Thursday, 13 December 2012

"No man of sense ought to be ashamed of being called a shopkeeper" - Napoleon

Ronnie Barker as Albert Arkwright

I have recently been re-reading Inside Longwood, and came across an interesting letter in which Barry O'Meara quoted Napoleon's explanation of his description of England as "a nation of shopkeepers".

You were greatly offended with me for calling you a nation of shopkeepers. Had I meant by that that you were a nation of cowards, you would have reason perhaps to have been displeased, though it were ridiculous and contrary to a known truth. But no such thing was ever intended. I meant that you were a nation of merchants and that all your great riches, your grand resources, arose from commerce, and so it does. What else constitutes the riches of England? It is not extent of territory or a numerous population. It is not mines of silver, gold or diamonds. Besides no man of sense ought to be ashamed of being called a shopkeeper (1)

The description, which incidentally did not originate with Napoleon, is still seen as an insult, less specific now perhaps than the original perceived slight on England's military prowess.(2) Napoleon consistently maintained that England was not and never would be a land power, a proposition that few could argue with then or now.(3)

More than that though, the reaction reflects the low esteem accorded in our culture to being "in trade". It is a curious fact that the British upper classes, commercial in origin, beneficiaries of the plundering of the wealth of the Catholic Church, developed an almost feudal aversion to trade and industry as a profession, although as Napoleon rightly said, it was the sole basis of the nation's wealth and power.

Perhaps though Napoleon, like most of us, under-estimated the power of Banking which was assuming unprecedented importance in the world emerging before his very eyes.
1. Barry O'Meara to John Finlaison, 29th June 1817, reproduced in Albert Benhamou, Inside Longwood Barry O'Meara's Clandestine Letters, London 2012
2. Adam Smith used it, and others before him.
3. Even at Waterloo the majority of the troops under Wellington's command were not British.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Napoleon Week on the BBC

In commemoration of the retreat from Moscow in 1812, an event of far more significance than Waterloo, Radio 3 is currently scheduling a number of programmes about Napoleon.

The first, broadcast yesterday (1st December) but still available online, was about Tchaikovsky's patriotic 1812 Overture Tchaikovsky A Dishonest Overture?

Napoleon is also the somewhat unlikely subject of Composer of the Week. As far as I am aware he never composed anything, although he did write a novel, but this daily programme, beginning tomorrow, is about Napoleon's musical tastes and his encouragement of music and the arts.

This evening there is Tolstoy and Napoleon, the first of three literary programmes, to be broadcast on successive Sundays,

which is followed tonight by Napoleon Rising, a play by Manchester born author Anthony Burgess, creator of A Clockwork Orange, who wrote a novel about Napoleon and a script for the Kubrick film that was never made.

Then each evening this week there is a short programme, Napoleon and Me, the first of which is about Julia Blackburn's searching for the "ghost of Napoleon" on St Helena.

Overall it looks like an interesting and slightly unusual perspective on Napoleon. I am particularly looking forward to hearing what Andrea Stuart has to say about the Empress Josephine, one of the most misunderstood women in history.

Perhaps the most interesting revelation from the advance publicity, and news to me at least, is that Richard Wagner attended Napoleon's Second Funeral to report the event for a German newspaper.

It is unfortunate though that someone in the BBC appears to think that Napoleon's ashes were returned from Corsica!

Friday, 23 November 2012

William Hazlitt: "I would like to live to see the downfall of the Bourbons"

William Hazlitt (1778-1830) essayist, romantic and political radical

Hazlitt is little read nowadays, but there has in the past decade or so been a revival of interest in him, particularly among those on the intellectual left. One recent writer, Duncan Wu, has described him as the first modern man and Tom Paulin gave him the accolade of "Liberty's Brightest Star" (1)

One would not guess from reading most encomiums about Hazlitt that Napoleon had no greater supporter in England, not even Lady Holland.

Whilst Lady Holland devoted much time, money, energy and influence in an endeavour to improve Napoleon's comfort on St Helena, Hazlitt, demonised by the Tory press, short of money, like all radicals facing the prospect of imprisonment or deportation in the years of popular discontent and state repression after Waterloo, devoted much of the last years of his life to the writing of a multi volume biography of his hero, a work described later by his dutiful son as "my father's last, largest, and upon the whole, greatest work." (2)

Hazlitt came from a middle class, rationalist, dissenting background. His father was an Irish Unitarian Minister, a fearless radical and a strong supporter of American freedom who had taken his family to spend four years in America after the War of Independence. Hazlitt's mother, Grace Loftus came, like Tom Paine, from an East Anglian dissenting family. Like all dissenters Hazlitt was barred from entering Oxford or Cambridge, but like many received a far superior education in a unitarian academy. Tom Paulin situates Hazlitt firmly in this radical tradition,

the Hazlitts were what were known as 'Real Whigs'. Intellectually, they were the descendants of the Commonwealthmen who briefly made England a republic in the middle of the 17th century. They are in a line of descent from Milton, Harrington and Algernon Sidney, and they carry proudly the scars of the battles those men fought (3)

It is no surprise to find that many brought up in this dissenting tradition, like Lord Lever later on, were prone to have a more favourable view of Cromwell and Napoleon than the Tory historians whose different prejudices have shaped our understanding. For Hazlitt like other radicals such as Henry Hunt and Cobbett, the choice was clear, Napoleon for all his faults was the only force standing between the "legitimate kings" and their ancient prey, mankind. In a letter to a publisher Hazlitt declared

I thought all the world agreed with me at present that Bonaparte was better than the Bourbons, or that a tyrant was better than tyranny." (4)

Napoleon's return from Elba was to Hazlitt

a blow in the face of tyranny and hypocrisy, the noblest that ever was struck. (5)
The plea that the French, in siding with Bonaparte, would prefer war and despotism to peace and liberty is a singular one.(6)
and Napoleon's trimphal march on Paris in 1815 was
.. the greatest instance ever known of the power created by one man over opinion .. it was one man armed with the rights of a people against those who had robbed them of all natural rights, and gave them leave to breathe by charter .. Buonaparte seemed from his first landing to bestride the country like a Colossus, for in him rose up once more the prostrate might and majesty of man, and the Bourbons like toads or spiders, got out of the way of the huge shadow of the Child Roland of the Revolution. (7)

After this Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo could be seen only as a great disaster for mankind and for the cause of liberty. The restoration of the Bourbons and the Divine Right of Kings was an abomination, and Hazlitt and fellow radicals could not see how it could be described as anything else. (8)

In one of his essays Hazlitt outlined what he believed a true just peace would look like: an independent Poland, opposition to the subjugation of Norway by Sweden, immediate abolition of the slave trade, Austrian relinquishment of "unjust aggrandisement in Italy", "Saxony should not share a fate similar to Poland", and concessions should be made by England regarding her exclusive claims of maritime supremacy, "found to be rather galling to the feelings of other nations." (9)

Like other radicals Hazlitt regarded the imprisonment of Napoleon after Waterloo as a stain on English history and the English character.

It is peculiar to the English to consider their enemies as self-convicted criminals(10)

Hazlitt saw this as revenge by those whose only merit was "being born to power" on all those who would challenge them.

The next thing (had not Sir Hudson answered the purpose equally well) to have caged Bonaparte with a baboon to 'mow and chatter at him;' or to have had him up to the hallberts not pulling off his hat to the governor or his aide-de-camp; and there are people to be found who would have approved of this treatment mightily.(11)

So, having completed his major work on his hero Napoleon, having witnessed the fall of the hated Bourbons in the July Revolution, but fearing that things would as in 1815 "go back again", Hazlitt died in Soho on 18th September 1830, his last words apparently being, "Well, I've had a happy life." (12)
1. Tom Paulin, "Liberty's Brightest Star",The Guardian 6 June 1998
2. Preface to The Life of Napoleon, dated May 1st 1852.
3. Paulin, Guardian, 6 June 1998. Also Tom Paulin, William Hazlitt's Radical Style (Faber 1998)
4. Augustine Birrell, William Hazlitt, (1902, reprinted 1970)
5. Life of Napoleon Vol IV p.100 Vol IV Second Edition.
6. Life of Napoleon Vol IV p. 101
7. Life of Napoleon Vol IV p.119
8. Christopher Salvesen, "A Master of Regret" in William Hazlitt ed. Harold Bloom, (NY 1986)
9. Political Essays 1818 by William Hazlitt, pp 74-5. Interestingly he called for the abolition of the slave trade, but not of slavery itself.
10. William Hazlitt, Life Of Napoleon, Vol IV p. 249
11. Life of Napoleon Vol IV p.264
12. Birrell pp 219-220

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Press Freedom on St Helena

Julian Cairns-Wicks, former Councillor, regular contributor to St Helena Independent

I have from time to time covered the tribulations of the St Helena Independent, including the arrest of ts editor, its demise following the cut off of Government advertising, and then its quick resurrection. At times I have wondered whether the problems portrayed therein were not a tad exaggerated, but I had no knowledge of the history of the press on the island.

My thanks to fellow blogger John Grimshaw for pointing out to me an article on censorship on St Helena in a 1996 copy of Wirebird, the magazine published by the Friends of St Helena.(1)

The Wirebrid article quoted a local journalist who said he had to

"cover up in various ways things that have happened. People know, but we've had to try and clear the air a little bit. There have been lots of times when I'd wanted to get to grips with things, and things have come my way which I wanted to use, but couldn't."

This was not censorship, but "the proper management of a Government resource", argued John Perrot, the Chief Secretary.

"If you were running Heinz baked beans and you had a house magazine, you would not allow a member of your staff to rubbish the production line management system in your house magazine,"

The Foreign Office however, contrary to experience on the ground, assured those concerned that "Radio St Helena is not subject to any statutory control." This carefully worded statement was probably legally true, but carefully avoided the realities of power on a small Government run colony.

Julian Cairns-Wicks featured a great deal in the article. He had in 1990 started an independent news sheet because "questions and comments sent to the Government newspaper and interviews conducted for the radio have not been released," which he considered "an affront to every Saint Helenian". Apparently staff were warned not to answer his questions, and even visitors were warned not to talk to him. He duly resigned from the Legislative Council on 16 February 1996.

The Wirebird's conclusion, looking ahead to the coming of television, was that

The test of media management is, of course, whether it is for the benefit of governed or, as in St Helena today, the governing.
It also commented that in situations like this the presence of a vibrant but often wildly inaccurate "bush telegraph" was inevitable."

The wirebird article also warned that a

"'free press' could not exist on St Helena today, even if funded by a philanthropist, as the Castle would simply starve it of information.
Despite the struggles of the Independent, it seems to me that some progress has been made since 1996, but Mike Olsson, the Independent's editor would probably point out that it has been and remains rather an uphill struggle.


1. "CENSORSHIP ST HELENA-STYLE", wirebird, the journal of the Friends of St Helena, Summer 1996, pp 43-46

Monday, 29 October 2012

St Helena One Man's Island: "He had little time for Napoleon"

Front Cover of Ian Baker's, "St Helena: One Man's Island" (1)

I have recently been reading Ian Baker's interesting and beautifully written book on St Helena. The first few paragraphs of the Introduction hooked me

Islands are special places. They are finite, complete. They are of the sea, and because of that, their land has added value.

An island can become part of you, though perhaps not you part of it.

An island allows you to stop and stare, to look anew at things with which you're familiar , and to find the things with which you are'nt. It gives you chances to look more closely at yourself."

He has woven together a fascinating account of St Helena, rooted in his unrivalled knowledge of its geology, which began with a lengthy research visit in the early 1960's.

Created over a period of millions of years from volcanic eruptions in the mid-Atlantic rift, which ceased in St Helena's case about seven or eight million years ago, it is at its longest only ten miles across, about the size of Greater Manchester he tells us, but at its base, deep below the surface of the Atlantic, it is eighty miles across, and higher than Mont Blanc before it breaks the water's surface.

One Man's Island might perhaps be seen as an early example of what is coming to be known as "Big History", an approach which gives homo sapiens a less privileged position in the story of our planet. Such an approach presents challenges when you are telling the story of a small remote island largely unknown apart from its association with the captivity of the legendary Emperor of the French.

"One Man" and Napoleon

Please don't get me wrong. I've as much time as the next for Napoleon, probably a lot more. But there is much more to this island than even that special bird of passage. (2)

So in his attempt to focus on the bigger picture, Ian Baker enlists the support of Charles Darwin, certainly focused on far greater forces, who during his short stay on St Helena in 1836 never bothered to visit Napoleon's tomb and, as the author says, probably "didn't have a great deal of time for Napoleon".

Similarly he is able to call on the the first man to sail around the world single handedly, Joshua Slocum, who presumably had had time enough to think about more fundamental things. Slocum, with some justification, described St Helena as "an island of tragedies", but added with a sting in the tail, "tragedies that have been lost sight of in wailing over the Corsican." (3)

Ian Baker is I think on shakier ground when he tells us, "Gorrequer certainly had little time for Napoleon" , a conclusion based on the fact that in his long diary entry on May 5th 1821 Gorrequer did not mention Napoleon, and on the next day referred to him as defunct Neighbour". It is impossible to know precisely what he thought of Napoleon, and it doesn't much matter, but while Gorrequer's diary is full of venom directed at Hudson Lowe, Lady Lowe and Sir Thomas Reade, I cannot recall any negative comments about Napoleon. Ian Baker also somewhat misleadingly describes Gorrequer's nickname for Lowe as "Chief". He certainly used it at times, but far more common was the sobriquet "Mach", short for Machiavelli, which throws rather a different light on Gorrequer's sympathies! (4)

I also have my doubts about the rather sweeping conclusion as to why Longwood was allowed to deteriorate after Napoleon's death:

"When Napoleon died in exile in 1821, most of the world felt that he had got no more than his just desserts. It is all too easy to see Napoleon, the great leader, in hindsight, but at the time he was hated, feared and vilified. Many would rather the Prussians had taken him after Waterloo, and executed him, as they had wanted to." (5)

Having read this one might be surprised to hear of the large numbers who queued up to see Napoleon's body after his death, the crowd that attended his funeral, and the steady stream of visitors to his grave in succeeding years. It was indeed the fuss about Napoleon, rather than Napoleon himself, which Darwin commented on. There would of course not have been that fuss had Napoleon not had significant support in England and the New World, though not of course among the absolute monarchs who wielded power on the continent and for a time at least felt more secure that Napoleon was gone, and wished that he would be soon forgotten.

As for the neglect of Longwood, the house itself was in a state of dilapidation and presumably would have been demolished had Napoleon lived and moved into New Longwood House. Unlike the Valley of the Tomb, which was in private hands and earned a reasonable income for its owners, ownership was in the hands of the East India Company, and clearly it had neither commercial nor political interest in creating a memorial to Napoleon.

Perhaps though the most questionable section on Napoleon is the description of his removal from the Briars to Longwood. The book paints a picture of Napoleon playing for time, and of Cockburn losing patience with him. According to this version Napoleon was "furious at having to leave the Briars. Cockburn was impassive, either Napoleon moved or he would bring guards to move him. Take it or be taken. Napoleon took it." (6) This version of events had then as now a very satisfying ring for British patriots. All one can say is that there is no support for it in French sources, nor from O'Meara nor indeed from Betsy Balcombe. Those closest to Napoleon were of the view that he was pleased to move to Longwood, and to assemble all his followers in one place. One would like to know the source for this version, but One Man's Island is not that kind of book.


1. Ian Baker St Helena One Man's Island (Wilton 65, 2004)
2. op cit p 101
3. op cit p 113
4. op cit p 164
5. op cit p 119
6. op cit p 62

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

St Helena in 1812: Cattle Wormers and The Pillory

Spencer Perceval, British Prime Minister, assassinated May 1812

By any standards 1812 was a significant year. It saw the only assassination of a British Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, who was followed by Britain's longest serving Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool (1812-1827). As a reminder of the already troubled state of the Kingdom, it also saw Lord Byron's defence of the Luddites in his maiden speech in the House of Lords.

In Spain British success in the Peninsular War was capped in August by the entry of Wellington and his Portugues allies into Madrid. By that time Britain was involved in another conflict, against the young United States of America, which declared war in June and invaded Canada. This war, which was to see Britain burn the White House, was to end in British defeat at New Orleans in 1815, after the peace treaty had been signed. Perhaps its most significant result was the safeguarding of Canada from the expansionist republic to its south.

Most momentous of all though was Napoleon's invasion of Russia, his occupation of Moscow and the disastrous retreat which marked the beginning of the end of his rule and of French hegemony on the European continent. Earlier in the year though Napoleon had authorised usage of mesures usuelles, which marked the beginning of the metric system.

St. Helena 1812

Far away in the South Atlantic, the St Helena Governor Alexander Beatson had a far less troubled year than in 1811, the year of the mutiny.

The Judicial Records reveal that only three cases were tried - John Antonio was acquitted of stealing £20 from Frederick Schindler.

Thomas Bates was acquitted of stealing two bags of rice valued at £2 from Thomas O"Connor.

The only man found guilty was James Bicknell, for trying to defraud James Williams, "an illiterate person", by altering or causing to be altered the figures on an account. The Bench took this matter very seriously, telling the prisoner that his offence bordered on forgery, for which the penalty was death. James Bicknell was therefore jailed for four days, or until such time as he had repaid his debt. On the day of his projected release he was ordered to stand in the pillory, for two hours, in different parts of Jamestown. This appears to have been an unusual punishment at this time, although use of the pillory remained legal in the UK until 1837.

I have looked in vain for an appropriate image of a portable pillory, which this must have been. To my surprise, having led a sheltered life, I found you can now buy such items on ebay, suitable apparently for taking to adult parties.

Cattle Wormers and other matters

I have in an early post commented on the work of these unknown people who every quarter made their returns to the court. I am intrigued as to how they went about their business, presumably by examining animal excreta. Perhaps since they were called "extractors" they fed the animals with some substance to kill worms? The usually reliable google offers me no assistance.

Apparently the island was divided into three divisions, South, West and East. No worms were reported to have been extracted in the West Division in 1812. I was somewhat surprised to find that in January 1812 the Wormers reported that they had extracted a total of 631 worms, but only six in April and none in July. In October the figure was up to a more respectable 290.

Was the extraction of worms a seasonal matter I wonder, or was it a sign that sometimes the Wormers were otherwise engaged or simply could not be bothered? In the final session of the Court it was resolved that in future landowners would pay the court three pence for each worm found. The money received would be distributed to the Inspectors, "at the pleasure of the bench." I shall with added interest examine the returns of the Wormers in subsequent years to see whether the application of the principles of Adam Smith had any effect on their performance.

The Court also heard on another occasion that some 50 unlicensed dogs had been found on the island. It was resolved to fine owners of such dogs two guineas and to put down the unfortunate animals. It was also reported that the laws about dogs destroying sheep and goats would be enforced: owners would pay a five pound fine and double the value of the animal killed to the owner.

Also throughout the year the Coroner reported seven cases of accidental death, two of whom were identified as slaves. In the case of a third slave, Philip, it was reported that "he hanged himself, but that at the time of his death he was a Lunatic."

Such was life on St. Helena two hundred years ago.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

St Helena Airport and the Crisis in the Tourist Industry

Image of St Helena's planned new airport bulding

Since the appearance of Simon Pipes' very active blog, St Helena Online, I have felt less need to comment on current events on St Helena. I felt though that I should cover the latest news about the airport project, a long running saga that is now no longer a mirage, if I may be allowed to mix my metaphors!

This very day the island's Council has approved the design of the new airport building.

Less prominent in the news, I notice from the St Helena Independent that the revised completion date for the airport is now 25th February 2016, thereby missing the 200th anniversary of Waterloo and the arrival of Napoleon!

It will be a surprise to me if there is not further slippage on a project of this size at such a remote location.

Initially at least the airport will be restricted to Boeing 737-700 and Airbus A319, which carry around 120 passengers. (1)

Apparently the plans for the runway have been amended at no extra cost. The original contract was for a runway of 1550 metres, with an Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS) at the end. It has now been decided pro tem to dispense with the EMAS, and to build a full 250 metre Runway End Safety Area (RESA). This will make it easier at a later date to upgrade the airport so that larger aircraft carrying 160 passengers, such as the Boeing 737-800 or Airbus 320 can land. All that would be needed apparently would to construct an EMAS and make the existing RESA part of the runway.

Crisis in the St. Helena Tourist Industry

Elsewhere I note the concerns expressed by the owners of the two hotels on St Helena, the Consulate and Farm Lodge, about the dire straits of the tourist industry.

Farm Lodge Hotel, St. Helena

This presumably is partly a global problem, but has in their view been exacerbated by management of the RMS St Helena which has been marketed more as a cruise ship than as a mail boat carrying passengers to the island. Encouraging passengers to stay on board whilst paying short visits to the island and including a trip to Tristan da Cunha in its schedules has undoubtedly reduced the number of tourists needing accommodation. A number of RMS berths have also been taken up by employees of the airport contractor, but the demand from them for hotel accommodation has apparently not materialised.

The owner of the Consulate has announced that she will have to lay off staff and close the accomodation part of the hotel after Christmas because of a lack of bookings.

The Consulate Hotel, Jamestown, St. Helena

So can I urge anyone who is thinking of making a trip to the island to do so. I for one have made my own plans, wishing to visit the island again before the airport changes it forever. My wife and I can hardly wait.


1. I notice that there is an option for the Airbus A319 to carry over 150 passengers. I have no idea whether this version requires a longer runway, but I imagine it does. I understand that planes to Cape Town and Johannesburg will not be able to carry a full load because of the extra fuel needed. A short hop to Ascension, not yet approved by the US, would be less of a problem. I suspect that the rocky terrain, the steep approaches and the high altitude, not to mention the high winds and changeable weather, will provide challenging conditions for pilots. I am sure that the authorities on St Helena and in London have already thought all these things through!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Whigs and Napoleon

Charles James Fox (1749-1806) ,Whig leader. He had three interviews with Napoleon after the Treaty of Amiens(1802). They disagreed about freedom of the press and conscription, but Fox was convinced that Napoleon wanted peace with England.

The Whigs have made regular appearances in this blog, most notably in the posts on Lady Holland and on the Canovas at Chatsworth House.

From their fine palaces the great Whig families could look down on the detested Hanoverian Monarchy,

Chatsworth House

their placemen who swelled the ranks and costs of Government,

Holland House in London, where Lady Holland presided over England's only real political salon

and on the Tories, "the stupid party", who had led the country into costly wars against France and America that the Whigs considered unnecessary.

For their part the Whigs had a not unjustified reputation among their Tory opponents as being great admirers of Napoleon.

Napoleon was "the most extraordinary man of his age" (Caroline Fox), "certainly has surpassed .. Alexander and Caesar" (Charles James Fox) and was "the greatest man that ever liv'd" (Lady Bessborough)

Woburn Abbey, seat of the Duke of Bedford

".. everything I hear of this most extraordinary man, increases my desire to see him, Rely on it, he will again be numbered on the great scene of history" - Duke of Bedford (1814)

Lord John Russell (1792-1878), younger son of the Duke of Bedford, Whig later Liberal leader, twice Prime Minster (1846-52, 1865-6), met Napoleon on Elba in 1814, voted in Parliament against the declaration of war when Napoleon fled from Elba in 1815.

So Who were the Whigs and What did they Stand For? (1)

The Whigs were socially exclusive wealthy aristocrats, proud descendants of those who had resisted the absolutist tendencies of the Stuart Kings in the C17, had engineered the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and had in 1714 put the Hanoverians on the throne. For most of the period 1760-1830 they were out of office.

Supporters of the French Revolution in its early stages, the Foxite Whigs adopted the buff and blue of George Washington's army for their political colours.

Unlike the Tories,who feared any sign of weakness on the part of the rulers would lead to revolution in England, the Whigs believed in the inevitability of change and of social progress. They saw the greatest threat to the British constitution as coming not from the lower orders but from the Monarchy.

In his L'Esprit des lois (1748) Montesquieu described England as “a nation that may be justly called a republic, disguised under the form of a monarchy”. This corresponded closely to the view of the Whigs, who saw the King as the servant of the people.

The Hanoverians, and George III in particular, had other ideas. Lord John Russell,reflecting exasperation with them, was quoted in the 1820's as saying, "we must come to American institutions, that will be the end of it." (2)

Advocates of parliamentary reform as a counter to the perceived threat from the monarchy, and above all strong believers in the rights of property, the Whigs resisted any idea that those who had no property should be allowed to vote. They believed that all should be equal before the law, but not that reform would inevitably end in democracy. They had perhaps much in common with the creators of the American Constitution, who believed that rule should be kept in the hands of "the better sort of people."

Admirers of French culture and mores,"the bedroom and the dining room were French", adherents of classical architecture and of Augustan poetry, they had no time for the Gothic, the Romantic, the Medieval, or the works of Sir Walter Scott.(3)

Intellectually they were devotees of the Scottish Enlightenment, of David Hume and Adam Smith, of the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and of the quarterly Edinburgh Review .

Secularists, there were few Whig clergy, they rarely attended church and had little expectation of life after death. Supporters of religious tolerance, they were scathing about Catholicism and Methodism: "superstition" and "enthusiasm".

Believers in the importance of extending education, they were sceptical of the fashion for physical games which characterized English public schools in the early nineteenth century.

The Whigs and Napoleon

As already indicated, the Whigs had a reputation for admiring Napoleon. Certainly they did not join in the deprecation and belittling of him as "Boney" or "the "Corsican Ogre", common in other circles and in the Tory press, which has since become a staple of the English memory of Napoleon.

But, as Leslie Mitchell points out, the Whigs had a rather more nuanced view than their political opponents appeared to believe. They admired some of Napoleon's achievements, in education, religious and administrative reform for example, but they deplored the extinquishing of representative government, his apparent liking for titles and flattery, his suppression of press freedom and his persecution of his critics.

Lord Holland in 1815 drew up a balance sheet:

pro - freedom of worship, financial probity in public life, magnificence of public works, openness to office based on merit alone

con - "enormous evil" of conscription, persecution of critics and curtailment of personal liberties. (4)

On balance Holland felt that the people of France had benefited from the Revolutionary and Napoleonic period, and in addition no Whig could countenance replacing Bonaparte by the Bourbons.

In the period after Waterloo many Whigs were involved in campaigns to save Marshall Ney and General Lavalette from execution, in lobbies for passports, and in unremitting efforts, particularly from Holland House, to make Napolon's stay on St. Helena a little less uncomfortable.(5)

Above all, like the Radicals, the Whigs detested the Bourbons, who resembled the hated Stuarts whom the Whigs' ancestors had defeated in the seventeenth century. In a letter in 1814 in which he expressed strong criticism of Napoleon Lord Holland said

"I am not sure if he were to fall that the legitimate sovereign would not be restored and that in my mind is the last of misfortunes = bad for France, for liberty and for Mankind and in a narrow view bad for England" (6)

For all his faults then they preferred Napoleon to the Bourbons, and they were particularly opposed to the restoration of the Bourbons by foreign arms, against the wishes of a sizeable portion of the French people. Such a move ran counter to their view of historical progress, and would therefore inevitably meet with disaster. They felt vindicated when Charles X was removed by revolution in 1830.

The arrival of the Orléanist monarchy at last gave France a regime in which the Whigs could believe and unequivocally support: Louis Philippe had dined at Holland House as early as 1802, and was as near as you could get to a French Whig!

Postscript: The Fate of Holland House

The great Whig Mansions at Chatsworth, Woburn and elsewhere remain, stuffed with treasures which attest to the wealth and cosmpopolitan tastes of the great Whig families, but Holland House, the seat of Lord Holland, nephew of Charles James Fox, and the centre of Whig politics for much of the early nineteenth century, was irreparably damaged

Destroyed by The Luftwaffe: Holland House Library in 1940

in the blitz, in a world in which it was hard to believe in the progress which the Scottish Enlightenment and the Whigs had so confidently espoused a century earlier.

Like the Whigs themselves, little of the original house now remains.


1. The best source I have come across is a delightful, slim, witty, perhaps slightly tongue in cheek volume, "The Whig World" by Leslie Mitchell,useful for anyone interested in what the Annales school refer to as the mentalités.

2. p. 163, Leslie Mitchell, The Whig World (London, paperback edition 2007)

3. Quotation from Mitchell p. 96.

4. Mitchell pp 89-90.

5. Lord Spencer and Thomas Grenville begged Louis XVIII to spare the life of Marshall Ney, and when he refused to do so expressed the wish that the King himself would be hanged. Mitchell p. 93

6. Lord Holland to Caroline Fox, April 1814, Mitchell p. 90.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Royal Visit to Emperor Napoleon's Last Home

Royal Family Arrving at Longwood House, 29 April 1947

At a time when the United Kingdom is celebrating the 60 year reign of Elizabeth II, Michel Martineau has published some little known photos of the Royal Family's visit to St Helena in 1947.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were accompanied by their two daughters, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret.

Having looked round a dilapidated Longwood House almost destroyed by termites, the King signed the visitors book and expressed his concern at its perilous state and his hope that the French Government would take the necessary steps to restore the historic house.

On his return to England the King called in the French Ambassador and again expressed his hope that the French Government would urgently begin restoration of the house.

Friday, 25 May 2012

The St Helena Independent Makes a Lazarus Like Recovery

Somewhat old news now, but for completeness I really should report the resurrection of the St Helena Independent at the end of April, barely a month after the demise that was solemnly reported here and elsewhere.

The latest issue (May 25th) has a front page editorial about the need for sea links after the airport, and wonders why no consideration has been given to this before. I have to say that I have been wondering about this for some time. Doubtless all will be revealed eventually, but I am not convinced that anybody has got any answers at present. I will be very happy to be proved wrong.

The editorial also notes that current thinking is that Rupert's Bay should be the cargo terminal, and points out that EU money has been spent demolishing Jamestown's historic wharf buildings.

The raising of the roofs of the low stores at the wharf has taken away a lot of the original char acter and obviously, the new cargo and passenger terminals are in the wrong valley if the sea access point to the Island is in Rupert’s. The changes/improvements to the Jamestown Wharf would obviously have looked different if the new DfID schemes had been known a few years ago. Then, we could have developed the Wharf as a tourism destination and not so much as a cargo terminal. With this background, we could say that we have wasted much of the EU money put into the wharf development.

On a less solemn note, the following rather unusual advertisement from today's issue caught my eye.

I don't think I should offer any comment!

Friday, 20 April 2012

New Books on Captivity of Napoleon on St Helena

Two new books about Napoleon's Captivity are shortly to be published.

First to appear will be Albert Benhamou's latest book, InsideLongwood: Barry O'Meara's Clandestine Letters which publishes the letters that Napoleon's doctor, Barry O'Meara, sent from St Helena to his friend at the Admiralty. These were circulated among the Government of the day, and were an added source of tension between O'Meara and Governor Sir Hudson Lowe who knew of the correspondence but was unable to stop it.

This will be the first time these letters have been published. I have had a pre-publication preview and believe that it will provide an important and unique perspective on Napoleon's captivity on St Helena in the years 1815-1818. It may be pre-ordered at Amazon.

Also due for publication in June is a reprint of Betsy Balcombe's famous Recollections of Napoleon on St Helena.

This is being reprinted by Fonthill Media, which has a number of other Napoleonic titles on its list.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Tom Conti Related to Napoleon

Yesterday's Observer revealed that a Scottish DNA project has found that actor Tom Conti, the laid back star of films such as Reubem, Reuben and Shirley Valentine is related to Napoleon.

Conti's father Alfonso was an Italian immigrant, and his mother was Scottish, but of Irish ancestry.

According to the DNA research his lineage is Saracen, and he descends from a family that settled in Italy around the tenth century. One branch of the family, of which Napoleon was a member, settled in Corsica.

Conti described his relationship to Napoleon as "quite a shock" at first, but now he is "rather pleased".

I cannot imagine Conti ever leading an army into battle, but as a Lothario he may well be in the same league as both Wellington and Napoleon.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Images of Napoleon on his Deathbed

Little known drawing by Lieutenant Guy Rotton of the 20th Foot
Trevor Hearl Collection, Bodleian Library, Oxford

I have been looking at a recent article by Albert Benhamou which discusses various sketches made by some of the many English who came to Longwood to view Napoleon's body after his death. Among them was the above drawing made by Guy Rotton, an officer in the 20th Regiment, which arrived on St Helena in 1819, and replaced the 66th Regiment on Deadwood Plain in February 1820. (1)

Portrait by Joseph William Rubidge (1802-1827)

Rubidge, a portrait painter, happened to be passing through St Helena at the time of Napoleon's death. His work erroneously portrays Napoleon with sideburns, which also appeared on the romantic painting done by Émile Jean-Horace Vernet (1789 1863) in 1825.

Christ like portrait of Napoleon on his death bed by Vernet

Albert speculates that Vernet might have seen a copy of Rubidge's portrait. He was after all the only professional artist to have attended the scene, and a number of copies of Rubidge's work were printed. Vernet is unlikely to have seen the work of any of the amateur artists who attempted to recapture the great man on his death bed.

Whether the sideburns were on the original or not is unknown. It was apparently bought by George Horsley Wood, and later presented by him to Napoleon III. It seems to have disappeared at the end of the Second Empire, perhaps in the burning of the Tuileries during the Paris Commune.

Finally Albert discusses a drawing sometimes attributed to Louis Marchand, faithful valet to the Emperor.

Drawing wrongly attributed to Marchand almost certainly the work of Captain Marryat

Albert suggests that there is no evidence that Marchand himself made any drawing at this time. He concludes, based on its similarity to another of his works, that it was done by Captain Marryat (1792-1848) of the Royal Navy, who conveniently happened to be on the island at the time. (2)

1. Little is known about Rotton, other than his marriage in January 1820 to Maria South, youngest daughter of Lt. Colonel Samuel South, commander of the 20th Regiment.
2. Frederick Marryat later became known as a children's author, publishing a number of stores based on his sea career, and "The Children of the New Forest", about a Royalist family who hid in the forest during the years of Parliamentary rule in the seventeenth century.

Monday, 2 April 2012

April Fools Day: St Helena Airport and The Ashcroft Connection

Sunday Mirror - All Fools' Day 2012

In 2010 the new coalition Government announced that it would reverse Labour's postponement and would spend some £200 million on building an airport on St Helena. This was against a backdrop of unprecedented cuts in Government expenditure and anticipated falls in living standards for most people in the UK.

Amidst the celebrations I voiced my concerns about the involvement of Lord Ashcroft. The billionaire tax exile was apparently annoyed that despite his large donations, the Conservative Party had failed to secure a majority in Parliament at a time when its main opponents were unelectable:
The high profile involvement of the billionaire Conservative party donor Lord Ashcroft - embittered coiner of the homophobic term "brokeback" to describe the relationship between the leaders of the UK Coalition Government - leaves me with a few nagging doubts about the future of St Helena.

Appearing on live radio at the time, Lord Ashcroft was asked twice how he thought ordinary people would feel about this expenditure at a time of Government cuts. After saying disingenuously, that it was a question for the politicians, he terminated the interview.

Following the row about the Prime Minister's secret entertaining of political donors, the Sunday Mirror yesterday reported the following sequence of events, which may or may not be coincidental:

June 10th 2010 Lord Ashcroft invited to Chequers for lunch

June 21st Lord Ashcroft asked in House of Lords "What are the current plans for an airport on St Helena?"

July 22nd International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell announced the Govt would pay for the airport on St Helena.

Lord Ashcroft has always denied any commercial interest in the island, but he has not ruled it out:
"But who knows? If there happens to be some opportunity that either requires some equity or financing and makes sense, and if I am able to be a catalyst that would help something to happen that might otherwise not have happened, then certainly I'll be happy to consider it."

Yesterday was of course April Fools' day. I wonder who is being taken for a ride?

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The End for the St Helena Independent

The St Helena Independent has announced that the next issue will be its last. Its demise seems to have been occasioned by the decision of the Government to start a new newspaper, and no longer to buy advertising space, without which the Independent is unviable.

I had always wondered how such a small population could support two newspapers, but this is nevertheless a worrying development. Some reaction, including my own, has been covered on Simon Pipe's blog. There is little more I can add except to say that this is a regrettable and rather worrying development. The Independent was a thorn in the flesh for the Government on the island. It was not always right, but it performed a useful service.

It will surely also have consequences for employment at the island's privately owned printing firm. At the moment the airport project is generating a number of better paid jobs, and will do so for some time. How the island will fare when the airport is complete and the RMS St Helena, itself an important employer, is decommissioned, is another matter.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Thomas Moore: "To Sir Hudson Lowe"

Thomas Moore, Irish Poet (1779-1852)

A friend of Lord Byron and of Lord John Russell, the future Whig Prime Minister who had visited Napoleon on Elba, Thomas Moore published the poem, "To Sir Hudson Lowe" in the Examiner, a radical newspaper, on 4th October 1818.

It reflects the criticism already prevalent in England in Whig and Radical circles about Napoleon's treatment on St Helena, and contrasts the greatness of Napoleon with his captors who are likened to the Lilliputians in Swift's Gulliver's Travels.

Sir Hudson Lowe, Sir Hudson _Low_,
(By name, and ah! by nature so)
As thou art fond of persecutions,
Perhaps thou'st read, or heard repeated,
How Captain Gulliver was treated,
When thrown among the Lilliputians.

They tied him down--these little men did--
And having valiantly ascended
Upon the Mighty Man's protuberance,
They did so strut!--upon my soul,
It must have been extremely droll
To see their pigmy pride's exuberance!

And how the doughty mannikins
Amused themselves with sticking pins
And needles in the great man's breeches:
And how some _very_ little things,
That past for Lords, on scaffoldings
Got up and worried him with speeches,

Alas, alas! that it should happen
To mighty men to be caught napping!--
Tho' different too these persecutions;
For Gulliver, _there_, took the nap,
While, _here_, the _Nap_, oh sad mishap,
Is taken by the Lilliputians!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

An American at Waterloo: The DeLanceys, Wellington and Hudson Lowe

Colonel Sir William Howe DeLancey, KCB (1778 - 1815)

Born into a wealthy New York Loyalist family, originally French Huguenots from Caen, Colonel DeLancey was named after William Howe, Commander in Chief of the British forces in America, who resigned in the year DeLancey was born, and to some extent became a scapegoat for defeat.

After the War the Delancey family property was sequestrated, and most moved to Beverley in Yorkshire. William entered the army in 1892, obtained his commission at 15, and served with distinction during the Peninsular War. Throughout his military career he was known by colleagues as “The American”.

Colonel DeLancey was highly regarded by Wellington who refused to accept command in the Belgian campaign against Napoleon unless he could appoint him in place of Hudson Lowe, whom he disliked. Wellington's unwillingness to have Hudson Lowe was made clear by Major-General Sir H. Torrens in a letter to Earl Bathurst, the Secretary of War,
I shall communicate fully with the Commander-in-Chief upon the Duke of Wellington's wishes respecting his Staff ... As you were somewhat anxious about Sir Hudson Lowe, I must apprise you that he will not do for the Duke." (1)

DeLancey was duly appointed deputy quartermaster-general of the army in Belgium. Sir Hudson Lowe was offered command of the British troops in Genoa and then, whilst in the south of France in August 1815 was appointed to be Napoleon's gaoler on St Helena.

On meeting Sir Hudson Lowe for the first time Napoleon was horrified, and described his appointment as an insult. Maybe he was right!

DeLancey was seriously wounded at Waterloo whilst talking to Wellington. He was nursed by Magdalen, his bride of a few weeks, who was believed to be the inspiration for the character, “Lucy Ashton” in Sir Walter Scott's 1819 novel, The Bride of Lammermoor. He died of his wounds a little over a week later, a serious loss to His Majesty's service, and to me, said Wellington.

A few months later, shortly before embarking for St Helena, Sir Hudson Lowe married his widowed sister, Susan DeLancey Johnson. (2) Whilst on St Helena she became generally unpopular with all who come in contact with her, drank too much, made Sir Hudson's life a misery, and as was the lot of married women in those days, bore children at fairly regular intervals: Hudson (1816), Clara Maria Susanna (1818) and Edward William Howe de Lancey Lowe (1820). She died in Hertford Street, Mayfair, London, on 22 August 1832.

The Lowes' third child, Edward William Howe de Lancey Lowe, named after the uncle who had perished after Waterloo, was himself to have a distinguished military career. He married a daughter of Basil Jackson, who had been on Wellington's staff at Waterloo, had accompanied Hudson Lowe to St Helena, acted as his spy at Longwood, and in a combination of amatory and espionage pursuits had followed Albine de Montholon to Brussels when she left St Helena in 1819.


1. Major-General Sir H. Torrens to Earl Bathurst, Secretary for War, dated Ghent, 8th April 1815, quoted in introduction p. 11 to A Week at Waterloo in 1815, Lady De Lancey's Narrative , Edited by Major R.R. Ward, London 1906,
2. Lady Lowe's first husband, William Johnson had died in 1811. He too came from a New York loyalist family which had relocated to Canada. Lorenzo Sabine, Biographical Sketches of Loyalists of the American Revolution Volume 2, pp 574-582.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Napoleon, Science and the Egyptian Campaign

Hels's blog is entitled "ART and ARCHITECTURE, mainly", so although I follow it I have not included a permanent link here.

Her latest blog, posted tomorrow (she is in Australia!), is well worth reading by anyone interested in Napoleon's remarkable career.

It references work published some time ago by the International Napoleonic Society about L' Institut d’Égypte which Napoleon set up to carry out research during his military campaign. It is a fascinating blog about a scientific project that is not well known, planned let us remind ourselves when Napoleon was still less than 30 years old.

It reminded me again of the inadequacy of the labels that his detractors in particular have used to describe Napoleon. He was a very complex man, which is perhaps partly the source of his fascination for contemporaries and generations since, but for all that he was a product of the times in which he lived: enlightened despotism, revolution, and above all a child of the Enlightenment.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Endemics of St Helena

Trochetiopsis ebenus

Michel has recently put two interesting posts on M. Dancoisne-Martineau - artiste peintre.

One contains beautiful paintings of the endemics of St Helena.

The other contains his artistic imagining of an extinct ebony Dombeya Melanoxylon described in some detail in his memoirs by Dr Antommarchi, who attended Napoleon in his final months on St Helena.

Dombeya Melanoxylon

The plant also caught the eye of former Governor Alexander Beatson, who said it was a native of the barren rocks near the sea on the south side of the island, not far from Sandy Bay.
"I saw it in two gardens only, where it had in many years grown to the height of only 2-3 feet, with many longer branches spreading flat on the ground, well decorated with abundance of foliage and large beautiful flowers."(1)

Apparently dried fragments of Dombeya Melanoxylon, brought back to England by Captain Cook, are preserved in the collections at Kew.
1. Major-General Alexander Beatson.Tracts Relative To The Island Of St. Helena Written During A Residence Of Five Years 1816 p 307

Saturday, 11 February 2012

The Archambault Brothers: A Postscript

I have recently been contacted by Wade Krawczyk from Australia who has in his possession a pair of silk stockings which were evidently sold by Napoleon Archambault who attested that they once belonged to the Emperor Napoleon and were brought from St Helena by Joseph Archambault when he left in 1816.

The stockings have a crown woven into them

and were accompanied by a descriptive card, presumably printed for an auction or an exhibition.

The accompanying letter, written in Philadelphia in February 1894, signed by Napoleon and Achille Archambault and countersigned by a lawyer, also claims that the stockings had at some point been shown to distinguished personages including Joseph Bonaparte and General Bertrand.

The letter is legible if you click on it, but here is a trancription of the body of it:

Napoleon B. and Achille Lucian Archambault swore out an affidavit on Feb. 3, 1894 before Notary Public Harry J. Franz in which they attested: This is to certify that our father Joseph Archambault accompanied Napoleon Bonaparte to St. Helena, and was subsequently sent away with three others to the Cape of Good Hope. When he left he was presented by the Emperor with several souvenirs, among then a pair of fine, long white silk stockings with a crown wrought in the side. They are in a state of excellent preservation. The stockings have never been out of our possession, since they were given to our father in the year 1815, and have consequently been in our family nearly eighty years. They have been frequently shown to distinguished persons, among them Joseph Bonaparte and General Bertrand. We consider these stockings a valuable addition to any collection of Napoleon relics. Napoleon B. Archambault 3032 Girard Avenue Achille Lucian Archambault 426 So. 40th St."

My thanks to Wade for sharing these.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Madame Colin: A Tribute

Alix Colin, née Olivier, (1891-1942)

On Michel's blog I have recently read the moving story of Madame Colin, wife of one of the former curators of the French Properties on St Helena. I feel it is well worth retelling in English.

Born in Haut Provence in May 1891, Alix Olivier married Georges Colin, a retired soldier, in December 1915. In early 1917 the couple and their 4 month old daughter set out for St Helena from the United Kingdom on the Alivinck Castle. A few days later, on March 17th, between the Scilly Isles and Brittany, their ship was torpedoed. Nine days adrift in a life boat until landing on the north west coast of Spain, they suffered the loss of their baby daughter, Madame Colin's contraction of gangrene, and the consequent partial amputation of her legs.

The couple spent the next two years in Ferrol, where Alix had artificial limbs fitted and also gave birth to a son, Charles. The family finally left Spain for St Helena in October 1919, and on the island, in 1921, Alix gave birth to a daughter, France, attended by Dr Arnold. A second son, Pierre, was born whilst they were on leave in Toulon in 1928.

During the second World War the family had to spend time away from the island in the Cape for treatment for Madame Colin's breast cancer, but they returned to St Helena and she died, at Longwood in November 1942, in her 52nd year, in fact at almost the same age as Napoleon.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Emperor's Last Campaign - A Review

The Emperor's Last Campaign: A Napoleonic Empire in America - Emilio Ocampo

This is a fascinating and important book which provides a totally new perspective on Napoleon's captivity on St Helena. Based on a tremendous amount of research, notably in diplomatic archives, the author puts Napoleon's captivity on St Helena within an international context. Here it is not a footnote on a history written by the victors of Waterloo, but the symbolic centre of a liberal struggle against hereditary monarchy, reaction and oppression in Europe and the Americas.

From it one appreciates again that none of the great powers trusted each other, not least the Bourbon monarchy, restored to France by British and Prussian arms, yet fearful that the ancient enemy, Perfidious Albion, seemingly unperturbed at harebrained plots to free Napoleon, might connive at his escape to further its imperialist ambitions in Latin America.

The only thing they all had in common was fear of revolution, and a determination that the trouble maker in chief, as they saw him, should remain on his island in the South Atlantic. Thus Metternich, the Austrian chancellor and arranger of Napoleon's marriage to Marie Louise, which had given Napoleon the heir whose very existence gave the Bourbons sleepless nights, blamed Napoleon for the discontent of the lower orders in Europe: by fleeing Elba and setting himself at the head of a constitutional monarchy in 1815 he had betrayed his previous work and "set free the Revolution which he came to France to subdue."(1)

The book provides a mine of information from which the author attempts, perhaps not totally satisfactorily, to weave together a number of intersecting narratives:

the conflict in England between Loyalists and the Tory Government on the one hand and radicals, reformers, and some Whigs on the other, over reform at home and the fate of Napoleon;

the interaction of Bonapartist soldiers, refugees, adventurers and filibusters assembled largely in the United States with the independence struggles in Latin America;

the rather desperate speculations of Napoleon on St Helena as recounted by those around him; the thoughts and views of the Austrian, French and Russian commissioners who never saw Napoleon but kept themselves and their Governments very well informed; the suspicion and fear of the hapless Sir Hudson Lowe, whose career would be finished if Napoleon escaped, but as it turned out was finished even though he didn't.

Perhaps most interesting from the perspective of this blog is the light it throws on Napoleon's sympathisers and supporters in England. The author has done research in a number of private archives in the UK, and here one can read about the activities of General Sir Robert Wilson and his Bonapartist sister Fanny Wallis in France and England, and Wilson's planned but ultimately aborted adventures in the Americas.

Here along with the George IV's estranged wife, Queen Caroline, and his brother, the Duke of Sussex, appears a future Whig Prime Minister, Earl Grey, trying to hold the disparate Whig factions together, cautioning Sir Robert Wilson about the company he was keeping and particularly against involvement with the mad schemes of Lord Cochrane, but himself apparently privately sympathetic to the plight of the fallen Emperor.

"My son - the sailor - sails for St Helena next week on the Conqueror", Wilson wrote to Grey in December 1816,"I presume you have no commissions to execute in that part of the world as yet, but I hope and believe before three months that you will." (2)

Little wonder perhaps that Napoleon, isolated on St Helena and fed scraps like this, lived in hope and expectation that the Government would change and the Whigs, or even Queen Caroline, would come to his rescue.

The book is of course full of shadowy schemes to help Napoleon escape by submarine, balloon, steam-powered ship, oak barrels or more conventional means. There is not the slightest bit of evidence that Napoleon entertained serious interest in any of them.

The author is to be commended for having brought together so much fascinating material, although at times the evidence could have been treated more critically. As an example anyone reading it not too carefully might perhaps come away with the idea that Napoleon, Queen Caroline and Napoleon II were all poisoned. Doubtless there were, and maybe are, people who believed that all three were victims of a conspiracy, and certainly there were good reasons why those in power wanted all three of them dead, but the nature of the evidence, or maybe the lack of it, needs careful treatment.

Likewise there are a few "maybe" comments which at times undermine the overall quality of the work e.g. "Maybe she knew something we don't know" , re Napoleon's mother's belief that Napoleon had already left St Helena and therefore couldn't have died, or "Maybe he had heard the bad news about Brayer", an attempt to link Napolon's reported change of mood to events in the Americas.

One ought perhaps also point out that the title of the book is misleading: there is no evidence that Napoleon played any part in planning the various campaigns that his supporters waged alongside other adventurers in the Americas, and there was certainly no centralised campaign coordinated by him, by his brother Joseph in Philadelphia, or indeed anyone else.

These though are minor criticisms. The author is to be commended for having laboured so hard, for having brought together so much material and for getting us to look at this period in a rather different way.


1. Emilio Ocampo, The Emperor's Last Campaign, A Napoleonic Empire in America(University of Alabama Press, 2009 p. 359)
2.Ocampo p. 103 Admiral Plampin and his lady were also on board the Conqueror.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Exminster Devon, May 1822: Betsy Balcombe's Wedding

Exminster Parish Church Register, May 28th 1822.
(For a better image click on the above).

Edward Abell Esquire, Bachelor of the Parish of St Gregory London and Lucia Elizabeth Balcombe spinster of this Parish, married by Licence, with consent of parents, by H J Burlton, witnessed by Jane Balcombe, Thos Tyrwhitt, Francis Stanfler, RN, Jane Sophia Turner, Henry Brown.

The marriage was also reported in Trewman's Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser on May 30th 1821.

Interestingly the marriage was not witnessed by Betsy's parents, who presumably were absent, although Betsy was recorded as a resident of Exminster and presumably they lived there too.

The most interesting name on the list of witnesses is that of Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt (1762-1833), son of an Essex clergyman, educated at Eton and Oxford, with a distinguished career as private secretary to the Prince Regent, Member of Parliament and then Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod from 1812 until 1832. A local Devon landowner, Sir Thomas was the creator of Prince's Town, named in honour of the Prince Regent, where Sir Thomas founded the now famous Dartmoor prison originally used to house French and American prisoners of war.

Sir Thomas was also the inspiration behind the proposal to create a railway between Plymouth and Dartmoor in 1819. When the prospectus was published in 1819 William Balcombe was listed among the 61 subscribers.

The presence of Sir Thomas at Betsy's wedding and his connection with the Prince Regent inevitably raises again the old rumour that William Balcombe was the Regent's natural son. The most likely story however, is that he and his brother were sons of a naval officer lost at sea and, as was the practice in those days, were assisted in their education by the King's Bounty. (1) That at least is what his descendant Dame Mabel Brookes believed.

The bridegroom although recorded as being from London had in fact been educated in Exeter, and his family lived in Alphington in Devon. He served for a time in the Madras Army, and resigned around 1816. His elder brother Francis Tillet Abell became mayor of Colchester in Essex, the county from which Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt originated.

Edward and Lucia Abell had a daughter, soon separated but apparently never divorced, for at her death in 1871 Betsy was styled as the widow of Edward Abell.

(1) It appears that William Balcombe was born at Rottingdean in Kent in 1777 to Stephen Balcombe and his wife Mary (nee Vandyke). A younger brother also called Stephen was born in 1880.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

New Longwood House

The new house built for Napoleon at Longwood - a mid nineteenth century view.

Longwood House was always intended to be a temporary residence, and on 17th May 1816 Sir Hudson Lowe told Napoleon that the materials necessary for building a new house had arrived. Napoleon, uwilling to accept his permanent imprisonment on the island, would not discuss it with him.

Sir Hudson Lowe prevaricated as to where it would be built, but eventually, in 1818, began construction on a site next door to Bertrand's cottage. It was pretty well completed by the end of 1820.

The house was pre-fabricated by John Bullock in London. Construction was under the command of Major Emmet. Among those working on the project were Mr Paine, a painter and paper hanger sent out from London, and Mr Darling, who served as undertaker at Napoleon's funeral and also assisted at the exhumation.

Napoleon watched the house being built, and once secretly visited it, but he always maintained that he would never live there. Shortly before his death he strongly objected to the iron railings that were placed around it, which to him had the appearance of a prison. These were removed and later used to fence off his grave.

In the last hours of Napoleon's illness Lowe and his assistant Major Gideon Gorrequer waited there for news.

No trace of the house now remains. It was demolished in 1947 and agricultural buildings now stand on the site.

Longwood House itself came very near to a similar fate around the same time.

For another image see previous blog on sites associated with the captivity of Napoleon.