Exhibition a toast to Napoleon

Groot Constantia celebrated the 250th anniversary of the birth of Napoleon Bonaparte last week by opening Wine of Exile: The wine of Napoleon on St Helena exhibition.

Born in 1769 in Corsica, Napoleon became the first emperor of France, the king of Italy and was one-time ruler of half of Europe and terror of the rest.

He was a soldier to the end, the “little corporal” beloved of his troops. However, in 1814 he was forced to abdicate power and went into exile on the island of Elba off Italy.
The following year, on 18 June 1815 Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo
and fled to Paris where he hoped to rebuild political and popular support as emperor.

Instead the British government banished him to St Helena almost 2 000km to the west of the African coastline.

While there Napoleon did not really enjoy himself, however, the Constantia wine helped a bit. This according to
Her Excellency the Governor of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, Lisa Honan.

But nowadays she encourages people to visit St Helena to enjoy its mountains and marine life. “Come and drink Grand Constance where it really should be drunk, on St Helena,” said Ms Honan.

The exhibition is co-curated by Iziko’s Thys van der Merwe with Michel Dancoisne-Martineau of the French National Domains on St Helena Island.

Mr Van Der Merwe said objects of interest are those used by Napoleon while on St Helena, including a wine cooler and a glass used when travelling that fits into a case with Napoleon’s emblem on the lid – an N with a crown above it.

MrDancoisne-Martineau said wine did not travel well across the line, the equator, and so Napoleon would order his favourite, “Grand Constance”, the French translation for Groot Constantia. These wines were produced in the Cloete Cellar, where the exhibition is being held, directly behind the Groot Constantia Manor house. “Grand Constance” was supplied to Napoleon until his death in 1821.

The Ambassador of France
to South Africa, Christophe Farnaud, raised the conspiracy theory that Napoleon did not die of stomach cancer but possibly from arsenic poisoning. He said all other food and drink was shared among Napoleon’s entourage, however, the Constantia wine was reserved for his enjoyment.

Mr Fernaud said the exhibition celebrates Napoleon through wine and is a sharing of historical and heritage ties between Britain, France and South Africa.

Napoleon was buried on Saint Helena but later moved to France in 1840.

The exhibition is open to the public until Friday June 21.