Thursday, 23 November 2017

Napoleon and British Song 1797-1822 - by Oskar Cox Jensen

Napoleon and British Song 1797-1822

This is an important and fascinating book which is packed with new insights into popular culture during the wars against France after 1797.

Early in the book Jensen makes a striking claim that is worth reproducing

The historical reality is that across the British Isles, both during and especially after the Napoleonic Wars, the eponymous Bonaparte was better loved and respected by the general populace than Wellington, Pitt or the Prince Regent

Castlereagh and Sidmouth might have been added to this pantheon of anti-heroes, and some might wonder at the inclusion of Wellington. His creation as a national rather than a partisan hero was in fact some decades away. In the years after Waterloo he was rarely represented in song as "purely good", and he remained a target of many of the populace through the Reform bill period and even into the times of the Chartists. The New Hunting song in praise of Fergus O'Connor singled out Wellington for attack but praised "brave Bonaparte ", "a man of sense". Napoleon was seen as representing social mobility, whereas Wellington was seen as the ungrateful persecutor of his own soldiers.

The book supports the view that despite its place in the western and especially the British imagination, because of the scale of the casualties Waterloo received muted celebration in 1815 amongst all classes. Napoleon's escape from Elba, his proclamations of peace and his association with liberal politics had tempered radical doubts about him and reinforced a negative view of the battle. Despite the triumphalist Loyalist propaganda, Waterloo was often represented as a tragedy, a slaughter, and even a crime.

The endurance of British songs about Napoleon has been well known for some time, and Jensen confirms that not a single song collected from either a broadside or an oral source after 1815 speaks ill of Napoleon. This suggests the ultimate failure of all the Loyalist propaganda in demonising Napoleon in the popular imagination, and a failure in inculcating a sense of identity with the state and against the French.

In this respect Jensen is clearly at odds with the work of Linda Colley and others who have portrayed the wars as uniting the British people against the Corsican Ogre and Catholic France. Jensen reminds us of the reality of the relationship of the mass of the people to the British state: the press gang, enclosure, transportation and Pitt's "terror".

The book also stresses the importance of localism, which has been a neglected aspect of our national story. Britain in 1815 as for many decades later, consisted of a myriad of highly localised cultures. In conservative areas in Ireland, Napoleon was "the latest incarnation of the saviour across the water", in many areas there was great hostility to the militia, in some areas, especially the North East, the press gang was a major source of disaffection, in other areas Luddism was strong, in some areas there was an identification with smugglers, in Newcastle and perhaps elsewhere there was an anti authoritarian, pre-enlightenment popular song culture into which songs about Napoleon were readily incorporated, and everywhere there was little enthusiasm for volunteering for the wars.

The book analyses the changing dialectic between Loyalist propaganda and oppositional songs, and suggests that propaganda helped to build Napoleon up as a fabulous, folkloric figure. The Napoleon of the "black legend" though was never assimilated into popular culture, and his exile and separation from his wife and child made him a figure with which people could readily sympathise and identify. In the nineteenth century attention was focussed not on Josephine but on Marie Louise. So Napoleon on St. Helena became the victim of the British state, a flawed but attractive figure.

My only very minor quibble with the book concerns its opening sentence - "It is no coincidence that they named the Wars after him". This might give the impression that people at the time used the term, "Napoleonic Wars", but in fact that term did not come into use until the middle of the nineteenth century, and was certainly not a product of popular culture. The author redeems himself in the final sentence of the book, describing them as, "the Wars that took his name."

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Forthcoming Talk: Napoleon and the British opposition, 1815-1821

Opening theme for my planned talk

In 2015 I gave a talk in London to the Friends of St Helena on Napoleon and the British Opposition. I am now preparing for a talk in Stockport, and intend to incorporate some of the local material that has appeared on recent blogs.

After my London talk I sent a summary for publication on the FOSH website, which I have reproduced below.

Britain during the period that Napoleon was exiled on St. Helena was a divided and repressive country. It was a period of dissent and disorder: machine breaking, mass movements, public meetings and petitions against taxes, against corruption, against placemen and against a standing army.

The Foxite Whigs, the opposition in Parliament, often critical of the wars against both France and the United States, never subscribed to the Tory caricature of Napoleon. Whilst not uncritical of him, they recognized that he had created order out of the anarchy of the Revolution, had safeguarded property rights, and furthermore had instituted a number of reforms they would have welcomed in England. They admired his sponsorship of the arts and sciences, the Code Napoléon, considered far superior to the repressive legal system in England, and the religious freedom he had brought to France.

Many great names voted against the resumption of war in the House of Lords in 1815, including the Prince Regent’s brother, the Duke of Sussex, a future Whig Prime Minister, Earl Grey, and Marquis Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington’s brother. Opposition in the House of Commons was led by Lord John Russell, another future Prime Minister, younger son of the Duke of Bedford, who was among a number of Whigs who had travelled to Elba to meet Napoleon in 1814.

Lords voting against war in 1815, including Lord Byron. Lord Holland and the Duke of Bedford were still on their way home from Italy

On the day that news of the victory arrived in London, Earl Grey was telling all who would listen that the world needed the genius of Napoleon. The unexpected victory, so pumped up by Government propagandists that even Wellington became a little embarrassed, totally wrong footed the Whigs. Lord Byron said that there was nothing to do but to follow the example of Samuel Whitbread, one of Napoleon’s greatest admirers in Parliament who for whatever reason committed suicide on 6th July.

Throughout the period of the captivity only the most “reform minded” Whigs were prepared to become associated publicly with Napoleon’s cause. Holland House in London, the home of Charles James Fox’s nephew, Lord Holland, became Napoleon’s centre of support. Lady Holland sent Napoleon some 1000 books donated by Whig families. The Everlasting, Xerochrysum bracteatum , an Australian plant that now grows across St Helena, is the permanent legacy of Lady Holland, who sent the original seeds to Longwood.

In Holland House garden a Canova bust of Napoleon was installed, inscribed at its base:

The hero is not dead, but breathes the air
In lands beyond the deep:
Some island sea-begirded, where
Harsh men the prisoner keep.

Whilst most of the Whigs were quiescent, the Radicals became more vocal in Napoleon’s support. As supporters of the French Revolution, they had found Napoleon’s imperial crown and marriage to an Austrian princess hard to swallow. However, in the post-Waterloo world many came to see Napoleon and to some extent his son, confined by his grandfather the Austrian Emperor, as the symbols of an international liberty that had begun with the French Revolution and was now under threat.

The Radicals developed a narrative about Waterloo diametrically opposed to that pushed by Tory propagandists. The following extracts from the press give an insight into their discourse:

The Rights of Kings triumphed over the Rights of the People at Waterloo. 

Had the country a reformed House of Commons, a war of 
such injustice had never been commenced.

The fall of Napoleon .. was effected by immense German armies, subsidized by us.

That perjury and fraud to which England lent herself, 
in enslaving the Nations of Europe ..

That war sent the brave and generous Napoleon into 
captivity; that war restored the Bourbons in France, 
Spain and Naples; 
it restored the Pope and the Inquisition, all of which Bonaparte had put down.

You see the scaffolds in France streaming with the 
blood of people who cry out for Napoleon’s return .. 
religious liberty was, under Napoleon, made as perfect as in America

So far from it being true that the whole nation 
approved of this measure [exile of Napoleon], 
the fact is that a very great part of the 
sound and enlightened  part of the nation decidedly disapproved of it;

Napoleon towers like the Andes above them all. He 
stands a beacon and a sign unto the Nations; 
and although his thunders sleep, 
perhaps for ever, there is not a-King, or Kingling – a base legitimate – or a plundering Minister, 
that does not tremble at the very name of NAPOLEON.
At the close of poll in the Westminster Election in 1818 the cries of “Napoleon – Napoleon” were heard. On July 22nd 1819 a reform meeting at Smithfield, attended by 40,000-50,000 passed the following resolution:
That this meeting unequivocally disclaims any share or participation in the disgraceful and cowardly acts of the boroughmongers, in placing the brave Napoleon a prisoner, to perish upon a desert island, shut out from human society, and torn from his only son, whilst he is exposed to the brutal insolence of a hired keeper.

Soon followed the mass meeting in Manchester, almost immediately known as the Peterloo Massacre, an ironic reference to the “killing fields of Waterloo.”

When news of Napoleon’s death arrived, placards appeared in London inviting people to go into mourning. The Radical leader Henry Hunt whose attempted arrest led to the Peterloo Massacre, described Napoleon as “the most illustrious and eminent man of the present age, both as a profound statesman and a brave and matchless general.” Whilst aware of Napoleon’s failings,

“yet, when I reflect upon the period in which his energetic mind was allowed to have its full scope of action, and when I recollect the powerful armies and fleets that he had to contend with, and the phalanx of tyrants who were at various times leagued together against him, I am disposed not to examine too nicely and with too critical an eye the means that he used to defend himself against their unceasing endeavours to destroy him, and to restore the old tyranny of the Bourbons.”

Lord Holland considered Napoleon’s death “a legal or political murder, a species of crime which tho’ not uncommon in our age is one of the most blackest dye most odious nature.” Appropriately for a Whig, he 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.

Both Whigs and Radicals had views of Napoleon that differed totally from that of the “Corsican Ogre” created by Government propagandists. Evidence of Whig admiration for Napoleon is to be found in the collections that remain in some of the large stately homes, particularly Chatsworth and Blenheim; the folk memories of the lower orders, reflected in this song

They sent him to St Helena! Oh! Aye, oh!  
They sent him to St. Helena,
John France Wa! (Francois)
Boney was ill-treated! Oh! Aye, Oh! 
Boney was ill-treated,
John France Wa!
Oh Boney's heart was broken! Oh! Aye, Oh!  
Boney's heart was broken
John France Wa!
But Boney was an Emperor! Oh! Aye, Oh! 
But Boney was an Emperor!
John France Wa!
have largely disappeared.

Friday, 17 November 2017

English Honour and the Captivity of Napoleon

An English Gentleman

England in the Regency period was a highly ordered society. Gentlemanly conduct was the ideal to which all in power aspired. Half a century earlier Dr Johnson had defined being a gentleman in terms of "nobility of soul, magnanimity, and a scorn of meanness." Gentlemanly conduct also encompassed ideas of never taking unfair advantage and of conducting oneself towards your enemy as if he might one day become your friend. (1)

The treatment of Napoleon after his surrender was clearly an infringement of this gentlemanly code: detaining a defeated ruler after the end of hostilities was neither customary nor honourable. Napoleon in his letter to the Prince Regent had claimed " the protection of the laws", and had thrown himself on "the most powerful, the most constant, and the most generous" of his enemies. Whilst Captain Maitland gave no assurances as to the outcome of his surrender, Napoleon certainly got the impression that he would be treated with the respect normally afforded a defeated enemy. Lord Holland made exactly this criticism when opposing the bill to legalise Napoleon's detention:

To consign to distant exile and imprisonment a foreign and captive Chief, who, after the abdication of his authority, relying on British generosity, had surrendered himself to us, in preference to his other enemies, is unworthy the magnanimity of a great country;

Napoleon Preparing to Board the Bellerophon

The question of “honour” was important in governing circles, and impugnment of a man's honour fairly regularly led to duels.(2) Hudson Lowe mentioned it in one of his long letters to Bathurst early in the captivity.(3) Lord Castlereagh sought to dispel the concern by a rather tortuous logic: Napoleon and his fellow exiles had held a council of war in France prior to surrender and had decided there was no chance of escape; if Napoleon had had a chance of escape and had surrendered then the Government action would have been dishonourable, but since he had had no choice then Britain acted honourably.

The fact that Lord Bathurst and many members of the Government derived amusement from Napoleon's plight was also unworthy of an English gentleman. In a debate in the House of Lords in 1817 Lord Holland wondered how Bathurst could “allow himself to laugh and sneer at a man because he was in his power.“ Commenting on the affair, the Examiner criticized Bathurst for taking advantage of a man’s adversity by cracking jokes about him, and concluded that “it is the object of Ministers to humiliate their fallen Superior” hence their insistence on the title “General.

Samuel Bamford, the simple weaver who could not aspire to gentlemanly status, clearly judged his country by that moral code, and condemned Napoleon's exile on St. Helena: "Of England's honour 'tis the grave."

It is no wonder that a later gentlemanly Prime Minister would write that an Englishman

"must regret that his Government ever undertook the custody of Napoleon, and he must regret still more that the duty should have been discharged in a spirit so ignoble and through agents so unfortunate."
Rosebery was presumably referring to two knights of the realm, Sir Hudson Lowe and Sir Thomas Reade, neither of whom he considered gentlemen.(4) For Loyalists such as Lowe and Reade of course, and for Bathurst also, Napoleon was an illegitimate ruler, a rebel and a usurper, which undoutedly affected the way he was treated.

It might be fair to point out that for the French at this time and later there was a certain hypocrisy about an Englishman's invocation of "honour", L'Angleterre, ah, la perfide Angleterre .
1.See "In a Gewntleman-Like-Manner"
1. Canning and Castlereagh duelled in 1809; the Duke of Wellington fought a duel in 1829 when he was Prime Minister.
3. See also Gorrequer's comment, June 10, 1818.
4.Lord Rosebery, Napoleon The Last Phase London 1900, p 57.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Stockport 1819: Sandy Brow will be More Famous than Waterloo

Cartoon depicting a chained Rev. Harrison of Stockport holding the red Cap of Liberty

In the years leading up to Peterloo, Stockport became a major centre of radicalism. The main area of of popular protest was Sandy Brow, a large open space in the centre of Stockport of which there is now no trace on the map. The best known leader was Rev. Joseph Harrison a dissenting minister whose Sunday School was at one point reportedly attended by some 2000 pupils.

On September 1st 1818 a meeting at Sandy Brow led to the arrest of three of the speakers, John Bagguley, Samuel Drummond and John Johnston. It was pointed out at their trial in 1819 that one of them had eulogised Tom Paine and Napoleon Bonaparte and had reprobated those who abused Napoleon. (1)

In February 1819 at another mass meeting at Sandy Brow the Cap of Liberty was hoisted along with a flag inscribed "Paine & the Rights of Man." Outraged local Loyalists tried to seize the cap and the ensuing struggle was recorded in poems by Samuel Bamford and Henry Ross O'Bryan. (2)

Bamford's poem, in Lancashire dialogue, was redolent of his poem "Touch Him" with its suggestions of the cowardice of the Loyalist yeomanry "dandies".

Ha! Ha'en they taken our cap and flag;
 Wo han the Dandies taken 'em?
O! Wot could stan afore the might
 O' yeomanry so Loyal?
Who came to drive the 'herd aright,
 An would ha' no denial;
Until the stones began to fly,
 An heads began o' crackin',
An' then our Gallant Yeomanry 
 Were fain to find a backin'.
Then amblin' up the 'gemmen' came,
 Towards the front o' th' Hustin;
But soon their folly did they blame
 The rabblement for trustin';
For sticks were up, and stones they flew,
 Their gentle bodies bruisin',
An in a hurry they withdrew
 Fro' such unmannered usin'.

Then proudly let our banner wave,
 Wi' freedom's emblem o'er it,
And toasted be the Stockport lads
 The lads who bravely bore it,
An let the 'war torn' Yeomanry
  Go curse their sad disasters,
An count in rueful agony,
  Their bruises and their plasters.

O'Bryan's poem, subtitled "We fought and conquered," was dedicated to Harrison.

Those who raised the Cap of Liberty on Sandy Brow, "The stage where Britons play'd a Briton's part" were true patriots. "Dire oppression" had "usurp'd" Britain, and the poem harked back to a time "ere tyrant's reign began, When ev'ry Briton lived a free born man ." It questioned the purposes of the "manly Britons" who had fought overseas,"When bleeding thousands fell at Waterloo.", and were now "Curs'd by the despots they themselves preserved." There was then no ambiguity about the author's view of Waterloo:

We're mine Herculean strength, my arm should hew
Those scarlet dogs that bark'd at Waterloo;
Or, Sampson like, I would such asses slay,
And all their guilty fame in ruins lay.
And teach them, England is not Waterloo.
On SANDY BROW we yet shall meet to praise
The God of freedom, just in all his ways.
Then truth shall triumph, while the tyrants fell,
Shall fly for refuge to their native hell;
Th' astonish'd world with joy the change shall scan,
And all creation shout, the RIGHTS OF MAN.

A few months later, in June 1819, a few weeks before Smithfield and Peterloo, another meeting at Sandy Brow passed a resolution affirming that Lord Sidmouth was guilty of high treason, and three hisses were given for the prosecutors of Bagguley, Drummond and Johnston. The meeting was addressed by Sir Charles Wolseley the head of an old Staffordshire family who hoped that "Sandy Brow would be more famed in history than the field of Waterloo." He told the crowd that his political career had begun at the storming of the bastille in France, and he would never hesitate in doing the same in England.

Sir Charles and the Rev. Harrison were in July 1819 indicted for sedition, conspiracy and high treason. At their trial in Chester in 1820 each was sentenced to one and a half years' imprisonment. At later trials Harrison got an additional two years for a speech and a sermon delivered after the June meeting.

A Note on Sir Charles Wolseley

Wolseley was the only aristocrat among the radical leaders in the years around Peterloo. Relatively little is known about him, and no major biography has ever been written. (3)

As well as being in France during the storming of the Bastille he apparently returned to live there for a time after 1801. Along with his father, Sir William, he became involved in reform politics in London in 1811, and he was present at the founding of both the Hampden Club and the Union for Parliamentary Reform in 1812.(4) There is tentative evidence that he offered some kind of service to Napoleon during the 100 days.(5)

Sir Charles Wolseley (1769-1846)

Wolseley met Hunt for the first time in 1818, and from that time appears to have severed ties with the more cautious reformers such as Sir Francis Burdett. In August 1819, on his way to the fateful meeting at St Peter's Field, Hunt was invited to Wolseley Hall, and the two then proceeded to Manchester together, although Wolseley did not stay to attend the meeting which was postponed for seven days.(6) Nevertheless as soon as he heard the news he rushed back to Manchester to provide bail for Hunt and the others. He attended Bamford's trial at York, and supplied Bamford and his wife with money, and he intended to erect a memorial for the victims of Peterloo at Wolseley Hall.

Ancestral home of the Wolseley family in Staffordshire, destroyed in 1966

For a time in the 1820's he lived in Brussels, but he remained in contact with Hunt until they fell out when Hunt was elected to Parliament in 1830. Sir Charles supported the anti poor law radicals in the 1830's and unsuccessfully stood for Parliament in Stafford and Manchester in 1835.

In 1837 he was accepted into the Roman Catholic faith, and wrote a pamphlet "Catholic Clergymen versus Protestant Parsons " which was very critical of Anglican clergy, too frequently a "titled blockhead " and the "booby of the family", sentiments which would have undoubtedly resonated with many nonconformists. He reminded his readers that it was Catholics who built British Cathedrals, founded the Universities and "framed our envied Constitution."

Sir Charles seems to have been a generous and thoroughly decent man, he remained a philanthropist to the end, but he departed from his radical past in the last year of his life by speaking against repeal of the Corn Laws.
1. John Bagguley, Samuel Drummond and John Johnston had tried to escape to America but were captured before they could embark from Liverpool. At the Stockport meeting Napoleon was described by one of them as "that suffering magnanimous character", a view of Napoleon as a victim of the boroughmongers that seems to have been widely held among radicals by this time, and certainly by Henry Hunt.
2. The events at Sandy Brow were eclipsed by the Peterloo Massacre, but for that Sandy Brow would have had a bigger part in radical folklore. Robert Walmsley Peterloo The Case Reopened (Manchester University Press, 1969)p. 58
3. Anne Bayliss, Sir Charles Wolseley (1769-1846) The radical baronet (Staffordshire County Library 1983) provides a short fragmentary account of his life.
4. Bayliss p. 3
5. Bayliss says in her introduction that in the Staffordshire Record office there was a list of letters, one of which dated in 1819 indicated that Sir charles had offered to "do an important service for Napoleon during the 100 days". The letter itself apparently could not be found!
6. Dr Robert Poole has informed me that Wolseley toured Manchester in Hunt’s carriage amid vast crowds. In his view Wolseley would probably have spoken at the St Peter's Field meeting had it not been postponed. The Times of August 10th 1819 in an article dated 7th August listed Wolseley as among those who had been expected to attend the postponed meeting. On August 11 it carried a long report of Hunt and the "crazy Staffordshire Baronet" processing through Manchester and being greeted by very large crowds.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Samuel Bamford: Lancashire Radical and Poet

Samuel Bamford (1788-1872)

Samuel Bamford was one of the leading Manchester radicals who was arrested and gaoled after Peterloo. After his release Bamford retreated from radical politics, and in 1848 at the height of the Chartist movement he even enrolled as a special constable, as did many establishment figures including William Gladstone and Prince Louis Napoleon, the future Napoleon III.

Bamford's highly regarded Passages in the Life of a Radical, provides an important source for study of the post-Waterloo radical movement, but inevitably it lacks immediacy and provides a carefully constructed view of Bamford's part in the struggles. Bamford had been inside eight prisons, and in the years of the Chartist movement to some extent disavowed his more militant past. (1)

Anthony Burgess's claim of Manchester working class support for Napoleon might be disputed by modern loyalist historians. Nevertheless, amongst all the loyalist displays, including the burnings of Thomas Paine in effigy, very few radicals could be labeled as 'patriots' during the latter years of the Napoleonic Wars.(2) Samuel Bamford, despite, to the horror of his aunt, joining the milita as a young man during the invasion scare, was certainly not among them. At the heart of loyalism was Anglicanism, which was very weak in Manchester, and Bamford came from a dissenting family.

A Collection of Bamford's early poems, published in 1821

The best insight into the world view and the passion of the younger Bamford is to be found in his Miscellaneous Poetry published in 1821. The most political of the poems, "Waterloo", "St Helena", "Touch Him", "The Arrest", "God Save the Queen", "The Queen's Triumph", "The Patriot's Hymn" and "The Union Hymn" were all omitted from the 1843 edition of his poems.(3)

The victory at Waterloo was the cornerstone of Loyalist propaganda. For radicals it was an unnecessary and unjust war fought to impose an unpopular King on the French people, and represented the triumph of tyranny at home as well as on the continent (4) On hearing the news of Waterloo Bamford wrote the ironic Patriot's Hymn, sung by radicals to the tune of God Save the King. This poem reflected beliefs widely held by the radical opponents of the war.

Emperors, and lords, and kings,
Gaudy and glittering things,
Unlov'd by thee.
If they but nod the head,
Armies are mustered,
Thousands to slaughter led,
For tyranny.

Gory is Europe's plain,
Whelmed beneath her slain,
Dreadful to see.
Bleeding promiscuously,
Victors and vanquish'd lie,
Mingled in butchery,
Let man be free.

In 1817 Bamford wrote about Napoleon's exile. St Helena was "the prison of the brave" and "Of England's honour 'tis the grave."

There Napoleon truly great,
High above the stormy wave,
Stands sublime in silent state;
Like a comet's blaze unfurl'd,
Hanging o'er a wondering world." (5)

Bamford's poem about Waterloo echoed the well worn radical themes of "butchery" and of "shame" that "freedom fell by Englishmen". Nowhere was to be found any reference to the Tory hero Wellington nor to the divine intervention sometimes invoked by the Loyalist press. For Bamford and the radicals it had been an unequal fight, of Britain and the tyrants of the continent ganging up against freedom and the "brave" Napoleon.

Nobly strives the gallant Gaul
  Th' unequal combat to maintain;
For country, honour, Emperor, all,
  He freely bleeds, but bleeds in vain.
Oh! arm of strength, and heart so brave,
From rout, from ruin, could not save!"

O, my country, that my tears
  Could wash this foul reproach away;
Could purchase from succeeding years
  Oblivion for that direful day;
Could whelm in Lethe's darksome tide
  Thy lasting shame, thy greatest pride!"

In January 1819 Orator Hunt made his first visit to Manchester. In the course of that visit he went to the theatre and in a pre-planned assault was ejected from his box by a group of red-coated officers. This inspired Bamford to write "Touch Him", perhaps the most explicitly combative of his poems, with the almost obligatory reference to Waterloo. In Miscellaneous Poetry the incident was described as an

"Outrage, committed upon Mr. Hunt, and his Friends, at the Theatre .. by Lord Uxbridge, Captain Frazer, George Torr, and twenty or thirty other "gemmen' of the same stamp."

Touch him, aye! touch him, if you dare;
Pluck from his head one single hair -
        Ye sneaking, coward crew:

Touch him - and blasted be the hand
That graspeth not a vengeful brand,
To rid our long oppressed land
    Of reptiles such as you.

The poem also evokes a sense of class hatred and class warfare and mocks the officers for their cowardice in not standing and fighting

Our purse-proud tyrants vanity
    Shall to the earth be cast"
A tougher game they'll have to play
    Than that of WATERLOO.

Why did the sparks, on Monday night,
With fallen crests decline the fight,
    And silent sneak away?

But, true to Dandy stile and trim,
They risked neither life nor limb;
      O! it had cheered me,
To see our gallant gang so stout,
At clog and cudgel have a bout;
So fast so firm, amid the rout,

But come, my lads, some other day
We'll pin them, ere they sneak away,
And they shall either play or pay
  When Hunt returns again." (6)

Ten days after Peterloo Samuel and his wife were awoken about 2 o'clock in the morning by the hated deputy-constable of Manchester, Mr Nadin, accompanied by police, a company of foot and a troop of Hussars. Nadin told Bamford that he was being arrested for high treason, and on the way to gaol said that he expected him to be hung. Bamford later wrote "The Arrest" which mocked the large presence of soldiers to arrest an unarmed man in the middle of the night. One of the verses refers with irony to the redcoats, and again to Waterloo.

But in they came - a mighty rout
   Of thief-catchers and soldiers brave,
(Our British red-coats ever ought
  A gallant character to have -
  You know they did the country save,
And our religion, and our right;)
  The very dogs of war, who gave
The troops of France so keen a bite,
When they at Waterloo did fight."

Bamford was an avid reader of "Cobbett's Register" which was widely circulated amongst radicals, and his world view does not appear to have been significantly different to that of the London dominated radical leadership: the long war against France was unjust, unnecessary and against the interests of working people; it was the product of a corrupt and unrepresentative Parliament. In the radical constellation Queen Caroline and the Emperor Napoleon were the brave victims, the anti-heroes were the Prince Regent, Sidmouth, Castlereagh, and for Lancastrians, Parson Hay.

In 1820 in London before his imprisonment Bamford visited the Waterloo Museum in Pall Mall, and "doffed my hat before that of Napoleon, and I reverently touched the sword of Ney and the truncheon of Murat." (7) In his cottage in Moston where he spent his declining years "amongst many shining brasses of various kinds there hung a plaster-cast from the death-mask of Napoleon. A possession on which the owner laid great store." (8)

1.John Gardner, "The Suppression of Samuel Bamford’s Peterloo Poems"
2. Frank O'Gorman, "Manchester Loyalism in the 1790's", Katrina Navickas, "Lancashire Britishness:Patriotism in the Manchester Region during the Napoleonic Wars" in Robert Poole ed., Return to Peterloo (Manchester Centre for Regional History, 2014). Navickas describes Walker and Cowdroy as "among few radical 'patriots' during the Napoleonic Wars."
3. I understand that the first edition was in fact published in 1819. Most of the "political" poems were published in the quieter times of the 1864 edition, but not those on Waterloo, St Helena, nor "Touch Him" on the attack on Henry Hunt at the theatre.
4.The term "Peterloo" was an ironic reference to the "killing fields" of Waterloo. It acquired the name within days of the event: The Hussars were wearing their Waterloo medals, and apparently a special constable had entered the house of someone helping the wounded, and shouted ‘This is Waterloo for you – this is Waterloo!’
5. "St Helena" and "Waterloo" were published in the Black Dwarf as a single poem, "Napoleon" on December 7, 1817. It was dated Middleton, Nov 9, 1817, under the pseudonym "Jefferey ". The last stanza was different to that published in 1821. It ended with "Thy chief, thy pride, away is torn, O! hapless gallic ever mourn ". The 1821 version ended with references to the victor "proud and vain", and "I envy not the gaudy thing, The friendship of a priest or king." The same edition of Black Dwarf in 1817 carried a paragraph linking the Government spies, "the ruthless persecutors of Napoleon" and the "Careless spectators of the murders of Ney and Lzabedoyere." "There is at least a consistency that does them honour. All their actions are alike."
6. Two stanzas of this poem were read by Rev Harrison at a reform Meeting in Ashton under Lyne in June 1819. 7.Samuel Bamford, Passages in the Life of a Radical and Early Days, Vol II (London MCMV) p 299.
8. BEN A. REDFERN. Some Personal Recollections

Monday, 9 October 2017

Henry Hunt and Napoleon: "the first of men, the most wonderful man that ever existed!".

Henry Hunt, radical leader (1773-1835)

Henry Hunt, or "Orator" Hunt as he was known, was the most famous and the most feared of the radical campaigners for universal suffrage in the years after Waterloo. A gentleman farmer from the South of England, he was an unlikely leader of the unrepresented working class. Hunt had been a Loyalist in the early years of the revolutionary wars, and had joined the local yeomanry, but like his fellow reformer William Cobett had become radicalised by the long war, which he saw as being exploited by a corrupt class of placemen, contractors, sycophants and stock-jobbers. (1)

In 1812 Hunt campaigned for Parliament in Bristol with the slogan "Hunt and peace", and asserted that "we have been at War against liberty for the last 20 years." (2) Troops were called in to restore order, which Hunt saw as a sign that the country was nearing military despotism. Hunt's campaign was supported by Cobbett who argued in a letter to the electors that the Government should accept the offers of peace proposed by the Emperor of France. (3)

Like Hazlitt and a number of Whigs and Radicals, Hunt welcomed the return of Napoleon from Elba in 1815 and was totally opposed to the resumption of war : "the most unjust repression." (4) Hunt believed that the power of choosing a sovereign in France as in England ultimately lay with the people, and that it was totally wrong for foreign powers to try to restore the unpopular Bourbons.

Seeing it as a war against liberty, Hunt was like many radicals and some Whigs, not disposed to celebrate Waterloo as a great British victory.

The mind quite sickens at the recital of such a horrid slaughter of human beings, for the sole purpose of gratifying the malignant passions of a few tyrants, who had sworn to annihilate the very spirit as well as the substance of liberty. (5)

In his memoirs he emphasised that Napoleon's forces were greatly outnumbered, and that his defeat was due solely to the late arrival of Prussian troops under Bulow and Blucher.

Not surprisingly Hunt was among the many critics of the decision to exile Napoleon on St. Helena, and was scathing about the failure of the more reform-minded Whigs to speak out against this. He later described the bill legalising Napoleon's imprisonment as "a hateful and foul blot upon the statute book of England".(6)

Hunt's pre-eminent position among the radical leaders after the war was cemented by his acceptance of the invitation to chair mass meetings organised by the Spencereans at Spa Fields in November and again in December 1816. The Spencereans had revolutionary roots and aspirations far removed from those of Hunt, and like Thomas Paine had hoped that Napoleon would invade and promote a revolution in England.

In January 1819 Hunt was invited by radical leaders to Manchester. In the course of his stay he attended the theatre, and a number of red coated officers temporarily ejected him from his box during the singing of the national anthem, amidst a cacophony of "Hunt and Liberty" from the gallery, and patriotic calls from the more expensive seats. (7) This visit marked the beginning of a long association with the radicals in the north of England which lasted until his death.

The Spencereans also invited Hunt to chair the meeting at Smithfield in July 1819, originally planned to be on the anniversary of the French Revolution. At this meeting the resolutions were seconded by a northern radical leader, Rev Harrison, a dissenting minister from Stockport.(8)

The following month Hunt was in Manchester again for the meeting at St Peter's Fields, almost immediately known as the Peterloo Massacre. Accused of participating in a conspiracy to overthrow the Government, Hunt and four others were in 1820 convicted on a lesser charge of "seditious intent", for which he was imprisoned for 30 months, a year longer than any of the others convicted with him. This harsh sentence and the abnormally severe conditions under which he was held in Ilchester gaol was a reflection of the fear he instilled in the ruling classes.

Hunt was in prison when he heard of the death of Napoleon, to which he responded forcefully in a letter to his supporters.

Memorial to Henry Hunt that used to stand in Ancoats, Manchester

In later years Hunt served as the M.P. for Preston (1830-33), and opposed the 1832 Reform Bill, which fell far short of the universal suffrage for which he and the post-war radicals had campaigned. After his death a memorial was erected in the grounds of Rev. Scholefield's chapel in Ancoats. The Chartist leader Fergus O'Connor was present at the laying of the foundation stone, which significantly took place on August 16th 1842, the anniversary of Peterloo. (9) The monument fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1888, but in 1908 a bronze portrait medallion of him was unveiled in Manchester's Reform Club, the home of the Liberal elite in the city. On the demise of this club in the 1980's the plaque was apparently moved to the local Museum of Science and Industry, where it is no longer on display.

1. Belchem 'Orator'Hunt, Henry Hunt and English Working Class Radicalism, Oxford 1985. p. 3
2. Belchem p. 42
3. "The terms offered by the Emperor of France are fair; they are, indeed, such as I never expected to see obtained at the close of a negociation; they would, if accepted of, leave us in possession of all our conquests, of all the Islands in the West Indies; of the exclusive fishery of Newfoundland; of the Cape of Good Hope and the French Settlements in Senegal; of the French and Dutch Settlements in the East Indies; of the Isles of France and Bourbon; in short, they would leave us in possession of about 40 millions of conquered people, while France herself would not possess above 17 or 18 millions of conquered people. And, which is never to be forgotten, they would leave in our hands, the island of Malta itself, which, as you well know, was the avowed object of the war. - Cobbett 3rd Letter to the Independent Electors of Bristol, 11 August 1812 , reproduced in Hunt vol 3.
4. Belchem p. 46
5. Hunt Memoirs Vol 3.
6. Belchem p. 47
7. Belchem p. 109.
8. There were 19 resolutions in all. The final resolution condemned the British Government's treatment of Napoleon, another resolution supported the removal of disabilities on Roman Catholics. The Rev. Harrison said he thought that the resolutions should be adopted by every county, town, village and hamlet in the country. Each resolution was apparently greeted with great applause, although there were a few dissents to the resolution on removing disabilities on Roman Catholics. The Rev. Harrison was arrested at the end of the meeting for remarks he had made at a previous meeting in Stockport, for which he was later convicted and imprisoned, along with another radical leader Sir Charles Wolseley. Manchester Observer , July 31, 1819.
9. Katrina Navickas Protest and the Politics of Space and Place, 1789-1848 , (Manchester University Press, 2016), p.192

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Manchester 1821: a toast to the Immortal Memory of Napoleon Bonaparte

The Plaque Commemorating Peterloo

The Smithfield meeting in July 1819 passed a resolution opposing the British Government's imprisonment of Napoleon on St. Helena. Although Henry Hunt was the main speaker at both meetings it is perhaps unlikely that the Manchester meeting, held a few weeks later, would have passed the same resolution had it been allowed to proceed peacefully. The meeting at St. Peter's Fields took place under very threatening circumstances, and had been postponed a week because it was declared illegal. So those who organised it were determined to show that it was an orderly, peaceful meeting, solely concerned with a legal campaign to reform the House of Commons.

Within a week though it was given the name "Peterloo," an ironic reference to the "killing fields" of Waterloo which had toppled Napoleon and put the hated Bourbons back on the throne of France.

Two years later, on Thursday August 16th 1821, with Hunt still serving a thirty month prison sentence for his part in the meeting, "Peterloo" was commemorated in Manchester with a march to St Peter's Fields, and then to a chapel in Hulme where 9 children were christened with the name "Henry Hunt"!(1)

The following Monday, the day on which the meeting had been held, some 300 people attended a dinner in the Union Rooms at George Leigh Street. As well as toasts to Hunt and a number of radical leaders including Sir Charles Wolseley, Major Cartwright and William Cobbett, there was one to Thomas Paine, one to the late Queen, "Caroline of Brunswick, the injured Queen of England", and one to the "immortal memory of Napoleon Buonaparte." (2)

From prison, Hunt addressed a letter to his supporters, noting with satisfaction this commemoration of the bloody, never-to-be-forgotten, never-to-be-forgiven, SIXTEENTH OF AUGUST 1819.

A Contemporary account of Peterloo, with a portrait of Henry Hunt

Hunt began his account by linking Napoleon and Queen Caroline, whose attempted marriage annulment by the Government and then exclusion from her husband's coronation made her a very popular symbol of resistance to the Government of Lord Liverpool in 1820-1821.

"It is scarcely two months since, in the Seventeenth Number of My Memoirs, I had to record the death of one of the bravest men that ever lived - Napoleon Buonaparte, late Emperor of France. I have now the melancholy task of recording the death of one of the bravest women that ever breathed, "CAROLINE OF BRUNSWICK, THE INJURED QUEEN OF ENGLAND." Napoleon's remorseless gaolers were Caroline's implacable persecutors, even to death! His gaolers and her persecutors are our never-ceasing deadly enemies; the enemies of rational Liberty; the enemies of all that is praiseworthy, amiable and noble in human nature!"

1. The chapel they attended was Christ Church in Hulme, one of a small local sect known as the Bible Christian Church, which was founded in Salford by William Cowherd. Out of this church began the vegetarian movement in the UK and later the US. Church members also had to abstain from alcoholic drink. The pastor at Hulme was Dr Scholefield, who on this occasion spoke to the large congregation on the 94th Psalm: The Lord is a God who avenges. O God who avenges, shine forth. Rise up, Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve. How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant?
2. Apparently only water was drunk at this dinner Hunt, who seems to have been rather egotistical, assumed it was a result of his advice not to drink highly taxed liquors. Letter to the Radical Reformers, Male and Female, of England, Ireland and Scotland; August 24th 1821.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Napoleon’s Representative on Earth : "I am the keeper of the empty tomb"

To the Saints, Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, the Honorary French Consul and Curator of the French Properties on St. Helena, is simply “THE Frenchman”, but to many tourists he is, along with Jonathan the 185 year old tortoise that resides at Plantation House, one of the curiosities of the island.

Apparently French visitors just want to meet him, and often have little or nothing to say. Those from the English world seem to be more loquacious, sometimes telling him how much they disapprove of the work he has done at Longwood House. Michel recounts in detail one such meeting with three British visitors in 2016. The first, a Hong Kong resident, asked him what Napoleon would have thought of Brexit, and said that now it would no longer be politically incorrect to quote Lord Nelson: "you must hate a Frenchman as much as you hate the Devil." He also added that it would now not be necessary to follow the dictatorial directives of Brussels. "Delivered with such arrogance" said another who now resides in Port Elizabeth, with the approbation of the third, the only one to live in the UK!

The title of the book was given unwittingly by a man Michel met at the Castle in Jamestown, the centre of Government on the island. The man, whom Michel did not know, voicing the typical contempt of the Saints for officialdom, said that they all perfected the art of seeming indispensable even when they were only in charge of the broom cupboard. But Michel he said excelled them all: he had received the Légion d'Honneur for looking after an empty tomb!

Michel Dancoisne-Martineau and Inger Tyrrell, in Les Invalides, a non-empty tomb. (April 2016)

This is a fascinating read for anyone interested in St. Helena, but more than that, it provides a frank account of Michel’s own amazing story. Napoleon once was reported to have said “What a novel my life has been.” Michel could justifiably say the same. Growing up as the youngest and eighth child in a poor, conservative, religious farming family in Picardy, Michel knew nothing about Napoleon other than a nursery rhyme, although curiously he played as a child in the ruined fortress at Ham, from which the future Napoleon III and the Count de Montholon had escaped in 1846. It was Michel's meeting with Gilbert Martineau that changed his life.

Although an agricultural student, Michel had developed an interest in literature, and particularly in Lord Byron. So he wrote to Gilbert, the author of a recent biography of Byron, they corresponded a few times, and eventually they met. Apprised of Michel's very unhappy childhood, within a few hours of their meeting Gilbert astonished Michel by saying he would like to adopt him. Then, as later, Gilbert was distressed to find that others suspected his motives, but as he protested to Michel, "I want a son, not a lover". He also wanted someone to take over from him on St Helena. He had reached retirement age, and after some four years nobody had applied for the job!

So Michel was adopted, and soon succeeded his adopted father as French Consul and Curator of the French Properties, a job which he has filled with distinction and increasing confidence over 30 years. His aim was to make Longwood a place of memory, not a museum of the greatness of France, which he felt it had become in Gilbert's time. With some satisfaction he claims that after a century of indifference, ordinary Saints have now become aware of the importance of the years of exile and the death of Napoleon on their island.

A young Gilbert Martineau

The book affords an interesting insight into Gilbert Martineau. A proud Gaullist who had moved in the highest intellectual circles in Paris in the decade after the second world war, Gilbert was determined to maintain French prestige on St Helena. A recluse for whom appearances were all important, he remained on the island for some 40 years, interspersed with lengthy trips back to his home on Ars-en-Ré, an island he loved. For many years Gilbert's life on St Helena was shared by his parents. His mother died on the island, and his father died at breakfast the day after they arrived back in France with her embalmed body.

Gilbert was apparently respected by many Saints for being able to contact the recently dead, and claimed to be in touch with Lord Byron, and through him to spirits on the "other side". After Gilbert's death Michel consigned his ashes to the Atlantic, close but not too close to St Helena, the island to which he had dedicated his life and to which he was irrevocably attached, but which at the same time he actually hated.

Michel clearly differed from Gilbert on many things, but his love and admiration for him shines through: his intellectual sophistication, his verve, his presence, his art of living, the scars he bore, his elegance. Whether he or anyone else ever got close to Gilbert is another matter.

There is much in the book about the changes to St Helena over the 30 years, and many anecdotes about locals and about expatriates and the hostility of a number of the latter to the French presence on the island. Unlike Gilbert, Michel has mixed freely with ordinary Saints, and it was their relaxed, accepting approach to life, the ambient amoralism, that attracted him to the island. He writes openly about his bisexuality, and among the most surprising encounters was his seduction at the age of 19 by a 71 year old Countess, a friend of Gilbert's whom he assures us was still very beautiful and looked at least 20 years younger! He writes also of the sexual mores on St Helena, and of the tolerant and at times rather surprising reception he has received, living in an openly gay relationship on an island which has still not legally accepted same-sex marriage.

The very last sentence in the book, which does not translate easily into English, acknowledges Michel’s mother who confirmed all the awful details of his early life. Elle le fit avec un simplicité et une aisance dont je luis d'autant plus reconaissant que je ne lui en soupçonnais pas l'aptitude.*

Michel's book has already gone into a second printing in France. It is a pity that it is unlikely ever to be translated into English. Whether it will succeed in Michel's aim of making him less of an object of curiosity is I fear rather unlikely.
* My best effort at a very loose translation: She did so with a simplicity and ease which made more impression on me because I did not think she was capable of it.

Friday, 18 August 2017

1815: Napoleon's Abolition of the Slave Trade

Pro-Napoleon propaganda produced by William Hone in 1815

William Hone(1780-1842) was a satirist, a writer and a bookseller whom the authorities tried to silence in the years after Waterloo. His acquittal in three trials in 1817 proved highly popular, and a public collection was made on his behalf. Among those publicly contributing were the Duke of Bedford and his son the Marquis of Tavistock. Like many reformers and Foxite Whigs, Hone was highly sympathetic to Napoleon.

This piece, in the British Museum Collection was dedicated to Sir William Wilberforce, and to the memory of Charles James Fox, "who abolished the slave trade in England". It reminded readers that Napoleon, "by a stroke of his pen," had abolished the slave trade in France.

In the same year Hone wrote Buonapartephobia, a satirical piece attacking the editor of the Times, Sir John Stoddart, "Dr Slop", a staunch Tory, for his vitriolic articles about Napoleon.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Imperial Exile: The Napoleon Diaries

Imperial Exile by James Hartley, now published on Kindle

Everybody around him at Longwood wrote their accounts of Napoleon's exile, but until now we have not heard from the man himself! Only joking! This is a work of fiction!

Some time ago I was in correspondence with James Hartley about the book he was then writing on Napoleon and St. Helena. It turned out to be a rather long labour of love?, and James has now decided to publish it on Kindle. I understand that it is going live tomorrow, which happens to be Napoleon's 248th birthday!

Monday, 31 July 2017

St Helena 1814-1816

The St Helena Judicial Records 1808

My transcription of the years 1808-1816 from the St Helena Judicial Records is now complete. The years 1814-816 revealed some of the most interesting cases of the whole period.

A most fascinating insight into St Helena Justice was afforded by the case of Aaron Lambe who had beaten a slave who had complained to a magistrate. Considered a serious offence, it went unpunished in this instance. The Governor explained to the court the logic behind this decision: the Code of Slave laws restricted the fine to 40 shillings for a single offence, which was considered far too little, so the Bench had considered bringing him to trial, but had ascertained that such a fine as should form a proper example, would be disproportionate to [his] circumstances , and being unable to pay he would have ended up in the common gaol.

So to avoid the unfortunate outcome of a slave owner ending up in gaol for mistreatment of a slave Mr Lambe was given a public rebuke by the Governor:

I am happy at being enabled to observe that the offence which has been described is rare indeed in this place. The Community seems generally to feel, and it is indispensable that you in future should distinctly understand that the act of punishing a slave for having complained, and even pending the trial of that complaint, approached the nature of a direct insult to public authority; and it is proper for me to add that you are indebted to the lenity of the Magistrate whom you have insulted for being saved from the Consequences of a trial. If you have the feelings which ought to belong to your place in Society, you have already been sufficiently punished – and you are dismissed without a fine. (1)

In 1815 another slave owner Elisha Isacke, came before the Court on a murder charge. Two magistrates defended his character in Court, and he was acquitted. This brought open dissent in Court from the Deputy Governor J. Skelton. Lt. Col Skelton wrote a considered report to the East India Company explaining the reasons for his dissent, much to the concern of the Governor who penned a short rebuttal:

The practice of recording observations on a proceeding some time closed is I believe contrary to regular routine and its inconvenience is more felt when it occurs on the eve of a dispatch where time does not admit of a deliberate perusal of the proceedings to which it refers.

Governor Wilks pointed out that his fellow magistrates Messrs Leech and Doveton, who had acted as witnesses in the court by speaking up for the defendant and helping to destroy the credibility of a key prosecution witness, concurred in his view! (2)

In contrast two slaves who were tried for killing a calf were sentenced to death. One, later judged by the Court to have a value of £20 was executed, the fate of the other was sent for determination by the Prince Regent. (3) Another slave, Harry, was more fortunate. Convicted of stealing from his master, he escaped execution simply because the words against the form of the Statute had mistakenly been omitted from the indictment. He was therefore sentenced to four years hard labour and imprisonment and to be kept in irons.(4) Two white people, Maria Weager and George Seale, were separately convicted of theft and each sentenced to being whipped behind a cart. (5) Finally, in 1816 (see below), a female slave convicted of theft, had a "t" burned on her hand.

1816: a slave girl sentenced to be branded for theft

One of the surprises of the period 1814-1816 was the frequent appearance of members of the Lowden/Louden/Louding family. As well as commercial cases there were two involving assault, but the most intriguing was that brought for defamation of character by Mrs Lowding (Lowden) against James Lowden, presumably the brother of her deceased husband, who had called her a whore.

Rev Boys

The Rev. Boys had somehow got involved with this lady. He had for a time given her shelter in his house, but she had left early one morning without explanation! Called as a witness, he had to suffer the indignity of speculation as to what favours he had received to make him testify on her behalf. Various witnesses revealed that the lady was rather less virtuous than the Rev. Boys had apparently believed, and she lost the case.(6)

The St Helena Court dealt mainly with cases involving slaves, soldiers and poorer whites or trades people. Unusual was the charge of assault and battery brought against two Gentlemen, Addison George Lowe and James Nicholas Scallan, visitors to the island. The prosecution alleged that the two had headed up the main street of Jamestown with the intent of creating a riot, and had used language in the highest degree gross and injurious, directed against a whole class of the Community , i.e. the soldiers of St. Helena. One was sentenced to a month imprisonment, fined £10 and ordered to remain in prison until the fine was paid. The other was fined £10 and also ordered to be imprisoned until the fine was paid. In a separate civil suit their victim, Sergeant William Kirby, was awarded 40 shillings damages from each.(7)

So that concludes transcription of some 120,000 words for the years 1808-1816. The project has taken far longer than it should have done, at times the hand writing has defeated me, and I am sure I have made a number of errors. The work has given me a valuable insight into the lives of ordinary people on St Helena 200 years ago. Maybe it will form the basis of another project.
1. St Helena Judicial Records, 12 January 1814.
2. Records April 10, 1815. When Napoleon arrived on St Helena, Lt. Col Skelton's summer house at Longwood was made ready for the Emperor, and it became his final home. Col Skelton and his wife were frequent visitors to Napoleon until they left the island in 1816.
3. Records October 5, 1814
4. Records October 4, 1815
5. George Seale got 600 lashes to be administered at three places, Maria Weager an unspecified number of lashes over a period of two hours. Records April 20, 1814
6. Records April 10, 1815.
7. Records July 27, 1814

Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Keeper of the Empty Tomb - new book by Michel Dancoisne-Martineau

Michel Dancoisne-Martineau has just produced another book. This time an account of his life since he left France for St.Helena at the age of 18.

It is just over a year since Michel told us that he had signed a contract for this book. I wondered whether it was a good idea: he is a very private person, and doesn't welcome the intrusions into his life by the press and by tourists on St. Helena. He hopes that this book will still the interest in him, and enable him to focus on the Napoleonic heritage which has been his life's work. I hope he is right.

The book's title is a fairly typical expression of Michel's dry sense of humour and his self-deprecating manner. A remarkable, energetic and multi-talented man, he has led an unusual but very productive life on St. Helena. When he eventually retires, it will be a very hard act to follow. I look forward to reading this book when it becomes available on 10th May.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Patagonia: Napoleon Reaches Parts that Others Cannot Reach

Pizzeria in El Calafate, Patagonia

Earlier this year I spent a wonderful month in Argentina. I was vaguely aware that Buenos Aires like New Orleans had been a haven for exiled Bonapartists after Napoleon's fall, and since my return I have learned that Isabel Walewski Colonna, Napoleon's illegitimate grandaughter, who died at the age of 6 in 1847, was buried in the amazing Recoleta cemetery.

A Street Sign in El Calafate

All this was far from my mind, but during my stay I visited El Calafate in Patagonia to see the amazing Perito Moreno glacier. There I found a strange street sign. Nobody I spoke to had any idea of its origin, but apparently it was named after Lieutenant Colonel Napoleón Argentino Irusta, who bcame Director of the National Parks in the Peron era, and formally received the body of Perito Moreno when it was excavated in Buenos Aires and returned to Patagonia. (1)

Totally unconnected I imagine was the Napoleon Pizza restaurant in the same town. A simple google search reveals that there are a few others in the world - including Parma, Ohio, Timisoara in Romania, and Fredrikstad, Norway, a town that I know rather well!

1. Apparently Irusta miraculously escaped in a car accident in August 1945, on the day of the feast of the Virgen de las Nieves, and in thanks placed a copy of Buenos Aires' image of the Virgen de las Nieves in a natural cave 15 kilometres from San Carlos de Bariloche. It is now a major tourist attraction.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

St. Helena 1813: Two Governors, One Execution and the Mistreatment of Slaves

St. Helena in the time of Governor Beatson

After too long a delay I have got back to my work on St. Helena's Judicial Records. My last entry was on St Helena in 1812, but now 1813 has been finished, and I am well into 1814. So Napoleon is on Elba, and he will soon be back in Paris en route to St. Helena.

1813 was notable on St. Helena for the change of Governor. The formidable Alexander Beatson was replaced by Mark Wilks, who was still Governor when Napoleon stepped ashore some two years later.

Governor Beatson

One of the last cases tried in the Court under the Presidency of Alexander Beatson involved William Balcombe, who in 1811 had named his youngest son, Alexander Beatson Balcombe.

In this case Balcombe was trying to get back some £650, a considerable sum in those days, which he had paid to Robert Leech in trust for the estate of Richard Lane, who had died at sea when the appropriately named "True Briton" foundered. Ironically another party to the affair, a sea captain who might have been able to shed light on Balcombe's claims, was also drowned when his own ship foundered.

This was a complex and sorry affair involving the alleged non-payment of a bill exchange by a third party. Balcombe lost the case. It must have been a big blow to his finances, and in some ways encapsulates his life.

Probably the last significant event under Beatson's Governorship took place on May 19th 1813. On that day a soldier,William Alexander was executed. Alexander had been found guilty of Grand Larceny for stealing eight pairs of boots and five pairs of shoes with a total value of £14. Beatson had in his view no choice but to hang the man.

"The daily instances that occur of Burglaries, depredations on Sheep and Poultry, on Gardens, and Washing Ground, and on Goods landed on the Quay, are so many proofs of the greatest depravity – It is but too evident that most of these flagrant Crimes have originated in an insatiable desire of gratification in a vice, that is disgraceful and degrading to the human character. I mean excessive intemperance in Drinking, - For the sake of this unmanly gratification, there are yet too many in this small place, who would run every hazard to attain it; without reflectin upon the consequences to which they expose themselves."

The very first case to be heard under the new Governor, Mark Wilks, was the trial of Mary Braid in October 1813 for "wilful murder" of one of her slaves. The defendant was acquitted both of murder and manslaughter, but the case revealed a horrific story of cruelty and wilful mistreatment. Mary Braid's husband was subsequently found guilty and fined £75 for neglecting to prevent the ill treatment of his slaves.

Governor Mark Wilks

Perhaps the new Governor's arrival signalled a new attitude towards the treatment of slaves, because in the first session of 1814 he hauled Aaron Lamb before the court, and gave him a public dressing down for having beaten a slave for having made a complaint about his treatment to the magistrates.

The punishment of offences has not only a reference to the offender himself, but is intended to operate as an example to others ; and adverting to the time and the place at which this public admonition is given I am disposed to hope that both these objects will be suitably attained. I am happy at being enabled to observe that the offence which has been described is rare indeed in this place. The Community seems generally to feel, and it is indispensable that you in future should distinctly understand that the act of punishing a slave for having complained, and even pending the trial of that complaint, approached the nature of a direct insult to public authority ; and it is proper for me to add that you are indebted to the lenity of the Magistrate whom you have insulted for being saved from the Consequences of a trial. If you have the feelings which ought to belong to your place in Society, you have already been sufficiently punished – and you are dismissed without a fine.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

St Helena Airport: Lord Ashcroft's Latest

Lord Ashcroft, Leading supporter of St. Helena Airport photographed on his recent visit

One thing which any follower of Conservative politics knows is that Lord Ashcroft is not a great fan of David Cameron. He spent a lot of money, 8 million is often quoted, on the 2010 election campaign, Cameron failed to win a majority, went into coalition with the Liberal Democrats, and failed to offer Lord Ashcroft a significant job. Some say that instead Ashcroft was offered his wish of an airport on St. Helena.

Lord Ashcroft and St. Helena Airport 2nd April 2012

Some ten months ago on this blogI pointed out the revelations of a former airline pilot, Brian Heywood, who had in 2010 written to David Cameron warning against building the airport. Lord Ashcroft has now taken to the pages of Conservative Home to attack the former Prime Minister for ignoring that letter.

I am not a great fan of David Cameron, but I do wonder if I was faced with pressure from a disgruntled, billionaire party donor to build an airport, and a letter from an unknown former airline pilot advising against doing so, which path I would have taken!