Monday, 22 February 2010

Spithead 1821: The Disembarkation of Napoleon's Suite from the not so good ship Camel

I wrote two years ago about our experiences when disembarking from the R.M.S. St Helena at Cape Town. It was probably the most frustrating and least enjoyable part of our trip.

I have now read a little about the experience of the Bertrands and the rest of Napoleon's suite in 1821, and will complain no more.

The store ship Camel left St Helena on 27th May and arrived at Spithead with 21 of Napoleon's party late on Tuesday 31st July.

The party were reported to be in "deep mourning." It was also reported that Countess Bertrand had brought home some slips of the willow under which Buonaparte was buried , and these were growing in pots.(1)

Permission to land was eventually received from Lord Bathurst on Friday 3rd, and they duly landed at noon. They were treated "according to the provisions of the Alien Act." (2)

Whilst waiting on board ship for permission to land they were doubtless cheered by the fact that the King, passing the Camel in his yacht, sent Sir Wm Keppell, and others of his suite on board to enquire after the health of Madame Bertrand and family, as also the health of others, the attendants of Napoleon.

They were also visited by the Captain Ross of the Northumberland who had taken them to St Helena in 1815, and by R. Glover, who had also sailed out with them as Secretary to Admiral Cockburn. (3)

Somebody who saw them on board gave private information to the Manchester Guardian. Most attention was on the Bertrand family, and it was noted that Countess Bertrand is descended from the Irish Dillon family, and indeed is scarcely to be considered as an alien. The children, Hortense, Napoleon and Henry were much admired, but most notice was taken of Arthur, who it was reported was born on St Helena.
He has such a face as Guido would give to a princely child. His eyes are dark and large, and his dark brown hair flows in abundance upon his shoulders. .. He speaks English with an accent entirely insular, and there is about him much of that independent little bluster which is seen in young English children. He understands French, but he will not speak it; he does not like it.

Arthur of course was a favourite of Napoleon. We have also come across him before, in later years, in connection with Mademoiselle Rachel.

They were taken ashore on Admiral Sir James Hawkins Whitshed's twelve-oared barge - and were greeted by Sir James and his wife, Lady Gordon, Lady Bryce, Sir George Cooke, Major Harris, and Mr and Mrs Glover and doubtless others too numerous to mention. The Bertrands' children were apparently very uneasy at the immense multitude of people who were assembled to witness their arrival.

The Bertrands and Montholon dined with Sir James and Lady Hawkins at the Admiralty House on August 3rd, and on the next day with Sir George Cooke at the Lieutenant Governor's House. Then they departed for London.

The week the party arrived in England The Times was carrying an advert for a performance at the Royal Coburg Theatre of a new grand Romantic Pantomime Spectacle, entitled Napoleon Buonaparte General, Consul, and Emperor. (4)

Events in France

The same week it was reported that a petition had been presented to the Chamber of Deputies in Paris asking for Napoleon's body to be brought back to France. It was signed among others by Baron Gourgaud, who had left St. Helena under rather unhappy circumstances in 1818, and was to return in 1840 on the Belle Poule. France could not endure, said the petition, that Napoleon's body should remain as a trophy in the hands of foreigners; and that every Englishman may say, on showing an insolent monument,'Here is the Emperor of the French.'

On July 28th the Manchester Guardian printed a report from Paris dated July 14th on reaction to the news of Napoleon's death:
As for the immense mass of the population, the impression on them is more profound and awful every day. I know a Gentleman that was in the Halle au Cuir when the news was mentioned; all business was immediately suspended, and the tradesmen retired without making a single purchase; on the Saturday night the bust of Napoleon was promenaded on the Place de Louvre, the guard was called out, and the people fled. Sunday multitudes wore black, and others went to salute the Column d'Austerlitz ..
Multitudes will not yet believe that Bonaparte is dead, and even among the Garde Royale, this obstinate incredulity remains. .. the effect is terrible for the reigning House.
"I asked one of the Garde .. 'Ah', commented he, 'I served him in Russia too, and if I could see him again, I would follow him to the end of the world - tis too cruel to be dragged from his wife, his mother, his family and his son, and to be carried to a hole by grenadiers, foreigners, and gaolers'.
Every body believes that his detention caused his death - if no violent means were employed. All wait for Bertrand's account, and rely on that. The Government in the meantime is doing all it can to lower itself

Whether or not this was an accurate portrayal of the mood in France, its appearance was probably significant. The issue of Napoleon's treatment was soon to become a hot political issue in England, and it is probably fair to say that Sir Hudson Lowe was to prove a convenient scapegoat.

1. Manchester Guardian, August 11th 1821
2. The Manchester Guardian said they landed on the Thursday, but according to the Times it was Friday. The Times, August 7th 1821.
3. Manchester Guardian, August 11th 1821
4. The Royal Coburg opened in 1818. In 1880 it became the Royal Victoria Hall. It was damaged during the second world war, but reopened in the early 1950's as The Old Vic.

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