Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Lt George Horsley Wood - a Manxman of strong if changing convictions


WOOD, Lieutenant George Horsley Wood (1793-1874), of Falcon Cliffs, Douglas, Isle of Man. (1)

A man of wide intellectual interests: poet, musician, elocutionist, philosopher. He wrote sonnets and critiques on metaphysical subjects.

A second lieutenant in the 20th Foot, he was posted to St Helena. There he was assigned to watch Napoleon from the vantage point of Mason's Stock House, the other side of Fisher's Valley from Longwood. (2)

Lieutenant Wood was one of many who filed past Napoleon's body at Longwood, and also provided an interesting description of Napoleon's funeral, about which he wrote a poem (See my blog of 7th March 2008).

Coincidentally he was also back on St. Helena for the exhumation in 1840, and wrote another poem:

What though lingering years had pass'd away,
That form remained untouch'd by fell decay
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..
And some who ne'er had seen that face before,
 Beheld, amazed, Napoleon slumbering there.

A very religious man, he and a number of other young Christians on St Helena used to meet nightly at Mason's Stock House and always prayed for the conversion of the Emperor Napoleon. The Governor, who had spies everyhwere, naturally heard of these activities, and was not entirely pleased with the form of words used to describe Napoleon to the Almighty.

A man of undoubted intellectual abilities, although perhaps not as great as he himself imagined, in later life he became rather an object of derision. He seems to have changed his religious affiliations quite a lot, and latterly had a brief flirtation with the Plymouth Brethren before the inevitable falling out.

He was always keen to tell anyone who would listen about his connection to Napoleon.

In 1853 he published a book of Poems, of which four were about Napoleon: Napoleon; Napoleon in Exile; On Revisiting St . Helena; On the Manner of Life and Death and Obsequies of Napoleon.

Lieutenant Wood and Napoleon III

In 1852 he was presented to Napoleon III at the Elysee Palace and gave the Emperor of the French the original sketch made by Rubidge after Napoleon's death.

He also apparently offered the Emperor a shaving-cloth blotched with Napoleon's blood. This gift was graciously declined, or so the story goes: Non-non-je vous remercie, Monsieur; gardez le je vous prie ! One wonders whether this story is really true!

Lt. Wood also became friendly with another of Napoleon's nephews, Prince Lucien Bonaparte, a keen linguistic scholar who was very interested in Celtic languages and once visited the isle of Man to study the etymology of the Manx Language. (3)

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1. The son of Major General Wood and a grandson of the former Governor of the the Isle of Man, John Wood (1761-1777). Lieutenant Wood has appeared on this blog before. This entry has been inspired by an email from his great grandson who read my blog of March 8th 2008 on Napoleon's funeral. Lieutenant Wood's father, Major General Wood, was apparently the illegitimate son of the Governor according to my source.

2. Miss Mason lived at Orange Grove now known as Teutonic Hall. It is currently dilapidated. I am assuming that the Stock House was a smaller dwelling rather than the main house. Michel Martineau's blog of 11 Nov. 2008 entitled "Teutonic Hall ou MASON'S STOCK HOUSE", has some excellent photos of the poor state of the building now.

3. Louis Lucien Bonaparte (January 4, 1813 – November 3, 1891). The son of Napoleon's brother Lucien, he had been born in England during the brief period his father was detained by the British Government, and from the 1850's he settled in London. He was a British citizen, and in later life received a pension of £250 p.a. from the civil list for his philological achievements. Gladstone was once called upon to defend this grant in Parliament. He died in Italy but his body was brought back to England and he is buried in London. He is therefore one of at least four members of the Bonaparte family to be buried in England.

3 comments:

MissElisabeth said...

Interesting post, never heard of the fellow. Lowe must have been extremely annoyed with him.

John Tyrrell said...

Very small footnote on history this one!

albertuk said...

About Teutonic Hall, I am not certain it is the same thing as "MASON'S STOCK HOUSE". The former must have been the main residence of Miss Mason, in Orange Grove, while the latter must have been a "stock house" on her vast property. Early maps of the island show several buildings belonging to "Mason" (presumably Miss Mason's father). The Stock House must have been situated just opposite Longwood, on the other side of the ravine which is the "Valley of Nymph". This way, the religious soldiers in there (Wood and others) would be able to perform their duty of surveillance in this outlook post.