There were continual rumours that Napoleon planned to escape from his exile on the island of St Helena
Almost as soon as Napoleon had arrived on St Helena rumours of escape plots, actual and imagined, became a regular feature of island life and it was not only on the island that these rumours festered and flourished.
There were two main sources for what became a growing security problem for the government in London and for the governor, Sir Hudson Lowe, on St Helena (see Sir Hudson Lowe in the St Helena topic).
First, Napoleon’s brother, Joseph Bonaparte, along with a number of other high ranking French officers, had fled to the United States of America at the time of Napoleon’s capture in France where they now began a campaign for his release and rescue. These inevitably involved fast-sailing sailing ships that would set off from various departure points in the South Atlantic.
Second, in London, Whig opposition to the government led by Lord Holland and many other liberal sympathisers (see The Holland House Set in the London topic) made life increasingly uncomfortable for ministers in Parliament by initiating debate about the cruel conditions in which Napoleon was being kept. Opposition to Napoleon’s exile and imprisonment also included ex-military officers who were willing to take practical action to secure his release.
For example, Lady Holland was in continual correspondence by letter with Napoleon via individuals travelling to and from St Helena (see The Cocoa Tree Club in the London topic). East India Company vessels calling in at Jamestown also carried secret communications. For example, she used the small-ads column of the Daily Courier to send secret messages of support from sympathisers for Napoleon’s release from exile.
Although the Government in London did their best to prevent Napoleon from communicating with his supporters in Europe, they failed to stop a succession of both civil, military and political figures from meeting him. For example, Lord Amherst, a junior government minister, who had been sent on a mission to China to promote trade, called in at St Helena on his way home in 1817 and had audience with Napoleon who complained bitterly about his treatment.
All of the senior military officers met Napoleon when they arrived on the island and he had a particular affection for naval officers who he found were much more sympathetic to his situation that those serving in the army.
In addition, East India Company captains with distinguished passengers on board always wished to meet Napoleon.
Any of these who were sympathetic to his cause encouraged Napoleon to think that rescue was near and an escape would be organised.