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Longwood House

Napoleon’s residence

Whatever shall we do in that remote spot? Well, we will write our memoirs. Work is the scythe of time.{e}

For most of his time on St Helena, Napoleon Bonaparte lived at Longwood House‍‍

Longwood House is some 6 km from Jamestown and has twice been voted one of the Seven Wonders of St Helena. It was the residence of Napoleon, during most of his exile on St Helena, arriving on 10th December 1815{1} and dying here on 5th May 1821.

Before Napoleon

Originally built by Governor Dunbar in 1743 as a storage barn, and formerly the summer residence of the Lieutenant Governor Lt. Gen. John Skelton and his wife Mary Moore Cassamajor Skelton, it was converted for the use of Napoleon in 1815. The building was chosen to house Napoleon because it was easy to secure - it sits on an elevated plain, largely free from woodland.

Its suitability to house Napoleon and his entourage was questioned at the time. The British Government’s orders were that Napoleon should be treated as a General, and should have a house equivalent to that of an English Gentleman’s country residence. Governor Lowe pointed out in reply that only Plantation House fitted that description and he wasn’t moving out to accommodate Napoleon.

Attention turned back to Longwood House. Admiral Sir George Cockburn{2} wrote to Mr Croker, Secretary to the Admiralty on 21st October 1815 saying:

The house is certainly small. I trust the carpenters of the Northumberland{3} will in a little time be able to make such additions to the house as will render it, if not as good a one as might be wished, yet at least as commodious as necessary.

Napoleon in residence

One of Napoleon’s spy holes

The residence is divided into three principal adjoining parts: to the north are Napoleon’s apartments, where the French emperor lived and died; at the heart of the building are the servants’ quarters, which give out onto a small interior courtyard; and to the south is the block known as the ‘Generals Wing’, where Generals Gourgaud and Montholon, Dr. O’Meara, Las Cases and the British orderly stayed during Napoleon’s exile.

Napoleon made some improvements to the house while he lived there. The gardens are largely to his design, including the fishponds, into which he introduced goldfish which were bought for him in Jamestown (but which, sadly, did not survive due to improper care). To observe the sentries and the comings and goings of the British, Napoleon formed two holes in the shutters with his knife (photo, right).

An internal plan and one including the gardens, as they were in the time of Napoleon, are shown below.

It seems rats were a problem in Napoleon’s time. In ‘St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island{4}’ we find:

Napoleon’s dining-room was particularly infested with them; and it is a fact that one of these noxious animals sprung out of his hat when he was going to put it on one day after dinner. The devastations committed by them were almost incredible, and latterly rat-hunting became a favourite sport at Longwood. The chase was performed in the following manner:- A little before dark the [rat] holes were uncovered, and entrance afforded to the game. Soon after, five or six of the servants rushed in, with lights, sticks, and followed by dogs, covered the holes as fast as possible and attacked the rats, who, when driven to desperation, made a vigorous defence, assailed the dogs, and some times even the men, by running up their legs and biting them. Sixteen were killed in this manner in less than half an hour in one of the rooms!{5}

Apparently Napoleon chopped up a lot of the provided furniture for firewood, seemingly to embarrass his captors by implying that not enough was being spent on his upkeep (a mere £12,000 yearly).

Longwood New House, 1860s

A new and far larger house was built for Napoleon (1860s picture, right). The necessary materials arrived on 17th May 1816 but due to many delays building of the new house only began in October 1818. It was completed before Napoleon’s death but he never occupied it. Learn more on our page Lost and almost-lost Buildings.

After Napoleon

Longwood map, 1839

Following Napoleon’s death, Longwood House reverted to The East India Company and later to the Crown. The house was comprehensively stripped. Much of Napoleon’s furniture was taken to Plantation House, including the chandelier from the room of his death which today, much modified, can be seen in the Plantation House Dining Room{6}. The house was then rented to a farmer who used it as farm buildings, as shown on the 1839 map (right). The living room of the Emperor was occupied by a harvester, and his bedroom by sheep. As one record{7} reports:

…it did not then occur to anyone it would be a desecration to turn the room in which Napoleon died into a threshing barn, or his bedroom into a horse stable.

An account by a Captain Mundy, who accompanied Lord Combermere on a visit to the house in 1830, reads as follows:

As we turned through the lodges the old house appeared at the end of an avenue of scrubby and weather-worn trees. It bears the exterior of a respectable farm-house, but is now fast running to decay. On entering a dirty court-yard, and quitting our horses, we were shown by some idlers into a square building, which once contained the bed-room, sitting-room, and bath of the Empereur des Français. The partitions and floorings are now thrown down, and torn up, and the apartment occupied for six years by the hero before whom kings, emperors, and popes had quailed, is now tenanted by cart-horses!

Passing on with a groan, I entered a small chamber, with two windows looking towards the north. Between these windows are the marks of a fixed sofa; on that couch Napoleon died. The apartment is now occupied by a threshing machine.

Hence we were conducted onwards to a large room, which formerly contained a billiard table, and whose front looks out upon a little lattice veranda, where the imperial peripatetic - I cannot style him philosopher - enjoyed the luxury of six paces to and fro - his favourite promenade.

The white-washed walls are scored with names of every nation: and the paper on the ceiling has been torn off in strips, as holy relics. Many couplets, chiefly French, extolling and lamenting the departed hero, adorn or disfigure (according to their qualities) the plaster walls.

French flag

Reports of its neglect reached Napoleon III who, from 1854, negotiated with the British Government for the house’s transfer to France. In 1858 it was sold to the French Government{8} along with the Valley of the Tomb for a sum of £7,100. In May 1858, the squadron leader Rougemont, commander of the imperial residences and veteran of Waterloo, took possession of the two domains in the name of France. Since then they have been under the control of the French Foreign Ministry and a French Government representative has lived here on the island and has been responsible for managing both properties.

Recent History

Major Nicolas Martial Gauthier de Rougemont, the first Curator of the Properties with the title of Commander of the Imperial Residences of St Helena, decided that the General’s Quarters had become too dilapidated, and so had them demolished. (They were rebuilt in 2013, based on the original plans.)

In 1959 a third property, the Briars Pavilion, where Napoleon spent the first two months while Longwood was being prepared, was given to the French Government by its owner, Dame Mabel Brookes.

As a result of the depredations of White Ants, in the 1940s the French Government considered demolishing the building. (King George VI commented on its state during his visit in 1947.) Longwood New House and the Balcombe’s house at the Briars were both demolished at this time, but Longwood House and the Briars Pavilion were saved, and have been restored by recent French curators.

Longwood House is now a museum owned by the French government, attracting around 7,000 visitors per year. Current curator, Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, said in a 2010 interview:

I want to move away from this old notion of ‘those are the French Properties and behind their walls they do as they want’. I want to open up the properties completely. Let’s face it, a lot of people only know St Helena because of the Napoleon link. The idea is to use this fact as a springboard and then tourists can discover other things about the island.

Bedroom Key
Bedroom Key

Conservation issues pertaining to the house include the high humidity in the Longwood area - 85-100%, which combined with the warm climate can promote the growth of mould, damaging both the fabric of the building and the furniture and exhibits inside.

In 2021 the key to Napoleon’s bedroom was discovered in Scotland (not ours - the one in the UK) and auctioned for £89,000.

Touring Longwood House

Most island tours include a visit to both Longwood House and Napoleon’s Tomb. Reproduced below is a description of a tour of Longwood House (taken from John Tyrrell’s Blog{9}{10}):

First stop is the Billiard Room. This room was added in 1815 by the carpenters from the HMS Northumberland. Napoleon never played billiards. The table was used for maps and documents. Later it was moved to the back of the house for the servants to use.

Next comes the drawing room, which was where Napoleon received his guests; these were very numerous in 1816 and 1817, but after March 1818, when the Balcombes came to say goodbye, and as the restrictions on him were tightened, he lived the life of a recluse, and virtually nobody outside his entourage saw him.

In this room he died; the bed was pulled out at a right angle so that people could gather round both sides. 16 were present, including the children of Mme. Bertrand.

Then you enter the dining room, with its single window, its very small dining table, and the candles which used to make it unbearably hot. In later years, after the arrival of the two priests sent by Napoleon’s mother, mass was said in this room every Sunday.

Now you take a right turn and enter Napoleon’s private suite. Three small rooms: a study, a bedroom and a bathroom. He had two small beds, identical to that already seen. One was in his study, so that if he couldn’t sleep in the night, and he often couldn’t, he could perhaps try the other room.

About the first thing he did when he arrived was to get in the bath. He had not had a proper bath since he left France in July. This was possibly Napoleon’s favourite place; he sometimes ate and read in here. The bath itself has had a life of its own - in 1840 it was taken back to France, but has now been restored to its original place.

An audio guide is available.

On a visit to Longwood House it’s common to stop at Napoleon’s Tomb - from Jamestown you pass it along the way.

Bicentenary events (2015-2021)

To learn more about the events held to mark the Bicentenary of Napoleon’s time on St Helena, please see our page Napoleonic Bicentenary.

Read More

Below: Websites: Napoleon on Saint HelenaArticle: The man who keeps Napoleon’s memory alive on St HelenaArticle: Could this wallpaper prove that Napoleon was MURDERED?Seven Wonders Voting

French Consulate Factbox

Websites: Napoleon on Saint Helena (two sites)


There is lots more about Napoleon and his time on St Helena on these two sites, both of which happen to have the same name:

Please Note there are many, many sites about Napoleon. These are just two we have chosen to mention. If you think there is one we should include please contact us.

Article: The man who keeps Napoleon’s memory alive on St Helena

By Jean Liou, Published on mysinchew.sinchew.com.my, 14th April 2015{9}

Jamestown (AFP) -- Michel Dancoisne-Martineau knows that the story of Napoleon’s life in exile is timeless -- and irresistible.

Michel Martineau outside Longwood House

The Frenchman is tasked with preserving the property where Napoleon Bonaparte lived after being exiled to the remote South Atlantic island of Saint Helena in 1815 and remained until his death six years later.

I have a product and I am trying to sell it, he said.

One of the few Frenchmen on the British island of just 4,200 people, Dancoisne-Martineau manages a 162Km² plot of French territory.

I want this to last after me, said the smiling 49-year-old as his dog Papillion (Butterfly) lay at the foot of the bed where France’s greatest military hero died.

Dancoisne-Martineau, who took up his job in 1987, has spearheaded an ambitious project to renovate Longwood House, the home of the former emperor. The upgrade could not come at a better time. Next year, St Helena plans to start weekly flight service from Johannesburg -- which has only been accessible by a five-day boat journey -- in what many islanders hope will result in a significant boost to the tourism sector. Dancoisne-Martineau intends to be ready.

Hopefully, we will privatise the management of the building, he said. There will be a shop and ticketed entry.

The property includes Napoleon’s house in Longwood and ‘Geranium Valley (a.k.a. Sane Valley)’ -- the peaceful site where the ex-emperor wanted to be buried if his remains weren’t sent back to his beloved homeland.

Dancoisne-Martineau started by renovating the generals’ rooms that housed Napoleon’s companions in exile. Razed in 1860 and shoddily rebuilt in 1933, the cost to repair the building totalled more than €1.4 million ($1.5 million). The French government committed to footing half of the bill, and he had to find the other half. Despite the hefty price tag, the upgrade wasn’t difficult to finance.

Napoleon’s bed in Longwood House

An international campaign was conducted with the Napoleon Foundation to raise funds and it has since garnered €1.5 million, said the curator, with a smile. With the leftover money, Dancoisne-Martineau has started improving the wing of the house occupied by the ex-emperor before he died age 52, plagued by boredom and haunted by spite. When Napoleon lived there under guard there was standing water under the floor, water running down the walls, rats were everywhere and there was a permanent musty smell, said Dancoisne-Martineau. He choose to present the house the way it was the day Napoleon died -- minus the rats and dampness. But I didn’t let the walls crumble, he added.

The refurbished apartments, with guest rooms and seminar facilities, will be inaugurated on October 15 to mark the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s arrival on the island. After the Battle of Waterloo Napoleon surrendered to the English, hoping for lenient treatment. He must have never imagined they would banish him to a no-man’s land so far from Europe. Yet, the distance has not stopped people from visiting.

People do come for Napoleon, said Mark Capes, the island’s governor. For St Helena, the Napoleon legacy is very important, because he is part of what makes St Helena, he is part of our history. We celebrate it, and it is part of our marketing.

As part of the restoration project, Dancoisne-Martineau has sent 32 pieces of furniture to France. Next year, Les Invalides, a French military complex that houses Napoleon’s grave in Paris, will display them for an exhibition marking the bicentenary of his exile, along with some luxury items that the former French emperor had taken with him.

For Dancoisne-Martineau, a wave of sightseers would be the best way to end his custodianship of Napoleon’s final years before he steps down, maybe as early as next year.

I’ll resume painting, I abandoned it 15 years ago, he said.

In the meantime, he has started repairing the roof of a house in the Briars Pavilion, above the capital Jamestown, where Napoleon stayed for two months after his arrival in 1815, before moving to Longwood. That repair isn’t in the official renovation budget. But for Dancoisne-Martineau, preserving Napoleon’s memory has become a labour of love: he’s paying for the roof repairs out of his own pocket.

Article: Could this wallpaper prove that Napoleon was MURDERED?

Published in the Daily Mail, 6th March 2014{9}

Wallpaper from Longwood House

Napoleon Bonaparte’s mysterious death has generated a host of murder conspiracy theories over the years. And now a large piece of wallpaper from the Emperor’s bedroom is up for auction, which could prove whether he was murdered by the British.

The French emperor mysteriously died while in British custody on the South Atlantic island of St Helena on May 5th 1821 at the age of 51. Since his death, it has been suggested that he died from cancer or was poisoned by British soldiers. A third theory says he died after inhaling toxic vapours from wallpaper which was laced with arsenic.

The largest piece of the patterned paper is around the same size as a piece of A3 paper and is expected to fetch £2,000 when it goes to auction on March 18. Richard Westwood-Brookes, a documents expert at Mullock Auctioneers in Shropshire, believes the item could finally solve the mystery of Napoleon’s death.

I have estimated it at £2,000 although it could easily go for more considering the other two items went for near that figure and were a lot smaller, he said. It is the biggest piece ever found and is extremely rare. Everything that has been sold in the past have been tiny, this is the size of an A3 piece of paper.

Explaining how the sizeable scrap of wallpaper came to be liberated from the Emperor’s bedroom, Mr Westwood-Brookes explained: When Napoleon died, the place was full of British soldiers and after he died, they obviously decided to take things from his bedroom. I would assume this was to bring home as souvenirs, many of them took small pieces of wall paper, but this is a huge bit. It is of exceptional rarity due to the rumours of him being killed by it. It would give a researcher ample amounts of specimens to be able to test it.

Despite the possibility of the wallpaper containing traces of arsenic it is not thought it will pose a threat to potential buyers. Mr Westwood-Brookes said: The piece of wallpaper is in excellent condition considering how fragile it is and how old it is. The family who are selling it are of a fairly high status, that is all I can say, and they have clearly looked after it. This would obviously make the piece more valuable and easier for a researcher to do tests on it. I wouldn’t like to say how Napoleon died, it is unfair to speculate, but if it was from this wallpaper, I am sure we will be able to find out very soon.

Napoleon became the Emperor of France in 1804 and secured a streak of victories in war, cementing the country’s place as a dominant force in Europe. However, during the Peninsular war between 1807 and 1814, he decided to invade Russia, which showed France’s military frailties. He was forced to abdicate and go into exile to the Italian island of Elba in 1814, before escaping a year later and returning to power. Napoleon was finally defeated by the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815 and spent the last six years of his life in confinement by the British at Saint Helena.

The piece of wallpaper will be auctioned at Ludlow Racecourse in Shropshire on March 18{11}.


Napoleon Bonaparte, the French military and political leader who rose to prominence during the latter stages of the French Revolution, was born in August 1769 and died on May 5th 1821. The Emperor was said to have died from stomach cancer. The physician who led the autopsy found evidence of a stomach ulcer but some people said it was the most convenient explanation for the British, who wanted to avoid criticism over their care of the Emperor. Napoleon’s father died of stomach cancer.

In 1955 the diaries of the leader’s valet were published, which included the description of bed-bound Napoleon months before his death. Based on the description, scientists put forward other theories as to why he died - which included arsenic poisoning. Arsenic was used as a poison during the era because it was undetectable when administered over a long period. It was noted in a later book that Napoleon’s body was found to be remarkably well preserved when moved in 1840 and arsenic is a preservative.

In 2007 a toxicologist said he found mineral arsenic in napoleon’s hair shafts, which supported the theory that he was murdered. The wallpaper used in Longwood contained a high level of arsenic compound used by British manufacturers as a dye. It has been suspected that if the wallpaper got hot it might have emitted the poisonous gas arsine, but other scientists think the poison would have had to be consumed internally - or that the leader really did die of cancer.

This is discussed further on our Myths Debunked!.

Seven Wonders Voting



The appeal (right), made by Ivy Yon, Joan Thomas & George Thomas, was broadcast on Radio St Helena prior to the 2008 Seven Wonders voting:


{a} Domaines Français de Sainte Hélène{b} Napoleon on Saint Helena Website{9}{c} Domaines Français de Sainte Hélène{d} Marc Lavaud/Tourist Information Office{e} Napoleon, in reference to his impending imprisonment on St Helena{f} John Isaac Lilley, 1861-1866{g} G.W. Melliss{12}{h} Manfred Rippich/Radio St Helena


{1} He spent his first night on St Helena, 17th October 1815, at (old) Porteous House, now demolished, and was then moved to The Briars Pavilion while Longwood House was made ready.{2} Who brought Napoleon to St Helena aboard HMS Northumberland and stayed to supervise guarding the prisoner.{3} The Royal Navy ship that had delivered Napoleon; still in port.{4} …including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology, by John Melliss, published in 1875.{5} Before Television people had to make their own entertainment!{6} An accurate reproduction of the original now hangs back in Napoleon’s bedroom.{7} ‘St Helena, The Historic Island, From Its Discovery To The Present Date’, by E. L. Jackson, published in 1905.{8} Which actually required a change to the law, as ‘foreigners’ were not allowed to own land on St Helena.{9} @@RepDis@@{10} See more blogs.{11} It sold for £1,250.{12} Father of John Melliss.