Posts Tagged ‘St Helena’

Lockdown reading has incorporated a very interesting book, Napoleon, Life, Legacy and Image, by Alan Forrest.

I admit Napoleon Bonaparte does come over as a very intriguing character.
But what went so horribly wrong?

I was comparing maps of Europe before and after Napoleon’s period and was amazed at how he had changed the face of Europe with his campaigns.
Ok, but look at the maps, with fingers in ears, and very dark glasses, to blot out the cries of abandoned, mutilated, and dying from his campaigns.

There is an area of open ground near where I live, away from the town, where troops from the Napoleonic wars were later housed. Those it was thought the public should not see.
What was there for those people of support, help?

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It was so easy to escape Elba. So, after The Hundred Days, when it was proven yet again he could still wield his magic and get the French governors to grant him men, munitions, arms and uniforms for a very foolhardy attempt on the combined forces of Europe and England, after the last great battle of Waterloo (a shambles for the un-trained new French recruits), what then could be done with The Emperor?

How wise was the choice of the distant old-volcanic island of St Helena?
In remoteness, Wiki tells us that St Helena island lies some 1,950 kilometres (1,210 mi) west of the coast of southwestern Africa, and 4,000 kilometres (2,500 mi) east of Rio de Janeiro on the South American coast. 

https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Saint+Helena,+STHL+1ZZ,+St+Helena,+Ascension+and+Tristan+da+Cunha/

 It is one of the most isolated islands in the world and was uninhabited when discovered by the Portuguese in 1502 : Wiki again.
Between January and May 1673, the Dutch East India Company seized the island, but English reinforcements restored East India Company control. The company experienced difficulty attracting new immigrants, and there was unrest and rebellion among the inhabitants. Ecological problems, such as deforestationsoil erosion, vermin and drought, led Governor Isaac Pyke to suggest in 1715 that the population be moved to Mauritius, but that was not acted upon and the company continued to subsidise the community because of the island’s strategic location. A census in 1723 recorded 1,110 inhabitants, including 610 slaves.

Alan Forrest describes the place: an impoverished and windswept outpost… Battered by Atlantic storms … a bleak and inhospitable island – especially during the long winter months -.
But then, this: it was an important staging post for ships for the East India Company and sustained a population of up to five thousand, including a British garrison, a large number of slaves from Madagascar, and Chinese indentured labourers (page 141)

The importation of slaves to Saint Helena was banned in 1792, and the phased emancipation of over 800 resident slaves took place in 1827, some six years before the British parliament passed legislation to abolish slavery in the colonies. Wiki again

This is very sobering.
So much for the greatness of those times.
Napoleon promoted himself and his Empire as a great moderniser, and sold himself and his aims as liberalising, especially in his last appeals for recruits. After the Ancien Regime, yes, he certainly was.
Alan Forrest carefully brings our attention to the matter of Toussaint Louverture, and his fight for Saint-Dominingue, modern day Haiti.
Those who espouse Liberalism usually hide many such shadows, as does modern Neoliberalism. As does every regime. The victims are always with us.

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And so, when we look at that map of St Helena now, among the new township, its fast-food outlets, its Jehovah’s Witness church, is a Boer Cemetery.
When not the victims of dum-dum bullets, used to cause greatest wound-damage, others were shipped off to this distant place.
Who knows what the toll on hope and survival must have been.
In 1900 and 1901, over 6,000 Boer prisoners were held on the island, notably Piet Cronjé and his wife after their defeat at Battle of Paardeberg.[30][31] The resulting population reached an all-time high of 9,850 in 1901. Wiki
Yes, you did read that right: 9,850
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Helena
Are such places of commemoration for those un-named people from Madagascar, and elsewhere? People probably like you and me, but in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It is with a sense of relief that at least Napoleon’s body was exhumed, burned on the spot, and his ashes returned to France in 1840/1, twenty years after his death.

Ok, from all this I admit to a longing for that ‘uninhabited island’, pre 1502.