On This Day in Napoleonic History – 17 October 1815

17Napoleon disembarks on Saint Helena

It is with good reason that Saint Helena has been described as further away from anywhere than anywhere else in the world. It is nothing but a spec in the South Atlantic Ocean, 4,000 kilometres east of Rio de Janeiro and 1,950 west of the southern coast of Africa. ‘It is not an attractive place. I should have done better should I have stayed in Egypt,’ remarked Napoleon sadly, possibly foreseeing that he was going to die on the island.

For the first seven weeks of his stay on Saint Helena Napoleon resided at the Briars, with the family of East India company superintendent William Balcombe. This was the happiest period of his exile. He stroke up an unlikely and innocent friendship with 14-year old Besty Balcombe that lasted until she left the island with her family. Although she was brought up to believe that Napoleon was a two-headed monster who breathed fire and ate little children, the deposed Emperor soon won her over with his charm, as he often did with most people he met. ‘I never met anyone who bore childish liberties so well as Napoleon. And even though I often tried his patience severely, I never knew him to lose his temper,’ she later wrote. Napoleon and Besty were both heartbroken when the Balcombes were banished from the island for having become too close to Napoleon.

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