Linen-backed hand coloured map, bearing the title ‘The Geographical Plan of The Island & Forts of Saint Helena is Dedicated by permission to Field Marshal His R. Highness The Duke of Kent and Strathearn By Lieut. R. P. Read.’ Napoleon Bonaparte’s facsimile signatures as Premier Consul and Emperor lower right. First edition. Published October 1815 by Burgis & Barfoot, 32 Southampton Street, The Strand, London. Complete with original card case and manuscript note from Lieutenant Read promoting his map. Framed and glazed.
In late July 1815 the news that Napoleon (1769-1821) was a prisoner aboard H.M.S. Bellerophon at Torbay, Devon attracted thousands of British sightseers hoping for a glimpse of Ogre / Hero before being sent into exile at St. Helena. Long used an East India Company port of call for ships sailing to and from China and British India, the island was a place otherwise known ‘as further away from anywhere than anywhere else in the world.’ Public interest in Napoleon’s fate and the island’s topography was answered in part by Lieutenant Read, an officer of whom curiously little is known. Read’s map is based the seventeenth century chart of the hydrographer John Seller, and was annotated to show the names of the property owners and residences of the officers stationed on the island when Napoleon stepped ashore.
The present map, being the first of the four editions published between October 1815 and 1841, shows Napoleon’s residence as Plantation House, a mile to the east of The Briars where he actually spent the first seven weeks after his arrival. During this period Longwood was being refurbished and extended. It was at The Briars, the home of William Balcombe, an East India Company superintendent, that Napoleon befriended, Betsy Balcombe, the second of the Balcombe’s four children. Brought up to view Napoleon as ‘a huge ogre or giant with one flaming eye in the centre of his forehead’,14-year old Betsy found him ‘ever ready to enter into every sort of mirth with the glee of a child’, and despite severely testing his patience, she ‘never knew him to lose his temper or fall back on his rank or age’.
Plantation House became the residence of Napoleon’s arch enemy Sir Hudson Lowe and was marked as such on the second edition of the map also published in 1815. Read’s second edition also names The Briars as Napoleon’s first residence. The third edition contained no changes, and was produced in June 1817. The 1841 fourth edition was released to coincide with the ‘Retour des Cendres’ - the return of the Napoleon’s remains to Paris in 1840.
Napoleon reluctantly took up residence at Longwood situated at 1500 feet above sea level on the humid Deadwood Plateau on the west of the island, on 10 December 1815. As Read’s map shows there was little chance of escape. The island was dotted with signal posts that constantly communicated with one another and its coast was patrolled day and night by two British frigates. Knowing full well he would die on the island, Napoleon devoted considerable time to his memoirs, dictating on occasion up to twelve hours a day, what would become the greatest international best seller of the 19th century ‘Le Mémorial de Sainte Hélène’.