Mystery over Napoleon's hair

2010-03-04 21:19

Sydney - A few clippings of hair apparently taken from Napoleon Bonaparte on his deathbed have been found in Sydney's Town Hall after the 130-year-old building cleaned out its vaults.

The tiny swatch of light-brown hairs had for years been stored in the archives of the imposing sandstone building along with a letter but nobody knows when, why or how they were received.

Margaret Betteridge, who has curated an exhibition of the curios uncovered in the building, said on Thursday she could not be sure the hair belonged to the deposed French emperor, but that the accompanying letter made a good case.

In it, a Scotsman named Ned Todd explains that he was given the hair by a woman whose brother, a Major William Crockat, had been present at Napoleon's death.

"If I mistake not she said that her brother (Major Crockat) had himself cut the lock from the head of the illustrious dead," he wrote.

Fake unlikely


Betteridge said it was known that Napoleon's hair was cut after his death and that Crockat appeared in a painting depicting the death scene.

More mysterious is how the hair ended up in Sydney, more than 13 000km from where he died in St Helena in 1821 at the age of 51.

"We don't know how it got here," Betteridge said. "But it doesn't look like it is the sort of thing that someone would fake."

Betteridge said two years of renovations to improve the town hall had uncovered scores of strange objects stored in underground vaults.

"I had one (vault) that was just crammed full of the weirdest and wackiest things. A really interesting assortment of gifts given to the city. And bits of coffins. And bits of Napoleon's hair," she said.

The most valuable piece is likely a large Sevres vase, a gift from France following Sydney's hosting of an international exhibition in 1879.

"The French government were so impressed with the way Sydney handled the exhibition and managed the whole thing that as a token of their gratitude they presented the mayor and the people of Sydney with this spectacular porcelain vase," Betteridge said.

- SAPA

Read more on:    australia  |  offbeat
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