Friday, 31 December 2010

1812: Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow

Spending an extremely cold Christmas in Norway where temperatures never rose much above -10C, what could be more appropriate than to read an account of the disastrous Russian campaign of 1812?

What an excellent if harrowing read it is.

Based on numerous accounts of those who experienced it, Zamoyski paints a detailed picture of human misery on a scale which has thankfully rarely been witnessed in history.

A number of images and impressions stay with me:

• the way in which Napoleon almost blundered into the campaign - his aim was to bring the Czar to the negotiating table and to break Russia's alliance with Britain: he assumed that the presence of such a large army assembled on Russia's borders would make the Czar sue for peace.

• Napoleon's pleasure at receiving a portrait of the infant King of Rome which he showed to his entourage and then placed outside his tent, where the soldiers formed a queue to see it;

• the disappointment of Moscow: the French entering Moscow and finding nobody to formally surrender the city - totally contrary to the custom of warfare - and then the Russians setting fire to it, and Napoleon having to leave the city until the fire was under control.

• Napoleon working late into the night in the Kremlin corresponding with his Government in Paris and insisting that lamps were put in the windows to show his soldiers that he was working;

• the French army leaving Moscow, its soldiers borne down with books, pictures, gold, silver and other valuable items which they imagined would make their fortunes back in France;

• and of course the extreme cold, the lack of food and the shortage of forage for the horses without which the army could not fight effectively nor move its supplies.

• and, on a lighter note, Napoleon, his Marshalls and his old guard sliding down the approach to Dubrovna on their bottoms, because it was too slippery to stand up and walk down.

Amidst the horrendous conditions the soldiers remained remarkably loyal to Napoleon, and some talked of joining the Russians in an attack on India at the end of the campaign.

As the army retreated this loyalty was not significantly eroded. Zamoyski quotes a French sergeant who watched as two grenadiers went looking for dry wood for Napoleon:
Everyone eagerly proffered the best pieces he had, and even those who were dying raised their heads to whisper:"Take it for the Emperor!" (1)

The Dutch General, Dedem de Gelder, who did not like Napoleon, was nevertheless impressed by the way he dealt with the adversity:
I have to do justice to this man hitherto so spoilt by fortune, who had never yet known serious setbacks; he was calm, without anger, but without resignation; I believed he would be great in adversity, and that idea reconciled me to him.. I saw then the man who contemplates disaster and recognises all the difficulties of his position, but whose soul is in no way crushed and who says to himself: "This is failure, I have to quit, but I shall be back. (2)

As Zamoyski concludes, the catastrophic failure of the Moscow campaign punctured the aura of invincibility that had hitherto surrounded Napoleon. Although he waged a brilliant defensive campaign in 1813-1814, the odds were hitherto stacked against him.
1. Quoted in Adam Zamoyski, 1812 Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow (Harper 2004), p. 455
2. Zamoyski p. 378

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The Ladies of Longwood: Albine de Montholon & Fanny Betrand

Albine de Montholon (1779-1848).

A lady of somewhat easy virtue. She was first married at the age of 15, and was twice divorced.

She married Charles Tristan de Montholon, some four years her junior, in 1812. Their marriage had been opposed by Napoleon.

Mme de Montholon is very different from Mme Bertrand, a scheming woman who has known where her best interests lie, far better than we do. Mme Bertrand, on the contrary, does not. - Napoleon (1)

she is called "The Minister of Bonaparte" in Europe .. She has a very different head than that of madame Bertrand. - attributed to Monthchenu, the French Commissioner. (2)

When she accompanied her husband and young son Tristan (1812-1831) to St Helena she left behind a 12 year old son from a previous marriage and also a baby, Charles Frédéric Montholon (1814-1886), who was considered too young to travel.

Whilst on St Helena she gave birth to two daughters, Napoléone (1816-1907) and Joséphine(1818-1819).

She was reputed to have had a number of romantic liaisons whilst on the island. Possibly with Admiral Cockburn, more certainly with Napoleon and with Lt. Basil Jackson, who followed her off the island in 1819 at the wish of the Governor, and stayed with her in Brussels.

Fanny Bertrand raised doubts as to who was the father of Napoléone, who was conceived on the Northumberland. It is fairly clear though that Napoleon had no relationship with Albine at that time, but there is now almost general agreement that Joséphine, who was conceived at Longwood, was Napoleon's daughter.

Mme Montholon decided to leave the island in 1819, after she had become infatuated with the young Basil Jackson. Napoleon was concerned at the relationship, apparently less from jealousy than from suspicion that everything that was happening at Longwood was being reported back to the Governor. (3)

Napoleon was determined not to lose the Count de Montholon, and offered every inducement to get Albine to leave on her own. He told her that she would easily find a husband. Sire, a woman may easily find a lover, but not a husband she replied. (4)

Mme Montholon duly left on board the Lady Campbell in July 1819. She took with her 12 turkeys, 72 chickens, 2 goats to provide milk for the children, 2 ducks and numerous bottles of wine.

On the day of her departure her husband sent her a note: The Emperor expresses deep regret at your departure, his tears flowed for you, maybe for the first time in his life. (5)

Joséphine died shortly after they arrived back in Europe, and Mme de Montholon blamed herself. She felt that it would not have happened had she stayed on the island.

She also lost most of her personal possessions in a fire that broke out at her home in Brussels. A similar event happened to Joseph Bonaparte in January 1820. There is some suspicion that both events were the work of agents acting for one or other of the monarchs of Europe who were concerned that Napoleon's correspondence with them was about to be published.

Because of a failure of the various parties to agree on a replacement for her husband, she was apparently even contemplating returning to St Helena before news arrived of the Emperor's death.

After her husband's return to Europe the couple soon separated and remained in that state until her death - divorce had been abolished in post-revolutionary France.

She died at Montpellier in 1848 aged 69. Her embalmed body lies in the Chapelle des Penitents bleus, Montpellier. There was a curious decision in the last days of the German occupation to move it to Les Invalides, but for whatever reason this was never carried out.

Élisabeth Françoise Bertrand, (1785-1836)

See also blogs on Bertrands Cottage and the French actress Rachel.

A cousin of the Empress Josephine, Fanny had enlisted the help of her and Napoleon in finding a husband.

Among those suggested were Prince Alphonse Pignatelli (he died), Prince Aldobrandini - later King of Portugal, the Duke of Medina Sidonia, the Prince of Neuchatel and Prince Bernard of Saxe-Coburg.

For one reason or another all these matches fell through. Two days after her mother's death she went to Josephine desperately seeking a husband, and was told that Napoleon had finally found one: General Bertrand. She was not pleased and, volatile as ever, when Napoleon came in she said What, sire! Bertrand! Bertrand! Why not the Pope's monkey?

Still, she married him in 1808 in the house of Josephine's daughter Hortense at Saint-Leu, and they had what appears to have been a happy marriage.

There is not another Bertrand in the world. I think the mould for making such men is broken. - Fanny Bertrand(6)

She accompanied her husband to Elba and, reluctantly to St Helena. She was accompanied by their children Napoleon, Henri and Hortense.

Whilst at St Helena she suffered a number of miscarriages, and gave birth to a son, Arthur.

Rumours were rife that Fanny had romantic liaisons with Admiral Cockburn or an English Officer, Harrison. Some wonder whether young Arthur was perhaps Harrison's son. Napoleon also in his final days certainly cast doubts on her fidelity, but that may have been simply the result of anger and bitterness at her.

Of some things we may be certain: Fanny hated Albine Montholon and was jealous of the influence of her and her husband over Napoleon. At the time when rumours of the relationship between Napoleon and Albine were rife, she made it clear that she could have been his mistress had she wanted to. It is certain however, that she never became Napoleon's mistress, as Napoleon himself was to complain bitterly in his last few weeks.

The core of Napoleon's complaint against her seems to have been her withdrawal from life at Longwood. The Bertrands had always lived separately from the main party, first at Hutts Gate, and then in the separate cottage built for them away from the main house at Longwood.
For six years she had not played the part she should have played. She should have dined with him, or at the very least she should have joined his party of an evening. (7)
To correct the balance it is worth noting the diary entry made by her husband on February 7th 1821, before the bitterness and sadness of the final days:

.. There was no one of whom he thought more highly, though at times he had said unkind things about her. (8)

The unkind words were not yet finished!

In early 1821 Fanny had a miscarriage from which she nearly died, and Antommarchi spent a long time with her, much to Napoleon's annoyance. Bertrand's diary of the last few months gives a fascinating glimpse into a desperately unhappy world in which Bertrand faithfully recorded the most monstrous allegations against the virtue of his wife and pleaded with Napoleon to see her and to allow her to nurse him. Napoleon was adamant: he was used to Marchand, but would see Mme Bertrand before he died. At this point Betrand recorded,The Grand Marshall was unable to restrain his tears.(9)

On the evening of 26th April Napoleon said 5 or 6 times to Marchand, How is Mme la Marshall? Tell me, how is she?(10)

Finally he saw her at mass in the Emperor's apartment on 29th April, and then she visited him on succeeding days. She was shocked at his appearance.
According to Marchand he said to her:
Well Madame, you too have been ill. But now you are better. Your illness is known whereas mine is not, and therefore I am dying.

Fanny and her children were with Napoleon when he died.

1. Memoirs of General Bertrand Grand Marshall of the Palace January to May 1821 April 24th 1821, p. 198
2. Albert Benhamou L'autre Sainte-Hélène: La Captivité, La Maladie, La Mort, Et Les Médecins Autour De Napoléon p.248
3. The fact that Basil Jackson had indeed acted as a spy for the Governor was revealed to the Longwood party on May 8th 1821. Bertrand p. 265
4. Albert Benhamou p 203
5. Albert Benhamou, p. 208.
6. G. L. de St. M. Watson, A Polish Exile with Napoleon (London 1912) p. 234
7. April 14th 1821. Bertrand p.159
8. Bertrand p. 61
9. Bertrand p. 164
10. Bertrand p. 218

Monday, 6 December 2010

The Napoleonfish

The humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) mainly found in coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific region. It is also known as the Māori wrasse, Napoleon wrasse, Napoleonfish; or "So Mei" 蘇眉 (Cantonese) and "Mameng" (Filipino) - thankyou wikipedia.

I had never heard of this beauty before, and neither had the two greatest living authorities on such matters known to me: my 11 year old grandson and my 88 year old neighbour. How pleasing it was for me to tell them something they did not already know.

I wonder when it got the Napoleon name? Perhaps someone can enlighten me?

Monday, 29 November 2010

Napoleon's DNA: New Research

A recent paper by Professor Lucotte has described research on hair samples from the Emperor Napoleon, his mother, and his sister Caroline. Tests on these samples has revealed a rare variant in the sequence of the hypervariable segment (HVS1) of mitochondrial (mtDNA) , which is passed in the maternal line. The article points out that this rare variant is a mutation that has been found in only 3 of 37,000 different sequences in a database that it referenced.

The identification of this rare sequence will enable verification of Napoleonic relics, many of which may well be fake. It can also be used to test the piece of skin that Dr Guillard collected at the exhumation of Napoleon in 1840. This might just convince some conspiracy theorists that the body lying in Les Invalides is indeed that of the Emperor Napoleon.

This discovery will also lead to a revisit of the theory that Napoleon died from arsenic poisoning.

The hair tested by Professor Lucotte bore traces of a species of thistle endemic to St Helena and of mineral particles characteristic of volcanic terrains.

It contained lead, but no significant traces of arsenic.

Apparently Professor Lucotte will soon address this issue in another paper.

Further background may be found in a recent article by Jacques Macé .

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Stedson George & The Future of St Helena

Stedson George, former headmaster, former Councillor, and expert on the night sky, is one of the characters of St Helena.

It is always worth listening to anything he says.

I well remember my few conversations with him on my visit to the island - in particular I asked him what was his favourite place amongst those he had visited in the world.

Lemon Valley he replied.

What place would he like to visit again, I asked.

The same answer!

I am still not sure whether he was just winding me up. Some day I really must go and check out Lemon Valley for myself.

Anyway I noticed that Stedson has been giving his views on the future of the island (St Helena Independent, 29th October 2010).

Like many Saints he is critical of creeping bureaucracy and would prefer more emphasis on the development of the private sector: At one time the entire SHG was housed in the Castle now it's gone further up the town!

Stedson feels that Government should be encouraging more production, especially from farmers and fishermen, and should be prepared to use short term subsidies to help people who lack capital to get businesses started.

He also has reservations about the proposed international airport. He doesn't think that St Helena can attract the anticipated 30000-50000 annual visitors. He would prefer a smaller airport linked to Ascension. Interestingly he thinks that St Helena should promote itself as a cruise ship destination, and argues that a priority should be the construction of a decent breakwater to make it safe for cruise ships to land passengers. He also argues for more emphasis on renewable energy.

Like Stedson I have some concern that it will not be alright on the night. The recent problems of Norfolk island, one of the models for St Helena development, raises concerns as to whether current plans are well founded.(1)

The previous UK Government clearly had doubts about the realism of the tourist targets when it announced a pause in the international airport project. I am still unclear as to why the current deficit reducing Government has reversed the decision of its ostensibly more profligate predecessor. I wonder if there is some hidden agenda?

Personally I would like prefer more emphasis on sustainability, as indicated in a previous post on this subject.

1. St Helena Role Model Goes Bust St Helena Independent, 5th November 2010, Norfolk is heavily reliant on tourism. But visitor numbers have slumped in recent times, and other key sources of income such as Norfolk Air, the island's airline, are losing millions of dollars a year.

Monday, 15 November 2010

St Helena Herald: Michel Martineau's 25 Years on the Island

As he reveals in his latest blog (15 November 2010), Michel Martineau has now spent a quarter of a century on St Helena - the same length of time that Napoleon and his mortal remains were on the island. In the blog Michel features a recent article in the St Helena Herald about the French Properties. I am among Michel's greatest fans, and very pleased that his contribution, and not only to the French properties, is becoming more widely appreciated.

The Herald article goes into some detail about the 60 acres (enormous by St Helena standards) which Michel purchased and later donated to the National Trust. Apparently the bank asked more questions about St Helena than about Michel's financial circumstances when he applied for a mortgage.

The article also sets out Michel's philosophy for Longwood and the other properties:
I want to move away from this old notion of 'those are the French properties and behind their walls they do as they want'. I want to open up the properties completely. .. Let's face it, a lot of people only know St. Helena because of the Napoleon link. The idea is to use this fact as a springboard and then tourists can discover other things about the island."
This certainly chimes with my own experience. I went out of curiosity about Napoleon, and fell in love with the island and its people.

Michel has already made amazing progress. When Jean-Paul Kauffman - author of The Dark Room at Longwood - visited the island fifteen years ago, he commented on the total separation of the French Properties from the rest of St Helena life. That that separation is no longer the case is entirely due to Michel's efforts.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Hazlitt's Political Essays: Bonaparte and Müller

Johannes von Müller (1752 – 1809)

"The Celebrated Historian of Switzerland" - William Hazlitt.

There can have been fewer gloomier years in British history than those that followed Waterloo.

Faced with huge debts from financing the long wars with France, rising food prices, popular distress and industrial unrest, the British ruling classes felt far from secure.

Habeas Corpus was suspended in 1817, and the government took over the reading rooms to try to control the influence of Cobbet's radical journal The Political Register.

Critics of the government lived in fear of imprisonment or transportation.

In this climate of fear and repression the indefatigable supporter of the principles of 1789, William Hazlitt, prepared his political essays. These appeared in 1819, the year of the meeting of parliamentary reformers at St Peters Fields in Manchester. This "massacre" was henceforth to be remembered as Peterloo - an ironic reference to the killing fields of Waterloo.

Amongst the essays which Hazlitt reproduced was an extract from the papers of the Swiss historian Johannes von Müller, describing a meeting with Napoleon in 1806.

Hazlitt's reasons for including this are fairly clear: he was forlornly trying to counter two decades of British propaganda which had both belittled and ridiculed Napoleon as an upstart and as the "little corporal", and also somewhat paradoxically had portrayed him as a cloven hoofed monster. Müller's account of Napoleon did not fit easily into established British views of the Corsican ogre. I think it is fair to say that it still doesn't - as recent headlines about the "deluded Emperor" should indicate.

Müller's account of the meeting, and particularly his comparison of Napoleon with Frederick the Great, whom he had also met, is I think worth reading. I have not come across it in any other printed work.
On the 19th May I was informed by the Minister Secretary of State, Maret, that at seven o'clock of the evening of the following day I must wait on the Emperor Napoleon. I waited accordingly on this Minister at the appointed hour, and was presented. The Emperor sat on a sofa: a few persons whom I did not know stood at some distance in the apartment.

The Emperor / began to speak of the History of Switzerland; told me that I ought to complete it; that even the more recent times had their interest. He came to the work of mediation, discovered a very good will, if we do not meddle with any thing foreign, and remain quietly in the interior. He proceeded from the Swiss to the old Greek Constitution and History, to the Theory of Constitutions, to the complete diversity of those of Asia, (and the causes of this diversity in the climate, polygamy, &c.) the opposite characters of the Arabian (which the Emperor highly extolled), and the Tartarian Races (which led to the irruptions that all civilization had always to dread from that quarter, and the necessity of a bulwark): the peculiar value of European culture (never greater freedom, security of property, humanity, and better laws in general, than since the 15th century); then how every thing was linked together, and in the inscrutable guidance of an invisible hand; and how he himself had become great through his enemies: the great confederation of nations, the idea of which Henry the 4th never had: the foundation of all religion, and its necessity; that man could not well bear completely clear truth, and required to be kept in order; the possibility, however, of a more happy condition, if the numerous feuds ceased, which were occasioned by too complicated constitutions (such as the German), and the intolerable burden suffered by States from excessive armies.

A great deal more besides was said, and indeed we spoke of almost every country and nation. The Emperor spoke at first in his usual manner; but the more interesting our conversation became, he spoke in a lower and lower tone, so that I was obliged to bend myself quite down to his face; and no man can have understood what he said (and therefore many things I will not repeat) - I opposed him occasionally, and he entered into discussion. Quite impartially and truly, as before God, I must say, that the variety of his knowledge, the acuteness of his observations, the solidity of his understanding (not dazzling wit), his grand and comprehensive views, filled me with astonishment, and his manner of speaking to me, with love for him. A couple of Marshals, and also the Duke / of Benevento, had entered in the mean time; he did not break off. After five quarters, or an hour and a half, he allowed the concert to begin; and I know not, whether accidentally or from goodness, he desired pieces, which, one of them especially, had reference to pastoral life and the Swiss (Rans des Vaches). After this, he bowed in a friendly manner and left the room.

Since the audience with Frederick (1782), I never had a conversation on such a variety of subjects, at least with any Prince: if I can judge correctly from recollection, I must gve the Emperor the preference in point of solidity and comprehension; Frederick was somewhat Voltairian. Besides, there is in his tone much firmness and vigour, but in his mouth something as attractive and fascinating, as in Frederick. It was one of the most remarkable days of my life. By his genius and his disinterested goodness he has also conquered me.

1. pp 122-123 The Selected Writings of William Hazlitt. Volume 4 Political Essays ed Duncan Wu, London 1998.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Teutonic Hall - as it used to look

Not too long ago I wrote a post about Teutonic Hall. It seems to have created a lot of interest. Since then a reader has kindly drawn my attention to some photos taken in the 1970's for the Crallan Report on the historic buildings of St Helena. (1)

A fine building and a fine setting. How sad to see it in its present state.

(Click on the pictures to enlarge them).

1. Crallan , Hugh The Crallan Report: the Complete Photographs. Museum of St Helena 2007. DVD containing all 360 of Crallan’s images - A comprehensive record of St Helena’s buildings. The DVD is available from Miles Apart.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Artist of St Helena: Preparing for a New Exhibition

Interesting post on Michel's blog - Retour à la peinture about the paintings he is preparing for an exhibition in November.

I am very pleased that he has not put down his brush, and I particularly liked this painting of 80 year old George Benjamin, holding the St Helena Ebony, which he apparently rediscovered.

A pity that an artist of Michel's talent was not on St Helena during the captivity of Napoleon.

Wonder if I could persuade him to paint me - perhaps if I reach 80!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Torbay in Napoleon's Time

View of Torquay Harbour, 1821 (1)

Napoleon was impressed with the beauty of the English countryside, in which he still hoped he might live.

At the time of this painting by William Daniell, Torquay was a small town of less than 2000 people. It must have been overwhelmed by the visitors who flocked there when they heard that Bonaparte was on board a ship in the bay.

Thanks to Paul Brunyee, one of the speakers at the recent Friends of St Helena meeting, who gave me this idea. Paul produced a slide taken in 2010 from the spot at which the Bellerophon moored off Torquay in 1815. (2) An interesting idea I thought - or at least one that appeals to Napoleonic anoraks among whose number I guess I am now enlisted!

I also discovered fom Paul's talk that Dumbarton Castle was among the places in which the British Government had considered imprisoning Napoleon.

Almost as forbidding as St Helena.

Paul also confirmed that the British Government, which never recognised Napoleon as Emperor of Elba, had previously been uneasy about his closeness to Italy and France. Napoleon of course knew this. In the newspapers sent over to Elba by Lady Holland were reports that he was going to be sent to St Helena.

A successful and interesting meeting I thought. It was very pleasant to meet Peter Hicks of the Napoleonic Foundation and Ian Mathieson of the Friends of St Helena. I also enjoyed lengthier discussions with Dr Martin Howard, the author of Napoleon's Poisoned Chalice and of course, Albert Benhamou, the author of L'Autre St Hélène , who is no stranger to these pages.

Albert and I were interested to learn, again from Paul Brunyee's talk, that the restored HMS Trincomalee, on which poor Dr Stokoe sailed, is in Hartlepool. As true anoraks, both of us intend to pay it a visit.
1. William Daniell, A Voyage Round the Coast of Great Britain (Folio Society 2008)
2. "Napoleon and His Time on St Helena 1815-1821", Victory Club, London, 16th October 2010

Monday, 11 October 2010

The Doctor, the Admiral and His Mistress: It is not at all necessary to be polite to the General.

Dr John Stokoe. Born Ferryhill Durham 1775. Entered navy in 1794 as Surgeon's Mate.

A distinguished record of service in a number of naval engagements including Trafalgar.

Nearing the end of his career as a ship surgeon, he agreed in 1817 to take a three year posting to St Helena. Stokoe set out for St Helena on H.M.S. Conqueror in 1817.

I thought that I should see the great man and probably have the honour of conversing with him - little did I think at that time that the honour would be so dearly purchased! (1)

He married late in life, but was predeceased by his wife and two daughters. He died of apoplexy in 1852.

Vice-Admiral Robert Plampin (1762– 1834). A member of the Suffolk squirearchy, he was born at Chadacre Hall near Bury St Edmunds. (2)

He reminds me of one of those drunken little Dutch schippers that I have seen in Holland, sitting at a table with a pipe in his mouth, a cheese and a bottle of geneva before him. - Napoleon

Admiral Plampin is a timid man, whose one wish is to live in peace and meddle with nothing. He has seen Bonaparte once, and made no impression upon him. Count Balmain

The son of a naval officer, he had joined the navy at the age of 13, and rose steadily through the ranks. He had spent time in France and was admired in the navy for his language skills. He was survived by his wife Fanny, who died in 1864.

Plampin was also on H.M.S. Conqueror, going out to replace Sir Pulteney Malcolm as commander of the naval forces stationed on St Helena. Malcolm, who had had a cordial relationship with Napoleon, had already clashed with Hudson Lowe.

The Late Arrival on H.M.S. Conqueror

After the ship left Portsmouth it stopped off the Isle of Wight to pick up a lady. A most unorthodox procedure!

As soon as the Admiral landed on St Helena he went to Plantation House leaving his "wife" on board ship. He then installed her at the Briars. She was never received by Lady Lowe and the "court" at Plantation House.

According to rumours, which were always plentiful on St Helena, the lady did not restrict her favours to those of the rank of Admiral. The upright were scandalised, and from the pulpit the Rev Boys condemned the behaviour and its condonement. There was talk that she would be sent back to England, and that the Admiral would doubtless soon follow in disgrace.

This however, did not happen. The lady remained, the Admiral served out his three year posting, the Rev Boys shut up, and Hudson Lowe had a very compliant Admiral to deal with. As he reported to Bathurst:
Admiral Plampin seems to have decided to attempt no interference whatever. If he took any steps, it would be in order to assist me. (3)

With Plampin's acquiescence Lowe set about isolating the inhabitants of Longwood, and in particular discontinuing Sir Pulteney Malcolm's practice of taking newly appointed officers to meet Napoleon.

For Stokoe this was to prove a very sad end to his career. He met Napoleon only five times, but in doing so incurred the enmity of Hudson Lowe and the obsequious Plampin, and was finally court martialled and dismissed from the Navy.

Dr Stokoe and Napoleon: "They will only believe he is ill when they find him dead on his bed"

Stokoe's first meeting with Napoleon came when he was introduced during a visit to O'Meara in the autumn of 1817. They got on well, and Napoleon even offered to assist him in winning the hand of William Balcombe's eldest daughter - which according to another St Helena rumour was his desire!

The next day Stokoe reported the visit to the Admiral, who told him that he ought to have refused to speak to Napoleon, and that it was not necessary to be "polite to the General". (4) He then issued an order forbidding any naval officer speaking to Napoleon without the Admiral's prior consent.

Aware of the problems for any doctor attending Napoleon in the climate of suspicion and fear that existed on St Helena, Stokoe turned down a request to give a second opinion on Napoleon's health in July 1818. This also appeared to meet the Admiral's disapproval. He further incurred the wrath of Hudson Lowe by refusing to sign a letter indicating that the refusal was because of his lack of confidence in Dr O'Meara.

Then there was the awkward case of the letters destined for O'Meara but sent to Stokoe in an attempt to avoid their being intercepted by Plantation House. This was William Balcombe's suggestion, and Stokoe had no foreknowledge of it, but obviously it did him no good. To be considered a friend of O'Meara, who had by the time the letters arrived been forced off the island by Hudson Lowe, was an unfortunate position for anyone to be in on St Helena. One letter from Balcombe to Stokoe was opened in the presence of the Admiral: Be so good as to hand the enclosed to our friend O'Meara. I find that he has many partisans here, and I hope the B-g-rs will soon be turned out." (5)

O'Meara's removal left Napoleon without a doctor. He was unwilling to consult Dr Verling who he saw as the tool of Hudson Lowe. So when Napoleon was taken ill in January 1819, Bertrand called for Stokoe.

Over a period of five days Stokoe saw Napoleon four times, and in the eyes of Hudson Lowe committed a number of cardinal sins: discussing non-medical matters with the occupants of Longwood House, using the term "patient" rather than "General Bonaparte" in a bulletin on Napoleon's health, communicating in writing with the occupants of Longwood by giving them the said bulletin, suggesting that Napoleon was suffering from "chronic hepatitis" and making such comments as I do not apprehend any immediate danger, although it must be presumed that in a climate where the above disease is so prevalent it will eventually shorten his life. (7) Worse, in one report he wrote, the more alarming symptom is that which was experienced on the night of the 16th, a recurrence of which may soon prove fatal, particularly if medical assistance is not at hand.

Told that he was to be court martialled, Stokoe applied for sick leave and said he would leave his station. Arriving in England on April 14th 1819 he was given a second medical and then ordered back to St Helena. So, soon after arrival in England he set out again, under the impression that he would resume his old post or even be Napoleon's doctor. 124 days after leaving he arrived back at St Helena and rejoined H.M.S. Conqueror. The next day he was informed that he was to be court martialled. It is hard to imagine how he must have felt.

There were 10 charges against him. The final one gives the flavour of the proceedings:
For having in the whole of his conduct in the aforesaid transactions evinced a disposition to thwart the intentions and regulations of the Rear-Admiral, and to further the views of the said French prisoners in furnishing them with false or colourable pretences for complaint, contrary to the respect he owed to his superior officers, and to his own duty as an officer in His Majesty's Royal Navy.
The result was a foregone conclusion. Nobody would conduct his defense, and no witnesses appeared for him. Having no idea that he was going to face legal action he had left all his papers in England. He had little time to prepare his case, whilst his accusers, Lowe and Plampin, had had several months to do so.

So Stokoe left the service, but was awarded a pension of £100 a year. All his attempts to clear his name subsequently failed. He did however receive the following letter in October 1842 from Sir George Cockburn,
I have always considered the errors attributed to Dr O'Meara and you to have proceeded from your having been placed in so trying and difficult a position, rather than from any real intention on your parts to oppose and counteract the orders and intentions of the Government and of your commanding officers.
which is as near as you will get to an admission from the Admiralty that he was treated harshly and unfairly.

The Bonaparte family did however, show their appreciation of the efforts of Stokoe to attend to Napoleon and their awareness of how his livelihood had been affected. Soon after returning from St Helena he was hired on a number of occasions by Joseph Napoleon to escort his young daughters on sea voyages between Europe and America.
1. With Napoleon at St Helena: Being the Memoirs of Dr. John Stokoe, Naval Surgeon. Translated from the French of Paul Frémaux by Edith S. Stokoe (London & New York MDCCCII) p. 10
2. Chadacre Hall was not far from Troston Hall, the home of that great supporter of Napoleon, Capel Lofft. Curiously they both died in Italy, Capel Lofft in voluntary exile from a society he considered repressive, Plampin on holiday in Florence.
3. Frémaux p. 59
4. The admiral's lady asked Stokoe what he thought of Napoleon. He said that his opinion had completely changed since meeting him. She said that he must be an extraordinary man because almost every stranger that met him came away with the same impression. Frémaux p. 60
5. Frémaux p. 78

Thursday, 7 October 2010

St Helena and Napoleon's Bicentenary : Let's Just Do It

I have always given a link to the Friends of St Helena's website on this blog, but until recently have never actually got round to filling in the membership forms.

I don't know why it has taken so long. I could claim that it is because all its events are held in the south of England. Apart from occasionally passing through en route to far away places, I can only recall visiting London twice in 20 years!

That is probably just an excuse though.

Anyway, prompted by a certain French man who I believe has never himself visited St Helena, I have now joined.

What is more I have buried my prejudices, or some of them at least, and I hope to be in London on 16th October for the Friends' meeting on "Napoleon and His Time on St Helena 1815-1821."

Amongst the information sent by the Friends is the booklet "Let's Just Do It", produced by Hazel Wilmot, who is I believe the new owner of the Consulate Hotel in Jamestown.

What an interesting read. Written in 2021, it looks back on St Helena's development since 2010. You may have to read that twice!

In 2021 the new Bicentennial Airport is being opened on Prosperous Bay Plain. Apparently there has in the meantime been the development of a small daytime airfield at Horse Pasture, which was opened in 2011 or maybe 2012, and gave Saints quick access to medical facilities in South Africa. This airport is now far too small, hence the building of the new one. Among the many other developments have been the lifting of previous restrictions on immigration, a rise in population to 6000, the development of two new retirement villages, the relocation of a number of banks from the politically less stable African continent and so on.

I was interested to see the pride of place given to Napoleon in the opening passage.

Liverpool has its John Lennon Airport, so why should St Helena not have one associated with the captivity and death of its most famous resident? I would not hold my breath over that one!

Certainly the work of preserving and developing the Napoleonic sites has at best been peripheral to the concerns of Government and most Saints.

Hazel Wilmot however, perhaps because she is a newcomer as well as an astute business woman, seems to have instantly grasped the significance of the Napoleonic heritage for the future of St Helena.

It will be interesting to look back in 2021 and see what has actually been achieved.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Georges Lefebvre: Napoleon was more than anything else a temperament

Georges Lefebre, Napoleon (3rd edition, 1947)
originally published in 1935
first translated into English in the late 1960's.

It is some time since I mentioned that I had received my Folio Society edition of George Lefebvre's masterly study of Napoleon.

I have now had time to read and reflect on it. It is almost 600 pages long, and not a book for the casual reader. As indicated previously, it is not strictly a biography but a study of France under Napoleon's leadership from 1799 until 1815.

As one would expect of a founder member of the Annales School, Lefebvre places Napoleon's career in an historical context: the clash of social classes; the fear of and reaction against the revolution by the established order; the waning of democracy in the French revolution and the ascendancy of the bourgeoisie; the development of industrial capitalism; rationalism and challenges to the authority of the Catholic church; romanticism and the awakening of nationalism; the expansion of French territory; the challenge to England's naval supremacy; the struggle for European hegemony and empire.

Lefebvre sees the emergence of autocratic rule by an army general as no accident; it was driven there by inner necessity. As for Napoleon himself, he was a man whose temperament, even more than his genius, was unable to adapt to peace and moderation. (1)

Within the wider context Napoleon was seen by the ruling order as an upstart:
in the eyes of Wellington and other noble lords Napoleon was never anything else but 'Bony', and the king of Rome was his bastard. The kings too were full of the same haughty pride. Deep down in their hearts they could not admit the legitimacy of a man who had unceremoniously unseated so many of royal line. (2)
So, somewhat paradoxically given his counter revolutionary role in France, whatever Napoleon might do: in the eyes of Europe, he was still the soldier of the Revolution.

England, although it had a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary system was not much different; its rulers shared the fear of and hostility towards the ideas of 1789 with the rulers of the absolute monarchies on the continent.
England remained antiquated, encumbered by sinecures and inclined to corruption. .. England's ruling oligarchy did not abound in talent, but it regarded the nation as its patrimony and defended it with tenacity and discipline. .. England began to impress sailors and recruit soldiers for the war effort, both drawn from the poorer classes of society. These men were led by volunteers from the aristocracy, who purchased their commissions.(3)

Napoleon the Man

Overall the book is highly critical of Napoleon, but the most fascinating part perhaps is the short section in which Lefebvre reflects on Napoleon's character. Only 5 or so pages in length, this part was closely analysed by Pieter Geyl in his classic study of French historians and Napoleon. (4) Not for Lefebvre the trite amateur psychology and the facile and ahistorical analogies so beloved of many who now write about Napoleon.

For Lefebvre, Napoleon was the last and most illustrious enlightened despot a man steeped in the classics, and above all a man of great complexity: his personality evolved in so singular a manner that it defies portrayal, and Beneath the soldier's uniform, however, there dwelled in him several personalities, and it is this diversity, as much as the variety and brilliance of his gifts which makes him so fascinating.

- he longed to equal the semi-legendary heroes of Plutarch and Corneille. His greatest ambition was glory.
- His eyes were fixed on the world's great leaders: Alexander, Caesar, Augustus, Charlemagne ..
- He was an artist, a poet of action, for whom France and mankind were but instruments.
- a passionate desire to know and understand everything.
- an over-tender care for his family
- a certain pleasure in stepping on those who had once snubbed him
- a taste for ostentatious splendour
- natural propensity for dictatorship
- pride in himself and contempt for others
- he could have become a man of letters
- Having entered into a life of action, he still remained a thinker
- The warrior was never happier than in the silence of his own study, surrounded by papers and documents
- A typical man of the eighteenth century, a rationalist a philosophe
- firm and strong intellect
- romantic melancholia
- the ability to stand off from himself and take a detached look at his own life, and to reflect wistfully on his fate
- something of the uprooted person remained in him, something of the declassé as well
- neither entirely a gentleman, nor entirely common (5)

Then in the famous passage quoted extensively by Geyl:
His mind was one of the most perfect that has ever been: his unflagging attention tirelessly swept in facts and ideas which his memory registered and classified; his imagination played with them freely, and being in a permanent state of concealed tension, it never wearied of inventing political and strategic motifs which manifested themselves in unexpected flashes of intuition like those experienced by poets and mathematicians. .. He rendered a fair account of himself when he said, 'I consider myself a good man at heart,' and indeed he showed generosity, and even kindness to those who were close to him. .. He knew himself well: ' It is said that I am an ambitious man but that is not so; or at least my ambition is so closely bound to my being that they are both one and the same.' How very true! Napoleon was more than anything else a temperament. (6)

1. Georges Lefebvre, Napoleon , London, The Folio Society 2009, p. 57.
2. Lefebvre p. 493
3. Lefebvre p.31
4. Pieter Geyl, Napoleon For and Against first published in English in 1949.
5. Lefebvre pp 59-64
6 Lefebvre p. 60

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Artist of St Helena

Interesting that two of the bloggers that I follow regularly, Michel and Carmi, are talented artists. Michel apparently had not taken up a paint brush for two years until his recent painting of the St Helena Ebony. What a fine talent. I hope that it will not be another two years before he takes up the paint brush again.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Napoleon Fridge Magnet: Thankyou Carmi

Not many bloggers hand out free gifts to their readers, but Carmi (My Napoleon Obsession) is an exception. I have just received this fridge magnet from her, in a suitably decorated envelope.

Wonder what our Korean postman made of that?
Anyway thanks again Carmi.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

L'Autre St Hélène

I posted an initial comment on this book in a post on 25th May.

I have now had the time to read it - the first French book I have read for longer than I care to remember. A detailed account, some 400 pages long, it is nevertheless a thoroughly enjoyable read. Despite frequent recourse to a French dictionary, I found it difficult to put down once I had started. It has given me a number of ideas for topics I wish to pursue, and I shall doubtless refer to it frequently in the future.

As the title suggests, the focus is on Napoleon's health and the medical treatment he received whilst on St Helena. In here is the story of all the doctors associated with the captivity. Some fell foul of the authorities, some never actually got to see Napoleon, some were incompetent, and some were perhaps afraid to tell Sir Hudson Lowe anything he did not want to hear. The book also throws an interesting light on the relations between Napoleon's fellow exiles at Longwood, and helps to re-establish the reputation of Montholon. The feelings of the patient himself are not a prime concern of the book, but in one telling passage the author draws on the evidence of Santini, one of the domestic servants at Longwood, who claimed that neither the loss of his throne nor his exile hurt Napoleon as much as the betrayal of Marie-Louise, the wife and mother of the child whom he was never to see after 1814. As for the hapless Sir Hudson Lowe, this book only confirms his unsuitability for the appointment he was given.

The author, a native French speaker who is based in England, is uniquely placed to be able to use both English and French sources. I cannot recall any previous history of the captivity which is so firmly grounded in both French and British archival material. The author has also drawn on a large number of French printed sources which are sometimes not easily accessible outside France.

With an impressive bibliography, footnotes on each page, and a large number of quotations from original sources, it lacks only an index. Despite the scholarly apparatus, it is very accessible to the general reader.

In conclusion, this is a significant, scholarly, yet highly accessible book which deserves to be read by anyone interested in the captivity of Napoleon.

I eagerly await its publication in English.

( Albert Benhamou L'autre Sainte-Hélène: La Captivité, La Maladie, La Mort, Et Les Médecins Autour De Napoléon Albert Benhamou Publishing, 2010. ISBN 978-0-9564654-0-5)

Friday, 20 August 2010

Sir Walter Scott's Life of Napoleon

Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet (1771 – 1832)

Novelist, poet and author of the first major life of Napoleon - and the first to be allowed to consult the Hudson Lowe Papers, which have since become a staple of historians of the captivity.

Sir Walter also visited Paris and interviewed Napoleon's colleagues.

The Duke of Wellington assisted him with his account of the Russian campaign.

The artist J.M.W. Turner also produced some illustrations.

The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte finally appeared in 1827 - in no fewer than 9 volumes.

Few would now regard Scott's work as an important source for the life of Napoleon, but it represented a milestone in the development of British attitudes. Here for the first time, only six years after his death but more importantly over a decade after his final battle, we have a Napoleon who is neither romantic hero nor total villain.

This balanced approach - "on the one hand .. on the other hand .." - and the search for the Aristotelian golden mean was once a mainstay of much British historiography and public discourse. It still holds true of the BBC but definitely not the tabloid press!
In practice, his government was brilliant abroad, and, with few exceptions, liberal and moderate at home
but the execution of the Duc d'Enghien showed the vindictive spirit of a savage, and
If, instead of asserting that he never committed a crime, he had limited his self-eulogy to asserting, that in attaining and wielding supreme power, he had resisted the temptation to commit many, he could not have been contradicted. And this is no small praise.

Thus although ultimately very critical of Napoleon, and a defense of the British Government in its long struggle against him and the French Revolution, The Life .. was nevertheless far more balanced than some Whigs had expected, and certainly far too even handed for many Tories, for whom Napoleon would always remain the "Corsican Ogre".

It also upset Sir Hudson Lowe, whose esteem was at a level befitting his name, and still vainly sought the colonial governorship which he felt he had been promised and certainly deserved. He could not however find anything in The Life .. that would give him any chance of a successful court case.

Gaspard Gourgaud was also displeased about his treatment.

His former colleagues on St Helena buried their once considerable differences and came to his defence.

Excitable as ever, Gourgaud was all for challenging Scott to a duel, but the latter's location in Edinburgh made that rather impractical.

Napoleon's brother, Louis Bonaparte was also displeased and wrote a defense of his brother.

My focus has been on volume 9, dealing with Napoleon's fall and the captivity.

Clearly whilst trying to maintain a balanced view, Scott was keen to defend the British Government against the criticisms that had been levelled against it for the treatment of Napoleon. This presumably is why he had been given access to the public records.

General Napoleon or The Emperor?

On this, one of the main controversies of the captivity which was taken to ridiculous lengths by Hudson Lowe, Scott defended the Government:
.. there could be no reason why Britain, in compassionate courtesy, should give to her prisoner a title which she had refused to him de jure, even while he wielded the empire de facto ;

This legalistic justification was rather spoiled by the suggestion that Napoleon's refusal to answer to the title General Buonaparte was indicative of his backround:
not the feelings of a man of conscious dignity of mind, but of an upstart, who conceives the honour of preferment not to consist in having enjoyed, or in still possessing, a high situation, gained by superiority of talents, so much as in wearing the robes, or listening to the sounding titles, which are attached to it.

Scott was not the first nor last Englishmen to criticise Napoleon for not being a gentleman! Indeed few of England's enemies and perhaps even its allies have been considered as such by the rulers of Perfidious Albion! (1)

Longwood or Plantation House?

Scott was however, critical of the British Government's choice of Longwood rather than Plantation House
for the residence of the late Imperial captive. We differ from their opinion in this particular, because the very best accommodation was due to fallen greatness; and, in his circumstances, Napoleon, with every respect to the authority of the governor, ought to have been the last person on the island subjected to inconvenience.

But even here and somewhat disingenuously he tempered his criticism of the British Government by claiming that it was all Napoleon's fault. The British Government would have come round to this view anyway,
but for the disposition of the late French Emperor and his followers to use every point of deference, or complaisance, exercised towards them, as an argument for pushing their pretensions farther.

Further in the Government's defense Scott noted that
Some circumstances about the locality, it is believed, had excited doubts about whether the house could be completely guarded.

Then, in an ironic swipe at Napoleon, he observed that Longwood
was approved of by Napoleon, who visited it personally, and expressed himself so much satisfied, that it was difficult to prevail on him to leave the place.

Longwood when completed, was nevertheless
far inferior in accommodation to that which every Englishman would have desired that the distinguished prisoner should have enjoyed whilst in English custody.

But again he could not prevent himself from suggesting that Napoleon might have been worse treated. Whilst the completed Longwood was
a strange contrast with the palaces which Napoleon had lately inhabited .. it was preferable, in the same proportion, to the Tower of the Temple, and the dungeons of Vincennes.

He also pointed out that in his efforts to make Longwood ready for Napoleon, Admiral Cockburn frequently arrived on site very early in the morning. This was apparently necessary to stimulate the St Helena workmen, who, in general are lazy and indolent ..

Sir Hudson Lowe and Napoleon

Scott's judgement on Hudson Lowe was carefully couched so as to prevent any legal redress:
it would require a strong defence on the part of Sir Hudson Lowe himself .. to induce us to consider him as the very rare and highly exalted species of character, to whom, as we have already stated, this important charge ought to have been intrusted.

He also noted that Lowe revealed traces of a warm and irritable temper when he ought, if possible, to have remained cool and unruffled and that his over anxiety led to frequent changes of his regulations, and to the adoption of measures which were afterwards abandoned, and perhaps again resumed. Napoleon himself was of course not spared of blame for the feud with Hudson Lowe. He
became the prey of petty spleen which racked him also to frenzy, and induced him to hazard his health, or perhaps even to throw away his life, rather than submit with dignified patience to that which his misfortunes had rendered unavoidable.
In discussing the fear that Napoleon would escape, which clearly haunted Lowe, Scott interestingly mentioned the Government's concern about the state of England and in particular the discontent and sufferings of the manufacturing districts as well as the revolutionary spirit in Italy and the doubtful state of France.

Scott's Judgement on Napoleon's Character and Achievements

Napoleon was, said Scott, decidedly amiable but his temper, when he received, or thought he received, provocation .. was warm and vindictive, no one was a more liberal rewarder of his friends. He was an excellent husband, a kind relation, and, unless when state policy intervened, a most affectionate brother.
There was gentleness, and even softness, in his character. He was affected when he rode over the fields of battle, which his ambition had strewed with the dead and dying, and seemed not only desirous to relieve the victims .. showed himself subject to the influence of that more acute and imaginative species of sympathy which is termed sensibility.
He gave France regular government, schools, institutions, courts of justice, and a court of laws. In Italy, his rule was equally splendid and beneficial, and he was commended for his opening a full career to talent of every kind. To balance this there were the usual negative comments: he destroyed public liberty and freedom of press, built new prisons and established a police force responsible to him.
And finally the book concluded,
In closing the life of NAPOLEON BUONAPARTE, we are called upon to observe, that he was a man tried in the two extremities, of the most exalted power and the most ineffable calamity; and if he occasionally appeared presumptuous when supported by the armed forces of half a world, or unreasonably querulous when imprisoned within the narrow limits of St Helena, it is scarcely within the capacity of those whose steps have never led them beyond the middle path of life, to estimate either the strength of the temptations to which he yielded, or the force of mind which he opposed to those he was able to resist.

1. Scott was of course not an Englishman, but a Scottish Tory. Unlike modern Scots, but like many Englishmen, he did not appear uncomfortable in using the term English as being synonymous with British.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Future of St Helena: A Wedding destination?

An interesting day for the Napoleonic blogs.

Carmi has unearthed a wonderful cartoon of Napoleon on the front page of a 1949 Men Only Magazine - a real gem. Quite how the cartoon relates to the content of that particular edition of the magazine is unclear.

Then Michel reports a recent wedding at Longwood House,well a renewal of vows actually, and in the Montholon Apartment, not the Imperial Suite.

The happy couple were expatriates currently working with the island police. After the short ceremony there were photos on the lawn in front of the famous entrance.

Longwood has over the years witnessed births and deaths and other dramatic events - but as far as I know never a wedding ceremony.

I could not help wondering what Napoleon would have made of all this.

Perhaps this will be the future of St Helena and of Longwood House - an exotic wedding destination.

Once St Helena gets its airport then the Mediterranean, Africa, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean and Las Vegas will have a new more exotic and probably more expensive rival.

I can see it now: horses and carriages, men dressed in uniforms of the Grande Armée, and maybe even photos in Longwood House with a Napoleon look alike, for a supplementary fee of course.

Certainly beats a photo with a Sri Lankan elephant.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Orange Grove/Miss Mason's/Teutonic Hall

I have for some time been fascinated by this once fine house.

Apparently Hudson Lowe toyed with the idea of renting what was then known as Orange Grove for Napoleon for £100 a month.

How many houses did that tortured man consider I wonder? I refer of course to Hudson Lowe not Napoleon.

In Napoleon's time it was the home of the wealthy Miss Polly Mason, about whom I have discovered little, except that she apparently used to ride an ox, and always bowed effusively whenever she saw Napoleon.

There were the inevitable rumours about a romantic liaison - but St Helena has never been short of rumours - or romantic liaisons for that matter!

My understanding was that Miss Mason was still alive and greeted the French party when they returned in 1840 for the exhumation of Napoleon's body, but I may be wrong.

Anyway at some point the house was sold to Georg Wilhem Janisch, originally of Hamburg, and it was renamed Teutonic Hall.

The Janisch Family and Teutonic Hall

Janisch came out to St Helena as a clerk to Denzil Ibbetson. He was underemployed with Ibbetson, so Lowe took him on as personal secretary. They seemed to have a high mutual regard for each other, and Janisch later gave the name Hudson to his son.

Janisch fell in love with Ann Mira Seale, the daughter of Major William Seale. He decided to stay on when Lowe left in 1821. He married Ann Mira in 1823 and a son was duly born in 1824/1825.

The son, Hudson Ralph Janisch, became Governor of St Helena in 1874, in which office he remained until his death in March 1884 at the age of 59. He remains the only person born on the island to have served as Governor.

After Hudson's death his widow Eleanor, herself a daughter of the well established Pritchard family, moved to the Cape, which seems to have attracted a number of old St Helena families as the island went into economic decline.

The Janisch family were instrumental in helping to establish the Baptist faith on the island. Apparently the first ever Baptist sermon was delivered in July 1845 in the parlour of Georg William Janisch's widow. Was that Teutonic Hall I wonder, or their house in Jamestown?

Teutonic Hall is a listed building, but is now little more than a shell.

Its current perilous state was described in Michel's blog in November 2008.

Contrary to Michel's blog, I am pretty certain that Mason's Stock house was a different building, although presumably part of the estate.

The completion of the airport will doubtless lead to a big demand for property on the most pleasant parts of the island. One can imagine that St Helena will be seen by the wealthy as an safe and attractive domicile, secure from the uncertainties of the African continent.

I am sure I am not the first to realise that the value of this site, situated in a beautiful lush valley, will greatly appreciate in the future. Let us hope that something is done for the house that currently stands there before it is too late.

As the comment by Michel makes clear, there is a major error in this post. Orange Grove and Teutonic Hall were not the same building. Teutonic Hall was previously known as Mason's Stock House; so presumably Miss Mason did indeed still live in Orange Grove, which is closer to Hutts Gate. As far as I recall it was at Hutts Gate that she greeted members of the French party in 1840. It is also likely that the house Hudson Lowe considered, among others, renting from Miss Mason for Napoleon, was Orange Grove rather than the house now known as Teutonic Hall.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

So St Helena will get its Airport - thanks to the "Brokeback Coalition"

So at long last, despite all the cuts that the new Coalition Government has announced, St Helena will get its airport.

The Government thinks that it can reduce costs by shortening the runway - using an engineered material arresting system (EMAS).

The aim is that St Helena will develop a self sustaining economy. Among the conditions which the Government has attached is that
the St Helena Government undertake to implement the reforms needed to open the island's economy to inward investment and increased tourism
Not sure what that means, but fear that the devil will be in the detail.

Clearly it has pleased many on the island.

The Governor and the Honorary French Consul seem to be delighted!

There will of course be some who are not so pleased - there has always been a vocal minority who opposed an airport, and wanted a replacement for the R.M.S. St Helena. It will be interesting to see how the issue of freight will be resolved when the R.M.S. is decommisioned.

Personally, although I can see the advantages of an airport, particularly as regards access to medical treatment, I am a little apprehensive.

The high profile involvement of the billionaire Conservative party donor Lord Ashcroft - embittered coiner of the homophobic term "brokeback" to describe the relationship between the leaders of the UK Coalition Government - leaves me with a few nagging doubts about the future of St Helena.

I couldn't help noticing the following in the Governor's statement about the decision:
There will be many attractive jobs - being an air traffic controller is very lucrative. It is an international job with a salary of over £100,000. The training has been said to take 5 years – so school leavers should be thinking about that kind of thing right now.

At the risk of pouring cold water on people's hopes for the future, I should point out that there may be some senior highly skilled and experienced air traffic controllers at Heathrow and a few other major airports in the UK earning such large salaries, but we are talking here about a small airstrip on a small island which in the future will have to pay its way without handouts from the British Government. A dose of realism is I think called for.

I hope I am wrong. St Helena is a very special place, and the Saints are lovely people who deserve a break. I would be dishonest though if I did not express my fear that the ordinary people of St Helena will not benefit from this development.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Napoleon and the Swedish Royal Family: Interesting post on "My Napoleon Obsession"

Carmi on "My Napoleon Obsession" writes a delightful blog. All her posts are brief and visually attractive.

The latest Stunning Cameo Tiara, is about the tiara recently worn by the Swedish Crown Princess Victoria at her wedding.

This tiara has been in the Swedish Royal family since the early nineteenth century.

It was apparently originally given by Napoleon to the Empress Joséphine, and passed into the hands of her grandaughter, Josephine of Leuchtenberg (Joséphine Maximilienne Eugénie Napoléone,1807– 1876). (1)

In 1823 Joséphine and her jewelry came to Sweden when she married Joseph François Oscar Bernadotte (1799-1859), who also happened to be Napoleon's godson. In 1844, on the death of his father Jean Bernadotte, Joseph became Oscar I of Sweden and Norway.

Jean Bernadotte (Charles XIV of Sweden and from 1818 Carl III Johan of Norway ), had of course been one of Napoleon's marshalls.

Bernadotte's wife and Joseph's mother was none other than Desirée Clary, Napoleon's first love to whom he had at one point been engaged.

Desirée's sister married Napoleon's brother, Joseph Bonaparte.

What a complicated set of relationships!

When Joséphine arrived in Sweden in 1823 the name Napoléone was removed, but the Swedes kept the jewels! If ever they wished to sell them I think they would fetch a tidy sum.

It always amazes me how the European Royal Families all seem connected either to Queen Victoria and/or the Empress Josephine.

Anyway thanks to Carmi for another interesting post.
1. Her father was Eugène de Beauharnais, The Empress's son by her first marriage. Her mother was Princess Augusta of Bavaria. Through her mother Joséphine was also a descendant of Gustav I of Sweden, Charles IX of Sweden and of Christian II of Denmark.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Another Organized Trip to St Helena on the R.M.S.

Following news of the success of the guided tour of the Napoleonic cultural sites in October this year comes news of another organised tour.

This one, under the auspices of the Napoleonic Society, will take place from 30th May until 19th June 2011.

The guide will be Michel Martineau, known on the island as "The Frenchman". Michel has devoted twenty years or so to the restoration and safeguarding of the French properties, to improving collaboration with the British authorities and, if the truth be told, to doing what he can to improve the life of the people of St Helena. He will be an admirable guide.

Further information is available on the web site of the French Society of Napoleonic History and supplementary information is available on Michel's blog of 30th June.

Visitors will stay on board the R.M.S. St Helena each night.

Apart from the usual tours of Longwood House, the Briars, the Valley of the Tomb and Plantation House, visitors will also be taken to places such as Longwood Plateau, Fisher's Valley (Valley of the Nymph), Orange Grove, Maldivia and Sandy Bay, all of which were part of the fascinating history of the captivity of Napoleon.

The group will also dine at Longwood House, get the chance to meet all the local dignitaries at a cocktail party there, and will even be invited to dine with the Frenchman in his impressive house - situated away from the incessant rain and wind of Longwood where Michel spent more years than Napoleon!

I am sure the trip will be a great success, and will be oversubscribed.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Napoleon Memorabilia Auctioned - and a new myth created

The auction of the Ibbetson collection in New Zealand has now taken place, with interest from all around the world.

The lock of hair sold for £8600, to an anonymous collector in London. The diary went for £4400.

The item which raised the most was this lithograph of Napoleon on his death bed, which sold for over £9000.

The best news though is that the sketch of Longwood House has been bought by someone from Paris, who is returning it to St Helena, presumably to Longwood House.

I have seen no reports as to what happened to the St Helena theatre play bills - they have no Napoleonic connections and are therefore not very newsworthy. I would be interested to hear what they made and where they have gone.

The Deluded Emperor: The Making of a Myth

Probably the most important result of this auction has been the creation of a new major myth about Napoleon. It is no longer possible to blame this simply on chauvinism in British tabloids, as I did in my earlier post on the subject.

The BBC in its report said that Napoleon still spoke of invading Britain despite his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo .

ABC News, Australia reported that Ibbetson's diary, which sold for $7,800, described conversations with Napoleon, who still harboured ambitions of invading Britain despite his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

CBS has ventured even further into the absurd:
Ibbetson's diary, which detailed conversations with Napoleon, who, after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, still planned to take over the world from his little island domain .

Seriously. Anybody who has read any of the millions of words of evidence about Napoleon on St Helena would not entertain this idea for a nanosecond.

This myth will probably endure for many many years - and there appears to be nothing which distinguished scholars, admirers of Napoleon, or those who simply seek the truth can do about it.

I find it very depressing. How long before it appears on Wikipedia as a fact?

Friday, 25 June 2010

Generals Quarters at Longwood and other St Helena News

I have just been catching up on recent issues of the St. Helena Independent.

As usual the paper gives a downbeat view of life on the island, which I fear is an all too accurate representation of reality.

The last few issues have been dominated by the distressingl circumstances surrounding the birth of a still born child in the hospital - which according to the Bishop has resulted in a lack of confidence in the medical facilities on the island.

On a brighter note I was pleased to read that the cultural voyage to St Helena, "In the Footsteps of Napoleon" , which I wrote about last October, has attracted a lot of interest. According to Alistair McLean, Marketing Executive of R.M.S. St Helena, 34 packages have been sold, and they have had to turn away further enquiries because of the lack of suitable accommodation on the island. Alistair thinks it will be one of the biggest such parties to arrive on the island. Further trips are likely to take place in 2011 and 2012.

It was also interesting to read a presentation made by the French Honorary Consul, Michel Martineau, to Legislators and Senior Government Officials. The main points are listed below.

The French Government is responsible for the maintenance of the French properties; the St Helena Government is now responsible for Fire and Burglary security of Longwood House and for ensuring the properties are accessible to public.

Permission has been secured from the French Government to restore the Generals Quarters at Longwood House. (photo above). These quarters had previously been rebuilt in the 1930's, but because of poor quality materials and the harsh weather conditions at Longwood they have deteriorated badly. The project will cost 800,000 Euros. Happily the main construction work will be undertaken by a local builder, with specialist assistance as needed from France. A campaign to raise sponsorship for this project will begin in the autumn. The project is expected to take three years.

In 2016 some 80 pieces of furniture associated with Napoleon's captivity will temporarily be removed from St Helena to be exhibited in Paris alongside other Napoleon artefacts. The furniture will be expertly restored before the exhibition, and will be returned in perfect condition to St Helena.

Visitors to St Helena beware - Longwood is going to be rather empty in 2016!

Thursday, 24 June 2010

British Admirers of Napoleon

Have been reading Michel Martineau's latest blog. He has taken up one of the major themes I have pursued on these pages.

He quotes an article from the Magazie Marianne in 1999 which discussed the surprising interest in Napoleon in Britain and its former Empire.

The magazine contrasted this with the relative lack of interest in the victors of Waterloo: Wellington and Blucher.

There are many pubs in England named after Wellington, although he is I think less well known than Nelson, and was hated by a section of the country in his own lifetime.

For those who can stand back and put aside national prejudice, there really is no contest. Napoleon and Wellington were not on the same level.

Napoleon overshadowed all his contemporaries. I don't think there is anything else that needs to be said on the matter, although that does not prevent the British press and many historians from continually presenting a very biased view of him.

The article also mentions a number of non-British admirers of Napolon: Bill Gates, Newt Gingrich, Stanley Kubrick and General Pinochet. That list, particularly the last name, leaves me for once somewhat lost for words - except to say that I believe Mrs Thatcher quite liked him - Pinochet that is!

The picture of the then Queen and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret visiting Longwood in 1947 is reproduced with Michel's permission. I have referred to that visit and to the Royal family's criticism of the poor state of Longwood in previous postings.