The French Connection


The 5th of May 2021 marks the 200th anniversary of Napoléon Bonaparte’s death.

Napoléon rose to prominence during the French Revolution to become one of history’s most powerful military leaders and the instigator of significant social reform, both within France and further abroad.

In 1815 Napoléon was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. On the run and under fear of death, he demanded asylum on board the British ship HMS Bellerophon. The British Government decided to exile Napoléon to the remote island of St Helena, a colony off the southern African coast. 

The journey to St Helena was hurried and resulted in Napoléon and his entourage spending the first two months billeted to the home of William Balcombe. Alexander, the youngest child of William, was born on St Helena in 1811.

In the early 1840s Alexander Balcombe took over the Chen Chen Gurruck (or Tichingorourke) run in current Mt Martha, renaming it The Briars after his childhood home.

The French Connection features prints, drawings and objects from both the MPRG Collection and the Mornington Peninsula Shire’s, The Dame Mabel Brookes Family Records of Napoleon collection.

The display includes crockery believed to have been used by both the Duke of Wellington and Napoléon Bonaparte which were brought to Australia by William and Jane Balcombe in 1824. Lively drawings by Denzil Ibbetson, British Army administrative Officer and talented amateur artist, Ibbetson’s drawings are a remarkable record of life on St Helena and were purchased by Dame Mabel Brookes in the 1970s, and beautiful lithographs of the island of St Helena by Frederick Stack, bequeathed to the MPRG Collection by Lady Maie Casey.