How the Waterloo carriage was acquiredA chance conversation on London BridgeThe strange adventures of an Emperor’s equipage–Affidavit of Napoleon’s coachman.
THE account of how we became possessed of the Waterloo carriage reads like an interesting chapter from fiction.
In the collection are two other Napoleon vehicles, namely, the Milan and St. Helena carriages. They are all strongly built, ponderous, and suitable for a great campaigner.
But what we are particularly concerned to tell at this moment is the story of the strange coincidence by which the Waterloo carriage was secured for the Exhibition. In all the wonderful happenings associated with this place, possibly none is quite so simple and yet so surprising as this. Mr. Joseph Tussaud, the elder son of Madame Tussaud, was a great lover of London, and it was his delight to roam leisurely about the Metropolis, studying the streets and byways and the people who traversed them.
In one of these peregrinations during the spring of 1842 he found himself leaning over the parapet of London Bridge, watching the movements of the diversifled craft on the river, when he observed by the wharves of Billingsgate a carriage being hoisted ashore from the deck of a ship like a huge spider hanging from its web.
That in itself was probably a fairly frequent occurrence, and it would have passed from Mr. Tussaud’s memory except for what followed. There were numbers of people looking over the bridgeas may be seen today, and will be seen for many a. day to comeand my great-uncle suddenly heard the voice of a country-man next to him saying, “That’s a very fine carriage, but I know where there’s a finer that some people would give a lot to have. I could take you to a place where you could see the selfsame carriage in which Napoleon tried to escape from Waterloo.”
This was news indeed to a Tussaudthe one man in all London to whom it mattered mostand it may be imagined that the countryman was encouraged to go on with his story and show the way to the coveted relic. The carriage, which has since been of inestimable value to Madame Tussaud’s, was traced to a repository in Gray’s Inn Road, belonging to one Robert Jeffreys, “a respectable coach manufacturer, who took the carriage in part payment of a bad debt,” as explained in a contemporary news-sheet. Did ever time play a trick like that with the carriage of an Emperor? “In part payment of a bad debt !” Who the debtor was, there is no telling now; it is, however, known that the carriage had been bought at a Tattersall auction, when short-sighted speculators let Napoleon’s chariot go cheap.
Previously the carriage had earned a fortune for Mr. William Bullock, who took it round the country as an exhibit, which the people flocked in their thousands to see, till the novelty wore off and the carriage was rolled into the repository of Jeffreys, the coach-builder, where it remained for years with none to do it reverence. An early cartoon by Cruikshank, in November of the Waterloo year, portrays a clamorous crowd surrounding the carriage when on view at the Egyptian Hall, and, it must be admitted, treating it with scant respect.
The carriage had been sent as a present to George IV when Prince Regent, and in due time it arrived at Carlton House with four high-stepping Normandy horses. Blackwood’s Magazine of March, 1817, states that “Bonaparte’s military carriage has excited more interest as an exhibit than anything for a number of years.” The manner in which the four horses were driven through the city by the French coachman, Jean Hornn, who lost his right arm when the carriage was captured, proves the excellent manner in which the horses were broken in. Mr. Bullock, in whose hands this splendid trophy of victory was placed by the Government, is said to have cleared £26,000 by his exhibition of it.
There is a letter in existence by Mr. William Bullock in which he states that the celebrated Carriage, taken by the Prussian troops about fifteen miles from Waterloo on the evening of the great Battle, was afterwards purchased by me from his late Majesty George IV for the sum of £2,500, and exhibited by me at the Egyptian Hall,
Piccadilly, London, as well as in the principal Cities in Great Britain and Ireland, by the Authority of the Government, and is the identical carriage I have just seen in your possession. The Diamonds found in the Carriage . . . were purchased by Mr. Mawe, diamond merchant in the Strand, from Baron Von Keller, the Officer that captured them. The present one, with others, was purchased by me from Mr. Mawe.
I am, Dear Sir,
Your most obedient Servant,
It is not known what Mr. Joseph Tussaud paid Mr. Robert Jeffreys, the Gray’s Inn Road coach-builder, for it; but this much may be said, that the carriage which proved so good an investment for Mr. Bullock has fulfilled all expectations at Madame Tussaud’s, where it is preeminently the right thing in the right place.
It was certified at the time that M. Simon, of Brussels, built the carriage, and that most of the contrivances for economising space and ensuring comfort and convenience were suggested by the Emperor him-self and his second wife, Marie Louise; also that this was the carriage which picked up Napoleon on his re-treat to Paris after the burning of Moscow.
Scarcely less singular than the coincidence of my great-uncle meeting with the countryman on London Bridge was my acquiring, sixteen years ago, from a second-hand bookseller in Margate, an original official letter relating to the carriage. The letter, it will be seen, bears a date about five months after the Battle of Waterloo. It reads:
Downing Street, 27th Nov., 1815.
I am directed by Lord Bathurst to request that you would receive into the King’s Mews the travelling carriage of General Bonaparte, together with all its appurtenances, and also the four horses and the harness taken from the same, and keep them from public view till further notice.
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your most obedient humble servant,
William Parker, Esqre., &c., &c., &c., Royal Mews.
The following affidavit sworn by Jean Hornn at the Mansion House before the famous Lord Mayor, Sir Matthew Wood, on the 9th of March, 1816, is of peculiar interest, containing as it does several important historic details :
AFFIDAVIT OF JEAN HORNN.
JEAN HORNN, a native of Bergen-op-Zoom in Holland, and now of Piccadilly in the County of Middlesex, aged twenty-eight years, maketh oath :
THAT about ten years ago he entered into the service of Napoleon Bonaparte, the late Emperor of France, and attended Napoleon in the capacity of his military coachman, through the campaign which was distinguished by the battle of Jena
THAT he attended Napoleon, in the same capacity of military coachman, during the subsequent campaigns, through the greater part of Prussia, Spain, Germany, and Russia, and in his excursion to Italy—
AND this Deponent saith, that he drove the military Carriage of the said Ex-Emperor from Paris to Waterloo; in which Carriage the Emperor travelled thither, accompanied by General Bertrand
THAT on the evening of the day on which the battle of Waterloo was fought, he, this Deponent, was attacked while with the said Carriage, by a detachment of Prussian lancers, and other infantry, who captured the Carriage, together with the Necessaire, and other articles it contained for the personal use of the ExEmperor
THAT whilst this Deponent was remaining with the Carriage, in a field about thirty paces from the road, endeavouring to pass round Jenappe (which was blocked up in the con-fusion of the retreat) he, this Deponent received ten wounds in various parts of the body ; three of which were in his right arm
THAT having then no appearance of life, he was left among the dead
THAT a few days afterwards, and whilst this Deponent was lying in great agony at Jenappe, he was removed by a British officer ; who conveyed him to Brussels, and who obtained the amputation of this Deponent’s arm, as well as surgical care of his other wounds
THAT he afterwards returned to Paris; and has received from the present Government of France a small annual pension-
AND this Deponent saith, that he hath inspected the Carriage, Horses, Necessaire of Gold and Silver, their respective Cases, the Pistols, Wearing Apparel, and other Articles now exhibiting at the London Museum, in Piccadilly (and which this Deponent hath been informed have been received there from the British Government), and that they are the same Carriage, Horses, Necessaire, and other Articles which belonged to the late Emperor of France, and were personally used by him–
AND that the Carriage is the same in which the Ex-Emperor proceeded to Moscow; and which Carriage was driven by this Deponent, with the Ex-Emperor therein, twenty-four leagues beyond that City, on the road to Chotillowo
THAT after the French army evacuated Moscow, and in the retreat toward France, the same Carriage was removed from off the perch and wheels, and placed on a sledge, and that the Ex-Emperor travelled therein, and was driven by this Deponent
AND this Deponent also saith, that he hath seen and examined the Grey Surtout Coat, lined with Sable Fur, which is also at the London Museum; and that it is the same which this Deponent hath frequently seen worn by the said Ex-Emperor during the Russian campaign; and that the parts of the coat which appear to have been burnt and scorched were chiefly so burnt and scorched by the fires, before which it was frequently placed during that campaign
AND this Deponent saith, that the Fur Travelling Cap, and the several other Articles of ‘Wearing Apparel (exclusive of those which came from the British Government, and which are also at the London Museum) were parts of the personal Wardrobe of. the Ex-Emperor of France; and were frequently used and worn by him
AND this Deponent was present when the said Surtout Coat, Travelling Cap, and other last-mentioned Articles were purchased by Mr. Bullock, at Paris, of Guste Maitrot, who was keeper of the Wardrobe to the late Emperor of France.
Sworn at the Mansion House, London, the 9th day of March, 1816; having been first interpreted to the Deponent, JEAN HORNN, by ADAM BRIEFF, who was sworn duly to interpret and explain the same to him.
Before me, MATTHEW WOOD, Mayor.