Monday, December 21, 2015

Saul Solomon - the Merchant King of St Helena.

Saul Solomon 1776 - 1852
Saul Solomon (born 1776 in England and died 1852 in England) was one of 10 children of Nathaniel & Phoebe (de Metz) Solomon.

Saul Solomon married his first wife Margaret Lee (born 1 October 1792 in St Helena, South Atlantic and died June 1815. She was buried on 14 June 1815)

Saul Solomon and Margaret Lee were married 1800 in St Helena and together had 7 children:
Benjamin Solomon born 23 June 1801.
Phoebe Elizabeth Solomon born 20 May 1804 in St Helena.  Phoebe married Captain Thomas Montgomery Hunter of the St Helena Artillery on 15 October 1823.  From the years 1824 - 1834 Phoebe and Thomas produced five children: Ann, Montgomery, Highland, Orby and Grace Hunter.
Henry Robert Solomon (born 1806 and died 1847 in St Helena).  He was the Colonial Surgeon & Health Officer in St Helena.
Miriam Solomon born 8 July 1808 in St Helena.
John Blenham Solomon born 2 December 1810 in St Helena.
Margaret Sarah Solomon born 5 January 1813 in St Helena.
Lee Solomon born 29 March 1815 in St Helena and died December 1891 in Cape Town, South Africa.

It appears that Miriam Solomon at the age of 56, a Spinster, is recorded as Parent to Ada Annie Solomon on her Baptism document in 1870. Witnesses were Henry & Susan Solomon and Ann Knipe. Ada Annie Solomon was born on St Helena in 1865, married John Dunstan and died in Maitland, Cape Town in 1926.  It was probably Miriam who secretly brought her father's body back to St Helena for burial.

Saul Solomon married his second wife, Mary Chamberlain (born 1790 in St Helena and died June 1823 in St Helena. Mary was buried on 24 June 1823 in St Helena).

Saul Solomon and Mary Chamberlain  married 2 December 1815 and together had two children:
Saul Solomon born 12 August 1818 in St Helena.
Nathaniel Lee Solomon born 5 June 1822 in St Helena.

Saul Solomon married his third wife, Harriet Bryan (born 1800 in St Helena).

Saul Solomon and Harriet Bryan were married 24 June 1823 (the day his previous wife was buried).
Together they had two children:
Mary Chamberlain Solomon (1825 - 1828) in St Helena.
William Solomon (1827 - ?) in St Helena.    

Saul Solomon:
About the year 1796 a young Jew aged twenty landed at St Helena from an East India Company ship.  He was ill and dying  but he rallied and eventually opened up a business in the island. He was joined a few years later by his brother Joseph Solomon who was followed by his future wife Hannah Moss.  These two young Jews, Saul and Joseph Solomon, established a business which remains in St Helena to this day. The Solomon and Moss families were also in business together.

The business at St Helena prospered, in many ways due to the introduction to St Helena of Napoleon after the Battle of Waterloo as he was exiled there from 1815 until his death in 1821. Saul Solomon was known as the "Merchant King of St Helena".

Information about Saul Solomon (1776-1852) as recorded in family letters and on the Internet.

From “St Helena - who’s who or a directory of the island during captivity of Napoleon”.

Saul Solomon (1776-1852), the founder of the business house in St Helena at the time of Napoleon’s exile in St. Helena.  Solomon, with his 2 brothers, Lewis and Joseph, was engaged in business at Jamestown as a Store-Keeper and Lodging House-Keeper.  His house was the Resort of many who came to the island and in the days of the captivity news thus received from Europe was transmitted to the inhabitants of the island.  The house of Solomon was also frequently the medium through which clandestine correspondence was sent from Longwood to Europe.  The firm of Solomon still flourishes, and is the only one in St Helena which can trace an unbroken line since the days of Napoleon.  Saul Solomon died on December 6th 1852 at Eastwood, Portishead, near Bristol, the residence of his son-in-law, Captain Thomas Montgomery Hunter and husband of his daughter Phoebe Elizabeth Solomon.


From notes by Mary Brown, daughter of Henry Solomon (1816-1900) born in St Helena.

It is to be my privilege and honour to pass on to a younger generation some information regarding some memories of the Grandparents (Joseph & Hannah Solomon) whose sons and grandsons have associated their names with the history and development of this Country (South Africa), and who nearly eighty years ago made their home in this neighbourhood. Why and how they migrated hither, must be told later; it arose out of the settling, years before, of the eldest brother Saul Solomon in the island of St.Helena. The date of this we do not know, but we gather certain facts from an old Hebrew Prayer-book in my possession.  This states that the said Saul Solomon was born on December 25th 1776, that his first wife (Margaret Lee) died in 1815, that seven children were born of this marriage, all at St Helena except one, Margaret, who was born in London in 1813 at West Square. In 1808 Saul received this same Prayer-book, the gift of his dear Mother by the Europe Store-ship on 4th July 1808.

The story is that as a young man this Saul Solomon (1776-1852) was landed, ill of fever, at St Helena from an East Indian man, bound probably for India, but of this we are not certain.  It was expected he would die at sea, and fearing this, instructions were given to land him at the island, where the vessel also put in for water.  Here he recovered, and seeing the possibilities of trade with the East India Company’s merchantmen which made St Helena a port of call on their outward and homeward bound voyages he began a business.  Thus was established the Commercial House known for years afterwards as the firm of “Solomon & Moss”, which continues to the present day.

Saul Solomon was joined in this business later by his brother Joseph (1780-1861), our grandfather, who was followed by his future wife Hannah Moss (1793-1858) and married probably about the year 1814-1815 as their eldest son Henry was born in April 1816.  (First born child Nathaniel Solomon born & died June 1815). Here the families lived gaining considerable wealth and confidence and owning valuable properties.  It was in the year (some of which still remain in the families of the Solomon & Moss) 1815 that the British Government secured Longwood, St Helena, as the residence of Napoleon and the stationing of French and British officers, in the island not only increased its importance but brought into it much brilliant social life.  

Saul Solomon (1776-1852) known as the “King of St.Helena” was a man of character and influence and various stories were told to us as children, of his kindness of heart, his generous hospitality and his conveying courtesy to strangers.  In those long ago days his house was the centre and the style kept in his household was lavish and luxurious.  By his second wife (Mary Chamberlain b1790) he had a son Nathaniel (1822-1874) and daughter Isabella (Saul? 1818-1861), these were our father’s (Henry’s 1816-1900) contemporaries and are prominent in our memories of childhood.  Cousin Nat inheriting many of the kindly qualities of his father endeared him to the then younger generation.  Among the stories that specially interested us, as told by my father were these.

The general stage Saul Solomon’s (1776-1852) house was extravagant and amongst the household property were some valuable silver plates.  On the occasion of a visit of a British celebrity to the island, the Governor desired to borrow this plate for use at a banquet given by him.  “I regret not lending it” said old Saul Solomon “as I am entertaining your guest the following evening and it might be thought that I had borrowed your plate”.

Amongst Napoleon’s ardent sympathisers and admirers was Mr Solomon (1776-1852), and it is said he contrived at the attempted escape of the Emperor from St.Helena.  The plot was laid, the boat waiting at the foot of a precipitous cliff to convey the illustrious prisoner to an out-lying vessel and a cleverly constructed ladder of silken rope, strong and light, introduced into the island, no doubt in some merchandise and had been conveyed in a teapot from Saul Solomon to Longwood, and received by those in the scheme.  Happily for the peace of Europe when all seemed ready, the “silken ladder” was discovered and the escape frustrated.  These and my father’s talk of the French soldiers, the occupation of Longwood by Napoleon, his death and burial, and being lifted as a little child to see the great man lying in state, the bending of our Grandmother to kiss the dead hand of the Emperor, all made an impression on our minds that never faded.  And he used to tell us how he learned to speak French from the French guard who praised his smartness and memory.

But to return to Saul Solomon (1776-1852).  He was the eldest of four brothers, Joseph (1780-1861), Benjamin (1777-?) and Edward (1774-1855), are the ones of whom we have knowledge.  Joseph and his wife Hannah came to Cape Town from St Helena in the year 1831.  I have this from a letter from my father in which he says “the first person to meet us our arrival at the Cape in 1831 was our old St Helena friend, the father of Captain Anderson of Green Point”.  Thus judging from my father’s birth in 1816, the family of Joseph (our grandfather) remained in St Helena some 15 or 16 years.


From notes by Mary Brown, daughter of Henry Solomon born 1816 in St Helena.

Brothers Saul (1776-1852) & Joseph Solomon (1780-1861) arrived in St.Helena.  Joseph & Hannah (nee Moss) Solomon & sons, Henry (1816-1900), Saul (1817-1892) & Edward (1820-1886).

About the year 1796 a young Jew aged twenty landed at St.Helena from an East India Company ship.  He was ill and supposed to be dying, but he rallied and eventually opened up a business in the island where he was joined a few years later by his brother Joseph.  These two young Jews, Saul and Joseph Solomon, established a business which remains at St.Helena to this day.

In 1806 Saul Solomon received a Hebrew Prayer Book by a store-ship from his dear mother.  It is from this prayer-book that the date of Saul’s birth – 1776 is taken.

All we know of their mother is that her name was Phoebe de Metz (1745-1834), the wife of Nathaniel Solomon (1735-1760), she was married at the age of 14, had eighteen children, some of whom died in infancy, was left a widow while still young and died at the age of one hundred and four (I believe it should be 84), she lived in much competency in London, and to her care were sent two little grandsons (Henry & Saul) from St.Helena, but of this later.

A miniature of this old lady is in my possession, it was bought by me from a grand-daughter of hers, who in reduced circumstances was living in Cape Town. The names of some of Phoebe’s daughters will be found in a letter in this Hebrew prayer-book, which is also in my possession.

In 1814 Joseph Solomon married Hannah Moss, who came to St.Helena from England.  They had been betrothed before he left England. 

The business at St.Helena prospered in many ways due to the introduction to St.Helena of Napoleon after Waterloo, and to its being a port of call for the East India Company’s ships both going to and returning from India.  In later years Saul Solomon (b1776) was known as the “Merchant King of St Helena”, but as these notes have special reference to Joseph we shall continue then on these lines. 

In the year 1816 was born the eldest son of Joseph and Hannah.  He was named Henry and in 1817 a second son Saul was born.  These two little lads at the ages of five and six were sent to their grandmother Phoebe in London under the care of an efficient soldier’s wife travelling by troop ship.  These two little boys remained under their Grandmother’s care until about the ages of twelve and thirteen.  They were brought up in the strictest Jewish faith.  Some of my Father’s remembrances of this I have given elsewhere. The other children born to Joseph and Hannah were Richard (1818), Edward (1820), Isabella (1826), Margaret (1828) and Benjamin (1819), one girl Rosa died at St.Helena. (Nathaniel was born 3 June 1815 and died 4 June 1815).

In 1831 Joseph migrated with his family to the Cape, where there would be better opportunities for his sons in life.  The two elder were about twelve and thirteen when they returned to St.Helena.


The St Helena Solomon's and their connections monopolised the prestigious albeit non-salaried post of Sheriff on the island:
Saul Solomon snr 1839-1842 and 1846-1850; his brother Lewis Gideon (who had taken on a new surname) 1842-1844 and 1852-1856; his son Nathaniel 1853-1855 and 1859-1860; his partner George Moss 1870-1880; and his other son Saul jnr 1880-1888.

Biographical Details for Saul Solomon: (Extract from article via Internet)

Saul's wish to return to St. Helena was honoured in a rather bizarre sequel, revealed by Mrs. Harriet Tytler sailing home from India in 1853 on the S.V. “Camperdown”:  The remains of Mr. Saul Solomon arrived on 2nd March 1853 - on the “Perseverance”. At the Cape we …… took in fresh passengers, among them a Miss Solomon. ….. who confided to some of us a burden on her mind ....  Unknown to everybody she had brought her father's corpse on the ship to have it buried on his beloved St. Helena. The burden was a terrible one, for fear that if the sailors found it out, they would chuck her father overboard. Of course we were all under vow not to disclose the terrible fact of a corpse on board, so that when we reached St. Helena and the contents of that case were safely landed, her brother Nathaniel came on board and... invited us to his hotel as guests.

If the Camperdown's crew were unaware of the contents of Miss Solomon's luggage, people at St. Helena were not. Both local papers, recording the death of "our late Sheriff in London"[sic], had announced that he was to be buried on the Island, the “St. Helena Chronicle” reporting on 19 February "that his remains are at the Cape". Saul was buried on 4 March 1853 in St. James Church, Jamestown, St. Helena Island. FHL Film No. 1259107, Gravestones and Memorials on St. Helena 1686-1975. The tombstone for Saul Solomon is as follows:  “Sacred to the Memory of S. Solomon, Esq. who died in England on the Sixth of December 1852 Aged 76 years”.

If one man dominates St. Helena's history it must, according to 'the outside world', surely be Napoleon Bonaparte. But the experience of daily life tells St. Helenians differently. Long before Napoleon arrived, Saul Solomon had founded a business that, after 200 years, still wields all-pervasive influence over their affairs. Yet the founder is as little known as St. Helena's other benefactors. So what can a search, far from Island sources, reveal about St. Helena's "Merchant-King"? 

Solomon's origins seem mantled in mystery. Where and when he was born, why and how he reached St. Helena, no-one yet knows. Tradition has it that he was born in London about 1776 and in his 'teens set out for India on a ship sailing via St. Helena. There he was left at death's door and nursed back to health by an officer's family. Geoffrey Kitching, pre-war government secretary, told W.E.G.Solomon that he was a corporal in the St. Helena Corps in 1796. But the India Office Library has no record of this.

During Saul's business, career ships increased from about 150 to over a thousand a year, St. Helena became a haven for American whalers and a base for the Royal Navy's anti-slavery squadron, with a Vice-Admiralty Court condemning slavers and unseaworthy vessels to the benefit of Jamestown's ship chandlers.

Solomon had funds for speculation when it mattered, which perhaps explains partners such as the shadowy Dickson and Taylor, George Janisch of Teutonic Hall, and Robert Morrison, who had the fact inscribed on his grave in 1865. (Daniel Hamilton's memorial in 1867 also records service to the Company). But when calamity fell, like the collapse of the St. Helena Whale Fishery Co., it was rivals, Thomas Baker, John Scott and others, who lost, not Solomon, Gideon or Moss. Ironically, forty years later his successors ignored, or were ignorant of, this experience and made a disastrous investment in the Island whaler, Elizabeth. If Saul speculated unwisely, it has yet to be discovered. At the watershed of St. Helena history - the Island's transfer from the Company to the Crown in 1836 - he was again among the winners, as old Company landed families sold out at great loss, while merchants took their pickings and prospered.

Saul was no less skilful in climbing the social ladder as the Napoleonic era receded. Despite being 'in trade', which normally put one beyond the pale of polite society, he and his partners were invited to sit with 'gentlemen' on various committees - Benefit, Benevolent, Fire and those of other social welfare societies. Solomon, Gideon and Moss virtually ran the Annuity Fund Committee. Indicators abound of rising social status. In 1823 Saul's daughter Phoebe married Capt. T.M.Hunter of the St. Helena Artillery; in 1838 his son Henry (1806-1847) became Colonial Surgeon and Health Officer, whose widow married Governor Sir Patrick Ross; they were leading Freemasons, churchwardens and JPs. For 50 years they almost monopolised the prestigious post of Sheriff ("no salary") through Saul Solomon (1839-42, 1846-50), Lewis Gideon [changed his name from Solomon] (1842-4, 1852-6), Nathaniel Solomon (1850-52, 1859-60), George Moss (1870-80) and Saul Solomon, jun. (1880-88). In short, during the founder's lifetime, Solomon & Co. became pillars of the Establishment and of the Church, to be symbolised finally by Homfray Welby Solomon (1877-1960), grandson of Bishop Welby, Churchwarden and Member of Council (from 1898), commercial and social Island Supremo - "King Sol". His death on 30 October 1960 at 83 ended the Solomon dynasty at St. Helena, and in 1974 the firm, dominating Island production and commerce, was 'nationalised' by the St. Helena Government. Among his Victorian competitors only W.A.Thorpe & Sons now survive as independent merchant-landowners.

Saul was undertaker at many Anglican funerals, in 1818 at that of Napoleon's Roman Catholic valet, Cipriani."

In 1971, inside St James’s Church, St Helena by the north wall is the following gravestone inscription: Sacred to the Memory of S. Solomon, Esq. who died in England on the Sixth of December 1852. Aged 76 years.


“ Who's who in Jewish history: after the period of the Old Testament” by Joan Comay, Lavinia Cohn-Sherbok.

On his way from England to India at the age of twenty, Saul Solomon (1775 - 1850) became ill and was put ashore on the Indian Ocean island of St. Helena. He became the leading merchant and ships purveyor on the island and an intimate of Napoleon during his years of exile there. His nephew, also Saul Solomon (d. 1892), was educated in Cape Town and became the government printer and a leading newspaper publisher. Although tiny in stature, he was an influential member of the Cape legislator and its most effective debater. He married a non-Jew and was baptized. Other members of the family, all Christians, played a prominent part in South African life, and included a chief justice and the South African high commissioner in London.


 “In search of Saul Solomon of St Helena 1776-1852”

Saul married Margaret Lee in circa 1800. After Margaret's death, he married Mary Chamberlain in 1815 in Saint Helena, South Atlantic. In 1815 Saul was living at Armstrong's Corner, St. Helena. Mary died in June 1823 in St. Helena and Saul then married for a third time, a Harriet BRYAN on 24 June 1823 in St. Helena.
Saul died of softening of the brain, paralysis, apoplexy, 9 months certified on 6 December 1852 in 'Eastwood' in Portishead, Bristol, England. His death certificate gave his age as 75 and occupation "Consul", reflecting his appointments as "Consul for L├╝beck, Bremen, Hamburg, the Brazils, Spain and Austria; Vice-Consul for Belgium; Consular Agent for France; and Commercial Agent for Holland."

Saul's body was returned to St. Helena where he was buried at the north wall of St. James' Church. The graveyard has since been cleared to make way for a children's playground but Saul's gravestone still survives and reads "Sacred to the Memory of S. Solomon, Esq., who died in England." 


Saul Solomon founded a business empire that has dominated commercial life on St. Helena for more than two centuries.

Tradition says he was born in London in about 1776, and set sail for India in 1790. The ship dropped anchor off the port of Jamestown and young man was carried ashore to die. The ship sailed on and the young man, Saul Solomon, remained, not to die, but to become one of the most influential men on the island.  In a very short time he recovered his health and, seeing the possibility of trade with the many ships that called on their way to and from India and the Cape, he set himself up in business, initially as a hotel-keeper but soon on a much broader basis.

His business is thought to have been founded in the year of his arrival, when young Saul set up a boarding house and general store.  Later he included an insurance business and also installed the island’s first printing press, printing the “St. Helena Register” newspaper.  He also served as undertaker.  Early success meant a need for people to help run the business, so he sent for his brothers, Benjamin, Edward, Charles and Joseph.  A family called Moss came too, remaining prominent members of the business for many years.  Joseph married Hannah Moss in 1814 in St Helena. Hannah’s brother, Isaac Moss arrived and later lived in Longwood House where Napoleon lived before his death.  Saul was clearly quite a non-conformist. In 1810 he was directed to “print no more objectionable remarks in the Register without permission of the Secretary”.

Napoleon arrived on the island in 1815 and Solomon’s readily traded with the deposed emperor’s entourage at Longwood. Profits rose, though there were frequent complaints about over-charging; for example, the company charged 1,400 gold francs for the funeral of Napoleon’s valet.

Saul Solomon also earned a reputation for questionable loyalty to the island government. Hudson Lowe listed the Solomon brothers, with their clerk ex-soldier George Bruce, as the chief suspects of aiding Napoleon. Solomon’s premises (in what is now the Rose & Crown shop in Market Street) became notorious for gossip and intrigue. He was even said to have smuggled a silken ladder into Longwood in a chest of tea (or, another variant says, in a teapot) to help Napoleon clamber down a cliff into a waiting boat! Certainly Longwood’s clandestine correspondence passed through his hands - at a price. In 1840, as French Consul, he was among the favoured few to accompany Napoleon’s coffin aboard the Belle Poule. He received a medal for his services to the emperor.

One of his many business activities was the forwarding of mail dropped off by calling ships.
At one time, Solomon issued its own copper halfpennies, which circulated alongside the East India Company coinage. The business continued to prosper as the island became a haven for American whalers and a base for the anti-slavery squadron.

Saul Solomon died in 1852 on a visit to England. His daughter managed to get his body to the Cape, where she smuggled it aboard a ship bound for St. Helena. The two island newspapers praised his memory fulsomely. “We have many living witnessed to his kindness to the distressed and suffering,” wrote the St. Helena Herald, welcoming the news that he was to be buried on the island. An executor’s sale took place ‘under the trees’ in Jamestown in 1854, at which “a rare selection of most desirable dwelling places” were auctioned, including The Briars and The Pavilion, once home to Napoleon.

Saul Solomon’s modest gravestone was among those rescued when the burial ground in Jamestown was cleared in 1951 to become a children’s playground. The inscription revealed nothing of Solomon’s life, beyond the date of his death, aged 76.

Over time, family members rose to prominent roles, including on benevolent committees. For 50 years they almost monopolised the prestigious post of Sheriff. The last of the family line, Homfray Welby Solomon, died in 1960. The business was taken over by South African entrepreneurs, then nationalised and part-privatised, as it remains today, still bearing the name “Solomon’s”.


Extracts from “Betsy and the Emperor” by Anne Whitehead re Saul Solomon & Longwood House.

Page 5 .….. In 1815, William Balcombe had his official duties as superintendent of public sales for the Company but also his separate interests as senior partner in the firm Balcombe, Cole and Company, supplying vessels calling at Jamestown.  Saul Solomon, proprietor with his brothers Lewis and Joseph of the town’s only emporium – ladies fashions, fabrics, lace, jewellery and rosewater – studied the papers for trends, knowing that styles would be half a year out of date by the time their order arrived (allowing three months for the requisition and three for the despatch) but that this did not matter to the ladies of St Helena as long as they kept pace with one another……

Page 9……The immediate issues were housing and catering.  The official ‘Secret letter’ stated that any residence on the island could be allocated for Bonaparte, ‘with the exception of the Governor’s Plantation House’.  Wilks learned from the captain of the Icarus that a retinue was coming with the prisoner, not only his officers and servants but also some aristocratic Frenchwomen.  He thought Longwood House, the lieutenant-governor’s isolated summer residence, could be a possibility, but it was badly in need of repairs….

Page 10 …… With the fleet imminently arriving under the command of the rear-admiral, there would also be another 200 sailors and soldiers and the massive logistical exercise of feeding them all.  Most of the island’s food came from the Cape of Good Hope and shortages were chronic.  It would be a challenge for the commissary-general and store-keeper, who allocated provisions brought by the twice yearly store-ship, and for Solomons Merchants and William Balcombe, the Company sales agent with a providore business on the side.
In fact, the merchants recognised splendid commercial opportunities in the new situation.  Balcombe was pleased; as well as his providore business, he owned the Union brewery supplying beer to the garrison, and has an orchard and large vegetable garden at his home, The Briars.  He would soon, like the Solomons, take advantage of the increase in the island’s population by doubling his prices.  But there were negative implications for the merchants as well: with the island removed from the jurisdiction of the East India Company and patrolled by the Royal Navy, ships of other flags would be unable to call for water, victualling and trading, thereby limiting business.  However, Balcombe was a man who looked in every setback for an opportunity and usually succeeded in finding one ……

Page 32 – 33 …… Admiral Cockburn elected to stay at the castle, where he had access to the warships in the bay, rather than be a guest at Plantation House, the governor’s mansion out of town.  It was determined that Bonaparte permanent home would be Longwood House, up on the high plateau, remote enough to serve as a prison.  It has recently been occupied by the lieutenant-governor and his family as a summer retreat from the humidity of Jamestown, but its earlier use was as a cattle house and barn, to which some rough additions had been made.  It was dilapidated and at least two months’ work would be needed before it could be acceptable accommodation ……

Page 42 …… I walked past the Consulate Hotel down the steep main street, at the bottom of which the RMS St Helena, still at anchor, was framed in the town wall’s archway.  With some surprise I noted the sign “Solomon & Company” on a substantial building – the largest island merchant during Napoleon’s captivity and apparently still …...

Page 63 …. The canaries and Java sparrows Betsy described – brought by East India Company ships had gone, but Indian mynahs flittered about in squabbling, fussy numbers.  A former resident of The Briars was responsible for the preponderance of these drab little creatures all over the island.  In 1868, Miss Phoebe Moss brought a cage of six mynahs from England and released them in The Briars’ garden, imagining they might feast on the invasive white ants.  The crumbling ruin that the house became testified to the fact that they did not ……

Page 74 ….. Mesdames Fanny Bertrand and Albine de Montholon had little to do each day but read, sew, watch their children play in the castle gardens, and find new ways of quarrelling with each other.  During breaks in hostilities they visited Saul Solomon’s store in the vague hope of finding something interesting to purchase. They were a popular sight from the doors of the taverns, wine houses and hostels, teetering on dainty Parisian heels up Jamestown’s cobbled main street, holding lace trimmed parasols aloft to protect their complexions. Their ensembles in satin and mousseline do soie (silk muslin) were the latest in Empire fashion, and Albine’s hourglass shape belied her new pregnancy.  Encased in whalebone corsets, the ladies found the summer hear unendurable.…..

Page 75 …... A welcome distraction came with the news that Admiral Sir. George Cockburn was to host a ball at the castle in late November.  The local society people would attend, and also the military and ships officers, one of whom wrote that if Sir George ‘can find the ladies, of course we shall go there’.  The real excitement was that the French were to be invited, including their diabolical leader.  Whom among the local ladies might he ask for a quadrille?  At Solomon’s store and along the promenade they talked of little else…..

Page 76 – 78 …... As the day drew closer, Betsy’s own excitement could barely be contained.  She had been in boarding school for years and had never attended such a grand occasion.  She would need a new dress and chattered about fabrics and designs.  However, her father ruled that she was too young; Jane could go, but Betsy must wait for at least a year before coming out into society.  She resolved to change his mind.
Written invitations from the castle duly arrived for Napoleon and all his French companions except the domestics.  But there was a major problem with the wording.  On 14 November, which happened to be his birthday, Gourgaud made a glum entry in his journal: ‘We receive invitations to the Admiral’s Ball.   There is one for “General Bonaparte”.  Napoleon promptly refused it.  He said he did not know of such a person on the island.  ‘Send this card to General Buonaparte’, he told Bertrand.  ‘The last news I heard of him was at the Battle of the Pyramids’.
Betsy was still desperate to go, and pleaded with Napoleon to intercede with her father.  He surprised her by arguing her case, and Balcombe relented. Soon she and Jane were paying a visit to Solomon’s store with their mother to choose silks, muslins and ribbons and to pore over the London fashions in “The Lady’s Magazine”.  Betsy was entranced with the design for her dress, which was to be appliqued with delicate paper roses.
One evening, as was their frequent habit, Napoleon and Las Cases came to The Briar’ house after dinner for a game of whist, with sugar plums as stakes.  The senior Balcombes were unaccountably absent – Mrs Balcombe, who suffered from recurrent hepatitis, may have retired early – but the little card table was set up in the parlour.  Napoleon and Jane were to play together against the ill-matched partnership of Betsy and the count.
The cards were muddled and Las Cases was instructed to sort them into suits.  While the former chamberlain was occupied with this fiddly task, Napoleon asked Betsey about her robe de bal.  She was inordinately proud of the new gown, her first, and had him to thank that she would be wearing it to the castle.  She ran upstairs and fetched, showing off the fine needlework and appliqued paper roses.  ‘Very pretty’ he said.
Las Cases returned to the table with the sorted deck, so Betsy placed the dress on the sofa and the game began. It was soon clear that Napoleon was not abiding by the rules.  Betsy caught him ‘peeping under his cards as they were dealt to him, he endeavoured whenever he got an important one to draw off my attention, and then slyly held it up for my sister to see.  I soon discovered this and, calling him to order, told him he was cheating, and that if he continued to do so, I would not play’.
At the end of the hand, Napoleon claimed to be the winner; when Betsy disputed this, he laughed and declared that she was the cheat and should pay what she owed.
‘Never! You revoked! You cheated!
At this Napoleon jumped up and, calling her wicked (‘Ah, you are merhante!’), snatched up her ball drew from the sofa.  He ran from the room with it and up to the pavilion.  She gasped in astonishment.  Then she set off up the path in pursuit.  But he was too quick, darting through the marquee and locking himself in the inner room.  Despite her remonstrances and tears, he called through the door that he was keeping the dress to teach her a lesson.
The ball was the following evening.  There was no sign of Napoleon throughout the day.  Betsy sent several begging messages to the pavilion but was told that the emperor was sleeping and could not be disturbed. Neither of her parents was willing to approach him.  Because she was not yet of an age to ‘come out’ into society, they had not wanted her to go in the first place; nor would they have wished to engage their distinguished guest on such a frivolous matter – although they must have wondered why he bothered with it.
The day wore on and at last the hour arrived for their departure.  The horses were brought around and the young slave boys loaded the tine cases holding the ladies’ silks and satins – but not Betsy’s beautiful gown.  Her mother and sister would be able to change into their evening finery at the castle and she would still be wearing her plain little house dress.  By the time they reached the gate she was inclined to return home, but then Napoleon came running across the grass with her gown over his arm. ‘Here, Miss Betsee, I have brought it for you!  I hope you are a good girl now and that you will enjoy the ball.’  He walked beside their horses until they came to the end of the bridle track which joined the Sidepath.  He asked idly about a farmhouse he noticed far below. As they waved goodbye he called out toe Betsy: ‘Make sure that you dance with Gourgaud!’  The emperor was mocking her as usual.  She detested Gourgaud …..
…..Gourgaud was discomforted to be greeted by their host Admiral Cockburn, who requested – with a firmness sounded like an order – that he should book the first quadrille with Mrs Balcombe, the second with Betsy Balcombe and the third with Miss Knipe, a farmer’s daughter…..

Page 86 – 88 ….. For weeks Napoleon had observed the fatique parties of the 53rd Regiment as they wound around the mountais to the beat of fifes and drums, building materials on their shoulders.  Now they were no longer heaving stone blocks and timers, but rather furniture, rugs and pictures.  Longwood House would soon be ready for occupation…..
Bertrand visited Longwood and reported that the house smelled badly of paint. Betsy would ‘never forget the fury of the emperor.  He walked up and down the lawn, gesticulating in the wildest manner.  His rage was so great that it almost chocked him.  He declared that the smell of paint was so obnoxious to him that he would never inhabit a house where it existed’…..

Page 94 - 95….. The garden at Longwood, with agapanthus and iris flower and the Tricolore flapping on the flagpole, is attractively wooded now, but was bare and unsheltered when the French were installed in December 1815.  Napoleon was partly responsible for the improvement; in 1818, after three years of boredom, he began work, digging and planting out in the sun in loose trousers and a Chinese coolie hat, saying: ‘One day, perhaps one hundred years from now, people will visit this area and admire the garden’.
Napoleon was five and a half years at Longwood House, longer than he ever spent at any imperial residence, for he used his palaces only between campaigns.  Our tour group was guided through the rooms, shrines to the former emperor: the billiard room where he rarely played billiards but spread his old campaign maps on the table; the circular holes in the shutters were he squinted at Governor Lowe and the British guards through his telescope; the huge globe of the world, sepia with age, where the island of St Helena does not appear in the Atlantic, allegedly rubbed out by a furious finger.  There is the dimly lit dining room where meals were served with formal pomp, and the emperor’s little bedchamber and sitting room, with his tricorne hat and a copy of the greatcoat he wore at the Battle of Marengo displayed on the pink chaise lounge.  We peered into the deep timber clad copper bath in which he soaked for house, reading and fretting away his life. ‘Boredom,’ wrote Gourgaud in his journal, ‘boredom, boredom, sadness….’  Most gloomy is the drawing room and the green curtained campaign bed where Napoleon breathed his last on 5 May 1821.
Napoleon was unimpressed with the renovations to the sprawling and rackety farmhouse, still infested with rats.  The only part he cared for was the new addition, an airy wooden reception hall with six windows and a small lattice enclosed porch looking across to the Barn, dropping almost sheer to the ocean far below.  His narrow bedroom on the ground floor adjoined a small study; an antechamber contained the one great improvement to his comfort: a deep lead-lined bath made for him by ship’s carpenters from the Northumberland (later replaced by an imported copper one), and filled from buckets heated over a fire outside…..

Page 96 …..Napoleon loathed the bare surrounding of Longwood.  He was incesed to be told that he could walk and ride freely in an area only 12 miles in circumference, much of it cut by ravines and therefore unusable; beyond that limit he was to be accompanied by a British officer.  A complex code of signals had been issued to every sentry post, tracking the prisoner’s daily movements, whether inside the house, in the garden or within the 12 mile corden……

Page 99 …… Balcombe brought his wife and daughters to visit Napoleon at Longwood House.  They found Napoleon sitting on the steps of the green-latticed porch, chatting with young Tristan de Montholon.  Then he saw them he came forward: ‘Running to my mother, he saluted her on each cheek.  After which fashion he welcomed my sister, but, as usual with me, he seized me by the ear, and pinching it, exclaimed, “Ah! Mademoiselle Betsee, etes-vous sage, eh eh?” – “Are you being good, eh?”
He took them on a tour of his ironically dubbed ‘palace’, leading them first to his bedroom, which she found small and cheerless.  The walls were covered in fluted nankeen fabric and the only decoration she observed were the different portraits of his son and the Empress Marie Louise which she had seen before.  ‘His bed was the little camp bestead, with green silk hangings, on which he said he had slept when on the battlefields of Marengo and Austerlitz.  The only thing approaching to magnificence in the furniture of his chamber, was a splendid silver wash-basin and ewer.  The first object on which his eyes would rest on awaking, was a small bust of his son, which stood on the mantelpiece, facing his bed, and above which hung a portrait of Marie Louise.  We then passed on, through an ante-room, to a small chamber, in which a bath had been put up for his use, and where he passed many hours of the day.
They proceeded to the stone-flagged kitchen, where Napoleon asked Pierron the confectioner to create creams and bonbons for the girls; he then led them into the garden. Betsey found the view dismal and forbidding; the overhanging cliffs and great hulk of the Barn, the iron-coloured rocks scattered with prickly pear and aloes.  Madame Bertrand had told Mrs Balcombe the emperor stared for hours at the clouds rolling across it, wreathing into fantastic shapes.
Life for Napoleon and his court at Longwood settled into a pattern.  He rose late and soaked in a hot bath, revelling in this pleasure…...
After the informalities of The Briars, meals were now observed with great pomp and ceremony and a nighty tussle for precedence, the men in full dress uniform, the ladies resplendent in jewels and decollete gowns.  The liveried servants stood at attention throughout the meal.  No one sat until invited by the emperor…….

Page 123 …… ‘I hate this Longwood,’ Napoleon fulminated.  ‘The sight of it makes me melancholy.  Let him (Lowe) put me in some place where there is shade, verdure and water.  Here it either blows a furious wind, loaded with rain and fog, or the sun beats on my head through the want of shade, when I go out.  Let him (Lowe) put me on the Plantation House side of the island if he really wishes to do anything for me. But what is the use of coming up here proposing things and doing nothing?’….

Page 133 …… Lowe further restricted the boundary of Longwood and commanded the 23 sentries to move close to the house at dusk, rather than at 9pm, denying the prisoner his evening stroll in the garden, for he refused to go out under guard.  Instead Bonaparte requested (not entirely seriously) that the servants did ditches around the perimeter, eight or ten feet deep if necessary, so he could walk in privacy…..

Page 139 …… At Longwood, Bonaparte huddled by the fire, suffering toothache and a cold.  ‘What a miserable thing is man!’ he exclaimed.  ‘The smallest fibre in his body, assailed by disease, is sufficient to derange his whole system.’  He marvelled that his body was a most ‘curious machine … and perhaps I may be confined in it for thirty years longer’.
O’Meara, who extracted the tooth, thought not.  He informed the governor that in his view if Bonaparte continued to stay indoors and refused to take exercise he would become ill and ‘in all probability his existence in St Helena would not be protracted for more than a year or two’. Low asked him to make note of his opinion, cautioning the doctor that in writing it, he ‘must bear in mind that the life of one man was not to be put into competition with the mischief which he might cause were he to get loose’.
Betsy Balcombe sneaked a visit to Longwood with her father.  Napoleon said that he wished he could return to The Briars.  Betsy found him less amiable than usual, his face swollen and inflamed. He told me “Mr. O’Meara had just performed the operation of drawing a tooth, which caused him some pain”. Betsy exclaimed, “What!  You complain of the pain so trifling an operation can give?” She said “he astonished her, he who had survived countless battles and bullets.  I am ashamed of you.  But, nevertheless, give me the tooth and I will get it set by Mr. Solomon as an ear-ring and wear it for your sake”.  The idea made him laugh heartily, in spite of his suffering, and caused him to remark that he thought I should never cut my wisdom teeth.  He was always in good humour with himself whenever he was guilty of anything approaching to the nature of a witticism….. 

Page 153 – 154 …… The article, which also included an insinuating description of Napoleon and Betsy playing Blindman’s Buff, noted that she was Napoleon’s favourite and would tell him everything that passes through her flighty head. She asked him the most untoward questioned but he answered them all without hesitation.  Montchenu concluded that Miss Betsee was the wildest little girl he had ever met and expressed the opinion that she was folle – a madwoman.  His account was very damaging to a young lady’s reputation and future prospects.  Betsey observed in her recollections “My father was much enraged at my name thus appearing, and wished to call the marquess to account for his ill nature”.  However, her mother’s intercession prevailed, a duel was averted and “an ample apology” was obtained from the marquis.
When Napoleon hears of the affront that “Miss Betsee” had received from the “vieux imbecile” (old fool), he asked O’Meara to call at The Briars with a message for her on his way to Jamestown. He suggested how she might revenge herself: “It so happened, that the marquess provided himself on the peculiar fashion of his wig, to which was attached a long cue.  This embellishment on his head Napoleon desired me to burn off with caustic.  I was always ready for mischief and in this instance had a double inducement, on the emperor’s promise to reward me, on the receipt of the pigtail, with the prettiest fan Mr. Solomon’s shop contained.  Fortunately I was prevented indulging in this most hoydenish trick by the remonstrances of my mother”.
The next time she saw Napoleon, she made much of being too dutiful to disobey her mother, despite her inclination for revenge.  “He pinched my ear, in token of approval”, and said “Ah, Miss Bettee, to commences a etre sage” – “You begin to be sensible”.   He then called Dr.O’Meara, and asked him if he had procured the fan?  The doctor pointed; on perceiving which, Napoleon, with his usual good nature, consoled me with the promise of something prettier – and he kept his word.  In a few days I received a ring of brilliants, forming the letter N, surmounted by a small eagle……

Page 159 - 160 ….. In an interview for The Times, Santini had deplored the conditions in which his master lived: the climate at Longwood was most unhealthy, with extremes of wind, humidity and heat.  The house was a hovel and the roof leaked; it was ‘infested by rats, who devour everything that they can reach.  All the Emperor’s linen, even that which was lately sent from England, has been gnawed and completely destroyed by them……When the Emperor is at dinner the rats run about the apartment and even creep beneath his feet.’  However, his strongest criticism was reserved for the food sent by Balcombe the purveyor.  The provisions were always too small in quantity and frequently of bad quality. Often there was no butcher’s meat for the emperor’s table, and Cipriani would send Santini to town to purchase a sheep for four guineas or some pork for making soup.  ‘I was even, from necessity, in the habit of repairing secretly to the English camp to purchase butter, eggs and bread, of the soldier’s wives, otherwise the Emperor would often have been without breakfast, and even without dinner.’ Santini claimed that he sometimes rose at daybreak to shoot pigeons, or else the Emperor would have nothing for breakfast, as ‘the provisions did not reach Longwood until two or three o’clock in the afternoon.’ He said that in publishing his account he was fulfilling a ‘painful but sacred duty’……

Page 187 ….. The inexplicable suddenness of Cipriani’s death was a huge shock to Napoleon.  He felt a blood tie with the Corsican, for their two families had been friends back in Ajaccio.  Cipriani’s espionage work had facilitated the escape from Elba; on St Helena he had frequented the town shops, mixed with seamen in the taverns, and been tireless in collecting intelligence.  An elaborate headstone was ordered (but apparently never completed), and Bertrand paid Saul Solomon his hefty fee of 1400 gold francs for the burial arrangements……

Page 388…….On 9 December there was a large headline in the Australian “Reported loss of the Nancy”.  A French ship had found the vessel stricken off the West African coast, waterlogged and deserted.
This must have been the most terrifying time in the lives of Jane Balcombe, Betsy and her daughter.  They would have been far from shore, for ships to England never hugged the African coast, and in grave danger of drowning. The passengers had abandoned the ship in lifeboats and, after what must have been days in the baking sun, perhaps with little food and water, had all come to shore somewhere on the barren south-western coast of Africa (today’s Namibia).  It seems they waited for up to two weeks for the Nancy to be towed and repaired, while accepting the hospitality of the local people.
When the ship’s captain was confident of taking the Nancy to sea again they set sail, only to make an unexpected call at St Helena, presumably for supplies of food and water and to ascertain that the repairs were holding. The emotions of Betsy and her mother must have been in turmoil to see their beloved home The Briars.  The upper floor now extended right across the building with at least six bedrooms.  The house was surrounded by mulberry trees, ripe with red berries.  They learned that the East India Company had purchased the property for 6000 Pounds from the merchant Solomon in August 1827, to establish a mulberry plantation for feeding silkworms.  The production of silk was to be St Helena’s new industry, and like most other ventures it was doomed to failure.
They must have visited Napoleon’s tomb, the willows shading it almost denuded by tourists breaking off souvenirs.  But what would have come as the greatest shock was to ascend the mountain (perhaps even taken by the governor in his carriage) to see Longwood.  It was a wreck, having reverted to being a barn and granary.  There was a threshing machine in the drawing room where Napoleon had died, his billiard room was filled with potatoes and straw and his bathroom was a stable…..


"Views of St Helena" by T.E.Fowler in 1863.
Jamestown Harbour, St Helena

Jacob's Ladder - built 1829, 183 meters or 700 feet high and 665 steps.

Jacob's Ladder steps to Jamestown

Jamestown, St Helena

Napoleon's tomb

You may be wondering why my interest in the Solomon family.  I suggest you read my blog on "Doris Moss, Napoleon and St Helena".  The Moss and Solomon families were related through marriage and were living on the Island of St Helena at the time of Napoleon's exile there.

If you wish to contact the author of the Solomon/Moss Family Archives blogs with comments or further information, please email Joy Olney at -

1 comment: