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Diana's Peak

What’s in a name? St Helena’s highest peaks

Many visitors to St Helena will no doubt include Diana’s Peak in their itinerary and this week we’re sharing research conducted by Chris Hillman, former director of the St Helena National Trust, into the names of the Island’s highest peaks. When and why were the three names, Diana, Actaeon and Cuckold chosen, he asks.

Dianas and Cucold Peaks credit Paul Tyson

Diana’s Peak and Cuckold’s Point credit Paul Tyson

The Greek myth of Diana and Actaeon can be found within Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The tale recounts the unfortunate fate of a young hunter named Actaeon and his encounter with chaste Diana, goddess of the hunt. The latter is nude and enjoying a bath in a spring with help from her escort of nymphs when the mortal man unwittingly stumbles upon the scene.  The nymphs scream in surprise and attempt to cover Diana, who, in a fit of embarrassed fury, splashes water upon Actaeon. He is transformed into a deer with a dappled hide and long antlers, robbed of his ability to speak, and thereafter promptly flees in fear. It is not long, however, before his fellow hunters and his own hounds track him down and kill him, failing to recognize their friend. [Taken from Ovid, Metamorphoses, Trans. A.D. Melville, New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. Wikipedia]

Continuing St Helena’s links to Shakespeare, the bard references the myth in Titus Andronicus.

The first recorded use of the name Diana is attributed to Major General A Beatson in his 1816 ‘Geological Plan and Elevation of Saint Helena’. He also uses the term Cuckold’s Point but does not show it on the map. The name Diana for the highest peak appears on Thomas E Fowler’s map of 1863, who also references Actaeon Mount and Cuckhold’s Point.

Diana's Peak

Other passing links and references include the arrival at St Helena in 1782 of the Royal Navy anti-slavery vessel, HMS Diana. There have also been a series of HMS Actaeon ships in the Royal Navy, and “Cuckold’s Point” features as a location at Nelson’s Dock, in the Royal Navy Dockyard, at Rotherhithe where many ships were then built…

Ultimately, Chris concludes, no reference has been found as to how they came to be named, nor any community or official acceptance of these names until they appear on maps and in writings about the island; there are no records of what ordinary local people called the three highest points before we see the names on a printed map.

Do get in touch and comment below with your thoughts on the reasoning behind the peaks’ names.

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