St Helena Online

Tag: John Tyrrell

Writer praises reprieve for historic St Helena house

A fresh call has been made by a writer on St Helenian heritage to protect what remains of its grand country houses.

John Tyrrell also praises executive councillors for refusing to lift some of the protection from Wrangham’s in Sandy Bay, to allow it to be sold by St Helena Government.

“These fine Georgian country houses, reflecting the aspirations, life styles and aesthetic tastes of St Helena’s elite, are a vital part of the island’s heritage, and an unique part also of British colonial history,” he writes.

“Wrangham’s has in the past had some unsympathetic alterations, but it could be restored to something approaching its original state, and it is encouraging that the new crop of councillors are sensitive to such issues.

“I do hope that the means to save Wrangham’s will be found before it is too late.”

His article is illustrated with photographs from a return visit to the island in early 2013.

He highlights the “beautifully restored” Oakbank and also Farm Lodge, now a boutique hotel.

“But Rock Rose, and sadly now Teutonic Hall, look to be past the point of no return.”

And Rose Cottage, the home of the late Tony Thornton until he was ordered to leave the island, had become so swallowed up by plants that it was not visible until he reached its walls.

“This provides a graphic illustration of what can happen quite quickly to houses that are neglected on St Helena,” writes John, in his Reflections on a Journey to St Helena website.

Wrangham’s wrangle exposes conflicts over heritage
Nature reserve lease ‘could bring restoration’, says the Castle

Boney’s death mask fetches £170,000 – despite doubts

Click the pic to read John Tyrrell's full blog post
Click the pic to read John Tyrrell’s full blog post

A “death mask” made from a cast of Napoleon’s face at Longwood has been sold at auction for three times its expected price – despite doubts raised by a writer on St Helena history.

Bonhams of London sold it for £169,250 on Wednesday (19 June 2013). Its estimated sale price was only £40-£60,000.

Before the sale, historian John Tyrrell had questioned the story of how the island’s senior chaplain, the Rev Boys, had come to be given the mask when people closer to the exiled emperor had not. It was not clear whether he had even met Napoleon, he said.

SEE ALSO: Doubts voiced as Napoleon death mask is auctioned

LINK: Napoleon’s death mask fetches £170,000 at auction

Doubts voiced as Napoleon death mask is auctioned

A death mask of Napoleon Bonaparte was due to be auctioned by Bonhams in London on 19 June 2013 with an expected price of £40,000 to £60,000 – but historian John Tyrrell has questioned its authenticity.

The Bonhams online catalogue said it was cast for the Rev Richard Boys, senior chaplain on St Helena at the time of Napoleon’s death in 1821. It said he wrote a note of authentification.

It added: “It is, we believe, the most significant example of Napoleon’s death mask remaining in private hands, and indubitably one of only a tiny handful with a provanance linking it directly to St Helena.”

But John Tyrrell, in his online journal Reflections on a Journey to St Helena, recalls a controversy over death masks of the emperor involving island medic Dr Burton, and the disappearance of part of the original cast of Napoleon’s face.

He writes: “It seems strange that no word about the masks’ existence came out at the time, amidst so much controversy… over the disappearance of the front part of Burton’s original mould.

“Surely the Rev Boys would have heard about the court case in London and would have provided any evidence in his possession to see that justice was done?”

He also notes that the chaplain had two copies of the death mask.

“It is also strange that both masks appear to have been made of plaster superior to any known to be available on St Helena at the time,” he says.

“Finally I wonder how [he] managed to secure two masks, a little greedy for a man of the cloth, when others with stronger claims got none?”

He goes on to challenge a claim that the chaplain – who lived at Kent’s Cottage – became close to the French community at Longwood because he shared its hostility to Governor Hudson Lowe.

In fact, he says, an historical account suggests Boys had contact with Longwood only once – and may not have met Napoleon even then.

Read John’s full post here. The Bonhams catalogue is here.

Jamestown plan looks like a cut-down Cape Town, writer warns

Further criticism has been aimed at the proposals to turn Jamestown into a tourist centre – this time by historian John Tyrrell, after a return visit to St Helena.

His internet journal describes the “rather bad tempered” public meeting held on the Jamestown 20-20 Vision document in mid-March 2013.

He writes: “The author, off the island at the time of the meeting, seems to envisage Jamestown as a kind of up-market las Americas, and the wharf area perhaps as a cut-down version of Cape Town’s Victoria and Alfred waterfront.

“I was told by someone in the know that I would be shocked at the cost of the project.

“I was also confidently informed by a number of residents that nothing would happen anyway, certainly not before the completion of the airport: gossip and rumours are the only things that move fast on St Helena.”

Read the full piece here.

Escape plan put Boney in a barrel

Plans were made to carry Napoleon away from captivity at Longwood in a barrel, according to a new book reviewed on John Tyrrell’s blog, Reflections on A Journey to St Helena.

He says The Emperor’s Last Campaign, by Emilio Ocampo, is ‘a fascinating and important book which provides a totally new perspective on Napoleon’s captivity on St Helena.’

He continues: ‘The book is of course full of shadowy schemes to help Napoleon escape by submarine, balloon, steam-powered ship, oak barrels or more conventional means. There is not the slightest bit of evidence that Napoleon entertained serious interest in any of them.

‘The author is to be commended for having brought together so much fascinating material, although at times the evidence could have been treated more critically.’

Read John’s review here.