Monday, 22 February 2010

Spithead 1821: The Disembarkation of Napoleon's Suite from the not so good ship Camel

I wrote two years ago about our experiences when disembarking from the R.M.S. St Helena at Cape Town. It was probably the most frustrating and least enjoyable part of our trip.

I have now read a little about the experience of the Bertrands and the rest of Napoleon's suite in 1821, and will complain no more.

The store ship Camel left St Helena on 27th May and arrived at Spithead with 21 of Napoleon's party late on Tuesday 31st July.

The party were reported to be in "deep mourning." It was also reported that Countess Bertrand had brought home some slips of the willow under which Buonaparte was buried , and these were growing in pots.(1)

Permission to land was eventually received from Lord Bathurst on Friday 3rd, and they duly landed at noon. They were treated "according to the provisions of the Alien Act." (2)

Whilst waiting on board ship for permission to land they were doubtless cheered by the fact that the King, passing the Camel in his yacht, sent Sir Wm Keppell, and others of his suite on board to enquire after the health of Madame Bertrand and family, as also the health of others, the attendants of Napoleon.

They were also visited by the Captain Ross of the Northumberland who had taken them to St Helena in 1815, and by R. Glover, who had also sailed out with them as Secretary to Admiral Cockburn. (3)

Somebody who saw them on board gave private information to the Manchester Guardian. Most attention was on the Bertrand family, and it was noted that Countess Bertrand is descended from the Irish Dillon family, and indeed is scarcely to be considered as an alien. The children, Hortense, Napoleon and Henry were much admired, but most notice was taken of Arthur, who it was reported was born on St Helena.
He has such a face as Guido would give to a princely child. His eyes are dark and large, and his dark brown hair flows in abundance upon his shoulders. .. He speaks English with an accent entirely insular, and there is about him much of that independent little bluster which is seen in young English children. He understands French, but he will not speak it; he does not like it.

Arthur of course was a favourite of Napoleon. We have also come across him before, in later years, in connection with Mademoiselle Rachel.

They were taken ashore on Admiral Sir James Hawkins Whitshed's twelve-oared barge - and were greeted by Sir James and his wife, Lady Gordon, Lady Bryce, Sir George Cooke, Major Harris, and Mr and Mrs Glover and doubtless others too numerous to mention. The Bertrands' children were apparently very uneasy at the immense multitude of people who were assembled to witness their arrival.

The Bertrands and Montholon dined with Sir James and Lady Hawkins at the Admiralty House on August 3rd, and on the next day with Sir George Cooke at the Lieutenant Governor's House. Then they departed for London.

The week the party arrived in England The Times was carrying an advert for a performance at the Royal Coburg Theatre of a new grand Romantic Pantomime Spectacle, entitled Napoleon Buonaparte General, Consul, and Emperor. (4)

Events in France

The same week it was reported that a petition had been presented to the Chamber of Deputies in Paris asking for Napoleon's body to be brought back to France. It was signed among others by Baron Gourgaud, who had left St. Helena under rather unhappy circumstances in 1818, and was to return in 1840 on the Belle Poule. France could not endure, said the petition, that Napoleon's body should remain as a trophy in the hands of foreigners; and that every Englishman may say, on showing an insolent monument,'Here is the Emperor of the French.'

On July 28th the Manchester Guardian printed a report from Paris dated July 14th on reaction to the news of Napoleon's death:
As for the immense mass of the population, the impression on them is more profound and awful every day. I know a Gentleman that was in the Halle au Cuir when the news was mentioned; all business was immediately suspended, and the tradesmen retired without making a single purchase; on the Saturday night the bust of Napoleon was promenaded on the Place de Louvre, the guard was called out, and the people fled. Sunday multitudes wore black, and others went to salute the Column d'Austerlitz ..
Multitudes will not yet believe that Bonaparte is dead, and even among the Garde Royale, this obstinate incredulity remains. .. the effect is terrible for the reigning House.
"I asked one of the Garde .. 'Ah', commented he, 'I served him in Russia too, and if I could see him again, I would follow him to the end of the world - tis too cruel to be dragged from his wife, his mother, his family and his son, and to be carried to a hole by grenadiers, foreigners, and gaolers'.
Every body believes that his detention caused his death - if no violent means were employed. All wait for Bertrand's account, and rely on that. The Government in the meantime is doing all it can to lower itself

Whether or not this was an accurate portrayal of the mood in France, its appearance was probably significant. The issue of Napoleon's treatment was soon to become a hot political issue in England, and it is probably fair to say that Sir Hudson Lowe was to prove a convenient scapegoat.

1. Manchester Guardian, August 11th 1821
2. The Manchester Guardian said they landed on the Thursday, but according to the Times it was Friday. The Times, August 7th 1821.
3. Manchester Guardian, August 11th 1821
4. The Royal Coburg opened in 1818. In 1880 it became the Royal Victoria Hall. It was damaged during the second world war, but reopened in the early 1950's as The Old Vic.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Arnold Chaplin: Distinguished Physician and Napoleonic Scholar

(Thomas Hancock) Arnold CHAPLIN (1864-1944) .

Distinguished doctor and Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. (1864-1944).

Precise and old fashioned as a physician, he was gifted with a dry humour and with a shrewdness that made him the ally of the true scholar but an enemy to the spurious - G.H. Brown

He combined his medical practice with an interest in the History of Medicine, a love of French and English literature, and of old books and prints. He was appointed Harveian Librarian by the Royal College of Physicians in 1918, and remained in that largely honorary post until his death in 1944.

Chaplin's A St Helena Who's Who or, a directory of the island during the captivity of Napoleon , which was first published in 1914, still remains a valuable source for anyone interested in Napoleon's Captivity.

His earlier study, The Illness and Death of Napoleon Bonaparte (A Medical Criticism) (1913) is now less well known, but provides a highly readable and careful analysis of the historical evidence about the diagnosis and treatment of Napoleon by his various doctors on St Helena.

His East Anglian nonconformist background almost certainly tells us a great deal about him.

His family had been resident in Fulbourn Cambridgeshire since the seventeenth century, and no fewer than ten of his ancestors had fought with Cromwell's Ironsides.

A High Church Tory would almost certainly have tried to keep that secret!

From that alone one could probably safely deduce that, irrespective of his impartial scholarship, his sympathies were probably Whig/Liberal, and that he certainly would not be an apologist for the Tory Government that had imprisoned Napoleon on St Helena.

There is evidence enough for this and for Chaplin's admiration of Napoleon in the language used in The Illness and Death of Napoleon Bonaparte :

.. Napoleon had crowded into the space of twenty years mental and bodily activities far in excess of those of any other man, ancient or modern .. p.6

It was now a melancholy picture, the greatest genius, and the most powerful energy of modern times, at the age of fifty-one, a prisoner, with strength exhausted, and body racked with pain, slowly creeping about Longwood, leaning for support on the arm of an attendant. p. 30

Forsyth the apologist of Sir Hudson Lowe .. p. 38

the whole history of the illness of Napoleon, together with the manner in which it was regarded, is far from edifying .. p. 94

everything connected with Napoleon, the mighty law-giver, is of surpassing interest .. p. 95

Also his verdict on the poor quality of the doctors who attended Napoleon at the end -
thrust into undue prominence on the stage. When the curtain fell, they passed from the light, were heard of no more, and are remembered now only on account of their professional association with the great Napoleon p. 94
His comments on the exhumation:
On October 16th, 1840, the British Government performed an act of reparation by giving up the body of the great Emperor to its rightful owners, the French Nation. Appendix III p. 109
and his concluding sentence which has echoes from Napoleon's own Will:
The body was carried to Paris and, there with regal pomp, the last wish of Napoleon was fulfilled, and he rested on the banks of the Seine, in the midst of the people he had loved so well. p. 112

British Napoleonists in the Edwardian Era

It is probably worth remembering that the Edwardian Era was the era of the Entente Cordiale - relations with France, encouraged by the francophile King himself, had never been stronger.

Chaplin was one of a number of Britons of this period who were fascinated by and to varying degrees sympathetic to Napoleon. All the following have been referred to in previous posts on this blog:

Lord Rosebery, very briefly Liberal Prime Minister, the author of Napoleon the Last Phase (1900) and collector of Napoleonic memorabilia.

Sir Walter Runciman, shipping magnate, sometime Liberal Member of Parliament, and author of the polemical, Tragedy of St. Helena.

William Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme, soap magnate, sometime Liberal M.P. and collector of Napoleonic memorabilia.

George Leo de St. M. Watson, about whom nothing seems to be known other than the publication of two books: A Polish Exile with Napoleon: Embodying the Letters of Captain Piontkowski to General Sir Robert Wilson and Many Documents from the Lowe Papers (1912) and The Story Of Napoleon's Death Mask (1915) (1)

One might almost include Winston Churchill in this list: although he never got round to writing the book about Napoleon that he had planned. Although a Liberal at this time, he had a Tory background. He differed from the others also in his military background. He was first and foremost a soldier. Churchill was certainly a francophile though, and he remained so all his life.

1. Watson was apparently a friend of Chaplin's; he is mentioned explicitly in the introduction to A St Helena Who's Who :
.. in 1912 my friend Mr. G. L. de St. M. Watson published " A Polish Exile with Napoleon," which was based on an exhaustive analysis of the " Lowe Papers," and he has shown conclusively that it is by no means safe to accept blindly Forsyth's able advocacy of the policy of the British Authorities. The work Mr. Watson has accomplished in his minute criticism of the "Lowe Papers " is invaluable, and to him, in common with all students of the captivity, I am deeply indebted, not only for his book, but for the ready way in which he has given me the benefit of his able criticism and advice. Chaplin, like most of the Edwardian Napoleonists mentioned, was scathing about the scholarship of Forsyth, who had tried to rescue the reputation of Sir Hudson Lowe in A History of the Captivity of Napoleon at St Helena (1855).

Saturday, 13 February 2010

The French Properties: Agreement with St Helena Government

This blog began in parallel with that of Michel Dancoisne Martineau - and from time to time I have commented on postings he has made.

I think it is worth drawing attention to his latest post : some pictures of a reception at Longwood - his blog must have the best collection of images of St Helena online - and a speech in English outlining a formal agreement with S.H.G. (St Helena Government).

Last year we celebrated the 150 years of the purchase of the properties by Napoleon III from Queen Victoria. Today the properties are administered by the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs. Which means Longwood House is considered a property and not a “museum”. Our yearly budget is for the maintenance of the property. We therefore have to seek third party sponsors to be able to offer the service of a museum. We are fortunate to have with us this evening Viviane and Jean Huet who are just, such sponsors. Three years ago they sponsored the replica of the birdcage made by the Chinese for Napoleon. This replica was perfectly recreated by Jeffrey Stevens and his team. This is an example of how third party sponsorship to Longwood House benefits not only the French Properties but also the island economy. .. there is two other major project : the reconstruction of the general’s apartment into a proper multifunctional building and the International exhibition I would like to see happen for the 200 years anniversary of Napoleon on St-Helena island.

The memorandum of understanding we are going to sign is, in fact, a confirmation of a long standing partnership between the St. Helena Government and the French Properties who share the same ambitions of prosperity for the island through Tourism and Heritage.

Interesting to read about the bird cage which was the subject of some discussion on Roel's blog. I was pleased also to see a picture of a familiar Saint on the lawns of Longwood. Not so long ago she and her husband visited us in Manchester and I made their visit the subject of a posting, Two Saints in Manchester . For reasons I cannot fathom, it seems to be one of the most frequently visited pages on the blog.

Anyway congratulations to Michel for his determination to involve the Saints in the French Properties, which are of vital importance to the future of St Helena. One of these days I hope the British Government will formally recognise his achievements in the way in which it recognised those of his predecessor.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Sir John Soane and the Napoleon Mourning Ring

Mourning Ring carrying lock of Napoleon's hair, created in 1822 for Sir John Soane.

The lock of hair was presented to Sir John by none other than Betsy Balcombe:

Knowing how much Mr. Soane esteems the reliques of great men Miss E. Balcombe presents him with a lock of Bonaparte’s hair received by her from the hands of that great Personage.

The ring has a French inscription which reads (in translation): This lock of hair of Napoleon Buonaparte was presented to John Soane Esquire by Miss Elizabeth Balcombe. It also has the words Prier Pour Moi.

The ring which was left by Sir John to his family, has now, after 170 years absence, returned to the Sir John Soane Museum in London. Its former owner, an English Napoleonist, who bought it in an auction at Christie's earlier in 2009, agreed to sell it to the Museum. It has been on display in the North Drawing Room since November, and will remain there until the end of March 2010.

Sir John Soane, RA (1753 – 1837).

The son of a bricklayer, he became one of England's most distinguished neo-classical architects.

He was best known for designing the Bank of England. Among his other works were the design of the State Dining Room of 10 Downing Street and also the Dining Room of 11 Downing Street.

After his death his house in Lincoln's Inn Fields became Sir John Soane's Museum.

According to the Director of the Museum, Soane had a horrible fascination with Napoleon!

Among the Napoleonic items he collected, and which are now in the museum are a number of busts of Napoleon, Napoleon's pistols and two miniature portraits : one which was probably the first image of him to appear in England, and the second by Isabey depicting him on Elba just before his final fall from power.

In his guide book Soane referred to Napoleon unequivocally as that Great Man. He saw no contradiction between his admiration of Napoleon and his own patriotism. Soane empathised with Napoleon's relatively humble origins, and was fascinated by his genius, his personality, his sense of destiny, his achievements and his ultimate failure.

As an architect he particularly admired Napoleon's reconstruction of Paris which he contrasted with the unplanned sprawl that characterised London. When Napoleon died he recorded privately When shall we look upon his like again!

As anyone who has looked through this blog will by now appreciate, Sir John was not alone in nineteenth century Britain in his fascination with and admiration for Napoleon. What intrigues me is why so many Britons now seem so uncomfortable about this!

This engraving was perhaps the first image of Napoleon to appear in England (in 1797).

The Sir John Soane Museum contains a small oil painting done in the same year by Francesco Cossia. I have no means of knowing whether this engraving is based on Cossia's painting or that of another artist.

Soane thought that his painting was commissioned by Josephine and was the work of Francesco Goma. He was wrong on both counts.

Unfortunately it seems impossible to get an image of either of the miniatures in the Soane Museum. Both are relatively unknown works. Looks as if a visit is called for.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

William Thackeray and The Second Funeral of Napoleon

William Makepeace Thackeray ( 1811 – 1863)
satirist, novelist, author of Vanity Fair.

His mother sent him home to England to go to school in 1816. He could only have been five. That's how Empires were built.

On the way the ship stopped in St. Helena, and the very young Thackeray was taken to look at Napoleon:

my black servant took me a long walk over rocks and hills until we reached a garden, where we saw a man walking. "That is he," said the black man: "that is Bonaparte! He eats three sheep every day, ...

Thackeray lived in Paris for a number of years from the age of 21, and was an irreverent witness to the events at Les Invalides in December 1840.

His account of Napoleon's second funeral was written in the form of letters to "Miss Smith" from Michael Angelo Titmarsh!

For him "history is writen on fig leaves" - historians know little and write even less - and Napoleon's second funeral was sheer humbug!

men have, as it were, entered into a compact among themselves to pursue the fig leave-system a outrance, and to cry down all who oppose it. Humbug they will have. Humbugs themselves, they will respect humbugs.

Some magnificent religious ceremonies of this nature are at present taking place in France ..

He mocked the stories in the newspapers about the dangers to any English citizens in Paris:

It was said in the newspapers, that Lord Granville had despatched circulars to all the English residents in Paris, begging them to keep their homes. The French journals announced this news, and warned us charitably of the fate intended for us. Had Lord Grenville written? Certainly not to me. Or had he written to all except me? And was I the victim - the doomed one? - to be seized directly I showed my face in the Champs Elysees, and torn in pieces by French patriotism to the frantic chorus of the 'Marseillaise'?

Overall I found it an enjoyable read - amusing and well written, but a chauvinistic caricature of the French nation which probably went down well in England at the time and probably would still appeal to some for the same reason:

this great hot-headed, gallant, boasting, sublime, absurd French nation

the French hate us .. there never was such a hollow humbug in the world as the French alliance. Men get a character for patriotism in France merely by hating England.

the French propensity towards braggadocio ..

In support of his thesis Thackeray described the English woman who attended the ceremony in Les Invalides. He and everyone else knew she was English, she wore a plaid cloak with a rose-coloured plush bonnet; a bonnet was never made or worn so in any other country.

To the delight of the crowd the lady was moved from seat to seat, like a chicken escaping from a clown in a pantomime: a source of amusement and delight to onlookers, but probably not to the chicken or the clown.

Half an hour's delightful amusement did this lady give us all. I was glad, however, at the end of the day to see the old pink bonnet over a very comfortable seat ..

A metaphor for the Anglo-French alliance perhaps.