Although tiny in size, St. Helena played an important role in world’s history. It has been of vital strategic importance to ships sailing to Europe from the Far East. The island Saint Helena was discovered by the Portuguese navigator Joao da Nova, on his voyage from India in 1502. He named the discovered island St. Helena after the mother of the Emperor Constantine the Great, Helena. The island was strategically important during the British Empire, until the opening of the Suez Canal and the advent of steamships.
In 1633, the Dutch formally claimed the Island but abandoned it again in 1651, in favor of their other colony at Cape the Good Hope. The English East Indian Company (EIC) was given a Royal Charter to fortify and colonize the island in 1659. In the following years, more settlers and slaves arrived at the island, but when slaves started to outnumber the civilian population, it was ordered that no more slaves could be brought to the island. A request was sent to China to ask for laborers, who came to the island from 1810 until 1834. A racial melting pot was created on St. Helena.
Another well-known role of the remote island was as a place of exile, most notably for Napoleon Bonaparte. He was brought to the island in October 1815 and died there in May 1821. His body returned to France in 1840.
In 1834 St. Helena became a British Crown colony. The EIC withdrew and their privileges disappeared. It was followed by emigration and poverty. In the 19th century the island also played a largely unrecognized role during the abolition of slavery. Thousands of captives were set free and a huge influx of liberated African slaves sought refuge on the island.