James Roche Verling, (1787–1858)

View from Spy Hill, Cobh, co. Cork

James Roche Verling, (1787–1858), was born at Cove,[Cobh] co. Cork, on 27 February 1787, the second son in the family of five sons and two daughters of John Verling and his wife, Ellen [Eleanor] (née Roche), of Cove. He is John Roche’s nephew, and a first cousin, five times removed.

John and Ellen’s children were

  • Bartholomew Verling (1786 – 1855) of Cove
  • James Roche Verling (1787 – 1858)
  • Edward Verling d. unmarried.
  • Hugh Verling d. unmarried.
  • John Verling d. unmarried.
  • Ellen m. James Fitzgerald of Lackendarra, co. Waterford
  • Catherine m. Henry Ellis “Surgeon R.N.”

The Verlings were a wealthy and influential Catholic family long established at Cove. James Roche Verling’s eldest brother, Bartholomew Verling (1786–1855), was harbour master and Spanish consul there, as well as a landowner and magistrate. As was fairly common at the time, there were a number of different generations all taking the same forenames. Their grandfather was also Bartholomew Verling of Cove, and a younger first cousin, Bartholomew Verling (1797 – 1893) of Oxclose. He, in turn, named his son Bartholomew.

James was apprenticed to Sir Arthur Clarke, a well-known Dublin physician, and afterwards studied under Gregory at Edinburgh, where he graduated MD at the age of 23, with a thesis “De Ictero”. He was then commissioned as Second Assistant Surgeon to the Ordnance Medical Department on Jan 25th, 1810. The Ordnance Medical Department was quite distinct from the Army Medical Department, and a rather higher standard of medical education was required. He was first stationed at Ballincollig, Cork, and then proceeded to Portugal shortly after Albuera, in medical charge of a battery of Royal Artillery, and was at once placed in charge of wounded, including wounded of the Artillery of the King’s German Legion. He was present with the Artillery throughout the subsequent campaign, at the sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo, Vittoria, Pampeluna, the storming of San Sebastian, the passage of the Bidassoa, Nivelle, Nive, and Bayonne. He marched with the Royal Horse Artillery to Paris, and received the Peninsula Medal with five clasps.

He was not present at Waterloo, but in July, 1815, was ordered with a battery of the Royal Artillery to St Helena. On Aug 8th he sailed from Torbay on “HMS Northumberland,”  which also carried  Napoleon and his entourage. Verling spoke both French and Italian, and, it is likely, he became personally acquainted with Napoleon on the voyage. The emperor seemed to be ready to talk with any of the officers who could understand him.

Longwood House, St Helena

After a two month voyage they landed at St Helena on 17 October, with the other passengers, he disembarked on the Atlantic island. The governor, Sir Hudson Lowe (1769–1844), another Irishman, appointed Verling his medical officer. After Napoleon’s favourite physician, Barry Edward O’Meara, quarrelled with the governor and was dismissed, it was Verling who replaced O’Meara at Napoleon’s residence, Longwood (25 July 1818). Napoleon refused to be treated by Verling, regarding him as ‘l’homme du gouverneur’. When Napoleon’s aide, Count Montholon, with whom Verling regularly conversed, suggested that he could become ‘l’homme de l’empéreur’ by agreeing to give Napoleon copies of his medical reports and not to pass on private conversations to Lowe (April 1819), Verling was uncooperative, though he always detested having to inform Lowe of what he learned at Longwood.

James Verling left St Helena, on the 25th April 1820, just over a year before Napoleon died (5 May 1821) Later he served in Malta, the Ionian Islands, and Nova Scotia. He was promoted to full Surgeon (1827), senior Surgeon (1843), and finally Deputy Inspector-General (1850), and appears to have served most of the last thirteen years or so of his career at the Royal Ordnance Hospital at Woolwich After his retirement in 1854, he returned to Cobh, by then, renamed Queenstown, where he died on 1st January 1858 at his home, Bellavista. It’s a rather pleasing irony that “Mr Bartholomew Verling [his eldest brother] was one of the deputation which waited on the late Queen VIctoria to obtain H.M.’s permission to change the name of Cove of Cork to Queenstown when she landed therein August 1849. “  according to Gabriel O’Connell Redmond’s memoir  of James Roche Verling in 1916.

View from Bellavista House, Cobh, co.Cork

It’s also rather pleasing that Bellavista still exists, but is now a hotel, and Chinese restaurant.

Verling wrote a diary of the daily round of events on St Helena  which passed into the hands of his nephew, Surgeon John J. Ellis, R.N.[ the sixth, and youngest, son of his sister, Catherine] , who took it to sea with him and lent it to a friend, who left it after him on board a ship in the China Sea. It fortunately was found by someone who recognising its value handed it over to Mr. Morgan, the British Consul, at Tientsien, in China. Consul Morgan thought it would be a good thing to present the Diary to the late Emperor, Napoleon the Third, and sent it to him by a French Naval Officer. The Emperor accepted the gift and had it deposited in the “ Archives Nationales” in Paris, where it now remains.

He never married, and the main beneficiary of his will was his first cousin Bartholomew Verling (1797 – 1893) of Oxclose. His estate was very large, just under £ 5,000 in England, and a further £6,000 in Ireland, or just over £ 10m. in modern terms.

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