Sir Hudson Lowe, Anglo-Irish soldier and colonial administrator who is best known for his time as Governor of Saint Helena, where he is the “gaoler” of Napoleon Bonaparte, is born in Galway, County Galway on July 28, 1769.
Lowe is the son of John Lowe, an army surgeon. His childhood is spent in various garrison towns, particularly in the West Indies, but he is educated chiefly at Salisbury Grammar. He obtains a post as ensign in the East Devon Militia when he is eleven. In 1787 he enters his father’s regiment, the 50th Regiment of Foot, which is then serving at Gibraltar under Governor-General Charles O’Hara. In 1791, he is promoted to lieutenant. The same year he is granted eighteen months’ leave, and chooses to spend the time traveling through Italy rather than return to Britain. He chooses to avoid traveling to France as the French Revolution had recently broken out.
Lowe holds several important commands in the war with France from 1793. He is knighted in 1814. He arrives on the island of Saint Helena, Napoleon’s last place of exile, in April 1816. Many persons, notably Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, consider the choice ill advised, for Lowe is a conscientious but unimaginative man who takes his responsibility with excessive seriousness. Overwhelmed by the magnitude of the charge given him, he adheres rigorously to orders and treats Napoleon with extreme punctiliousness. After October 1816, the news that rescue operations are being planned by Bonapartists in the United States causes Lowe to impose even stricter regulations. The next month he deports Emmanuel, comte de Las Cases, Napoleon’s confidant and former imperial chamberlain, for writing letters about Lowe’s severity.
When, in late 1817, Napoleon first shows symptoms of his fatal illness, Lowe does nothing to mitigate the emperor’s living conditions. Yet he recommends that the British government increase its allowance to Napoleon’s household by one-half. After the emperor’s death on May 5, 1821, Lowe returns to England, where he receives the thanks of King George IV but is met with generally unfavourable opinion and is widely criticized for his unbending treatment of the former emperor. He later commands the British forces on Ceylon (1825–30) but is not appointed governor of that island when the office falls vacant in 1830.