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Heritage at Risk

Toby's Cottage

Toby’s Cottage sits to the east of the Briars in a valley near the heart-shaped waterfall. William Balcombe took over The Briars property in 1811 and established a brewery. Toby’s Cottage is a small two-room outbuilding to the rear of the main complex. The space was likely inhabited by members of Balcombe’s enslaved domestic servants. The building thus represents one of a few surviving dwellings of enslaved people on the island




In the words of Betsy Balcombe, Toby was,“an old Malay slave[...]who had been captured and brought to the island as a slave many years before, and had never since crossed its boundary. He was an original, and rather an interesting character. A perfect despot in his own domain, he never allowed his authority to be disputed; and the family stood almost as much in awe of him, as they did of the master of the Briars himself.

Napoleon took a fancy to old Toby, and told papa he wished to purchase him, and give him his freedom; but for some political reason it was not permitted. The old man retained ever afterwards the most grateful sense of Napoleon’s kindness, and was never more highly gratified than when employed in gathering the choicest fruit, and arranging the most beautiful bouquets, to be sent to Longwood, to “that good man, Bony”.


According to Las Cases, Napoleon was deeply troubled by Toby’s situation:


As for poor Toby, he endures his misfortunes very quietly: he stoops to his work and spends his days in innocent tranquility… Certainly there is a wide step from poor Toby to a King Richard. And yet, the crime is not the less atrocious, for this man, after all, had his family, his happiness, and his liberty; and it was a
horrible act of cruelty to bring him here to languish in the fetters of slavery.


Bonaparte with Toby on St. Helena. Source:

Images of 'Toby's Cottage' by Brent Forenberry

Restoring Toby's Cottage


The Trust produced 3D scans of the cottage and developed plans for restoring it as a faithful replica of the conditions Toby would have lived in at that time.  In December 2023, thanks to generous donations towards the restoration project, works commenced under the direction of St Helena Napoleonic Heritage Ltd. Once complete, the cottage will be an invaluable opportunity to further develop the recognition of the history of slavery on the island, and to recount that history through the  perspective of one individual whose story is little understood.

To follow the restoration works as they progress, please see the Journal of Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, Director of the French Domains on St Helena.

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