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“The Island has been Handed over to Me”: Ascension Island as a Company Colony, 1922–42

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Ascension Island has spent almost all its years of organised human settlement as a military base. The major exception was between 1922 and 1942 when it was ruled by a civilian company, an unusual form of governance in modern colonial history. Though nominally subject to St Helena, and through that British colony to London, outside interference was largely restricted to rulings on colonial etiquette. The manager of the company was also head of both the government and legal systems. This paper considers the operation of this company colony, the tensions between the company and its workforce/subjects, and the contestation from 1942 for political supremacy between the company, the British state and the American forces that arrived when the island became involved in World War II. Ascension's narrative helps to exemplify some themes in postcolonial discourse and, given the unusual and extreme nature of the island's experiences, informatively broadens understanding of colonialism.

Keywords: Ascension Island; Cable & Wireless; South Atlantic; colonialism; companies; island

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: School of Geography, Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK

Publication date: March 1, 2004


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