OU on the BBC: History Detectives - Some silk and a uniform

A souvenir of Napoleon Bonaparte's funeral and a military uniform bought on the internet come under investigation as the History Detectives check out some silk and a uniform.

By: The OpenLearn team (Programme and web teams)

  • Duration 5 mins
  • Updated Tuesday 4th September 2007
  • Introductory level
  • Posted under TV, History Detectives
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Napoleon Bonaparte Copyrighted image Copyright: photos.com

The cases

Neil Oliver investigates a letter, attached to which is a piece of cloth and a piece of lead. The letter, signed William Trousdale and dated October 4th 1821, states “This lead and silk is part of Bonaparte’s coffin, which died at St Helena in 1821. It was presented to me by the Colour Sergeant of the 66th Regiment which did duty over his corpse." Neil travels to St Helena and Scarborough in search of the soldier who apparently liberated these pieces from the dead Emperor's coffin.

Scott Allsop teaches history at King's College in Guildford. He uses historical artefacts to help his pupils think about history. One of his favourite pieces is a uniform he bought through an internet site for £15. But he doesn’t know who it came from or what its impressive array of medals represents. Jeevan Deol tracks down the life of a man who fought in both world wars, and was honoured by King George VI.

Along the way the History Detectives investigate a tragic accident on the River Thames in the 19th century.


The clues

(some resources that the History Detectives used in the programme)

Napoleon's Coffin


The 66th Berkshire Regiment: A brief history of its services at home and abroad, from 1758 to 1881
J Percy Groves, Imprint: Reading, Berks: Joseph J Beecroft, 1887
Provides details of the paylist of Colour Sergeants.

Regiment Digest of Service
Details the movements of the regiments.

Both of these are available from The Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum

The Princess Alice cane


The Great Thames Disaster
Galvin Thurston, Allen & Unwin (1965).


National Maritime Museum
For a brief history of the Princess Alice Disaster of Sept 3rd, 1878.

Thames Police Museum
also gives the story of the disaster.

Greenwich Heritage Centre has a newspaper archive from London Illustrated News, complete coverage of the case, interviews with people, guest list of casualties and a model of the boat.

National Archives references:
MT 9/160 Princess Alice and Byewell Castle Inquiry
T 1/15974 Princess Alice Inquiry: expenses incurred by clerk of Greenwich police court, Mr Balguy magistrate and Essex justices of peace.
T1/16369 HOME OFFICE: Princess Alice Inquest: payment of coroners expenses in relation to wreckage on Kent coast.

Museum of Docklands has a collection of artefacts made from the Princess Alice boat.

The Internet Uniform


The Rifle Brigade and examples of uniforms


Title: Supplement to the London Gazette. 7 June 1951. (OBE Appointments)
Lists every honour and award in the UK  – Thomas Macdonald Baker’s CBE is cited here.


The East Surrey Regimental Museum houses bound copies of regimental letters.

Hawkes of Saville Row
Tel: 0207 434 2001
Makers of the uniform.

South African Medal with 3 bars and Military Uniforms

Imperial War Museum for examples of Military Uniforms

The Rifle Brigade and examples of uniforms

BBC’s History Trails

National Army Museum
houses a collection of uniforms, badges and medals from mid-17th century to the present day.

First broadcast: Friday 21 Sep 2007 on BBC TWO

History Detectives in more depth:

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