Longwood House, where Napoleon spent the first few months of his exile on St. Helena, was intended as a temporary residence for him and plans were quickly made for the construction of another building, New Longwood, which was finally completed in 1821 and has subsequently been destroyed. Due to the barren nature of the island, all of the building materials and furnishings had to be shipped out from England. George Bullock was among the leading craftsmen to supply the house with a set of furniture, from which several pieces are still to be found at Old Longwood today (C. Wainwright, George Bullock - Cabinet-Maker, London, 1988, pp. 33-37).
This chair is accompanied by a letter (still in the vendor's family) which reads: 'This chair is one of the 12 Drawing Room chairs used by the late Emperor Napoleon Buonaparte at the Old Longwood House, St. Helena. In the year 1822 when the whole of the furniture at Longwood was sold by Public Auction the said chairs were purchased by a Mr. Saunders. In 1829 they were purchased from him by me in my capacity as Aide de Camp to the Governor for the Drawing Room at Plantation House, the Governor's Country Residence at St. Helena. Last year when several odd chairs and portions of other furniture were sold by Auction, being worn out and obsolete, I purchased this chair knowing all its history and being one of the few relics of the last Emperor now extant on the island.
I bought it to this country in June last, since which it has been repaired and I now present it to Mr. Rothesy (?) Esq. in token of my respect and as a mark of gratitude for the extreme kindness envinced by him towards me, a stranger, since my arrival in England.
No: 9 South Street,
6 September 1856 Queen's Proctor
(?) 2 Ex ship off St. Helena'
Unfortunately, although a number of catalogues survive from the auctions dispersing the Longwood furniture, including the 1822 one referred to in the above letter, there does not appear to be a set of twelve chairs bought by Mr. Saunders. However, Mr. Saunders is recorded as a buyer at that sale, including buying a set of twelve chair cushions. It is possible that the set of chairs were additional lots, not printed in the catalogue.
On stylistic grounds, it is unlikely that the present chair was one of Napoleon's drawing-room chairs on St. Helena. It is late 18th Century in style and all of the furniture in the main rooms at Longwood was very much Regency in style. It is possible that the chair was made on St. Helena to supplement the very distinctive furniture sent out from England.
The furnishing of Longwood is described in a recent article by Martin Levy entitled 'Napoleon in Exile: The Houses and Furniture supplied by the British Government for the Emperor and his Entourage on St. Helena', Furniture History, 1998, pp. 1-211.