, the island enjoyed a ‘golden era’ of printing emanating from its single government-run press. This included a surprising array of broadsides, pamphlets, the odd book, and, of course, annual almanacs, that were the most substantial and informative of the productions.
The present work was published in Jamestown, St. Helena by the Government Press, under the supervision of the printer George Gibb, and like all 19th Century St. Helena imprints is extremely rare (we cannot trace another example of the present issue).
This handsome example boasts an intriguing provenance, bearing the bookplates of both the celebrated solicitor and socialite Alexander Meyrick Broadley and Sidney George Reilly, the legendary “Ace of Spies”; both men were obsessive and skilled collectors of Napoleonica.
The book features a vast wealth of information on St. Helena from its historical heyday. It commences with a title page beautifully printed in orange, followed by ‘Notes on the Natural History of St. Helena’, describing the dramatic topography and exotic wildlife of the remote 16 by 8 km island.
The body of the work consists of three parts. First, the ‘Almanac’ features all that a good almanac should, namely sections of the introduction; eclipses; law terms; calendar; festivals and fasts; as well as a gardeners’ calendar.
Second, is the ‘Annual Register’ which includes details on the civil, judicial, ecclesiastical and military establishments; information on the ‘Liberated African Establishment’ (former slaves); East India Company’s invalids; pensioners; local institutions; foreign consuls; commercial agents; as well as the naval establishment on the West Coast of Africa. It follows up with details on the schedule of taxes and fees; ordinances; orders in council; rules of the Supreme Court; post regulations; and information on the civil hospital. Key local institutions include the Civil and Military Fund; Benevolent Society; library; military institution; telegraphs; the market; Agricultural and Horticultural Society; Church Society; Annuity Fund; Mechanics’ and Friendly Society; Pioneer Society and the Freemasons’ Lodge.
Third, the work features ‘General Miscellaneous and Local Information’, which details remarkable historical events on St. Helena; perpetual register; distances of the horizon; velocity of sound; remarkable natural phenomena; Census of 1849; table of distances; height of eminences; ‘Liberated Africans’ (noting that, in 1832, 644 slaves were emancipated on the island); Imports and Exports for 1848; market prices; compass bearings; shipping intelligence; and finally, advertisements, which feature some interesting local colour.
The detailing the vast treasure trove of information contained in the work is far too grand an endeavour to attempt here. However, some interesting statistics include the population of the island as being 6,400 (as opposed to 4,500 today); the recording of the 933 ships that called at the island from December 1848 through November 1849; and the fact that in 1848 St. Helena ran a huge trade deficit, importing £92,132 worth of goods, versus exports of £8,356!
In sum, the present work is precious source of information on St. Helena captured during tis historical apogee, which is made even more significant by the fact that it seems to be the only known surviving example.
A Note on Rarity
The 1850 St. Helena Almanac is exceedingly rare. We cannot locate a reference to another example in institutional holdings worldwide, nor can we trace any sales records (save for the present example).
Indeed, all issues of the Almanac and its predecessor publication, the St. Helena Calendar are likewise very to exceedingly rare, with only the odd issue appearing in the holdings of handful of institutions here and there. Only the King’s College Library (London) seems to possess a sizable collection (but not the 1850 issue). Moreover, we cannot trace any issues of the Almanac or Calendar as appearing on the market during the last 30 years, save for a collection of 12 issues (but not including the 1850 issue) sold at Christie’s London in 2004.
The present example of the 1850 St. Helena Almanac has amazing provenance. First, it bears the bookplate of Alexander Meyrick Broadley (1847 - 1916), dated 1911 (pasted inside of front cover). Broadley was one of the most famous solicitors and social figures of the Late Victorian-Edwardian age. He famously defended Ahmed ‘Urabi, the leader of the Urabi Rebellion in Egypt (1879-82) in a globally-publicised trial, winning him a favourable judgement against all expectations. The episode led him to be popularly referred to as ‘Broadley Pasha’, although he never attained such a title from the Ottoman Sultan. A controversial figure, he was described as a “strange being…who, amongst other avocations, acts as a sort of social broker for bringing together people who would not otherwise meet”, which ensured that he got entangled in innumerable scandals; however, he always seemed to land on his feet.
Broadley dedicated the last fifteen years of his life to obtaining rare books related to Napoleon Bonaparte; he eventually achieved one of the finest collections on the subject ever assembled. The present work on St. Helena was surely acquired with this connection in mind. He also wrote several books on Napoleon, including Dumouriez and the Defence of England Against Napoleon (1908) and Napoleon in Caricature 1795-1821 (1911).
Second, the present volume features the ex libris of Sidney George Reilly (1874 - 1925), on the verso of the front free endpaper. Reilly, likely born Georgy Rosenblum in Odessa, to Jewish family, eventually became one of Britain’s most consequential secret agents, known as the “Ace of Spies”. His early exploits in the Far East, and his subsequent attempts to bring down the Bolsheviks in Russia were so daring and action-packed as to almost super-human. Described as “the dominating figure in the mythology of modern British espionage”, he was a suave womanizer of luxurious tastes. Not surprisingly, Ian Fleming cited him as being one of the principal inspirations for James Bond.
Reilly held a near obsession for Napoleon and amazingly, between his deadly missions abroad, he managed to assemble a stellar collection of books, manuscripts and prints relating to the late French Emperor. As with Broadly Pasha, he acquired the present work with this theme in mind. In 1921, he sold his entire collection in New York as part of single-owner sale (the present work was Lot 999, see References below), the printed catalogue of which remains a great classic of Napoleonic bibliography.
The Most Isolated Press in the World: Early Printing on St. Helena
St. Helena had a surprisingly rich publishing history, especially given its diminutive size. This was due to its unusual place as both one of the most isolated places in the world; its role as a great waypoint for global shipping; as well as its worldwide fame as the final home of Napoleon Bonaparte.
The first press on the island was set up by Saul Solomon (1776 - 1852) in 1806. Solomon, an English Jew, had arrived on the island in 1796, as a nearly terminally ill and penniless castaway from an East India Company vessel. However, he made a full recovery and proved to be a business genius, starting a firm which outfitted and supplied ships; he was soon known as the ‘Merchant King of St. Helena’. Solomon published the island’s first newspaper, the Government Gazette (from 1807) and the St. Helena Monthly Register (from 1809).
The island had a small permanent population (the 1814 census counted only 3,500 residents), but many more thousands passed through St. Helena each year. This created a unique situation whereupon there was always a great thirst for reading material on the island at any given time, but given that most of the readership was transient, it was seldom possible to gain enough subscriptions to make a publication profitable. As a result, in 1813, the government assumed ownership of the press (and the financial liability for printing its works), which was henceforth known as the Government Press.
The Government Press published many broadsides and pamphlets regarding official business, while also printing both official and private newspapers. A boom in shipping traffic, as well as enthusiasm due to the Napoleon’s residency on the island, saw that the local authorities were easily able to subsidize their own publications, while the private periodicals contracted to the press often went bust after a short time due to a lack of stable readership.
The most important works issued on St. Helena were the annual almanacs printed by the Government Press, apparently first issued for the year 1825 under the title, St. Helena Calendar and Directory. Issues appeared every year thereafter under this title until 1846, when the name was changed to the St Helena Almanac and Annual Register, which was itself printed annually for the next 38 years.
The Government Press continued to produce a wide array of official notices, periodicals, and pamphlets, as well as the odd book, for some years. However, the opening of Suez Canal in 1869 had a devastating impact upon St. Helena’s economy and its print culture. Shipping henceforth generally bypassed the island, ensuring that it suddenly went from being a major hub of global transport to a complete backwater. The island lost most of its visitors, while the permanent population dwindled. The last of the straight run of the St. Helena Almanac and Annual Register was issued in 1884 (although an enlarged final issue was would be printed in 1913), and the press come to print official notices and periodicals only very infrequently. The ‘golden age’ of printing on St. Helena was over, the island’s print culture from that point onwards could only be described as unremarkable.
While the print culture of St. Helena was wonderfully rich between 1806 and 1884, the print runs of the island’s works was always very small, while their survival rate was very low. Consequently, all St. Helena imprints from the golden age are very rare, most exceedingly so.
References: Rare – No other examples cited in Institutional Holdings or Sales Records; [Re: the present example:] The Notable Collection of Mr. Sidney G. Reilly of New York and London: Literary, Artistic and Historical Properties, Illustrative of the Life of Napoleon Bonaparte…To be Sold at Unrestricted Public Sale, May 4th and 5th, 1921 [Auction Catalogue] (New York: The American Art Association, 1921), Lot 999.