Heritage at Risk
Toby’s Cottage sits to the east of the Briars in a valley near the heart-shaped waterfall. William Balcombe took over The Briars property in 1811 and established a brewery. Toby’s Cottage is a small two-room outbuilding to the rear of the main complex. The space was likely inhabited by members of Balcombe’s enslaved African domestic servants. The building thus represents one of a few surviving dwellings of enslaved Africans on the island
In the words of Betsy Balcombe, Toby was,“an old Malay slave[...]who had been captured and brought to the island as a slave many years before, and had never since crossed its boundary. He was an original, and rather an interesting character. A perfect despot in his own domain, he never allowed his authority to be disputed; and the family stood almost as much in awe of him, as they did of the master of the Briars himself.
Napoleon took a fancy to old Toby, and told papa he wished to purchase him, and give him his freedom; but for some political reason it was not permitted. The old man retained ever afterwards the most grateful sense of Napoleon’s kindness, and was never more highly gratified than when employed in gathering the choicest fruit, and arranging the most beautiful bouquets, to be sent to Longwood, to “that good man, Bony”.
According to Las Cases, Napoleon was deeply troubled by Toby’s situation:
As for poor Toby, he endures his misfortunes very quietly: he stoops to his work and spends his days in innocent tranquility… Certainly there is a wide step from poor Toby to a King Richard. And yet, the crime is not the less atrocious, for this man, after all, had his family, his happiness, and his liberty; and it was a
horrible act of cruelty to bring him here to languish in the fetters of slavery.
Bonaparte with Toby on St. Helena. Source:
Restoring Toby's Cottage
Toby’s small cottage, built of rough stone and with an earth floor, still remains but is in poor condition . We would plan to renovate the remains of Toby’s Cottage as a faithful replica of the conditions he would have lived in at that time. This will be an opportunity to further develop the recognition of the history of slavery on the island, and to recount that history through the perspective of one individual whose story is little understood.