Talks about Napoleon given on RMS St Helena by Chris Danziger
In October 2010 we travelled to the South Atlantic Island of St Helena to visit the birthplace of ancestor Thomas Tyrwhitt Balcombe. He was born in 1810, the son of William and Jane Balcombe and we were 200 years and 1 week too late to see his baptism! The Balcombe family hosted the former Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte at their home, The Briars, during the early weeks of his exile on St Helena.
We were part of a tour group led by Christopher Danziger who presented a couple of lectures en route to the Island on board RMS St Helena. Chris teaches at Oxford and the course “Napoleon, the legend and the legacy” is a 20 hour course. He advised that there are three times more book written about Napoleon than any other person, 200,000 in all.
These are the notes I took during those talks.
Napoleon from Corsica to St Helena by Christopher Danziger
Napoleon was born on Corsica in 1769, so was aged 46 when he went to St Helena and 51 when he died.
- Enrolled in military school, had to learn French so he could attend school in France
- Aptitude for maths.
- Became gunner, artillery officer
- France was fighting a war against the whole of Europe. The King was guillotined
- The Declaration of the Rights of Man was introduced.
- France invited the rest of Europe to follow their example and kill their own kings.
- The war goes badly for France, the armies are untrained but from 1794 they are on the front foot.
- 1793 Napoleon saw action in Toulon, he was 23. The British were dislodged from Toulon. Napoleon was promoted to Brigadier General.
- 1796 he was Commander of the Army in Italy, aged 26. He establishes his name as a new dazzling talent, he defeats enemies and signs peace treaties.
- By aged 27 he was a national hero. The five Directors of Government sent him on an expedition to Egypt to cripple the British trade (and also to send him away). He was then to go on to India. This expedition was a failure, Nelson captured the French fleet so many of Napoleon’s men were marooned in Egypt although he managed to escape back to France in October 1799.
- By now the Directory was unpopular and by the end of November Napoleon staged a coup d’état against the Government, he had strong public support and he became the Consul, i.e. new leader. He had an efficient publicity machine, the public knew about his victories.
- 1799-1802 Napoleon made huge reforms in France, this was the peak of his career.
- 1802 an overwhelming majority voted for Napoleon to be Consul for 10 years.
- 1804 an attempt on his life. He decided to protect himself and make himself Emperor just 10 years after the King was beheaded.
- 1805 defeats Austria and Russians at Austerlitz
- 1806 defeated Prussians
- 1807 defeated Russians at Friedland
- He met the Russian Tsar Alexander on a raft in the middle of a river to make an anti-British alliance.
- Napoleon wanted the Europeans to set up a continental blockade to deny trade to any British ship and thus enforce an economic blockade of Britain.
- 1809 divorces Josephine and re-marries, his new wife is the daughter of the Emperor of Austria, a Hapsburg and a niece of Marie Antoinette i.e. the top of the social tree.
- 1811 his heir was born
- By now things began to unravel. Britain encourages smuggling, niggling away and starts feeding troops into the Iberian Peninsula so Napoleon has to station 300,000 men in the Spanish ‘ulcer’.
- Then Napoleon falls out with Alexander and marched on Moscow. He took 600,00 men, just 17,000 came home, a catastrophic defeat.
- 1813 All his previous allies turn on him. The war of Liberation saw Napoleon defeated in Germany.
- 1814 Napoleon has no more support so he abdicates. He is sent in exile to Elba, he became Emperor of Elba rather then Emperor of Europe. He has 1000 men and 2 million francs. He’s allowed visitors, family and he learns the new government in France is very unpopular. So Napoleon tries one last throw of the dice.
- March 1815 he escapes from Elba and regains his throne. He accumulates followers as he travels north and, at Grenoble, the ‘Royal Troops’ all turn back to him.
- When the Allies heard he had left Elba he was declared an outlaw which gave permission to kill him.
- The allied armies were closing in on him including Wellington and Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, abdicated again, and surrendered to the British. He wrote to the Prince Regent “I throw myself on the mercy of the most generous of my enemies.”
- He claimed to decision to exile him on St Helena was a dishonour of the promises they made to him. But he had escaped from Elba, this time he had to be more secure, too many lives had been lost.
When anyone was recommended to Napoleon his first question was “Is he lucky?”
Napoleon himself was ‘lucky’.
1768 Corsica was owned by Genoa, which was a city rather than a country, and then given to France, i.e. he had to chance of success in a large country.
1789 The French Revolution
- gave anyone the chance to rise to any rank
- gave him 20 years of warfare and to display his talents
- gave him command of the Army of Interior in Paris which dispersed hostile mobs so the 500 members of the National Assembly were grateful to him
- he now had money
1790 the French introduced conscription by milking the populations of the states they had around them, they had huge armies.
1796 married Josephine, at 33 she was 6 years his senior, (both adjusted their ages to be noted as 30 on the marriage certificate). She was very influential, had been mistress of Paul Barnes one of the five members of Council who wanted to end his relationship with her and he gave Napoleon command of an army as a wedding present.
In Egypt Napoleon persuaded a ship’s captain to get him out, ‘my star will see me through’ and he managed to slip through the cordon and get back to France.
Was Napoleon special?
- 1798 he went to Egypt aged 27 and given carte blanche to put together an expeditionary force. He took 40,000 troops and a group of academics and thus started the science of Egyptology.
- He would read as he rode, would read a page, tear it out and drop it so the man behind could read it and become more educated and then pass it on in turn, so all the men had a chance to read and learn.
- 1799-02 France was reformed. The Government enacted is the same today as it was then, for example property is divided equally between heirs, there is a provincial government system, the metric system was introduced. The French have had 200 years in which to change but the system remains the same one as Napoleon set up. At age 30 when he became Consul, he had many ideas.
- He had the ability to dazzle and enamour his men and enemies alike. Great attention to detail, good memory and great preparation. He studied the army lists every night.
- Goethe said that man is “the distillate of mankind”.
- “God made Napoleon then rested.”
He paid attention to detail but in the end had the inability to compromise.
He was ambitious for his dynasty and dumped Josephine when she could not have children, he plotted to get out of the marriage and remarry someone younger.
He was a fully fledged military tactician right from the start, reading widely. He followed the recipe book on “How to be the perfect General” BUT he didn’t change his tactics whilst his opposition were able to learn from him and adapt their approach.
1808 His health started to deteriorate, he was ill at Waterloo.
General Ulysses Grant remarked that he had never admired the character of Napoleon but he recognised his achievements and his imprint on the world had been good.
Napoleon on St Helena. by Christopher Danziger
St Helena was chosen for Napoleon’s exile as it was remote and its location would squash any possibility of his escape. Napoleon believed that the Duke of Wellington suggested it, he had been on St Helena in 1805, stayed at Porteus House and at ‘The Briars’ and knew how remote and isolated the place was.
Napoleon left money in his will to a person who attempted to assassinate Wellington, the two men did not like each other!
St Helena was a ‘catafalque of rock’.
- 1653 was part of East India Company
- 1815 the Government took it over
- 1821 the H.E.I.C. governed it again
- 1836 the British government took it over.
- St Helena was a ‘prison island’ for Demizulu and later Boer POWs.
- 1906 Bambata rebellion,
- 1915 the Sultan of Zanzibar,
- 1957 the assassin of Tsar of ?
- 1994 Dutch sea captain William Merck, carrying drugs (he escaped to Brazil)
Napoleon arrived on St Helena in October 1815 following a 3 month journey. (Waterloo was 5 months earlier). No finalised arrangements to receive him, island had little notice, stayed in Porteus’ house first night. Next day went on circuit of island to Longwood, his proposed home.
Chanced to look down on The Briars, home of William Balcombe and called in. Family was hospitable, offered tea and cake, said they would move out and he could have the house, he said he’d be happy with The Pavilion, the summer house. Spent 2-3 months here and enjoyed the family atmosphere. He befriended the children, Betsy had no deference, teasing, half bantering, he was good with children.
Longwood was the second largest house on the island, more space available than he’s had on Elba, not cramped, but he also had an entourage to accommodate, 38 people, i.e. his servants and Court.
Companions included Las Cases, Montholon, Bertrand and Gourgard. There were 2 valets, 4 stewards, butler, cooks, librarian, gardener.
Bertrand lived at Hutts Gate.
Longwood was badly built, the British brought out a new house, prefabricated so there is Longwood Old House and Longwood New House.
Napoleon didn’t want to move into the new, purpose built house, he never accepted he’d be staying on the island until he died. It had railing all round it, looked like a prison, so he refused to move in…. these railings are now round his tomb.
His 38 companions were always squabbling, ran to Napoleon with their petty incidents and problems, he found it frustrating. He grew very fat, didn’t take any exercise, doesn’t ride his horse, not in good health, debilitated. Was this due to poison or his illness?
At 6.00 am he shaved, lunch at 10.00 am, hot milk, eggs, vegetables, cheese and coffee. After lunch he’d dictate his memoirs, one person recorded the Russian campaign, one the Italian, and so on, 4 scribes for 4 books. On St Helena he ran his best campaign, he reinvented himself for the history books! He improved his ‘image’. The documents created a legend which is now believed.
Formal dinner was at 8.00 pm, 5 courses, finished eating by 8.40 pm and had coffee. The he’d ask “Shall we go to the theatre?” and each person would read a part from Moliere. At the end he’d remark “Another victory over time”
Many days he was ill, he had more bad days than good days.
Rats were a permanent pest with then scurrying round the table at meal times. Cats were introduced.
Admiral Malcolm was replaced by Hudson Lowe as Governor of the Island. The men were the same age. There was a constant psychological battle between Napoleon and Hudson Lowe who was no match for the former Emperor. Britain had captured Corsica and the Corsican volunteers had fought under Lowe, one of Wellington’s staff officers, at Waterloo.
There was to be no repeat of the escape from Elba, Lowe was neurotic about the possibility and set up 125 sentries by day, 72 by night and their camp was close by on Deadwood Plain. Napoleon was to be accompanied by a British officer if he left Longwood estate. This was one reason for him taking less exercise, he didn’t like the scrutiny. His presence had to be verified twice daily.
Napoleon responded by building a garden at Longwood to keep the sentries further away. He planted oak trees, slow growing! He hid from the sentries so his presence could not easily be verified. Paths were sunken so he could walk without being seen. He planted green and white French beans which Lowe was neurotic about… was there a secret code?
Lowe refused to sanction any firewood for the house so Napoleon chopped the bedstead and book cases to burn. Lowe called him General Bonaparte, Napoleon insisted on the title Emperor. A bust of his son was sent to Napoleon, Lowe insisted it was drilled into to ensure there was no messages or ‘spying’ occurring. In the last four years of his life Napoleon refused to see Lowe.
The exile was costing British taxpayers a fortune, it cost £12,000 for the entourage, £12,000 for Lowe’s salary and many thousands of pounds in wages and upkeep for all the soldiers and sailor who were guarding him. When Hudson Lowe tried to reduce costs Napoleon made all the cutbacks sound like a gross insult to win the propaganda war.
From 1817 onwards the situation deteriorated. Napoleon tried to retain all formalities of ‘Court’ in the hope he would eventually be restored.
Las Cases left the island after two years, was he smuggling out letters, was his son ill?
Dr. O’Meara was sent home by Lowe in 1818, for being too sympathetic to Napoleon, the replacement surgeon was sacked.
Butler Capriani dies suddenly … of poison?
Gourgard left suddenly also for health reasons (but he lived to be 65 years old). He was on the same ship as the Balcombe’s who left the island in 1818.
Montholon’s wife left in 1819, the cook and servants all gradually left.
Napoleon asked his mothers and uncles to send a replacement priest, doctor and chef, they sent two senile priests, they thought he had already escaped and was farming cotton in Louisiana.
His health was not good. His teeth were in good order but were black from all the liquorice he ate, but he was very fat.
He was dangerously obese. In 1819 had a liver ailment, hepatitis, pains like jabs from a penknife, he feared cancer of the stomach (like his father), he lost weight and sweated profusely. His greatest fear was being buried in Westminster Abbey!!
29 April 1821 he vomited dark fluid and had no memory, 5 May 1821 he died.
His death mask was taken 24 hours after he died, body parts distributed (Conrad Black has his penis) . Did he have a large cancerous growth?
Three weeks before his death he made his will, written in his own hand, leaving personal belongings to his son, half of his estate went to those who were on the island with him, the other half to his soldiers. Copies of the lengthy will took 5 hours to make.
Buried in Sane Valley or Geranium Valley near Talbot Spring.
A very respectful funeral procession was led by his last horse “Sheik” and soldiers lined the route. There were too many arguments between the English and French about the inscription so there was none.
1840 the French government applied for permission to remove his remains back to France and he was reburied in Paris. Bertrand, Marchant and Las Cases son all came to reclaim the body.
1848 Napoleon’s nephew became head of France and the same people get the power!
Longwood reverted to a farm house, deteriorated quickly, cattle roamed the billiard room.
1858 Napoleon III bought Longwood from the British crown. The Balcombe family gave The Briars to the French Government. The French didn’t do a very good renovation until Coty, a parfumier, gave money for restoration.
1947 George VI made representation to France to get their act together and in 1950 they sent Gilbert Martineau put the house to rights. It is now cared for by his son Michel.
Notes taken from various books from the ship’s library, hotel library or town library
I had a look at book called “Terrible Exile” by Brian Unwin.
He incorrectly says Dame Mabel Brookes is a Doveton descendent, not a Balcombe one (p.65) . He also says the Duke of Wellington stayed at “‘The Briars’, not Porteus House. (p215-6). There seems to be some confusion here… was it ‘The Briars’, Porteus House or Wellington House in the main street of Jamestown, I’ve come across conflicting references.
Need to recheck above book and also a book by Andrew Roberts called “Napoleon and Wellington”, 2001 Weidenfeld and Nicholson, my notes are perhaps not as clear as they could be.
“A tour through the island of St Helena” by Capt. John Barnes in 1817 had William Balcombe Esq as a subscriber of 20 copies. Page 29-30 included
“From James Town a good carriage road of easy ascent is projected along the west side of Rupert’s Hill which conducts to the eastern division of the Island: about a mile and a half is ‘The Briars’, a compact, pleasant estate belonging to W. Balcombe Esq, producing varieties of the best fruits viz mango, apple, figs, guava, pomegranate, oranges, lemons, grapes, peaches &c in abundance.”
“Perhaps no coast either of island or continent in the world presents on a near approach to it a more frightful and uncompromising appearance than that of St Helena: its boldness, total barrenness and tremendous precipices create in the mind of the spectator the most unfavourable impression: An Irish boy, a recruit who came out in 1804 under the influence of these feelings could not avoid exclaiming as we neared the shore “Ochone” and “Is it on that big black rock I will be living these seven years to come?”
The island is located at Latitude 15° 55’ S, Longitude 5° 46’ W. The extreme length is 10 ½ miles, extreme breadth is 6 ¾ miles, circumference 28 miles and 30,300 acres. (Page 189).
Captain Barnes was in the artillery when the 1811 mutiny occurred. He wrote of Longwood it “is undoubtedly one of the most healthy parts of St Helena.”
Walbrough House (had a Balcombe connection) was also known as Rose Cottage.
“In the words of Napoleon – the Emperor day by day” Edited by R.M. Johnston, new material by Philip Haythornthwaite, 2002, Greenhill books, London.
Wellington knew St Helena first hand and he remarked that a guard on the landing points would have prevented Napoleon’s escape, and provided he reported daily to a British officer he could have been allowed to go when and where he liked, and write to whomever he liked, a considerably more liberal regime than that imposed. (p322). However Wellington also noted that “if even you were to build him a palace of gold he would say ‘This won’t do – I want to be sent to Versailles.’”
Montholon agreed “an angel from heaven would not have pleased us as Governor of St Helena.”
“The Emperor’s Last Island – a journey to St Helena” by Julia Blackburn Secker and Warburg, London, 1991.
Balcombe a genial man, large belly, fondness of wine and conversation. (p.42) Betsy 13, Jane 15, two sons 4 and 5. ‘Visualise Napoleon in Balcombe’s front parlour, the family sitting round Napoleon, formal yet eager to please. (p.44) Two Balcombe boys in same age group as Napoleon’s own son, the boys are happy to play with him. Napoleon orders his lamplighter Rousseau to make toys, a carriage pulled by six mice (p.52).
Only the children can help him step out of the pattern of monotony and evasion. If he looked back into the past his mind would not settle on his achievements as ruler of an Empire but precipitated him in the middle of his own childhood (p.53)
Napoleon encourages the boys to climb over him, examine his rings and play with his medals. He encourages Betsy to tease him, to flout his authority. Gourgaud one day punished Betsy by pushing her against a steep bank only to find N holding him tightly and allowing Betsy to thump his ears with her fist (p.54-5).
Balcombe showed him a Napoleon toy, a mechanical figure made of wood, the figure mounted steps jerkily, the steps were named Italy, Spain, etc. The top step was St Helena and the figure crumpled on it and hung like a spider suspended on a thread. (p.56).
Old Huff was tutor for the two Balcombe boys but he was mentally unstable and committed suicide. Napoleon then teased the children. (p.65)
“The Black Room at Longwood, Napoleon’s exile on St Helena” by Jean Paul Kauffman, 1977, translated by Patricia Clancy 1999, Four Walls Eight Windows.
The passage of real time and the inevitable tendency to live in the past when there is no present and no sign of a future.
Additional Research notes from the St Helena Archives:
List of some cargo in ships passing through St Helena in 1815-1818:
Malt, sugar, coffee, pepper, elephant oil, cotton, wine, provisions, flour, sheep, nankeen, piece goods.
Balcombe’s left St Helena on 18 March 1818.
Winchelsea, HCS, (Honourable Company Ship) arrived 13 March, Capt Adamson, from China, departed China Nov 29, Carrying tea for England, Dept March 18
A Handbook of the island of St Helena including a short history of the island under the Crown 1834-1902. by GC Kitching, June 1947.
A small unproductive Govt estate known in 1678 as Parsley Bed Hill. In 1739 “The Bryers” was valued at £ and abandoned as a Govt estate when it passed into private ownership. In 1811 it became the property of Balcombe and his associates who established the Union Brewery there. Balcombe originally came to the island on a private venture in 1805. For a short time he was associated with Burchell the famous naturalist. In the latter’s journal he states that Balcombe was arrested for debts at Ryde in 1810. When Balcombe left the island in 1818 he was in serious financial difficulties and he mortgaged ‘The Briars’ with Messrs Burnie and Company of London. For the sum of £9000. including the Brewery. When Walker (1823-28) established the silk industry in St Helena in 1827 he purchased ‘The Briars’ for the same sum as a suitable mulberry estate. But on transfer to the Crown in 1836 the industry was abandoned. The house served a short time as a residence of the officer commanding the troops until it was sold in 1847 for £400. The land then became the property of Mr Saul Solomon and then Mr George Moss. When it was acquired by the Eastern Telegraph Company as the head quarters of their Cable station on St Helena. The Pavilion occupied by Napoleon has been kept in admiral repair by the Company and is now the residence of the local manager but Balcombe’s house next to it is in ruins.
Burchell’s diary suggests Balcombe swore and drank, Burchell was much more the gentleman.
Brewery was bought from Brabazon and sold to Burnie of London for £6548 on 1 Dec 1813.
1805 Burchell arrived on St Helena, (ref S African Journal of Science, vol 32, 1935
Castell St Helena Illustrated, p 36-38)
1807 measles outbreak, William Lane was acting Governor
1808 Gov Beatson arrives
Reference “Conversations with Napoleon at St Helena” by Henry Meynell (HMS Newcastle), London, 1911, Arthur L Humphreys, 187 Piccadilly Street. (Also available NLA Website?)
Comte Las Cases attempted to send letter to England. He was arrested and conveyed to Ross Cottage belonging to Mr Balcombe. Held there for a few days before embarkation on “The Griffin” sloop for the Cape. (p 20)
Betsy told him that Bonaparte occasionally in evening joined the family to play a rubber of whist when the family was alone. Once she caught him revoking on which she told him he must pay her a Napoleon. He replied “No! No! You owe me a Pagoda and I will not give you a Napoleon until you give me a Pagoda” (p.68)
Particulars Respecting the Late Rollers at St Helena
St Helena, 27 February 1846
To the Editor of the St. Helena Gazette.
I do myself the honour to forward a few observations which I made on Tuesday, the 17th instant, as to the occurrences of the day, and should it be deemed worthy a place in the St. Helena Gazette, it will recompense me for the little time it has cost. I, however, earnestly hope, that the want of language adequate to express the grandeur, as well as the awfulness of what every spectator witnessed, will be in a measure atoned for by the accuracy of the statement.
St. Helena has ever boasted of the safety of its roadstead, and that most justly, as no individual upon the island can remember a solitary instance of a vessel having been wrecked upon its shores. Those who witnessed the scene presented on Tuesday, the 17th instant, alas will have a different tale to tell. The roadstead, which only the day previous was like a mill pond, was on this day (Tuesday, 17th instant,) a sea of troubled waters.
During Monday night, the rollers, for which St. Helena has ever been celebrated, the cause of which is altogether unaccounted for, began gradually to rise, and on Tuesday had increased to an awful height, like so many rolling mountains, one after the other, driving everything before them. The English schooner Cornelia. condemned at this port a short time since, and purchased by Mr. Cole, was the first vessel driven on shore, being, no doubt, not so securely moored as the other vessels, although in any other weather equally safe. If the person in charge of this vessel had been left five minutes longer than he was on board, it would have been out of the power of all human aid to have saved his life, as the vessel, some distance from the shore, was buried in the tremendous seas, and ultimately came in upon the beach in a few minutes she was a mass of splinters. Immediately after the Cornelia disappeared, the Brazilian brig Descobrador, (127 tons) brought to this island under the charge of Lieutenant Moynell, and condemned on the 16th January, 1846, as being fitted for the slave trade, as a prize to H.M. sloop Star, lifted her anchors and was driven by the force of the rollers on to the beach, between the drawbridge and upper crane; the shipkeeper Robert Seale, his wife, and two other persons were on board at the time she touched. Sea after sea broke over the vessel, and she fell broadside on to the shore the larboard shrouds ultimately gave way, and the lives of the poor creatures on board were in imminent danger, not only by the vessel separating fast, and the seas rolling over, but by the falling of the masts. At this times two persons from on board swam to the shore, leaving the shipkeeper (Seale) and his wife holding on by the rail on the leeward side of the vessel, appealing to the numbers on shore, within hearing of them, for assistance. The Town Major endeavoured to convey a rope by means of a rocket to the vessel, but by some unforeseen circumstance it failed. Mr. Chatfield, master’s assistant of H.M. sloop Flying Fish, attempted to swim off with a spar attached to a rope, and after arriving alongside of the vessel was taken by the sea under her counter, roller after roller breaking over him, which buried him for a time, and finally threw him on the beach in an exhausted state. A whale boat belonging to Mr. Rolfe was launched, in hopes of being taken alongside the vessel, but she was no sooner in the water than she was dashed to pieces. At this period an American seaman, named Roach, who has been upon the island some time, and is employed as a boatman, most nobly plunged into the sea and swam to the vessel, which he reached in gallant style, taking with him a rope, the end of which was secured on shore. Upon gaining the deck he hauled on board a sufficiency of the rope, and after attaching the end which he took to the side of the vessel, to enable him to regain the shore, without depriving Seale of the means of escape, he then tied a rope round Mrs. Seale’s body, and immediately plunged into the water, when they were dragged on shore by the spectators, amongst whom were Dr. Tweedale, of H.M. steam sloop Prometheus, and Lieutenant Grant, R.A., who plunged in to the assistance of Roach as he approached. The rollers having knocked him with Mrs. Seale over several times. Mrs. Seale was landed almost senseless, but prompt medical aid being afforded, she soon rallied, and was conveyed to her home about two hours after. Seale, when he saw his wife was safe, tied the rope round his waist, and was drawn on shore without sustaining any injury. From the time the Descobradar touched the rocks to the period of the people being taken out of her, ten minutes could not have elapsed, and within five minutes afterwards she separated and went to pieces. The hand of Providence showed itself most conspicuously, for when the mast went even with the deck, it fell towards the shore, by which any number of persons could have saved themselves with common care and energy. How. ever, those persons who witnessed the. scene must be fully satisfied that the saving of the lives of Robert Seale and his wife must be owing (with the aid of Divine Providence) to the exertions of Joseph Roach.
The shipkeepers on board the other condemned slavers were immediately removed and conveyed on board of a vessel lying at anchor outside of the influence of the rollers.
Whilst the Descobrador was on her beam ends upon the beach, the schooner, name and nation unknown, captured by H.M. steamsloop Prometheus, on the 22nd November, and condemned in the Vice-Admiralty Court on 29th December last, parted from her anchors, and, as if propelled by steam, ranged herself on the outside of the Descobrador. This vessel was partly demolished, having been purchased by Mr. Stewart at auction.
About 12 o’clock, the Brazilian schooner Acquilla, with another prize, lifted their anchors and were driven upon the beach, in front of the town. The Acquilla remained perfect for some time, but the other very soon went to pieces. The Acquilla was detained by her H. M. sloop Cygnet, but the result of the seizure is as yet uncertain, as her case is defended. The vessel that broke adrift with the Acquilla was the Brazilian brigantine St. Domingoa, captured by U.K. steam-sloop Prometheus, on the 25th of December, brought to this island by Mr. Clark, Naval Cadet, and condemned on the 2nd instant.
About 1 o’clock, a tremendous heavy roller, which seemed determined to sweep away everything before it, broke over the Rocket hulk, which was lifted stern uppermost, and disappeared. This sea swept away the lower crane and verandah, the latter being placed some distance from the landing place against the hill, for the accommodation of captains of ships and others waiting at the wharf for boats The crane was carried bodily by the sea into the Commissariat Coal hard, a distance of fifty yards, where it now lies buried with rubbish and stone. Previous to this sea breaking over the verandah or balcony, a great number of persons had resorted there for the purpose of gaining a good view of this awfully interesting but magnificent scene ; but as a warning, a previous sea had washed in, and they fortunately took the hint, otherwise many must have been sacrificed, either by the falling off the building, or being taken away by the receding sea.
Up to this hour almost every passage and luggage boat had been swept from their moorings – some thrown on shore and others taken out to sea. The Glacis in front of the fortifications, James’ Town, is impassable from the immense quantity of wood, masts, casks, bunks, and other materials, thrown up by the sea from the wrecked vessels.
About 1 o’clock, the Brazilian schooner Eufrazia, captured by H.M. steam sloop Prometheus on 25th December, 1845, brought to this island for adjudication by Lieutenant Pollard, and condemned on the 29th January, and the Brazilian brigantine Esperanza, captured on 26th December, 1845, by H.M.S. Actaeon, and brought to this island by Mr. Lowe, second master, condemned on the 29th January, were buried by a tremendous roller breaking over them ; the former disappeared in an instant, having sunk at her anchors ; the latter, after her masts went by the board, drifted out to sea, a total wreck ; and whilst off Munden’s Battery was boarded by some of the merchant vessels’ boats, when sails, spars, and other articles were removed. This vessel ultimately drifted out to sea.
The rollers still continuing at as awful height, great fears were entertained for the safety of the English barque Lavinia, from Fernando Po, the crew of which vessel during the night previous had abandoned her, taking with them their cheats and hammocks on board of a merchant vessel lying at anchor off the influence of the rollers. All communication with the shore and shipping was impossible, as it was dangerous for a boat to approach the landing place, much less to afford a communication. The fishing boats fortunately escaped, as they were all out during the night of Monday, and on Tuesday morning, finding it impossible to communicate, remained out, and received assistance from the different merchant vessels then riding at anchor in the Bay.
About half-past five o’clock in the afternoon, the sea still continuing mountains high, the condemned Brazilian brigantine Julia, captured by H.M. sloop Star, was separated from her companion the Quatro de Marco, and thrown up by a succession of heavy rollers upon the West Rocks, and in an instant not a particle of her was to be seen. Almost immediately after, the Brazilian brig Quatro de Marco was, with four anchors down, lifted by the gigantic rollers, and, although buried for a time in the sea, was ultimately, by a heavy wave, lodged on the shore under Patten’s Battery, near the West Rocks, the masts having been previously carried away by the force of the seas breaking over her. The Quatro de Marco was captured by H M. Sloop Cygnet, on the 18th December, 1845, and was brought to this island under the charge of Mr. Jones, Purser, on 26th December last, with 540 slaves. The remains of the hull of this vessel were sold on the 26th instant, by public suction, for £30 ; the greater part of her starboard side and the after part of the stern of this vessel were totally destroyed. Previous to her being thrown up to where she remained, she came in contact with an old anchor, which has been for nearly a century upon the projecting point of the West Rocks, and carried it away.
Thus ended the scenes of this memorable day, a day that will ever be remembered by all who witnessed what took place. In addition to the vessels already stated, there were three other condemned slave vessels in the act of being broken up washed ashore. The loss of the boats has thrown many out of employment, and deprived them of their little all. and the means of supporting their families. Thus, after the savings of many a hard day’s toil. they are deprived of a living; but God’s will be done! and what has this day been experienced only reminds us of our frail state, and how little we ought to think of our earthly possessions.
The most painful put to be recorded of what this day has brought forth, is the loss of three of our fellow-creatures. who have met with a watery grave, and summoned, it is to be feared, in an unprepared state, to appear before their Maker.
On the evening previous, John Maggott, an old and experienced rock fisherman, with James Craig, a shoemaker, and Robert Bath, went to the rock under Sugar Loaf, in a boat for the night. At this season of the year many persons are induced to enjoy this sport, being invited by what is termed upon this island, “Bulls-eye fishing,” a delicate fish which abounds during the months of January, February, and March. The rock under Sugar Loaf has always been celebrated for the abundance of this description of fish, and being near the town it is accessible by a very narrow path, and with the assistance of a rope to descend, affords the means of escape in the event of the sea suddenly rising. On this night Henry Trim and others, when the sea became rough, made their escape and returned home; not so with Maggott, Craig, and Bath, who were separated by a small cove, and although in sight of the others, had no means of saving themselves, or those opposite rendering the slightest assistance. The boat that had landed these three poor creatures the evening previous, called according to promise on this morning, and although within hailing distance dared not venture too close. The boatmen were informed that Maggott had been swept away about five o’clock, and they, Craig and Bath, said – “we must soon follow.”
The circumstance of these poor creatures being in this perilous state was soon known in town; a boat was immediately at a great risk despatched, and Mr. H. Doveton went by land with ropes, in order to descend to where they were last seen, and, at the hazard of his life, to endeavour, if possible, to save them; but they were gone, and no more to be seen !
Bath has been for the last ten years cook to Mr. Solomon, and for eight years previous, cook to General Dallas, Governor of the island. He has left a widow with seven children to lament his untimely end. There were other persons who, during the night of Monday and all this day and night, were prevented returning to their homes in consequence of the unprecedented heavy sea.
The Wharf, from the lower steps to the drawbridge, together with the Glacis, is almost totally destroyed. The Commissariat coalyard, which was erected at a heavy expense in 1834 by General Dallas, also the iron tanks under the verandah upon the wharf, for the supply of water to shipping, totally destroyed. The fortifications at Lemon Valley much injured ; and great damage sustained at Rupert’s where the Liberated Africans are located.
To attempt to give a correct idea of the violence of the rollers on this eventful day is impossible, but as this humble effort towards a description of the same may meet the eye of many who have spent happy years upon the Old Rock, and are now in England and elsewhere, they will be enabled to judge of what I am at a loss fully to describe, and I will simply close by stating that the sea rolled as far as the officers’ quarters at Rupert’s, and that a 24-pounder carronade was taken from its platform from the Lower Chubbs Battery into the sea, as well as destroying the parapet on both sides. A boat was also drifted from James’s Bay to the extreme point of the island to windward, Deep Valley, where it is now to be seen a wreck. The wind for many days previous to the setting in of the rollers, was from the northward and westward, with close sultry weather. The property lost by individuals, together with the expense of repairing the wharf, coal-yard, &c., is estimated at upwards of £20,000.
St. Helena, 27th February, 1846.
SG 15 Aug 1846