Thursday, 15 October 2009

Rev Boys, Armchairs, Death Masks and other matters

Some weeks ago (10th July) I did a piece on the armchair in Maidstone Museum which generated quite a lot of feedback and discussion.

I have now had a look at the extract from "Under Thirty-Seven Kings" by Lilian Boys Behrens, published in 1926, which claimed that Rev Boys was the first person that Napoleon spoke to on landing on St. Helena, and that Napoleon left Rev Boys a cane and an armchair.

I am a little sceptical about the first claim. My recollection is that virtually the whole of the population turned out to see Napoleon, who stepped ashore at dusk and walked between Bertrand and Admiral Cockburn to his lodging place. I am prepared to believe that Rev Boys may have been in prime position as Napoleon stepped on to the quay, but there is no supporting record that Napoleon spoke to anyone. All the accounts I have read indicate that there was complete silence.

The Armchair

The more I think about the Maidstone armchair the more confused I get. It seems to me we now have a number of competing versions:

1. The armchair was bought by Rev Boys after Napoleon's death, according to the documentation held by the museum, and passed into the museum's hands after the Rev Boys' death.

2. The armchair was bequeathed by Napoleon and was still in the family's hands in 1926 (Lilian Behrens) - so there must be two armchairs!

3. Most bizarre of all, according to the "local historian" interviewed by the BBC, Napoleon used to sit in the armchair when he visited Rev Boys! So the armchair never belonged to Napoleon!

At this point words fail me! I have had an email from Maidstone Museum. I don't think it is unfair to say that they have been unable to provide evidence corroborating the story given to the BBC about the alleged meetings between Rev Boys and Napoleon. I hate to think of people being misinformed in this way.

Death Masks

The information on death masks which also cropped up in discussion after my last posting is even more confusing as anyone who delves into the conflicting claims will find. Anyway I will cite again the article from the NY Times about the Rubidge death mask which ended up in the Boys family. This article is derived from the work by G.L. de St. M. Watson, the Wigan man who has made other appearances in this blog. A link to the article also appeared in an earlier entry on Cuba and Antommarchi.

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