Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The Maldives Comes to Manchester

A great night in the Punjab Restaurant in Manchester's Curry Mile. Our first visit to this particular restaurant, and we liked it very much.

A lot of talk. A lot of laughter. A lot of photographs.

Virtually the whole of the local Maldivian community was there.

It was a privilege for us to meet such an interesting and friendly group of people, and I think we learned far more about the Maldives than we did on our three visits there as tourists. I also learned a little about the movement of the currents in the Indian Ocean and the South Atlantic!

Whether they learned anything about St. Helena from me is I think a moot point!

Our particular thanks to the amazing Aisha for having organised the event.

Maldivia - an Update

I have now gone over my original sources for the comment I made about the origins of the term Maldivia. I am afraid I have to admit an error. I think that the mention of the word "slaves" in the context of Maldivians was almost certainly my mistake. I suspect that the Maldivians were classified as "free blacks". My apologies for this, and for any upset it may have caused. I have added a comment to the original blog.

The source of my comments was Janisch's book on the St Helena records

now available online. I wish I had given the reference in my original blog. These records are well worth perusing for anyone who wishes to learn more about St Helena's history. The introduction is very apt:

Probably there are no Records of other British settlements more interesting or saddening than those which are to be found in these pages. Amongst the many incidents of the early days of the Island's history, herein recapitulated, several will be found to be highly ludicrous and entertaining, while some are revolting in the extreme.

The bits on Maldivia I found there are as follows:

March 17.—Capt. Polly of the Drake at the distance of 150 leagues from land took up a Boat with ten Blacks of the Maldive Islands who were drove out to Sea and near perishing—three died on board, 5 Men, 1 woman and 1 boy landed here.
[Note.—The Maldivia Gardens, then a Government Plantation, derived their name from the employment of these men therein.]

22nd March 1742 —Major Thomas Lambert arrived and proclaimed Governor.
6th April—The property called " The Maldives" turned into a Hospital.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Rev Boys and Napoleon's Chair - an Unlikely Story?

BOYS, Richard, The Reverend (1785-1867). Chaplain to the Honourable East India Company on St. Helena, 1811 to 1830.

The Rev. Richard Boys was previously mentioned in my entry of December 9th 2008

Napoleon's Chair Discovered in Maidstone, 2009

A chair that belonged to Rev. Boys has now been discovered - or rather rediscovered - in Maidstone Museum. In a video embedded in a recent BBC article it is claimed that Napoleon used to sit, or rather fidget, in this chair when he visited Rev. Boys.

I have very serious doubts about the veracity of this claim - but would welcome any evidence to the contrary.

Napoleon visited very few houses on St. Helena, and as far as I am aware the house of Rev. Boys, appropriately known at the time as Kent Cottage, was not among them. (1) Had he done so, the Governor would have been informed, and there would surely be documentary evidence about the visits.

Rev Boys was a thorn in the flesh of the authorities on St Helena both before Napoleon arrived and after he had died. Any report that he was meeting Napoleon would I am fairly certain have met with some reaction. The Governor would I suspect have been glad of any excuse to get Rev. Boys off the island!

Arnold Chapin made this comment about Boys and Napoleon:

So far as the captivity was concerned, Mr Boys was brought into contact with Napoleon on one occasion only .He buried Cipriani, and for this service was given by Napoleon on April 18th, 1818, a snuff-box for himself and £25 for the poor. The snuff-box was returned, however, on account of having been given in a manner contrary to the regulations. (2)

I do think that the chair was probably Napoleon's, or to be more precise, that the chair came from Longwood. Whether Napoleon used to sit in it and was responsible for the markings on it is another matter!

Napoleon's Chair Discovered in Maidstone, 1911

After Napoleon's death the contents of Longwood were sold off to all and sundry, and it is conceivable that the Rev Boys obtained this item at that time. This at least was the view of an article which appeared in the New York Times in 1911 when the chair was last discovered!

At that time the chair on display in Maidstone museum bore the foillowing inscription:

This chair was used by Napoleon Bonaparte during his captivity in St. Helena. After his decease it was purchased by the Rev. R. Boys, then Chaplain to Sir Hudson Lowe, Governor of St. Helena, and subsequently Vicar of Loose, near Maidstone. At his decease it was purchased and presented to this museum by Alexander Randall, Esq. (3)

That sounds to me a more plausible explanation! I would be happy to be corrected.
1. This house has also at times been known as Smith’s Gate House and Stone Top Cottage. – It is more famous as the prison of the Boer General, Pieter Arnoldus Cronjé.

2. Arnold Chapin, A St. Helena Who's Who (London 1919). An earlier edition used the word "Longwood" instead of "Napoleon", which casts a little doubt as to whether Boys ever met Napoleon in person.

3. The article is entitled Marryat's Sketch of Napoleon on His Bier, but it refers to the chair in Maidstone Museum as well as the sketch.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Churchill and Napoleon -a postscript

Since my last blog I have had another look at Roy Jenkins's excellent biography of Churchill. Not a single mention of Napoleon - but an interesting comment about Churchill's famous ancestor John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough : as famous for ruthless self-advancement as he was for martial prowess (1).

Not surprising perhaps that the young Winston also had a great interest in Napoleon as well as in his famous ancestor. By all accounts, including his own, Churchill was a young man in a hurry - and there was no better example of what a young man could achieve in the worlds of war and politics than that of Napoleon.

Churchill's many contemporary critics, particularly after the costly failure of the Dardanelles Campaign and his support for intervention in the Russian Revolution certainly made the connection with Napoleon.

The cartoonist Low began caricaturing Churchill in a cast-off Napoleonic uniform, embodying his image as an adventurer with an obsession, like that of Napoleon himself, to conquer Russia. This image of a Napoleonic Churchill was also popular amongst contemporary opinion, as most people viewed him at the time as an emblem of concealed reaction. H.G. Wells also had little sympathy for Churchill's view of the new Communist State, and parodied him as Napoleon in his play Men Like Gods(2)

Take also this mocking article from the New York Times in 1922:

At Harrow, the lad, moody as Napoleon, was alone. ...

others lived within the regulations; he looked - sometimes leaped - beyond them. .. He thus became a soldier of fortune - a buccaneer - using the pen while he wore the sword. And his only real comrade was Bonaparte. True they did not see much of each other in the flesh, but in his library Winston collected hundreds of volumes on the Corsican, and these he has bound sumptuously in the leather with which every book is honored when it enters the archives of the British aristocracy. 'Chatting thus with Napoleon's memory, Churchill unbends; you see him in velvet, even climbing a ladder - only a short one is needed - to reach his companion's loftier pages. To say this is no reflection on Churchill, for Napoleon himself would have had to do it if he had collected so many books about Winston.

What Rosebery has admired in Napoleon is "the last phase." That is because Rosebery is our greatest living expert on abdication, and to him, St. Helena is the holy place, in fact his Mecca. But Churchill values Napoleon chiefly because in his youth he reduced the pretensions of older men. He was one who met experience with explosions. Indeed, there is only one point of strategy on which Churchill differs from his associate and that is but a passing incident - the Battle of Waterloo. This is where Churchill would have been prepared to offer Bonaparte a friendly hint. He would have warned the Emperor that while Wellington was, of course, no Marlborough, he had, like Haig, qualities which we generals of genius must not despise.

The final verdict on Churchill will be probably that he is interesting but expensive. He works. He thinks. He knows. He acts. He even gambles. If only his ventures had all succeeded, they would have been admirable. In some countries not far from England he would have been by now an Emperor, reigning not - it may be - in Paris, but certainly over Elba. Of England it has to be said reluctantly that she is too stupid to appreciate dictators.(3)

Churchill was of course not alone on the Liberal benches in Parliament in the Edwardian era in his interest in Napoleon. There also for a time sat two who have appeared already on these blogs, Sir Walter Runciman and William Hesketh Lever, who unlike Churchill were not soldiers but creators of very successful business empires. So also has Churchill's friend, Lord Rosebery, the former Liberal Prime Minister and author of the famous book on Napoleon's captivity. (4)

Perhaps though rather than his Liberal affiliations at that time, a far better explanation of Churchill's own interest in Napoleon lay in his military background. A recent study by Gerald D. Swick makes a good point:

Churchill was one of the rare leaders of history, men such as Frederick the Great, Oliver Cromwell, and his own famous ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, who were “born for war,” as Napoleon once described himself. These were war leaders who “instinctively understood it in all of its aspects: strategic, political, diplomatic, moral and psychological.” Moreover, as one of Churchill’s most astute biographers, Sebastian Haffner, has observed: “No one will ever understand the phenomenon that was Churchill by regarding him simply as a politician and statesman who was ultimately destined like Asquith or Lloyd George, Wilson or Roosevelt, to conduct a war; he was a warrior who realized that politics forms a part of the conduct of war. (5)

Churchill and St. Helena

Churchill never set foot on St. Helena. I doubt whether it would have interested him. By the time he appeared on the scene its importance to the British Empire had gone. It was not a place where cavalry could charge or where an officer could play a few chukkas of polo. In later life it could not compete with the attractions of Madeira and the South of France. More than that, the island was associated with the ultimate failure of Napoleon. It was a road to nowhere. Churchill was interested only in adventure, ambition and destiny.

Churchill's friend, the Prince of Wales, later for a short time to be Edward VIII, did make a brief official visit in 1925. In a speech on his arrival in Jamestown he paid his respects to Napoleon's memory in terms of which I would imagine that Churchill, as a life long francophile, would not have disapproved.
I need not assure you of the deep interest with which I set foot on an Island whose name is so well known to all students of History, not only because it was here that were written the closing pages of a great and romantic life story – the story of the Emperor whose mortal remains now lie on the banks of the Seine, where many soldiers of France have found a resting place ... (6)

Like Napoleon though, St. Helena has honoured Churchill in its stamps.

1. Roy Jenkins, Churchill (Macmillan 2001)
2. Timothy S. Benson Low on Churchill
3. The mocking tone of the article is set from the beginning: When one discusses unseen things with Winston Churchill, one finds that he believes firmly in an all-wise and an all-powerful Being because, despite Darwin, none other could have devised the family of the Duke of Marlborough, which after centuries of uphill effort has culminated at last in himself. P.W. Wilson, Winston Churchill, His Interrogation Mark
4. See blogs on Lord Lever Art Gallery and the blog of 11 February 2008 which among others discusses Walter Runciman and his book,The Tragedy of St Helena and Lord Rosebery's Napoleon: The Last Phase .
5. WARLORD: A Life of Winston Churchill at War Debuts by Carlo D'Este
6. Churchill's friendship and support for Edward VIII during the abdication crisis did little for his reputation in the years leading up to the second world war. Churchill's francophilia is described by Jenkins as a never to be underestimated feature of Churchill's long life. The full text of the Prince of Wales's speech is displayed in the Council Room in the Castle on St Helena. The speech also celebrated St Helena's loyalty to the Empire, and acknowledged the importance of the flax industry on which much of your material prosperity depends.