Saturday, 29 August 2009

Bertrand's Cottage - a postscript

No sooner had I done the last entry regarding Michel's blog than a new entry appeared, and then another. I have a number of topics I wish to develop, but they can wait. In the meantime I feel I must draw attention to these posts since they tie in so much with my own interests.

I have always found Mme Bertrand perhaps the most interesting of Napoleon's entourage, and was concerned on my visit at the neglect of the cottage. It is very pleasing to find that its importance in the story of the Captivity and therefore in St. Helena's history, is now being recognised.

Anyway Michel's posting of 28th August reproduces an important document by Bertrand's faithful servant Etienne Bouges, which provides a unique perspective on life in this cottage during the captivity: Napoleon rarely visited; Bertrand went to Longwood House every day; Madame Bertrand cried a lot. Don't rely on my summary, read it for yourself, there is an English translation with it!

The very
latest gives an account of Michel's speech (in English) at the ceremony marking the lease of the cottage to the National Trust.

I have reproduced the last paragraph, which I think exemplifies the philosophy which Michel brings to his work.

This house is a resume in its own right. In this house, the present, the future are not opposed to the past, they are made from the same faith and vision. We are here because we all share this faith in St. Helena, in its past without shame. St. Helena with its prisoners, its slaves, its misery and also its glory … is St. Helena we respect. … we love and to which we are faithful. This house is no judge. This House is - a patient – a silent – witness. May she look upon us kindly tomorrow for what we do today. Together .

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Bertrand's Cottage Back to Life

This blog would never have started but for Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, whose suggestion it was. One of my aims was to provide an occasional commentary about his blog, which began around the same time as mine and is of course largely in French.

As indicated in my previous posting, his blog has what I think is probably now the best collection of photographs of St Helena online - as well as a tremendous amount of material about the Napoleonic sites on the island. Anyway I digress.

Today Michel has announced news about Bertrand's Cottage, the background of which was first covered in my blog in March 2008.

Bertrand's Cottage is the property of the St. Helena Government, and in recent years has been empty and sadly neglected. Following a blog by Michel raising concern about this, the Government has agreed to lease the property to the St. Helena National Trust. The new director of the National Trust, Jamie Robs, will live there with his family. This is excellent news, and offers hope that one piece of St. Helena's heritage will be preserved through these straitened times.

Michel's entries on Bertrand's Cottage can be accessed by clicking here. The latest one has an English translation.

Maldivia - a Final Comment?

We were pleased to entertain most of Manchester's small Maldivian community to an "English tea" (Norwegian style) just before the start of Ramadan.

Then we showed our visitors our slides of St Helena, and tried to imagine how the Maldivians who arrived on St. Helena in 1735 must have felt when they first saw the dark rock that was to be their home for the rest of their lives.

So different from the islands they had been used to.

In preparation for the visit I had looked again at the books purchased on St. Helena. From these I gleaned two things I had forgotten. Firstly, I was not the originator of the term "slaves" to describe the Maldivians who were taken to St. Helena in 1735. I am very glad about that. The book (reproduced below) indicates that slaves were brought to St Helena from West Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Madagascar, and "elsewhere as opportunity offered, as in 1735 when a group of natives of the Maldives Islands were found drifting in a boat in the Indian Ocean .. (1)

Whether this book is right or wrong about the actual status of the Maldivians is another matter. Either way it is hardly an episode of which an Englishman can be proud.

Secondly, and I should have remembered this, Maldivia Gardens was near to the current hospital. The area we stayed in, although known as Maldivia, is further up the Jamestown valley. It is shown on the map below as the residence of Major Hodson. His house still exists and, as mentioned in my original Maldivia blog, was visited once by Napoleon when he was staying at the Briars. (2)

Despite walking and driving past many times, we never took a single photo of the area, and so we were unable to show our Maldivian guests what Maldivia Gardens looks like today. The source shown above indicates that the gardens still exist, and are tended in a series of patches which include places like Molly's Flat. (3)

Perhaps a kind Frenchman would post some pictures on his blog - which incidentally is the best place I know to find photographs of the stunning scenery of St. Helena as well as the historical sites!


See latest post on Maldivia, 12 April 2013 which provides important new information on the Madivians taken to St Helena.

1. St Helena - 500 Years of History 1502-2002 Quincentenary , Designed and published by Anchor Marine and associates, 2002, p.7 The book also has an apt comment about the approach to the island: one's first impression is of a grim and inhospitable volcanic island, belying the lush interior and friendly warmth of the people .

2. The map is one produced by Lieutenant R.P. Read, and published in London in 1815. It may be found in St. Helena Then and Now directed by Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, published by the Education Department St Helena, 2007. (ISBN 978-0620-39149-8)

3. St Helena 500 years of History