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.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Napoleon Plotted Invading England After Waterloo - I don't think so!

The Daily Mirror has latched on to the collection of Napoleonic Memorabilia soon to be auctioned in New Zealand, and has put its own unique interpretation on a passage in Denzil Ibbetson's diary. The short article is most inappropriately labelled "History".

As he whiled away the time on the Northumberland headed for exile on St Helena, the "deluded" Emperor was apparently planning invasion of Britain - and was even stupid enough to discuss his plans with his captors. Typical of the French the Mirror might have said. Quite where he was going to get the ships, infantry and cavalry is not clear, but that just proves how deluded Napoleon was!

Anyway if one ever had any doubts that the Daily Mirror is not fit to be called a newspaper this now removes them.

As for the passage in the diary itself - obviously Napoleon was discussing the past. It is not clear whether Denzil Ibbetson heard this statement first hand, or whether it was reported to him. Napoleon had given up the idea of invading Britain long before Waterloo. It is not clear how serious he had ever been - but it had suited him to make the British think that that was his intention.

Regarding the question of what support he would have got - every patriotic John Bull would tell you that Britain would have risen against him to a man. Tom Paine, the author of Rights of Man did not share that view. He encouraged an invasion to set Britain free from the oligarchy that ruled it, but had advised Napoleon that it was important that he went as a liberator rather than a conqueror.

No doubt though that the reception he received at Plymouth convinced Napoleon that the British people would in his downfall have treated him far more kindly than their rulers. This was of course a view shared by the rulers themselves - which is one of the reasons that they would not entertain the idea that he be allowed to stay in England.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Ibbetson Napoleon/St Helena Auction

The catalogue for the Ibbetson collection has now been published, and may be downloaded from Art + Object.

It is very well presented and is I think a credit to the auctioneers. It contains a short essay by David Markham.

The auction will take place in Auckland on June 29th.

In a way it is a pity that the collection has had to be split up after all this time. I understand that Michel Martineau would have liked to purchase some of the items for the museum at Longwood, but unfortunately funds are not available.

Michel has asked me what items I would like. Strange as it may seem I am not a collector, but I would gladly give a home to any of the pictures in the collection. On the whole though I would rather see them in a museum where they could be enjoyed by more people. The one item I would not particularly want is Napoleon's hair! That may suprise some readers.

Anyway among the many items that caught my eye were paintings of the races that used to take place on Deadwood, and which used to be observed secretly by Napoleon from Bertrand's cottage using his spy glass.

The races were covered in a post I wrote over two years ago suitably subtitled A Fine View of the Races.

Little did I know then that a picture of the races was in existence.

I also found this drawing of Longwood interesting.

A rather more higgledy piggledy residence than we usually imagine it. (Worth clicking to enlarge it.)

It should remind us that it was the home and work place for a number of people who were there to support Napoleon, living in close proximity to each other and in sanitary conditions which we would find intolerable. Not to mention the rats!

In this picture Napoleon's apartment is hidden behind what appears to be a tall fortification - which perhaps reminds us of another too easily forgotten feature of life at Longwood.

Perhaps the most interesting item for me though is the collection of play bills - shedding important light on the amateur dramatics which took place on St Helena during the captivity.

Denzil Ibbetson was a keen actor, as were his sons. He was apparently manager and book keeper for the St Helena Amateur Theatre from 1816-23.

Among the plays performed in these years were John Bull, Love A-La– Mode, The Wonder: A Woman keeps a Secret!!, She Stoops to Conquer, Tom Thumb, Bombastes Furioso, and King Richard III .

Napoleon never witnessed any of these performances. Doubtless he would have been welcomed, but his appearance would certainly have distracted the audience.

The collection also includes two sketches Ibbetson made after the theatre was burned down in 1821.

It is a pity some of these items could not find their way to the museum in Jamestown. They constitute a little known part of St. Helena history.