Friday, 25 February 2011

Gorrequer's Diary

Major Gideon Gorrequer (1781-1841), aide-de-camp and acting military secretary to Hudson Lowe on St Helena.

Gorrequer met Lowe whilst serving in Sicily and the Ionian Isles, and was asked to accompany him to St Helena, for which his fluency in French and Italian was an ideal qualification. He arrived with Lowe in 1816, and remained until after Napoleon's death. A lifelong bachelor, we know little of Gorrequer's private life. Along with Denzil Ibbetson he ran the amateur dramatics on the island during the captivity.

Of Huguenot stock, Gorrequer joined the army at 16 as an Ensign, and was promoted to Lieutenant (1897), Captain (1804), and Brevet Major (1814).

One of the gripes that comes over in his diary was the lack of appreciation of his hard work, his feeling that Ibbetson and others were more highly regarded for doing much less, and his suspicion that Lowe, encouraged by Sir Thomas Reade, was not throwing his weight behind Gorrequer's further preferment.

Gorrequer was however, finally promoted to Lt Col in 1826, possibly because of his agreement to support Lowe in the case against O'Meara that never actually came to court.

For many years his papers, including his diary were locked away in the Court of Chancery, where they remained until 1958.

It is doubtful if Gorrequer ever intended his diary to be read by others. He was always very cautious abut expressing his opinions, and would never talk about his experiences on St Helena afterwards, but a number of people on the island, including Lowe and Sir Thomas Reade, probably suspected that he was, as Mrs Thatcher might have put it, "not one of us".

One conversation with Lowe and Lady Lowe about Napoleon on 10th June 1818 might well have raised Lowe's suspicions:
"Donna [Lady Lowe] pitying the situation of B. [Bonaparte] and saying he really was to be pitied, contrasting his former situation with his present, and Sir H. [Lowe] saying he deserved more contempt than pity which gave rise to a lengthened reasoning between them. Both looked at me alternatively, as they spoke, and as if engaging me in conversation. I observed that something must be allowed for the personal feelings of a man who (as he said, trusting to the generosity of the British nation and expecting a refuge in England) had delivered himself into the hands of the English and instead of an abode in England, had found himself fixed at St. Helena. " (1)

A rash comment for the normally guarded Gorrequer, who was well aware of the suspicion that fell on those who were thought to have any sympathy for the inhabitants of Longwood:
"When Madame Shrug [Madame Bertrand] sent the list, his observation that C-ns and Pear_n [Cairns and Pearson] were objectionable characters to visit there. No man in the Island had any business to have any opinion but himself about the people of Longwood, and much less on his own actions or duties here."
Gorrequer was himself instructed to tear a leaf out of a book sent for Napoleon by a future Prime Minister because of something that he, Lord John Russell, had written on it. (2)

One of the interesting features of the diary is the use of nicknames, which are today a feature of St Helena, but were presumably used by Gorrequer to disguise identities in case anyone accidentally read his scribblings. Amongst the often humorous names he used were
Mach. - (Machiavelli) - Hudson Lowe
Constipation - Colonel Charles Nicol
Denzil Periwinkle - Denzil Ibbetson
Nincumpoop, Ninny - Sir Thomas Reade (also other names)
Old Brick and Mortar - Major Anthony Emmet (3)
Saul Sapiens - Saul Solomon
Shrug - Count Bertrand
Sultana or Donna - Lady Howe
German /Teutonic - William Janisch, clerk to Lowe
Neighbour or Vicino - Napoleon
Weeping Willie - Sir William Doveton
Veritas - Count Montholon
Yam Maggiore Long Shanks - Major Hodson (nicknamed Hercules by Napoleon).

Since the publication of Gorrequer's diary it has been virtually impossible to mount a serious defense of Sir Hudson Lowe. Gorrequer's own remarkably modern sounding conclusion on Mach (Machiavelli) as Gorrequer usually referred to him, has been recently quoted by Dr Howard, and is worth repeating:
" Mach is but a machine - he is just what his nature and circumstances have made him. He slogs the machine which he cannot control. If he is corrupt, it is because he has been corrupted. If he is unamiable it is because he has been marked and spitefully treated. Give him a different education, place him in other circumstances, and treat him with as much gratefulness and generosity as he has experienced of harshness, and he would be altogether a diferent nature. A man who would be anxious to be loved rather than feared; and instead of having the accusation of being a man who was satisfied to spread around him anguish and despair, one who has an instinct for kindness." (4)
Less well noted was Gorrequer's comment about Lowe's "contempt of men generally held clever". (5) This was consistent with his refusal to admit that Napoleon had any qualities above the ordinary,
"He frequently said he did not consider our Neighbour [Napoleon] as a man of superior mind or talent, or a man of judgement. He pretended to hold him quite cheap." (6)
and with his refusal to acknowledge to an incredulous Lord Byron at Holland House in 1815, that Napoleon had any special talent as a military leader. Some have claimed that Sir Hudson Lowe certainly regarded himself at least as Napoleon's equal, and Gorrequer noted how he looked for any confirmatory evidence of his beliefs however fragile such evidence was: "Mach's readiness and eagerness to hear any little nonsense to the prejudice of our Neighbour and Shrug and his wife without desiring, or trying to analyse it for fear it might be found false - and communicating such stuff to Big Wigs." (7)

If Sir Hudson Lowe comes out badly in Gorrequer's diary, so also does Lady Lowe, whom Gorrequer detested, and so does Sir Thomas Reade, perhaps the real eminence grise of St Helena. Those are issues for another day.
1. St Helena During Napoleon's Exile, Gorrequer's Diary , James Kemble (London 1969), p. 67
2. [End of 1819?] Gorrequer p. 153
3. Emmet was in charge of the construction of New Longwood House.
4. Gorrequer p. 267
5. 20 July 1818, Gorrequer p. 70
6 6th May 1821, Gorrequer p. 233
7. 14 Feb 1819 Gorrequer p. 116

Monday, 14 February 2011

Napoleon's Poisoned Chalice

Among the half dozen books I recenty read on holiday was Napoleon's Poisoned Chalice: The Emperor and His Doctors on St Helena by Dr Martin Howard. It was the only one on Napoleon that I took with me. It seems to me to be by far the best of the recent books on the captivity produced by British authors. Dr Martin is largely free of nationalistic prejudice, provides a careful and considered evaluation of the evidence, and thankfully does not engage in wild speculation as to what was going on in the head of Napoleon or anyone else. Although highly readable, this is a scholarly study which deserves the attention of anyone interested in the captivity of Napoleon.

The book's judgement on Lowe, derived partly from Gorrequer's diary, seems apt:
.. he may be judged to be a fundamentally decent man who was promoted beyond his capacity and was then destroyed from within by his deficiencies.
Napoleon himself astutely described Lowe as a hyena caught in a trap - a trap presumably set by Lord Bathurst and the British Government.

Dr Martin also provides a succinct analysis of Barry O'Meara's conflicting loyalties as Napoleon's medical attendant, a British officer, and an admiralty informer. He suggests with some justification that Lord Rosebery might have been less dismissive of O'Meara's Voice of St. Helena and its allegations about Lowe had he been able to read Gorrequer's diary.

Dr Martin also brings out clearly the enmity between Lowe and the Admiralty, and the Navy's sympathy for the Emperor and his doctor which is the key to understanding the O'Meara affair and much that followed. He describes Napoleon's relationship with the British Navy as close to being one of mutual admiration.

The book also provides a thorough account of the harsh treatment of Dr Stokoe by Sir Hudson Lowe and the egregious Sir Thomas Reade, always sniffing around for a conspiracy. It notes the very selective treatment of the case by Lowe's apologist W. Forsyth. The comment on Stokoe's plight as a doctor is worth repeating, coming as it does from a medical practitioner:
He decided to see Napoleon; whatever the risks, this was the action one would have expected of a conscientious doctor.
The regulations extant on St Helena had been manipulated to render normal medical practice illegal.
Dr Arnott's diagnosis of Napoleon's illness as hypchondriasis as late as 22nd April 1821 was he concludes the result of the climate of fear created by the Governor rather than of incompetence. Dr Martin dismisses the poisoning theory in an uncharacteristic unscholarly phrase as, all mouth and no trousers.

I found the introductory pages a little less sure footed. The famous letter to the Prince Regent is claimed to have been written in Plymouth when in fact it was written before Napoleon went on board the Bellerophon. Pieter Geyl's Napoleon For and Against is inaccurately described as a double edged account of Napoleon's life , when in fact it is a study of French historiography on Napoleon, a very different animal. I also have some problems with his description of Napoleon at his peak as egotistical and brutal. I don't think anyone would cavil at the egotistical epithet, but by no stretch of the imagination was Napoleon a brutal ruler. Martin also suggests that Napoleon still believed himself to be the Messiah, a somewhat bizarre assertion, which perhaps refers to Napoleon's sense of destiny. These though are minor points which should not detract from the quality of the work.

The book inevitably invites comparison with Albert Benhamou's L'Autre St Hélène. Albert's book engages more directly with the primary sources, and contains many long extracts from them, which I personally found very useful. Dr Martin's book is largely a synthesis of secondary sources, and focuses more on the doctors and on Hudson Lowe and less on the inhabitants of Longwood. I feel that these are complementary studies, and still hope to see an English translation of L'Autre St Hélène. I am pleased to have both books on my shelves, each signed by its author.