The Strange Story of Napoleon's Wallpaper - Page 5


If the wallpaper was so poisonous, why wasn't everyone else that was there at the same time as Napoleon also poisoned? Well, it may be that they were, since many of the people in Napoleon's retinue at Longwood complained of the 'bad air', and of feeling ill. If you are a healthy adult to begin with, arsenic poisoning will make you a bit sick. Arsenic poisoning causes stomach pains, diarrhoea, shivering and swollen limbs. And Napoleon's butler did actually die. Unfortunately no hair samples have come to light of the other people staying in Longwood at that time. It would be very interesting to test their hair for arsenic.

But just how poisonous was Napoleon's wallpaper? The sample in Shirley Bradley's book could be accurately analysed, but that would not tell you exactly how much arsenic had been in the wallpaper originally of course. Certainly David Jones had seen some samples during the course of his research that were thick with arsenic. His conclusion in this case though was that the amount of arsenic in Napoleon's wallpaper was not that great, and consequently the amount of arsenic vapour in the air would not have been too bad, otherwise maybe more people would have become sick or died. So the arsenic was not enough to have killed Napoleon. But once he was already ill with a stomach ulcer, the arsenic would have made him sicker. Certainly some of the symptoms he complained about do correspond to those of arsenic poisoning.

But what David Jones's research does suggest is a plausible explanation of why large amounts of arsenic were found in Napoleon's hair. And this weakens the case for suggesting that Napoleon was deliberately poisoned. More evidence could yet come to light that may support one side of the argument or the other. Certainly we only have the word of the author of the scrapbook that the wallpaper did really come from the 'wall of the room in which the spirit of Napoleon returned to God who gave it'. Did they take it off the wall themself, or did someone give it to them? No other samples of this particular design of wallpaper have ever come to light. But there is one little fact that I find quite intriguing. We know that Napoleon died in the drawing room of Longwood House. When he was very ill he was moved there from his rather small bedroom.

An engraving was made of the scene in the drawing room, with everyone around the death bed. The engraving is supposed to be an extremely accurate likeness of everyone that was present. The nearest thing to a photograph that could be created in 1821. The image shown here is only a low resolution scan, but if you look closely at the engraving itself you can see that the back wall of the drawing room has wallpaper on it. And on that wallpaper there is a pattern of stars...

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