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.