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.


Carmi Cimicata said...

I am so glad you posted the link!

albertuk said...

Hello John
I am happy too to see Ibbetson's collection. About the races, I have posted another drawing in my web site at the left side of the page http://www.lautresaintehelene.com/autre-sainte-helene-chronologie-1819.html
FYI Napoleon didn't always hide to watch the races. It depended on his situation (e.g. dressed, ill). As an example, Captain Nicholls issued a report on the 8th Sept 1818 saying: "Deadwood Races commenced today. It was mentioned to me that General B was now in his verandah with a telescope in his hand viewing the sport!"
Thanks for your excellent web site and blog.

John Tyrrell said...

Many thanks Albert. Liked your picture of the races.
Your chronology is very useful by the way.

hailcaesar said...


For me, the best item is the diary that Ibbetson kept on the voyage over to St Helena. It is perhaps the last of such items from this period. The playbills are fascinating as well, of course. Like you and others, I hope they end up in a museum or archive somewhere.

David Markham, President
International Napoleonic Society

albertuk said...

Like David, I suppose, I am mostly attracted by books and old papers :-) I have been in contact with the auction house and helped them fix the transcript of the text of Ibbetson's diary. Except for a couple of words I couldnt read, I think that they've now got the whole story. Nothing new for me in there, except the argument that borke out with Mme Montholon about "whores" at the dinner on 16th August 1815... something that other witness reports didnt mention (by correctness, I suppose), for example Bingham letters published by David.

John Tyrrell said...

I agree that there did not seem much in there that wasn't in other accounts of the journey. Will look again at the Mme Montholon episode though.

albertuk said...

I posted some additional info on the book's web site, focused on the sites & locations related to Napoleon's captivity. It is in French but probably easy to follow. If you would find errors, please let me know.
The new pages start at http://www.lautresaintehelene.com/autre-sainte-helene-lieux.html then follow the 4 options on the left side menu.