Beyond the Billiard Room lies the Reception Room. Here, Napoleon, standing by the fireplace, one arm resting on the black stone mantel, greeted his visitors. Here, he argued with the British governor, Hudson Lowe, whom both Napoleon and Lowe himself, viewed as his jailer. Here, on May 5, 1821, Napoleon died. This is Longwood’s hallowed ground. When concern for Napoleon’s growing weakness turned into a death watch, his people moved one of his camp beds from his private quarters into this larger room.
As Karl August von Steuben’s engraving of the scene shows, Napoleon’s whole entourage gathered around him during his last hours. In the end, they became his loyal family. He hadn’t seen his wife Marie Louise or their son for eight years—since before his first exile on Elba—and none of the brothers or sisters whom he’d raised to royalty joined him on St Helena. Reputedly, in his last moments, he called out for Josephine, his first wife whom he’d divorced because she couldn’t bear him an heir. His last words were “la tête de l’armée,” the head of the army. At three minutes of six in the evening, he died. His valet Marchand stopped the clock.
Comparing my photo to these two contemporaneous engravings, you can see how exactly the room has been reconstituted. Only the carpet is missing and the death mask, of course, has been added. The wallpaper, with its blue Chinese stars, is a reproduction and has to be replaced frequently due to constant moisture damage. The camp bed, too, is a copy. The original is in Paris in the Musée de l’Armée.
For me, the Reception Room or Death Room is the most moving place in Longwood. The air felt dense with sorrow, as if Marchand had held time still when he stopped the clock.