Exhibition of Napoleon's Carriage in London


 A swarm of English bees hiving in the Imperial carriage!! a scene at the London Museum, 1816 by George Cruikshank (1792-1878)

Napoleon's carriage taken at Waterloo was exhibited at the Egyptian Hall in 1816. Napoleon's dormeuse was built by Goeting during April 1815. After its capture by Maj von Keller on 18 June 1815, William Bullock acquired the carriage. Napoleon aroused the curiosity of the English. They flocked to see items that were once his. The exhibit was a tremendous success earning William Bullock 35,000 pounds. The crush was parodied by both Cruikshank and Rowlandson.


William Bullock's description of Napoleon's carriage:

Painted a dark blue, the dormeuse was embellished with frieze ornament in gold.
The undercarriage and wheels were in blue and heightened in gold.
A lamp was fitted to each upper corner of the bodywork, with another placed centrally at the back below the roof.
This covered an aperture in the bodywork to provide internal illumination.
The door panels, emblazoned with the Imperial Arms, were bullet-proof and were fitted with locks and bolts, while behind the windows were blinds that could be operated by a spring.
The windows were also provided with louvred shutters which could be removed and stored when not in use; these shutters may have been in place at the time of capture.
Over the front windows was a roller blind of canvas which, when extended, was designed to prevent the windows being blocked with snow or obscured by rain.
Below the front windows was a box extension of about two feet in length, so placed as to increase the space of the interior.
In front of this box was a seat which, when the Emperor was present in the carriage, was occupied by his mameluk .
Below was a boot containing a folding camp bed of polished steel "of commodious size with a tester-top and on castors" and so constructed that it "could be folded up in a minute."
The boot comprised a squared box covered in thick leather bound at each end with iron, measuring about two and a half feet in length and four inches square at the ends. These ends would originally have been capped but, for the purposes of display , the capping was removed to reveal the castors.
At the rear end of the bodywork was a curved projection ( tambour ) which, when the carriage was originally exhibited, was thought to be a "sword case"; however, it was only accessible from the left hand end, outside the carriage, and was too short for such a purpose.
The landau has a similar projection which is a mere 25.61inches long.
Its purpose is unknown.
Below the " tambour " was a sliding panel which could be raised and lowered "to facilitate the addition or removal of conveniences without disturbing the traveller."
Behind the bodywork and between the rear springs was a large ash frame placed on the chassis.
On either side of this were steel hoops covered in thick leather supporting the trunk.
The latter, also covered in leather, was secured by six strong straps.
This contained the Emperor's bedding, which included "a bed of fine Merino" with "cotton coverlid of very beautiful fabric."
The wheels, tyres and undercarriage were designed for strength.
The undercarriage included a crane-necked perch with semi-circular springs which were each capable, it was estimated, of bearing half a ton.
The single trees are present but of the pole there is no sign. The pole was originally so constructed as to act as a kind of lever in order to minimise jolting on rough surfaces.
The horses, of which four of the original six appeared at the 1816 exhibition, were described as "stout Normans, dark brown in colour and ... very fleet and hardy."
Interior fittings
drawings by Colonel Paul H Downing
The interior of the carriage could be adapted to such varied uses as kitchen, bathroom, dressing room, office and dining room.
The seat, provided with a division of about 6in. in height, was positioned so as to afford a clear forward view of the horses and the surrounding countryside.
Below the front windows the box extension was divided into two sections: on the left were storage compartments, and on the right a recess into which the Emperor was able to stretch to sleep while travelling. The storage included a desk which could be drawn out, and ink stand and pens, the Emperor's portfolio, secret drawers and many small compartments for maps and telescopes.
On one of the carriage doors were two holsters containing pistols of Versailles manufacture, with a further holster " close to the seat" containing a double-barrelled pistol. These weapons were apparently unremarkable other than that they were old and battered and the letters "NB" were engraved in gold on the barrels. They were rifled and sighted, and complete with tools for charging and repair.
On one side of the vehicle (unspecified), suspended on a silver chain, was a "Time Piece by which the watches of the Army are regulated; in form it resembles a huge hunting watch and weighs four pounds; it is jewelled throughout and is of the finest workmanship: it was made by Mugmer, horloger de l'Empereur et Roi ."
Above, on the ceiling, was a network used for "small travelling requisites."

The carriage was acquired by Madame Tussaud's in 1842. The dormeuse remained in the Tussaud collection for some 80 years. On 18 March 1925 a disastrous fire swept through the museum, destroying not only the carriage but also its setting: the Napoleon Room and much else disappeared in the flames. In 1976 the pathetic remains of this once splendid vehicle -- a single heat-warped axle -- was presented to the Museum at Malmaison.



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