Bonhams will stage Napoleon Bonaparte: The British Sale at New Bond Street on October 27. Several of the items to be offered will be on display at a special exhibition, Napoleon: From Waterloo to Saint Helena, Birth of the Legend, at the Waterloo 1815 Memorial in Belgium running from today, May 5 (the day he died in 1821), to October 17.
After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, the British sent him to the remote island of St Helena to live in exile from Europe. The island, situated in the south Atlantic some 1200 miles off the coast of Africa, was in the territory of the East India Company at the time.
In 1819, the 20th Regiment of Foot arrived on the island and were assigned as Napoleon’s guards at his residence, Longwood House. This force was in addition to the existing garrison of 3000 soldiers, along with six ships on constant patrol of the coastal waters, and an array of heavier ships moored off the capital, Jamestown.
The cane, estimated at £70,000-90,000, was carved on St Helena from bone by a Chinese man. The shirt, one of only six known from his Will, is guided at £60,000-80,000.
Another highlight is an engraved bone apple corer probably crafted by one of Napoleon’s guards from the 20th Regiment of Foot to commemorate his death (estimate: £3000-5000).
The corer has been inscribed with the emblem of the regiment and Longwood House, as well as the inscription quis custodiet which translates as 'who will guard' – a clear reference to the maker’s position. Napoleon died at Longwood on May 5, 1821, and this date has been inscribed on the corer followed by the word vale, being the Latin for 'farewell'.
Meanwhile, an “exceptionally rare letter” written on St Helena by Napoleon to his companion in exile and English teacher, Emmanuel, Comte de Las Cases, in English, dated 1816, is estimated at £130,000-180,000.
One of only three known to exist, it begins “...it is two o'clock after midnight, j have enow sleep j go then finish the night into to cause with you...”.
Napoleon came to the English language relatively late in life, having reportedly first expressed an interest in learning the language during the two-month voyage from Europe to the island in 1815. His lessons are well-documented by Count Emmanuel de Las Cases, in his hugely successful memoir Le Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène (published in 1823 after Napoleon's death).
Relics from the era
Bonhams says: “The cross-category sale will feature an array of historically significant items – from jewellery and manuscripts to personal effects and paintings – exploring Napoleon, alongside other historically related European figures, from France and Great Britain to Italy, Spain and beyond.”
Other lots relate to Vice Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy, the Duke of Wellington, Admiral Lord Nelson, and Joséphine Bonaparte, among others.
For example, a horsehair bracelet woven from the mane of Wellington’s horse Copenhagen, on which he sat for 18 hours during the Battle of Waterloo, is estimated at £2000-3000.