He arrived on April 14, 1816, to replace Sir George Cockburn as governor of the island. The British government thought its choice was well considered: Sir Hudson was a conscientious official, who would carry out instructions faithfully. His instructions were to extend the prisoner “every indulgence which may be consistent with the entire security of his person.”
He began well. He brought with him nearly 2,000 French volumes, and placed them at the disposal of Napoleon and his companions. He sent word that he had heard of repairs needed at Longwood, and would soon have them attended to.8 He thought he should visit his distinguished prisoner, and asked his predecessor, Admiral Cockburn, to accompany him. Presumably he did not know that Napoleon, as a precaution against sightseers and busy-bodies, had instructed Bertrand to allow no one to visit him except through Bertrand’s permission and escort. Sir Hudson and the admiral came unannounced, and sought admission; Napoleon sent reply that he was ill and could not see them. Lowe inquired when might he try again; Napoleon answered, Tomorrow. Lowe’s pride was hurt. He came on the morrow, accompanied by Bertrand. Napoleon received him coldly, and listed some inconveniences from which he suffered: sentinels were stationed too near his house, and sometimes, at night, peered through his windows; he could not ride beyond narrow limits without being followed by an English officer. Lowe promised to do his best.9 After his departure Napoleon remarked to his companions that he had “never seen a countenance so like that of an Italian cutthroat.”10
Sir Hudson had more pride than humor. Returning to his office, he sent word to Napoleon’s aides that the restrictions of which Napoleon complained had been imposed by the British government, and that he had no authority to remove them. He added, again pursuant to his government’s instructions, that all communications between Longwood and the outside world must pass through his hands, and be subject to inspection by him.11 According to Las Cases, the governor refused to transmit letters addressed to “the Emperor Napoleon.”12 He sent an invitation to dinner to General Bertrand and “General Napoleon.” Napoleon refused it.
The quarrel reached high temperature when Lowe informed Bertrand that the British government had complained about the high cost it was incurring for the upkeep of Napoleon and his household of fifty-one persons.13 The government had allowed £8,000 annually for this; the actual expense for the first year was £18,000; the government proposed that any future expenditure over £8,000 should be paid by Napoleon. The Emperor ordered Montholon to sell the imperial silver, and offered to pay the surplus expense of his household if Lowe would pass unopened Napoleon’s letter to his Paris banker; Lowe would not. Napoleon’s family sent him offers of money; he thanked them, but said he could take care of the matter. They offered to come and live with him; he forbade them, saying that they would not long survive the climate and the isolation. Lowe thought to ease the situation by raising the imperial allowance to £12,000 a year.14 But this discussion of his expenses infuriated Napoleon. When Lowe visited him again (July 16, 1816), Napoleon, according to his report to Las Cases, burned all bridges by crying out, “Will you allow me to tell you what we think of you? We think you capable of everything; yes, of everything.… I shall have to complain, not that the worst proceeding of ministers was to send me to St. Helena, but that they gave you the command of it. You are a greater calamity to us than all the wretchedness of this horrible rock.”15 “The Emperor,” says Las Cases, “admitted that he had, during this conversation, repeatedly offended Sir Hudson Lowe.” “I have been thrown quite out of temper. They have sent me more than a jailer! Sir Hudson Lowe is a downright executioner!… My anger must have been powerfully excited, for I felt a vibration in the calf of my left leg.”16
Sir Hudson, overwhelmed, withdrew. They had no further converse.