Last year one of the treasures of our collections set off on a journey to Paris where it featured in a major exhibition on the life of the Emperor Napoleon at the Musée de l’Armée. The item which was requested by the museum is a British military signal book which contains detailed instructions for the garrison guarding Napoleon during his exile of the island of St Helena.
The signal book is a well-travelled volume. It was first used by Colonel Mark Wilks, Governor General of St Helena in 1815. This piece of Napoleonic memorabilia passed through the hands of a number of collectors until it was purchased at auction in New York by the family of Burt Eddy Taylor in 1928. In 1969 Mr Taylor donated his collection of Napoleonic material, including the signal book, to the new university library at Stirling.
The signal book highlights the lengths to which the British went to ensure Napoleon did not escape from the island. The inside covers illustrate the flags and signals which were to be used for communication including those for raising the alarm if Napoleon was missing. To limit the chance of rescue by his supporters a garrison of 1,300 troops was placed on the tiny island. In addition four Royal Navy ships patrolled offshore.
In April 2016 our small, scruffy volume took its place alongside an extensive range of exhibits assembled from collections across Europe at the Musée de l’Armée in the exhibtion Napoléon à Sainte-Hélène. La Conquête de la Mémoire.