Monday, 29 November 2010

Napoleon's DNA: New Research

A recent paper by Professor Lucotte has described research on hair samples from the Emperor Napoleon, his mother, and his sister Caroline. Tests on these samples has revealed a rare variant in the sequence of the hypervariable segment (HVS1) of mitochondrial (mtDNA) , which is passed in the maternal line. The article points out that this rare variant is a mutation that has been found in only 3 of 37,000 different sequences in a database that it referenced.

The identification of this rare sequence will enable verification of Napoleonic relics, many of which may well be fake. It can also be used to test the piece of skin that Dr Guillard collected at the exhumation of Napoleon in 1840. This might just convince some conspiracy theorists that the body lying in Les Invalides is indeed that of the Emperor Napoleon.

This discovery will also lead to a revisit of the theory that Napoleon died from arsenic poisoning.

The hair tested by Professor Lucotte bore traces of a species of thistle endemic to St Helena and of mineral particles characteristic of volcanic terrains.

It contained lead, but no significant traces of arsenic.

Apparently Professor Lucotte will soon address this issue in another paper.

Further background may be found in a recent article by Jacques Macé .

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Stedson George & The Future of St Helena

Stedson George, former headmaster, former Councillor, and expert on the night sky, is one of the characters of St Helena.

It is always worth listening to anything he says.

I well remember my few conversations with him on my visit to the island - in particular I asked him what was his favourite place amongst those he had visited in the world.

Lemon Valley he replied.

What place would he like to visit again, I asked.

The same answer!

I am still not sure whether he was just winding me up. Some day I really must go and check out Lemon Valley for myself.

Anyway I noticed that Stedson has been giving his views on the future of the island (St Helena Independent, 29th October 2010).

Like many Saints he is critical of creeping bureaucracy and would prefer more emphasis on the development of the private sector: At one time the entire SHG was housed in the Castle now it's gone further up the town!

Stedson feels that Government should be encouraging more production, especially from farmers and fishermen, and should be prepared to use short term subsidies to help people who lack capital to get businesses started.

He also has reservations about the proposed international airport. He doesn't think that St Helena can attract the anticipated 30000-50000 annual visitors. He would prefer a smaller airport linked to Ascension. Interestingly he thinks that St Helena should promote itself as a cruise ship destination, and argues that a priority should be the construction of a decent breakwater to make it safe for cruise ships to land passengers. He also argues for more emphasis on renewable energy.

Like Stedson I have some concern that it will not be alright on the night. The recent problems of Norfolk island, one of the models for St Helena development, raises concerns as to whether current plans are well founded.(1)

The previous UK Government clearly had doubts about the realism of the tourist targets when it announced a pause in the international airport project. I am still unclear as to why the current deficit reducing Government has reversed the decision of its ostensibly more profligate predecessor. I wonder if there is some hidden agenda?

Personally I would like prefer more emphasis on sustainability, as indicated in a previous post on this subject.

1. St Helena Role Model Goes Bust St Helena Independent, 5th November 2010, Norfolk is heavily reliant on tourism. But visitor numbers have slumped in recent times, and other key sources of income such as Norfolk Air, the island's airline, are losing millions of dollars a year.

Monday, 15 November 2010

St Helena Herald: Michel Martineau's 25 Years on the Island

As he reveals in his latest blog (15 November 2010), Michel Martineau has now spent a quarter of a century on St Helena - the same length of time that Napoleon and his mortal remains were on the island. In the blog Michel features a recent article in the St Helena Herald about the French Properties. I am among Michel's greatest fans, and very pleased that his contribution, and not only to the French properties, is becoming more widely appreciated.

The Herald article goes into some detail about the 60 acres (enormous by St Helena standards) which Michel purchased and later donated to the National Trust. Apparently the bank asked more questions about St Helena than about Michel's financial circumstances when he applied for a mortgage.

The article also sets out Michel's philosophy for Longwood and the other properties:
I want to move away from this old notion of 'those are the French properties and behind their walls they do as they want'. I want to open up the properties completely. .. Let's face it, a lot of people only know St. Helena because of the Napoleon link. The idea is to use this fact as a springboard and then tourists can discover other things about the island."
This certainly chimes with my own experience. I went out of curiosity about Napoleon, and fell in love with the island and its people.

Michel has already made amazing progress. When Jean-Paul Kauffman - author of The Dark Room at Longwood - visited the island fifteen years ago, he commented on the total separation of the French Properties from the rest of St Helena life. That that separation is no longer the case is entirely due to Michel's efforts.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Hazlitt's Political Essays: Bonaparte and Müller

Johannes von Müller (1752 – 1809)

"The Celebrated Historian of Switzerland" - William Hazlitt.

There can have been fewer gloomier years in British history than those that followed Waterloo.

Faced with huge debts from financing the long wars with France, rising food prices, popular distress and industrial unrest, the British ruling classes felt far from secure.

Habeas Corpus was suspended in 1817, and the government took over the reading rooms to try to control the influence of Cobbet's radical journal The Political Register.

Critics of the government lived in fear of imprisonment or transportation.

In this climate of fear and repression the indefatigable supporter of the principles of 1789, William Hazlitt, prepared his political essays. These appeared in 1819, the year of the meeting of parliamentary reformers at St Peters Fields in Manchester. This "massacre" was henceforth to be remembered as Peterloo - an ironic reference to the killing fields of Waterloo.

Amongst the essays which Hazlitt reproduced was an extract from the papers of the Swiss historian Johannes von Müller, describing a meeting with Napoleon in 1806.

Hazlitt's reasons for including this are fairly clear: he was forlornly trying to counter two decades of British propaganda which had both belittled and ridiculed Napoleon as an upstart and as the "little corporal", and also somewhat paradoxically had portrayed him as a cloven hoofed monster. Müller's account of Napoleon did not fit easily into established British views of the Corsican ogre. I think it is fair to say that it still doesn't - as recent headlines about the "deluded Emperor" should indicate.

Müller's account of the meeting, and particularly his comparison of Napoleon with Frederick the Great, whom he had also met, is I think worth reading. I have not come across it in any other printed work.
On the 19th May I was informed by the Minister Secretary of State, Maret, that at seven o'clock of the evening of the following day I must wait on the Emperor Napoleon. I waited accordingly on this Minister at the appointed hour, and was presented. The Emperor sat on a sofa: a few persons whom I did not know stood at some distance in the apartment.

The Emperor / began to speak of the History of Switzerland; told me that I ought to complete it; that even the more recent times had their interest. He came to the work of mediation, discovered a very good will, if we do not meddle with any thing foreign, and remain quietly in the interior. He proceeded from the Swiss to the old Greek Constitution and History, to the Theory of Constitutions, to the complete diversity of those of Asia, (and the causes of this diversity in the climate, polygamy, &c.) the opposite characters of the Arabian (which the Emperor highly extolled), and the Tartarian Races (which led to the irruptions that all civilization had always to dread from that quarter, and the necessity of a bulwark): the peculiar value of European culture (never greater freedom, security of property, humanity, and better laws in general, than since the 15th century); then how every thing was linked together, and in the inscrutable guidance of an invisible hand; and how he himself had become great through his enemies: the great confederation of nations, the idea of which Henry the 4th never had: the foundation of all religion, and its necessity; that man could not well bear completely clear truth, and required to be kept in order; the possibility, however, of a more happy condition, if the numerous feuds ceased, which were occasioned by too complicated constitutions (such as the German), and the intolerable burden suffered by States from excessive armies.

A great deal more besides was said, and indeed we spoke of almost every country and nation. The Emperor spoke at first in his usual manner; but the more interesting our conversation became, he spoke in a lower and lower tone, so that I was obliged to bend myself quite down to his face; and no man can have understood what he said (and therefore many things I will not repeat) - I opposed him occasionally, and he entered into discussion. Quite impartially and truly, as before God, I must say, that the variety of his knowledge, the acuteness of his observations, the solidity of his understanding (not dazzling wit), his grand and comprehensive views, filled me with astonishment, and his manner of speaking to me, with love for him. A couple of Marshals, and also the Duke / of Benevento, had entered in the mean time; he did not break off. After five quarters, or an hour and a half, he allowed the concert to begin; and I know not, whether accidentally or from goodness, he desired pieces, which, one of them especially, had reference to pastoral life and the Swiss (Rans des Vaches). After this, he bowed in a friendly manner and left the room.

Since the audience with Frederick (1782), I never had a conversation on such a variety of subjects, at least with any Prince: if I can judge correctly from recollection, I must gve the Emperor the preference in point of solidity and comprehension; Frederick was somewhat Voltairian. Besides, there is in his tone much firmness and vigour, but in his mouth something as attractive and fascinating, as in Frederick. It was one of the most remarkable days of my life. By his genius and his disinterested goodness he has also conquered me.

1. pp 122-123 The Selected Writings of William Hazlitt. Volume 4 Political Essays ed Duncan Wu, London 1998.