Longwood House, St Helena
When Napoleon Bonaparte was sent into exile for a second time, his British captors were very serious about him not escaping, as he had done from his first exile. It was inevitable that the British would be very angry with their violent enemy who, for 20 years, had cost them blood, sweat and many tears.
They selected St Helena Island, a remote Atlantic island located between the equator and the tropic of Capricorn, 1920 ks off the west coast of Africa. The island, with its fortress-like geology, was uncomfortably exposed to the strong trade winds. In June 1816, the French Commissioner wrote about St Helena that “This is the most isolated, the more unaffordable, the most difficult to attack, the poorest, the most unsociable and the dearest place in the world”.
Longwood's salon, renovated
As L'AUTRE SAINTE-HÉLÈNE has shown, Longwood House offered the following rooms to the exiled ex-Emperor :
1. his bedroom
2. his study
3. his bathroom
4. a small service room for his valet
5. the dining-room where Napoleon entertained his followers
6. the library
7. the salon where Napoleon and his guests retired after dinner
8. the parlour, where his billiard table stood and
9. the veranda
The rest of the pre-existing rooms were service rooms: kitchen, a common room for domestic staff, storage space and a laundry.
St Helena's isolation in the Atlantic Ocean
New rooms were built after 1815, for the officers and their families, as laid out in the contemporary architectural plans. A section of the servants’ quarters and the generals’ wing has been dedicated to a good collection of Napoleonic era prints, furniture and objects.
In Feb 1818, Governor Sir Hudson Lowe proposed to Lord Bathurst that Napoleon be moved to Rosemary Hall, an empty house that was located in a more hospitable and sheltered part of the island. But Lord Bathurst saw that Longwood House was quite a distance from any other dwelling, thereby reducing any communication with the outside. Escape would be harder to plan.
The Emperor chose Sane Valley for his own burial site. He hiked into Sane Valley on one of his walks and was delighted with the peaceful landscape and attractive plants that grew there. He was indeed buried in this Valley of the Tomb. But as we know, but Napoleon didn’t know, his body was later (in 1840) exhumed and returned to Paris.
After Napoleon's death, Longwood House reverted to the East India Company and later to the Crown. Reports of its neglect reached Napoleon III who, from 1854, negotiated with the British Government for the house’s transfer to France. In 1858 it was transferred to the French Government, along with the Valley of the Tomb for a sum of £7,100. Since then both sites have been under the control of the French Foreign Ministry; a French Government representative has lived on the island and has been responsible for managing both properties.
Napoleon on St Helena, by Charles Von Steuben
The French Government planned to demolish the neglected building in the 1940s. Amazingly Longwood House was saved, and was accurately restored by French curators although I suspect much of the material is not original. But it doesn't matter because the house is now an important historical museum owned by the French government.
Country Life magazine (13th April 2011) reported that sections of the Lockwood House Museum are now crumbling and in urgent need of repair. An appeal has been launched by the Foundation Napoleon to rescue the house, its grounds and its woods. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also well aware of the exceptional historical importance of the French domains on St Helena.
Napoleon was buried in the Valley of the Tomb, in 1821.
If you thought Foundation Napoleon had an uphill battle convincing people that Napoleonic history on St Helena was worth saving, consider this. The Royal Mail Ship St. Helena already offers voyages between the UK and Cape Town, via the island of St. Helena. The ship recognises that it is virtually the only way of getting to these remote, rugged and beautiful islands. Everything on them must be delivered by sea. Ship visitors are taken to examine, amongst other places, three Napoleonic sites: the Briars, where Napoleon stayed when he first arrived on the island; Longwood House, where he lived; and the Valley of the Tomb, where he was buried.