St Helena


Bonaparte on Bellerophon
HMS Bellerophon at Torbay
HMS Bellerophon
St Helena: Bonaparte Arrives
St Helena: House on 1st Night
Map of St Helena
St Helena: Longwood
St Helena: The Briars
Ageing Exiled Emperor
The Briars: Melbourne

By Richard Moore

After his final defeat at Waterloo and his subsequent second exile, Napoleon Bonaparte spent 10 weeks on board the HMS Northumberland as it sailed him to the far-flung reaches of the South Atlantic.

His destination was St Helena, a small and windswept island under British control. Almost 2000 kilometres west of Africa, St Helena measured only 122 square kilometres (47 square miles) - half the size of his former home-in-exile, Elba.

His intended home, Longwood, was not finished by the time he arrived and so Bonaparte stayed with a British family - the Balcombes- at their residence The Briars. He made a great friend of the family's younger daughter Betsy and the pair got on famously.

There was much rancour between Bonaparte and the British governor of the island, Sir Hudson Lowe, and the former emperor complained bitterly of his treatment.

Bonaparte complained about not being able to ride without a British escort, however, he apparently refused to even accept riding within sight of them as it was "offensive" to him.

Another sore point was Lowe's refusal to call the former emperor "your majesty". He instead called his prisoner "General Bonaparte."

While Lowe was not the most tactful person to deal with, the complaints about being poorly supplied and fed may not have a lot of basis.

According to one of his staff, Bonaparte and his retainers were given on a daily basis by the British:

  • 40 kilos of meat
  • nine chickens
  • 17 bottles of wine (excluding champagne and spirits)

While his household spent much of the five-and-a-half years on the island squabbling with each other, Bonaparte himself set off on what has been called his last campaign - that of writing his memoirs and creating a legend around his name.

It was undoubtedly his most lasting victory.

NOTE: The Balcombe family eventually settled in Australia and named their new home, outside of Melbourne, The Briars. It is now a museum where visitors can see the Dame Mabel Brookes Napoleonic Collection, which includes furniture that Bonaparte shared upon his stay with them and a large number interesting items such as some of his hair, papers and death mask.

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