Tuesday, 12 April 2011

General Robert Meade: Another Failed Meeting with Napoleon

General Hon. Robert Meade (1772 - 1852).

He was the second son of a wealthy Northern Irish family: his father John Meade became the 1st Earl of Clanwilliam and his mother Theodosia Magill was an heiress from County Down.

He was badly wounded and lost an eye in the battle of Rosetta ( 1807) in which the British were defeated by the Turks.

He later served as Lieutenant-Governor of the Settlement of the Cape of Good Hope, 1912-1916.

On his return from the Cape in September 1816 he and his wife, as was common in those days, stopped off on St Helena. (1)

Whilst on the island the General visited Longwood with Hudson Lowe, presumably in the hope of catching a glimpse of the famous captive, and was spotted by Napoleon, always alert to the appearance of an unfamiliar senior officer. Dr O'Meara, who apparently had served under Meade in Egypt, spoke very highly of him to Napoleon. O'Meara gave a detailed account of the incident and its aftermath:

"That governor," said he [Napoleon], "was seen stopping him frequently and pointing in different directions. I suppose that he has been filling bis head with bugie about me, and has told him that I hate the sight of every Englishman, as some of his canaille have said to the officers of the 53d. I shall order a letter to be written to tell him that I will see him."

8th. -- A letter written by Count Montholon to General Meade, containing an invitation to come to Longwood, and stating that the emperor would be glad to see him. This was given to Captain Poppleton, who was also requested to inform Mrs.Meade, that Napoleon could scarcely request a lady to visit him; but that, if she came, he should be happy to see her likewise. Captain Poppleton delivered this letter open to Sir Hudson Lowe. His excellency handed the note to General Meade. On the road down to James Town, General Meade reigned back his horse, and spoke to Captain Poppleton nearly as follows, that he should have been very happy to have availed himself of the invitation, but that he understood restrictions existed, and that he must apply to the governor for permission, and in the next place, the vessel was under weigh, and he could not well detain her. This he begged of him to convey to Longwood. A written apology was afterwards sent by him to the count, expressing his thanks for the honour done to him, and excusing him self on the ground of the vessel's being under weigh. (2)

On September 10th Dr. O'Meara had an interview with Sir Hudson Lowe who asked if General Bonaparte had made any comment about General Meade turning down the invitation. On being told that Napoleon was convinced that Sir Hudson had prevented the General from accepting and that O'Meara had been asked to convey this opinion to Lowe, the latter flew into one of those rages familiar to readers of Gorrequer's diaries:
"he is a d— — d lying rascal, a d— — d black-hearted villain. I wished General Meade to accept it, and told him to do so." He then walked about for a few minutes in an agitated manner, repeating "that none but a black- hearted villain would have entertained such an idea;" then mounted his horse, and rode away. He had not proceeded more than about a hundred paces, when he wheeled round, rode back to where I was standing, and said in a very angry manner, "Tell General Bonaparte that the assertion that I prevented General Meade from going to see him, è una bugia infame, e che è un bugiardone che l' ha dette. Tell him my exact words." (3)

O'Meara commented, "It is almost unnecessary for me to say, that I did not deliver tbe message in the manner I was directed to convey it." (4)

I found this an interesting episode, indicative of the state of relations between Napoleon and Lowe only a few months after the latter had arrived on the island.

My thanks to a descendant of General Meade whose email inspired this post and kindly supplied the photo of the painting, and also yet again to Albert Benhamou for his assistance in verifying and expanding on the information I was sent.
1. Robert's wife Anne Louise was the daughter of Sir John Dalling, Governor of Jamaica and later Commander in Chief at Madras. They had eight children: two sons, Robert and John, and six daughters, Adelaide, Catherine, Anne, Theodosia, Edine and Caroline. Robert died young in a riding accident. John's son and the General's grandson John Percy Meade, later inherited the Earsham Hall Estate in Norfolk from the Dalling family. The General himself had apparently rented the Norfolk estate, although he had also inherited property in Ireland from his mother.

2. O'Meara, Napoleon In Exile or A Voice from St Helena Vol 1 (London 1822) pp 72-74

3. O'Meara translated the Italian as "is an infamous lie, and the person who said it is a great liar." A pedant might have pointed out that expressing an opinion that might have been wrong does not make a man a liar!

4. O'Meara p. 75

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