Heritage on St Helena
After his brief stay with at the Briars, Napoleon was moved to a house at Longwood Plain, adapted and extended for his retinue of twenty or so people. Here, Napoleon spent his time taking long baths, dictating his memoirs, entertaining guests, and walking and riding within the permitted areas of the island.
The climate at the house was - and still is - damp, and Napoleon was irritated by the restrictions placed upon him by the new Governor, Sir Hudson Lowe, with whom he very quickly developed a fractious relationship. Napoleon’s health gradually deteriorated, and he died on 5th May 1821.
Today, Longwood House is known internationally as the place where Napoleon died on 5th May 1821. Thanks to the efforts of the French consul, the house is in excellent condition and there is extensive interpretation telling the story of Napoleon’s life and death at Longwood.
The boundaries to Longwood mark the 12 mile perimeter within which Napoleon was allowed to walk without being followed by a British officer. They provide a strong sense of the fortification of Longwood, including a series of gates and sentry stations. The following extract from Sir Brian Unwin’s book, Terrible Exile, explains the fortification of Longwood:
The outer perimeter around Longwood stretched for about twelve miles. It covered virtually the whole of both Longwood and Deadwood Plains, and embraced the road to Jamestown as far as Hutt’s Gate, where the Bertrands initially lived, the sentry post at Alarm House, and, with a space of about half a mile on each side, the road on from Hutt’s Gate to Orange Grove and the bottom of Fisherman’s Valley.
Within this area Napoleon and his companions were also allowed to move where they wished, but they were liable to meet sentries. On the rest of the island Napoleon was also free to go anywhere he liked, except to fortified military posts, provided he gave prior notification to, and was accompanied by, the British orderly officer stationed at Longwood.
Apart from the question of his title, this requirement was to become perhaps the bitterest cause of dispute between Napoleon and the Governor and was to have serious consequences for his health. The only derogation from his official instructions that Cockburn saw fit to allow was to order the sentries not to move in on the house until 9pm in order, during the warmer season, to allow the residents to enjoy the cooler air of the evening out of doors in the garden if they so wished.
As if these restrictions within the island were not enough, the Admiral, who was technically the Commander in Chief of the South Atlantic Station, and would normally have been resident at the Cape, had under his command a small naval squadron consisting of his own flagship, the Northumberland, two frigates (initially the Newcastle and the Orante) and two armed brigs.
Two of these vessels were perpetually on duty sailing round the island in opposite directions, with orders to prevent any unauthorized vessel entering St Helena waters. Every vessel, except British warships, was accompanied until it was either allowed to anchor or sent away. Signal posts on high ground on the island were positioned so that they could see ships at sea at twenty-four leagues’ distance. In addition no embarkation or disembarkation at Jamestown was allowed between sunset and 10am, all fishing boats were numbered and anchored at sunset and the portcullis gate barring entry from the waterfront into the town was lowered each evening.