In 1884, disaster struck St Helena Island’s dairy herd, which at the time comprised two dozen prize animals.
In the late afternoon of 12 January 1884, a severe thunderstorm with howling winds and pelting rain passed over the island prison from the south-east. Apart from two or three galvanised iron tanks being upturned and several sheets of roofing being loosened, damage to the prison was minor. But the island’s dairy herd was devastated.
As Superintendent Townley later recalled:
The cattle after milking time in the evening, with the exception of the calves, were turned out as usual to graze in the northern paddock. When the storm first burst upon the cattle, they turned tail and fled before it until they came to the beach. The tide was a very high spring tide and, before they could check their flight, they were out of their depth. It would have been impossible for them to turn back and face the storm so they swam on until they were drowned.
On Sunday morning, 22 head were missing. A search was made all round the island but without success, until the warder in No.1 Post sighted a number of objects floating with the current between St Helena and Mud Island – which proved to be the carcasses of our animals.
I sent our boat off and three or four of the bodies were towed ashore, some of them very much torn by sharks. In the end, with the aid of the telescope, 21 bodies were discovered in different parts of the Bay .
On Sunday afternoon, one of our warders, on looking over towards Fisherman Island, saw on the beach what he took to be a cow walking about. I sent the boat over and the warders returned with one of our heifers, very weak after no doubt swimming about for many hours.
We have still on hand only three cows, one steer and the heifer.