July 29, 2005

The strange story of Napolean's Wallpaper. A curious theory for the source of the arsenic which was later detected in a sample of his hair.

Also, Napoleon's place of exile, St. Helena is an interesting place to read about. You can only get there by the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) St. Helena (check out the pic of the ship's officers).

  • Nice link. I'm glad to know about St. Helena now.
  • Intriguing theory and another fine post, un-! Ah, for the time and resources to visit the more remote islands of the world..
  • I mispelled Napoleon with an 'a' too when I googled. I found The Murder of Napoleon at a used bookstore last summer. He liked to take daily baths--which would have steamed up his quarters and possibly created arsenic fumes--and dictate memoirs to his staff. It was part of his health regimen. So was riding horses. My impression is that he didn't adapt to imprisonment/isolation well. He played games with the local British commander, but lost interest after awhile. The British policy for most of his captivity was to check on him in person daily. He once threatened to shoot a British soldier if he entered his chamber. He gave up horseback riding, because there was a picket around the house he was not allowed to violate, and on an already small island too. I felt pity for him in particular when he requested a priest for intellectual stimulation, and they sent him a stodgey old man who didn't like to talk. Overall, there was so much intrigue happening, I think his poisoning was intentional. He was able to smuggle messages in and out, despite the security. All the Monarchies of Europe were scared to death of him. When he was in an English port after he was captured, he appeared on deck in his uniform and was cheered by English well-wishers. If he made it back to France, he could have raised a military quickly, as he did when he escaped his previous captors. He wrote that he regretted not accepting an offer to smuggle him to America. What would have happened if Napoleon made it to America I wonder?
  • I mispelled Napoleon with an 'a' too when I googled. I managed to spell it differently in two places. Getting feeble I guess!
  • There's a good little novel called The Monsters of St. Helena by Brooks Hansen that's a purely fictional story about Napoleon's arrival on the island and his friendship with a local girl. I'm sure it has little if any historical value, and it's not even Hansen's best novel, but it's still an enjoyable read. I really liked how he portrayed Napoleon in the book -- again, not from an historical perspective, but just as a character in the book.
  • Cool. I heard mention of the wallpaper story recently while listening to this interview with chemist John Emsley, author of The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison
  • Geez, the RMS is a silly place. Reading the book, I always thought arsenic had to be served to Bonaparte in his wine. The author--Hapgood--seemed to think so anyway. Napoleon had very predictable eating and drinking habits. Everything, including wine, was shipped in on an English ship.
  • Got me thinking on how I remembered reading that arsenic had been used in cosmetic face whitening powders - Googled around and came up with this strange tale. Thanks for the interesting reading, un-.
  • Arsenic was extremely common in many products in those days. I seem to remember reading a more recent theory that the arsenic poisoning may have had something to do with his wine, perhaps used in some fashion in the production of wine, memory is vague. The most recent material I read suggested that he was indeed dying of stomach cancer and that evidence of this was a loss of weight prior to death shown by the taking-in of his clothes, although I wonder just how realistic this evidence is.
  • True tale: Back in the 1950s, the US ambassador to Italy, Claire Boothe Luce, was installed in Rome in an older building. After a while she became ill. And after this, it was discovered that the white and many times painted ceiling in her bedroom was constantly dropping a rain of tiny, arsenic-laden particles on everything below, including herself.
  • It's alright if it poisons politicians.
  • I vaguely recall hearing this story some years back. An interestnig read nonetheless. The first thing that comes to mind is - do we know that the lock of hair does indeed belong to Napoleon? Also, arsenic was used in glass production, both for obtaining certain hues and "de-coloring." I've heard tales before of wine decanters/bottles reacting with the contents and leaching some form of arsenic. Interesting to ponder...
  • At least that's what the Russians would have you believe! /tinfoil_hat
  • Man, another addition to my list of places to visit. It's nice to know that places this isolated still exist in the world. Intrigue aside, it seems like a fairly civil end for ol' Boney. Now, you have to wonder if Saddam even gets to see daylight.
  • Thallium - chemically similar to asenic, was very popular in post-war Australia as both a rat poison and to get rid of the troublesome hubbies (women are far more likely to poison than men. It is the number-one method of homicide in England amonst women.) Also check out a movie called "The Young Poisoner's Handbook". Nice cup of tea anyone?
  • "The Young Poisoner's Handbook" Creepy movie. But interesting. As for old Napoleon Bonyparts. I think it's plausible he just croaked from stomach cancer and had been exposed to unhealthy levels of arsenic in the environment.
  • There's a doco on the young poisoner that's rather better than the film mentioned.