…and rows about the cost of provisions and other household expenses
(by Lally Brown)
NOTE: Text shown in italic is drawn directly by Lally from unpublished primary source documents held in the Archives and Manuscripts Department of the British Library. Additional information for the article came from original records on St Helena, and Count Bertrand’s own diary written at the time.
The Costs of Supply
During the period of Napoleon’s exile and imprisonment on St Helena, it was the responsibility of the British Government to supply and pay for all Napoleon’s needs on the island. He was considered to be a prisoner of war. As a consequence, meticulous details were kept of every item of food and drink supplied to the inhabitants of Longwood and this paints a powerful picture of their life.
When Napoleon arrived at St. Helena in October 1815, he brought with him an entourage of twenty-four people. Eleven of these were his personal servants including a cook, taster, footman, valet, and two stablemen for the horses. The remainder, that made up his Household, comprised Counts, Generals, their wives and their children. The island had received only one week’s notice of Napoleon’s arrival and at first all was confusion and chaos, but after a few weeks he was installed at Longwood House, the former summer home of the Deputy Governor. Also with him and his companions, were his personal physician and twelve sailors seconded from HMS Northumberland as additional servants.
William Balcombe, the East India Company’s agent (See ‘Civil & Military’ in the St Helena topic), was appointed the accredited purveyor of supplies to Longwood with the task of provisioning Napoleon’s household. His firm took a 5% commission on every item that was sent up to Longwood. His daughter Betsy was the young girl who had made such an impression on Napoleon when he had first arrived at St. Helena.
The British Government had stipulated to the Governor, Sir Hudson Lowe (See ‘Sir Hudson Lowe’ in the St Helena topic) that Napoleon’s expenses should not exceed £8000 per annum (£8,100=£100 at 1816 prices). This was the same as the annual allowance of an Army General of the highest rank.
However, the costs of provisioning quickly soared and within a few months had reached over £19,000. The Governor was alarmed at this extravagance and, in an attempt to rein in Napoleon’s expenditure, instructed his Assistant Commissary General to Longwood to list all current expenses.
Mr. Ibbetson was thorough, and even accounted for the cost of feeding a mule! The first list was dated September 1816 and included:
Forage for thirteen horses daily – £720.4.7 per annum
Transport forage for one mule conveying the same – £46.10.2 per annum
Pay of soldier in charge of mule – £27.7.6 per annum
Expense of English servants attached to establishment – £675 per annum
Expense of two overseers, six carpenters, four sawyers, five masons, three plasterers and one painter – £939.17.6 per annum.
Expenses of public transport conveying the supplies furnished by the Purveyor (Balcombe) to Longwood:
Forage for eight mules daily – £372.1.4 per annum
Pay of two muleteers in charge of the same – £109.10.0 per annum
Rations of ditto – £68.8.9 per annum
Pay of two soldiers ditto – £27.7.6 Table stores and other necessaries for the house – £2,020.5.3 per annum
Wines, claret, graves, champagne and Madeira (supplied from
Government Stores sent from England) – £2445.10.0 per annum
Table expenses (also supplied by Balcombe) – £11,700 per annum Balcombe’s allowance of 5% on the sum as above mentioned – to be added Salary to Surgeon O’Meara – to be added (See ‘Death by Wallpaper’ in Napoleon’s Final Years topic).
The Governor himself received a fixed and liberal allowance of £12,000 per annum in lieu of his salary and was expected to meet all his expenses from this sum. He was not going to allow Napoleon, a Prisoner of War to exceed the limit imposed upon himself as Governor. He did however successfully apply to London to raise Napoleon’s annual allowance from £8,000 to £12,000 – the same as his own – but insisted that Longwood should trim their budget to suit.
Napoleon responded angrily, threatening to dispose of his plate privately to defray expenses over and above the £12,000 limit. What is the use of plate when you have nothing to eat off it? he ranted and instructed Countess Bertrand to sell her phaeton to raise additional funds. The almost impossible task of trying to reduce the Longwood household expenses fell on Count Montholon, a member of Napoleon’s Household. Montholon was certain we cannot by any means come within the proposed sum of £12,000 and maintained that the greatest economy has already been established in the household to curtail expenses.
However, he wrote to Balcombe and agreed to reduce the table expenses by restricting the supply of beef to 60lbs a day! If a piece of salt meat be supplied daily, then 50 lbs would suffice, but he insisted that fish must be supplied daily with a whole sheep and nine fowls. He also made a daily saving of three bottles of claret; two of madeira; two of beer and 6lbs of bread. He also suggested that a pig should be supplied each fortnight that would be fattened on scraps from the kitchen before slaughter.