Friday, 25 February 2011

Gorrequer's Diary

Major Gideon Gorrequer (1781-1841), aide-de-camp and acting military secretary to Hudson Lowe on St Helena.

Gorrequer met Lowe whilst serving in Sicily and the Ionian Isles, and was asked to accompany him to St Helena, for which his fluency in French and Italian was an ideal qualification. He arrived with Lowe in 1816, and remained until after Napoleon's death. A lifelong bachelor, we know little of Gorrequer's private life. Along with Denzil Ibbetson he ran the amateur dramatics on the island during the captivity.

Of Huguenot stock, Gorrequer joined the army at 16 as an Ensign, and was promoted to Lieutenant (1897), Captain (1804), and Brevet Major (1814).

One of the gripes that comes over in his diary was the lack of appreciation of his hard work, his feeling that Ibbetson and others were more highly regarded for doing much less, and his suspicion that Lowe, encouraged by Sir Thomas Reade, was not throwing his weight behind Gorrequer's further preferment.

Gorrequer was however, finally promoted to Lt Col in 1826, possibly because of his agreement to support Lowe in the case against O'Meara that never actually came to court.

For many years his papers, including his diary were locked away in the Court of Chancery, where they remained until 1958.

It is doubtful if Gorrequer ever intended his diary to be read by others. He was always very cautious abut expressing his opinions, and would never talk about his experiences on St Helena afterwards, but a number of people on the island, including Lowe and Sir Thomas Reade, probably suspected that he was, as Mrs Thatcher might have put it, "not one of us".

One conversation with Lowe and Lady Lowe about Napoleon on 10th June 1818 might well have raised Lowe's suspicions:
"Donna [Lady Lowe] pitying the situation of B. [Bonaparte] and saying he really was to be pitied, contrasting his former situation with his present, and Sir H. [Lowe] saying he deserved more contempt than pity which gave rise to a lengthened reasoning between them. Both looked at me alternatively, as they spoke, and as if engaging me in conversation. I observed that something must be allowed for the personal feelings of a man who (as he said, trusting to the generosity of the British nation and expecting a refuge in England) had delivered himself into the hands of the English and instead of an abode in England, had found himself fixed at St. Helena. " (1)

A rash comment for the normally guarded Gorrequer, who was well aware of the suspicion that fell on those who were thought to have any sympathy for the inhabitants of Longwood:
"When Madame Shrug [Madame Bertrand] sent the list, his observation that C-ns and Pear_n [Cairns and Pearson] were objectionable characters to visit there. No man in the Island had any business to have any opinion but himself about the people of Longwood, and much less on his own actions or duties here."
Gorrequer was himself instructed to tear a leaf out of a book sent for Napoleon by a future Prime Minister because of something that he, Lord John Russell, had written on it. (2)

One of the interesting features of the diary is the use of nicknames, which are today a feature of St Helena, but were presumably used by Gorrequer to disguise identities in case anyone accidentally read his scribblings. Amongst the often humorous names he used were
Mach. - (Machiavelli) - Hudson Lowe
Constipation - Colonel Charles Nicol
Denzil Periwinkle - Denzil Ibbetson
Nincumpoop, Ninny - Sir Thomas Reade (also other names)
Old Brick and Mortar - Major Anthony Emmet (3)
Saul Sapiens - Saul Solomon
Shrug - Count Bertrand
Sultana or Donna - Lady Howe
German /Teutonic - William Janisch, clerk to Lowe
Neighbour or Vicino - Napoleon
Weeping Willie - Sir William Doveton
Veritas - Count Montholon
Yam Maggiore Long Shanks - Major Hodson (nicknamed Hercules by Napoleon).

Since the publication of Gorrequer's diary it has been virtually impossible to mount a serious defense of Sir Hudson Lowe. Gorrequer's own remarkably modern sounding conclusion on Mach (Machiavelli) as Gorrequer usually referred to him, has been recently quoted by Dr Howard, and is worth repeating:
" Mach is but a machine - he is just what his nature and circumstances have made him. He slogs the machine which he cannot control. If he is corrupt, it is because he has been corrupted. If he is unamiable it is because he has been marked and spitefully treated. Give him a different education, place him in other circumstances, and treat him with as much gratefulness and generosity as he has experienced of harshness, and he would be altogether a diferent nature. A man who would be anxious to be loved rather than feared; and instead of having the accusation of being a man who was satisfied to spread around him anguish and despair, one who has an instinct for kindness." (4)
Less well noted was Gorrequer's comment about Lowe's "contempt of men generally held clever". (5) This was consistent with his refusal to admit that Napoleon had any qualities above the ordinary,
"He frequently said he did not consider our Neighbour [Napoleon] as a man of superior mind or talent, or a man of judgement. He pretended to hold him quite cheap." (6)
and with his refusal to acknowledge to an incredulous Lord Byron at Holland House in 1815, that Napoleon had any special talent as a military leader. Some have claimed that Sir Hudson Lowe certainly regarded himself at least as Napoleon's equal, and Gorrequer noted how he looked for any confirmatory evidence of his beliefs however fragile such evidence was: "Mach's readiness and eagerness to hear any little nonsense to the prejudice of our Neighbour and Shrug and his wife without desiring, or trying to analyse it for fear it might be found false - and communicating such stuff to Big Wigs." (7)

If Sir Hudson Lowe comes out badly in Gorrequer's diary, so also does Lady Lowe, whom Gorrequer detested, and so does Sir Thomas Reade, perhaps the real eminence grise of St Helena. Those are issues for another day.
1. St Helena During Napoleon's Exile, Gorrequer's Diary , James Kemble (London 1969), p. 67
2. [End of 1819?] Gorrequer p. 153
3. Emmet was in charge of the construction of New Longwood House.
4. Gorrequer p. 267
5. 20 July 1818, Gorrequer p. 70
6 6th May 1821, Gorrequer p. 233
7. 14 Feb 1819 Gorrequer p. 116


Gerald said...

I bought this book just by accident, on seeing the portrait of Napoleon on the dust cover. I still have it in perfect condition as I beleiev it to be a rare and unusual oddity, about a persons and a period that is often cloaked in controversy. I found the "nicknames" the most challenging, and indeed the introduction described them as a private cypher that Gorrequer used for his own protection against Hudson Lowe, whom he detested, as being an unappreciative and thankless needlessly cruel master.
A book irecommend to anybody, and since it was discovered only in the late 1950's must be the latest authentic information of that tragic time, and, being contemporary and right on the spot, the most reliable.

Gerald said...

I can almost reiterate word for word what GERALD has written. I bought the book, having noticed the picture on the dust cover, because it was a first edition, and because the Napoleonic period had greatly interested me since I was a child. (I even have an original edition of Eugene Labaume's Diaries) From Gorrequer's own comments, he seems to have been a rather discerning, but sensitive man, likely to have suffered hurt feelings with outward stoicism, but internal turmoil, and there seems no doubt but that he had a strict sense of duty, compelling him to try as hard as he could to be diligent. He also seemd to have spent most of his time working until all hours. His observations are sharply defined and often humourous, and I can only surmise that being a junior officer, he took the offer of this employment as a means of advancement such as all young officers then did. His previous experience of Lowe obviously caused him to utilise his unusual encription, and it is a mark of the unique event, that this seems to have been the only time he kept a diary. Great book.