Friday, 14 June 2019

Prince of Wales at Napoleon's Tomb, 1925

Visit of Prince of Wales to Napoleon's Tomb, 1925 (1)

Over the years there have been only a handful of Royal visits to St Helena. One of the earliest, perhaps even the first, was that of the Prince of Wales in 1925.

A willow tree being planted to commemorate the visit

The opening passage in the speech he had made on arrival on the island began with a glowing reference to Napoleon, although he was not mentioned by name.

I need not assure you of the deep interest with which I set foot on an Island whose name is so well known to all students of History, not only because it was here that were written the closing pages of a great and romantic life story – the story of the Emperor whose mortal remains now lie on the banks of the Seine, where many soldiers of France have found a resting place ... (2)

Delivered in the shadow of the horrific loss of life in the Great War, the speech evokes memories of a time when France was Britain's closest ally, and when Napoleon was looked on far more favourably in the United Kingdom than a half century later.

Commemoration of Centenary of Napoleon's death

Four years earlier there had been a joint Anglo-French commemoration of the centenary of Napoleon's death, with the Union Jack proudly displayed over Napoleon's tomb alongside the French tricolour.

Recent commemoration of Napoleon's death

In recent years the commemoration of Napoleon's death on St Helena has been revived. The emphasis is now far less imperial and euro-centric, and more focus is placed on involving local people in what is an important part of their heritage.

Plans are I understand already well underway for the commemoration of the bicentenary. Not everybody who wants to attend can find seats on the scheduled flights nor be accommodated on the island, so I believe two cruise ships are being hired.
1. I acknowledge the Source / Bibliothèque nationale de France for use of the two photos of the Prince at Napoleon's tomb. The photo of the 1921 commemoration I found on Saint Helena Island Info which is a very useful source.
2. A copy of the speech was, or at least used to be on display at the castle in Jamestown. A friend faithfully transcribed it for me. As far as I am aware it is not available anywhere else on the internet, so I will include it here.

I am very grateful to the people of St. Helena for the welcome offered to me on landing at Jamestown this morning, and I much appreciate the good wishes contained in their address.

I need not assure you of the deep interest with which I set foot on an Island whose name is so well known to all students of History, not only because it was here that were written the closing pages of a great and romantic life story – the story of the Emperor whose mortal remains now lie on the banks of the Seine, where many soldiers of France have found a resting place – but for the fact that during the period of maritime development of our Empire, St. Helena formed one of the most important links in Britain’s chain of communications as an invaluable supply depot and an outpost of the East Indies.

To-day trade routes have changes with the times, and though the Island, finding that circumstances have deflected the main arteries of traffic, may at times feel somewhat remote from the outer busier world, I know full well that St. Helena still prides herself on her place in the Empire, and that the loyalty of her people to the Crown and to Britain ideals remain undiminished.

I am hoping in the time at my disposal to meet as many as possible of the people of the Island and to learn something of your interests and your activities.

This morning before leaving the Castle, I am to see an exhibit of your local domestic industry, that of lace-making, samples of which I know attracted the attention of the general public at Wembley and won commendation from the experts. And tomorrow I look forward to the opportunity of inspecting some of the flax mills and shall be interested to gain some first hand knowledge of this Industry which has been established in your midst and on which much of your material prosperity depends. You have my best wishes for your progress and welfare in the years to come.

In conclusion I will not fail to convey to the King your assurance of loyalty and devotion, and will at the same time tell His Majesty of the cordiality of the welcome which the people of St. Helena have given to me to-day.


Thursday, 13 June 2019

Rev Boys and Illegitimacy on St Helena

Rev. Boys,"l'homme que même Hudson Lowe craignait" (1)

Rev. Richard Boys MA (1785–1867) was appointed Junior Chaplin on St. Helena in 1811 and remained on the island until 1829. His stay, particularly during the Governorship of Hudson Lowe, was eventful to say the least.

The dubious claims made by his descendants about his alleged meeting(s) with Napoleon, furniture from Longwood, and death masks have appeared from time to time on this blog.

He also made an appearance in the Judicial Records, for testifying on behalf of a lady of somewhat dubious repute who was given shelter in his home until she left for some reason in the early hours of the morning!

Table supplied by Chris Hillman

The story of Rev. Boys' assault on the lax moral standards of the slaveowners of St. Helena is generally accepted by those who have written about St. Helena in the time of Napoleon. Whether the decline in the number of illegitimacies as shown in the table above was due directly to Rev. Boys is perhaps not quite as clear as the accepted narrative suggests. The probable source for most who have written about this is Arnold Chaplin's A St Helena Who's Who, now over a century old.

When, as it sometimes happened, Mr Boys was called upon to record the births of illegitimate children of slave women, begotten of men who were some of the highest and most trusted of Lowe's lieutenants, the chaplain in his righteous indignation did not hesitate to write in bold characters in the registers the titles and high positions of the sires. In these old registers, which have been inspected for me by Major Foulds, it is amusing to observe the frantic attempts that have been made by means of blots and pen-knife to obliterate the damaging evidence . But Mr Boys was determined to write for all time, and the precise titles and positions of the fathers, in spite of the attempted erasures, can still be plainly distinguished . This was probably the real reason for the ostracism of Mr Boys by the high St. Helena society, and the fear of his out-spoken tongue evinced by Sir Hudson Lowe. (2)

Chris Hillman, who with his wife Sheila, has been working through a set of registers microfilmed on St. Helena in 1989, has now led me to doubt the reliability of Chaplin's account. Chris informs me that the records they have worked on show "no apparent tampering", although as already indicated, it is indisputable that illegitimacy declined significantly in the course of Boys' time on the island. Chaplin as he admits never actually saw the registers nor any photographic images, and depended on the report of Major Foulds, whoever he was. I wonder if Major Foulds made it up, what was his motive? It would be great if someone could clear up this mystery.
1.Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, Chroniques de Sainte-Hélène (Perrin 2011) pp. 111-117.
2. Arnold Chaplin, A St Helena Who's Who (London 1919) p. 224