From The Briars to The Briars like Alexander Balcombe

For Marijke and me, Tuesday 13th October was a highlight of our nine-day visit to St Helena. While on the Royal Mail Ship, we had received via the captain, a letter inviting us to a “Presentation”, signed on behalf of the Head of Government, Sean Burns. Back in Australia, the mayor of Mornington Shire, Bev Colomb, had asked us to deliver a picture of The Briars, Mt Martha to the people of St Helena as Alexander Balcombe, who founded The Briars had named his property after his family home of The Briars, St Helena.

After a short speech about the connections between the two properties, Sean presented us with a framed photograph of The Briars Pavillion, St Helena. I in turn said a few words about the Napoleonic collection and natural beauty of The Briars Homestead and Park, Australia and presented him with a framed sketch of the homestead.

 Marijke told people (in French) about her play about Napoleon which starts in The Briars. There was great interest and we are hopeful that it will be performed at Longwood next year.

About 50 people crowded into the Pavillion, including hosts Sean and Marina Burns, (who actually live in the back rooms behind The Briars Pavillion). 

  The French Consul, Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, said a few words as guardian of The Briars (which Balcombe family member Dame Mabel Brookes gifted to the French Government in 1957). Other guests included Napoleon’s descendant, Prince d’Essling, the rest of the French visitors, Australian expats on St Helena as well as Briars Pavillion guide Trevor Magellan with his wife Myrtle.

The speeches were followed by a slap-up island morning tea and photos on the steps. We look forward to reporting with Marijke on this event to fellow Briars guides and Mornington Shire Mayor Bev Colomb after we return.

 In the afternoon Marijke and I walked to the Heart-Shaped Falls behind The Briars, which Napoleon is said to have enjoyed viewing during his two months stay there. Surprise, surprise, we met the French returning from the same hike.

Then in the evening we attended a concert with a Napoleonic theme at St James Church, along with most of our new friends from RMS St Helena Napoleon aka Merrill in costume participated in a moving excerpt from a Stanley Kubrick film on Napoleon including his time on St Helena. The English professor who works with the Fondation Napoleon, Peter Hicks did a rousing piano piece of the battle of Marengo. He then had to rush off to a formal dinner on board the HMS Lancaster.

We chatted with others over another generous island supper of home-made goodies. It turns out that the vicar of St James, Father Dale visited The Briars Australia three years ago and put a comment in the visitors’ book. I hope that this is the first of many exchanges with St Helena in years to come.

St Helenian tour in classic Chevvy

After farewelling Jason at the Coffee Shop on the wharf (the scene of many tearful goodbyes), we joined Colin Corker for his renowned charabanc tour of the island in his 1929 Chevrolet. First stop was The Briars Pavillion, which we Aussies were excited to see as Marijke and I are guides at The Briars, Mt Martha Australia.

We found that The Briars Pavillion had a restored attic. We return here on Tuesday for an official ceremony with the Head of Government, but for now we are happy to be guided by Trevor Magellan, who is a mine of information. In Napoleon’s day the Pavillion consisted of only one room, which is now open to the public. His secretary, Count Las Cases slept in the attic with his son, Emmanuel.

This is Trevor Magellan.

We continued to Longwood House, Napoleon’s home and prison until his death in 1821. It also was in beautiful condition for the bicentenary.

The garden featured an endemic ebony rose in flower.  

  The painted hills, seen from the car, are a multi-coloured wonder. 
The island’s highest peak is Diana’s Peak, located between two other peaks, Cuckolds and Acteon, which are topped with Norfolk Island Pines.

After a takeaway lunch near the new airport, we continued to Napoleon’s tomb, in a secluded valley. Th tomb itself is empty – Napoleon’s body was exhumed and taken to Paris in 1840. But it’s a peaceful spot.

 Colin then took us to the governor’s residence at Plantation House, where we met Jonathan, the 180 year-old turtle.

After observing the Castle and St James Church from  The top of Jacob’s Ladder, we negotiated our way down the narrow roadway called Ladder Hill Road back to Jamestown.  
Reaching Jamestown safely called for a cleansing ale at the bar in Mule Yard, by the foreshore, before watching the Fire Engine Pull, an event for Cancer Awareness Week. Everywhere we go we meet people we know from the Mail Ship or another island event. This is the fun of living in a small community.

One could get very fond of Island life, with its mix of community events and natural beauty.

(Written on Friday 9th October and posted when we have access to free wifi).