Thurston's association with Napoleon
> Did You
Napoleon, the great general, was said
to have been a bad billiards
poor horseman and a terrible
Thurston's association with
Painted by Jacque Louis David in
This article was prompted by Peter
Ainsworth who had heard Peter Clare mention in a You Tube video by
David Smith of Cuesnviews of the supply of Billiards equipment to
St. Helena in 1819. This prompted further research as Peter
Ainsworth had mentioned an article in the August 1925 edition of
the Billiard Player.
As seen in the Thurston history article
the framed letter notes that the Company presented the Billiard
Table plates from the table in the Billiard Room at Longwood House
on St. Helena when Napoleon was exiled there.
As you will see from this map of St.
Helena Longwood House was well inland and surrounded by (gun)
batteries to ensure Napoleon was kept safely.
A more detailed picture of the letter is
shown and a close up of the billiard table plates which were
presented by Thurston are also shown.
These plates can be seen attached to the
table in Longwood House in a picture on Margaret Rodenburg's site
-www.mronenburg.com. And shown below.
Picture copyright M.
Margaret Rodenburg kindly gave permission
to use her picture of the Napoleon's Billiard Room and very kindly
sent a close up of the end plate .
Interestingly the table only has six legs
and at that time would also have had a wooden bed. The table shown
above was in a store room in 1908 when Lord Curzon visited as
reported in an Article in the Billiard Player , August
It is interesting to read this article
especially the reference to the size and the fact that it had a
wooded bed. The subsequent additional information from Thurston
confirms that the style of table supplied in July 1816. As Thurston
mention it was not until 1838 that slate was used for the bed of
The fact that Napoleon did play billiards
is documented in Napoleon in Exile: Or, A Voice from St.
Helena. The Opinions and Reflections …By Barry Edward O'Meara, Napoleon I
(Emperor of the French)
in the following passage
Also in another passage from - Napoleon
at St. Helena By
Barry Edward O'Meara
As mentioned at the beginning of this
article Peter Ainsworth had spotted Peter Clare mentioning the
supply of a Billiard table and Billiards equipment to St. Helena
and he had also noted that the year 1819 mentioned meant that the
table could not have been for Napoleon but the date did coincide
with the posting of the initial posting of the 20th East
Devonshire Regiment of Foot to St. Helena. As you will see from the
ledger reference Peter Ainsworth is correct the Billiards equipment
was for the regiment and presumably Mr. Darling was their Shipping
agent in the UK. There are further entries of Billiards equipment
being shipped out to St. Helena through the offices of Mr.
We hope that the reader finds this little
bit of Thurston history associated with one of the most famous
Europeans who like many others of his and later generations
appreciated Thurston quality and service.
It all started with an email to Peter Crail in 2012, who at that
time was the Sales Director of Thurston's, from the French Consul
Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, Sainte-Hélène. He asked about
dismantling and packing the Billiard Table in Longwood House,
Napoleon's home during his exile, for a possible exhibition in
Paris. Mr. Crail supplied the required information and discovered
that the table still had its wooden bed.
It wasn't until late 2015 when Isabelle Dennis, Chef du Bureau du
Patrimoine et de la Décoration Ministère des Affaires
Etrangères, again contact Thurston that it was know that the
"Napoleon" table was being restored in France. Thurston was able to
help in a small way with some items such as the correct style
pocket nets and leathers along with some additional historic
So it was with great delight that an invitation to the opening of
the exhibition in Paris was received and Peter Clare the current
Managing Director was able to attend the opening of the exhibition
"Napoléon à Sainte Hélène. La Conquête de la Mémorie" runs from 6th
April to 24 July 2016 at the Musée de l'Armée, Hôtel National des
Invalides' 129 Rue de Grenelle, Paris 7é. The exhibition tells of
Napoleon's life on St. Helena during his
The following pictures were taken by the official photographer,
firstname.lastname@example.org, for the exhibition and are shown
with his kind permission.
© David Bordes -
The table in Longwood House; St. Helena
© David Bordes - email@example.com
The plate in the Billiard
© David Bordes -
The cushions had this mark stamped on the underside. This
indicates that they cushions were replaced by the Thurston rubber
cushion patented by John Thurston. Based on the article by Mr.
Gillett, Thurston's Managinging Director, in the Billiard Player
August 1925 the cushions were replaced in
© David Bordes -
The restored table ready for installation at the exhibition.
The exhibition venue
The internal courtyard at Musée de l'Armée Hôtel National des
picture © Peter Clare
picture © Peter
catalogue pictures showing items 49
the billiard cue and 48 the Thurston billiard
pictures © David Bordes -
catalogue entries for items 48 and
For those of the
readers whose school French is on par with editor's the translation
of the catalogue entries follows:-
Wood, length 137 cms.
Donated by Andrew Darling to the museum of Kelso (Scotland), his
home town, in 1841; offered to the donor's mother in 1968 at the
time of the museum's closure. Donationfrom Mme Dominique Caubet,
2003 Bibl ('library'); Ali, 'Memoirs'...,1926, p.160; Bull
('bulletin'). Friends of Malmaison, 2003 p.63-64 Rueil- Malmaison,
national museum of the Chateaux of Malmaison and Bois-Preau,
depository of the National Museum of the Dominions on St.
This is one of the ten cues delivered together with the billiard
table. As attested in 'Memoirs' by Ali, the Emperor also used it as
a walking stick and as a measuring rod whilst inspecting the
progress of the contruction work in the garden at Longwood in
November and December 1819. This example carries a label indicating
it's provenance, and mentioning the name of Andrew Darling,
upholsterer, who worked at Longwood during the stay of the
48 Billiard Table and it's accessories.
John Thurston (1777 - 1850)
London, around 1799 to 1815.
Base, crossties and surrounding strips of the table surface: solid
mahogany from Cuba and America, oak table surface divided into
three, frame held together in grooves; strips; nets: framework in
brass encased in leather, leather and cord braiding; assembly
screws : steel.
Ivory inlays with the name Napoleon. Engraved mark of manufacturer
: THURSTON'S PATENT LONDON - 299 and 2197.
Nine cues : chestnut, ash and mahogany. Some bearing the mark of
the manufacturer Thurston.
Triangle and scoreboard : solid Cuban mahogany.
Balls : ivory.
Cue rack and manufacturer's plate ; Cuban mahogany. H.87 cms; L.
347 cms; D. 184cms.
Gift of the government of St. Helena, November 1933.
This billiard table comes complete with a board for keeping score,
a triangle, ten balls - nine white, one red - and the cues (tenth
cue, cat.49). The table beneath the baize consists of wooden
parquetry - the usual device before the spread of the use of slate
initiated by Thurstons. The billiard table arrived at Longwood in
the month of July 1816, and, very quickly, Napoleon realised that
such a piece of furniture could be used to spread out the maps that
he needed during the dictation of the story of his campaigns to his
companions in misfortune. Although the Emperor was never passionate
about the game of billiards , Las Cases notes that he did attempt
it soon after the installation of the table on 24th July 1816. He
enjoyed teaching the rules of the game to Betsy Balcombe in
February 1817, but quickly tired of it and thenceforth was happy to
merely occasionally roll the billiard balls one against the other.
He subsequently made a gift of the table to his servants, having
noticed them take advantage of his trips into the garden to have a
game of billiards. All the witness accounts of Napoleon's exile
mention this piece of furniture and all it's accessories. In
November 1933 the collection of the Dominions was enriched
following a donation by the governor of St. Helena which had been
encouraged by certain British V.I.P.'s such as Lord Curzon,
Viceroy of India.
The billiard cue (Queue de Billiard) is noted as being donated to
Kelso museum. Is it possible that the Andrew Darling is related to
the Mr. Wm Darling who was the agent buying equipment for the
troops in St. Helena noted on the Thurston Ledger in 1819?
The cue is item 48 and the table item
The Thurston table in the exhibition
picture © Peter Clare
Peter Ainsworth for advice and information and highlighting Lord
Margaret Rodenburg - For supplying and allowing use of her
pictures. - See her writing on "Finding Napoleon" -
Napoleon in Exile: Or, A Voice from St. Helena. The Opinions and
By Barry Edward O'Meara, Napoleon I (Emperor of the
Napoleon at St. Helena By Barry Edward O'Meara
Isabelle Dennis, Chef du Bureau du Patrimoine et
de la Décoration Ministère des Affaires Etrangères
Catalogue pictures © David Bordes -
Translation - Mrs. Jo
©Peter Clare 2014; 2016 & © E.A. Clare & Son
Ltd. - This article can only be reproduced with the
permission of E.A. Clare & Son Ltd.