Val Hilss
Val Hills

From St Helena to Harrogate

27 September 2022

President Val Hills gave a presentation last week to fellow members of Soroptimists International, Harrogate and District at the Crown Hotel.

An avid family historian, Val talked about her research into her family tree, giving lots of tips to would be genealogists on the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of researching family trees.

In particular, Val linked her family tree to the island of St Helena in the South Atlantic where her great grandmother was born. Well known for its connection with the imprisonment of Napoleon Bonaparte, St Helena was administered by the East India company from the 17th century to the 19th century as it was an important stopping place for merchant ships coming from India and the Far East.

Coffee plantations sprang up and slaves and indentured servants were brought over from Africa and India to work in them. Amongst them was Val’s many times great grandfather named Mercury after the ship he arrived on. President Val’s great grandmother Mary Mercury left for South Africa in 1884 where she met her husband. The abolition of slavery in Saint Helen in 1839 was a ‘Bitter Draught’ with slaves being forced to take out loans to buy their freedom. Loans that were almost impossible to pay back. The value of a healthy male slave was £100 – equivalent to many thousands of pounds today.

This fascinating presentation, with a wide variety of slides and family photos, was well received by Val’s fellow Soroptimists.

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