An Early, Luxury, RV

By Mary Bowden, Researcher, UT Bound Newspaper Archive

April 30, 2016

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The Baltimore Patriot, on August 9, 1815, in an article from the Hague of June 21 announced that “Bonaparte’s carriage, which the Prussians have taken, will be carried to Berlin.”  But before it got taken away, some journalist got a good look at it, and offered the readers of the New York Spectator of February 7, 1816, the following description of it:

“The carriage of Bonaparte is, in may respects, very like the modern English carriages [of 1815].  Its color is dark blue, with a light ornament of gold, the imperial arms painted on the doors.  The springs, the pole, the wheels, &c. are uncommonly strong, and the whole of very excellent workmanship.–But with all that, the carriage is of an awkward appearance, because there is a great prominence to the front, which contains the room for bed, the necessarie, &c.  The interior of the carriage proves that Bonaparte valued convenience and security.  The blinds behind the windows shut and open by means o a spring, and may be closed so as to form an impenetrable barrier.  They may, besides, be secured by a bolt on the inside.  On the ceiling of the carriage there is a net work to put small travelling requisits into.  In the front there are many small compartments, partly, as it seems, for maps, partly for telescopes, &c.– By the side of these small compartments there is a writing-desk, which may be drawn out so as to write on it while riding; an ink stand, some pens, sealing wax, &c. were found in it.  Beneath the writing desk there is a hole for the end of the patent bed, which was found in the carriage, and which may immediately be made up in the carriage.  Two merino mattresses seem to belong to the bed.  Beneath the compartments for the maps, is the room for the necessarie which shall be described afterwards; and underneath the seat the room for the liquor case.  On one of the doors of the carriage two pistol holsters were discovered, in which two rifled pistols, of the manufactory of Versailles, were found, and in a holster close to the seat a double barrelled pistol was found.  Both these pistols were found loaded.  The seat is divided by a separation, so that the Aid-de-Camp setting in the carriage with the Ex-Emperor was never to touch the person of his master.  In the back of the coach there is a lanthorn with a reverbery and a pipe, with a spring before it, to put wax tapers into, of which the victors found a great many in the coach.  There are four lamps on the arms of the carriage.

The four horses are of a colour, pretty short Normans.  The harness is very little worthy an imperial equipage, and is but to be recognized as belonging to it by the bees, which are to be seen in several places.

The two articles which were found in the carriage most worthy of an accurate description, are the Necessaire and the liquor case of the Ex-Emperor; the former is an elegant mahogany box, like the English writing desks, and has the imperial arms most beautifully engraved on the cover; the whole contains a multitude of articles booth of necessity and luxury, all made of silver and strongly gilt;  an elegant tooth brush, razors of mother of pearl, an elegant shaving box in it, two elegant candlesticks, some small plates for breakfast, and even articles rarely to be met in a necessaire; as, for instance, a gimblet.  That the ex-emperor did not forget to make a toilette comme il faut is to be proved by several bottles with eau de Cologne, eau de Lavande, salt spirit, &c. and though he endeavored to exclude all the products of the English manufactures fro France and the continent, he allowed himself some Windsor soap.  All these several articles arranged in so compact a manner, and in the limits of a box hardly 1 1/4 feet by 8 inches, that it will excite the admiration of every observer.

The liquor case, made of mahogany, like the necessaire, contained two bottles, one of them filled with rum, the other with sweet wine, now quite evaporated.  There are besides to be found in it, a pepper and salt box, with the contents, a mustard box, and an oblong case for sandwiches, all of gilt silver, some silver knives, forks and spoons, and some silver breakfast plates.  In a small compartment of the case, there was found a musket ball, reduced to the form of a thin lead medal, perhaps a ball by which one of his favorites was killed, or which had missed himself, and had been found in his cloths.

Besides these two curiosities, the contents of the carriage consisted of a pair of red morocco slippers, a green velvet cap, probably to be worn in the carriage, a silver chamber pot, a silver bidet, and his bedstead, made of iron and folded together so as to form a machine about two and a half feet long, and a large silver watch, with a silver chain to it, to hang it up in the carriage; it has an alarm, and on the whole, looks like a silver pocket watch of uncommon size.  A saddle cloth of Jerome Napoleon’s of crimson velvet, with his initials, the eagle and the bees, embroidered in gold, complete the whole.”

The carriage may not have gone to Prussia after all.  A Liverpool, England, paper of December 8, 1815, (reprinted by the New Hampshire Gazette on February 6, 1816) printed this rumor:  “The Prince Regent, it is said, has purchased of Gen. Kellerman, for 3,000 guineas, the superb carriage of Bonaparte, taken by that officer at the battle of Waterloo.”

Somewhat simpler, but also richly embellished, was the coffin of the late King of England, George III, as a description printed by the New Hampshire Gazette of March  28, 1820, shows.

“The coffin of his late Majesty George 3d, is composed of Spanish mahogany, and covered with rich Genoa velvet of royal blue, a few shades deeper in tint than garter blue.  The top or cover is divided into three compartments by double rows of silver gilt studs.  In the compartment at the head, over a rich star of the order of the garter, is placed the royal arms of England, beautifully executed in dead gold.  In the centre compartment is the plate with the inscription.  This is of silver richly gilt, and exquisitely burnished.  In the lower compartment, at the feet, is the British lion rampant regardant, supporting a shield with the letters G. R. surrounded with the garter and motto of the same order, also in dead gold.  

All the angles of the whole of these compartments are filled up with highly burnished silver gilt plates engraved G. R. III. and surmounted by the royal crown.  The sides and ends of this superb coffin are also divided with silver gilt studs, in the same manner as the cover, so as to leave three spaces on each side, and one at each end, for the handles.  These handles are of silver, richly gilt, of a massive modern pattern, and the most exquisite workmanship; and each handle surrounded by a massive framework, in the same taste, chiefly in dead gold, but delicately relieved by burnishing.”

About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.