What Is the Saint Helena Pound (SHP)?

The Saint Helena pound (SHP) is the official currency of St. Helena and Ascension Island, two of the three South Atlantic islands that comprise the British territory of Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha.

Key Takeaways

  • The Saint Helena pound (SHP) is the official currency of St. Helena and Ascension Island, largely autonomous British territories in the South Atlantic.
  • The Saint Helena pound is pegged to the British pound (GBP) at a rate of 1:1.
  • St. Helena has a long history of issuing its own notes, relative to other British colonies.

Understanding the Saint Helena Pound

The Saint Helena pound was first established in the 19th century as the currency for the British territory of Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha. Until 2009, this territory, comprised the islands of Saint Helena, Ascension, and the archipelago of Tristan da Cunha, which was known as Saint Helena and Dependencies and is still often collectively referred to simply as Saint Helena. While the SHP is the official currency of Saint Helena and Ascension Island, the official currency of Tristan da Cunha is the British pound sterling (GBP). 

The SHP is pegged at par with the British pound sterling, and is subdivided into 100 pence. The SHP is often presented with the symbol £, the same as with the British pound.

Over time, the Saint Helena territories have established a variety of currencies, with its first notes appearing as early as 1716. While the territories have also relied on the pound sterling and the South African pound, the modern SHP is was first issued in 1976. SHP notes are only accepted in Saint Helena and Ascension Island, and can be obtained only from the Bank of Saint Helena or en route to the island via the RMS Saint Helena.

A Brief History of Saint Helena

This territory played a key role in the development of the English East India Company as a international trading power. The island of Saint Helena became famous as the island to which the British exiled Napoleon Bonaparte following his capture in 1815. Bonaparte died on Saint Helena in 1821.

Saint Helena was an uninhabited island discovered in 1502 by Portuguese explorers, and it subsequently became an stop for shipping trade routes between Europe, South Africa and Asia. The Dutch claimed the island in 1633, but did not settle the island. In 1657, the English East India Company was given a charter to govern the island. Saint Helena is one of England’s oldest colonies, second only to Bermuda.

Britain annexed Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha separately in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, and in 1922, Ascension Island became a dependency of Saint Helena. In 1938, Tristan da Cunha also joined as dependency, establishing a constitutional relationship known as Saint Helena and Dependencies that lasted 70 years. In September 2009, Tristan da Cunha and Ascension Island were raised to equal status with Saint Helena, officially changing the name of the territory to Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. Despite the territorial unity of the three regions, the SHP only serves as currency in the territories of Saint Helena and Ascension Island.