St. Helena in 1853
The Sea Serpent stopped in St. Helena
on November 14, 1853.
St. Helena is a British possession in the South Atlantic Ocean,
and one of the remotest islands in the world.
When it was discovered by the Portuguese in 1502 it was uninhabited.
The British East India Company was the first to establish a settlement in 1657.
For centuries it was an important stopover
for ships sailing to Europe from Asia and Southern Africa.
In 1855, 1100 ships called at the island;
but the island’s importance slipped after the Suez Canal was built.
In 1889 the number dropped to 288.
St. Helena has a rugged terrain of volcanic origin.
The port of Jamestown lies in a valley between two peaks.
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.
From A Visit to India, China and Japan in the Year 1853 by Bayard Taylor...
The coast on this side rises into two bold heads, one of which projects
outward like a gigantic capstan, while the other runs
slantingly up to a pointed top, which is crowned with a signal
station. The rock has a dark, bluish-slate color, with streaks
of a warm reddish-brown, and the strata, burst apart in the
centre, yet slanting upward toward each other like the sides of a volcano, tell of upheaval by some tremendous subterranean
agency. The structure of the island is purely volcanic, and,
except the rock of Aden, on the coast of Arabia, I never saw
a more forbidding spot.
There was another battery near at hand, at the foot of a deep, barren
glen, called Rupert’s Valley, from which a road, notched in the
rock, leads around the intervening cliffs to the gorge, at the
bottom of which Jamestown is built. A sea-wall across the
mouth of this gorge, a row of ragged trees, weather-beaten by
the gales of the Atlantic, and the spire of a church, were all
that appeared of the town. The walls of the fort crowned the
lofty cliff above, and high behind them towered the signal
station, on the top of a conical peak, the loftiest in the island.
The stone ladder which leads from the tower to the fort was
marked on the face of the cliff like a white ribbon unrolled
from its top. Inland, a summit covered with dark pine-trees,
from the midst of which glimmered the white front of a country
mansion, rose above the naked heights of the shore. This
was the only gleam of fertility which enlivened the terrible
sterility of the view.
Passing a row of mean houses, built against the overhanging
rock, a drawbridge over a narrow moat admitted us within the
walls. A second wall and gate, a short distance further, ushered
us into the public square of Jamestown. Even at its outlet,
the valley is not more than a hundred and fifty yards wide, and
the little town is crowded, or rather jammed, deep in its bot
tom, between nearly perpendicular cliffs, seven or eight hundred
feet in height. At the top of the square is the church, a plain
yellowish structure, with a tall, square, pointed spire; and
beyond it Market street, the main thoroughfare of the little
place, opens up the valley.
They also described the beauty of the ascent to the top.
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.
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.
From A Visit to India, China and Japan in the Year 1853 by Bayard Taylor...
A carriage—almost the only one in Jamestown—was procured
for Mrs. Howland; my fellow-passenger, Parkman, provided
himself with a saddle-horse, and we set out for Longwood.
We had a mounted Portuguese postillion, and rattled up the
steep and stony main street in a style which drew upon us the
eyes of all Jamestown. The road soon left the town, ascending
the right side of the ravine by a very long and steep grade.
The depth and narrowness of the gorge completely shut out the air; the
heat was radiated powerfully from its walls of black volcanic
rock, and the bristling cacti and yuccas by the roadside, with
full-crowned cocoa-palms below, gave it a fiery, savage, tropical
character. The peak of the signal-station loomed high above
us from the opposite side, and now the head of the ravine—a
precipice several hundred feet high, over which fell a silver
thread of water—came into sight. This water supplies the
town and shipping, beside fertilizing the gardens in the bed of
the ravine. It is clear as crystal, and of the sweetest and
freshest quality. Looking backward, we saw the spire of the
little church at the bottom projected against the blue plain of
ocean, the pigmy hulls of the vessels in the roads, and a great
triangular slice of sea, which grew wider and longer as we
ascended, until the horizon was full fifty miles distant.
Just above the terrace the road turned, and, after a short
ascent, gained the crest of the ridge, where the grade became
easier, and the cool south-east trade-wind, blowing over the
height, refreshed us after the breathless heat of the ravine.
The road was bordered with pine-trees, and patches of soft
green turf took the place of the volcanic dust and cinders.
The flower-stems of the aloe-plant, ten feet in height, had
already begun to wither, but the purple buds of the cactus were
opening, and thick clusters of a watery, succulent plant were
starred with white, pink, and golden blossoms. We had now
attained the central upland of the island, which slopes downward
in all directions to the summit of the sea-wall of cliffs.
On emerging again from the wood, a landscape of a very different
character met our view. Over a deep valley, the sides
of which were alternately green with turf and golden with
patches of blossoming broom, we looked upon a ridge of table
land three or four miles long, near the extremity of which, surrounded
by a few straggling trees, we saw the houses of Longwood.
In order to reach them, it was necessary to pass around
the head of the intervening valley. In this direction the landscape
was green and fresh, dotted with groves of pine and white
country-houses. Flocks of sheep grazed on the turfy hill-sides,
and a few cows and horses ruminated among the clumps of
broom. Down in the bottom of the valley, I noticed a small enclosure, planted with Italian cypresses, and with a square
white object in the centre. It did not need the postillion’s
words to assure me that I looked upon the Grave of Napoleon.
Looking eastward towards the sea, the hills became bare
and red, gashed with chasms and falling off in tremendous precipices,
the height of which we would only guess from the dim
blue of the great sphere of sea, whose far-off horizon was drawn
above their summits, so that we seemed to stand in the centre
of a vast concavity. In color, form, and magnificent desolation,
these hills called to my mind the mountain region surrounding
the Dead Sea. Clouds rested upon the high, pine
wooded summits to the west of us, and the broad, sloping valley,
on the other side of the ridge of Longwood, was as green
as a dell of Switzerland. The view of those fresh pasture
slopes, with their flocks of sheep, their groves and cottages, was
all the more delightful from its being wholly unexpected.
Where the ridge joins the hills, and one can look into both
valleys at the same time, there is a small tavern, with the
familiar English sign of the “Crown and Rose.” Our road
now led eastward along the top of the ridge, over a waste tract
covered with clumps of broom, for another mile and a half,
when we reached the gate of the Longwood Farm. A broad
avenue of trees, which all lean inland from the stress of the
trade-wind, conducts to the group of buildings, on a bleak spot,
overlooking the sea, and exposed to the full force of the wind.
Our wheels rolled over a thick, green turf, the freshness of
which showed how infrequent must be the visits of strangers.
St. Helena is perhaps best known for being
the site of Napoleon’s second exile
after his final defeat in 1815.
FIRST DEFEAT AND EXILE
In 1814, the Napoleonic Wars were coming to an end.
The Armies of the Coalition (Austria, Russia, Spain, and United Kingdom)
were marching to Paris.
Napoleon was forced to abdicate.
He was exiled to the island of Elba, off the Tuscany coast.
Instead of being treated like a prisoner,
Napoleon was allowed to have control over the island
and even keep a small army.
He escaped on February 26th 1815,
and made a triumphant return to France.
Napoleon ruled for 100 days and assembled an army;
the Seventh Coalition was formed against him.
They met on the battlefield in Belgium at Waterloo,
where Napoleon was finally defeated
on June 18, 1815.
This time England sent him to the remote island of St. Helena,
where he was under the constant watch of British guards.
He arrived on October 15, 1815.
Napoleon first spent a few months at The Briars
on the grounds of the Balcombe family’s home.
There he made friends with 13-year old Betsy Balcombe.
She later wrote a memoir.
Recollections of the Emperor Napoleon
During the First Three Years of his Captivity.
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.
From A Visit to India, China and Japan in the Year 1853 by Bayard Taylor...
Near the top of the ravine there is a natural terrace about
a quarter of a mile in length, lying opposite to the cascade. It
contains a few small fields, divided by scrubby hedges, and,
near the further end, two pleasant dwelling-houses, surrounded
by a garden in which I saw some fine orange-trees. This is
“The Briars,” memorable for having been Napoleon’s first residence
on the island. The Balcombe family occupied the
larger of the two dwellings, which is flanked by tall Italian
cypresses, while the other building, which was then a summer
pavilion, but was afterwards enlarged to accommodate the Emperor
and his suite, received him on the very night of his landing
from the Bellerophon. It stands on a little knoll, overlooking
a deep glen, which debouches into the main valley just below. The place is cheerful though solitary; it has a sheltered,
sunny aspect, compared with the bleak heights of Longwood,
and I do not wonder that the great exile left it with
regret. Miss Balcombe’s account of Napoleon’s sojourn at
“The Briars,” is among the most striking reminiscences of his
life on the island.
Bayard Taylor wrote:
Miss Balcombe’s account of Napoleon’s sojourn at “The Briars,”
is among the most striking reminiscences of his life on the island.
After that, Napoleon was moved to Longwood House,
which had been a farm used by the British East India Company.
It was not luxurious – there was a rat infestation and the island was known for its large earwig insects.
While at Longwood House, Napoleon led a quiet life.
He seemed to have enjoyed some walks around the home and in the Valley of the Willows.
He wrote some books, dictated memoirs, took English lessons,
tended a garden, and played chess.
Napoleon became quite ill with what may have been a stomach ulcer or cancer.
Realizing that Longwood House was not a suitable place for the former Emperor, the British government built him a new home, but he never moved there.
Napoleon died in Longwood House on the 5th of May 1821.
There have been rumors that Napoleon escaped, or
that he was poisoned by arsenic, either purposefully,
or through the wallpaper at Longwood House,
but tests proved inconclusive.