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St Helena - History in Brief

Bourbon Coffee Origins

In the coffee trade, the name 'Bourbon' has come to be associated with a variety of coffee plant originating in Yemen which spread into South America via the French Caribbean. Louis XV already had some coffee plants flourishing in his greenhouse at Versailles. He was particularly passionate about brewing the coffee, tending to them personally, and harvesting, processing, roasting, and brewing them himself. He had Madame du Barry portrayed as a Sultana, coffee cup in hand.

Napoleons Arrival

Napoleon arrived on St Helena on 16 October 1815 after the defeat that summer by the British and Prussians at Waterloo. The likelihood of his escaping was as remote as the island itself. The fortifications were truly formidable: gun emplacements bristled from every strategic point overlooking the ocean, and the lessons of the Dutch invasion had been learnt, so that inland passes were covered from the heights.

A Measure of Celebrity

As a result of the Napoleonic connection, the island had achieved a measure of celebrity and its cottage coffee industry enjoyed a brief renaissance. The owner of the estate at Bamboo Hedge, G. W. Alexander, sent a sample to a coffee broker in London, William Burnie & Co., who pronounced it 'of a very superior quality and flavour' and suggested that it might fetch as much as £7 per hundredweight.