When Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was born no one could have supposed that he would rise to become Emperor of France and, due to his success in the Napoleonic Wars, become regarded as one of the greatest military commanders of all time. Similarly none could have imagined that the tiny uninhabited island of Ascension Island would become so transformed by his eventual defeat and exile to St Helena.
Ascension Island was allegedly discovered in 1501 by the explorer João da Nova, but it seems he did not register the discovery. Thus the island was re-discovered in 1503 by Afonso de Albuquerque who sighted the island on Ascension Day.
Being dry and barren, it had little appeal for passing ships although it was used irregularly by the East Indies fleets and others for collecting fresh meat. Mariners could hunt for seabirds and the enormous female green turtles that laid their eggs on the sandy beaches. The Portuguese also introduced goats as a potential source of meat for future mariners.
However, for Ascension Island, everything was to change in 1815. On 15th October 1815 a squadron under the command of Rear Admiral George Cockburn put into St Helena with the prisoner Napoleon Bonaparte aboard. Fearing that Ascension could be used by the French to launch a rescue mission Cockburn dispatched two brigs, HMS Zenobia and HMS Peruvian, to Ascension Island. On 22 October 1815 Captains White and Dobree came ashore, raised the Jack and claimed the island for His Britannic Majesty King George III. The Royal Navy officially designated the island as a stone frigate, "HMS Ascension", with the classification of "Sloop of War of the smaller class".
A naval garrison was established and in the following years British troops changed the whole place into a little town with houses built of stone, a fortress, a hospital and a shop store.
And so the garrison developed. Water was found at Dampier’s Drip (143 gallons per day), in Breakneck Valley (300 gallons per day), and on Middleton’s Ridge (300 gallons per day). The rocks lying close to Fort Cockburn were dressed with stone and turned into a landing place, (now the Pier head). A pond was constructed to keep turtles, and alongside this a small boat harbour was built.
1821 saw the death of Napoleon but rather than being abandoned Ascension became a victualling place and recuperation base for the West Africa Squadron then engaged in anti-slaving duties on the African Coast.
This series of postage stamps celebrates Ascension Island’s Bicentenary of British Settlement, showing historical scenes, paintings and illustrations from the Napoleonic Years.
55p Napoleon Bonaparte on the Borodino Heights, 1897. Artist: Vereshchagin, Vasili Vasilyevich (1842-1904) from the collection of the State Borodino War and History Museum, Moscow. The Battle of Borodino during the French invasion of Russia was the deadliest day of the Napoleonic Wars. The Battle involved some 250,000 troops and resulted in at least 70,000 casualties. Whilst the battle was a victory for Napoleon the losses were so devastating that it would ultimately loose Napoleon the war and his crown. The battle was famously commemorated by Tchaikovsky with his 1812 Overture and described by Tolstoy as "a continuous slaughter which could be of no avail either to the French or the Russians" in his novel War and Peace. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images).
60p 'Napoleon at Fontainebleau, 31 March 1814'. Artist: Delaroche, Paul (1797-1856) from the Musee de l'Armee, Paris. Napoleon’s military campaigns across Europe, the Napoleonic Wars, led to France establishing its power across much of the continent. However the disastrous invasion of Russia and his defeat at Leipzig in 1813 led to his abdication and exile to Elba. Defeated, and already abandoned by many of his erstwhile supporters, Napoleon is shown alone in his private apartments in Fontainebleau, staring destiny in the face as he realises that all is lost.
(Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images).
65p Arthur Wellesley, lst Duke of Wellington (1769-1852). Portrait after Thomas Lawrence. The Anglo-Irish soldier, statesman and British Prime Minister in 1814, a few months before Waterloo. Wellesley rose to prominence as a general during the Peninsular campaign of the Napoleonic Wars, and was promoted to the rank of field marshal after leading the allied forces to victory against the French at the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. Following Napoleon's exile in 1814, he served as the ambassador to France and was granted a dukedom. During the Hundred Days (the period between Napoleon's return from exile on Elba to Paris on 20 March 1815 and the second restoration of King Louis XVIII on 8 July 1815, he commanded the allied army which, together with a Prussian army under Blücher, defeated Napoleon at the decisive Battle of Waterloo. Within days Napoleon had abdicated and unable to remain in France or escape from it, he surrendered himself to Captain Frederick Maitland of HMS Bellerophon early in the morning of 15 July and was transported to England. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images).
£1.60 Napoleon dictates his memoirs to General Baron Gourgaud whilst in exile on the island of Saint Helena in the Atlantic Ocean in 1818. He was moved to Longwood House, which had fallen into disrepair, was damp and unhealthy, in 1815. There were rumours of plots and of his escape but in reality no serious attempts were made. Napoleon finally died in 1821 and his remains returned to France in 1840. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images).
The Garrison built by the Marines on Ascension Island.
Designer: Bee Design
Printer: BDT International Security Printing Ltd
Process: Stochastic Lithography
Stamp size: 30.56 x 38mm
Perforation: 14 per 2cms
Layout: 8 within pictorial border
Release date: 27 April, 2015
Production Co-ordination: Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd
I am often asked why we should celebrate the Battle of Waterloo. It was a long time ago and it would only annoy the French. Both may be true but both the question and the comment miss the point. In the first instance the firm intention is to commemorate and not in any way glorify or be triumphalist. Nevertheless many hundreds of thousands died on both sides during the course of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Although a century away from the First World War they merit remembering and indeed in proportional terms to population the numbers of dead in the two wars were not that different. But Waterloo is a significant moment in history; it is as the military historian, the late Richard Holmes put it, “a full stop in European history”. It is not widely understood that it is the consequences of the battle which are so important to understand, rather than the detail, always so fascinating, of the battle itself. Victor Hugo characterised Waterloo as “the hinge on the door to the 19th Century”. The metaphor signals the importance of the battle as the closing event in the first global conflict lasting 22 years in which military actions had taken place on sea and land, across Europe, including Russia, Egypt, the Caribbean, India and the United States. Waterloo in conjunction with the Congress of Vienna created a period of remarkable stability which lasted until the years immediately before the First World War, Stable it was, free from war it certainly was not but the fundamental balance of power was maintained. This delicate arrangement was supervised by the “Concert of Europe” an informal grouping of the crowned heads of Europe. France was included and not as harshly treated as the Prussians would have desired - a lesson the treaty makers of Versailles failed to learn in 1918. Wellington and Castlereagh were the architects of this scheme and so not only won the war but they also won the peace. This is why this period of European history is so important. It is Waterloo that made Europe.
Waterloo 200 is a charity established to build through education an enduring and widespread awareness of the historical and cultural importance of the Battle of Waterloo. One of our objectives has been to create a digital learning resource available to formal learners and those interested in this period of history. It is centred on 200 iconic items related to Waterloo and the period. Also available are teaching materials and ways to register or trace ancestors. Running alongside is a programme encouraging schools across the country and an educational spectrum to study Waterloo. Currently we are working with over 200 schools and hope to expand this to 1000 schools by 2020.
Chairman Waterloo 200 - Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter KCVO OBE DL