Thursday, 27 May 2010

Napoleonic Memorabilia discovered in New Zealand

And so to my second recent email.

This one from Hamish Coney, Managing Director of Art and Object Ltd., New Zealand.

Hamish is currently preparing a catalogue of a previously unknown collection of materials relating to Napoleon's captiviy on St Helena. David Markham has written an essay which is to appear in the catalogue.

The collection includes a lock of Napoleon's hair (above), cut off according to the inscription the day after he died, and a lithograph of a sketch of Napoleon on his death bed.

There can be no doubt about the authenticity - the collection was the property of the family of Denzil Ibbotson (see below), and was brought to New Zealand by his son after Denzil's death in 1857.

The collection also includes sketches of a house on the island, which I regrettably am unable to identify. Hamish wonders whether it could be the house that the Bertrands and later Denzil himself lived in at Hutts Gate. One of the sketches is headed Longwood Guard House - so perhaps not.

Among other items discovered is Ibbetson's diary which covers the journey to St Helena on the Northumberland with Napoleon. There are also a number of playbills recording the amateur dramatics that took place on the island during the captivity. This article from the New Zealand Herald gives further information.

All in all a very exciting collection. The auction which is to take place in June is bound to attract a lot of interest from Napoleonic enthusiasts all over the world.

Denzil Ibbetson (1788-1857)

He entered the Commissariat Department of the Army in 1808, and served in the Peninsular War.He sailed to St Helena on the Northumberland with Napoleon, and was one of only four officers to remain there for the duration of the captivity. He took over the job of purveying goods to Longwood House after William Balcombe fell out with the Governor and returned to England. He seems to have got on well with Hudson Lowe. He has previously been reasonably well known for his sketches of Napoleon. (1) He lived in the house at Hutts Gate ("Little Pasture") vacated by the Bertrand family when they moved to their newly built cottage at Longwood. (2)


1. These paintings were in the early twentieth century owned by A.M. Broadley who apparently wrote an article about Ibbetson in the Century Magazine (A US publication) in 1912.

2. Interestingly Charles Darwin lived in this house during his short stay on St Helena. From here Napoleon discovered the beautiful valley nearby that was to provide him with his daily drinking water and was to be the site of his tomb; interestingly the house is also close to the site of Halley's observatory on the island.


Michel Dancoisne-Martineau said...

What will you bid for, John ??? Pity I have no budget for any item !!!

John Tyrrell said...

Good question. I think one of the paintings would be very welcome - but suspect that the prices will be well beyond my reach! It is a bit sad that the collection is being broken up. It is a pity that the playbills at least could not find their way back to St. Helena - I wonder if any others from the period exist on the island?

jpmparis06 said...

Just to point out a typing error in note (1).
The Century Illustrated Magazine referred to in Note (1) was published in April 1912 (not 1812), Volume No 83.