When Napoleon was exiled to St. Helena in 1815, he lived in a house know as Old Longwood House. However, a new, much larger house was planned and subsequently built, although Napoleon died before it was finished. The Times, 24 October 1815, records...
'It was at length specially determined by express order of the Prince Regent, that B. (Buonaparte) should be furnished in his banishment with every possible gratification and comfort.... an order was last month issued by Earl Bathurst (Secretary for War and Colonies), to one of the most tasteful and ingenious artists of the metropolis-this order comprised every species of furniture, linen, glassware, clothes, music and musical instruments... the whole work to be made up in a style of pure and simple elegance, with this only reservation that in no instance should any ornament or initial creep into the decorations, which would be likely to recal (sic) to the mind of B. the former emblematic appendages of Imperial rank. The order was to be completed within six weeks, and by the indefatigable exertions of four hundred men it has been finished in the given period, and in greater part packed up for immediate conveyance to Plymouth...'
The architect was William Atkinson, and George Bullock was the cabinet-maker. The house was not finished until 1821 and was not occupied by Napoleon, for he died in his bedroom at Old Longwood on 5 May that year. This dressing table was part of the group of furniture supplied in late 1815 by Bullock, with astonishing rapidity. It is the only recorded oak dressing-table in the group.
At Napoleon's death, Sir Hudson Lowe claimed some of the furniture as his to buy at valuation, as of right. This claim took four years to sort out, exacerbated by Lowe's bureaucratic nature, but was eventually resolved in his favour (Levy, op. cit., pp. 65-66). This dressing table was among the very first items taken by Lowe. It accompanie him and his family on their return to England on board the Dunira on 12 July 1821, barely two months after Napoleon's death. It remained in his collection until sold on his death.
Two similar dressing-tables are shown in George Bullock's plans and elevations of the best bedroom No. 5 and No. 14 British Library, Add. Mss. 20, 222, folio 216).