The Baptists on St. Helena

Over the past year I have been communicating with a Reformed Baptist brother by the name of Nick Clevely, who is ministering on the island of St. Helena. Nick recently passed on to me this potted history of the Baptist work on the island. The Baptist work on the island was begun by an American Baptist Missionary named James McGregor Bertram in 1845. On July 14, 1845, Bertram arrived at St. Helena. Upon arriving he was met by a Mr. James Morris, who asked, “Have you come here, Mr. Bertram, to preach Christ’s gospel?” Mr. Morris then informed the Rev. Bertram “there are only four or five people on the island who know anything about a work of grace in their hearts.”

The next day, Rev. Bertram held his first service and preached from Acts 16:14-15. By Sunday, July 20, they had to move to a much larger place for worship, and met in someone’s home. It was determined to call a meeting on July 30 (only 14 days after Rev Bertram’s arrival) for the purpose of raising funds for a mission house. Thus the foundations of the Baptist Church were laid.

It was at a meeting held on August 20, 1845 (37 days after Rev Bertram’s arrival) that it was unanimously decided “to procure the largest stone edifice in the town that could be purchased. A large stone dwelling house in the central part of town was purchased for £550.” At a meeting held on the September 30, 1845, the following minute was recorded: “Mr. Carroll proposed that a public notice should be posted to notify that Divine Services will commence in the Mission House on the 28th October, 1845 at 10 o’clock and 3 o’clock in the afternoon.”

Not long after Rev. Bertram’s arrival, he was waited upon by Captain Mapleton, the principal magistrate of the island. He invited Rev Bertram to Sandy Bay where the Gospel had never been preached! It was early January, 1846, that they went by horseback to Sandy Bay. It was at the dwelling of Mr. and Mrs. Lambe that Bertram preached his first service in Sandy Bay. The first baptism took place on the April 2, 1848, where some 45 people followed the Lord, and within a year 149 were baptized, and by 1884, 440 were baptized members of the church! Sounds like revival!

Most regrettably Bertram committed suicide in 1868, throwing himself off a ship on a return voyage to America.

The Jamestown Chapel, where the Baptist work started, is the flagship of what are now four chapels on the island and was built in 1854. The three other chapels on the island are: the Head o’Wain Chapel (1918), the Knollcombe Chapel (1893) which has on its grounds an historical monument, the Boer War graveyard where prisoners who died in an epidemic were buried, and the Sandy Bay Chapel, which experienced another revival in the early twentieth century.