Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Manchester 1821: a toast to the Immortal Memory of Napoleon Bonaparte



The Plaque Commemorating Peterloo


The Smithfield meeting in July 1819 passed a resolution opposing the British Government's imprisonment of Napoleon on St. Helena. Although Henry Hunt was the main speaker at both meetings it is perhaps unlikely that the Manchester meeting, held a few weeks later, would have passed the same resolution had it been allowed to proceed peacefully. The meeting at St. Peter's Fields took place under very threatening circumstances, and had been postponed a week because it was declared illegal. So those who organised it were determined to show that it was an orderly, peaceful meeting, solely concerned with a legal campaign to reform the House of Commons.

Within a week though it was given the name "Peterloo," an ironic reference to the "killing fields" of Waterloo which had toppled Napoleon and put the hated Bourbons back on the throne of France.

Two years later, on Thursday August 16th 1821, with Hunt still serving a thirty month prison sentence for his part in the meeting, "Peterloo" was commemorated in Manchester with a march to St Peter's Fields, and then to a chapel in Hulme where 9 children were christened with the name "Henry Hunt"!(1)

The following Monday, the day on which the meeting had been held, some 300 people attended a dinner in the Union Rooms at George Leigh Street. As well as toasts to Hunt and a number of radical leaders including Sir Charles Wolseley, Major Cartwright and William Cobbett, there was one to Thomas Paine, one to the late Queen, "Caroline of Brunswick, the injured Queen of England", and one to the "immortal memory of Napoleon Buonaparte." (2)

From prison, Hunt addressed a letter to his supporters, noting with satisfaction this commemoration of the bloody, never-to-be-forgotten, never-to-be-forgiven, SIXTEENTH OF AUGUST 1819.

A Contemporary account of Peterloo, with a portrait of Henry Hunt

Hunt began his account by linking Napoleon and Queen Caroline, whose attempted marriage annulment by the Government and then exclusion from her husband's coronation made her a very popular symbol of resistance to the Government of Lord Liverpool in 1820-1821.

"It is scarcely two months since, in the Seventeenth Number of My Memoirs, I had to record the death of one of the bravest men that ever lived - Napoleon Buonaparte, late Emperor of France. I have now the melancholy task of recording the death of one of the bravest women that ever breathed, "CAROLINE OF BRUNSWICK, THE INJURED QUEEN OF ENGLAND." Napoleon's remorseless gaolers were Caroline's implacable persecutors, even to death! His gaolers and her persecutors are our never-ceasing deadly enemies; the enemies of rational Liberty; the enemies of all that is praiseworthy, amiable and noble in human nature!"

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1. The chapel they attended was Christ Church in Hulme, one of a small local sect known as the Bible Christian Church, which was founded in Salford by William Cowherd. Out of this church began the vegetarian movement in the UK and later the US. Church members also had to abstain from alcoholic drink. The pastor at Hulme was Dr Scholefield, who on this occasion spoke to the large congregation on the 94th Psalm: The Lord is a God who avenges. O God who avenges, shine forth. Rise up, Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve. How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant?
2. Apparently only water was drunk at this dinner Hunt, who seems to have been rather egotistical, assumed it was a result of his advice not to drink highly taxed liquors. Letter to the Radical Reformers, Male and Female, of England, Ireland and Scotland; August 24th 1821.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Napoleon’s Representative on Earth : "I am the keeper of the empty tomb"


To the Saints, Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, the Honorary French Consul and Curator of the French Properties on St. Helena, is simply “THE Frenchman”, but to many tourists he is, along with Jonathan the 185 year old tortoise that resides at Plantation House, one of the curiosities of the island.

Apparently French visitors just want to meet him, and often have little or nothing to say. Those from the English world seem to be more loquacious, sometimes telling him how much they disapprove of the work he has done at Longwood House. Michel recounts in detail one such meeting with three British visitors in 2016. The first, a Hong Kong resident, asked him what Napoleon would have thought of Brexit, and said that now it would no longer be politically incorrect to quote Lord Nelson: "you must hate a Frenchman as much as you hate the Devil." He also added that it would now not be necessary to follow the dictatorial directives of Brussels. "Delivered with such arrogance" said another who now resides in Port Elizabeth, with the approbation of the third, the only one to live in the UK!

The title of the book was given unwittingly by a man Michel met at the Castle in Jamestown, the centre of Government on the island. The man, whom Michel did not know, voicing the typical contempt of the Saints for officialdom, said that they all perfected the art of seeming indispensable even when they were only in charge of the broom cupboard. But Michel he said excelled them all: he had received the Légion d'Honneur for looking after an empty tomb!

Michel Dancoisne-Martineau and Inger Tyrrell, in Les Invalides, a non-empty tomb. (April 2016)

This is a fascinating read for anyone interested in St. Helena, but more than that, it provides a frank account of Michel’s own amazing story. Napoleon once was reported to have said “What a novel my life has been.” Michel could justifiably say the same. Growing up as the youngest and eighth child in a poor, conservative, religious farming family in Picardy, Michel knew nothing about Napoleon other than a nursery rhyme, although curiously he played as a child in the ruined fortress at Ham, from which the future Napoleon III and the Count de Montholon had escaped in 1846. It was Michel's meeting with Gilbert Martineau that changed his life.

Although an agricultural student, Michel had developed an interest in literature, and particularly in Lord Byron. So he wrote to Gilbert, the author of a recent biography of Byron, they corresponded a few times, and eventually they met. Apprised of Michel's very unhappy childhood, within a few hours of their meeting Gilbert astonished Michel by saying he would like to adopt him. Then, as later, Gilbert was distressed to find that others suspected his motives, but as he protested to Michel, "I want a son, not a lover". He also wanted someone to take over from him on St Helena. He had reached retirement age, and after some four years nobody had applied for the job!

So Michel was adopted, and soon succeeded his adopted father as French Consul and Curator of the French Properties, a job which he has filled with distinction and increasing confidence over 30 years. His aim was to make Longwood a place of memory, not a museum of the greatness of France, which he felt it had become in Gilbert's time. With some satisfaction he claims that after a century of indifference, ordinary Saints have now become aware of the importance of the years of exile and the death of Napoleon on their island.


A young Gilbert Martineau

The book affords an interesting insight into Gilbert Martineau. A proud Gaullist who had moved in the highest intellectual circles in Paris in the decade after the second world war, Gilbert was determined to maintain French prestige on St Helena. A recluse for whom appearances were all important, he remained on the island for some 40 years, interspersed with lengthy trips back to his home on Ars-en-Ré, an island he loved. For many years Gilbert's life on St Helena was shared by his parents. His mother died on the island, and his father died at breakfast the day after they arrived back in France with her embalmed body.

Gilbert was apparently respected by many Saints for being able to contact the recently dead, and claimed to be in touch with Lord Byron, and through him to spirits on the "other side". After Gilbert's death Michel consigned his ashes to the Atlantic, close but not too close to St Helena, the island to which he had dedicated his life and to which he was irrevocably attached, but which at the same time he actually hated.

Michel clearly differed from Gilbert on many things, but his love and admiration for him shines through: his intellectual sophistication, his verve, his presence, his art of living, the scars he bore, his elegance. Whether he or anyone else ever got close to Gilbert is another matter.

There is much in the book about the changes to St Helena over the 30 years, and many anecdotes about locals and about expatriates and the hostility of a number of the latter to the French presence on the island. Unlike Gilbert, Michel has mixed freely with ordinary Saints, and it was their relaxed, accepting approach to life, the ambient amoralism, that attracted him to the island. He writes openly about his bisexuality, and among the most surprising encounters was his seduction at the age of 19 by a 71 year old Countess, a friend of Gilbert's whom he assures us was still very beautiful and looked at least 20 years younger! He writes also of the sexual mores on St Helena, and of the tolerant and at times rather surprising reception he has received, living in an openly gay relationship on an island which has still not legally accepted same-sex marriage.

The very last sentence in the book, which does not translate easily into English, acknowledges Michel’s mother who confirmed all the awful details of his early life. Elle le fit avec un simplicité et une aisance dont je luis d'autant plus reconaissant que je ne lui en soupçonnais pas l'aptitude.*

Michel's book has already gone into a second printing in France. It is a pity that it is unlikely ever to be translated into English. Whether it will succeed in Michel's aim of making him less of an object of curiosity is I fear rather unlikely.
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* My best effort at a very loose translation: She did so with a simplicity and ease which made more impression on me because I did not think she was capable of it.

Friday, 18 August 2017

1815: Napoleon's Abolition of the Slave Trade


Pro-Napoleon propaganda produced by William Hone in 1815

William Hone(1780-1842) was a satirist, a writer and a bookseller whom the authorities tried to silence in the years after Waterloo. His acquittal in three trials in 1817 proved highly popular, and a public collection was made on his behalf. Among those publicly contributing were the Duke of Bedford and his son the Marquis of Tavistock. Like many reformers and Foxite Whigs, Hone was highly sympathetic to Napoleon.

This piece, in the British Museum Collection was dedicated to Sir William Wilberforce, and to the memory of Charles James Fox, "who abolished the slave trade in England". It reminded readers that Napoleon, "by a stroke of his pen," had abolished the slave trade in France.

In the same year Hone wrote Buonapartephobia, a satirical piece attacking the editor of the Times, Sir John Stoddart, "Dr Slop", a staunch Tory, for his vitriolic articles about Napoleon.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Imperial Exile: The Napoleon Diaries


Imperial Exile by James Hartley, now published on Kindle

Everybody around him at Longwood wrote their accounts of Napoleon's exile, but until now we have not heard from the man himself! Only joking! This is a work of fiction!

Some time ago I was in correspondence with James Hartley about the book he was then writing on Napoleon and St. Helena. It turned out to be a rather long labour of love?, and James has now decided to publish it on Kindle. I understand that it is going live tomorrow, which happens to be Napoleon's 248th birthday!

Monday, 31 July 2017

St Helena 1814-1816


The St Helena Judicial Records 1808

My transcription of the years 1808-1816 from the St Helena Judicial Records is now complete. The years 1814-816 revealed some of the most interesting cases of the whole period.

A most fascinating insight into St Helena Justice was afforded by the case of Aaron Lambe who had beaten a slave who had complained to a magistrate. Considered a serious offence, it went unpunished in this instance. The Governor explained to the court the logic behind this decision: the Code of Slave laws restricted the fine to 40 shillings for a single offence, which was considered far too little, so the Bench had considered bringing him to trial, but had ascertained that such a fine as should form a proper example, would be disproportionate to [his] circumstances , and being unable to pay he would have ended up in the common gaol.

So to avoid the unfortunate outcome of a slave owner ending up in gaol for mistreatment of a slave Mr Lambe was given a public rebuke by the Governor:

I am happy at being enabled to observe that the offence which has been described is rare indeed in this place. The Community seems generally to feel, and it is indispensable that you in future should distinctly understand that the act of punishing a slave for having complained, and even pending the trial of that complaint, approached the nature of a direct insult to public authority; and it is proper for me to add that you are indebted to the lenity of the Magistrate whom you have insulted for being saved from the Consequences of a trial. If you have the feelings which ought to belong to your place in Society, you have already been sufficiently punished – and you are dismissed without a fine. (1)

In 1815 another slave owner Elisha Isacke, came before the Court on a murder charge. Two magistrates defended his character in Court, and he was acquitted. This brought open dissent in Court from the Deputy Governor J. Skelton. Lt. Col Skelton wrote a considered report to the East India Company explaining the reasons for his dissent, much to the concern of the Governor who penned a short rebuttal:

The practice of recording observations on a proceeding some time closed is I believe contrary to regular routine and its inconvenience is more felt when it occurs on the eve of a dispatch where time does not admit of a deliberate perusal of the proceedings to which it refers.

Governor Wilks pointed out that his fellow magistrates Messrs Leech and Doveton, who had acted as witnesses in the court by speaking up for the defendant and helping to destroy the credibility of a key prosecution witness, concurred in his view! (2)

In contrast two slaves who were tried for killing a calf were sentenced to death. One, later judged by the Court to have a value of £20 was executed, the fate of the other was sent for determination by the Prince Regent. (3) Another slave, Harry, was more fortunate. Convicted of stealing from his master, he escaped execution simply because the words against the form of the Statute had mistakenly been omitted from the indictment. He was therefore sentenced to four years hard labour and imprisonment and to be kept in irons.(4) Two white people, Maria Weager and George Seale, were separately convicted of theft and each sentenced to being whipped behind a cart. (5) Finally, in 1816 (see below), a female slave convicted of theft, had a "t" burned on her hand.

1816: a slave girl sentenced to be branded for theft

One of the surprises of the period 1814-1816 was the frequent appearance of members of the Lowden/Louden/Louding family. As well as commercial cases there were two involving assault, but the most intriguing was that brought for defamation of character by Mrs Lowding (Lowden) against James Lowden, presumably the brother of her deceased husband, who had called her a whore.

Rev Boys

The Rev. Boys had somehow got involved with this lady. He had for a time given her shelter in his house, but she had left early one morning without explanation! Called as a witness, he had to suffer the indignity of speculation as to what favours he had received to make him testify on her behalf. Various witnesses revealed that the lady was rather less virtuous than the Rev. Boys had apparently believed, and she lost the case.(6)

The St Helena Court dealt mainly with cases involving slaves, soldiers and poorer whites or trades people. Unusual was the charge of assault and battery brought against two Gentlemen, Addison George Lowe and James Nicholas Scallan, visitors to the island. The prosecution alleged that the two had headed up the main street of Jamestown with the intent of creating a riot, and had used language in the highest degree gross and injurious, directed against a whole class of the Community , i.e. the soldiers of St. Helena. One was sentenced to a month imprisonment, fined £10 and ordered to remain in prison until the fine was paid. The other was fined £10 and also ordered to be imprisoned until the fine was paid. In a separate civil suit their victim, Sergeant William Kirby, was awarded 40 shillings damages from each.(7)

So that concludes transcription of some 120,000 words for the years 1808-1816. The project has taken far longer than it should have done, at times the hand writing has defeated me, and I am sure I have made a number of errors. The work has given me a valuable insight into the lives of ordinary people on St Helena 200 years ago. Maybe it will form the basis of another project.
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1. St Helena Judicial Records, 12 January 1814.
2. Records April 10, 1815. When Napoleon arrived on St Helena, Lt. Col Skelton's summer house at Longwood was made ready for the Emperor, and it became his final home. Col Skelton and his wife were frequent visitors to Napoleon until they left the island in 1816.
3. Records October 5, 1814
4. Records October 4, 1815
5. George Seale got 600 lashes to be administered at three places, Maria Weager an unspecified number of lashes over a period of two hours. Records April 20, 1814
6. Records April 10, 1815.
7. Records July 27, 1814

Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Keeper of the Empty Tomb - new book by Michel Dancoisne-Martineau



Michel Dancoisne-Martineau has just produced another book. This time an account of his life since he left France for St.Helena at the age of 18.

It is just over a year since Michel told us that he had signed a contract for this book. I wondered whether it was a good idea: he is a very private person, and doesn't welcome the intrusions into his life by the press and by tourists on St. Helena. He hopes that this book will still the interest in him, and enable him to focus on the Napoleonic heritage which has been his life's work. I hope he is right.

The book's title is a fairly typical expression of Michel's dry sense of humour and his self-deprecating manner. A remarkable, energetic and multi-talented man, he has led an unusual but very productive life on St. Helena. When he eventually retires, it will be a very hard act to follow. I look forward to reading this book when it becomes available on 10th May.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Patagonia: Napoleon Reaches Parts that Others Cannot Reach


Pizzeria in El Calafate, Patagonia

Earlier this year I spent a wonderful month in Argentina. I was vaguely aware that Buenos Aires like New Orleans had been a haven for exiled Bonapartists after Napoleon's fall, and since my return I have learned that Isabel Walewski Colonna, Napoleon's illegitimate grandaughter, who died at the age of 6 in 1847, was buried in the amazing Recoleta cemetery.

A Street Sign in El Calafate

All this was far from my mind, but during my stay I visited El Calafate in Patagonia to see the amazing Perito Moreno glacier. There I found a strange street sign. Nobody I spoke to had any idea of its origin, but apparently it was named after Lieutenant Colonel Napoleón Argentino Irusta, who bcame Director of the National Parks in the Peron era, and formally received the body of Perito Moreno when it was excavated in Buenos Aires and returned to Patagonia. (1)


Totally unconnected I imagine was the Napoleon Pizza restaurant in the same town. A simple google search reveals that there are a few others in the world - including Parma, Ohio, Timisoara in Romania, and Fredrikstad, Norway, a town that I know rather well!


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1. Apparently Irusta miraculously escaped in a car accident in August 1945, on the day of the feast of the Virgen de las Nieves, and in thanks placed a copy of Buenos Aires' image of the Virgen de las Nieves in a natural cave 15 kilometres from San Carlos de Bariloche. It is now a major tourist attraction.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

St. Helena 1813: Two Governors, One Execution and the Mistreatment of Slaves


St. Helena in the time of Governor Beatson

After too long a delay I have got back to my work on St. Helena's Judicial Records. My last entry was on St Helena in 1812, but now 1813 has been finished, and I am well into 1814. So Napoleon is on Elba, and he will soon be back in Paris en route to St. Helena.

1813 was notable on St. Helena for the change of Governor. The formidable Alexander Beatson was replaced by Mark Wilks, who was still Governor when Napoleon stepped ashore some two years later.

Governor Beatson

One of the last cases tried in the Court under the Presidency of Alexander Beatson involved William Balcombe, who in 1811 had named his youngest son, Alexander Beatson Balcombe.

In this case Balcombe was trying to get back some £650, a considerable sum in those days, which he had paid to Robert Leech in trust for the estate of Richard Lane, who had died at sea when the appropriately named "True Briton" foundered. Ironically another party to the affair, a sea captain who might have been able to shed light on Balcombe's claims, was also drowned when his own ship foundered.

This was a complex and sorry affair involving the alleged non-payment of a bill exchange by a third party. Balcombe lost the case. It must have been a big blow to his finances, and in some ways encapsulates his life.

Probably the last significant event under Beatson's Governorship took place on May 19th 1813. On that day a soldier,William Alexander was executed. Alexander had been found guilty of Grand Larceny for stealing eight pairs of boots and five pairs of shoes with a total value of £14. Beatson had in his view no choice but to hang the man.

"The daily instances that occur of Burglaries, depredations on Sheep and Poultry, on Gardens, and Washing Ground, and on Goods landed on the Quay, are so many proofs of the greatest depravity – It is but too evident that most of these flagrant Crimes have originated in an insatiable desire of gratification in a vice, that is disgraceful and degrading to the human character. I mean excessive intemperance in Drinking, - For the sake of this unmanly gratification, there are yet too many in this small place, who would run every hazard to attain it; without reflectin upon the consequences to which they expose themselves."

The very first case to be heard under the new Governor, Mark Wilks, was the trial of Mary Braid in October 1813 for "wilful murder" of one of her slaves. The defendant was acquitted both of murder and manslaughter, but the case revealed a horrific story of cruelty and wilful mistreatment. Mary Braid's husband was subsequently found guilty and fined £75 for neglecting to prevent the ill treatment of his slaves.

Governor Mark Wilks

Perhaps the new Governor's arrival signalled a new attitude towards the treatment of slaves, because in the first session of 1814 he hauled Aaron Lamb before the court, and gave him a public dressing down for having beaten a slave for having made a complaint about his treatment to the magistrates.

The punishment of offences has not only a reference to the offender himself, but is intended to operate as an example to others ; and adverting to the time and the place at which this public admonition is given I am disposed to hope that both these objects will be suitably attained. I am happy at being enabled to observe that the offence which has been described is rare indeed in this place. The Community seems generally to feel, and it is indispensable that you in future should distinctly understand that the act of punishing a slave for having complained, and even pending the trial of that complaint, approached the nature of a direct insult to public authority ; and it is proper for me to add that you are indebted to the lenity of the Magistrate whom you have insulted for being saved from the Consequences of a trial. If you have the feelings which ought to belong to your place in Society, you have already been sufficiently punished – and you are dismissed without a fine.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

St Helena Airport: Lord Ashcroft's Latest


Lord Ashcroft, Leading supporter of St. Helena Airport photographed on his recent visit

One thing which any follower of Conservative politics knows is that Lord Ashcroft is not a great fan of David Cameron. He spent a lot of money, 8 million is often quoted, on the 2010 election campaign, Cameron failed to win a majority, went into coalition with the Liberal Democrats, and failed to offer Lord Ashcroft a significant job. Some say that instead Ashcroft was offered his wish of an airport on St. Helena.

Lord Ashcroft and St. Helena Airport 2nd April 2012

Some ten months ago on this blogI pointed out the revelations of a former airline pilot, Brian Heywood, who had in 2010 written to David Cameron warning against building the airport. Lord Ashcroft has now taken to the pages of Conservative Home to attack the former Prime Minister for ignoring that letter.

I am not a great fan of David Cameron, but I do wonder if I was faced with pressure from a disgruntled, billionaire party donor to build an airport, and a letter from an unknown former airline pilot advising against doing so, which path I would have taken!