Ascension Island

Ascension Island is an island in the South Atlantic Ocean, and includes tiny satellite islands and rocks such as Boatswain Bird Island, Boatswain Bird Rock (East), White Rocks (South), and Tartar Rock (West, at the shore of Georgetown). It is a Crown Colony of the United Kingdom. It is one of a number of hotspot oceanic islands in the South Atlantic (which include the sister islands of Saint Helena and Tristan da Cunha. The capital is Georgetown.



Ascension is a rocky peak of purely volcanic origin (44 distinct craters - all "dormant", i.e. not "extinct") with its base just west of the mid-Atlantic ridge. Much of the island is covered by basalt lava flows and cinder cones. The last major volcanic eruption took place about 600 years ago. The highest point (Green Mountain) at 859 m is covered with lush vegetation which, with each rainy season is increasingly spreading throughout the island. There is a small farm near the peak which used to produce vegetables and pork but the "Red Lion" farm building has now sadly fallen into disrepair. The Ascension Island Government Conservation Department is now using some of the former farm land as a nursery to promote the development of endemic species of flora.

The climate on Ascension Island is subtropical. Temperatures at sea level are 20-31C and about 5C less on Green Mountain. Showers occur throughout the year with slightly heavier rains in the January-April period.


Ascension Island was discovered by the Portuguese seafarer Joo da Nova in 1501 (although this visit apparently went unrecorded) and "found again" two years later on Ascension Day by Alphonse d'Albuquerque, who gave the island its name. Being dry and barren it was of little use to the East Indies fleets. So it remained uninhabited until Emperor Napoleon I was incarcerated on nearby St Helena in 1815, when a small British naval garrison was stationed on Ascension to deny it to the French. The island was designated "HMS Ascension", a "Stone sloop of War of the smaller class".

By Napoleon's death in 1821 Ascension had become a victualling station and sanatorium for ships engaged in the suppression of the slave trade around the West African coast. In 1823 the island was taken over by the Royal Marines. It remained under the supervision of the British Board of Admiralty until 1922, when it was made a Dependency of St Helena by Royal Letters Patent.

From 1922 until 1964 the island was managed by the Eastern Telegraph Company. The BBC World Service broadcasts its programmes to Africa from the island. The British telecommunications company Cable & Wireless (the successor to Eastern Telegraph Co since 1934) also maintains a presence on the island, both are sources of revenue for Ascension.

Missing image
This 1972 cover commemorating the 30th anniversary of Wideawake Field includes a variety of markings and labels.


There is no indigenous population. The inhabitants of the island comprise the employees and families of the organisations working on the island. The population is about 1,100 - mostly Saint Helenaians but with 200 United Kingdom and 150 US citizens. There are five settlements, the capital being Georgetown:


It is home to Wideawake Field, built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, as a refueling and staging station for aircraft flying between the Americas and Africa. Wideawake is also used by the RAF as a bridge to the Falkland Islands. The United States also maintains a GPS monitor station and missile tracking sites on the island. The island served as a refueling station for the British Royal Navy during the Falklands War.

In 1982 when Argentine forces invaded the Falklands, Ascension Island proved essential to British forces in their efforts to retake the islands from Argentina. Wideawake airfield became the busiest airport in the world as the RAF flew in supplies to aid the Task Force. A squadron of RAF Harriers was based on the island to repel any possible Argentine attack. Vulcan bombers of the RAF flew a series of long-range bombing attacks from Ascension Island, against the Falkland Islands (operation Black Buck).

Sounding rockets have been launched from Ascension since 1963. The launch pad, which is manly used for Arcas launches is situated at Template:Coor dms.


Many of the organisations on the Island are involved in communications in one form or another, although the new government has been stimulating the development of new businesses to serve the local community. At one time Ascension Island was a main relay point of the coaxial submarine cable system laid between the United Kingdom, Portugal and South Africa with links to South America and West Africa. This cable system no longer operates. Instead, Cable and Wireless plc operate an international satellite telecommunications service; it also maintains an internal telephone service and operates the "Ariane" Earth Station on the Island on behalf of the European Space Agency. In 1967 the BBC opened its Atlantic Relay Station broadcasting to Africa and South America.

The Americans operate satellite tracking stations and other facilities. In addition to the Royal Mail Ship, there is a monthly shipping service from the United Kingdom by Ministry of Defence chartered merchant navy vessels. An American supply ship calls about four times a year. And the island also welcomes passenger cruise ships and fishing vessels working Ascension's rich fishing grounds.

The island has an Internet country code top-level domain (ccTLD) of .ac.


The island is renowned for green turtles, which come ashore on the beaches from January to May to lay their eggs. It is also a breeding place for the Sooty Tern, or "wideawake", large numbers of which settle on the south-western coastal area (the "fairs") every tenth month to hatch their eggs. Other offshore nesting seabirds are boobies, Ascension frigate birds, petrels and noddies. The island is also home to two species of lizards and land crabs. Several additional species have been imported by man and have become feral, including donkeys, sheep, rabbits, rats and mice. Introduced land birds include canaries, mynahs, francolins, waxbills and sparrows. All native wildlife is protected by law, but most of the introduced animals are not. The ocean surrounding the island have populations of sharks, wahoo, barracuda, tuna, bonita, sailfish, marlin and other fish.

  1. Georgetown (pop. 560)
  2. Cat Hill (Main Base, the U.S. base, pop. 150)
  3. The Residency
  4. Traveller's Hill (Wideawake, the Royal Air Force base, pop. 200)
  5. Two Boats Village

Additionally, there are some cottages in the Green Mountains.

Postal History

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The first stamps were overprints on stamps of Saint Helena.

Originally mail was carried on an irregular basis as ships called. A datestamp was in use from February 1858, and in 1863 the Union Steamship Co. began regular carriage of mail, continuing until 1977. On 3 March 1867 British postage stamps became valid for Ascension mail, and continued in use until 1922, when Ascension became a dependency of Saint Helena.

On 2 November 1922, nine stamps of St. Helena overprinted "ASCENSION" replaced British stamps. These were followed up in 1924 by a series of 12 using the St. Helena design, but inscribed for Ascension. In 1934 a pictorial series of ten engraved stamps depicted various views of the island.

Missing image
View of "The Pier", 1938

In 1938 the pictorials were re-issued with a portrait of George VI replacing his father's image. Various colour, perforation, and watermark changes ensued, with the last being issued in February 1953.

Cover mailed on occasion of a Royal visit by the , 1957
Cover mailed on occasion of a Royal visit by the Duke of Edinburgh, 1957

A new definitive series of 13 in 1956 resembled the previous stamps, but was a little taller, and used maps and pictures of native animals in addition to local scenes. No further stamps were issued until 1963, when there was a series of 14 featuring birds.

From 1963 on, commemorative and special issues started to appear more frequently; in the 1990s, typical policy was to issue 5-6 sets per year, each consisting of 4-5 designs.


Template:Global Volcanism Program

External links

Template:British dependenciesde:Ascension fr:Ascension (le) ja:アセンション島 nl:Ascension no:Ascension pl:Wyspa Wniebowstąpienia pt:Ascenso sl:Ascension sv:Ascension


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