In June 1815 the people of England knew a great battle was being fought in France and the state of public tension was almost unbearable. Even in the Midlands of England there were crowds of people who went far out on the London Road to get a first glimpse of the mail coach which brought tidings of success or defeat. A pigeon owned by the House of Rothschild carried the news back to England reportedly allowing Nathan Rothschild to make a huge profit on the market by buying British Government Bonds, a safe bet as only he knew the country was not going to be invaded.[1]

There must have been immense relief felt by the people when they saw the coach covered in green boughs as a token of victory. Even small children would later remember the rejoicings of peace after the Battle of Waterloo and the universal colour worn was blue. Miss Berry wrote

Mr. Fazakerley brought the news of the great battle of the 18th in Flanders, between Buonaparte and Wellington, from which we have come out covered in glory, and gained a victory which one must hope will be decisive as it has been bought with great loss of blood. The news arrived in London at 11 o’clock at night by carriage in which were seen the French eagles and the French standards. The carriage went to the Minister’s house and all the world was out of doors the best part of the night, asking news of their neighbours. [2]

Napoleon gave himself up as a prisoner to Captain Frederick Lewis Maitland of HMS Bellerophon lying off Rochefort and the decision was made that St Helena was to be his place of exile. [3]

In October 1815 the Saints learned they were to host the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte. Betsy Balcombe reported that news of his escape from Elba and the subsequent eventful campaigns had not reached the island so all were incredulous at the information. [4]

William Balcombe immediately wrote to Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt

Briars, Oct 16 1815

My dear friend

Sir George Cockburn arrived here yesterday with Napoleon on board on the Admiral’s arrival, without knowing you had written me. I wrote him as polite a note as I could inviting him to take up his residences with me showing his stay on the Island at the Briars. Afterwards I waited on him to pay my respects and was very handsomely received. He has promised everything in his power to secure me to have the supplying the ships and to provide for the table of Napoleon.

The ship that takes this is on the eve of sailing therefore I have only time to express my gratitude for the unbounded trouble you have taken on my behalf. It gives me great happiness to hear from you I was well spoken of by Governor Beatson. I shall endeavour through life to keep up that good opinion I have been so fortunate to acquire. I shall most seriously attend to your desire respecting my pecuniar concerns and shall, should I sell the Briars, remit the proceeds home to my good Burnie in order that you may secure it for my family without having anything to do with my mercantile concerns.

The Admiral is going his round today to look for a residence for Bonaparte as well as one for himself. He says Briars will best suit him as it is close to the Ship and the Lieut Governor’s residence for Napoleon.

I think now my dear friend fortune has smiled on me once more and that I am, with care, in a fair way of making my fortune, I shall take care to be moderate my charges and then, as you say, Trade will be brisker. I am in very great hopes soon to astonish Burnie by my large remittances.

Mrs Balcombe and family join with me that every blessing may attend you and believe me ever to remain

Your grateful and affectionate servant

Wm Balcombe [5]


William Balcombe suggested he would make his charges moderate. In reality the price of goods on the island was considered to be exorbitant by the travellers who called in, perhaps failing to realise that the vast majority of goods had to be transported in by ship and most ships were on a longer run to and from India or China, with the Supply ship specifically for the island only arriving infrequently. Much of the land was unproductive as it had been destroyed by the goats which ate crops, shrubs, plantations of trees, and vegetation of any description.[6] When Napoleon arrived on the island other ships were discouraged from visiting. The population doubled with all the troops and sailors who were to guard the prisoner, so initially there were great shortages of food and accommodation.[7]

The population of the island had gradually increased over the years. In 1803 there were 436 ‘Whites’, and 1127 ‘Blacks’, in 1804 it had increased to 476 and 1616 respectively. Five years later the ‘White’ population had increased to 591, the ‘Black’ to 1199 and by 1812 there were 582 Whites, and 1150 Blacks, a slight decrease. During this same time frame the number of cattle had decreased from 2202 in 1804 to 1494 in 1812.[8] This general stability of population would change dramatically with the arrival of Napoleon and the decreasing number of livestock available to feed an increased population became a major issue.

When Bonaparte landed on St Helena the Balcombe family joined the other islanders watching the former Emperor come ashore from Northumberland.

The day after landing ashore Napoleon was taken on horseback from Jamestown to view Longwood, the house set aside for him. It was immediately obvious that the house was not habitable by Napoleon and his entourage. Many repairs were needed. A wooden addition (prefabricated at Woolwich and transported with the fleet accompanying the former Emperor) had to be erected and more furniture needed to be commissioned from the workshop of George Bullock of Tenterden Street, Hanover Square.[9]

On the way back from Longwood the party visited The Briars, home of the Balcombe family.

Napoleon expressed a wish to remain there rather than stay in Mr. Porteus’ less private house in Jamestown near the parade ground. This day William was indisposed with severe gout a disease causing relentless and punishing pain and swelling which can lead to total lack of use of a hand or leg. The disease was of concern to family members and also for the Physicians who were worried that the sufferer would not have the strength to throw off the ‘disorder’. [10] Nevertheless William offered his home but Bonaparte elected to stay in the Pavilion, built in their garden especially for dinner parties and Balls.[11]

Thomas Tyrwhitt Esq.   Briars Oct 20 1815

My Dear Friend,

I have just heard of the Redpole sailing with dispatches for England. I now avail myself of the opportunity of informing you the Admiral has fixed on the Lieutenant Governor’s house for Buonaparte’s residence – at present he is staying with me at the Briars till Long Wood House is ready for him. He is very affable and pleasant, plays at cards with us and speaks French with my daughters, amuses himself about the garden and appears in very good spirits. Sir G. Cockburn has recommended to the government at home to allow me an adequate salary for supplying Buonaparte’s wants and I assure you that I have enough to do to supply his table and it is a very arduous task to do it at this place. Sir G. Cockburn has advised me to write to you to recommend to government something handsome may be allowed one per annum for my troubles. I should be satisfied if they were to give 7½ per cent upon what his expenses amount to per annum. The Admiral says he would fix a salary here but he is sure you will be able to get me more than he is authorised to give. I feel extremely grateful for your kindness and shall do everything in my power to deserve it. After Napoleon leaves us the Admiral intends making some arrangement respecting the Briars and I shall follow your friendly advice. I shall write to you by every opportunity. Mrs B and family unite in kindest regards and she is greatly obliged by the good accounts of her dear boy.

Remaining your affectionate Balcombe.

PS I have got a bad hand with the gout and my daughter has written this for me. [12]

This letter suggests Sir Thomas was keeping an eye on their oldest son William who had been born on St Helena in July 1808 [13] and who, at the tender age of seven, had been sent back to school in England. He would miss playing with their esteemed guest at The Briars but his younger brothers Thomas and Alexander were both closer in age to Napoleon’s own son.

When the Balcombe girls met Napoleon they were able to converse with him in French, Betsy was the prettier and more outgoing of the two and represented a type of girl new to the Emperor. She was considered to be a high-spirited ‘hoyden’, a bold, bordering-on-rude young tomboy, who said and did whatever occurred on the spur of the moment. [14]

Meeting Napoleon

The meeting of Napoleon with the two Misses Balcombe was depicted in a painting called “Napoléon à L’ile Ste Hélêne” by artist Edouard-August Villain. Within the family there is still a copy of this print, underneath was an inscription in French. The translation reads:

Hardly had we arrived when we were met by the two young daughters of the Master of the House who were fourteen and fifteen years of age, one lively, scatterbrained, with no respect for anything, the other extremely naive. Both spoke a little French.

They had soon rambled over the garden and collected a presentation to offer to the Emperor whom they bombarded with the strangest most ludicrous questions. The Emperor was much amused with the familiarity to which he was unaccustomed. “We are leaving the masked ball” he said when we had left them.[15]

One branch of the family still has a sketch, a water colour copy of the famous picture by Villain, painted by William Balcombe’s great-grand-daughter Vera Gaden.[16] 

Napoleon was welcomed to the Briars and often attended the family parties, where he was neither troublesome nor intrusive and conducted himself with the manners of a gentleman and a lively demeanour that promotes vivacity of the domestic circle. [17]

While living at the Balcombe house Napoleon

occasionally spoke English (desiring her to correct his mistakes) to the lively Betsy Balcombe, that enfant terrible who coolly questioned him not only as to his supposed atheism but as to the ‘happy dispatch’ of the wounded French at Jaffa and as to the execution of the Due d’Enghien. He sent moreover for some English books and one of them an edition of Aesop and, pointing to the picture of the ass kicking the sick lion, he remarked in English “It is me (sic) and your Governor (Sir Hudson Lowe)”. His accent then (and probably to the last) was very peculiar and he usually talked and joked to Betsy in French although her French was not the best. He got her to translate to him Dr. Warden’s account of the voyage of the Northumberland. [18]

Rear-Admiral Sir George Cockburn of HMS Northumberland and commander of the fleet was in charge of Bonaparte until the arrival of the new Governor Sir Hudson Lowe six months later . He sent his first despatch home on 22 October 1815 to Mr. Croaker, Secretary to the Admiralty, that he had

engaged a Mr. Balcombe a respectable inhabitant strongly recommended to me by Col Beatson before I quitted England and by the Governor since my arrival, as most conversant and efficient in such matters, to purvey for me, and generally assist me in procuring the several things it becomes necessary for me to purchase upon the island.

The English Parliament’s Hansard reported that:

Soon after his landing, general Buonaparté rode out with sir George Cockburn, till he reached Long-wood, with which, at first sight, he was so much captivated, that he wished to remain there, and not to go back to the town. He was told that it would be impossible so soon to remove the lieutenant-governor’s family. He then wished a tent to be erected, which it was also represented would much incommode the lieutenant-governor, but he was assured that the occupants should be removed as soon as possible. As they returned they came to a house prettily situated, which belonged to Mr. Balcombe, near which a detached room had been built. General Buonaparté expressed a wish to occupy that room, and after sir G. Cockburn had in vain endeavoured to dissuade him from it, he took up his abode there for the time.

It was but two days after, however, that his attendants complained of this harsh usage, as they termed it, in placing the emperor in a single room. This was the manner in which the compliance of sir G. Cockburn was received. So many alterations were made at Longwood, that general Buonaparté remained in that room two months. Constant improvements or alterations were made at Longwood, suggested by himself or his suite, which delayed his removal; for the fact was, that he was unwilling to remove from Mr. Balcombe’s, on account of the facility of communication with the town.

During his residence there he was circumscribed to a small garden, beyond which he never moved without a guard; he did not, however, at that time, make any complaint; but he now, for the first time, complained of restrictions on his liberty, when he was allowed to range within a circuit of eight miles, if he pleased unattended.

When the prisoners were first sent to St. Helena, orders were given to send out a frame for the purpose of constructing a house for general Buonaparté. When the materials arrived, Sir H. Lowe wrote to the general, whether he would like to have a new house erected, or additions made to the old one. He received no answer; in two or three weeks he went to the general to endeavour to obtain a decision from him. The general at last answered, that if he were to answer him officially he should say, “build a new house;” but as that must take five or six years, and as he knew that in two or three years either the administration in this country would be overturned, or a change would take place in the government of France, and in either case he should be released, he was privately of opinion that addition should be made to Longwood.

As this was all the answer sir Hudson Lowe could get, he proceeded to make alterations in the present house. General Buonaparté then objected to this, though it was done by his own desire, and for the purpose of lodging his attendants. He (earl B.) did not object to general Buonaparté’s choice either of the new house or the old one, or between alterations and no alterations, but he objected to this—that every attempt to render his residence convenient was made the foundation of a charge against the governor, and that he watched the moment when an attention was paid to his wishes, to make that very attention a source of complaint.

A few weeks after the arrival of Napoleon and his entourage on the island the Admiral’s Ball was held on Monday 20th November. Madame Bertrand and Madame de Montholon both attended and dazzled the rest of the two hundred guests with their magnificent clothes and jewels which had formerly graced the Royal Palaces of France. George Bingham wrote that

Madame Bertrand was there in great splendour with a dress valued at £500 and Madame de Montholon with a necklace said to be worth twice that sum.[19]

No doubt the Balcombes, with Napoleon as their house guest, were invited to the Ball and also the fête organised later in the week by George Bingham who hosted a breakfast in three large marquees, each table with seating for thirty people. They were lined with flags of different nations and in the space between the marquees stood three small trees heavy with Seville oranges. The tent poles were covered with moss and roses and the tables had a profusion of flowers. Bingham escorted his guests on a tour of the camp at ten o’clock and they then returned to the pavilion for dancing. Cold meats and soup were served at two o’clock, and then more dancing followed until dark.[20]

In the meantime Thomas Tyrwhitt was supporting his friend Balcombe in his quest to be the purveyor for Longwood House. In a letter to Sir Hudson Lowe, future Governor of St Helena, Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt wrote

House of Lords December 8 1815

My Dear Sir

I believe Sir George Cockburn has written home to advise the Government to make an agreement with Mr. Balcombe my young friend at St Helena for the supply of Napoleon’s table at a percentage. Will you be kind enough to ascertain this fact and should it turn out there is such a recommendation it may be brought to maturity before you leave next.

In order that I may stand acquainted of any mistaken partiality for Mr. Balcombe I enclose you a letter that I have lately received from Captain [Sir Thomas[21]] Browne of the Ulysses who brought home the last India Fleet by which it will appear Mr. B’s charges will fully justify my solicitude for his welfare.

I remain etc

Thos Tyrwhitt [22]


Napoleon appeared to enjoy himself at The Briars appreciating dinner with the Balcombe family, friends and guests. He was amused at the difference in customs between French and English dining, remarking that after the meal the ladies withdrew to ‘powder their noses’ and have coffee, whilst the men drank several glasses of port as it passed round the table. Several times Napoleon remarked to Betsy that her father would drink five bottles of wine after a meal.[23] One day when a body was discovered of a sailor who had fallen to his death after being drunk, Bonaparte hinted to Balcombe that if he had sat less time after dinner he probably would not have met with so dreadful a fate. [24]

He said to Mrs Balcombe

If I were you, I should be very angry at being turned out to wait for two or three hours whilst your husband and his friends were making themselves drunk. How different are Frenchmen who think society cannot be agreeable without the presence of the ladies.[25]

In reality it was about a half hour during which the women avoided the ‘smoking room’ stories and enjoyed coffee and their own gossip. When the men returned there were games like whist and charades.

William Balcombe suffered from debilitating gout, in fact the day Napoleon first arrived at The Briars he was indisposed with the condition [26] and Betsy even wrote some of his letters.[27] Gout was extremely painful, one contemporary comment being …’the gentleman is in great pain and totally without the use of his right hand which is intolerably swell’d and wrapp’d in flannel.[28] No doubt the doctors of the time prescribed colchicine for gout, and opiates for pain.[29]

Napoleon suggested that if Balcombe sat a shorter time after dinner and drank less wine he would not have to take his eau medicinale for the severe gout which that day had prevented his daily ride to Longwood. [30]

However we now know that, contrary to Bonaparte’s opinion, gout is not caused by rich living and too much wine.

It is a disease with a genetic component, a serious systemic disease with periods of severe symptoms and intervals of relative peace. It is caused by a body which has difficulty in breaking down the protein purine leading to raised levels of uric acid in the serum. A large part of the problem comes from inadequate excretion of this uric acid through the kidneys. If the body can’t do this efficiently then more uric acid is produced to build up and form crystals, which gather in a joint, causing inflammation and acute pain. The adjacent deposits of gouty crystals and inflammation cause bony pain and even fractures due to the erosions which can be large, up to several centimetres. Joints can be destroyed. Kidney stones are frequent and can result in obstruction and kidney failure. Raised serum uric acid is also an independent risk factor for heart disease, and recent studies have found an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, especially heart attacks and myocardial infarction, of up to 30%. This is what we know now…. none of this was known in the day of William Balcombe.[31]

If he thought it inappropriate to imbibe too much wine, Napoleon had his own indulgence: he was known to take snuff, the smokeless tobacco leaves that were pulverised into a powder then snuffed into the nasal cavity to deliver a swift hit of nicotine.[32]

Napoleon is what Swift quaintly said on Prince Eugene – a great taker of snuff as well as of towns. In a conversation he had some time ago with General Bertrand, Mr. Balcombe, whose house he then occupied, happened to be present. Observing a snuff-box Napoleon made the usual signal for a pinch by a sortie with his finger and thumb, but upon opening the box suddenly the hinge unfortunately gave way. This disaster was, however, quickly compensated by the Ex Emperor, who, after expressing his regret for the accident, very graciously presented Mr. B with a magnificent gold box ornamented with the Imperial cypher. Mr. Balcombe’s box which had the honor [sic] of being thus unhinged was a wooden one.[33]

No doubt the presence of the Balcombe children was an important part of Bonaparte’s time at The Briars. Napoleon loved children and it was his inconsolable regret that his wife Josephine de Beauharnais failed to produce an heir for him; he cherished those of Josephine’s former husband as if they were his own. He had a number of children to his several mistresses including Charles Leon, born December 1806 to Éléonore Denuelle de la Plaigne, Alexandre Joseph Walewski born 1810 to Countess Marie Walewska[34] and Emilie daughter of Mme Pellapre[35] but he needed a legitimate heir to take over his Empire. Napoleon divorced Josephine in order to produce a son to inherit his titles. And his marriage to Marie Louise, Archduchess of Austria did produce a longed-for heir Napoleon Francis Joseph Charles in 1811.

The felicity of Napoleon was at its summit when … she was delivered of a son, the destined heir of all his greatness and who received in the cradle the majestic title of King of Rome.[36]

The three Balcombe boys were a similar age to Napoleon’s children with William born in 1808, Thomas in 1810 and Alexander in 1811. They must have invoked such joy and such sorrow in this exiled father who wrote poetry for his son and who had a burning love for his child. There is no wonder Bonaparte was happy to join in their games and ordered his staff to make toys for them. He also knew that children were natural and he did not have to look for underlying motives behind their words or actions.[37] William junior was attending school in England [38] but his smaller brothers became great favourites of Napoleon who styled them his little pages.[39] In her memoirs Betsy recounted several delightful stories of the games Bonaparte played with the small boys, playing cards, allowing them to sit on his knee and play with his ‘orders’ or insignia of rank.

My brothers at this time were quite children and Napoleon used to allow them to sit on his knee and amuse them by playing with his orders etc. More than once he has desired me to cut them off to please them.[40]

Napoleon had been the commander who first awarded such campaign orders, ribbons and medals to all the soldiers who took part in a battle. Until then only a few medals recognising acts of specific heroism and bravery were issued. Soldiers took great pride in their decorations and were anxious to earn more, so much so, that Napoleon was quoted as saying “With a handful of ribbons I can conquer all of Europe.”[41]

Betsy recalled that during his months at The Briars Napoleon entered into ‘every sort of mirth or fun with the glee of a child and never lost his temper or fell back on his age or rank to shield himself.’ [42]

However Napoleon could be “not amused” if his visage was not recognised… there was a newspaper report that one day the Count de Las Cases, the man who transcribed Napoleon’s memoir and acted as his secretary, put down four gold Napoleon markers and the youngest of the ladies asked what it was. Napoleon unceremoniously snatched it from her hand and asked if she did not recognise his picture on the coin.

Another time when the cards were opened

and the cover thrown away it was picked up by a little boy, a son of Balcombe’s aged about six years old. The print on the case was The Great Mogul and the little fellow in the pride of his heart would display it to the Emperor who, however, was in no humour to relish what he seemed to consider as a joke on himself; he snatched the paper from the child with a great deal of impatience, tore the Great Mogul in pieces and terrified the young wit to an awful distance. [43]

Young Alexander one day offered Napoleon a sugar-plum bon-bon; only the young lad had already eaten them all and replaced them with pills. Napoleon was soon coughing and suffering nausea. As a result of this deception, young Alexander was soundly whipped by his father.[44]

Napoleon often called for his lamplighter to make toys or other amusements for the children. One day he produced balloons and another time Betsy recalled he

contrived to harness four mice to a small carriage, but the poor little animals were so terrified that he could not get them to move and after many ineffectual efforts my brothers entreated the Emperor to interfere. Napoleon told them to pinch the tails of the two leaders and when they started the others would follow. This he did and immediately the whole four scampered off to our great amusement, Napoleon enjoying the fun as much as any of us and delighted with the extravagant glee of my two brothers.[45]

Another pastime was billiards and Betsy remarked it was a game much played by Napoleon and his suite. She had the honour of being instructed by him. [46]

The boys had a tutor Huff who became mentally ill, took his own life and was buried on the road to The Briars. Knowing of the children’s terror of ghosts, Napoleon arranged for a servant draped in a white sheet to make a silent approach in the cool of one evening, much to their shock and Napoleon’s amusement.[47]

The family missed him when he left their home and no doubt he also missed the enjoyment of hearing the children’s chatter and laughter. The day Napoleon left The Briars Jane Balcombe was very sick in bed, the first indication of her ill health. He went upstairs to her bedroom to say farewell, being warm in his acknowledgements of her attentions to him.[48]

Dr O’Meara wrote a letter on 12 December 1815 from St Helena to Mr. Samuel Mills, High Street, Portsmouth advising that Sir Hudson Lowe had not yet arrived. He detailed how Napoleon had spent his time at The Briars, which he had left two days before:

The inhabitants of St Helena have been greatly disappointed in consequence of not being able to see Napoleon so frequently as they at first conceived as he only remained one day at the house taken for him in James Town and the next morning at 6 o clock proceeded up to   Longwood, the country residence of the Lieutenant Governor in order to see what   alterations might be necessary. On his return he went to the Briars (one of the neatest spots on the Island belonging to Mr. Balcombe), where he remained with Count de las Cases and his son, occupying a small detached building which Mr. Balcombe gave up to him and to which two tents were added for his accommodation until the 10th of this month, when Longwood House being ready for his reception, was accordingly taken possession of by him.

During his stay at the Briars he did not generally appear out before 2 or 3 o dock, being occupied in the morning either in reading or in composing the history of his wonderful life, a portion of which he daily dictates to some of the French officers who have accompanied him, nearly according to the following arrangement: Bertrand that part of which relates to the expedition to Egypt and Syria, General Montholon the expedition to Italy and the politics connected there unto. General Gourgaud chiefly writes the parts descriptive of military movements, sieges &c &c and I believe the campaigns in Russia. Count de las Cases is employed about the other remarkable events of his life, the political parts of it and in digesting and finally arranging the whole. It is considerably advanced   but I believe that he does not intend that it shall be submitted to the public until after his death. I conceive that it will be the most interesting history ever published. In the evening he generally amused himself with chatting or playing cards with Mr. Balcombe’s two amiable daughters. These young ladies being able to maintain a conversation with him in French contributed much by their naiveté and sprightliness to dispel for a moment any melancholy which reflection upon his past and present state might   cause to arise. Indeed while in their company his conversation was generally cheerful and lively. He protests in the strongest manner against his transportation to St Helena as being unjust, unnecessarily severe, contrary to the Constitution and law, and a stain to the character of a great and generous nation with whom he had been at war for so many   years and into whose hands he voluntarily and without being constrained confided himself in the hope of being treated with the liberality and generosity due to fallen greatness, instead of which he says he experienced that of a felon. ‘Behold’ said he, pointing to the tremendous rocks which environed him on every side ‘behold the generosity of your country to a fallen enemy, who, confiding in the character of your nation had unsuspectingly committed himself into the hands of those from whom he has now nothing to expect except the executioner or the assassin.’  

‘It will’ added he, ‘be a stain to the annals of your country, which even the hand of time will never efface, it will be   another dark page in your history. I thought once that in England the laws  were not a name, were not terms to amuse the multitude but now I see that in England like other countries the Ministers laugh at the laws which are only powerful against the weak and helpless – they screen the powerful and oppress fallen.’

‘Ungrateful place’ said he casting a look at tile bare and horrible precipices before him, ungrateful place, which returns naught for all the sums of money, time, and labour unnecessarily laid out upon it. I thought his term ungrateful place one of the happiest I ever heard of, for certainly if there is an ungrateful place in the world St Helena is that one.  

Recollect that in giving you his words I do not mean to express to you that my ideas on the subject are consonant to his but merely because I know that his expressions [?] and sentiments, with respect to his exile here, will be eagerly sought after by historians.    

He has a space of about three miles to walk or ride about without being attended by any military officer. Round this there are disposed sentries in order to prevent his proceeding farther unless accompanied by the British captain appointed to attend him but with him he can go where he pleases. At night the sentries are instructed and each meets another at the termination of his post so that the house is completely encircled. Two sentinels are placed at the entrance of the house and if he goes out after 9 one of those proceeds  with him to accompany him where ever he goes and on his return into the house he cannot again leave it until morning. The [?]Captain of the guard is to see him in the day and to take every precaution for ascertaining his actual presence which is done however in a very delicate though effectual manner. General de Las Cases and son are at Longwood with him. There not being room enough for Marshal Bertránd  a house about one mile off (within the sentinels) has been taken for him until a new house just commenced for him will be finished. The 63rd Regiment are encamped about three quarters of a mile off.  No person, military or otherwise, is allowed access to Longwood without a pass unless that person whose business it is necessarily to be about him. None of the French officers can pass the boundaries without being accompanied by an English officer. In short, unless he was furnished with wings he could not escape, unless he could influence the Governor, Admiral and all the military and naval force here.    

Believe me to be my dear sir,

Your very sincere friend,



Bonaparte’s move from The Briars was noted in the British press with the report that

The Minden lately arrived from India touching on her passage home at St Helena. Two days previously to her sailing from the island Bonaparte had removed with his companions from his temporary residence (Mr. Balcombe’s) to his permanent one in the interior of the island called Longwood. [50]

There was obviously some debate within the English government as to the treatment of the prisoner and the allowance for providing for Napoleon and his staff. The Parliamentary Hansard reported speeches of Earl Bathurst and Lord Holland which showed some difference of opinion.

Earl Bathurst considered the costs of keeping Napoleon on St Helena.

As to the expense of the establishment of general Buonaparté at St. Helena, it had been at first from the want of arrangements for regular supplies, unavoidably great; but it had always been in contemplation when those arrangements were made that the expenditure should be considerably reduced. The permanent expense of the establishment of Buonaparté had from the first been fixed at £8,000 a year, though it was of course contemplated that the first year would much exceed that expense. In fixing that allowance, the government had been somewhat guided by the expenses which the governor of the island had been found to have incurred. That governor was paid by the India Company; his salary was £1,800 a year and his table expenses were paid, as he was bound to receive and entertain all the passengers in the company’s ships touching at the island. Those table expenses had been found on an average of years to be £4,700 a year, in all £6,500, which was regarded as a fair criterion of the expense of supporting an establishment on that island. As general Bonaparte was not subject to those expenses which the governor had been obliged to incur, £8,000 a year was deemed a fair allowance …..

Sir Hudson Lowe, in answer, said he thought the establishment of general Buonaparté could not be suitably provided for under £12,000 a year. An intimation was immediately given that the sum of £12,000 was agreed to by his majesty’s ministers. If their lordships considered this too small a sum for the expenses of general Buonaparté, he only wished them to recollect that Sir H. Lowe himself was only allowed £12,000 for himself and his staff, and all his other expenses, of whatever nature they might be.

A fortnight after the receipt of the letter from this country, general Buonaparté entered into a negotiation with Sir Hudson Lowe, in which he undertook to furnish the whole of his expenditure, amounting to £17 or £18,000 himself, if he had permission to correspond with any banker, provided the letters were allowed to be sealed, and provided all the money so received should be wholly at his disposal; and so confident was he that he had this money at his command, that he offered at once to draw for it, and he assured Sir Hudson Lowe that he might advance the money with safety, because he had no doubt that his draught would be accepted.

There was one other point which he should notice, as it related to a statement in a publication formerly mentioned by him—that one bottle of wine a day only, was allowed for each person, and that if this allowance was drunk by any of the individuals on the establishment—he could get no more. ….With respect to the calculation of one bottle per day, for each person, it was one which would be considered in this country as not an unfair one—this was the allowance for the king’s table. A bottle a day, for each person, was considered by the officers of the British army as sufficient for the supply of their messes—sufficient for themselves, and for such company as might be invited to their mess: it was not usual to allow more one day with another to any person in the prime of life. …… the allowance to general Buonaparté there was no less than 266 bottles, in one fortnight, applicable, wholly and entirely to general Buonaparté and his attendants (nineteen bottles per day for 10 persons). [51]

The quantities of food and wine appeared to be quite generous and Bonaparte himself had offered to make a financial contribution.

The provisions for Napoleon’s table cost the British Government nearly £1000 per month and each day the purveyors had to find:

90 pounds of beef, 6 chickens, 74 lbs bread, 5 lbs butter, 2 lbs of lard, 9 lbs sugar, 1¼ lbs coffee, 1 lb tea, 9 lbs wax candles, 30 eggs, 1 lb cheese, 5 lbs flour, 7 lbs salt meat, 2¾ hundred-weight firewood, 3 bottles of beer, vegetables, fruit, oil, and vinegar, 7 bottles of Champagne or Graves, 1 bottle Madeira, 1 bottle Constantia, 6 bottles of ordinary wine, and each servant was also entitled to 1 bottle of Cape or Canary wine each day.

In addition each fortnight the following was provided:

8 ducks, 2 turkeys, 2 geese, 2 sugar-loaves, half a sack of rice, 2 hams of up to 14 lbs, 45 bushels of coal, 7 lbs of butter, salt, mustard, pepper, capers, lamp oil, peas, fish to the value of £4, milk £5.

The French themselves bought foodstuffs every day:

1 dozen eggs, 8 lbs butter, 2 lbs candles, 3 fowls, 5 lbs sugar, 1 lb cheese, 2¼ lbs salt pork, 1 lb lard, a bottle of oil, 1 lb rice, 5 lb coarse sugar, 1 bottle vinegar, 2 turkeys, 1 ham, a pig for roasting, rolls, gherkin and olives.[52]

In an island where wine was a luxury, everyone was amazed that 630 bottles should be delivered each fortnight to the ‘prisoners’.

The particulars were—7 bottles of Constantia (or 14 pint bottles), 14 bottles of Champaign [sic], 21 bottles of Vin de Grave, 84 bottles of Teneriffe, and 140 bottles of Claret. In all 266 bottles. The number of persons connected with general Buonaparté, excluding those of tender age, amounted to nine, so that there was an allowance of nineteen bottles in one day for ten persons; and taking one day with another, the allowance might be considered two bottles a day for each grown person; which he was sure was as much as would satisfy the noble lord’s wishes either for himself or for any person in whom he was interested. In addition to this quantity of wine, forty-two bottles of porter were allowed every fortnight, being at the rate of three to each individual. From this statement he was convinced that their lordships would see there was no reason to complain of an inadequate or scanty supply. [53]

There were constant rumours of provisions being sold at back door of Longwood, accompanied by laughing, drinking, dancing late at night in servants’ lodgings. The French were asked to collect empty bottles which were scarce on Island, so they smashed them. [54]

Local resources were not prolific and shortages were compounded by the growth of the population with the expanded size of the garrison. Food preservation was an issue in these days before refrigeration or the ability to tin or dry food. Rats and mice were a major pest, even scurrying around the table at meal times, with Capt Barnes saying one of the greatest benefits to the island would be the extirpation of these vermin.[55] Betsy recounted a story of incarceration in the cellars for some misdemeanour, cellars full of swarms of rats which leaped about me on all sides. With a possibly overly fertile memory she dramatically wrote of being determined not to be eaten alive, she seized a bottle of wine and dashed it among her assailants, then another and another, destroying a heap of bottles overnight![56]

There were few bullocks and sheep on Island, yet the East India Company was asked to provide 40 bullocks and 500 sheep every two months to feed the local population plus the additional 7000 garrison troops. Animals came in from the Cape or Angola but did not thrive on St Helena, its low quality grass resulting in very poor sheep a mere 33 pounds in weight. A great many hogs were raised and Barnes thought the flesh was excellent food. Salted meat was a major part of the diet; poultry ranged free but did not grow well and, according to Barnes, were often killed by cats. Cabbage, beetroot, turnips were the staple diet, but it was difficult to grow legumes.[57] Fish appeared to be quite plentiful with a monthly average of 11,265 lbs of fish of several species being caught from 1811-1814. [58] No wonder it was a main ingredient of the local Saint’s diet.

Sometimes the issues of poor food quality for Longwood were exacerbated by Hudson Lowe’s insistence that the purveyors were obliged to take the animals from the HEIC stockyard, vegetables from the Plantation House garden and restricting them in what could be obtained from the local farmers.[59]

The Briars itself had a few acres of cultivated land with excellent fruit and kitchen gardens. It still appeared to be most productive in 2010. There was a plentiful supply of water coming from a small stream trickling past, which ended up joining the water from the Heart shaped waterfall to become The Run flowing down behind the main street of Jamestown. No doubt vegetation improved on the island with the introduction of insect pollinators like the honey bee, but other insects proved disastrous like the white fly which wiped out citrus, and the termites which killed many trees and destroyed houses.[60]

The troops sent to guard Napoleon suffered a much worse diet than the general population; their daily ration was reduced to bread, salt or fresh meat, rice and wood. Fifty of the 630 men of the 66th regiment were lost to dysentery and the same illness struck the sailors who were on constant watch on both windward and leeward sides of the island. The flagship Conqueror lost over a hundred men out of 600 in eighteen months with a second hundred being too sick to continue service. [61]

Once he was permanently installed in Longwood Bonaparte was able to concentrate on dictating his memoirs. He sometimes went for a ride on his horse, accompanied by an officer of the guard. But he was not impressed by the changeable weather writing Que puis-je faire dans cette île execrable où l’on ne peut faire un mile à cheval sans y être trempé …. (what can I do on this dreadful island where one can’t even go for a mile on a horse without getting drenched!)[62]

We know the former Emperor entertained visitors from this letter which was written in January 1816 by an unnamed lady, the wife of a Military officer and mother of a daughter whose name began with E, also on the island.

Plantation House, St. Helena, Jan. 6.

Those who have only seen the burning valley and shabby town of St. Helena can form no idea of the romantic beauties of this enchanting spot. The governor, at whose house we are, wishes us to remain till the new governor arrives ; but ____’s military duty will not allow us to be absent from camp many days.

Buonaparte makes the duty very hard upon the officers ; they are on duty every third day. Since we arrived with the great Napoleon, we have had nothing but a round of balls, entertainments, and galas ; and Sir G[eorge] B[ingman], our colonel, gave a morning fete in tents, which cost £250.

I did the honour to the French Countesses, Governor, Ladies, etc., danced in every dance, and then walked home two miles in the rain ; so will say I am tolerable strong.

E — y danced with young Count Lascaaes. She sung to Buonaparte, and accompanied herself in two Italian songs on the piano. He was so delighted with her that he seized her by the ear, and gave her two severe pinches, which is the climax of his approbation and delight. He pinched Sir G. B , and every officer on board the Northumberland, except the Admiral, when they said anything to please him.

I was introduced to Bony when he lived at the Briars. He met me in the garden, where he was walking with his Generals, all very obsequious, with their hats in their hands. He asked whether I was the lady who sang Italian, and spoke to me in Italian and French. He asked me to go into Mr. Balcombe’s, and sing him an Italian song. I felt a little alarmed when I found the Emperor of the whole world behind my chair, although he is now an Ex- Emperor. I sang him a great many songs and an Italian duet with E — y, which appeared to please him greatly, and I understood he talked of us for three days.

I had the felicity of dining with him on the 2d. of January, at the first party he gave. Sir G. B. was the only one invited. The greatest state and etiquette is observed at the Court of Longwood; not a single word was uttered during dinner, excepting by Buonaparte himself. All the Marshals and Countesses sat mumchance ; but I chattered away to his Majesty without any fear, which appeared to amaze them all. You cannot form an idea of the awe they all stand in of him, and he treats them, ladies and all, in the most cavalier manner.

The plate and china is superb beyond belief. The coffee-cups are 25 guineas each cup and saucer. Each cup has views of Egypt on it, all different, and the saucers have highly finished miniatures of different Egyptian chiefs. These were presented to him by the City of Paris. Buonaparte took great delight in explaining them to me.

He then asked me to play at tric-trac. I sat down, but did not know the game. He then asked me to teach him English backgammon. The idea of my instructing the Great Napoleon put me into a fine fright. He is very cheerful and gay, and sang all the time he was playing at cards. All the 53rd were introduced to him in a body. He sent a plate of sweetmeats to E — y from table with his own hand, and offered some to me, which I did not remark at the time ; but I was told by his Secretary, Count Lascases, that it was a favour Queens had never received from him; and as for Kings, said he, I have seen seven at once waiting in his ante-room without gaining an audience.

Countess Bertrand is an elegant woman. I see her very often, and Lascases is one of the most learned men of the age, and exceedingly agreeable. Our camp is a quarter of a mile from Longwood. We are building a house, which will be ready in a month. The climate is very cool in the mountains, but too cold, I think. [63]

Another visitor in 1816 was Stamford Raffles who had joined the HEIC in 1805, by 1811 he was Lt. Governor of Java and by 1817 the Governor General of Bencoolan. The ship should have sailed on the moment it had replenished with water, but Raffles had managed to obtain 36 hours at St Helena and he contrived to see Napoleon during this time. Permission was granted by the Governor but their first attempt was thwarted when they learned their visited had been scheduled for the next day. Eventually the party was received by Bonaparte in his seventh month of exile on St Helena. They met in the garden of Longwood as was his usual style. Raffles admitted to admiration for the former foe and compassion for his current situation. Napoleon fired questions … Had the Dutch taken possession of Java? Are the Spice islands ceded? and he asked questions of his visitors… What was your regiment? Have you been wounded? Raffles said his manner was abrupt, rude and aggressive and he formed a poor opinion of him, thought he was a despot, despite retaining the admiration for Napoleon’s abilities on the battle field. Raffles wrote He still calculates upon a release. He is anything but reconciled to his fate and on this account never to be trusted.[64]

Napoleon spent much time dictating his memoirs but he also played cards and billiards and was also known to work in the Longwood garden.[65] He loved the yellow everlasting or paper daisy (Xerochrysum bracteatum[66]) which Cook had discovered in Australia and taken back to Europe.  Napoleon had arranged for them to grown in his gardens as they were his favourite flower. [67] According to the John Tyrrell (in The St Helena Connection, number 19 of November 2015) Napoleon received some seeds from Lady Holland, one of the Whig supporters who sent gifts including 1000 books, to Napoleon. Now the paper daisies grow in profusion over the island.[68]

A prisoner is always under scrutiny in case he makes an attempt to escape and none more so than the fallen Emperor. William Clark, a soldier of the 20th Regiment sent to relieve the 53rd in guarding the former Emperor, reported

we had to lie on the floor, one blanket to each man which we placed half under and half over us. Sir Hudson Lowe refused the petition of Colonel Smith to allow bedding _”this would make them sleep too soundly”. At gunfire (6o’clock pm) the guard formed closer in and all our pickets were joined to Boney’s guard. Guards, pickets and all amounted at night to 63 or 64….. Four nights out of seven I was on sentry duty and would fall asleep while walking and stray off the path; and then my hair would stand on end with fright and raise my cap for I knew if I were caught napping I was safe for 300 lashes. I have heard men say that their suffering from want of rest in St Helena were more trying to them than the hardships of a campaign.[69]

Of course Bonaparte was somewhat of a ‘novelty’ for visitors to the island as well as the locals. To make it more difficult for people to see him, Napoleon asked that the garden paths were dug out and made sunken. He stood 5feet 5inches or 1.68 m tall [70] so the sunken paths would only allow him to move through the bushes with a modicum of privacy.

One can only imagine what he had felt about his imprisonment on this cursed rock, cut off from the rest of the world, no way to escape, no way to return to power, no way to see his family without being watched over.[71]

At some time Napoleon received a life sized bust of his son, chiselled in white marble, which he placed on the mantel-piece in his bedroom at Longwood. He showed it to the Balcombes who went into raptures over it and Mrs Balcombe remarked he must have been proud to be the father of such a beautiful child. His face beamed and Betsy subsequently wrote that her mother often said that she never saw a countenance at the time so interestingly expressive of parental fondness. [72]

When Betsy Balcombe was about sixteen she fell in love with the Honourable George Carstairs a Midshipman who had also come to Napoleon’s notice when the Emperor observed the efficiency he displayed in setting his men to work in erecting a commodious marquee out of a studding sail. Betsy insisted on introducing him to Napoleon and the former Emperor remarked:

he was one of the very few instances in which he had observed high birth combined with so much amiability and intelligence. [73]

In his copy of Betsy’s original book of memoirs, David Markham claimed Betsy had the wrong name, it was in fact Midshipman Drake and the conversation took place on 6 August 1816. [74] However I’m inclined to believe Betsy would remember the correct name of her first love!

Betsy had other admirers, Lord Roseberry wrote that one flirtation kept the whole island alive: Would Major Fehrzen marry Betsy or not? Napoleon said, No, the Major would not so degrade himself.

(Oliver Fehrzen was sometimes in command of the 53rd Regiment; he had a successful and brave military career but was 15 years older than Betsy). [75]

Ensign George Heathcote attracted the attention of both Jane and Betsy when he was convalescing whilst his ship sailed on guard duty. They took him fruit from the garden, read to him and entertained him as his health improved. [76] He was unable to make up his mind which of the girls he preferred, later writing to their mother my heart was held so completely divided that I thought I loved neither because I loved both. [77]

Betsy’s older sister Jane also had other admirers, she accompanied Captain Mackie on walks and subsequently Dr Stokoe, the Surgeon of the Conqueror had been courting her, but Mr Balcombe disapproved as Jane was just a teenager whilst Stokoe was in his early forties. [78] In later years Stokoe and Heathcote were to catch up again when both were studying medicine at Edinburgh University, with Heathcote due to graduate in 1828. In 1826 he wrote to the girls’ mother Jane when she was in Sydney

I met Mr. Stokoe in the College yard of Edinburgh. I had seen him there two months before and upon remarking to myself that he resembled my former friend and medical attendant at St Helena, but not for a moment imagining it could possibly be the same person, I passed by and went home. Two months elapsed before I met him again in the same place, when I happened to catch the sound of his voice as he was talking to another gentleman. I immediately recognised the tone and went up and asked him if his name was Stokoe. We shook each other by the hand and went out together to converse upon old times and remembrances. Stokoe is attending some of the classes in the College and lives in the same street with me so that we see each other frequently [79]

Las Cases recorded in his book that Betsy was rather beautiful and very alluring; Jane was taller, much less attractive but sweeter in manner, with perfect poise and grace. One diner remarked that If I wanted to marry a slave I would settle for the first (born) but if I wished to become a slave myself I would address myself to Betsy.[80]

On 4 December 1815 some of the troops from the 53rd Regiment had obviously been camping on Hutts Land and broken a sign which Balcombe, a purveyor for the troops, was supposed to repair but had not. Land owner Robinson wrote to the HEIC Secretary Thomas Brooke, asking for compensation for fallen trees, ruination of his grass crop and fixing the sign. However Balcombe had since bought the land and therefore did not think such compensation was necessary. The Governor and Council decided to call in an ‘umpire’ and stand by his decision. Balcombe thought only £10 should be payable but W Teale, R Baker and J Legg each thought it should be £30 and £30 proved to be the suggested compensation that Balcombe had to find.[81]

The arrival on 14 April 1816 of new Governor, Hudson Lowe, dramatically changed things on the Island.[82]

A month before setting sail for St Helena, Lowe had married Susan, the widow of Colonel William Johnson who had died fighting the French in 1811. Susan Johnson, née DeLancey, was from an aristocratic family with great political ties and she had been left with two daughters to care for, Susanna and Charlotte, aged twelve and fourteen respectively. Susan had had her eye on Hudson Lowe as a suitable partner as he was intimately involved with Wellington who was the British rising star. She was used to having her own way and being treated as she thought her elevated station in life deserved.  Understandably, the new Lady Lowe despised Napoleon, so imagine her horror to subsequently find out that Lowe had accepted his commission as the jailer of Bonaparte.

Lady Lowe attempted to convert the Governor’s house on St. Helena, Plantation House, into an aristocratic residence such as would be found in London, complete with a staff of servants and an enviable “table” at each meal.

Lady Lowe was constantly frustrated in her attempts to ‘civilize’ her environment and, as a result, became more of an alcoholic than she was before she arrived at St. Helena. In fact, according to journals kept by staff at the time, Lady Lowe imbibed at least one bottle of Sherry each day, plus additional wine with her meals. There is also some evidence that she may have been having an affair with one of her husband’s staff officers, Captain Den Taaf.

To add to the problem she constantly harassed and insulted Lowe’s staff and her servants. She was both demanding and petty. In short, Lady Lowe turned out to be a shrew. As a result, Hudson Lowe visited the local tavern in Jamestown frequently to enjoy the company of some of his trusted officers. Imagine Lowe’s state of mind as a Major General, knighted by the Prince Regent personally, at the age of forty-six married for the first time to an alcoholic shrew, having to spend five years in seclusion on an island in the middle of nowhere. As if this weren’t enough, he was now responsible for the custody of the former master of Europe, held in awe and admiration by many of his own troops as well as many merchants and other residents of St. Helena. It’s a wonder he survived at all.[83]

At the same time the Bonaparte household became increasingly uncooperative resulting in a violent clash of wills between Napoleon and Lowe. Was it a simple personality clash; was it a deliberate ploy on the part of the Longwood establishment; did Bonaparte prefer ‘persecution and martyrdom’ to oblivion? Whatever the reason for the Frenchman’s actions, the resulting cold war was to cause major problems for those closer to him. This included William Balcombe who came under the microscope of a more and more neurotic Lowe, a man who also had to contend with the increasingly serious domestic problems of his own. [84]

Lowe wrote to Earl Bathurst in July 1816 telling him of an incident between Balcombe and Count Montholon. The latter offered to give Balcombe a Bill in Bonaparte’s name for £30,000 on the house of Hope of Amsterdam. Sir George Cockburn who heard the exchange advised him to take it but, when Balcombe said he would, Montholon drew back from his proposition and said 4000 Napoleon must first be expended.[85]

In October 1816 Balcombe, ever looking to expand, wrote to the HEIC Governing body

I humbly beg leave to enclose to your Excellency a sketch of some waste ground belonging to the Honourable Company contiguous to the Briars Estate, and to request your Excellency will be pleased to grant me permission to hire the said land on Lease for a term of 21 years.[86]

The Ground in question was considered by the Board as perhaps the only spot which could be selected as a place of reception for imported cattle on their being first landed.

It is near the Town, sheltered and warm with the advantage of water and contiguity to the high road so as to facilitate the carriage of forage until the animals could be sufficiently seasoned to bear turning into pasture, there are moreover abundance of good building materials on the spot, for the construction of a yard and proper sheds. For these reasons the Board resolves not to comply with Mr. Balcombe’s petition.

The List of Principal Houses on St Helena during the time of the captivity of Napoleon shows the Balcombe family living at The Briars but also listed is Ross Cottage and Walbro’ as being the location of Messers Balcombe and Company. [87]

Ross Cottage, near Hutt’s Gate, was where William Balcombe housed his poultry farm producing fowl, turkey, geese and ducks fattened for Napoleon’s table. It was here in 1816 that Count de Las Cases and his son stayed under guard before their removal from the island, accused of smuggling letters for Napoleon.[88] By this time Las Cases was losing his sight and finding it difficult to write so that burden fell on his son Emanuel, but he too had become very sick with a heart condition. It was subsequently realised from their pleasing comments about their new accommodation in the very small Ross Cottage and their refusal to return to Longwood when offered the opportunity, that the pair had contrived to be caught so they would be deported. They left St Helena for the Cape on 30 December 1816 on board the Griffon and were detained at the Cape for 8 months. [89]

In February 1817 Lady Emma Septima Bingham (nee Pleydell), wife of the Commander of the 2nd Battalion 53rd Shropshire Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Sir George Ridout Bingham who, with his regiment had sailed to St Helena with Napoleon on Northumberland, wrote from Knollcombe Cottage that

On the 20th we are engaged to a ball and supper at the Briar’s (Mr. Balcombe’s); we live quietly with the exception of these sort of things which occur occasionally.

She also said they were to have races on the 28th and her husband was entering a chestnut horse which Major Charles Harrison was to ride. Later in the letter she remarked that

I dined a short time since at the Briars, and curious enough, the dessert set was exactly similar to that at Whatcombe (the house in Dorset, family home of the Pleydells); the glass net work, and I could when looking on the table almost fancy myself seated at that, in the dining room at home.[90]

The method of manufacturing this net work in glass has become unknown and the person who invented it and made the various sets was never revealed. One set was supposed to be in the possession of Queen Charlotte, another owned by the Earl of Shaftsbury and the third owned by the Pleydells.[91] But apparently there was another set, owned by the Balcombes.[92]

Another day of races was held in March when a ball and supper in the evening were well attended. George Bingham’s horse was one of the successful racers.[93]

From April 1817 during Bonaparte’s captivity on St Helena horse racing took place twice a year at the Deadwood course. Initially the organiser was Captain (later Admiral) Henry John Rous, who went on to rule horse racing in England when he was MP for Westminster.

Horses were lent by people from the Governor down, no doubt including Balcombe, and the animals which took part in the first meeting were

African, Brickdust, Blucher, Bacchus, Botherum, Comet, Creeper, Dolly, Emperor, Feather, Fidget, Grinder, Hambletonian, Hope, John Bull, Kutusoff, Manks, Marske, Mansel, Negro, Pringle, Prime of Life, Regent, Royal Oak, Regulus, Sebastian, Salamanca, Toussaint, Tom-Tit, Tom Crop, Tickler, Whiskey.[94]

Was Betsy Balcombe’s pony which we know was called Tom [95]really the horse named Tom-Tit in this list? Basil Jackson recalled that the racing days at St Helena

over which Captain Rous ruled with all the authority he so long exercised at Newmarket. We had our Turf Club, and an excellent mile-and-a-half course at Dead wood. It is true that our horses were not of high quality, but they afforded quite as much amusement as if they had been thoroughbred. Rous infected me with his racing taste, and he found me an apt pupil, though invariably opposed to him. The Governor was very liberal in his patronage, giving two handsome plates annually, and generally attended the sport in person ; he also placed his horses at the command of Captain Rous, and as they, or some of them, were English, and the best in the island, he enjoyed great advantages. The light weights of both army and navy furnished jockeys, and all turned out in proper racing equipment.[96]

It is known that Napoleon used to watch the races on Deadwood Plain through his spyglass… he had round holes made in the shutters of Bertrand’s Cottage so he could observe but not be observed. He also had similar spy glass holes in the shutters of Longwood.[97] One year Betsy’s pony was assigned to another friend and so Napoleon sent down his quietest horse, the grey Mameluke for Betsy to ride in the Ladies Race, complete with Madame Bertrand’s side-saddle and housings of crimson and gold. Miss Balcombe subsequently won the race and the fact that Betsy’s horse was actually owned by Napoleon was suddenly the talk of the race track. Hudson Lowe was not impressed and Balcombe was severely censured and almost dismissed from the purveyorship.[98]

In her  “Recollections’ Betsy wrote how upset she was by Lowe’s actions and herself went to speak with him. Ignoring all protocol she burst into his office and told him her father had nothing to do with the loan of the horse. She may have been a tom-boy but she also had spirit and a sense of right and wrong … what a brave young lady to face such a man as Lowe!

In July 1817 the 53rd Regiment was to leave the island. Emma Bingham wrote from Knollcombe Cottage on 24 July 1817 that the officers of the Garrison gave a Ball for over 200 people on Friday. Betsy recalled the Ball was the prettiest thing of the kind and the best one I ever remember either before or since. [99] On the next day there was a play and on Monday attended a Ball given by Mr. Balcombe to the officers of the 53rd on the occasion of their departure from St Helena.[100]

The social scene on the island had very few amusements for the HEIC officials, military and merchants on the Island. Balls were obviously important events and Emma Bingham reported another one occurring in late August 1817. She had not attended that particular Ball, remarking this

amusement is to improve every time: it takes place twice a year and affords conversation for at least a month before and a month after.

She also mentioned her husband’s horse winning the 100 dollar plate at the race and staying with the Wynyards at Rock Cottage and forming a very merry quintet with them and Major Harrison.[101]

The census taken on 30 September 1817 saw the inhabitants numbering 6150 people, almost double the numbers of 3587 from 1814. Now there were 821 White inhabitants exclusive of the Civil and Military, 1540 slaves, 500 free Blacks, 820 Civil and Military Company’s Establishment, 1475 Kings Troops, 352 families of the troops, 618 Chinese and 24 Lascars. This was a huge increase in the numbers of people to be fed. [102] The island had always had some form of Military protection so the Dutch or French could not claim it but not in the large numbers needed since the arrival of Napoleon and his entourage on the Island.

It was not until 25 December 1818 that all children born of the Slaves were to be considered Free. There had been much discussion about the abolition of slavery and the decision to say children born after Christmas Day 1818 were to be free was over ten years behind the 1807 Act in the British Parliament which abolished of trade in slaves on British ships. Despite being called ‘Free’ these children could only claim their freedom after the girls attained their 16th year and the boys their 18th year. Their parents continued to remain slaves for life. [103] Slaves were buried in unconsecrated ground.

Sir George and Lady Emma Bingham tried to persuade people to educate the children of their slaves. Their morals and education are so terribly neglected that it is quite dreadful and one half of the slaves are not christened.

It was not until 1833 that there was an Act to abolish all slavery throughout the British Empire.[104]

As many as twenty-six thousand freed potential slaves were landed at Rupert’s Bay on St Helena,[105] dumped there by ships who were not allowed to proceed with their human cargo to the Americas and unwilling to return them to their homelands of Madagascar, India and Malaya. Many were desperately ill and diseased and many are buried in unmarked graves in Rupert’s Bay. After the dreadful consequences of the measles virus on their population it is understandable that the Islanders did not want these people to mix with the St Helena population. They would take food to the top of the hill between the Jamestown and Rupert’s Bay valleys and fire a shot from the Battery on Munden’s Hill so the people in the valley knew food was available for them to collect. In 2010 the graves had only recently been discovered and were undergoing excavation to learn more about this dreadful piece of the St Helena’s history. [106]

Interest in the life of the former Emperor spread as far as the colony of Van Diemen’s Land with the Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter of 25 October 1817 advising

BONAPARTE -Captain WALLIS, of the ship Fanny, who a few months back touched at St Helena on his way to England from Pork Jackson, gives the following interesting particulars relative to this great man’s allowance, which he receives daily from Messrs Balcombe and Co. who are appointed by Government to be his purveyors, viz :-6 bottles claret, 12 ditto Cape do, 6 Tenerife, 10 ditto Madeira, 1 ditto Constantia, 25 loaves of bread, 5 Ib. of flour, 65 lb of beef, 35 Ib. of mutton, 6 fowls, 1 goose or turkey, 30 eggs, 8 Ib. of butter, 2 lb. lard, 2 lb. of coffee, ½ lb. tea, 5 lb of moist sugar, 2 lbs of white ditto, vegetables to £ 1, fruit 10s, sweet meats 8s, candles in number 35, with a proportion of pepper, salt, oil, mustard,-&c. the whole amounting to about £ 174 in 14 days.    

The above is a proof that Bonaparte is, notwithstanding he is in the latitude of 16 degrees South, yet accommodated with an English sirloin and other luxuries, in his captive state.

Bonaparte had plenty of staff but he was much taken with the Balcombe’s slave Toby and, encouraged by Betsy, asked that he be released. This was not to be, the neurotic Lowe refused on the grounds that it would encourage all the slaves on the island to show gratitude to Napoleon and remarked I would not do what you ask for anything in the world.[107]

One day when Bonaparte was visiting the Balcombe family he saw an English book and asked one of the girls if he could borrow it as he was interested in the title, ‘Amusements in Retirement’. Mr. Balcombe, knowing that it contained several passages which might irritate the already overcharged feelings of the Ex-Emperor told him that it was not really worthy of his attention or he would lend it to him with pleasure. Bonaparte however, replying that in all matters of literature he loved to judge for himself, took it with him to Longwood. When he saw Mr. Balcombe again he exclaimed

I have managed to make out part of the book you said was not worth reading the other day. I wish by the flight of the eagle (a favourite expression of his) that I could have the author of that book but once fairly in my power. I would inflict such a revenge upon him as the world would never forget”. “And what sort of revenge would that be?” inquired Miss Balcombe who stood near. “I would convince him” returned the Emperor “that he had formed a wrong and cruel estimate of myself: and by one of the best possible arguments, viz. that of forgiving one insupportable mistake, in compliment to the many beautiful truths the book contains.” [108]

The French made several complaints against Sir Hudson Lowe and his treatment of Bonaparte. Mr. O’Meara wrote copiously about them in his publication and in letters to Sir Thomas Read. A reviewer wrote “Here at last is one word of truth. He did write to Sir Thomas Read about it but mark what follows. The letter to Sir Thomas Read has been fortunately preserved and in it is found after the statement of deficiency, the following paragraph:-

They, the French, are sufficiently malignant to impute all these things to the Governor instead of setting them down as being owing to the neglect of some of Balcombe’s (the Purveyors) people. Every little circumstance is carried directly to Buonaparte with every aggravation that, malignity and falsehood can suggest to evil disposed and cankered minds. [109]

Balcombe used the ship St Helena, the first ship of that name built specifically for Company business, to bring goods from the Cape, with the vessel making at least 8 voyages between 1814 and 1819. [110] In one instance he is listed as importing one pipe of Port Wine and three Cases of sundries from Rio de Janeiro.[111] The ship had sailed from the island to Rio in January 1818 and this suggests at that time Balcombe was not contemplating leaving the island, yet the schooner was detained in Rio and by the time she returned to the Island, the Balcombe family had left.

Dame Mabel Brookes recounted that initially Lowe wrote about William that he was generally considered as an indiscreet, rather than a designing man, liberal, and even profuse. He was living apparently a good deal beyond his means, keeping literally open house, in particular for the Navy, to whom he is much attached…he talks sometimes very largely, and gave out a few days since he had been left £2000 per year at home.[112] Was this a pension or gratuity from the Prince or Sir Thomas?

But Lowe was most concerned about Balcombe’s closeness to Bonaparte, convinced he was acting as an intermediary for Napoleon with correspondence to France and obtaining monies. Lowe feared not only Longwood communications passing to the French supporters, but that Carlton House might also receive them. Balcombe’s friend Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt was very close to Carlton House, in other words the Prince of Wales, who on 29 January 1820, was to become King George IV.

William was initially warned by Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt that his actions were under review, and that it would be as well to send his family home; however Sir Pulteney Malcolm contradicted this on his subsequent arrival on St Helena as Commander in Chief of the Naval blockade [113] and the Balcombe family remained on the Island.

In answer to a letter of enquiry sent by Bathurst, Lowe wrote,

What makes my suspicions fall the more strongly on these persons (the Balcombes) is the particular intimacy subsisting between them and Mr. O’Meara, now deported, which long since made me caution Mr. Balcombe against adopting him as a medium of interpretation with the persons at Longwood….. Mr. Balcombe is warmly protected by Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt, his father was drowned by a yacht, in which the Prince of Wales embarked, running over a boat in which he was sailing at Brighton. [114]

William realised that it really would be prudent to depart and requested 6 months leave of absence to take his ill wife back to England. In addition the time was soon coming when the two young Balcombe daughters Jane and Betsy needed to be exposed to ‘Society’ and find suitable husbands who had their own income. Mrs. Balcombe’s sickness was a timely excuse for William, and she was known by all to have not enjoyed the best of health over the years, even Lowe recognised it. Betsy remarked

In consequence of my mother’s health declining from the enfeebling effects of the too warm climate of St Helena, she was ordered by her medical adviser to try a voyage to England as the only means of restoring her shattered constitution.[115]

The HEIC agreed to the request and advised they would keep his position open for a period of 12 months after which they would replace him.

Lowe wrote to Bathurst that

Mr. Balcombe has applied for leave of absences to go to England. I have no particular reason to suppose his application is connected with any circumstance of General Gourgaud’s departure, as he sometime since manifested an intention of applying as Mrs Balcombe has been seriously ill, which has been assigned as the reason of his present application. I spoke of circumstances which were supposed to influence Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt’s particular notice of Mr. Balcombe… in fact it is difficult to learn Mr. Balcombe’s real history, the only certain thing is Sir Thomas’ protection of him which commenced long before Napoleon Bonaparte’s arrival here and has been always accompanied by the best advice. [116]

The suspicions of Hudson Lowe about the Balcombe family’s friendship with Napoleon was bordering on paranoia. Napoleon would be saddened by their departure; he had cut off most contact with the English ‘rulers’ of the island. William Balcombe and Dr. O’Meara were the only two he spoke to outside of the French party and both would now be gone.

Bonaparte wrote to Balcombe

I fear that your resignation of your employment in this island is caused by the quarrels and annoyance drawn upon you by the relations established between your family and Longwood, in consequence of the hospitality which you showed me on my first arrival in St Helena. I would not wish you ever to regret having known me.[117]

It was a sad day for both the Balcombe family and Bonaparte when they made their farewells to each other. The Balcombes left the island of St Helena on board the HEIC Ship Winchelsea under Captain Adamson. She and a companion HEIC Ship Waterloo (Captain Birch) were carrying a cargo of tea from China, leaving there on 29 November. They had arrived on St Helena on 12 March and subsequently left for England on 18 March, [118] quite a short stop-over, before arriving in the home port on 11 May 1818.

Lowe struck soon. Whilst the Balcombes were still en route for England, in April 1818, Count Bertrand wrote to Sir Hudson Lowe and advised of the regret of Napoleon’s household that Mr. Balcombe’s  house was being deprived of supplying provisions that the journey to England of the principal of that house to London could not be a reason for depriving him of his business since the services had always been performed by his partners Messers Fowler and Cole and Mr. Balcombe had never directly interfered therewith.[119]

The Times in London reported in May 1818 that

We are desired by a Correspondent to state as from undoubted authority, that no other cause existed for Mr. Balcombe’s quitting his situation at St Helena than the dangerous state of Mrs Balcombe’s health at the time of her embarkation. The writer suggests that if there had been any improper conduct on the part of Mr. Balcombe, Sir Hudson Lowe would scarcely have been so indulgent as to appoint Mr. Cole, the partner of Mr. Balcombe, to act for him as purveyor to Buonaparte during the period of his absence in England.[120]

At this time Sir Hudson Lowe had no tangible cause of complaint against Balcombe but he had strong suspicions that his relations with Longwood were not limited to the ostensible duties of his office. He was also close to O’Meara, with whom the Governor was becoming daily more dissatisfied.[121]

Lowe was probably right to be somewhat paranoid about an attempt to escape by their prized prisoner. A letter signed by “La Meu”, had been sent to Napoleon on 29 March 1816 suggesting he should get away and Bertrand had been sent everything for his use. A letter was found at the St Helena post office giving details of a ship which would be waiting 14 miles off shore to take him to the United States, a rope to scale the cliff, a small craft which looked like a cask from the cliff top, a light to be shown on the port side. [122] One can only imagine it was members of Napoleon’s household who were party to these arrangements. It is unlikely that Balcombe would risk his neck by being involved in this particular exercise, he loved life, had a family to consider and too much to lose, and in fact at this time he had sent all the notes he received from Napoleon direct to Sir George Cockburn.[123] The first man to live on the island by the name of Saul Solomon was said to have tried to help Napoleon to escape, he smuggled him a silken rope ladder in a teapot! [124]

Passing on letters was a far less serious ‘crime’ than assisting an attempted escape and General Gourgard, Aide-de-Camp remarked that there was no difficulty carrying on secret correspondence with Europe as it was done through O’Meara and Balcombe and some English visitors. [125]

It appears that William Balcombe and family left St Helena just before major trouble would have erupted for him. It seems Lowe’s paranoia continued; he had taken the purveyorship from the ‘Balcombe, Coles & Fowler’ business even though the Balcombe family had returned to England in March. He had serious mistrust of Dr Barry O’Meara, Napoleon’s doctor, who had also left the island on board the Griffon on 2 August 1818. [126] Lowe vented his feelings in this long letter to Lord Bathurst in September 1818

To Earl Bathurst KG

St Helena, September 29, 1818,

My Lord,

Your Lordship will peruse with feelings of no ordinary disgust the details of the accompanying report disclosing such mean and unworthy tricks and artifices to elude the regulations in force on this island, to establish a secret correspondence with Europe for pecuniary and other concerns, and to raise a cabal at the same time on the island itself in favour of Napoleon Bonaparte, as it could have been hardly expected would been at once brought to view.

The Marquis de Montchenu, who is as yet uninformed what has been done, mentioned to me two days since that Mr. O’Meara, a short time before his departure, received a letter from Lord Melville. (I repeat what the Marquis said and I immediately set right because it could not of course been Lord Melville though not impossibly one of the clerks the department), saying he was to be recalled from his situation here; that he had shown this letter to the persons at Longwood but that Napoleon felt too secure of the effect of the reports of his illness to admit the idea of the removal taking place believing neither Government nor myself would dare, whilst he was supposed to be so ill, to deprive him of Mr. O’Meara’s assistance. This information the Marquis must have had from Count Balmain’s conversations. Such a material point being, as he conceived, gained, Napoleon appears resolved to have pushed to the utmost limit the advantage he trusted to have derived from it. Hence the vulgar insolence and audacity with which Mr. O’Meara was encouraged to act towards me, by which he hoped to shake in some degree the regard due to authority; the cabals sought to be formed amongst the officers of the 66th and in the navy; the pretensions he sought to establish for Mr. O’Meara in society when he found his character begin to droop; and all the prospectus [?] which is displayed in the correspondence annexed to the report, deeply laid but illusory, and only proving how easily Napoleon himself can be rendered the dupe of ignorant and pretending people, and to what mean shifts he can at the same time descend. The blame, however, does not appear to originate wholly in him, as there seems to have been at least as much of fanaticism and pretension, with an eye at the same time to the trade to be carried on, on one side, as of excitement on the other.

Whatever may have been said by General Gourgaud with respect to other persons that have been employed in clandestine communications, I could never fix a direct suspicion on any others than Mr. O’Meara or Mr. Balcombe (however assistance may have been afforded by others as the instruments or bearers) for they were the only persons who by their official situations had free access to the persons at Longwood, and, if they were unprincipled enough, whilst receiving the public money for their services there, to become the tools for any indirect purpose whatever, it was next to impossible to prevent it.

The change in the purveyorship was the first blow against the designs that had been forming, and the little noise made by Napoleon about it convinced me he was apprehensive of the discoveries that might be made in that quarter. The removal of Mr. O’Meara levelled the whole fabric, and hence the plots now developed. Mr. Balcombe‘s conduct is quite inexcusable. I had uniformly treated him and his family with attention and kindness, and had most distinctly and repeatedly cautioned him in a friendly manner on the subject of his intimacy with Mr. O’Meara, pointing out to him even the very delicate situation in which he might be eventually placed by having his name coupled together with that of Mr. O’Meara as the only persons Napoleon saw. Mr. Balcombe will perfectly recollect, if reminded of it, the pointed warning I gave him in my office some weeks before he left this island, on the latter point. He went on headlong, however, in an increasing intimacy, until he became, as it appears, completely entangled. When, after obtaining my signature to a requisition for certain stores he was to embark on board the Hyena store ship for the use of the establishment at Longwood, he got an order subsequently from the Admiral to ship stores in tenfold quantity on his own account, in prejudice of the island receiving supplies it was in actual distress for by the same ship, I remonstrated with him, as his conduct merited, in opposing or undermining the arrangements he knew I had been endeavouring to establish; but this was the only occasion where I expressed a marked dissatisfaction to him, although it appears to me, the Admiral, on the whole, had more reason to complain of the mode in which he had been circumvented than myself. This was unconnected, however, with his business at Longwood and is only mentioned lest he might be referring to it, which neither the late naval Commander-in-Chief nor the present, though acting with the best intentions, can feel any desire he should do.

I cannot sufficiently express my sense of the cordial and zealous support I have received throughout from Admiral Plampin in everything connected with the affairs of Mr. O’Meara. His reasons for not showing to, or leaving with me, the letter from Mr. Balcombe to Mr. Stokoe I do not entirely enter into; but I am convinced the letter contained nothing which could throw any new or any important light on the subject of the other correspondence, and that it is probably regard to Mr. Stokoe, with some feeling of consideration towards Mr. Balcombe himself, where actual necessity did not require his name to be brought forward. The Admiral has been somewhat unpleasantly placed in regard to the latter, by owing to him the obligation of his present place of residence, the Briars, which Mr. Balcombe, to his own great inconvenience and that of his family, yielded up to the Admiral on his arrival here. This induced at first a great intimacy between them, but the Admiral now sees Mr. Balcombe’s character and line of proceeding in the true point of view. If your Lordship reflects on this matter; on the marked support given to Mr. Balcombe by all the naval Commanders -in -Chief ; that his house was the common rendezvous of the navy, not so much for purposes of hospitality as perhaps to create distraction and make a party (Mr. O’Meara being the oracle there); on the conduct of the Commissioners, and on the protection given by Count Balmain, in particular, to Mr. O’Meara, because juridical proofs were not immediately brought forward against him – it will be felt I had many difficulties to overcome before attaining this development of what has been passing, and bringing about a right change in persons’ sentiments on the occasion: but I cannot speak on this subject without expressing my great obligations to Sir Thomas Reade, whose zeal, activity and intelligence, on this as well as on every other occasion, have never been in fault, and who has been a mainspring of the discoveries that have been made.

Even the Admiral told me he had difficulty in persuading some of his own officers Mr. O’Meara was not a much injured man (which however must have sprung from some party design, as the history of the snuff box and his communications with Mr. Vernon were sufficient to fix his character) but that now all voices are united against him. Mr. Stokoe, the Admiral said, shed tears on finding how much he had been deceived by him; and even his friend Lieutenant Reardon of the 66th now speaks of him as one of the “greatest scoundrels” to use his own terms, he ever heard of.

Your Lordship will observe the very line of proceeding which was adopted by Mr. Fowler. It shows, however, the confidence with which Mr. Holmes and Mr. Balcombe must have been acting, when they could venture to implicate Mr. Fowler so far as to send him a letter and a box of French books under a feigned address. Mr. Cole, the other partner, has not appeared in the matter. He has conducted himself with great prudence since Mr. Balcombe’s departure, but has appeared a good deal agitated since the last discoveries. It is likely to prove a fatal thing for the business of their house; but if they have lost the purveyorship by their connection with Mr. O’Meara, it is not from want of due caution to Mr. Balcombe, and this I am particularly solicitous Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt should understand…

I have observed that part of Mr. Balcombe’s letter wherein he says the opinions of Sir George Cockburn and Sir Pulteney are with him. I can never believe a person holding the high official situation of Sir George Cockburn would offer opinions to Mr. Balcombe on a subject of such delicacy as that he adverts to, but, if he should have done so, I am quite ready to meet and refute them. If Sir Pulteney has offered such opinions in private, I am persuaded he will not think of maintaining them; but should he have expressed opinions on such subject to any person in official situation, or uttered them publicly, I should desire to learn it, as I am quite prepared for any discussion on such points with him…

Napoleon is as yet uninformed of what has been passing. To have admitted only two English persons near him for upwards of a twelvemonth and those to be proved his mere tools, can afford him no agreeable subject of reflection, particularly if he should by chance discover that the one of them, a surgeon of a man-of-war, was formerly dismissed the army by the sentence of a court-martial, and that the other, who had been a mate of an Indiaman, had been equally dismissed the Company’s service for some gross act of insubordination towards the commander of his ship. The anecdotes which are current here I have no reason to doubt the truth of, yet such, with Mr. Warden are the chief selections Napoleon has made. He has not moved out since the last report which mentioned it. In other respects he continues the same.

I have the honour

&c H Lowe [127]

The ‘Warden’ to whom Lowe refers was William Warden who was a naval surgeon and travelled on Northumberland with Napoleon. During the voyage, and afterwards for some months at St. Helena, Warden was in frequent attendance on Napoleon. The conversations, as Warden understood them, (he was not a French speaker) were published under the title of ‘Letters written on board His Majesty’s Ship the Northumberland and at St. Helena’ The favourable view in which Napoleon was represented excited bitter criticism from the supporters of the government. Bonaparte assured Sir Hudson Lowe that his conversation as reported by Warden was quite different from anything he had actually said. Lowe mentioned this in a letter to Lord Bathurst, then secretary for war, and represented that Warden, who had been permitted to visit Longwood only as a medical officer in the exercise of his functions, had committed a breach of discipline in publishing the conversations and in publicly commenting on the conduct and character of individuals.[128]

After Balcombe had left St Helena a box of books written in French arrived on the island with letters addressed to O’Meara who by now had also left the island. A letter to Fowler contained inside another for James Forbes which in turn contained a third for William Holmes. A letter addressed to Stokoe contained one for him from Balcombe and another for O’Meara from Balcombe. They were political letters suggesting there would be a change in Government and advising that Holmes was indefatigable in his exertions to your cause (O’Meara’s) and no stone will be left unturned to serve our friends on the island. [129]

So perhaps Hudson Lowe had had every right to be suspicious of the behaviour of William Balcombe!


And what became of The Briars? The house was subsequently purchased from Messrs Burnie for £6000 in June 1827, the brewery for £3000. The East India Company under Governor Walker passed it to Mr. Baker for Mulberry trees and a silk worm establishment but this failed as the silk worms all died en route from India to the island. Sometime later a Chinese labourer was sent to China to bring back silk worms which he did, but the venture was a failure. [130]  At some point The Briars became home to a successful hive of bees, producing good honey and they brought about a great improvement in the cultivated plants on the island as they were excellent pollinators. Wild swarms set up several colonies. [131]

However termites had arrived on St Helena in the 1840s from wood sourced from some condemned slave ships (possibly a Brazilian ship) which were infested by termites (white ants). It ravaged the island eating through nearly every piece of wood in the buildings. [132] Were these internal timbers from the vessel which carried the pest? The Briars suffered badly from the depredations of termites and became a total ruin. However the Pavilion remained as it was built from timber which was impregnated with salt, so probably the external timbers, which helped to preserve it for a while.[133]

As a result of the destruction, in the 1940s the French Government demolished both New Longwood house and the Balcombe’s former house, but Longwood House itself was saved, and has been restored by recent French curators.[134]

Following Napoleon’s death, Longwood House reverted to the ownership of the HEIC then later to the Crown, and was used for agricultural purposes. In 1858 it was transferred to the French Government along with the Valley of the Tomb. In 1959 a third property, the Pavilion at The Briars, former home of the  Balcombe family, was given to the French Government by Balcombe descendent Dame Mabel Brookes.

Years after leaving the Island, Betsy wrote a series of articles for Tom Hood’s “New Monthly Magazine” entitled   “Recollections of the Emperor Napoleon during the time spent in her father’s house at St Helena, by Mrs. Elizabeth Abell.” The articles were afterward reprinted as a small book, which was translated with the title “Une Petite Amie de Napoleon,” and has passed through several editions. The family is delighted to own a copy of this precious little book, published by John Murray in 1844, with the title Recollections of Napoleon at St Helena by Mrs Abell.


Farewell to my land where the gloom of her glory

Arose and o’er shadowed the earth with her name

She abandons me now … but the page of her story

The brightest or blackest is filled with my fame. [135]


The Briars, the Pavilion and the Heart Shaped Waterfall.[136]


A St. Helena Lullaby

“A Priest in Spite of Himself”

“How far is St. Helena from a little child at play!”

What makes you want to wander there with all the world between.

Oh, Mother, call your son again or else he’ll run away.

(No one thinks of winter when the grass is green!)

“How far is St. Helena from a fight in Paris street?”

I haven’t time to answer now — the men are falling fast.

The guns begin to thunder, and the drums begin to beat.

(If you take the first step, you will take the last!)

“How far is St. Helena from the field of Austerlitz?”

You couldn’t hear me if I told–so loud the cannons roar.

But not so far for people who are living by their wits.

(“Gay go up” means “Gay go down” the wide world o’er!)

“How far is St. Helena from the Emperor of France.”

I cannot see– I cannot tell–the Crowns they dazzle so.

The Kings sit down to dinner, and the Queens stand up to dance

(After open weather you may look for snow!)

“How far is St. Helena from the Capes of Trafalgar?”

A longish way — longish way–with ten more to run.

It’s South across the water underneath a falling star.

(What you cannot finish you must leave undone!)

“How far is St. Helena from the Beresina ice?”

An ill way–a chill way–the ice begins to crack.

But not so far for gentlemen who never took advice.

(When you can’t go forward you must e’en come back!)

“How far is St. Helena from the field of Waterloo?”

A near way–a clear way–the ship will take you soon.

A pleasant place for gentlemen with little left to do.

(Morning never tries you till the afternoon!)

“How far from St. Helena to the Gate of Heaven’s Grace?”

That no one knows–that no one knows–and no one ever will.

But fold your hands across your heart and cover up your face,

And after all your trapesings, child, lie still!

by Rudyard Kipling [137]

In 2015 the Australian author Tom Keneally wrote a book called Napoleon’s Last Island which purports to recreate Betsy Balcombe’s friendship with Napoleon, The Great Ogre. He says the book is fiction, recounting the secret journal hidden behind the real one Betsy herself published in 1844. However it is incredibly sad that he includes scandalous comments about Betsy’s mother …. if he wants to write such fiction then he should not use real names and destroy the reputations of family members by so doing.

© Caroline Gaden

#Balcombe   #StHelena   #Napoleon   #Bonaparte  #BetsyBalcombe

[1] or

[2] Constance Hill, Maria Edgeworth and her circle of friends in the days of Buonaparte and Bourbon, London, John Lane, MCMX, p. 169-71


[4] Mrs. Abell (late [sic] Miss Elizabeth Balcombe) , Recollections of Napoleon at St Helena during the first three years of his captivity on the Island of St Helena, London, John Murray, 1844, p 11.

[5] Letter to Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt from William Balcombe dated 16 October 1815 available from the James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection, Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

[6] Maarten Hogenstijn and Daniel van Middelkoop, Saints, spatial identities of the citizens of St Helena 2002
Masters, University of Utrecht, Netherlands, p.26.

[7] Maarten Hogenstijn and Daniel van Middelkoop, Saints, spatial identities of the citizens of St Helena 2002
Masters, University of Utrecht, Netherlands and Maarten Hogenstijn and Daniel van Middelkoop (2005) ‘Saint Helena: Citizenship and Spatial Identity on a Remote Island.’ Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie, Vol. 96, No. 1.

[8] Alexander Beatson, Tracts relative to the Island of St Helena written during a residence of five years. London, W Bulmer and Co, 1816. Digitized by Google.

[9] Martin Levy, Napoleon in Exile, the Houses and Furniture supplied by the British Government for the Emperor and his Entourage on St Helena, Furniture History, The Journal of the Furniture History Society, 1998, Volume XXXIV, pp 2-211.

[10] William Lefanu (Editor) Betsy Sheridan’s Journal, Letters from Sheridan’s sister, Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 65

[11] Gareth Glover, Wellington’s Lieutenant, Napoleon’s Gaoler, The Peninsula and St Helena Diaries of Sir George Ridout Bingham 1809-21, Pen and Sword Military, Barnsley, Yorkshire, 2005, p. 271

[12] Letter to Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt from William Balcombe dated 20 October 1815 available from the James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection, Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

[13] Church records viewed in Archives, St Helena, November 2010.

[14] Lord Roseberry, Napoleon the last phase, London, Arthur L Humphreys, 1900, page 133-135 and Charles Annandale, The New Gresham Dictionary of the English Language, Gresham Publishing, London, 1928, page 352.

[15] The observer of the meeting, shown to the left, was Napoleon’s secretary Count Emmanuel de Las Cases and the slave Toby is shown to the right. The original is hanging in the Château de Malmaison et Bois-Préau near Paris…. there are many web sites selling copies of it as a poster, cost £25-£30.

[16] Photograph given to the author by Diana Cohen, descendent of William Balcombe via Thomas T Balcombe

[17] Clement Shorten, Napoleon and his fellow travellers, Cassell and Co, London,

[18] John Goldsworth Alger, Napoleon’s British Visitors and Captives 1801 – 1815, Westminster, Archibald Constable and Co Ltd, page 311 and 314.

[19] Glover, Gareth, Wellington’s Lieutenant Napoleon’s Gaoler, Barnsley, Pen and Sword, 2005, p. 261. and <;

[20] Glover, Gareth, Wellington’s Lieutenant Napoleon’s Gaoler, Barnsley, Pen and Sword, 2005, p. 261-2

[21] <; and


[22] James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University <>

[23] Mrs Abell, Recollections, p 87 and p 123.

[24] Mrs Abell, Recollections, p 185 and 199

[25] Mrs Abell, Recollections, p 122-4.

[26] Gilbert Martineau, Napoleon’s St Helena, translation Frances Partridge, Rand McNally & Co. Chicago, 1968, p. 12.

[27] Letter from William Balcombe to Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt, dated 20 October 1815, scan available from the James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University,, and, accessed 28 May 2012.

[28]William Lefanue (ed), Betsy Sheridan’s Journal, letters from Sheridan’s sister, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1986, p. 65.

[29], Accessed 23 August 2013.

[30] Mrs Abell, Recollections, p 185 and 199

[31] Dr. S. Gaden, personal communication, 2015.


[33] To Correspondents, The York Herald and General Advertiser, (York, England) 4 April 1818, Issue 1440, 19th Century British Newspapers Collection.


[35] Octave Aubrey, St Helena, Victor Gollancz, 1937, pp. 39-40.

[36] W&R Chambers, Historical celebrities, Napoleon Bonaparte W&R Chambers, London and Edinburgh, no date, page 181.

[37] Information from Zbynek Tichy and Charlotta Ticha, President of the Czech Napoleonic Society, personal communication on Napoleon Tour to St Helena October 2010.

[38] Letter from William Balcombe to Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt, dated 20 October 1815, scan available from the James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, and, accessed 28 May 2012.

[39] W Hone, Interesting particulars of Napoleon’s deportation for life to St Helena, W Hone, London, 1816.

[40] Mrs Abell, Recollections, pp 39-40.

[41] Campaign medals, Wikipedia,, accessed 9 April 2013.

[42] Mrs Abell, Recollections, p 39.

[43] The Times, 18 April 1816, Page 3, Issue 9812, column D.

[44] Mrs Abell, Recollections, p. 183-4

[45] Mrs Abell, Recollections, p. 70.

[46] Mrs Abell, Recollections, p. 158.

[47] Mrs Abell, Recollections, p. 199-200.

[48] Mrs Abell, Recollections, p. 92.

[49] The Argus, 14 January 1928, “Through the courtesy of Alderman Cabena, who is now on a visit to London we are enabled to reproduce the following letter concerning the life of Napoleon on St Helena, the original of which is in the possession of a friend of Alderman Cabena, residing at Penzance in Cornwall.”

[50] Bonaparte at St Helena, Caledonian Mercury 17 February 1816, Issue 14699 and the Bury and Norfolk Post issue 1755. 19th Century British Library Newspapers.

[51]<; A copy of the debate on 18 March 1817 Lords Sitting PERSONAL TREATMENT OF BUONAPARTE AT ST. HELENA. HL Deb 18 March 1817 vol 35 cc1137-66 1137.

[52] Gilbert Martineau, Napoleon’s St Helena, page 52.

[53]<; A copy of the debate on 18 March 1817 Lords Sitting PERSONAL TREATMENT OF BUONAPARTE AT ST. HELENA. HL Deb 18 March 1817 vol 35 cc1137-66 1137.

[54] Gilbert Martineau, Napoleon’s St Helena, page 58-9.

[55] Capt John Barnes, A tour through the island of St Helena, London, JM Richardson Cornhill, 1817 available from http://www.bweaver.nom/sh/barnes/barnes_pt2.html

[56] Mrs Abell, Recollections, p 204-205.

[57] Gilbert Martineau, Napoleon’s St Helena, page 63-4.

[58] Capt John Barnes, A tour through the island of St Helena, London, JM Richardson Cornhill, 1817 available from http://www.bweaver.nom/sh/barnes/barnes_pt2.html

[59] Barry O’Meara, Napoleon on St Helena, Volume 2, June, page 132

[60] Phil Lambden, Botanist, St Helena Botanical tour, 3 November 2010

[61] Gilbert Martineau, Napoleon’s St Helena, page 138.

[62] Duwaine Yon Longwood House in Speaking Saint, Yarns from the island Edited and published by the Creative Saint Helena Writing Group, 2015, page104-5

[63] Extracts from The Times and The Morning Chronicle, 1815-1821, relating to Napoleon’s Life on St Helena, privately printed by AL Humphreys at Piccadilly, London, MCCCCCI and available on <;

[64] Colin Fox (ed) Sir Stamford Raffles’ interview with Napoleon, Wirebird: the journal of the Friends of St Helena, Number 44-2015, p.62-68.

[65] Copy of painting of Napoleon gardening at Longwood, plate 32 in Markham, Felix, Napoleon, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London and Mrs Abell [Lucia Elizabeth (Betsy) Balcombe] Recollections

[66] John W Wrigley and Murray Fagg, Australian Native Plants, Sydney, Reed Holland, 2007, p.310

[67] Information from Zbynek Tichy and Charlotta Ticha, President of the Czech Napoleonic Society, personal communication on Napoleon Tour to St Helena, October 2010.

[68] Caroline Gaden, personal observation on Napoleon Tour to St Helena, October 2010.

[69] William Clark; William Clark 20th Regiment: Recollections, Wirebird: the journal of the Friends of St Helena, Number 44-2015, p.69-71.


[71] Duwaine Yon Longwood House in Speaking Saint, Yarns from the island Edited and published by the Creative Saint Helena Writing Group, 2015, page 104-5

[72] Mrs Abell Recollections, p. 174.

[73] Mrs Abell Recollections, p. 153-5.

[74] J David Markham, To befriend an Emperor, Betsy Balcombe’s memoirs of Napoleon on St Helena, Revenhall, 2005, p. 131.

[75] Lord Roseberry, Napoleon the last phase, London, Arthur L Humphreys, 1900, page 133-135.

[76] Mabel Brookes, St Helena story, p. 142-3.

[77] Mitchell Library (Sydney) Catalogue Period 5 1820-1849 5-401C, Folio ML MSS 848X, Heathcote, G. H. to Mrs Jane Balcombe from Edinburgh 25 March 1826, viewed and photographed 16 May 2011.

[78] Mabel Brookes, St Helena Story, page 128 and 294, William Forsyth, History of the Captivity of Napoleon at St Helena from the letters and journals of the late Lieut-Gen Sir Hudson Lowe and official documents not before made public. John Murray, London, 1853, Volume II, Letter 146, page 128.

[79] Mitchell Library (Sydney) Catalogue Period 5 1820-1849 5-401C, Folio ML MSS 848X, Heathcote, G. H. to Mrs Jane Balcombe from Edinburgh 25 March 1826, viewed and photographed 16 May 2011.

[80] Las Cases quoted in Mabel Brookes, St Helena Story, page 104-5.

[81] St Helena records, letters between Balcombe, Robinson and T Brooke, Secretary to the Co, pages 16-17, 42.



[84] Felix Markham, Napoleon, Mentor, New York, 1963, p. 244.

[85] Letter Hudson Lowe to Earl Bathurst dated 7 July 1816, quoted in Norward Young, Volume I, page 211-2

[86] St Helena records letters between Balcombe and the EIC, pages 221 and 360.

[87] GC Kitching A handbook and Gazetteers of the island of St Helena and

[88] William Forsyth, History of the Captivity of Napoleon at St Helena from the letters and journals of the late Lieut-Gen Sir Hudson Lowe and official documents not before made public. John Murray, London, 1853, Volume I, 28 November, page 362.

[89] Norwood Young, Napoleon in Exile St Helena 1815-1821, London, Stanley Paul and Co, 1915, Volume II, pages 15-24 and 118.

[90] Gareth Glover, Wellington’s Lieutenant, Napoleon’s Gaoler, Pen and Sword, 2004, pp. 2-3, 271.

[91] Gareth Glover, Wellington’s Lieutenant, Napoleon’s Gaoler, Pen and Sword, 2004, pp. 2-3, 271.

[92] An extensive search has failed to find any more details of this glassware. Today network glass refers to glass used in fibre optics < >. A dealer in antique glass, Mark West, <; advises that Net baskets were made over a long period around Liege, so perhaps the glassware was not so uncommon as thought by Lady Bingham.

[93] Gareth Glover, Wellington’s Lieutenant, Napoleon’s Gaoler, Pen and Sword, 2004, p. 272.


[95] Dame Mabel Brookes, St Helena Story, page 149-151

[96] Basil Jackson and R Seaton, Notes and Reminiscences of a Staff Officer, Chiefly Relating to the Waterloo Campaign and to St. Helena Matters During the Captivity of Napoleon (1877 & 1903). ebook downloadable from

[97] Caroline Gaden, Personal recollection of visit to St Helena, 2010.

[98] Dame Mabel Brookes, St Helena Story, page 150-2.

[99] Mrs Abell, Recollections, page 194

[100] Gareth Glover, Wellington’s Lieutenant, Napoleon’s Gaoler, Pen and Sword, 2004, p. 273.

[101] Gareth Glover, Wellington’s Lieutenant, Napoleon’s Gaoler, Pen and Sword, 2004, p. 274.

[102] St Helena Records at <;


[104] Gareth Glover, Wellington’s Lieutenant, Napoleon’s Gaoler, p 276.


[106] Basil George, Walking tour of Jamestown, 30 October 2010.

[107]Mrs Abell, Recollections, pages 57-58 and Gilbert Martineau, Napoleon’s St Helena, page 177

[108] Court of Chancery, Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh) 18 Issue 14954.

[109] “Mr O’Meara And the Quarterly Review” The Times (London, England) 20 Feb 1823: 3+. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 Apr. 2012

[110] Farrington, Ship’s Logs, p. 586.

[111] Barbara B Montgomerie, The first “St Helena”, Printsetters, St Helena, 1994, pp. 56-7.

[112] Dame Mabel Brookes, St Helena Story, page 212-4


[114] Dame Mabel Brookes, St Helena Story, page 212-4

[115] Mrs Abell Recollections, p. 228.

[116] Dame Mabel Brookes, St Helena Story, page 212-4

[117] John SC Abbot, Napoleon at St Helena or interesting anecdotes and remarkable conversations of the Emperor during the five and a half years of his captivity, New York Harper and Brothers, 1855, March 1918

[118] HEIC ledgers and reports located in the Archives, Jamestown, St Helena, accessed November 2010.

[119] Letter from Count Bertrand to Sir Hudson Lowe The Times Wednesday 19 Aug 1818, p. 3.

[120] The Times, 18 May 1818, p. 3, issue 10359.

[121] William Forsyth, History of the Captivity of Napoleon at St Helena from the letters and journals of the late Lieut-Gen Sir Hudson Lowe and official documents not before made public. John Murray, London, 1853, Volume III, page 6

[122] William Forsyth, History of the Captivity of Napoleon at St Helena, Volume I, page 447-448.

[123] William Forsyth, History of the Captivity of Napoleon at St Helena, Volume II, page 469.

[124] Simon Winchester, Outposts, journeys to the surviving relics of the British Empire, Penguin Travel, UK, 2003, Chapter 6 St Helena, page 144.

[125] William Forsyth, History of the Captivity of Napoleon at St Helena, Volume II, page 490.

[126] Octave Aubery, St Helena story, London, Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1937, page 377.

[127] William Forsyth, History of the Captivity of Napoleon at St Helena from the letters and journals of the late Lieut-Gen Sir Hudson Lowe and official documents not before made public. John Murray, London, 1853, Volume III, Letter 146, pages 415-419


[129]Gilbert Martineau, Napoleon’s St Helena, p 188 and William Forsyth, History of the Captivity of Napoleon at St Helena Volume II, pages 105.

[130] Philip Gosse, St Helena 1502 – 1938, page 294

[131] Philip Gosse, St Helena 1502 – 1938, page 357




[135] W Hone, Interesting particulars of Napoleon’s deportation for life to St Helena, W Hone, London, 1816, Front-piece.

[136] Photograph with thanks to Jamie Roberts, St Helena National Trust.