Tuesday, 23 June 2015

What happened to Napoleon's carriage?

The capture of Napoleon's carriage after the Battle of Waterloo  from Ackermann's Repository (1816)
The capture of Napoleon's carriage after the Battle of Waterloo
from Ackermann's Repository (1816)
How Napoleon’s carriage came to London

Napoleon’s carriage was captured by Major Von Keller at Genappe on the night of 18 June 1815 as Napoleon fled the battlefield of Waterloo. The Prussian Major “reserved the carriage as his own booty” and “brought it to England to gratify the curiosity of the people of this country, who have now an opportunity of viewing it at the London Museum, Piccadilly”. (1)

It is not clear whether the carriage was sold to the British government by the Prussians or sent as a present to the Prince Regent.

According to the Literary Panorama (1815):
“The splendid carriage taken at the battle of Waterloo which was fitted up in a most magnificent style, for Buonaparte, was taken while waiting for the Ex-Emperor: the driver was killed by a Prussian general and Major. It was sent as a present to the Prince Regent, with the four horses which were attached to it, and a French driver accompanied it.” (2)
However, the Monthly Magazine (1816) said: 
“It was taken by the Prussians, sold to Government, and re-sold,—lent to Mr Bullock as a Prussian trophy. Mr Bullock’s room constantly filled with company, and at least a hundred thousand persons have already gratified themselves by sitting in the very chariot which once held Napoleon le Grand.” (3)
Mr Bullock's London Museum, Piccadilly  from Ackermann's Repository (1815)
Mr Bullock's London Museum, Piccadilly
from Ackermann's Repository (1815)
Either way, the carriage came to England and was sold (or lent) to Mr Bullock. It went on display at his London Museum, at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, and then, at the Prince Regent’s desire, went on tour throughout England, Scotland and Ireland. The carriage excited a good deal of interest and it was estimated that Mr Bullock made in excess of £26,000 from the exhibition!

The popularity of the exhibition at Bullock’s Museum was caricatured in Rowlandson’s print, shown below. 

Exhibition at Bullocks Museum of Bonepartes Carriage taken at Waterloo by Thomas Rowlandson, published by  R Ackermann (1816)  © The Trustees of the British Museum
Exhibition at Bullocks Museum of Bonepartes Carriage
taken at Waterloo
by Thomas Rowlandson, published by
R Ackermann (1816)  © The Trustees of the British Museum
What was the carriage like?

There was a detailed description of the carriage included with the print shown at the top of this post which appeared in Ackermann’s Repository (1816) (1):

The exterior
“The exterior of the carriage is, in many respects, very like the modern English travelling chariots. The colour is a dark blue, with a handsome bordure ornament in gold; but the Imperial arms are emblazoned on the pannels of the doors. It has a lamp at each corner of the roof, and there is one lamp fixed at the back which can throw a strong light into the interior.”
It claimed that “the pannels of the carriage are bullet-proof” and stated that “the under-carriage and wheels are painted in vermillion, edged with the colour of the body, and heightened with gold”.
“On the outside of the front windows is a roller-blind made of strong painted canvass: when pulled down, this will exclude rain and snow, and therefore secure the windows and blinds from being blocked up, as well as prevent the damp from penetrating.”
The interior
“The interior deserves particular attention; for it is adapted to the various purposes of a kitchen, a bed-room, a dressing-room, an office, and an eating-room.”
“Among the gold articles are a tea-pot, coffee-pot, sugar-bason, cream-ewer, coffee-cup and saucer, slop-bason, candle-sticks, wash-hand-bason, plates for breakfast, &c. Each article is superbly embossed with the Imperial arms, and engraved with his favourite N.; and by the aid of the lamp, any thing could be heated in the carriage.
Beneath the coachman’s seat is a small box about two feet and a half long, and about four inches square; this contains a bedstead of polished steel, which could be fitted up within one or two minutes.”
Other items in the carriage included “a small mahogany case” containing “the peculiar necessaire of the ex-emperor” - “nearly one hundred articles, almost all of them solid gold”; a liquor-case; and a writing desk.

Exhibited at Madame Tussaud’s

After the tour, the carriage and its contents were sold by auction and bought by someone who wanted to exhibit them in America. Unable to realise his intentions, it was sold again and then taken by a coach maker as part payment of a bad debt! In 1842, this company sold it to Madame Tussaud and Sons where it formed part of a special exhibition about Napoleon.

An advertisement in The Times (1843) stated:
“Napoleon’s celebrated military carriage, taken at Waterloo, room magnificently fitted to show the decorations of his period, engravings of his history, splendid bust by Canova, the cloak he wore at Marenge, the sword of Egypt, the standard given to his guards, his watch, gold snuff box, ring, one of this teeth, the instrument that drew it, tooth-brush, Madras worn in exile, dessert service used by him at St Helens, counterpane stained with his blood: the greater part late the property of Prince Lucien – Madame Tussaud and Son’s Exhibition, Bazaar, Baker-Street: open from 11 till dusk, and from 7 till 10. Great room, 1s; Napoleon relics and chamber of horrors, 6d.” (4)
Napoleon from The Life  of Field-Marshal His Grace the Duke  of Wellington by WH Maxwell (1852)
Napoleon from The Life 
of Field-Marshal His Grace the Duke
 of Wellington by WH Maxwell (1852)
The end of the road for Napoleon’s carriage

The carriage was exhibited at Madame Tussaud's until 18 March 1925 when fire swept through the waxworks. A report in The Times declared that:
“Madame Tussaud’s, the famous waxworks exhibition, which for generations has had a great fascination for visitors from every land, is no more.”
“Of the most treasured possessions of the exhibition, the Napoleonic relics, only scrap iron remains to suggest the coach in which the Emperor rode at Waterloo.”
The owner, John Tussaud, commented that:
“You cannot put a price on the Napoleonic relics…which cannot be replaced. I consider many of the most valuable things in the collection have been destroyed. They include Napoleon’s three coaches—the Waterloo coach, the carriage he used at St Helena, and the coach he is said to have used on the occasion of his coronation at Milan.”(5)
And so Napoleon’s carriage met a sad end, consumed by flames, 110 years after the Battle of Waterloo at which it was captured.

Fortunately, some of the items captured from Napoleon’s baggage train did survive and a number of them are on display at Windsor Castle in the Waterloo at Windsor 1815-2015 exhibition which runs until 13 January 2016.

Notes
(1) From Ackermann’s Repository (Feb 1816).
(2) From Literary Panorama (Dec 1815) as quoted in The Military Carriage printed for Madame Tussaud and Sons (1843).
(3) From the Monthly Magazine (July 1816) as quoted in The Military Carriage printed for Madame Tussaud and Sons (1843).
(4) From The Times Digital Archive for 8 Apr 1843 accessed 6 Feb 2015 © Times Newspapers Ltd – transcribed by me.
(5) From The Times Digital Archive for 20 Mar 1925 accessed 6 Feb 2015 © Times Newspapers Ltd – transcribed by me.

Sources used include:
Ackermann’s Repository (1815-1816)
The Military Carriage of Napoleon Bonaparte, taken after the Battle of Waterloo, printed for Madame Tussaud and Sons (1843)

British Museum website
The Times Digital Archive

A shorter version of this article first appeared in my newsletter in February 2015.

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Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Battle of Vitoria 21 June 1813 - a live report from the battlefield

The Battle of Vittoria - print by H Moses and FC Lewis after JM Wright  published by John Hassell (1814) © The Trustees of the British Museum
The Battle of Vittoria (2) - print by H Moses and FC Lewis after JM Wright
published by Hassell and Rickards (1814)
© The Trustees of the British Museum
“We have had a great day, and have been successful,” (2) wrote Major Augustus Frazer, commander of the Horse Artillery in Wellington’s army, at 9pm on 21 June 1813. The dust would still have been settling after a day of ferocious military action.

Frazer wrote a letter almost every day during his time in Wellington’s army, providing us with dramatic insights into military life during the Peninsula War. On this occasion he penned his correspondence from a site freshly contested, and no doubt still surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells that immediately followed a battle.

Reenactment at the Chalke Valley History Fair (2013)
Reenactment at the Chalke Valley History Fair (2013)
The confusion of victory
“The action began at eight am, in front of Subijana de Morillas, and lasted till dark; the enemy having been forced back at least four leagues. I write on the spot where the action ceased, ie, at a village a league and a half in front of Vitoria, and hardly know what have been the casualties of the day; from my own observation, however, they are very considerable: to-morrow you shall know more.”
While good communication was essential to an army's performance on the battlefield, even senior officers in the early nineteenth century struggled to keep up with what was happening beyond their immediate surroundings. In this letter from Vitoria, Frazer offers little description of the battle itself, but plenty of glimpses into the detail of the aftermath.

Illustration from The Life of Field-Marshal His Grace the Duke of Wellington by WH Maxwell (1852)
Illustration from The Life of Field-Marshal
His Grace the Duke of Wellington
by WH Maxwell (1852)
The human cost of battle

Those who came through the battle unscathed had the task of dealing with their less fortunate companions.

Frazer wrote:
“At daybreak I shall perform the last sad offices to George Thelusson, who was killed in an unsuccessful charge of cavalry at the entrance of this village. His head was split with a sabre cut, and he received a stab just above the heart. I shall write to Lord Rendlesham on the melancholy subject.”
The following day Frazer oversaw the burial of “poor George Thelusson”, taking from his body his watch, ring and locket, which he implied would be passed on to the family.

Reenactment at the Chalke Valley History Fair (2013)
Reenactment at the Chalke Valley History Fair (2013)
Differences between combatants were laid aside in the aftermath of battle. “I had an opportunity of solacing the agonies, and probably the last moments, of the French general of division, Sarrut, whom I helped out of the road, and laid against a bank, under charge of Bombardier Smith."
“I got the poor general some brandy, and sent him a surgeon. He said he was grateful, but dying. He was sadly wounded with case shot.”

“The action being just over I know no particulars, nor what friends may be lost. I have great reason to be thankful, having escaped unhurt. My mare was shot through the neck early in the day. We have taken many guns. I know not how many, nor how many thousand prisoners; tomorrow at daybreak will tell us all.”
More than 5,000 troops under Wellington’s command were casualties in the battle, compared to 8,000 for the French.

The death of Colonel Cadogan at the Battle of Vittoria  from the History of the present war in Spain and Portugal by Theophilus Camden (1813)
The death of Colonel Cadogan at the Battle of Vittoria
from the History of the present war in Spain and Portugal
by Theophilus Camden (1813)
Living on the battlefield
“We are in a house gutted: furniture strewed about, the inhabitants of course fled. The enemy behaved well. His artillery was more than usually well served. I imagine he must have lost much the greater part of it. The road was in many places blocked up with the guns, and with ammunition and other carriages. Adieu: tomorrow you shall have a connected account. All now is hurry, bustle, and the strange sensation which succeeds the active scenes of the day.”
Frazer was right that the French had lost most of their artillery. In total over 150 guns were captured by the British, comprising most of the French arsenal.

The French general, Sarrut, died, as Frazer had anticipated. The following day Frazer wrote:
“Poor man!! I wish now I had taken his decoration of the Legion of Honour, but though I saw it, the general thanked me so warmly, and squeezed my hand with such earnestness, that I felt it would have been ungenerous to have taken the prize.”
Note
(1) The modern spelling is Vitoria but it was sometimes spelt with two 't's in the 19th century.
(2) All quotes from The Letters of Colonel Sir Augustus Simon Frazer.

Sources:
Encyclopedia Britannica 1994 edition, Micropedia Vol 12, p405
Frazer, Sir Augustus Simon, The Letters of Colonel Sir Augustus Simon Frazer, KCB, written during the Peninsular and Waterloo campaigns edited by Major-General Edward Sabine (1859)

British Library images on Flicker
British Museum website

Thursday, 18 June 2015

In the shadow of the Battle of Waterloo - three days in June: part 3 - 18 June 1815

The Battle of Waterloo in The wars of Wellington, a narrative poem  by Dr Syntax illustrated by W Heath and JC Stadler (1819)
The Battle of Waterloo in The wars of Wellington, a narrative poem
by Dr Syntax illustrated by W Heath and JC Stadler (1819)
For two days, Friday 16 and Saturday 17 June 1815, the population of Brussels, including many visitors from England, had endured painful uncertainty. They could hear the sounds of cannon to the south and knew that Wellington's army was engaging the French under Napoleon. But it was far from clear who had the upper hand.



What these thousands of civilians feared most was that victorious French troops would enter, and ransack, the city.

An anonymous observer of events in the city later published an account of their experience, offering us a vivid insight into what it was like for civilians during the Battle of Waterloo.

Decisive charge at Waterloo by A Cooper engraved by P Lightfoot  from The Life of Field-Marshal His Grace the Duke of Wellington  by WH Maxwell (1852)
Decisive charge at Waterloo by A Cooper engraved by P Lightfoot
from The Life of Field-Marshal His Grace the Duke of Wellington
by WH Maxwell (1852)
Day 3: Sunday 18 June 1815

“On Sunday the terror and confusion reached its highest point.” After two uncomfortable nights for Brussels, probably sleepless for many, “news arrived of the French having gained a complete victory, and it was universally believed”. (1)

Panic swept through the baggage train at the rear of the British army, and a torrent of frightened people fled into Brussels, leaving a trail of “broken and overturned waggons – heaps of abandoned baggage – dead horses, and terrified people”.

Surrounded by this chaos, everyone in Brussels was desperate for news. “Ladies accosted men they had never seen before, without preface or apology, with eager questions. Strangers conversed together like friends – every body addressed each other without hesitation, and English reserve seemed no longer to exist.”

Despite all the questions, there were no answers. The dreadful overture of battle, the distant rumble of cannon fire, again played in the background throughout the day. Their nerves shredded by three days of suspense, “constant agitation and fluctuating hopes”, the population who chose to stay, or could not flee, had no choice but to wait. Just a few miles away, one of the most celebrated battles in European history was being fought in the fields, woods and hedgerows of Waterloo.

Finally, at around 9pm, “some wounded officers arrived on horseback from the field, bringing the dreadful news, that the battle was lost!” This prompted a fresh exodus away from the city, and the sense of foreboding deepened as carriages filled with wounded rolled into the city.

Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton  - one of the officers who died at the Battle of Waterloo  from The Life of Field-Marshal His Grace the Duke of Wellington  by WH Maxwell (1852)
Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton
- one of the officers who died at the Battle of Waterloo
from The Life of Field-Marshal His Grace the Duke of Wellington
by WH Maxwell (1852)
Reliable news at last!

Finally, at around 3am on Monday 19 June 1815, an official message arrived from Waterloo, “containing a brief account of the victory. A party of wounded Highlanders, who had found their way on foot from the field of battle, no sooner heard the news, than, regardless of their sufferings, they began to shout and huzza with the most vociferous demonstrations of joy”.

The ‘near observer’ who recorded this account soon paid a personal visit to the battlefield. “Every tree in the wood of Hougoumont is pierced with cannon-balls – in one alone, I counted the holes, where upwards of twenty had lodged.”

The mixture of relief and disgust engendered by a trip to the battlefield so soon after the conflict is hard to imagine.

“Wild flowers are still blooming, and wild raspberries ripening beneath their shade; while huge black piles of human ashes, dreadfully offensive in smell, are all that now remain of the heroes who fought and fell upon this fatal spot.”

Horse Guards at the Battle of Waterloo from Historic, military and   naval anecdotes of particular incidents by E Orme & illustrated   by Heath & Dubourg (1819)
Horse Guards at the Battle of Waterloo from Historic, military and 
naval anecdotes of particular incidents by E Orme & illustrated
 by Heath & Dubourg (1819)
A summary of the events on Sunday 18 June

Following two days of smaller military engagements, Napoleon and Wellington faced one another on the battlefield for the first and only time. The Battle of Waterloo began at around midday and continued into the long June evening, both sides bitterly contesting the battlefield in a bid to break the other. Many of those present later recorded that it was the most ferocious battle they had ever experienced.

In early evening the Prussian army under Blucher, defeated by the French two days earlier, arrived to support the struggling Allied army led by Wellington. Napoleon made a final assault with his Imperial Guard, undefeated in all their previous engagements. They were broken and their defeat signalled the end to the French, who fled the battlefield.

The meeting of Wellington and Blucher at La Belle Alliance in  The wars of Wellington, a narrative poem  by Dr Syntax illustrated by W Heath and JC Stadler (1819)
The meeting of Wellington and Blucher at La Belle Alliance in
The wars of Wellington, a narrative poem
by Dr Syntax illustrated by W Heath and JC Stadler (1819)
While not the last battle between the French and the Allies, Waterloo was effectively the end of Napoleon's campaign. He raced back to Paris, but discovered he had little support and on 15 July, at Rochefort on the French coast, he gave himself up to a British warship. He hoped to be allowed to travel to America, or make a quiet home in England, but was instead exiled to the distant island of St Helena. 
List of dead and wounded at the Battle of Waterloo  from The Life of Field-Marshal His Grace the Duke of Wellington  by WH Maxwell (1852)
List of dead and wounded at the Battle of Waterloo
from The Life of Field-Marshal His Grace the Duke of Wellington
by WH Maxwell (1852)
Note
(1) All quotes from The Battle of Waterloo by a near observer (1815).

Sources used include:
Booth, J (publisher), The Battle of Waterloo by a near observer (1815)
Maxwell, William Hamilton, Life of Field-Marshal His Grace the Duke of Wellington in three volumes (1852)