Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Mount Pleasant: Napoleon's last outing

Another interesting post by Michel (November 23rd 2009).

This time about Mount Pleasant, Sir William Doveton's fine home overlooking Sandy Bay, and the scene of Napoleon's last outing. (1)

Particularly interesting is the transcript from the Hudson Lowe papers which Michel describes quite justifiably as "un chef d'œuvre de bêtise et de vanité" ( a masterpiece of stupidity and vanity. ) The transcript includes those passages crossed out, which are every bit as revealing as those left in.

In this document, Sir William variously describes himself as"I", " the old gentleman" "Sir William" "the good knight" (crossed out!) and "Worthy Venerable Knight" ("Worthy" crossed out).

The visitor is of course usually referred to as "General", but also as "Napoleon" or "Bonaparte"; references to him as "Emperor" are enclosed in quotation marks to indicate that the term was used only by Napoleon's party. It is also noted that like Napoleon but unlike his companions, Sir William kept his hat on! These things were very important to Sir Hudson Lowe.

The report was written for Sir Hudson Lowe but also with an eye to posterity. After all, how many people could claim to have met both Napoleon and the King? The only defense is perhaps that at the advanced age of 67, Sir William had, as Gilbert Martineau put it, become "somewhat simple minded". (2) He was to linger on another 23 years! Apparently Napoleon tweaked his ear - something I thought that he did largely to children! (3)

Nevertheless it provides an interesting account of what turned out to be Napoleon's final social encounter with those outside his entourage. It notes Napoleon's appearance: his fat face and thighs, his paleness and Montholon's comment that he was suffering from a liver complaint.

For the anoraks among us the document does confirm that Napoleon had previously visited Mount Pleasant.

Anyway, this document which as far as I know has never been published in full, is well worth a read - and is of course in English!

1. This house and Sir William have featured on a number of previous posts that I have made. On my visit I described it as a sort of "dormer bungalow" and realised that it must have looked quite different when Napoleon visited. Sure enough, it was reconstructed by W.A. Thorpe in 1904. The Thorpe family, which has arrived on St Helena since Napoleon's time, is now probably the leading commercial family on the island.

2. Gilbert Martineau, Napoleon's St. Helena, John Murray 1968, p. 156

3. Clearly Sir William had heard differently: I have heard, that General Bonaparte’s custom of taking children by the nose, and grown persons by the ear is considered as a mark of in token of favour approbation . This passage from the document was clearly amended a number of times and then finally crossed out.


MissElisabeth said...

Interesting post.
Napoleon did not only pulled the ears of children.
it was known that his household staff and Marshalls constantly walked around with bruised ears and noses.

Thank you for the post

John Tyrrell said...

Glad to be corrected on that one. Did he tweak the noses of children and the ears of adults as Sir William said? Never thought I would get interested in such trivia!

MissElisabeth said...

He sure did! It was his way to let people know he was satisfied with whatever it was they came to tell him.

Trivia is the greatest, haha