Monday, 25 August 2008

The poisoned room

A contemporary account of Longwood House, its interiors, and its furnishings from T.E. Wathen's A Series of Views Illustrative of the Island of St. Helena. Published by Clay, London, 1821.


The late residence of Napoleon Buonaparte, where he arrived in the letter part of 1815, and at which he died on May the 5th, 1821. The situation, and other particulars concerning Longwood, have already been given at Page 6; and a very brief description of the building is all that remains to be added. The present erection was formed in timber framework at Woolwich, by the Architect for the Ordnance department, to be erected at St. Helena. It is designed in the cottage style, and contains 24 rooms, the general size of which is 25 feet by 18. The length of the house in front is about 120 feet; and it contains 16 windows with an open corridore. The depth of the building is 100 feet, and the back is also ornamented with a corridore. It is two stories in height, and the right hand wing was appropriated to Buonaparte, In the centre stands the Drawing-room, coloured of various shades of green, and arabesque gold panels; with curtains of light silk taboret, of Pomona green, and velvet borders edged with gold coloured silk twist. Above them is a matted gold cornice, to conceal the rings and curtain rod, and the top of the room is finished by a cream coloured ceiling. The carpet is of Brussels texture, of various shades of brown, olive, and amber. The furniture consists of an elegant oak centre table; pier table, inlaid with a slab of Verd Antique Mona marble; splendid pier glass, with a frame of Buhl and ebony; chairs of British oak; two Greek sofas and footstools ornamented with Or Moulu; a piano forte; and chandeliers and candelabri to light the apartment, The Dining-room is next in the suite, the fittings up for which are of a lavender tint, and the curtains of silk, with a black border and gold coloured silk lace fringe. The carpet and walls are of the same lilac hue, as well as the coverings for the chairs. The furniture consists of a fine oaken Dining-table, capable of accommodating from six to fourteen persons; a side-board, peculiarly made for holding the Imperial plate, with the wine coolers constructed of Bronze and rich wood. Adjoining the Dining-room is the Library, which is furnished in the Etruscan style, with several dwarf book-cases; a Library table with desks and drawers, and curtains of a new cotton material, having the appearance of cloth. The Sitting-room is ornamented with an ethereal blue carpet shaded with black, and several ebony cabinets inlaid with brass. In the Bed-room is a high canopy Bedstead, enclosing a silken musquito net, and hung with furniture of lilac persian edged with gold coloured fringe. The Bath is lined with marble, and made to admit hot or cold water. The other wing of Longwood House contained spacious apartments for Buonaparte's suite, with servant's offices and store-rooms in the rear. The Kitchen is a detached building, yet convenient to the Dining-room. The materials for this erection, together with the elegant furniture, table services, dresses, and plate presented to Buonaparte, by the noble munificence of the British government, amounted to 500 tons in weight, and were contained in 400 packages. A number of artists were also sent with them to fit out the Establishment.

Longwood House as it is today.

A wallpaper fragment from Longwood House showing a single star, the principal of which is green and brown. It is possible that the brown had originally been gold. Gold and green were the Imperial colours.

One of the theories surrounding Napoleon's death was that he had been poisoned by his wallpaper. The wallpaper at Longwood House was painted with Scheele's green, an arsenic compound called copper arsenide. When attacked by certain molds, possibly present in the damp environment of St. Helena, arsenic would have been released into the air. Giving further credence to this scenario, in the late 1950s Clare Boothe Luce, the then American ambassador to Italy, was diagnosed with arsenic poisoning caused by paint chips falling from the stucco roses on her bedroom ceiling.

The original, but less romantic, cause of death has been confirmed by the use of modern technology.

Now playing: ABC - Poison Arrow
via FoxyTunes


An Aesthete's Lament said...

Fabulous house. Too bad the hipped roof was made into a peak. Argh. And the fence needs to be put back to its original state.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I have come in contact with some fairly poisonous wallpaper in my time as well.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Have you a floor plan?

HOBAC said...

Oddly enough, no I don't. But doesn't the layout sound intriguing?

Toby Worthington said...

The whole place is intriguing. A modest house for a man who made himself an Emporer and had lived in despotic splendor (with the exception of the lovely Malmaison)...the description is vivid and conjures up something quite real.