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Napoleon’s Tomb

But not his final resting place

One of the Seven Wonders of St Helena [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]

Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite.”
“I told you I was ill.

Epitaph on Spike Milligan’s tombstone{1}

Set in Sane Valley it is a peaceful spot for quiet contemplation of the life of Napoleon.

This page is in indexes: Island Structures, Island Place, Island History, Island Activity, Island Detail

Napoleon’s Tomb [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]

Napoleon [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]

Other ‘Napoleon’ pages:

• Napoleon Bonaparte

• Longwood House

• The Briars Pavilion

• Napoleonic Bicentenary

Below: The burialRemoval and re-burialRemembranceBicentenary events7 Wonders of St Helena votingRead More

Top Twenty things to do [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]

A visit to Napoleon’s Tomb is one of our Top Twenty things to do during a visit to St Helena.

Top Twenty things to do [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]

The burial

Napoleon Bonaparte died in exile on St Helena on 5th May 1821.

19th Century illustration of Napoleon’s funeral [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]{a}19th Century illustration of Napoleon’s funeral [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]{b}
Two 19th Century illustrations of Napoleon’s funeral

Another view of Napoleon’s Tomb [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]

In his will Napoleon asked to be buried on the banks of the Seine, but the British Governor Hudson Lowe insisted he should be buried on St Helena, in the Valley of the Willows (now Sane Valley). The funeral took place on 9th May 1821. The Tomb is one of the Seven Wonders of St Helena.

Lowe said the inscription should read ‘Napoleon Bonaparte’; Napoleon’s friends, Montholon and Bertrand, wanted the Imperial title ‘Napoleon’ - by convention royalty were signed by their first names only. Unable to resolve the dispute the tomb was left nameless.

Removal and re-burial

Napoleon’s body is no longer there - it was collected in 1840 by the Prince de Joinville. Work began at midnight on the night of the 14/15th October, the anniversary of the Emperor’s arrival, and by 9:30am the coffins were exposed to view. Napoleon had been buried in four coffins in the following order: tin, mahogany, lead and mahogany. On his death the mahogany required for the coffins could not be obtained on the Island so Captain Bennett, an officer of the St Helena Regiment, who then lived a Chubb’s Spring, presented his dining table for the purpose. The Prince de Joinville had brought with him a lead coffin, an ebony casket to enclose it and a beautiful pall emblazoned with the Imperial bees. At the exhumation the outer mahogany coffin was broken up, but the remaining three were placed in the lead one brought from France and then deposited in the ebony casket. Not until then were they opened for the purposes of identification. The state of preservation of Napoleon’s body was described at the time as “excellent”, which led later to suspicions that his death was caused by arsenic poisoning, a known preservative. The body and its coffins were loaded onto the frigate Belle-Poule, which had been painted black for the occasion, taken back to France and re-buried in L’Hotêl Les Invalides.

Apparently the loading of Napoleon’s body onto the Belle Poole was marked with a 17-gun salute fired from the western end of the Jamestown Lines. It is claimed by G. C. Kitching that this resulted in the cost of repairing broken windows in many neighbouring houses being added to the bill for the whole affair! This was, it seems, the last time these guns were fired…

Removal of Napoleon’s body [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]
Removal of Napoleon’s body

Tomb just after Napoleon’s body removal [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]
Tomb just after Napoleon’s body removal{c}

Napoleon’s Tomb, by Charles Marie Boulton (Paris, 1781-1853) [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]
Napoleon’s Tomb, by Charles Marie Boulton (Paris, 1781-1853){2}

French flag [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]

French Consulate Factbox

ADDRESS: 

Longwood House, P.O. Box 14, St Helena Island, STHL1ZZ South Atlantic Ocean

TELEPHONE: 

(+290) 24409

EMAIL: 

dom.france@helanta.co.sh

WEBSITE: 

www.consulfrance-lecap.org/Domaines-de-Sainte-Helene{3}

OFFICE HOURS: 

Monday to Friday: 08:00 to 16:00

HEAD OF MISSION: 

Mr. Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, Consul

Map of the French Properties [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]
Map of the French Properties
Longwood House Napoleon’s Tomb The Briars Pavilion
shnhltd.blogspot.com{3}

Although Napoleon’s body no longer resides there, the land in which the tomb stands was sold in 1858 to the French Government along with Longwood House for a sum of £7,100{4}.

Remembrance

Napoleon’s Tomb [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]

Despite the tomb being empty, it is a popular spot with visitors, who like to experience the peace of this quiet place and spend a little time contemplating the life of Napoleon.

A ‘Moment de Memoire’ is held at the site every year on the anniversary on Napoleon’s death. Here is the report from the 9th May 2014 issue of the St Helena Independent:

The 193rd anniversary of Napoleon’s death was commemorated on Monday in both France and St Helena. In France the commemoration took place at les Invalides in Paris, in St Helena it was at Napoleon’s Tomb.

Father Dale led the service of commemoration with the 1st Jamestown Scout Group sounding the Last Post just before a minute’s silence and then sounding Reveille afterwards. Michel Dancoisne-Martineau represented the French Government and laid a wreath on their behalf, Acting Governor, Sean Burns, laid a wreath on behalf of St Helena. Wreaths were also laid on behalf of la Fondation Napoleon by Susan O’Bey and by a student from Prince Andrew School.

A group of PAS students attended, representing St Helena’s youth, and future. Thomas Hickling spoke during the ceremony, on behalf of the students. In excellent French, he said, “On behalf of the students of Prince Andrew’s School we pay tribute to the emperor Napoleon”.

The commemoration concluded with a blessing given by Father Dale. About 50 people watched the ceremony from the observation point overlooking the tomb.

100th Anniversary of Napoleon’s death, 1921 [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]
100th Anniversary of Napoleon’s death, 1921

Bicentenary events

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

7 Wonders of St Helena voting

7 Wonders badge [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]

The following appeal by Trevor Magellan was broadcast on Radio St Helena prior to the Seven Wonders voting{d}:

Click on the icon to hear this audio file: 

(right-click to download) 

Click here to listen [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb] (714.6Kb)

Napoleon’s Tomb [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]

The French Properties comprise 0.0203% of St Helena’s land area, being: Longwood House 10,572m² (0.0087%); Napoleon’s Tomb 3,693m² (0.0031%); Briars Pavilion 10,279m² (0.0085%).

Read More

Below: Historic Environment RecordArticle: “The Entente Cordiale Alive and Well”

More stories on our page Read articles about St Helena.

Historic Environment Record

For more about our historic buildings consult The Historic Environment Record.

HER image [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]

Article: “The Entente Cordiale Alive and Well

By Vince Thompson, published in the St Helena Independent 17th April 2014{5} (on the occasion of the visit of French Navy ships FS Mistral and FS La Fayette to St Helena)

French at Napoleon’s Tomb [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]

The visit to St Helena by 400 French soldiers and seamen meant a ceremony at Napoleon’s Tomb had to become part of the plans. During his speech at the ceremony the Captain of The Mistral, Francois-Xavier Polderman, thanked Michel Dancoisne-Martineau for the tireless effort he expended to make the visit and tomb ceremony a success.

The edge of the flat area around the tomb was lined by representatives of the various regiments, detachments and brigades who made use the companies of the two ships. In one corner was a choir made up of sailors. In the observation area above the tomb many more sailors and seaman together with some St Helenians watched the ceremony. The home port for The Mistral is Toulon, on the southern, Mediterranean coast of France. Just south of Toulon is the island of Corsica where Napoleon was born.

The ceremony started with some recorded music; this was followed by speeches, first from Captain Francois-Xavier Polderman and then from Governor Capes. Captain Polderman referred Napoleon’s exile and the various wars between England, and later Britain, and France throughout 1,000 years of history. He concluded by saying that for the last 199 years Britain and France had fought on the same side and that now, the destinies of both countries were closely linked. The governor responded by saying he shared the Captain’s views on a shared destiny and told the assembled company they will always be welcome in St Helena. The choir sang three times, including the national anthems of Great Britain and France.

closinghumourimage [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]

Laugh at funny napoleonstomb humour - LOL [Saint Helena Island Info:Napoleon’s Tomb]


Credits:

{a} Attributed to John Kerr, ‘Series of views in the Island of Saint Helena’, dedicated by permission to Lady Lowe, London, Colnaghi & Co.

{b} ‘Burial of Napoleon Bonaparte at St Helena’, attributed to James Pattison Cockburn (1779-1847).

{c} Domaines Francais de Sainte Hélène

{d} Manfred Rippich/Radio St Helena



Footnotes:

{1} Inscribed in Gaelic because the Church would not allow it to be written in English.

{2} We’re not sure about the rising star. We’ve never seen this phenomenon, but then we’ve never been to the Tomb at night. Or maybe it’s just artistic license…

{3} In French.

{4} 

{5} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.



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