Thursday, 27 March 2008

Lady Holland, Dahlias, Everlastings, Napoleon and some not very good Poetry

Elizabeth Vassal Fox, Lady Holland, was Napoleon's most prominent supporter in England.

Excluded from court and shunned by many society women because of her scandalous divorce, she presided over the most celebrated social and political circle in London until the death of her husband in 1840. (1)

The Hollands loved travel, and spent a lot of time overseas. In 1800-1805 they lived in Spain and France, and were critical of Napoleon's policies in Spain. After the Treaty of Amiens they were presented to Napoleon in Paris. This was the only time they ever met.

Dahlias and Everlastings

A favourite of generations of English gardeners, the dahlia originates from Mexico. It was first brought to Spain in the late eighteenth century, where it was spotted by Lady Holland. She is credited with being the first person to introduce the plant into England, some 15 years after it had arrived in Spain.

Lord Holland wrote a poem about it to her:
The Dahlia you brought to our isle
Your praises for ever shall speak:
Mid gardens as sweet as your smile,
And colour as bright as your cheek.

Lady Holland is also credited with introducing the Everlastings to St. Helena. She sent some seeds to Longwood during the occupation, hoping that they would remind Napoleon of Corsica. They now grow all over the island.

The Holland House Set

This term is used to refer to the large group of whig politicians, literary figures and distinguished foreign visitors who were entertained by Lord and Lady Holland at their Jacobean mansion in Kensington.(2) In the 1830's when the Whigs finally returned to power, Cabinet dinners were often held at Holland House.

The guests were largely male and aristocratic. They included members of most of the great Whig families: the Cavendishes, the Fitzwilliams, the Spencers, Earl Grey, the Russells, and of course in the early years, Lord Holland's uncle, the Whig statesman, Charles James Fox. (3)

The Hollands were great patrons of the arts. Lord Byron was a member of their circle - despite a famous attack on them. It was here that he met Lady Caroline Lamb.

Among the distinguished overseas visitors welcomed to Holland House at various times were Metternich, the Czar of Russia, Mme de Staël, Talleyrand, the Italian poet Ugo Foscolo and King Louis Philippe of France.

For more information, including pictures of the house itself and a description of Lady Holland's rather imperious style of entertaining, follow the link: Holland House

The Hollands and Napoleon

Lord Holland's admiration of Napoleon was rather more measured than his wife's. Nevertheless throughout his whole political career he took a pro-French stance, which was typical of a number of the more liberal Whigs. Like them he was a critic of the Tory Government's expensive continental wars, and a resolute opponent of the policy of supporting the absolute monarchies of Europe and of restoring the Bourbons to France.

Tory pamphlets and cartoons often attempted to portray Whigs in general, and Holland House in particular, as dupes of the French, defeatists and worse. One cartoon in 1810, anticipating that the Prince Regent would soon allow the Whigs back into power, portrayed Lord and Lady Holland entering the Treasury Building, with Lady Holland inevitably wearing trousers, and with a diminutive Napoleon hanging on to her coat tails.

The Hollands were in Italy during Napoleon's exile on Elba. A number of Whigs, including Lord John Russell, travelled from Italy to Elba to talk with Napoleon. (4)The Hollands also intended to do so, and met some of Napoleon's family in Italy.

Lady Holland got permission to send Napoleon some newspapers. One of them contained a short piece alleging that the allies intended to move Napoleon from Elba to the more secure island of St. Helena. This, along with the failure to provide the funds promised to him under the peace agreement, is sometimes taken as a decisive factor persuading Napoleon to take the gamble of returning to France.

On her return to England after Waterloo, Lady Holland was desolate at Napoleon's surrender and at the decision to deport him to St. Helena.

Lord Holland was an outspoken opponent of the act to legalise Napoleon's captivity.
To consign to distant exile and imprisonment a foreign and captive Chief, who, after the abdication of his authority, relying on British generosity, had surrendered himself to us, in preference to his other enemies, is unworthy the magnanimity of a great country;

Most Whigs were unwilling to support him, and Lady Holland wanted him to stand on his own as the only opponent of the bill in the Lords. The Duke of Sussex, Lord Holland's most reliable ally, insisted that he too should be recorded as voting against.(5)

Throughout the captivity there was frequent communication between Napoleon's entourage on St. Helena and Holland House. Over 1000 books were sent to Napoleon. The Duke of Bedford also was encouraged to send gifts to Napoleon.

Among the Napoleonic treasures the Hollands accumulated was a colossal bust of Napoleon by a pupil of Canova. Inscribed on it in 1817 was Lord Holland's translation of a verse from Homer's Odyssey.

The hero is not dead, but breathes the air
In lands beyond the deep:
Some island sea-begirded, where
Harsh men the prisoner keep.

In his will Napoleon left Lady Holland a snuff box as an expresson of gratitude for her many kindnesses to him. The poet Moore wrote a poem for her about this.(6)

Gift of the Hero, on his dying day,
To her, whose pity watched, for ever nigh;
Oh! could he see the proud, the happy ray,
This relic lights up on her generous eye,
Sighing, he'd feel how easy 'tis to pay
A friendship all his kingdoms could not buy.

Lord Holland wrote that he considered Napoleon's death
a legal or political murder, a species of crime which tho' not uncommon in our age is one of the blackest dye most odious nature.


1. Born in Jamaica in 1770 , the daughter a wealthy planter from the American colonies, she married Sir Godfrey Webster before her 16th birthday in 1786. They had two sons and a daughter. It was an unhappy marriage. Always short of money, Sir Godfrey was apparently attracted by Elizabeth Vassal's large fortune, and was frustrated by his inability to get his hands on it. In Florence in 1794 she fell in love with the young Henry Fox (1773-1840), nephew of the famous Whig leader, Charles James Fox. They had their first son in 1796, and after a messy divorce they married in 1797. They had two other sons; one of whom died in infancy, the other Henry Edward Fox, (1802–1859) became the 4th Baron Holland. Sir Godfrey Webster committed suicide in 1800 after bad luck at cards.

2. Holland House itself was destroyed by German bombs in 1940. It was then demolished and became a park.

3. Lord Holland's political career was relatively unsuccessful. He served as Lord Privy Seal in the short lived Ministry of All the Talents (1806-7), but had to wait until the Whigs returned to power in 1830 for his next period in Government, as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He was still in office when he died in 1840. He was a consistent supporter of liberal reforms championed by the more advanced whigs, such as the removal of religious disabilities and the reduction in the number of capital offences. All of these were blocked by the Tory Governments of the period.
4. Lord John Russell(1792-1878), younger son of the Duke of Bedford, prominent Whig/Liberal politician, supporter of Parliamentary Reform; twice Prime Minister (1846-52, 1865-6). Like his father, Lord John Russell felt that Britain had no right to interfere in the question of who should rule in France, and was a firm opponent of the coalition with Austria, Prussia and Russia.
5. The Duke of Sussex was 6th son of George III, and the only surviving son who did not have a naval or military career. He was of course an uncle of Queen Victoria. It was he who gave her away at her wedding to Prince Albert.

6. Thomas Moore (1779 – 1852) was an Irish poet. He was the literary executor of Lord Byron.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Soap, Art and Napoleon: The Lady Lever Art Gallery

Continuing on the art theme, but also developing one of my other themes - English/British attitudes towards Napoleon.

A very short look then at one of the most successful nineteenth century entrepreneurs, William Hesketh Lever, later Lord Leverhulme(1851-1925).

Lever founded his fortune on soap, and was the first to buy art for use in advertising.

He built a model village at Port Sunlight for his employees. A place which has been well preserved and is well worth a visit.

Some bridled at Lever's authoritarianism - he would not allow the workers to keep chickens in their gardens, or to grow vegetables, although he did provide allotments - but the standard of life for Lever's workers was far better than for others in similar employ at the time.

Lever believed in the importance of art to individual improvement and therefore to social progress. As part of his model village he constructed the Lever Free Library and Museum in 1903, and later the Lady Lever Art Gallery(1922).

Napoleon was Lever's political hero.(1) At his home in Thornton Manor he used to dine in full evening dress at a 25ft-long Anglo-Indian rosewood dining table, made for the Emperor Napoleon III. In his music room hung George Richmond's painting, Napoleon Reading His letter of Abdication.

When the Lady Lever Art Gallery was built, it had a large Napoleon Room (since reduced in size) to house his collection of pictures, sculptures and furniture and other objects ostensibly connected with Napoleon. Napoleon Room, Lady Lever Art Gallery

Among the pictures is William Quiller Orchardson's,
St. Helena 1816 - Napoleon dictating to Count Las Cases the Account of his campaigns.

This art gallery is a delightful place to visit, even for those who have no interest in Napoleon. Lady Lever Collections

(1) The Lady Lever Art Gallery, Bluecoat Press, Liverpool 1996 p. 40. Lever was a Liberal MP for a short time before the First World War, as was his contemporary, the shipping magnate Sir Walter Runciman, another Napoleonist, who wrote The Tragedy of St. Helena.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Art, Culture and Stamps on St Helena

Does St. Helena attract artists and new age people? - This is one of the questions I have been asked since my return.

It is not something that I thought about while I was there. St. Helena is simply not that kind of place. There is no art gallery on the island, and not much evidence of any cultural life. There were once amateur dramatics, but they have been killed off, presumably by the ubiquitous videos.

This morning I noticed a headline in the Financial Times, Grim Luton takes cultural path to boost self-esteem

Not that I am suggesting that St. Helena is grim - nor even Luton come to that - but I gather that whilst ambitious plans are being made for the island after the airport, no thought has been given to its cultural life.

The FT. article goes on:
A property developer has joined forces with the town's borough council to create a "2012 Cultural Vision" document aimed at revitalising Luton's artistic and cultural life in time for the Olympic Games in London.
Apparently even the most cynical property developers are now aware of the importance of a cultural dimension to their plans.(1)

In a recent blog Michel reported on the success of an exhibition, hosted by the Museum, of the work of a British artist, Andrew Parker. Lets hope that the organisers were sufficiently encouraged to mount more exhibitions.

The stamps at the top of this posting were designed by Michel, who himself is no mean artist. Quite an achievement for a French Consul to design stamps for a British Overseas Territory - which is I think the correct designation for St. Helena.

(1) Financial Times, March 22/March 23 2008 p.5

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Dueling on St. Helena - what happened at Chubbs Spring on March 20th 1809

Time to get back to the Judicial records. 1809 is proving more interesting than 1808.

Currently I am working on a murder charge - resulting from a duel at Chubbs Spring, in the upper Jamestown Valley on March 20th 1809.

In the duel Lieutenant Robert Wright killed Lieutenant Stephen Young. The affair was over the trivial matter of an exchange of duty. Lieutenant Wright claimed that he and Young were good friends.

Lieutenant Wright and the two seconds, Lieutenant Francis Seale and Lieutenant Onesiphorus Beale, were each charged with murder.

A witness, a plumber called Bowman/Boorman?, who observed the whole affair from the road above the Spring, went down to the banks of the run where Young lay dying, and in Court gave this account :
Mr Wright came near to the deceased Lieut Young, & said O Young I am sorry you did not know better, you knew what I was before. Mr Seale & Mr Beale during the time they were there raved about like Madmen & apparently much affected at what had happened

According to the same witness, Seale and Wright wanted to leave the body with him and go into The Talby? Not sure if I have transcribed that correctly. I have assumed it was a hostelry.

At the trial William Webber Doveton and Robert Leech were unable to act as Justices because they knew at least one defendant. The Coroner had to act for the Sheriff, because the latter was related to one of the defendants. The names of the Jury were drawn from a hat in which 33 slips of paper had been put, and a number of them were disqualified for affinity or other reasons.

Lieutenant John Barnes acted as the counsel for the defendants. He did a good job, with much quotation from law books. The defendants were acquitted. All three were still serving during the captivity, and by that time had been promoted to the rank of Captain. Robert Wright retired in 1818.

Deciphering the case is proving quite a challenge - by the time I have finished I may have to delve into Blackstone and maybe other legal books to help me unravel some of the illegible words! I will be asking Michel for double payment - in gold bars or Swiss Francs the way the world economy is going!

How prevalent was dueling on St. Helena?

According to the witness already mentioned, Lieutenant Wright said immediately after the shooting that dueling was made too trifling of in S. Helena.

In his evidence at the trial Wright indicated that as an army officer he had no choice but to respond to the challenge of the deceased; he would have lost the respect of his fellow officers:
particularly amongst Military Men would cast upon my conduct should I decline consenting to Lieut Youngs wish for a personal interview, I was unavoidably compelled to agree to it. Chubbs spring was the place we agreed

Lieutenant Beale gave the same view:
That I became a second in the affair, the principles of religion and moral obligation may impute blame to me for – but the customary laws of honor in these cases have so arbitrarily disposed of Men in my profession, that it is impossible for me to have refused acting as I did, my conscience satisfies me that I did all in my power to prevent extremities, & that fatal as the wound was, the particulars were without advantage on either side.

The past is indeed another country. Those who have studied the events at Longwood know that at one point relations became so tense that General Gourgaud challenged Count Montholon to a duel, which happily Napoleon managed to prevent. This affair is usually the subject of derision, particularly at Gourgaud's expense. It ought perhaps to be viewed through the eyes of an early nineteenth century officer and gentleman.

The end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth however was the golden age of the duel. - according to the following article, which has some useful general information on dueling, not just on pistols. The article suggests that an officer who refused a challenge would have no choice but to leave his regiment.
British Duelling Pistols

Below I have put details of some major contemporary duels, with some suprising combatants, most of whom were engaged in one way or another in the wars against Napoleon.

Famous Duels in Early Nineteenth Century

In 1898 William Pitt then Prime Minister, challenged an Irish MP, Tierney, to a duel after the latter had criticised Pitt's plans to increase the navy in the House of Commons. Henry Addington, the Speaker of the British Parliament, attended as a witness. Both men missed.

Aaron Burr, Vice president of the United States, killed Alexander Hamilton, former Secretary of the Treasury, in a duel in July 1804. Although indicted for murder Burr was never tried; he completed his term of office as Vice President.

September 1809, Lord Castlereagh Secretary for War, and later architect of the coalition which defeated Napoleon, fought duel with George Canning. Castlereagh lightly wounded his opponent in the left leg. Both resigned from the Cabinet; Spencer Perceval became next Prime Minister instead of Canning; Perceval was assassinated in 1812. Castlereagh committed suicide in 1822. Canning became Prime Minister briefly before his death in 1827.

Duke of Wellington, Prime Minister, aged 61 and the Earl of Winchelsea, met on Battersea Fields, March 21, 1829. Both fired wide. Wellington was mocked for this behaviour which was not considered appropriate for a Prime Minister.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Disembarkation Cape Town

Our journey back to Cape Town was far less smooth than the outwards journey.

The bad weather slowed us down and we spent an extra night on board.

We were pleasantly surprised that such good food could be served so long after the ship had provisioned in Cape Town - although the draught beer did run out!

Disembarkation at Cape Town is the least pleasurable part of the trip - particularly if your name begins with a letter at the tail end of the alphabet.

We were up for an early breakfast at 6.30, and were disembarked about a dozen at a time. We finally got ashore at around 10.00 a.m.!

"This is Africa" said the captain.

Next time we will change our name by dead poll - Aaron seems a good bet!

The Purser still kept his good humour, although he too wanted to get off the ship to see his family. I'm not sure who the Chief Engineer was phoning.

Despite it all we left with very happy memories of our time on the ship which a couple of hours twiddling our thumbs in the lounge could not erase. The R.M.S. is clearly feeling its age a little - aren't we all - but it is a pleasure to travel on her.

Our slow disembarkation proved the beginning of a not very good day.

The security gates at our guest house in Cape Town jammed and we thought we wouldn't catch our flight to Johannesburg.

When we got to the airport we found our flight had been cancelled.

We were looking forward to a steak and a bottle of red wine, but when we finally arrived in Johannesburg we found that our hotel had no restaurant!

It seemed a big deal then, but now just makes us laugh.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Sailors, The Girls of St. Helena and a little bad Poetry

When it was known that Napoleon was going to be exiled on St. Helena there was some curiosity in France about this unknown island. Michel has produced an extract from a piece produced in 1815 to satisfy that curiosity.

Below is a fairly loose translation of part of it. One might almost say that it provides a typically Gallic view. Certainly some must have thought that Napoleon had landed on his feet!

The capital or Valley of the Chapel presents a most picturesque and entertaining spectacle when a ship arrives in port. From all the hills and valleys come all the inhabitants of both sexes to see the new arrivals and to sell their wares. All the houses in the town, and even those which have spread between the trees further up the valley, are transformed into cafes and hostelries serving excellent punch and providing hospitality to the sailors. For several days there is only food, dancing and other entertainment. It is a great joy for one of these houses if it can find some pretty girls, because then all the sailors will come and spend a lot of money. These girls are charming sights when they appear on the hills in their white aprons. They are even more attractive and well turned out whilst the ships are in port; but as soon as the ships have gone the scene changes: they know how to climb on the rocks and to descend barefoot as easily as if they had never worn shoes.
There is only one bad thing about the situation of the Saint Helenans : that is to be exposed to the oppression of the Governor

- Description de l’île Sainte-Hélène, séjour destiné à Napoléon Bonaparte, publié à Paris en 1815.

A Sailor's View of the Delights of St. Helena

Over 25 years later an American sailor on a whaling ship, having been at sea for many months, was also very attracted by the girls of St. Helena, and soon fell in love:

Strolling down the principal street, I spied a young lady seated at the window of a handsome private residence, very intently engaged with her needle. ... I unconsciously gazed at her with an earnestness that she might have mistaken for rudeness, had she noticed it. She was really a most beautiful girl, with jet-black hair, a clear white skin, and a killing witchery in the exquisitely-rounded outline of her form. ...

"Od rot it!" shouted the captain, out of all patience at my want of taste in preferring the sight of a pretty girl to a good meal; "come along! Never mind that 'ere gal's skylights; they won't do you no good. My old doxy at home is a grand sight a snugger craft.

After tea we had quite a musical party at Mr. Carroll's, composed of the family and several agreeable and fascinating young ladies of their acquaintance. It was indescribably delightful to an adventurer like myself, who had been over a year among Portuguese boors, during which time I had enjoyed no other change of company than the American consul's assistants at Zanzibar, and the Arabs and Africans at Madagascar and Johanna. We had duets on the piano, songs, conversational recreations, and all the pleasures of a social soiree.

Last Sight of St Helena and Thoughts about Miss Legg

Slowly and mournfully the dark shadows of night were stealing over the island. I sat upon the taffrail and gazed upon it, as it grew more indistinct each moment. Now it was but a dark mass of rocks, with a rugged outline; now, an undefined object, half hidden in the darkening twilight; now the eye could scarcely recognize it in the depths of the gloom. Thoughts of the few happy hours I had spent there; of all I had seen and experienced within so short a period; the genuine hospitality of the warm-hearted strangers who had been so kind to me; the associations connected with this desolate spot, awoke within me many emotions of regret, and vague, melancholy reflections on the fleeting triumphs of ambition.

That night, inspired by visions of the beauty of a young lady to whom I had been introduced on the island, I went below, and perpetrated, for the first time in my life, a desperate attempt at poetry. ...

Lines on Miss L——gg.

To the sweet little valley of Jamestown I came,
Ne'er dreaming with danger 'twas fraught;
After whaling a year, oh, I tell it with shame,
On the pin-hook of love I got caught.
Long years in my heart this misfortune will rankle,
And the reason you'll notice, I beg;
While others, from taste, fall in love with an ankle,
Too fondly I loved a whole L——gg

- Etchings of a Whaling Cruise by J. Ross Browne, N.Y. 1846

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

The R.M.S. and the Rhythm of Life on St. Helena

The mail ship is the heartbeat of life on St. Helena.

Virtually everything that is consumed on St. Helena comes on the RMS.(1)

On this ship virtually everybody arrives and virtually everybody leaves.(2)

It is hard to imagine this town and this quay when, with the completion of the airport, this heartbeat is stopped forever.

Before the RMS arrives the local papers give the names of the important people that are coming. Nobody has ever heard of any of them.

When the ship arrives the quay becomes crowded.

The coffee shop opens early for business.

Local radio provides up to the minute information on its time of departure.

The Post Office displays information on the deadline for posting letters.

For the French Consul it means that he has to work on something called his Diplomatic Bag.

We have already watched the R.M.S. leave twice, each time for Ascension Island.

When it returns the second time we know that it is our turn to go.

For us then it means delivering our luggage to the customs, and the sadness of saying goodbye to people we will miss.

It is the least happy time of our holiday.

Time for a few parting photographs.

Goodbyes are an essential part of the rhythm of this island.

So we get on the launch to take us out to the R.M.S. St. Helena.

For centuries people arriving and leaving have gone on deck for their first and their last view of St. Helena.

As we sail away, this is our last view of the island.

This way of seeing the island and this experience will soon be a thing of the past.

In future the visitor's first view of Jamestown will not be from the sea, but from Napoleon Street.

You just can't keep that man out of it.

1. Water, oil and fish are the main exceptions. There is also some local meat and vegetables. Oil arrives on a tanker to the terminal at Ruperts Bay.

2. The only exceptions are cruise ships, now few in number, and a few private yachts calling in en route from the Cape to the Americas. It was not always like this. In the early nineteenth century hundreds of ships would call in every year for water and other provisions; the consulates of many nations were then established in Jamestown. The sign that used to appear outside the Norwegian Consulate is now displayed in the local museum.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

St. Helena: The Exhumation of Napoleon's Body

It is my wish that my ashes may repose on the banks of the Seine, in the midst of the French people, whom I have loved so well.- (Napoleon's Will)

St. Helena was never expected to be Napoleon's final resting place - certainly not by his fellow exiles. (1)

Doubtless nobody bothered to tell the citizens of St. Helena, who had derived some benefit from the presence of the tomb of the Emperor.

The Valley of the Tomb, September 15th 1840

It was 25 years to the day since Napoleon had first arrived on St. Helena.

It was raining heavily. Two tents were set up. One was giving protection to men who were excavating the tomb. The other was set up as a chapel. In this a number of local officials were gathered, as well as a party of French men, most of whom had shared the Emperor's exile and had come to take his body home.(2)

The work was taking longer than anticipated - the thick cement protecting the tomb was hard to penetrate, and the excavators had to work through the night. At 8.00 a.m. on 16th September they finally broke through; at 9.30 they caught sight of the coffin; soon they were able to enter into the tomb and inspect it.

Then the coffin was lifted out and moved into the chapel.

Between Britain and France nothing is ever quite straightforward, and this occasion was no exception. (3)

The French had wanted to exhume the body themselves, and the leader of the French Party, the King's son the Prince de Joinville, expressed his displeasure at not being allowed to do so by remaining on board the Belle Poule. Now with the coffin in the chapel objections were made and recorded by a local Judge concerning the correct procedures that should be gone through when a coffin is unsealed.

At last the coffin was opened. For two minutes Napoleon's remains were exposed to those present. Not long enough for the daguerreotype that someone had brought with them to record the occasion.

The witnesses were able to verify that it did indeed contain the body of the Emperor, and not the quick lime that a Parisian rumour had suggested. It is impossible to imagine what must have gone through the minds of those who had shared the Emperor's exile as the coffin was opened. As the body was revealed they were amazed to find it so well preserved; whilst they had grown older, he to some at least seemed younger than when he had died 19 years earlier.(4)

The coffin was then resealed, now with six layers instead of four, and weighing 1200 kilos. It was carried up the track by 43 soldiers and placed on a carriage that had been reinforced to bear its heavy weight. At this point a British officer from a famous military family, Major-General Churchill, Chief of Staff of the Indian Army came running to pay his respects, and he and his two aides de camp joined the procession into Jamestown.

In Jamestown flags were at half mast and shops closed. All the windows were crowded with onlookers. The ladies of St. Helena had woven a large tricolour flag for the occasion.

The sick Governor, General Middlemore who had walked the 6 kilometres into Jamestown behind the procession, formally handed the coffin over to the French. De Joinville thanked him for the sympathy and respect with which the ceremony had been conducted.

As soon as the coffin reached the French ship, flags were unfurled, masts squared, drums beaten and salvoes fired. The Emperor had come back to his own!

So ended the most momentous quarter century in the history of St Helena.

Gilbert Martineau describes it as the end of the most horrible misunderstanding in history.(5)
(1) Bertrand had asked the British Government in 1821 for the return of Napoleon's body, and had been told then that it was a matter for the French Government. Pleas by Napoleon's mother for the return of his body were unanswered.

(2) The former captives who returned in 1840 were Grand Marshal Bertrand, his son Arthur, General Gourgaud, the young Emmanuel Las Cases, Marchand, the faithful servant who had nursed Napoleon at the end. There were also a number of Napoleon's servants: Saint-Denis, Pierron, Noverraz, Coursot and Archambault. Notable absentees were the elder Las Cases, because of ill health, and the Count de Montholon. The latter was in London, about to embark with Napoleon's nephew, Louis Napoleon, on a foolhardy attempt to overthrow King Louis Philippe. For this Montholon was imprisoned for 20 years, but was pardoned in 1846. Louis Napoleon was imprisoned for life; in 1846 he managed to escape to England. In 1848 with he fall of the July Monarchy he became the President of France, and in 1851 the Emperor of the French.

(3)There had been a number of sensitive issues. The British Government clearly now recognised Naoleon as Emperor Napoleon rather than General Bonaparte, but it was concerned not to do anything which could be critised by the Tory opposition. It was made clear therefore that the Governor should not say anything which in any way appeared to criticise the decision of 1815. The French Government for its part indicated that the former captives now returning would be told to be silent and unemotional.

(4) The following account, in response to a comment that the Emperor's body was well preserved, was given to a visiting seaman by someone who said he had been prsent:
Yes; externally it was perfect. The least touch, however, made an indenture. His nose was the only part which did not retain its original fullness. It hung in upon the bone, and greatly disfigured his countenance. I saw him by torch-light, and a more ghastly object I never looked upon. The night was dark, and, when the lid of the coffin was raised, the glare of light shed upon his pale features gave them an additional ghastliness. His eyes were much sunken, and his lips slightly parted. There was nothing of sternness in the expression of his countenance. It was rather that of pain. He looked as if he had fallen into an uneasy sleep after a long fit of illness. His liver and heart, which were embalmed and placed upon his breast, were uninjured.
Etchings of a Whaling Cruise ... by J. Ross Browne.

(5) Napoleon's Last Journey, Gilbert Martineau.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Napoleon's Funeral on St. Helena

When you visit the Valley of the Tomb now it is hard to imagine what it was like on the day of the funeral in May 1821.

It hardly needs saying that this funeral was dwarfed by the later one in Paris, but this valley provided a natural theatre for an occasion which was as memorable and whose emotions as sincere as the later event.

His coffin was borne to the spot he himself had chosen for his grave - over which a willow hung its weeping boughs - upon the shoulders of those who had once fought against him, but who now mourned over him with such heartfelt sorrow as the truly brave of every nation spontaneously pay to fallen greatness, and with such deep pity for his sad untimely fate ...

The emotion felt by all was not produced by scenic effect, by martial strains, by sacred harmonies, the mighty organ's pealing tones, and full-voiced choir below; it was from nature's source alone - genuine and spontaneous. They wept in very pity while beholding the humble obsequies of the man who, for a few brief years, had 'made the earth to tremble, and did shake the kingdoms'.
- a British Officer

Contemporary French Image of the Funeral (circa 1826)
The heavy lead-lined coffin was covered with a pall of violet-coloured velvet, and with the cloak which Napoleon had worn at Marengo;
It was placed on a carriage drawn by four horses, led by grooms, and escorted by twelve grenadiers without arms.

The procession began at Longwood. Behind the hearse came the members of the Emperor's household. Then came Napoleon's horse, led by his groom; then the British naval and army officers on horseback and on foot; then the members of the Island Council; then the Admiral and the Governor on horseback; then the inhabitants of the island.

Lady Lowe and her daughter were waiting in a carriage at Hutts Gate and joined the procession there. The whole garrison of some 3000 soldiers lined the route with arms reversed, and themselves joined the procession as it passed. Military bands played specially composed music.(1) Warships in the harbour fired salutes, and a shore battery responded.

At the point where the newly cut road to the graveside ended, the coffin was carried in relays by teams of soldiers and naval ratings. When the coffin was lowered into the grave three salvoes of fifteen rounds were fired. The waiting crowds then rushed forward to strip the trees of leaves and twigs as souvenirs. The Governor and Admiral tried to stop them, but in vain.(2)

Among the British Officers was Lieutenant George Horsley Wood.(3) His comments appear at the beginning of this entry. He was inspired to write a poem:

Oft have I gazed on this wondrous man,
But aye with strange emotions, undefined,
Akin to fearful dread and wonderment,
As if oppress'd by some mysterious power,
Like some poor bird beneath the serpent's gaze,
Spell-bound, and shivering with sudden fear;
For, oh! there was a magic in his eye,
That seem'd to penetrate the very soul,
And trace all secrets deeply buried there
Thus could he read the thoughts of other men,
Himself-a sealed book-unread the while.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
But I did gaze upon that eye,-how changed
When all its bright celestial fire had fled;
Upon that pallid lip, where, e'en in death,
That smile still lingering play'd, that won all hearts
And I did hold that pale cold hand in mine,
Which once did grasp the sceptre of the world

The two lines in bold seem to me still to ring very true. Kauffmann tried to get below the surface. Few others have. Many have and still do project what they want to believe on to this most complex of men.


1. The music was composed by Charles McCarthy, a Lieutenant in the 66th Foot.
2. Afterwards the Governor surrounded the area with the railings constructed for new Longwood House, to which Napoleon had so strongly objected; the area was also guarded by sentries.
3. Lt. Wood came from a famous Isle of Man family. An evangelical Christian, he was one of a group who used to meet regularly on the island to pray for Napoleon's soul. He was a man of some literary pretensions and dogmatic beliefs. By some strange chance he was also present on the island in 1840 at the time of the exhumation.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Valley of the Tomb: Napoleon's Burial Place on St. Helena

On the death of a great man like him, we should only feel deep concern and regret
- Hudson Lowe

I assume that you will not wish to place an inscription upon the tombstone, because it would be necessary to use titles and that I cannot allow
- Hudson Lowe

After Napoleon's death Longwood had been opened for the public, civilians and military alike, to come and pay their respects; large numbers came:-

They came in groups of four, six, or ten persons at a time, and left after a few minutes. The majority touched the Emperor's hand. Several women or officers were unable to restrain their tears, recorded Grand Marshall Bertrand in his diary.

One young soldier tried on Napoleon's hat: He must have had an extraordinary wide head, for it would not fit me when put on square (the way he always wore it).
The same soldier was suprised at the living conditions he found at Longwood: I could not have lived as he did, I am sure, half the time he did.

Napoleon's body was sealed within the inner of four coffins. It is said that with the air excluded the body will be preserved for centuries confided Bertrand to his diary.

So to the Geranium Valley/Sane Valley.

Napoleon chose this as his resting place, if he could not be buried in France.

It is very close to Hutts Gate, but involves a good walk down to the bottom from the road.

It looks a little different from nineteenth century pictures.

This is a very beautiful, peaceful place.

It is a very fertile green valley, where even bananas grow.

Napoleon used to send a servant here every day to fetch drinking water from the stream.

He himself visited it often.

We visited twice. It was a pleasure to meet the attendant, another of nature's gentlemen.

Michel has a very interesting picture of "Charlie" on his blog (see links on left - then on Michel's site look for entry headed Exposition "L'abondance" par Andrew Parker).

It looks as if the artistic life of St. Helena may be about to blossom! Sometime I will talk a little about art on St. Helena, but that must wait for another day.

This place has witnessed two great occasions.

The first, the funeral(May 9th 1821), must have been the biggest event that has ever occurred on St. Helena -perhaps a little grand for a mere "General".

The second event, the exhumation(16th October 1840), although not as large, was in its own way just as remarkable.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Bertrand's Cottage, St. Helena: A Fine View of the Races

Just the other side of the road that bends around Longwood House is a small cottage that many tourists probably overlook.

This was the home of Grand Marshall Bertrand, the most loyal of the Emperor's followers(1).

Here he lived with his wife Fanny and four children until Napoleon's death.

Here their youngest son, Arthur, was born.

Here, In 1821, not long before Napoleon's death, Mme Bertrand suffered a miscarriage and nearly died. Napoleon felt his doctor was spending too much time with her and neglecting him.

It cannot have been an easy time for either Bertrand or his wife.

Nobody seems to have taken responsibility for the education of the children who apparently ran wild in Longwood. Napoleon enjoyed their company.

In this house Napoleon used to peer though the shutters with his telescope to watch the races on Deadwood. One day he saw one of his servants driving down the course in a state of drunkenness. The man was horsewhipped by a steward. Napoleon reprimanded him later.

The Maiden Meeting of the St. Helena Turf Club took place in April 1817. Thereafter there were two meetings each year. There was a sweepstake at each meeting. Among the 33 horses that took part in the first meeting was one named "Emperor".

It has not changed much since it was built in 1815-16.

It now looks a bit neglected; it is owned by the St. Helena Government.

New Longwood House which was constructed for Napoleon after 1818, but in which he never lived, was close by. It was demolished in 1947.

There are now no horses on St. Helena, although Kauffmann spotted two on his visit over a decade ago.

Fanny Dillon (1785-1836)

Fanny Dillon was half Irish, half Creole, and related to the Empress Josephine. She spoke good English. A very attractive woman, somewhat volatile, she was only 30 when she arrived on St Helena.

Her father, Count Arthur Dillon, descended from an old Irish noble family, and had fought with the Irish Brigade against the British in the War of American Independence. A royalist, he was guillotined during the French Revolution when Fanny was only 9. (2)

Fanny married Henry Gratien Bertrand in 1808, and suffered long periods of absence whilst he was fighting with Napoleon. She accompanied her husband on Napoleon's exile to Elba. After Waterloo she advised Napoleon to surrender to the English:

The English are free and enlightened; they are the only race capable of welcoming the Emperor and understanding him.

When she learned in Plymouth that exile would be on St. Helena rather than England, she did everything possible to prevent her husband following Napoleon again, even by trying to throw herself overboard. "Let her go - why don't you let her go!" yelled General Savary as Bertrand tried to stop her.(3)

Although ultimately loyal to Napoleon, her relations with him were often strained - she insisted on living apart from his court, and she and her husband rarely joined him for dinner.

In the last few months of Napoleon's life she desperately sought his forgiveness, and asked to be allowed to nurse him in his final illness. Napoleon refused - he was used to his faithful valet Marchand he said.

She and her three children were present when he died.

She died of cancer in 1836.

Henri Bertrand and another Fanny

Bertrand was devastated by Fanny's death.

He spent quite a lot of time overseas, including three years in Martinique, as well as his trip in 1840 with his son Arthur back to St. Helena to fetch Napoleon's remains.

In 1843 he made a trip to the United States, and was given a hero's welcome in New York.

During his stay he visited the New York Institution for the Blind, and the blind protestant hymn writer, Fanny Crosby, delivered an emotion packed tribute.(4)

When by those he loved deserted,
Thine was still a faithful heart;
Thou wert proud to share the exile,
Of the hapless Bonaparte.

Not the best poetry to be inspired by Napoleon perhaps!
1. Henry Gatien Bertrand(1763-1844) . He entered the army in 1793, and first met Napoleon in the Italian campaign in 1797. He became Napoleon's aide-de-camp in 1805. Thereafter he participated in all the major campaigns of the Empire. In 1813 he was named Grand Marshall of the Palace, a title he effectively retained in somewhat diminished circumstances on St. Helena. Some years after his burial in his home town of Chateauroux his body was moved to Les Invalides.

2. He had commanded the regiment Dillon, this was part of that battalion known as the Irish Brigade in the French Army. Arthur Dillon was its last Colonel.

3. The British Government made it clear that General Savary was not to be allowed to go to St Helena.

4. Frances Jane Crosby (March 24, 1820 – February 12, 1915) Prolific American hymn writer, lifelong Methodist, preacher and public speaker - one of the most famous women in America. Although blind almost from her birth, she wrote over 8000 hymns; including "Blessed Assurance" and "Jesus Is Tenderly Calling You Home".

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Maldivia to Francis Plain, St Helena

Today we have decided to take a walk that has been recommended to us, to St Francis Plain.

St. Francis Plain is the site of St. Helena's only Secondary School, the Prince Andrew Community High School.(1)

It is also the site of the island's only sports field.

We climb up from Maldivia, to the track marked as the Barnes Road.

Past the turning to the Briars - and the scary animal like noise which turns out to be water choking as it comes out of a pipe.

Next a sign by the local land-owner warning us not to trespass: if we do, he will not be liable for any damages that might occur to us from falling rocks. Just what we want to hear!

We do not trespass, but look nervously at the rocks above us.

We climb on a narrow donkey track up the side of the mountain. Not a walk to be done in the dark or in bad weather. Looking back there are good views of Upper James Valley and the Briars.

We soon reach Francis Plain and are glad of a rest and some refreshments.

We are persuaded by a Saint we meet that we really should complete the circuit and take the road back to Jamestown via Half Tree Hollow and Jacobs Ladder.

On our way we start talking to some boys leaving school. They clamber up a hillside track to reach the road above, and we follow them.

On to Jacobs Ladder. I don't like the look of the almost vertical 699 step drop down to Jamestown, so I take the road!

Finally, a welcome and well deserved drink in Donny's down on the wharf.


1. Education is free and compulsory for the years 5-15. There are three First Schools on the island, catering for ages 4+ to 7(also nursery education 5 mornings a week for children 3 to 4 years) and three Middle Schools which cater for ages 7+ to 11.
The costs of education are decreasing because of a declining population. The costs of health care are increasing very fast, partly because of an aging population, and partly because of increasing off-island referrals. More than 15% of the population is on income-support related benefits. 55% of the workforce is in the public sector.