O'Meara to Hudson Lowe 28th January 1817, Longwood (1)
the following conversation which took place yesterday between General Bonaparte and myself may probably not be uninteresting to you.
Finding him in a tolerable good humour and apparently ready to communicate, I took an opportunity of asking him whether he ever had really intended to invade England? and if so, what were his Plans? and also whether he thought he would be successful? He replied (without hesitation) “It was my firm Intention to invade England and to head the expedition myself. My plan was, to dispatch two squadrons to the West Indies (he did not say from what ports). There they were to meet and unite at a specified place and instead of waiting there, after shewing themselves amongst the Islands, they were to proceed back again to Europe with all dispatch. They were to raise the blockade of Ferrol and take the fleet out of it. They were then to proceed to Brest and in like manner to release and join the squadron there. By these means I would have had a squadron of about seventy sail of the Line, besides frigates etc. They were to proceed directly (77v, p.2) and sweep the English Channel, where they would meet with nothing strong enough to oppose them, for by means of false intelligence adroitly managed, I would have induced your ministers to send squadrons to the Mediterranean, East (word erased) and West Indies in search of mine. I intended then to push over under their protection the Boulogne Flotilla, with 200,000 men, to land near Sheerness and Chatham, and to push directly for London where I calculated to arrive in Four Days. During the march, I would have made my army observe the most exemplary discipline, marauding or otherwise injuring or insulting the inhabitants would have been punished with instant Death. I would have published a proclamation (which I would have had ready) declaring that we were only come as friends to the English nation, to render them free and to relieve them from an obnoxious and despotical Aristocracy, whose object was to keep them eternally at war in order to enrich themselves and their families at the expense of the blood of the people. Arrived at London I would have proclaimed a Republic (I was First Consul then,” said he) Liberty, Equality, Sovereignty of the people, abolished the Monarchical Government, the nobility and the House of Peers, the House of Commons I would have retained with a great reform, the (78r, p.3) property of the nobles I would have declared to be forfeited and to be divided amongst the people, amongst the partizans of the Revolution, a general equality and division of property. By these means I hope to gain a formidable party, to be joined by all the “canaglie” in such a great city as London, by all the idle and disaffected in the kingdom and that, perhaps, I might ultimately succeed.”
I replied, “that perhaps if he effected a landing with 200,000 men he might succeed in taking London, but that I was convinced his army would be ultimately destroyed. That such was the National Spirit of the English, their jealousy and their hatred of the French yoke, that it would operate like an electric shock amongst all ranks. That however some might be discontented and in opposition to the government, yet still that all parties would unite in expelling and annihilating the French. That the fear of being made a French Province, or even more of being humbled by France, would have been sufficient to induce every Englishman to arm and rally round the Constitution. That in a few weeks, he would have had 500,000 Infantry and 50 or 60,000 cavalry to oppose him. That perhaps at first he would have been successful in two or three pitched battles if the English Generals had been foolish enough to (78r, p.4) meet him, but that his army would have been destroyed piecemeal and finally annihilated”.
He replied “It is more than you or I or Pitt could say, whether I could have been successful or not. I considered all you have said, but I calculated also the effect the possession of a great and rich capital, of the Bank and all the money, the ships in the river Chatman perhaps Portsmouth, would have had, together with the effect also the proclamation which I would have published to “coglionare il popolo” (2) would have had. For I would cautiously have avoided saying anything about annexing England to France, on the contrary, I would have declared that we came only as friends to expel a flagitious and tyrannical aristocracy and to restore the rights of the people. That when we had done that, we would depart as friends. The hope of a change for the better, of a division of property, would have operated wonderfully amongst the “Canaglie”, especially of London. The “Canaglie” of all nations are nearly alike. There are traitors to be found amongst all nations. I would have made rich promises and could have had a great effect to “Coglionare” them all. What would an indisciplined army do in a country abounding Plains like England, against mine? Besides I calculated upon having the sovereignty of the seas for two or three months, by which means I would have had supplies of troops (79r, p7). When your fleet did return, they would find their capital in the hands of an Enemy, the country overwhelmed with my armies. This might have had a great effect upon the sailors, together with my promises. I would have abolished flogging promised them everything. But even if they did remain faithful, which is doubtful, some vessels of there?? nightly dispatched from France with troops whenever the wind was fair, would succeed in landing. I would also have stirred up an insurrection in Ireland at the same time in order to divide and distract your government's exertions. Afterwards I would have acted according to circumstance. According to my strength. If I found myself strong enough I would have annexed England to France, if not, and it is probably doubtful whether I would have been able to do it, or not, I would have established a government as would be most consonant to my views : There is so knowing what might have happened, Signore Dottore “continued he”.
I replied “that the inhabitants would have burnt London sooner than have let their take it”. He answered, No, no, I do not believe that. You are too rich, London is too rich and you are too fond of money to do that. A nation does not so easy burn a capital. Look at the French. How often have the Parisians sworn to (79v, p.5) bury themselves under the ruins of the capital sooner than let it fall into the hands of the enemies of France and yet twice they have let it he taken quietly.”
I here mentioned “Moscow” to him and also said that Paris and London were quite different. That in Paris there was a division of opinion. That France, having been lately revolutionised, half of it inhabitants of one opinion and half of another. That they had not that national spirit of the English and been lately accustomed to changes viewed them with less concern than the English would. That besides probably the inhabitants of London would have defended the city, street by street, and that in such a case his army would meet with a similar fate as ours did at Rocetta and Buenos Ayres”. (3)
He said “I believe that there is a great deal more national spirit in England than in France, but still I do not believe that you would have burnt the capital. If indeed, you had had some Week's time to remove your riches, then indeed it might have been possible, but consider that you would not have had time to organize any plan of doing so, I would have been at the gates in few days. Besides Moscow was of wood ; and moreover it was not the inhabitants who set it on have, on the contrary, they were very sorry for it and did every thing in their (80r, p.6) power to put it out. It was the Cossacks and some condemned criminals were the incendiaries. They had also time to take their treasures. As to defending the town, I would not have been foolish enough to have entered the streets under such circumstances. I would have “coglionato” you with treaties and their other means. Besides you would not have had time to arrange a Plan for the defence, before I would have been it your doors and the terror of such an army would have paralysed you exertions. I tell you “Mr. Doctor” continued he, “that there is a great deal to be said on both sides, and I do not know but I might have succeeded. Having the capital, the capital “repeated he” in my hands would have had wonderful effect.
Such sir was the conversation Which I have thought sufficiently interesting to communicate to you and which, I hope, Will not prove unacceptable.
I have the honour to remain, Dear Sir, With great respect, your must humble servant, Barry O'Meara
(80v, p.7) P.S. He observed, also thereafter, stating that he would promise “that his army only came to restore the rights of the people, that after they had done that, they would depart as friends. The exact discipline I would have forced my army to observe, I would have confirmed this opinion”. B. O'Meara
O’Meara’s account of Napoleon on the invasion of the England
O'Meara to Hudson Lowe 28th January 1817, Longwood (1)
(2) In O'Meara's letter to Lowe of 5 June, 1817 (British Library, Ms Add. 20214 fol. 82v) it appears that 'coglionare' was translated by the British on Saint Helena as 'to humbug', or to trick or con. Wellington is known to have remarked when he heard that Napoleon had started his movement before Waterloo that Napoleon had 'humbugged' him.
(3) British army defeats.