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 22nd 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.
50p shows an engraving of Napoleon Bonaparte, Prime Consul of France (1799-1804) putting back his sword in its scabbard after the peace treaty of Amiens 1802. The treaty, signed by Joseph Bonaparte and the Marquess Cornwallis was to be a "Definitive Treaty of Peace" to end hostilities between the French Republic and the United Kingdom. In fact it lasted just one year, but was the only period of peace in the Great French Wars 1793 - 1815. (Photo by APIC/Getty Images).
55p Napoleon I, Emperor of the French in his coronation robes, 1804 by Francoise Gerard (1770-1837). The title was bestowed on Napoleon by the French Senate in May 1804 and he was crowned Emperor of the French on 2nd December 1804 at the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. The title of "Emperor of the French" was to demonstrate that Napoleon's coronation was not a restoration of the monarchy, but the introduction of a new political system: the Empire of the French (Empire des Français). (Photo by Universal Images Group/Getty Images).
60p Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson (1758 – 1805) by Lemuel Francis Abbott (ca 1760-1802). Nelson was a British flag officer famous for his service in the Royal Navy, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. His inspirational leadership, superb grasp of strategy and unconventional tactics resulted in a number of decisive naval victories. He was wounded several times in combat, losing one arm in the unsuccessful attempt to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife and the sight in one eye in Corsica. Of his several victories, the best known and most notable was the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, during which he was shot and killed by a French sniper. The battle was Britain's greatest naval victory and Nelson's death and victory at Trafalgar secured his position as one of Britain's most heroic figures. (Photo by DEA / G. NIMATALLAH/ Getty Images).
£1.60p Napoleon at Wagram, painted by Émile Jean-Horace Vernet (1789 – 1863).The Battle of Wagram (5–6 July 1809) was one of the most important military engagements of the Napoleonic Wars and ended in a decisive victory for Emperor Napoleon I's French and allied army against the Austrian army under the command of Archduke Charles of Austria-Teschen. The battle virtually spelled the destruction of the Fifth Coalition, the Austrian and British-led alliance against France. With more than 300,000 combatants, Wagram was the largest battle in European history up to its time. It was also the bloodiest military engagement of the entire Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars thus far. Wagram was the first battle in which Napoleon failed to score an uncontested victory with relatively few casualties. This would be indicative of the gradual decline in the quality of Napoleon's troops and the increasing experience and competence of his opponents. (Photo by DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/Getty Images).
The Battle of Trafalgar, 21th October 1805: Death of Nelson (copy after William Clarkson Stanfield). (Photo by DEA PICTURE LIBRARY/Getty Images).
Designer: Andrew Robinson
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: 28th April, 2014
Production Co-ordination: Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd