Saturday, 19 April 2014

Theft from Briars Melbourne - Postscript

Sterling Silver Inkwell (Inset with three Gold Napoleons), Garrard and Co. London 1821-1822

Since publishing an account of the robbery from the Dame Mabel Brookes Napoleonic Collection, I have had further information from Sue Dale, who grew up in Australia about 15 miles from the Briars and knows it very well. Sue, who now lives in Congleton, has also visited St Helena, and is currently researching the life of Sir Thomas Reade who was born in Congleton in 1782.

Sue is particularly distressed by the theft of the silver inkwell, which has connections with Thomas Reade and Congleton and, in a curious way, with the Briars on St Helena. The inscription on the base of the inkwell reads:

These Napoleons, presented to Mrs Egerton by Sir Thomas Reade, Lieut. Gov. of St Helena, were found in the pocket of Napoleon Buonaparte after his death there, 5 May 1821

Now whether these gold coins were actually in Napoleon's pocket, and if so how Sir Thomas Reade came by them, is another matter! So far Sue is unable to trace who Mrs Egerton was, but it is a distinguished family name in Cheshire, and perhaps Garrard and Co will still have records of the commission.

What is to me even more interesting though is how it came to be in the hands of Dame Mabel Brookes: according to the 2010 catalogue it was presented to her on the occasion of receiving the Légion d'honneur. Dame Mabel, the great grand-daughter of William Balcombe, received that award in 1960 for saving the Briars Pavilion on St Helena and handing it over to the French nation. Apparently she visited St Helena in 1957 and the transfer was completed some two years later, at an extortionate price. One cannot begin to imagine the difficulties she would have encountered in making this purchase and transfer. It makes it all the more sad that this item, connecting the Briars in Melbourne with the original Briars on St Helena, has now been stolen. I do hope that it and the other items are recovered.

1 comment:

Albert Benhamou said...

Very disturbing to see that this piece has been stolen.