The Objects

21st Jul 1815

Chair Image.jpg
Source: Willis's Current Notes, November 1857, p. 3

Peregrinations of a chair: Napoleon’s seat in India

Contributed by: Elodie Duché

In 1857, the monthly newspaper Willis’s Current Notes dedicated an article to ‘the most curious’ journey of one of Napoleon’s chairs to the parish of Crail in Fifeshire, Scotland. This seat was said to have accompanied the Emperor in his exiles, and to have been ‘commonly used’ by him in Saint Helena.

Whilst in possession of the local vicar, the chair was sketched and described as being ‘made of a very indifferent piece of mahogany; the stuffed seat and cushion at the back being covered with chintz’.

This seemingly banal object, banal at least in nature, unravels the imperial route of domestic trophies of war following Napoleon’s abdication. An East India Company officer, Captain Barclay, had bought it from Saul Solomon, a Saint Helena entrepreneur, who was in possession of many objects belonging to the Emperor, following a local auction in 1921.

After its purchase, Barclay had taken it ‘to Calcutta, and there presented it to his friend, Mr Cudbert Thornhill Glass, EICCS, who [had] sent it to his father, the late Colonel Glass, of Abby Park, Saint Andrews, under the care of Major Burns, son of the poet Robert Burns’.

Little is known about how this seat had been utilised during its voyage, whether as a relic or indeed a chair. The Major nevertheless recorded that ‘the chair caused a great sensation on its homeland passage’ and that ‘a Frenchman on board fell down before it and kissed it’.

After the death of Colonel Glass, the object was acquired by his son-in-law, the Revd Merson, in Crail, which suggests the role of the British Empire in the dissemination of Napoleonic objects throughout the world. This object is a powerful reminder of the global resonance of the Napoleonic Wars and their aftermath.