The view from St Helena

The Baton docks at the island of St Helena in the southern Atlantic Ocean today (19.02.2014). Known as being one of the most isolated islands in the world, St Helena, historically used as a stopover for ships en route to Europe from Asia, was used by the British as a place of exile.

The University’s links through its alumni with St Helena also happen to coincide with the period in which that island saw its most famously detainee, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Napoleon at St Helena, WikiCommons

Napoleon at St Helena, WikiCommons

Napoleon was confined there from 1815, while St Helena was still under the administration of the East India Company (which it had been since 1657) – and this is where the first student connection comes in: One of  Dr Jeffray’s medical students, Walter Henry, who became a regimental surgeon, was stationed in St Helena between 1817 and 1821. According to Addison’s research notes, Henry prepared a bulletin of the post mortem appearance of Napoleon’s body. This is in-keeping with Henry’s biography in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography which states that Henry “found the former French emperor “unsightly and obese”; in 1821 he kept the official notes made during Napoleon’s autopsy.”

Napoleon’s death is still today looked upon with suspicion – was he poisoned or did he in fact die of stomach cancer as the autopsy concluded?

Napoleon’s remains were not repatriated from St Helena until in 1840, and it was Glasgow student General George Middlemore, who oversaw this repatriation as he became the first governor of Saint Helena after its handover from the British East India Company to the British Crown. During the period of Middlemore’s governorship, St Helena was also used as a British naval base in its operations to suppress the African slave trade.

We’re still adding to our associations with St Helena – if you can contribute any information to the site, please get in touch.

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Filed under Commonwealth of Nations, Europe

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