Napoleon in Saint Helena, by Olga Merino

The British newspaper ‘The Times’ gave a good account, through an extensive illustrated chronicle, of Napoleon’s departure for final exile from the port of Plymouth, where he learned that he was being taken to the island of Saint Helena. Overcome with the initial anger, the deposed emperor, already almost bald, with a challenging lock on his forehead, dared to ask two questions: “Is there somewhere to hunt? Where will I reside? & Rdquor;. After the withdrawal from Russia (“Dieu me garde des russes! & Rdquor;), the defeat at Waterloo and his abdication in Paris, poor ‘Boney’ had surrendered to the English in the belief that they would treat him kindly , perhaps a placid life in the countryside, and yet they dispatched him to the farthest reaches of Earth, to a pebble in the middle of the Atlantic, about 2,000 kilometers off the South African coast, the nearest firm ground.

He boarded the ‘Northumberland’ along with a handful of supporters —Including his chamberlain Emmanuel de Las Cases and count Montholon and wife (we will return to them later)-, 12 men and women of service and a short trousseau for those who had enjoyed such high designs: two silver dishes, a superb toilet service also made of silver, some 3,000 books, beds and a snuff box on whose lid, carved in gold, an eagle flew from the island of Elba to the coasts of France & mldr; So they wanted him well away, because nobody in Europe wanted to repeat the fiasco of the flight.

72 journey days

On October 15, 1815, after a 72-day journey, the ship arrived on the rugged shores of Saint Helena, then owned by the British East India Company, in the mansion of whose superintendent she stayed for a couple of months. Then they moved him to Longwood House, a dilapidated and rat-infested house, 500 meters above sea level, hit by winds and constant rain. The bronchitis and the bad grape soon took their toll.

As an inmate, a very strict routine was built. He got up early and, after a long cleaning, dispatched with the secretary Las Cases, author of what was to be a ‘best-seller’, the ‘Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène’ (1823). He dined early, read the classics, and played cards. He also took the opportunity to learn English. But immobility, excessive for a bilious temperament, and depression soon undermined his health. Not a single letter did he receive from his second wife, Maria Luisa of Austria, although the chronicles tell he was quite amused at bedding with Albine, General Montholon’s wife.

The arrival of a new ‘jailer’

Far from confinement in a slum apartment, the Corsican could move around the island as he pleased, always accompanied by a British general. It was not freedom that he lacked, but power; How could he, a winner in Austerlitz, be pleased by a rock 17 kilometers wide by 10 kilometers long? His condition worsened considerably when a new ‘jailer’ arrived on the island, the severe ‘Sir’ Hudson Lowe, who was airing the protesters, from Secretary Las Cases to his doctor, the Irishman Barry O’Meara, the first to write down in a notebook his pains in the belly.

Napoleon passed away from stomach cancer on May 5, 1821, at about six in the afternoon. It still took him 19 years to fulfill his wish to be transferred to France, where he lies in Los Invalides, in a pantheon of red quartzite. Poor, Corsican devil, did not do well with the islands. He never won a sea battle. Perfidious Albion!


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