Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Bertrand's Cottage, St. Helena: A Fine View of the Races

Just the other side of the road that bends around Longwood House is a small cottage that many tourists probably overlook.

This was the home of Grand Marshall Bertrand, the most loyal of the Emperor's followers(1).

Here he lived with his wife Fanny and four children until Napoleon's death.

Here their youngest son, Arthur, was born.

Here, In 1821, not long before Napoleon's death, Mme Bertrand suffered a miscarriage and nearly died. Napoleon felt his doctor was spending too much time with her and neglecting him.

It cannot have been an easy time for either Bertrand or his wife.

Nobody seems to have taken responsibility for the education of the children who apparently ran wild in Longwood. Napoleon enjoyed their company.

In this house Napoleon used to peer though the shutters with his telescope to watch the races on Deadwood. One day he saw one of his servants driving down the course in a state of drunkenness. The man was horsewhipped by a steward. Napoleon reprimanded him later.

The Maiden Meeting of the St. Helena Turf Club took place in April 1817. Thereafter there were two meetings each year. There was a sweepstake at each meeting. Among the 33 horses that took part in the first meeting was one named "Emperor".

It has not changed much since it was built in 1815-16.

It now looks a bit neglected; it is owned by the St. Helena Government.

New Longwood House which was constructed for Napoleon after 1818, but in which he never lived, was close by. It was demolished in 1947.

There are now no horses on St. Helena, although Kauffmann spotted two on his visit over a decade ago.

Fanny Dillon (1785-1836)

Fanny Dillon was half Irish, half Creole, and related to the Empress Josephine. She spoke good English. A very attractive woman, somewhat volatile, she was only 30 when she arrived on St Helena.

Her father, Count Arthur Dillon, descended from an old Irish noble family, and had fought with the Irish Brigade against the British in the War of American Independence. A royalist, he was guillotined during the French Revolution when Fanny was only 9. (2)

Fanny married Henry Gratien Bertrand in 1808, and suffered long periods of absence whilst he was fighting with Napoleon. She accompanied her husband on Napoleon's exile to Elba. After Waterloo she advised Napoleon to surrender to the English:

The English are free and enlightened; they are the only race capable of welcoming the Emperor and understanding him.

When she learned in Plymouth that exile would be on St. Helena rather than England, she did everything possible to prevent her husband following Napoleon again, even by trying to throw herself overboard. "Let her go - why don't you let her go!" yelled General Savary as Bertrand tried to stop her.(3)

Although ultimately loyal to Napoleon, her relations with him were often strained - she insisted on living apart from his court, and she and her husband rarely joined him for dinner.

In the last few months of Napoleon's life she desperately sought his forgiveness, and asked to be allowed to nurse him in his final illness. Napoleon refused - he was used to his faithful valet Marchand he said.

She and her three children were present when he died.

She died of cancer in 1836.

Henri Bertrand and another Fanny

Bertrand was devastated by Fanny's death.

He spent quite a lot of time overseas, including three years in Martinique, as well as his trip in 1840 with his son Arthur back to St. Helena to fetch Napoleon's remains.

In 1843 he made a trip to the United States, and was given a hero's welcome in New York.

During his stay he visited the New York Institution for the Blind, and the blind protestant hymn writer, Fanny Crosby, delivered an emotion packed tribute.(4)

When by those he loved deserted,
Thine was still a faithful heart;
Thou wert proud to share the exile,
Of the hapless Bonaparte.

Not the best poetry to be inspired by Napoleon perhaps!
1. Henry Gatien Bertrand(1763-1844) . He entered the army in 1793, and first met Napoleon in the Italian campaign in 1797. He became Napoleon's aide-de-camp in 1805. Thereafter he participated in all the major campaigns of the Empire. In 1813 he was named Grand Marshall of the Palace, a title he effectively retained in somewhat diminished circumstances on St. Helena. Some years after his burial in his home town of Chateauroux his body was moved to Les Invalides.

2. He had commanded the regiment Dillon, this was part of that battalion known as the Irish Brigade in the French Army. Arthur Dillon was its last Colonel.

3. The British Government made it clear that General Savary was not to be allowed to go to St Helena.

4. Frances Jane Crosby (March 24, 1820 – February 12, 1915) Prolific American hymn writer, lifelong Methodist, preacher and public speaker - one of the most famous women in America. Although blind almost from her birth, she wrote over 8000 hymns; including "Blessed Assurance" and "Jesus Is Tenderly Calling You Home".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your great blogs which includes the Bertrands. I am descendant of Henri and Fanny. It has been fascinating to find more information on my family.