Thurston's association with Napoleon

Napoleon  > Did You Know?

Napoleon, the great general, was said to have been a bad billiards player, a poor horseman and a terrible shot.

 Thurston's association with Napoleon

Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Painted by Jacque Louis David in 1800

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.

N_ Mapsthelena

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.

Letter to Thurston

Close Up Cushion plates
These plates can be seen attached to the table in Longwood House in a picture on Margaret Rodenburg's site And shown below.


Picture copyright M. Rodenburg

Napoleon's table

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 1925.

Thurston Billiards 1925_1

Thurston Billiard 1925_2


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 tables.

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 -

Napoloen and Billiards

Also in another passage from - Napoleon at St. Helena By Barry Edward O'Meara

 Napoleon teaching Billiards

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. Darling.

St Helena Thurston sales to St. Helena

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.

Additional information:-
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 information.
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 exile.

N1_the Invitation-

The invitaion

The following pictures were taken by the official photographer, David Bordes,  for the exhibition and are shown with his kind  permission.
   N2_Longwood Table                

© David Bordes -
The table in Longwood House; St. Helena

N3_cushion Plate
© David Bordes -
The plate in the Billiard table

N4_Thurston Patent
© 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 1898.

N5_Longwood Table Restored

  © 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 Invalides'
picture © Peter Clare

N7_opening  The opening ceremony

picture © Peter Clare


The exhibition catalogue

N10_cat Pics

catalogue pictures showing items 49 the billiard cue and 48 the Thurston billiard table

pictures © David Bordes -

N9_cat Information

catalogue entries for items 48 and 49

For those of the readers whose school French is on par with editor's the translation of the catalogue entries follows:-

49 Billiard Cue
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. Helena.
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 Frenchmen.

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 49.

N11_tablein Exhib
The Thurston table in the exhibition
picture © Peter Clare

Acknowledgements :-

Peter Ainsworth for advice and information and highlighting Lord Curzon information
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 Reflections ...
 By Barry Edward O'Meara, Napoleon I (Emperor of the French)
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 Durrant

© E.A. Clare & Son Ltd. 2018. © Peter N. Clare 2018
Reproduction of this article allowed only with the permission from E.A. Clare & Son Ltd.

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