Ascension is an island five mile by seven miles, about 1000 miles from Sierra Leone and 680 miles from St Helena. The Island of Ascension was discovered by Portuguese explores but was not permanently inhabited until a British garrison was established on the Island in 1815. This was the year Napoleon Bonaparte was incarcerated on St Helena, and Ascension was seen as part of its’ defence. The Island then slowly developed as a Victualling Yard and Coaling Station and was regularly used by the West Africa Squadron of the Royal Navy carrying out anti-slavery operations.
The Island is unusually because it was administered by the Royal Navy and Garrisoned by Royal Marines. The fortifications do not therefore follow the usual patterns until later years.
Ascension was a popular stopping off point for vessels travelling around the Cape of Good Hope to the Indian Ocean. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 saw sea traffic transiting through Ascension drop from five hundred vessels to fifty vessels of year. This loss of traffic was compounded when the Royal Navy West Africa Squadron, primarily involved in anti-slavery operations off the West Coast of Africa, had been based at Ascension. The Squadron’s operational base was moved in 1865 from Ascension to Cape Town with the end of slavery in the United States. As a result of these two developments, Ascension became a backwater with the population reduced by two thirds. However, Georgetown continued to be used as a coal depot for the Royal Navy and was administered by the Admiralty.
Between 1872 and 1889 the small resident population was shown as HMS Flora (Tender).