How Napoleon's pistols came to Queensland
Guest blogger: Dr Robin Trotter - 2021 Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellow.
Q: What might the connection be between Napoleon Bonaparte and Queensland businessman Sir Arthur Petfield?
A: A pair of eighteenth century pistols and Sir Arthur Petfield’s ancestor, Lieutenant Captain Mott (1786-1818).
Andrew Mott Jnr was born 19 March 1786 in Liverpool. He was the son of Andrew Mott (Snr) and Jane Mott, and was baptised 4 April 1786 in St Paul, Lancashire. Andrew Mott Jnr was a First Lieutenant in the British Royal Navy and in 1815 he was on active duty on the Bellerophen, a Royal Navy vessel that was part of the British and United States ships blockading the French ships in the port of Rochefort following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo.
A footnote to Captain Maitland’s memoirs, added to the text from the memoirs of midshipman Homes, tells us a little about his First Lieutenant:
Our new first lieutenant, Mr Andrew Mott, was the best officer I ever saw in charge of a quarter-deck. I often wondered when that man slept, eat, or dressed himself, for he was hardly ever missed from deck, was always fresh and vigorous, and his dress and appearance would, at any time, have done honour to the Queen's drawing-room. Maitland was, withal, rather a little easy-going, and it occurred to me that, knowing his defect in this way, he contrived always to get a tolerable tartar of a first lieutenant, so that between the captain's good nature and the lieutenant's severity, which he occasionally checked and tempered when he thought the lieutenant was likely to exceed bounds, the ship was kept in capital discipline.
Andrew died at 32 years from a head injury and was buried 30 June 1818 in St Mary, Sculcoates, near Hull, Yorkshire.
Q: How did the pistols come into the possession of Lieutenant Captain Mott?
Napoleon, following his defeat earlier (18 June 1814), agreed to surrender to the British rather than be exiled to the United States of America, and to accept the ‘hospitality’ of Britain. On 15 July, Napoleon boarded the French brig, L’Epervier, from which he was later transported by barge to the Bellerophon. where her captain, Captain Maitland, was awaiting Bonaparte’s arrival to accept his surrender. Maitland recorded in his memoirs:
At break of day, on the 15th of July, 1815, L'Épervier French brig of war was discovered under sail, standing out towards the ship, with a flag of truce up; and at the same time the Superb, bearing Sir Henry Hotham's flag, was seen in the offing. By half-past five the ebb-tide failed, the wind was blowing right in, and the brig, which was within a mile of us, made no further progress; while the Superb was advancing with the wind and tide in her favour. Thus situated, and being most anxious to terminate the affair I had brought so near a conclusion, previous to the Admiral's arrival, I sent off Mr Mott, the First Lieutenant, in the barge, who returned soon after six o'clock, bringing Napoleon with him.
It is recorded that Napoleon surrendered his sword to Captain Maitland:
A monument to Sir Frederick's [Maitland] memory was erected in Bombay Cathedral by the officers of his command. "Among names," writes Lieutenant Low in his History, "which will ever be held in affection by the officers whose record of service is now 'as a tale that is told,' that of Maitland, the gallant and chivalrous seaman, to whom the mighty Napoleon surrendered his sword on the quarter-deck of the Bellerophon, will ever be prominent; and this record of his worth and nobility of character, and that other memorial on the walls of the Cathedral Church of St Thomas, will testify to the grateful remembrance in which his memory is held by the officers of the Indian Navy."
Q: What is the evidence that the pistols owned by Sir Arthur Petfield’s family were those of Napoleon Bonaparte?
A: The Napoleonic insignia – ‘N’ enclosed with laurel wreath and crown - on the base of the stock of each pistol:
AND Mott family records the pistols passed through the family to Andrew Luther Mott (1820-1904). The family records also note that he had insured the pistols for 10,000 English pounds and that they were loaned by him to the Royal Naval Exhibition held at Chelsea, 2nd May, 1891. In the Exhibition Catalogue Guide, the pistols were described as having belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte.
Passed down through the Mott family to the Petfield family is a pamphlet accompanying the exhibit:
In addition, the family records as further evidence, a certificate authenticating the pistols’ provenance and signed by both Albert Edward (King Edward, then Prince of Wales), and by Admiral W. McDowell.
Q: How did the pistols come to Queensland?
A: Passed down through the Mott family.
Andrew Luther Mott’s widow, Mary, gifted the pistols to a visiting family member, John Wesley Mott, an Australian surveyor who had enlisted in Brisbane for WWI, and was a Lieutenant in the 6th Field Engineers. John Wesley Mott had already distinguished himself being awarded with both a Distinguished Conduct Medal. British War Medal, Military Cross and a Victory Medal. Whilst on military leave he visited his English relations and on the visit he was perceived to be a suitable custodian of the family treasures – Napoleon’s pistols. After the war, John Wesley Mott returned to Australia and to his surveying profession, settling in Toowoomba. In retirement he moved back to his birth place, Brisbane, where he died in 1979.
Q: Where does Sir Arthur come into the story?
This requires a detour into family history. John Wesley Mott (1897-1997) was the son of William Thomas Mott and Caroline Madeline (Banks). William Thomas was in public service in Queensland. He was one of nine children of John Wesley Mott and Diana Sarah (Jeves) who emigrated to Queensland in 1862 with four children (the other five children being born in Australia). William Thomas’s siblings were: John Wesley, George William, Sarah Annie, Samuel Henry, Isabella Phoebe, Andrew, Alice, and Jane Elizabeth. Our John Wesley was a surveyor who, after serving in World War I, returned to surveying practice in Bundaberg, eventually settling in Brisbane. The pistols were securely lodged in a safe deposit vault of the Queensland Trustees Ltd., Brisbane, when The Brisbane Courier journalist, Spencer Browne, was taken by John Wesley’s father, W.T. Mott, to inspect the pistols. Spencer Browne’s report appeared in the newspaper on 27 August, 1927. Although the pistols were the property of his son, William Thomas told Browne that:
The young follow [sic] did not want to be brought into the ‘limelight’, but as Browne wrote, ‘I have had to mention him in connection with the Napoleon souvenir, as a historical necessity, and he must patiently bear the publicity.
The pistols stayed in the Mott family until, in approx 1956, Mrs J.W. Mott took the pistols to Melbourne to be auctioned.
Q: What happened to the pistols?
A: Mott family records report that the pistols were purchased by a collector from Cuba, Julio Lobo, and they are now in the Museo Napoleonic, Havana, Cuba.
Q: The final link?
Familial relationships. To make the connection between Napoleon’s pistols and Sir Arthur Petfield, we need to return to the family history and to William Thomas’s brother, Samuel Henry Mott (1854-1948) and his wife, Lydia (Thompson). Their daughter, Florence Jane Mott married Arthur Petfield Snr and they had four sons, Arthur Henry (later Sir Arthur), Colin, Ronald and Earnest.
Finally, we might ask: Did Sir Arthur ever see the pistols? That we don’t know. We do know he was familiar with the family history and the story of the pistols being handed down through the Mott family to ultimately his great uncle’s son, John Wesley, as newspaper clippings relating to the pistols were collected and kept by Sir Arthur as part of his family records. Arthur would have been about 15 when the pistols were shown to Spencer Browne. Can you imagine a young lad not wanting to at least see the pistols of Napoleon Bonaparte when they were in the possession of his relatives?
Dr Robin Trotter
- Olney, Joy., 2020, Napoleon surrendered his 2 pistols to First Lieutenant Andrew Mott, Brighouse/Mott Family Archives.
- Browne, S., 1927, Napoleon’s Pistols in Brisbane, The Brisbane Courier, Saturday, 27 August.
- Homes, G., 1838, Memoirs of an Aristocrat, by a Midshipman of the Bellerophon, Whittaker & Co., London and Bell & Bradfute, Edinburgh (George Home, was the son of Lieutenant A. Home, R.N.
- John Wesley Mott, Discovering ANZACS, National Archives of Australia
- Maitland, Sir Frederick Lewis, 2009, (ed. William Kirk Dickson), The Surrender of Napoleon; Being the narrative of the surrender of Buonaparte, and of his residence on board H.M.S. Bellerophen, with a detail of the principal events that occurred in that ship between the 24th of May and the 8th August 1815, Project Gutenberg, Ebook F28934.
- Markham, David J., 2008, The Road to St Helena, Napoleon after Waterloo, Pen and Sword Books, Barnsley, UK.
- Napoleonic Museum (Havana).
- Royal Naval Exhibition, 1891: Official Catalogue Guide, Opened at Chelsea, May 2nd, 1891. (Classic Reprint) Author Unknown. Paperback – 7 February 2018.
- Woman Says Pistols were Napoleon’s, newspaper clipping, 1956 [no source or date recorded], Sir Arthur Petfield Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.