SAINT HELENA - Typed Letter Signed 1960 from the Honorary Consul regarding Longwood House
[SAINT HELENA] Gilbert Martineau
Typed Letter Signed (“Gilbert Martineau”, French Consul on Saint Helena), to Sir John Elliot, evidently in reply to a query from Sir John regarding Longwood House and the Briars Estate.
1 page 4to (trimmed), Longwood House, Saint Helena, 18 October 1960.
“Major Strong has handed over to me your letter dated 23rd September.
I am sending you under sperate [sic] cover a copy of the brochure which Major Strong has published when he was in charge of the interests of my government in this Colony.
It is unfortunately obsolete now since many improvements have been carried out in the Museum, which has been enlarged, and in the park which has been restored in the original state and dimensions.
Furthermore the Briars Estate, where Napoleon resided from October to December 1815, is now the property of France, having been presented to us in 1959 by an Australian lady, and will be soon changed into a Museum, the complement of Longwood House where limited space in unfortunately available.
It gave me great pleasure to read that you are a student of our history; I have published several documents on the Napoleonic period and I am now involved in a rather long work on the exile of the Emperor in St. Helena which should come out in 1962.”
An asterisk by the mention of the “Australian lady” identifies her at the end of the letter as Dame Helen Brookes.
Longwood House, where Napoleon spent the last years of his life on Saint Helena, was small and far from comfortable, plagued by damp and rats. In the years following Napoleon’s death, the house was left to deteriorate, sadly neglected. News of this reached France, and in 1858 Napoleon III was able to purchase the house for France. Considerable restoration work was undertaken, and as can be seen from this letter, improvements continued.
The Briars Estate was home to the Balcombe family; upon Napoleon’s arrival on Saint Helena, Longwood House was not quite ready and he lived in the Briars Pavilion. Betsy, the Balcombes’ thirteen year old daughter, spoke fluent French and had what appears to be a very friendly, playful relationship with Napoleon. Betsy later moved to England, and spent time in Australia as well. The house was eventually purchased by Dame Helen Brookes, whose ancestors had a connection with Saint Helena, and presented to the French government.
Gilbert Martineau, writer of the letter, was the French Honorary Consul on Saint Helena, and curator of Longwood. He wrote a number of books and articles on Napoleon and his family.
The letter has been roughly trimmed at the left margin, without loss of text, and there is an unpleasant sellotape mark at the top edge of the letter, again not touching the text.
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