Monday, 21 November 2011

Faithful Servants of Napoleon: The Archambault Brothers Part 2

Card Steuben, Mort de Napoléon Ier à Sainte-Hélène, le 5 mai 1821
Achille Archambault highlighted

Achille Thomas L'Union Archambault was born at Fontainebleau in 1792. His parents never married and he took his mother's family name. His father was Genevieve Agathe Songeux, a native of Fontainebleau, who appears to have taken little part in the life of Achille or of his younger brother Olivier.

When their mother died in 1799, the Archambault brothers were put in the charge of l'hospice du Mont Pierreux at Fontainebleau where their widowed grandmother was living. Their grandfather had been a postillon, and not surprisingly perhaps they followed in his footsteps. Both brothers were fortunate to find positions in the Imperial stables around 1807, and it was at St Cloud that they learned the trade that was to take them as footmen into the service of the Emperor, and finally into exile on St Helena. Achille was present on Elba and at Waterloo. It is not clear whether his younger brother was also there.

Whilst the younger Archambault was forced to leave St Helena in 1816, Achille stayed until the end. Following this separation the two brothers followed totally different paths, and did not meet again for 40 years.

On St Helena Achille was under employed for much of the time because of the determination of the Emperor not to go outside the small area in which he was allowed without being accompanied by an English officer. Achille, like many of the servants and the English attached to Longwood drank and engaged in rowdy behaviour. In September, 1818, when the Emperor's horses, Dolly and Regent, were racing at Deadwood, a certain half-mad and drunken piqueur of Napoleon, who turned out to be Achille, rode down the course. He was horsewhipped by the steward who did not know that he was one of Napoleon's servants. (1) Napoleon saw the whole incident from his vantage point at Bertrand's cottage, and later reprimanded Achille.

Whilst on St Helena Achille formed a relationship with a black girl, Mary Ann Foss. Napoleon refused permission for him to marry her, and finally, to the surprise of Montholon and others who knew his determination and his fiery temparament, Achille relented, perhaps fearing expulsion from the island, but he continued to cohabit with her.

In 1820 as a result of the decision of the Governor to extend the area in which Napoleon could travel, Achille found his services were frequently required by the Emperor. He also acquired a new horse for Napoleon, "King George", from Lord Somerset. The horse was renamed "Sheikh", after one of Napoleon's old horses used during his military campaigns.

In October 1820, Napoleon made his last outing outside the environs of Longwood, to visit Sir William Doveton at Sandy Bay, and when he was unable to complete the return journey on horseback it was Achille Archambault who was summoned to bring the caleche which transported him from Hutts Gate back to Longwood.

When Napoleon died Achille assisted at the autopsy, and according to Sir Thomas Reade was the only one of Napoleon's followers present who was visibly upset by the occasion. At Napoleon's funeral he walked behind the cortege holding "Sheikh" by the bridle .

Returning to France, he settled in Sannois in the Val d'Oise. In 1822 he married Julienne Clarisse Boursier and they had two daughters, Euphraise Clarisse and Josephine Esther.

After the 1830 Revolution he was helped by General Gourgaud to get a job as an usher at the Tuileries.

In 1840 he accompanied some of his former companions on the expedition back to St Helena to return Napoleon's body to France. On this occasion his old lover Mary Ann Foss, accompanied by her husband, met some of his associates. It is uncertain whether Achille himself met her.

Along with other Longwood servants he received the Legion of Honour in 1851.

He was paid the remainder of Napoleon's legacy by Louis Napoleon in 1855.

He died and was buried at Sannois in 1858, almost two years after meeting his younger brother whom he had not seen since 1816.

I must acknowledge again my debt to Albert Benhamou. Much of the material here has with his permission derived from Les Frères Archambault on his web site.

1. Events of a military life: being recollections after service in the Peninsular war, invasion of France, the East Indies, St. Helena, Canada, and elsewhere, Henry Walter,(1846) pp 26-27.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Chevalier Ordre national du Mérite

Chevalier Ordre national du Mérite (National Order of Merit)

Sincere congratulations to Michel Dancoisne Martineau who by a decree dated 14th November 2011 has become a Chevalier (Knight) of the National Order of Merit. This is a very well deserved award for a quarter century of service to the historic French properties on St Helena.

At the risk of embarrassing him I should add that I had hoped that by now he would have received recognition from the British Government for his dedication and contributions to the wider community on St Helena, as did Gilbert Martineau and I believe his predecessor also.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Faithful Servants of Napoleon: The Archambault Brothers Part 1

Joseph Olivier Victor Senez Archambault (1796-1874) (1)

Among the party who set out with Napoleon to St Helena were two brothers, Achille Thomas L'Union Archambault and his younger brother (Joseph) Olivier Archambault, both working in the stables under the command of General Gourgaud.

This article tells the story of Olivier Archambault, who spent only a short time in the service of the Emperor Napoleon on St Helena, but under the instructions of the Emperor followed Joseph Bonaparte to America, settled there, prospered, and raised a family.

Gravestone in Pennsylvania

Born Aug 22nd 1796 Died July 3rd 1874

In September 1816 Napoleon was forced to reduce the size of his household at Longwood, and the younger Archambault, the Polish officer, Captain Piontowski, and two servants at Longwood, Jean Giovan-Natale Santini and Theodore Rousseau, were sent off the island, initially as was the custom, to the Cape. Apparently Napoleon wished to avoid splitting up the two brothers, the younger of whom was barely 20, and he suggested that Bertrand's servant Bernard, or his own servant Gentilini should go instead. The Governor refused: Bernard was Flemish and Gentilini Italian, and his orders had been to remove three "French domestics"!

The four of them were meant to spend several months of "quarantine" on the Cape, but Admiral Malcolm, apparently ignorant of Lord Bathurst's instructions, after a few weeks sent them back to Europe via St Helena, where they duly arrived to the consternation of the Governor on 18th December 1816. Every conceivable step was taken to prevent communication with anyone on the island, although the Governor did grudgingly allow Achille to talk to his brother on board the ship, accompanied by the commissioner of police.

Arriving in England in early 1817, Olivier and Rousseau proceeded to New York with letters for Joseph, a plan of attack and a detailed map of St Helena sewn inside Rousseau's jacket. Joseph Bonaparte was preparing an expedition to free Napoleon and to take him to New Orleans where a house, Napoleon House, was readied for him. This plan was of course scrapped, but Napoleon House remains to this day.

On the ship travelling to America he met the English radical William Cobbett, who was leaving the country to avoid imprisonment in the repressive period after Waterloo. Joseph spent a year on Cobbett's Long Island model farm, teaching French to his son and receiving instruction in scientific agriculture.

In 1819 Joseph Archambault married a woman of good family, Susan Sprague (1793-1880), and the couple settled first in Philadelphia and then at Newtown, some 40 kilometres outside Philadelphia where Joseph bought a house and some land. (2)

In 1829 he bought the Brick Hotel in Newtown. He also established a post office and a dentist's practice, in which he worked for some time. Presumably his knowledge of the anatomy of horses provided some kind of foundation for this profession!

In 1837 he settled again in Philadelphia, and in 1840 was named Cavalry Captain for Bucks County.

On 3rd May 1856 he set sail for France to meet his elder brother for the first time since they had said goodbye on board a British naval ship in Jamestown harbour in December 1816. Achille had been given a grant by Napoleon III of the remainder of the money bequeathed to him by Napoleon, and it is possible that he was given a share of this money.

In the American Civil War Joseph became a Major in the US Cavalry, and his sword and a picture of him is in the Mercer Museum.

He died on 3rd July 1874, one of the last survivors of the party who had accompanied Napoleon to St Helena, and living long enough to witness the fall of Napoleon III.

He was outlived by his five children, four of whose names evoke his youth in France: Victor Ebenezer Archambault (1819-1893); Achille Lucien Archambault (1822-1906); Lafayette Archambault( 1824-1888); Napoleon Bonaparte Archambault (1826-1901); Roselma Josephine Archambault (1832-1914).

The most famous and most long lived of his descendants was his grandaughter Anna Margaretta Archambault (1856-1956), a distinguished portrait artist, miniaturist and author. As Albert Benhamou comments, she lived through the American Civil War, the Franco Prussian War, the First and Second World Wars, and could claim to have known someone who had accompanied Napoleon to St Helena!

My thanks to Albert Benhamou for all his research and his generosity in encouraging me to draw on Les Frères Archambault on his web site, and to Joseph OVS Archambault for contacting us and providing information on Joseph Archambault's descendants which inspired the piece.

(1) Born at Fontainebleau he was given the forenames Olivier Agricola. It is possible that the name Joseph was adopted much later on his arrival in America to meet Joseph Bonaparte. Senez was his natural father's name and appears only to have been used when he arrived in America. When he substituted Victor for Agricola is unknown.
(2) Joseph Bonaparte had already established himself in the Philadelphia area, where he built a substantial house at Point Breeze, which was burned down in 1820, allegedly by a Russian lady. He built another house on the same site, and lived there until his return to Europe in 1839.

St Helena Connection: Interview with Michel Martineau

The latest edition of The St Helena Connection, the news magazine of the Society of Friends of St Helena has just been sent to members. It is always interesting, as is The Wirebird , the Society's Magazine, back copies of which are available online to members of the society.

The current edition of The Connection features an interview by Irene Delage with Michel Dancoisne Martineau, since 1987 Honorary French Consul and curator of the French properties on St Helena. The article is reproduced from the website of the Fondation Napoleon.

The interview focuses on the background to Michel's book, Chroniques de Sainte-Hélène Atlantique Sud In the interview he discusses one of the important themes of the book, the often overlooked tension between Crown and East India Company, which formerly "had the power of life and death over everyone on the island", and "was severely undermined the moment Napoleon arrived on St Helena."

The most surprising examples of this rivalry can be found in discussions relating to farming and religious matters. Hudson Lowe, the governor of the island, was the first victim of this conflict, caught between the interests of the British crown (which he served) and those of the East India Company (whose representatives held a monopoly over civil administration and religious posts). The issues surrounding supplying the island, the imposed curfew, restricions on the population's movements, and the added drain on resources did little to simplify matters.

So overlaying the conflicts between Plantation House and Longwood House, and between Army and Navy, not to mention the strange position of the representatives of the Governments of France, Austria and Russia, there was an uneasy relationship between the governor and the small number of leading families and the company appointees, notably Rev. Boys, who had governed the island in the East India Company era. Their world had been overturned, and things for them were never to be quite the same again.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Napoleon's Last Days: Building Castles in Spain

Photo by Esther Gibbons

By the beginning of 1821 Napoleon was convinced that he would not last out the year, and he quoted Voltaire's Lusignan, Mais à revoir Paris je ne puis plus prétendre (1)

For a time Montholon in particular kept up his spirits by passing on, and perhaps embellishing, rumours that Napoleon would soon be removed from St Helena. The backdrop to this was the crisis in England between George IV and his estranged wife, Caroline of Brunswick, a symbol of popular opposition to the Government of Lord Liverpool towards the end of 1820. Clearly the prospect of the return of at least some Whigs into Government was a hot topic at Longwood and Plantation House and probably elsewhere on the island, although such discussions were informed by news that was at best a couple of months out of date.

In January 1821 the comments of the French Commissioner, Montchenu, were reported by Count Montholon, and together with Napoleon's reaction were noted by Bertrand.
He says there is talk of making Belle Isle into a residence for the Emperor. That would mean taking a great risk. The English could no longer have the custody of the Emperor.

On the subject of Belle Isle, the Emperor believes that the intention of the powers that be would be to keep him there under the same conditions as at St Helena, with a governor, a garrison and a cruiser, just as we have here. But the Emperor will never consent to that. He would be at the mercy of the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle which would be able to have him assassinated there. He would never agree to it.

Or perhaps they want to give him Belle Isle as a place of refuge, with a batallion of his own as at Elba. That would be a different matter, but it would be unwise from the point of view of the Bourbons, on account of the present state of unrest in France.

This account concluded with the somewhat risible claim by Montchenu that the King of France had never approved of the Emperor being taken to St. Helena, that personally he liked the Emperor very much indeed .. (2)

On February 19th further discussion was reported by Bertrand.
It is rumoured that the Emperor may be sent to England. He thinks that this seems to indicate that the English do not wish to be rid of him.

Napoleon seemed encouraged:
They could keep me on a very large estate. .. True I could then escape more easily than from here. Yet it is a much more feasible idea than Belle Isle. A safe place could not be found for me so close to France, not one where I could be interned and yet enjoy a certain amount of freedom, as I do here .. (3)

On Feb 28 the Governor sent over some newspapers which reported that the unpopular Royal divorce bill had been withdrawn by the Liverpool Government, a loss of face which seemed to presage some change in the composition of the Government.
Our hopes and conjectures on the possibility of a new government wore us out. Our hopes that Lord Grenville will be in the new Cabinet and that we shall be moved from here. (4)

By March 6th though Napoleon was sad and has lost all hope of any change in the English Government. (5) But three days later the comments of the rather foxy Major Gorrequer as conveyed by Count Montholon seemingly had raised his spirits.
Lord Holland has been spoken of as a possible Prime Minister. The Governor will then pay him a great tribute - wise man. The Governor is a schemer. The English do not want to keep the Emperor any longer, and yet they do not want to hand him over to the other powers. The Emperor may therefore entertain hopes of going to America. (6)

So the next day, March 10th He felt much better and toyed with the idea of doing some riding. He hopes soon to leave St Helena.

He was prepared to go to England, Austria, America, anywhere but the hated St Helena:
The Emperor believes that the English will not want to be rid of him. But that they would keep him in England on some large private estate, and that they would accept his parole not to leave the county in which he was living without the Government's permission. Otherwise he would be quite free. .. He cannot see what the English have to fear.

If the Austrian Emperor were to write and offer him asylum in his States, and if the Empress would also write to him, then he would go to Trieste with no mistrust, so as to be with his wife and son.

If I had the choice I would go to America. .. First I would restore my health - then I would spend six months travelling about the country. .. Among other places I would pay a visit to Louisiana; after all it was I who gave it to the Americans.

Bertrand noted that Napoleon worked the entire day. He was pleased and had hopes of finally being able to leave this miserable island. He was also reading books about America and speculating about visiting his brother's estate at Trenton.

Three days later, on March 13th their bubble was burst. Another ship arrived from England, and the Governor sent over some newspapers for the period November- December 1820:
No change of Government. The French elections were not liberal. This news was a great disappointment to everyone, above all to the Emperor, who has flattered himself on better news.

"We have been building castles in Spain," he commented.

Over a month later John Ives Edwards, sea captain and husband of Mary Anne Robinson (the "Nymph"), and "much attached to the Emperor", called on Mme Bertrand. His conversation, a rehash seemingly of old news, was reported to Napoleon
He said that the English people had no wish to keep Napoleon at St. Helena, and they felt that the ignoble way in which the Emperor was being treated was a slur on them.

It cannot be long before he will leave here, perhaps in less than three months. Probably Admiral Lambert will accompany him back. .. It is public opinion that is forcing Lord Holland into the Government, not any political party but unanimous public opinion.

Napoleon was not impressed by this, "it is too late now" he said. (9)

In less than three weeks he was dead.

It was to be another nine years before the Whigs returned to Government.

1. Napoleon at St Helena. Memoirs of General Bertrand Grand Marshall of the Palace January to May 1821 (Cassell & Company 1953) p.65
2. Bertrand p. 21
3. Bertrand p. 71
4. Bertrand pp 96-7 The withdrawal of the unpopular bill had of course taken place some two months earlier, and it had in fact helped to dissipate the extra parliamentary opposition. Nobody on St Helena could have known this.
5 Bertrand p. 116
6. Bertrand p. 120
7. Bertrand pp 120-121
8. Bertrand pp 121
9. Bertrand p. 172

Thursday, 3 November 2011

St Helena Will have Its Airport

So the airport will be built. The full story is on Michel's blog.

We are pleased to announce that the Secretary of State’s conditions have now been met, and that we have today entered into a contract with Basil Read (Pty) Ltd in the amount of £201.5 million for the design and construction of the airport, an additional up to £10 million in shared risk contingency, and £35.1 million for ten years of operation. This represents a saving of more than 20% in real terms from the 2008 price, taking into account inflation and the value of the pound.- Mark Capes, Governor of St Helena

I must say I have very mixed feelings about this. What we can be sure of is that once the airport is built St Helena will never be the same again. I hope my worst fears are not realised. But as Michel's post makes clear, this is good news for the French properties, which will now be far more accessible to those who wish to visit them.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

In the footsteps of Napoleon: Vilnius 1812

Cemetery of Antakalnis, Vilnius. Here in 2003 were reburied the remains of some 3500 soldiers of the Grand Army who died on the ill fated Russian campaign.

Roel Vos seems to have traced the footsteps of Napoleon across much of Europe, as well as to St Helena. His latest trip, covered on his excellent web site, was to Vilnius and Kaunas in Lithuania.

Here at Kaunas, on 24th June 1812 the Grand Army crossed the Niemen using three pontoon bridges.

The whole operation took about three days. Napoleon had a camp constructed on the hill overlooking the river, from where he surveyed the operation.

Arriving in Vilnius on 28th June 1812, Napoleon stayed until 16 July. He briefly returned on 6th December the same year, after his retreat from Moscow.

In that summer of 1812 Napoleon made his headquarters in the old episcopal palace, now the official residence of the President of Lithuania.

Many thanks to Roel for sharing his experiences and allowing me to reproduce images from his website.