Thursday, 27 May 2010

Napoleonic Memorabilia discovered in New Zealand

And so to my second recent email.

This one from Hamish Coney, Managing Director of Art and Object Ltd., New Zealand.

Hamish is currently preparing a catalogue of a previously unknown collection of materials relating to Napoleon's captiviy on St Helena. David Markham has written an essay which is to appear in the catalogue.

The collection includes a lock of Napoleon's hair (above), cut off according to the inscription the day after he died, and a lithograph of a sketch of Napoleon on his death bed.

There can be no doubt about the authenticity - the collection was the property of the family of Denzil Ibbotson (see below), and was brought to New Zealand by his son after Denzil's death in 1857.

The collection also includes sketches of a house on the island, which I regrettably am unable to identify. Hamish wonders whether it could be the house that the Bertrands and later Denzil himself lived in at Hutts Gate. One of the sketches is headed Longwood Guard House - so perhaps not.

Among other items discovered is Ibbetson's diary which covers the journey to St Helena on the Northumberland with Napoleon. There are also a number of playbills recording the amateur dramatics that took place on the island during the captivity. This article from the New Zealand Herald gives further information.

All in all a very exciting collection. The auction which is to take place in June is bound to attract a lot of interest from Napoleonic enthusiasts all over the world.

Denzil Ibbetson (1788-1857)

He entered the Commissariat Department of the Army in 1808, and served in the Peninsular War.He sailed to St Helena on the Northumberland with Napoleon, and was one of only four officers to remain there for the duration of the captivity. He took over the job of purveying goods to Longwood House after William Balcombe fell out with the Governor and returned to England. He seems to have got on well with Hudson Lowe. He has previously been reasonably well known for his sketches of Napoleon. (1) He lived in the house at Hutts Gate ("Little Pasture") vacated by the Bertrand family when they moved to their newly built cottage at Longwood. (2)


1. These paintings were in the early twentieth century owned by A.M. Broadley who apparently wrote an article about Ibbetson in the Century Magazine (A US publication) in 1912.

2. Interestingly Charles Darwin lived in this house during his short stay on St Helena. From here Napoleon discovered the beautiful valley nearby that was to provide him with his daily drinking water and was to be the site of his tomb; interestingly the house is also close to the site of Halley's observatory on the island.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

New Book on Napoleon's Captivity and Death : L'Autre St Hélène

As I have written before, emails from total strangers are one of the most pleasing things about blogging.

So far I have been spared any really unpleasant ones. I hope that statement is not a hostage to fortune!

Anyway I have had a couple of very interesting ones recently.

The first is from Albert Benhamou, the author of this new book on the captivity, which focuses on the illness, the death and the doctors around Napoleon.

Avid readers of this blog will have noted that the cover uses the James Sant portrait produced for Lord Rosebery's Napoleon the Last Phase, which is owned but regrettably currently not displayed by Glasgow Art Gallery.

Albert has provided a linked website which has some introductory pages in English, including a detailed synopsis and an impressive list of sources which will be a useful guide for anyone who wishes to study the Captivity. Unusually there is also Facebook site.

I was struck by the author's comment on his web page, particularly the highlighted sentence:

After nearly 200 years, the causes of his illness and of his death continue to raise questions. Considering how much contempt Napoleon had for medicine, one cannot fail to note the irony of the subsequent medical controversies. But irony has rarely been absent from the history of his captivity.

The book sounds fascinating. A slightly unusual focus, but one which seems eminently sensible. So far it is published only in French. I hope the author may be encouraged to publish it soon in English.

Hopefully soon I will be able to write about the other email, which is equally interesting to those interested in the Captivty.