Friday, 25 March 2011

Raffles and Napoleon, 1816

Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles 1781 - 1826
Painting by George Francis Joseph 1817, National Portrait Gallery London.

In October 1815 Stamford Raffles the Lieutenant-Governor of Java and an East India Company employee, was recalled to London to explain the sale of Government land to bolster a shaky paper currency. (He had joined the EIC as a junior clerk in London in 1795, aged 14.)  He sailed from Batavia on 25th March 1816 and on the 18th May 1816, en route to England, his ship called at St. Helena.  On the 19th May he visited Napoleon.  Callers at St Helena mostly on their way to and from The Cape were very numerous during the Captivity and it was always their ambition, frequently unrealised to see Napoleon.  Christopher Kelley in an 1834 publication recounts that  On the arrival of a fleet from India, at St Helena, the Countess of Loudon paid a visit to the Governor at Plantation House; and, for the gratification of her curiosity, Buonaparte was invited to a dinner of ceremony given by Sir Hudson Lowe.  The wily Corsican, however, conjectured the cause of his being invited and refused even to return an answer to the Governor’s card and the Countess felt greatly disappointed at being obliged to leave St. Helena without seeing Napoleon.  Raffles was therefore privileged to be received.

William Warden, Surgeon on board the Northumberland, relates the following in his 1816 publication “Letters Written on Board His Majesty’s Ship the Northumberland, and Saint Helena in which the conduct and conversations of Napoleon Buonaparte, and his suite during the voyage, and the first months of his residence in that island are faithfully described and related”

I happened to be at Longwood, when Mr. Raffles, the late Governor of Java, and his suite, obtained permission to visit the grounds at Longwood.  The anxiety of that gentleman to see Buonaparte was extreme: his curiosity was a perfect rage, and the utmost was done to accomplish its gratification.  In short, though indisposition might have been pleaded, an hour was appointed by the Emperor to receive the Ex-Governor; and the latter had not words to express his delight at the manner in which he had been received.

Whilst Raffles may have been anxious to visit, he left with a distinctly poor impression writing:  ”I saw in him a man determined and vindictive, without one spark of soul, but possessing a capacity and talent calculated to enslave mankind. I saw in him all this capacity, all this talent, was devoted to himself and his own supremacy. I saw that he looked down on all mankind as his inferiors, and that he possessed not the smallest particle of philosophy. I looked upon him as a wild animal caught, but not tamed. He is, in short, all head and no heart – a man who may by his ability command respect, but by his conduct can never ensure the affection of anyone.”

H E Egerton writing in "Sir Stamford Raffles" Talking with Napoleon, St Helena.  On our approaching, Napoleon turned quickly around to receive us, and, taking off his hat, put it under his arm.  His reception was not only not dignified or graceful but absolutely vulgar and authoritative.  He put a series of questions to Mr. Raffles in such quick succession as to render it impossible to reply to one before another was put.  His first request was to have Mr. Raffles's name pronounced distinctly.  He then asked him in what country he was born?  How long had he been in India?  Whether he had accompanied the expedition against the Island of Java?  All these questions were put with great rapidity and, before replied to, he turned round to Capt. Garnham and myself, asked our names and what service we had seen.  On his making a slight inclination of the head, we prepared to take our leave, and on making our bow we parted. Napoleon continued his walk and we returned to the house.
New York Times September 30th 1900.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ii was delightful to read this litle piece, giving a tiny insight into recent great historical characters - and I am grateful for it, and to the person who posted it. Thank you. Janine M. (Australia, 2015)