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?