St. Helena
Bayard Taylor’s Description of St. Helena
Bayard Taylor’s Description of The Ascent
Bayard Taylor’s Description of The Briars
Bayard Taylor’s Description of Longwood
Bayard Taylor’s Description of The Tomb
The Great Exhibition of 1853

November 16th

At 11 o’clock am we anchored off Jamestown, St. Helena. St. Helena is indeed a rock bound isle. It looks like solid rock as seen from the water. There is not a sign of a beach, the rock rises up precipitously from the water on all sides in many instances to great height – sometimes towering up to peaks, then in some places broken and ragged, looking somewhat like ruined castles. The rock generally is a rich looking brown, altogether it is an exceedingly picturesque looking isle. Jamestown as seen from the water looks very pretty; it is situated in a valley, or rather a ravine, that is so very narrow, hills, high, towering up on either side during its whole length.

“The Briars”, the place of Napoleon’s first residence on the island, is nearly at the head of this valley. This can be seen from a ship when directly opposite the town. At the head of the valley where it is closely enclosed by the hills on either side is a waterfall. The height of the falls is considerable, I know not the number of feet. It looks beautifully, adding much to the picturesqueness of the scene.

Our passengers, Willie, Mary and myself went on shore immediately. Williams, on account of business not being able to accompany us on our excursion. The first thing one sees on landing are the stone walls, cannon, piles of shot, the soldiers, etc. all telling of a fortified place. Fortifications are on the hills on either side, on the right is a steep, dizzy looking ladder leading to the heights above – nothing would have tempted me to mount it. It actually made me dizzy to see the men going up. They say they are going up and down all the time, not only men but women.

As soon as we anchored, Mr. Carroll, an Englishman, our former Commercial Agent, his son and one or two other gentlemen came on board and it was with Mr. Carroll, Jr. that we left the ship. He took us direct to their house where we were introduced to Mr. Kimball our present Commercial Agent and Mr. Carroll, Jr’s two sisters. We were there a half hour or more while the carriage was getting ready. Miss Carroll had just returned from the U.S. where she had been making a visit. She was delighted with all she saw. Mr. Kimball showed me a set of engraving scenes from St. Helena, all connected with Napoleon. There were six. I should liked much to have had them, but two pounds was thought by us all a great price to give for common engravings. Mr. Kimball had been in St. Helena but a short time; was in New York at the opening of great “Exhibition”; spoke of it as being very fine. From what the papers say of its continuance we hope to see it.

Our carriage was announced; there was room for four. Mr. Taylor, under whose particular care we had been placed, rode with us. Mr. Parkman was on horseback. Mr. Contee did not accompany us, he having been already twice at St. Helena and visited all its scenes.

The whole island of St. Helena is broken up into hills, valleys and ravines. Longwood is situated on very high land and some five miles from the town. Our ride there was almost a continuous ascent and a very steep one. All the first part of the ride was on the side of the mountain to the left of the town and we had a steep precipice on the one side and a steep ascent on the other. The precipice side of the road was protected by a strong stone parapet some two feet high. The views as we rode along were various and very fine. On account of the steepness of the hill, the road had to wind backwards and forwards, but ever extending farther inland to carry us to the top. We had a fine view of the town, looking right down upon it. It is long and very, very narrow, the houses having much the appearance of wooden boxes – no beauty about them. The barracks were quite extensive and we saw a good many soldiers. The view of the “Briars” is very pleasant and pretty with the closing valley and the delicate waterfall for its background. There are two buildings composing this place, the house where the family lived, and what was called the pavilion where the Emperor had his rooms. I should liked much to have gone over to the house where Napoleon had spent his happiest hours on the island but it was situated on our road but below us; also, it is occupied by a private family.

As we reached the top of this high and steep hill, the view became magnificent. Look where you would, high towering hills with steep sides, beautiful walks and ravines met the eye. Here and there, up and down, a white house would meet the eye with its beautiful garden and cultivated fields. Every spot of earth was made the most of, even if it was but a little isolated place with rock all around. These lovely cultivated spots and valleys looked doubly beautiful and green from the immense rocky frame works with which they were surrounded.

The day was delightful, quite warm in the town and the sun shone hot on us during the first part of our ride, but as we neared the top, the air became cool and fresh. I was glad to put my large shawl round me and wrap my Willie in another. All day the clouds hovered round and hid some of the highest of the mountain tops. One or two magnificent scenes reminded Mr. Taylor strongly of Switzerland; and then, as another bend of the road brought to our view another set of high hills or mountains as the others, all broken up into hills and valleys, he exclaimed how like the hills round the Dead Sea, and this he said again and again as we rode onward.

No vegetation was seen on their sides, they looked old and seared. But I must not forget the flowers on our roadsides, nearly the whole ride we had quantities and of quite a variety. Wherever there was earth, there were flowers plenty, and several kinds seem to grow on the very rock itself. There was quantities of the Broom, with its golden flowers, also what we call the “wax plant” at home with its exquisite pinkish white flowers, varieties of cactus plants, some with red flowers, some with white delicately tinged with pink or purple and quantities with an extremely rich purple flower growing in clusters. Also, geraniums in many places lined the roads.

As we approached nearer Longwood, the scenes became exquisitely beautiful. We would look down upon the most beautiful little valleys occasionally with a pretty house most picturesquely situated and then our road would now and then take us through pine groves with little bewitching pathways leading here and there. How I longed for a week’s time to spend in wandering about this interesting island. Just before Longwood came in sight, we had a fine view of the “Tombs” in the valley below us.

My heart failed me as we reached Longwood, much a miserable wretched looking place met our eyes. Before entering the gate, a card was handed us stating under what terms we could visit the place. The door was opened, and we stepped directly into a room. Never can I forget the indescribable feeling that took possession of me. I thought before I landed that I should wander over St. Helena, view its scenery with feelings unlike any I had every felt before. During my ride I had again and again said to myself Napoleon has stood here and regarded again and again this same scene, but the thought did not produce any peculiar feeling. But it was not so when I entered that house. To be sure, it is now uninhabited and defaced, almost a ruin, but even in its best days, what a place to put Napoleon, almost the conqueror of the world; the dweller in magnificent palaces. If it had been a fine house with aught that could have told of even comfort for such a man, perhaps I should have had none of these feelings, but such as they were, I could scarce control them at times. I felt a shot of indignant horror that the great Napoleon had lived and died there.

The first room that we entered was called the “Billiard Room”, a small square room; the next, the room in which he died, which I believe was called the Library. It was very small and narrow; in this room all remains of plaster had vanished and the bare stone walls met the eye on all sides. There was one very small window and the head of Napoleon’s bed rested against this window. A stone from the side of the window just where his head came had been detached and carried to France. While looking at the engraving of this room, Mr. Kimball told me that Frenchmen would stand and weep as they looked upon this place. I did not wonder, as I thought of it while standing there. If I had been alone sure am I that I too would have wept. From this room we passed into the dining room, another small miserable place through which a door opened directly into the yard. A few steps here led us to a door at the side, this also opened directly into a room which was the bedroom of Napoleon. This room was larger than the others and in the corner behind the door General Montholon slept. This room is the only one used and it is used as a stable; when we were there some five or six cows were its occupants.

No care whatsoever is taken of the grounds around. All looks dreary and desolate within and without. We walked to what was called Napoleon’s fish pond, its shape semi-circular. The edges were built up with stone on the little tongue of land in the center. Napoleon used to sit and feed the fish with bread.

The woman proposed that we should go over the house that was built (all called Longwood) for Napoleon by the English Government. It was not finished at the time of his death and, of course, never occupied by him. Why could they not have left him at the “Briars” till this building was complete? There he was patient and comparatively happy, at that wretched building to which they took him, his life was fretted away. I should think every Englishman would feel ashamed when they look upon that place and hate to have strangers go there; for their own sakes, they ought to destroy every vestige of it.

On our way to the new house, which is but a few steps, we encountered a singular looking tree. It is old, the trunk large – after growing a foot or two from the ground, it leans and grows parallel with the ground. Sure was I that Napoleon had oft sat there, perhaps by the hour, with book in hand. Mr. Taylor seemed to think the same, for we both found ourselves standing at the same time on the tree.

The new house at Longwood is situated in a pleasant, sheltered place, the house square and very large, having several rooms on either side. The rooms are large and handsome, each having large double windows, the house has been occupied, but vacant now, and will soon to ruins go unless better care is taken of it. If handsomely furnished and the grounds well taken care of, it would be a charming place. In the bathroom is the same bathing tub that Napoleon used at the other house, the marble with which it had been lined some gentleman had purchased and carried off. There were many flowers round the grounds, and we all picked large bouquets – many of these flowers I have pressed. I have now two large bouquets by my side, one from Longwood, the other from the lovely vale where Napoleon was buried.

It was getting late as we bade adieu to Longwood. We then rode back to where a pathway leads to the Tomb. On the road at this spot is a small tavern called the “Rose and Crown”; here we stopped for a few moments. It was now after half past four, none of us had dinner. I had taken with me for Willie a large cracker. The child demolished it. I inquired for something to eat – bread was all they had in that line. I was but happy to secure a large slice of that for the little fellow, every bit of which he ate.

Willie’s wants, being attended to, we all set off for the Tomb, the carriage going on before to take us up at another place ahead. Our path led us through beautiful grounds situated on the side of a hill, vale – one of the most lovely spots I ever saw, beautiful grassy hills with trees of various kinds scattered over them, rise on three sides. Our path to the tomb wound down the sides of two. The tomb is situated in the middle of this vale and has willows and Italian cypresses extending on either side so as to form nearly a circle round the tomb. There is a common paling surrounding this spot which seems to be under the care of an old colored woman who says she lived nearby in the days of Napoleon. She presented a slate which informed us that we must pay a certain price to gain admittance. We found this old woman very ready to tell us all she knew. Said she used to see Napoleon when he came there to walk; that she always said “good morning, Sir”, but that he never seemed to take any kind of notice of her. She said she would show us how he walked, and onward she strode with her little short, fat person.

She conducted us to the spring called Napoleon’s. It is said that he was very fond of this water and even carried a mug (silver as the old lady most particularly told us) when coming hither, that he might drink of the water. Toward the latter part of his life he would drink no other. Jars were sent here to be filled for his use. The old lady had tumblers and we all drank of the water which was indeed excellent.

The tomb is some 12 to 14 feet deep, I should think, has a railing round it, no covering, with the exception of a cloth thrown over the top. This was removed and we descended by a flight of wooden steps; beneath the steps is where the body lay. The large stone which covered the coffin was removed to France at the same time the body was taken there. Our attention was attracted to a paper hanging against the side of the vault. This contained the ridiculous effusion of some visitor. It was so excessively ridiculous and nonsensical that Mr. Taylor copied it. I also am enriched with a copy.

On ascending the steps, I found Mary and the old woman deep in conversation. “His head lay here, his feet there” were the first words that greeted my ears. During my visit below she had busied herself in picking bouquets for each from within the tomb enclosure, there being about a foot or two of earth on either side within the railing which is crowded with plants, mostly geranium. The old lady handed me a bouquet. “You can press these flowers and leaves in a book” said she “and then you can say that they came from the tomb of Napoleon”. We are cultivating the geranium in pots and I have pressed leaves and flowers both from the tomb, but whether from the advice of the good lady or if my own promptings is unnecessary to say, though I thank her just as much.

While in this beautiful and consecrated spot, I wished many times that I were going to spend a week at St. Helena and that I might visit this place many, many times; I liked to go and lean against the old willow tree that is either dead or dying and from there gaze around me. Certainly, the whole spot looked more lovely when seen from this old tree. I am sure it must have been Napoleon’s favorite resting place. This tree is situated toward the head of the grave, some few feet back. On either side of the grave there are two of the elegant Italian cypresses, also a number of willows. I felt reluctant and sad to leave this beautiful spot, but time passed quickly while here, and we had to take a farewell glance. We left the vale in the opposite direction from which we entered and walked some little distance to join our carriage. Our path wound up to the road above and the view, as we turned again, and again was exquisite.

Our little Willie had enjoyed all things very much and trudged onward unwearied between Mary and myself. It being late, Mr. Taylor offered to carry him as the most expeditious plan and raised Willie up in his arms, but the little fellow resented it as if it were an insult offered him, and insisted upon walking, and hurried along as fast as I could ask of him. Excitement had fatigued me much, and I felt in a quiet mood, so our ride back was quiet. We contented ourselves with remarks on the beautiful views and spots round us and familiarizing our eyes with them.

On reaching the town we met Williams and Mr. Contee walking. They had waited for us about an hour. We drove to Mr. Carroll’s to say farewell and while a box of earth was preparing for our plants, Mr. Carroll accompanied me to the store as I wished much to purchase some needles. Mr. Contee came in pursuit of gloves and the woman presented him with some. “Oh, Mr. Contee,” said I, “those would be enormous for you”, “why,” said he, “so they would, and to tell you the truth I wear ladies’ size, eights are abundantly large”. “Why, certainly” said I. The woman handed him eights and I thought they looked rather small. What his thoughts were, I know not. At any rate, we came away ungloved. Sadly does he need a pair, wearing them always on deck. His are almost rags – if one can speak of gloves that way.

We drove down to the boat and were soon on board our good ship. We had dinner at seven, just after our return, and I slept on the settee all the evening. Half past ten went on deck to take my last look at St. Helena, and then to bed.