Tuesday, 10 December 2013

In Search of "Polly" Mason

1815 Map showing location of Mason family properties around Fishers Valley

Miss "Polly" Mason was well known to the occupants of Longwood. Apparently she always bowed profusely whenever meeting Napoleon on one of his rides in the Fishers Valley, and she and her niece were on the list of people authorised to visit Mme Bertrand. She was also present to greet Gourgaud and Arthur Bertrand when they came back to St Helena in 1840 for the exhumation of Napoleon.

The Mason family were probably the largest landowners on the East of the Island. Miss Mason was recorded as living at Orange Grove, and "Jack" Mason, presumably her brother, at Bradleys. The family also owned other property close to Hutts Gate, including what later became known as Teutonic Hall, usually referred to during the time as Miss Mason's, as in the map above.(1) Presumably this is the house Chaplin claims that Hudson Lowe considered renting for Napoleon at £100 a month.

Earlier references to the Masons' properties can be found in the journal of William Burchell who served the East India Company on St Helena as schoolmaster and botanist from 1805-1810. In November 1806 Burchell recorded walking to Miss Mason's much talked of apple garden in the Fishers Valley and then round to Fledger's .. (presumably Pledges). On Christmas Day 1806 he visited Jack Mason's

at the bottom of Fisher's Valley, below Polly Mason's apple garden ..Of all the rude, uncouth rocky, barren, untempting structures for a house, this is the strangest and most remarkable of any I have yet seen. (2)

Jack Mason's garden apparently yielded £400 worth of produce a year, a small fortune at the time, growing figs, grapes guavas, apples, melons and cucumbers.

On another occasion after a visit to Longwood, Burchell caught sight of a small house of Miss Mason's which can be seen from no other place but this, which surely can only be what is now known as Teutonic Hall.

Teutonic Hall, formerly known as Miss Masons and Masons Stock House

So I think we can take it that Jack Mason and Polly Mason were well known figures in the eastern part of St Helena. "Polly" and "Jack" were of course nicknames, so who were they?

Jack was regularly used for John, and the only John Mason recorded in the baptismal records in the late eighteenth century was the son of Richard, a "Planter", and Elizabeth Mason. He was baptised in 1776, the second of a family of eight. The death of John Mason, described simply as "Native", was recorded on 9th December 1815, before Napoleon had settled into life in the eastern part of St Helena. He had five sisters (Elizabeth baptised 1774, Mary 1777 died in infancy, Mary 1780, Caroline 1783, Margaret 1790) and two brothers (Richard baptised 1786, William 1798).

Polly is more difficult to identify by name, but the only female Mason that crops up in the land and slavery records in the early part of the nineteenth century is Mary Elizabeth Mason, John's younger sister, baptised in 1780 and in July 1859 at the age of 83, a Gentle Woman, died of Natural Decay . (3) It seems that she must be Miss "Polly" Mason. Her Will indicates that at the time of her death she owned two properties, Sunbury Hill and the Pledges, both a little further east past Teutonic Hall.

The Will of Mary Mason

The Will and signature of Mary Mason

In her will Miss Mason left £60 to the Church of England Society for the Island of St Helena, and her house and lands to her nieces Marian Anne and Elizabeth M.T., the daughters of her brother Major William Mason. (4)

Memorial Plaque, St Pauls St Helena, to Benjamin Mason who died in 1805. Probably Miss Mason's Grandfather.

Orange Grove, The Pledges and Sunbury Hill: Recent Views

The area surrounding the Fishers Valley where the Masons lived in the early part of the eighteenth century has changed beyond recognition. Few of the old properties remain, apart from Teutonic Hall which is now in a very dangerous state.

Orange Grove 2013

Few people on St Helena have heard of Orange Grove, now known as Pink Grove.

Orange Grove 2013

A brief visit revealed it to be a very pleasant fertile valley, with a few modern houses.

Orange Grove 2013

It is impossible to tell exactly where Miss Mason lived.

The old house that formerly stood on Sunbury Hill has also been demolished, and a post second world war dwelling now stands on the site.

Sunbury Hill

Close to Sunbury hill, with a view of the Barn and Longwood across the valley, the Pledges now has two modern houses built on it.

Modern houses on the Pledges
Longwood House and behind it the Barn: the view from the Pledges


1. The estate of Richard Mason, probably Miss Mason's father was listed in the Return of Family Land Cattle &c 1821 as owning 9 properties, including Sunbury Hill, the Pledges and what later became Teutonic Hall.
2. William John Burchell (1781-1763) St Helena (1805-1810) The Castell Collection, St Helena 2011.
3. Mary Mason was recorded as having 6 slaves, 23 acres of free land and 20 acres of lease land in 1828; in 1834 it was 3 slaves, 3 freeborn, 10 acres of free land, and 44 acres of permanent tenure. Land Records, St Helena Archives.
4. The Executors were Matthew George Torbett and her brother William.