Longwood House was the residence of Napoleon Bonaparte, during his exile on St. Helena from 10th December 1815 until his death on 5th May 1821. It is situated in the district of Longwood, some 6 km (3.7 miles) from Jamestown and is one of the 7 Wonders of St. Helena.
Formerly the summer residence of the Lieutenant Governor, it was converted for the use of Napoleon in 1815. The building was chosen because it sits on an elevated plain, largely free from woodland, and thus was easier to secure.
It’s suitability to house Napoleon and his entourage was questioned at the time. The Government’s orders were that Napoleon should be treated as a General, and should have a house equivalent to that of an English Gentleman’s country residence. Governor Lowe pointed out in reply that only Plantation House fitted that description.Admiral Sir George Cockburn wrote to Mr Croker, Secretary to the Admiralty on 22ndOctober 1815 saying:
“The house is certainly small. I trust the carpenters of the Northumberland will in a little time be able to make such additions to the house as will render it, if not as good a one as might be wished, yet at least as commodious as necessary.”A new house was planned to be built for Napoleon, the necessary materials arriving on 17th May 1816, but due to many delays building of the new house only began in October 1818. It was completed before Napoleon’s death but he never occupied it.
Following Napoleon’s death, Longwood House reverted to the East India Company and later to the Crown, and was rented to a farmer who used it as farm buildings. The living room of the Emperor was occupied by a harvester, and his bedroom by sheep. As one record reports:
“…it did not then occur to anyone it would be a desecration to turn the room in which Napoleon died into a threshing barn, or his bedroom into a horse stable.”
Reports of its neglect reached Napoleon III who, from 1854, negotiated with the British Government for the house’s transfer to France. In 1858 it was sold to the French Government along with the Valley of the Tomb for a sum of £7,100. In May 1858, the squadron leader Rougemont, commander of the imperial residences and veteran of Waterloo, took possession of the two domains in the name of France. Since then they have been under the control of the French Foreign Ministry and a French Government representative has lived here on the island and has been responsible for managing both properties.
In 1959 a third property, the Briars, where Napoleon spent the first two months while Longwood was being prepared, was given to the French Government by its owner, Dame Mabel Brookes.
As a result of the depredations of termites, in the 1940s the French Government considered demolishing the building. (King George VI commented on its state during his visit in 1947.) New Longwood and the Balcombe’s house at the Briars were both demolished at this time, but Longwood House was saved, and has been restored by recent French curators.
Longwood House is now a museum owned by the French government, attracting around 7,000 visitors per year. Current curator, Michel Martineau, said in a 2010 interview:
“I want to move away from this old notion of ‘those are the French properties and behind their walls they do as they want’. I want to open up the properties completely. Let’s face it, a lot of people only know St. Helena because of the Napoleon link. The idea is to use this fact as a springboard and then tourists can discover other things about the island.”
Conservation issues pertaining to the house include the high humidity in the Longwood area – 85-100%, which combined with the warm climate can promote the growth of mold, damaging both the fabric of the building and the furniture and exhibits inside.
TOURING LONGWOOD HOUSE
“First stop is the Billiard Room. This room was added in 1815 by the carpenters from the Northumberland. Napoleon never played billiards. The table was used for maps and documents. Later it was moved to the back of the house for the servants to use.
Next comes the drawing room, which was where Napoleon received his guests; these were very numerous in 1816 and 1817, but after March 1818, when the Balcombes came to say goodbye, and as the restrictions on him were tightened, he lived the life of a recluse, and virtually nobody outside his entourage saw him.
In this room he died; the bed was pulled out at a right angle so that people could gather round both sides. 16 were present, including the children of Mme. Bertrand.
Then you enter the dining room, with its single window, its very small dining table, and the candles which used to make it unbearably hot. In later years, after the arrival of the two priests sent by Napoleon’s mother, mass was said in this room every Sunday.
Now you take a right turn and enter Napoleon’s private suite. Three small rooms: a study, a bedroom and a bathroom. He had two small beds, identical to that already seen. One was in his study, so that if he couldn’t sleep in the night, and he often couldn’t, he could perhaps try the other room.
About the first thing he did when he arrived was to get in the bath. He had not had a proper bath since he left France in July. This was possibly Napoleon’s favourite place; he sometimes ate and read in here. The bath itself has had a life of its own – in 1840 it was taken back to France, but has now been restored to its original place.”
On a visit to Longwood House it’s common to stop at Napoleon’s Tomb – from Jamestown you pass it along the way.
“THE MAN WHO KEEPS NAPOLEON’S MEMORY ALIVE ON ST. HELENA”
By Jean Liou, Published on www.mysinchew.com, 14th April 2015
Jamestown (AFP) — Michel Dancoisne-Martineau knows that the story of Napoleon’s life in exile is timeless — and irresistible.
The Frenchman is tasked with preserving the property where Napoleon Bonaparte lived after being exiled to the remote South Atlantic island of Saint Helena in 1815 and remained until his death six years later.
“I have a product and I am trying to sell it,” he said.
One of the few Frenchmen on the British island of just 4,200 people, Dancoisne-Martineau manages a 16.5 hectare (40 acre) plot of French territory.
“I want this to last after me,” said the smiling 49-year-old as his dog Papillon (Butterfly) lay at the foot of the bed where France’s greatest military hero died.
Dancoisne-Martineau, who took up his job in 1987, has spearheaded an ambitious project to renovate Longwood House, the home of the former emperor. The upgrade could not come at a better time. Next year, St. Helena plans to start weekly flight service from Johannesburg — which has only been accessible by a five-day boat journey — in what many islanders hope will result in a significant boost to the tourism sector. Dancoisne-Martineau intends to be ready.
“Hopefully, we will privatise the management of the building,” he said. “There will be a shop and ticketed entry.”
The property includes Napoleon’s house in Longwood and “Geranium Valley” — the peaceful site where the ex-emperor wanted to be buried if his remains weren’t sent back to his beloved homeland.
Dancoisne-Martineau started by renovating “the generals’ rooms” that housed Napoleon’s companions in exile. Razed in 1860 and shoddily rebuilt in 1933, the cost to repair the building totalled more than 1.4 million euros ($1.5 million). The French government committed to footing half of the bill, and he had to find the other half. Despite the hefty price tag, the upgrade wasn’t difficult to finance.
“An international campaign was conducted with the Napoleon Foundation to raise funds and it has since garnered 1.5 million euros,” said the curator, with a smile. With the leftover money, Dancoisne-Martineau has started improving the wing of the house occupied by the ex-emperor before he died age 52, plagued by boredom and haunted by spite. When Napoleon lived there under guard “there was standing water under the floor, water running down the walls, rats were everywhere and there was a permanent musty smell,” said Dancoisne-Martineau. He choose to present the house the way it was the day Napoleon died — minus the rats and dampness.
“But I didn’t let the walls crumble,” he added.
The refurbished apartments, with guest rooms and seminar facilities, will be inaugurated on October 15 to mark the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s arrival on the island. After the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon surrendered to the English, hoping for lenient treatment. He must have never imagined they would banish him to a no-man’s land so far from Europe. Yet, the distance has not stopped people from visiting.
“People do come for Napoleon,” said Mark Capes, the island’s governor. “For St. Helena, the Napoleon legacy is very important, because he is part of what makes St. Helena, he is part of our history. We celebrate it, and it is part of our marketing.”
As part of the restoration project, Dancoisne-Martineau has sent 32 pieces of furniture to France. Next year, Les Invalides, a French military complex that houses Napoleon’s grave in Paris, will display them for an exhibition marking the bicentenary of his exile, along with some luxury items that the former French emperor had taken with him.
For Dancoisne-Martineau, a wave of sightseers would be the best way to end his custodianship of Napoleon’s final years before he steps down, maybe as early as next year.
“I’ll resume painting, I abandoned it 15 years ago,” he said.
In the meantime, he has started repairing the roof of a house in Briars Pavilion, above the capital Jamestown, where Napoleon stayed for two months after his arrival in 1815, before moving to Longwood. That repair isn’t in the official renovation budget. But for Dancoisne-Martineau, preserving Napoleon’s memory has become a labour of love: he’s paying for the roof repairs out of his own pocket.
THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF NAPOLEON AND CONFLICTING THEORIES
Napoleon Bonaparte, the French military and political leader who rose to prominence during the latter stages of the French Revolution, was born in August 1769 and died on May 5th 1821. The Emperor was said to have died from stomach cancer. The physician who led the autopsy found evidence of a stomach ulcer but some people said it was the most convenient explanation for the British, who wanted to avoid criticism over their care of the Emperor. Napoleon’s father died of stomach cancer.
In 1955 the diaries of the leader’s valet were published, which included the description of bed-bound Napoleon months before his death. Based on the description, scientists put forward other theories as to why he died – which included arsenic poisoning. Arsenic was used as a poison during the era because it was undetectable when administered over a long period. It was noted in a later book that Napoleon’s body was found to be remarkably well preserved when moved in 1840 and arsenic is a preservative.
In 2007 a toxicologist said he found mineral arsenic in napoleon’s hair shafts, which supported the theory that he was murdered. The wallpaper used in Longwood contained a high level of arsenic compound used by British manufacturers as a dye. It has been suspected that if the wallpaper got hot it might have emitted the poisonous gas arsine, but other scientists think the poison would have had to be consumed internally – or that the leader really did die of cancer.