University Archives


Napoleon Captivity-Era St. Helena Letters Relating to Feuding British Captors, Ex-Nicholson Napoleon Collection

Two letters from St. Helena dating from the captivity of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), relating to a well-known feud between the Emperor's British overseers, Rear Admiral Robert Plampin and Surgeon John Stokoe of the "H.M.S. Conqueror." The correspondence from January 1819 illustrates the extent to which the British forces who guarded Napoleon were divided in the attitudes concerning, and treatment of, their famous prisoner. Napoleon's personal friendships or enmities with British officers shaped island politics--an impressive feat considering that Napoleon was basically under house arrest at Longwood House. From the Nicholson Napoleon Collection.

The lot is comprised of:

1. A 2pp letter signed with integral address leaf, signed by Rear Admiral Robert Plampin (1762-1834), the controversial Commander-in-Chief of St. Helena and Cape of Good Hope Naval Stations from July 1817 to July 1820, as "Robt: Plampin" at the bottom of the second page. Addressed to Surgeon John Stokoe from Briars Pavilion, the Admiral's residence on St. Helena after 1818, on January 18, 1819. On bifold paper, with traces of an embossed black wax seal on the address leaf. Expected paper folds and gentle weathering, else very good to near fine. 7.25" x 9.25."

In part:

"[I discover] that it was your intention to return to Longwood last evening… if…you conceive it essential you should go there, you have my permission to do so; but from what passed when you called on me yesterday, I think it right to caution you to confine your conversation to subjects of your own profession, without communicating to Count Bertrand or other persons at Longwood any passing events foreign to the purpose of your visit.

On your return from Longwood to day, you will call at the Briars to inform me of the state of General Buonaparte's health…"

2. A 1p autograph letter signed by Surgeon John Stokoe (1755-1852) as "John Stokoe" at center. Addressed to Captain Stanfield from the "H.M.S. Conqueror" on January 22, 1819. On a piece of ruled paper. Expected light folds, else near fine. 5.5" x 10."

In part:

"I beg that you will be pleased to grant me a second perusal of the order or instruction you received from the Commander in Chief…as it appears by the Adml's Letter to me of yesterday that I have been acting under a misconception of duty in proceeding to Longwood…"

For the full story of Plampin and Stokoe's feud, see Norwood Young, Chapter 22, Volume II, "Napoleon in Exile: St. Helena (1815-1821)" (London: S.Paul & Co., 1915.) Plampin supported the policies of Sir Hudson Lowe, the Governor of St. Helena, who disapproved of Stokoe's visits to Longwood in January 1819. Napoleon was in fact scheming to replace his current physician with Stokoe since the latter was a hostile critic of both Plampin and Lowe. Stokoe was ordered to return to England in August 1819 for a court martial. Plampin's attitude was largely responsible for Stokoe's dismissal from the Navy.


The lot comes with supporting documentation:

1. An invoice from Julian Browning Rare Books and Manuscripts (London, England) dated November 2, 2001 showing that these two letters were purchased for $675.

2. Catalog 24 from Julian Browning Rare Books and Manuscripts, recording two similar item descriptions, Lots 388 and 389, pertaining to St. Helena.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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