Sunday, 24 February 2008

Sandy Bay St. Helena : The Emperor Napoleon's Last Outing

It is time to visit Sandy Bay, at the opposite end of the island from Jamestown.

The name itself might conjure up images of deck chairs, beaches, picnics and sand castles, but Kauffmann had prepared me for it:

Bones, pebbles, wreckage, mounds of seaweed lie on the black sand. ... All the gradations of black and grey are strewn in dull profusion.
(Kauffmann, Harvill Press 1999, p.219)

Somehow appropriate that this was the scene of the Emperor's last outing, although he viewed the sea only from the green, upper reaches of the bay.

On our way we buy some food for a picnic.

Small country shops seem a little easier to find on St. Helena than in the U.K.

The road from Hutts Gate goes through beautiful fertile countryside.

Soon though we are in a mountainous desert landscape.

We park the car at the end of the tarmac road, and ask some workmen which of the two tracks leads to Sandy Bay.

"This is Sandy Bay" they reply.

According to a press release from the Chief Secretary's office, dated 2003, Sandy Bay Beach is being transformed into a tourist attraction.

While the beach will not end up being covered with white sand and the sea is not safe for swimming, the area has many interesting features to offer. These include fortifications, interesting walks, geological aspects and spectacular scenery. Now, trees are to be planted at the back to create shade and to help beautify the area.

The promised irrigation pipelines are in place, but some of the trees look as if they have given up the struggle

One of St. Helena's fire engines is parked down by the shore. This must be one of the last places on earth where a fire could do any damage.

After I have dipped my toes in the Atlantic we sit down to have our picnic, not as sumptuous as the one the Emperor had on that visit. My wife jumps up with a scream. A mouse jumps out of her bag, as frightened as she is.

Evidently there is some life down here.

On our way back we spot what looks like a dormer bungalow, and turns out to be Mount Pleasant, in the early nineteenth century the home of Sir William Doveton. (1) In those days it must almost certainly have been a two storey building.

This was the place which Napoleon visited on October 4th 1820 with Montholon and Bertrand. Apparently it has the most beautiful view of the bay.

They sipped champagne on that lawn, and invited Sir William Doveton and his family to share the meal they had brought with them. Sir William reported it all to Sir Hudson Lowe, who had not met Napoleon since 1816: the food and drink they had consumed; Napoleon's jokes about Sir William's alcohol intake which did not go down too well; Napoleon's physical appearance - apparently he was as fat as a Chinese pig.

He struggled to ride back on his horse, and was glad to be offered a carriage at Hutts gate. So he returned to Longwood House, never again to leave it.

Whatever temporary diversion his gardening had given him was over. He had been seriously ill in July. His entourage which had already been seriously reduced by the departure of Gourgaud, O'Meara, Mme Montholon and Las Cases, was now threatened with further loss. Montholon and Bertrand were talking of leaving: Fanny Bertrand hated the island - "The devil shat this rock when he passed from one world to the next" she is supposed to have said.


(1) Sir William Doveton(1753-1843); magistrate and judge, the only St. Helenan resident ever to be knighted(in 1818). According to Las Cases Napoleon had visited here once before, January 3rd 1816: "As we were on the point of sitting down to dinner[at Plantation House], we were, to our great surprise, informed that the Emperor, in company with the Admiral, had just passed very near the gate of Plantation House; and one of the guests (Mr. Doveton of Sandy Bay) observed, that Napoleon had, in the morning honoured him with a visit, and spent three quarters of an hour at his house." (Memorial of St.Helena Vol I, Part II, p. 95)

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