Starting this fall, the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena is hosting a series of events and special projects surrounding its Napoleonic heritage. The campaign, under the auspices of The British Napoleonic Bicentenary Trust, marks 200 years since Napoleon died on the island to which he was exiled after the French defeat at the 1815 Battle of Waterloo. Napoleon allegedly died of stomach cancer on May 5, 1821 at Longwood House, one of the most visited historic sites on St. Helena. In 1840, his coffin was disinterred and transported to Paris where it was reburied beneath the dome of the Hôtel des Invalides.
Located 1,200 miles from Africa and 1,800 miles from South America, St. Helena (pronounced St. Hel-EE-na) is one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands. As Napoleon’s place of exile, the island is home to numerous heritage sites; and valleys dotted with forts and flag stations built to ensure Napoleon could not escape. The Trust has two main objectives: to preserve the island’s at-risk heritage sites, and to promote new perspectives on the story of Napoleon on St. Helena.
To preserve the island’s heritage, two projects have been announced. The first is the restoration of Toby’s Cottage, a building that housed the aristocratic Balcombe family’s slaves – including a man named Toby. The cottage is one of a few surviving dwellings of enslaved Africans on the island. There are also plans for a new Heritage Trail, encompassing several historical sites. The campaign will feature a series of online events. These aim to commemorate the death of Napoleon in a respectful manner, acknowledging the complicated legacy of his rule, defeat and death.
In May 2021, there will be several intimate memorialization events at the graveside of several notable individuals of the Napoleonic period. Virtual experiences will include 3D ‘visits’ to the island’s main Napoleonic sites.