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The British overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha are actually three separate island groups, some of which are more than two thousand miles apart. Apart from the fact that they are all volcanic in origin, and that they are in the South Atlantic Ocean, they are united politically, in that they are administered as part of the same British overseas territory.

Prior to September of 2009, they were known as Saint Helena and Dependencies. However, a new constitution specified that the three islands were to have equal status within the territory. Because of its historical name, the three islands are sometimes referred to collectively as Saint Helena, but Saint Helena more accurately refers to the one island, situated in between the other two.

Saint Helena is about 1,200 miles west of Angola and 1,800 east of Brazil. Ascension Island is just over 700 miles to the southwest.

Saint Helena consists of one island, with an area of about 47 square miles, little more than a dot in the ocean. Its capital city is Jamestown, in the northwest part of the island. Other settlements include Haytown, Half Tree Hollow, Ladder Hill, Saint Paul's, Briars Village, Barren Ground, Broad Bottom, Blue Hill, Levelwood, Longwood, Bamboo Hedge, New Ground, and Thompson's Hill.

The tiny island rises dramatically from the ocean, reaching a height of 2,690 feet above sea level at Diana's Peak. The perimeter of the island consists of sheer barren cliffs intersected with deep valleys, sloping from central ridges. There is very little flat land on Saint Helena; rather, its terrain is steep and rocky. Its mountain streams sometimes dry up during the summer. At the higher levels, there is semi-tropical vegetation and brush, but this transitions to grassland and pasture before the terrain becomes dry and mostly barren in the lowlands.

Saint Helena was formed from two separate volcanoes, both of which were shield volcanoes. All surface eruptions ceased more than seven million years ago, however. The volcanoes are no longer active.

Saint Helena was discovered by the Portuguese in 1502 and was named for the mother of Emperor Constantine. The Portuguese were the first to inhabit the island, which was used as a place to replenish supplies. In 1613, the Dutch took the island by force, claiming it in 1633, but they never occupied or colonized it. In 1658, the English East India Company occupied and fortified the island. In 1815, England exiled Napoleon Bonaparte to Saint Helena, where he died in 1821. The island became a Crown Colony in 1833, a British Dependent Territory in 1981, and a British Overseas Territory in 2002.

Like Saint Helena, Ascension also consists of one isolated island, also volcanic in origin. Ascension is about 1,000 miles east of Brazil, and around the same distance to Liberia.

Throughout its modern history, Ascension has been a working island, and essentially a multi-national communications and military hub, although politically it is part of the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. The island is the location of Royal Air Force Ascension Island, a European Space Agency tracking station, an American signals intelligence facility, and the BBC World Service Atlantic Relay Station. Although there are people who are stationed there, or who work on the island, only a few actually live there.

The Portuguese were the first to discover the island, and since it was sighted on Ascension Day, that became its name. As it was dry and barren, it was not claimed by Portugal, although the Portuguese introduced goats as a potential source of meat for passing ship crews.

In 1815, the British stationed a garrison on the island as a precaution after Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to Saint Helena, and it was claimed for Britain.

Tristan da Cunha is the most remote archipelago in the world. It is about 1,500 miles southwest of Saint Helena, and 1,700 miles west of Cape Town, South Africa.

The island is dominated by its volcanic mountain, and it has only one settlement, known as Settlement of Edinburgh of the Seven Seas. Besides the main island of Tristan da Cunha, the archipelago includes Gough Island, 218 miles away, which includes an inhabited weather station. The other islands, which are uninhabited, are Inaccessible Island, Nightingale Island, Middle Island, and Stoltenhoff Island.

In 1906. Britain decided to evacuate the island, but the islanders refused. No ships visited from 1909 to 1919. In 1961, Queen Mary's Peak erupted, forcing the evacuation of the island's 264 inhabitants. Fleeing first to Nightingale, they were taken to Britain. Most families returned in 1963, and the island currently has a population of around 300. The island is mountainous, the only flat area being its settlement. Queen Mary's Peak is covered in snow in the winter.



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