Campbell was born on 1 May 1776. His father was described as a ‘Highland gentleman of ancient lineage, and fair landed estate’. After being nurtured in his ‘wild ancestral home’, he began his army career by joining the 6th West India Regiment in 1797. After three years service in West Indies, he returned to England and was promoted to lieutenant, and then to major. He returned to the West Indies, to Jamaica, in 1807, and then, after a sojourn in England for health reasons, journeyed again to the West Indies in 1808, this time being appointed Deputy-Adjutant-General to the Forces in the Windward and Leeward Islands. He was present at the captures, from the French, of Martinique and Guadeloupe.
During the Peninsular War, Campbell was appointed colonel of the 16th Portuguese infantry, but in 1814, he was severely wounded at Fère-Champenoise in France. Later, the same year he was chosen to accompany Napoleon from Fontainebleau to Elba (where he had been exiled under the terms of the Treaty of Fontainebleau) with express orders
Campbell went on to serve at the battle of Waterloo, and during the occupation of France, from 1815 to 1818, he commanded the Hanseatic Legion, consisting of 3,000 volunteers. In 1825, he was appointed major-general, applied for a staff appointment, and was given the governorship of Sierra Leone, reaching the colony in May 1826. The following year, however, he died of a fever. Further information is available online from Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900 or The Napoleon Series.
Campbell is largely remembered today because of a diary he kept while in charge of the force escorting Napoleon to exile on Elba, and while remaining with him there - until his escape. The diary - published in 1869 by John Murray and freely available at Internet Archive - is titled: Napoleon at Fontainebleau and Elba being A Journal of Occurrences in 1814-1815 with Notes of Conversations by the late Major-General Sir Neil Campbell C. B. With a Memoir of the Life and Services of that Officer, By his Nephew Archibald Neil Campbell Maclachlan M. A.. The book, as the title implies, contains a biographical memoir about Campbell, rather formally written, as well as the journal kept by Campbell himself for a year from April 1814 to March 1815. The latter, in particular, is a valuable first hand account of Napoleon during his exile on Elba.
According to Ravenhall Books, which brought out a modern edition of Campbell’s diary in 2004: ‘It records events as Napoleon builds an empire in miniature on Elba and it keeps an eye on the coming and going of agents and would-be assassins. Frank and enlightening it also reveals much about the personality of Napoleon and of the tensions and subterfuge within the exiled community as Napoleon devises and implements his plans for an escape.’ Here are several extracts from the original 1869 publication.
5 May 1814
‘From daylight to breakfast at 10 P.M. Napoleon was on foot, inspecting the castles, storehouses, and magazines.
At 2 P.M.. he went into the interior on horseback, a distance of two leagues, and examined various country-houses.’
6 May 1814
‘At 7 A.M. he crossed the harbour in Captain Usher’s boat, proceeded on horseback across the island to Rio, and examined the mines, then ascended a number of hills and mountain-tops upon which there are ruins. After a ‘Te Deum’ in a chapel, we had breakfast. On our return we re-embarked in Captain Usher’s boat, but, instead of returning direct. Napoleon visited the watering place, the height opposite the citadel on which he proposes to establish a sea-battery, and a rock at the mouth of the harbour on which he also thinks of placing a tower.
In talking at dinner of his intention to take possession of a small island without inhabitants, which is about ten miles off the coast of Elba, Napoleon said, ‘Toute l’Europe dira que j’ai fait une conquête déjà.” He laughed at this.
Already he has all his plans in agitation; such as to convey water from the mountains to the city, to prepare a country-house, a house in Porto Ferrajo for himself, and another for the Princess Pauline, a stable for 150 horses, a lazaretto for vessels to perform quarantine, a depot for the salt, and another for the nets belonging to the fishery of the tunny.’
7 May 1814
‘From 5 to 10 A.M. Napoleon visited other parts of the town and fortifications on foot, then embarked in boats, and visited the different storehouses round the harbour.
In making the excursions into the country, yesterday and the day before, he was accompanied by a dozen officers. A captain of gendarmes and one of his Fourriers de Palais always rode in front; and, on two occasions, a sergeant’s party of gendarmes-à-pied went on about an English mile before.
On taking our places in the boat, some of us, following Bertrand’s example, kept off our hats; on which he told us to put them on, adding, ‘Nous sommes ici ensemble en soldat!’
The fishery of the tunny is carried on by the richest inhabitant of the island. This person, by his own industry, has, out of a state of extreme poverty, amassed a fortune. He employs a great proportion of the poor, and has much influence. The removal of the stores by Napoleon to a very inferior building, merely for the convenience of his horses, is likely to cause disgust; but this shows how little Napoleon permits reflection to check his desires.’
8 May 1814
‘Before landing from the frigate, Napoleon requested that a party of fifty marines might accompany him to remain on shore. This intention was afterwards changed; and one officer of marines and two sergeants, to act as orderlies, together with a lieutenant of the navy, were sent.
One of the sergeants, selected by himself, sleeps outside the door of his bedchamber, upon a mattrass, with his clothes on, and a sword at his side. A valet de chambre occupies another mattrass at the same place. If he lies down during the day, the sergeant is called to remain in the antechamber.’
22 May 1814
‘Napoleon told me that he had taken Malta by a coup de main; that the inhabitants were so intimidated ‘par le nom de ces républicains, mangeurs d’hommes,’ that they all took refuge within the fortifications, with cattle and every living animal in the island. This created so much confusion and dismay, that they were incapable of opposition.
He requested me to write to the consul at Algiers, to secure the respect due to his flag, agreeably to the treaty.’
23 May 1814
‘I have received a letter from the Admiral, dated Genoa, May 19, in which he states that he had sent transports to Savona for the Guards of Napoleon. He expects to be off this place in a few days, on his voyage to Sicily, with Lord William Bentinck on board. I shall take that opportunity of waiting upon them, to give every information in my power, and to obtain the advantage of their counsel.’
26 May 1814
‘This morning, at 6 A.M., Napoleon went quite unexpectedly on board of the French frigate ‘Dryade,’ and the crew hailed him with cries of ‘Vive l’Empereur!’ This, I am told, placed the captain in a very awkward situation. It was not a visit to the captain personally, for he had anchored on the preceding afternoon, and then Napoleon declined seeing him, when he waited upon him, until the following morning at 10 a.m. So that it was certainly done to try the disposition of the Navy, and to keep up a recollection of him in France.
Napoleon also visited the British frigate ‘Undaunted,’ and made a speech to the crew. He thanked them for the good-will with which they had performed their duties during the voyage, said that he felt himself under obligations to them for the period he had been on board, which he had passed so happily, and that he wished them every success and happiness. He sent them, in the course of the day, 1,000 bottles of wine and 1,000 dollars, and presented Captain Usher with a box containing his portrait set in diamonds. Napoleon speaks most gratefully to everyone of the facilities which have been granted to him by the British Government; and to myself personally he constantly expresses the sense he entertains of the superior qualities which the British nation possesses over every other.
Five British transports arrived here this morning from Savona, with about 750 volunteers of Napoleon’s Guards, his horses, and baggage.
To-day I informed General Bertrand that, in case either Napoleon himself or others might ascribe any underhand motive to my remaining here, I was ready to quit the island at once, should such be his wish; that I had only remained after the other Commissioners in order to procure for him those facilities which he had requested, through me, from the British Admiral.
After repeating my conversation to Napoleon, General Bertrand was directed to assure me that my remaining with him after the departure of the other Commissioners was indispensable for his protection and security, in obedience to Lord Castlereagh’s instructions; that even after the arrival of his troops and baggage, there was another article of the treaty not fulfilled, although guaranteed by the Allied Sovereigns, and the execution of which depended entirely upon His Britannic Majesty’s ships in the Mediterranean, viz. the security of his flag against insult from the powers of Barbary; that it would be necessary for me to communicate with the Consul at Algiers and the Admiral, as soon as possible, for that object. I requested that he would address the application to me in writing, and stated that I would prolong my stay in the hope of receiving further instructions from Lord Castlereagh, not having heard from his lordship since I left Fontainebleau.’
13 March 1815
‘About one in the morning a person with a lanthorn entered my room very silently, and told me that the prefect requested to see me immediately. In order to avoid all noise and observation, he led me by a back way, and through a stable, into the house. I found the Count in a state of extreme dismay, and occupied with his secretary. I sincerely participated in his feelings on hearing from him the intelligence he had just received from Aix and Valence, viz., that Napoleon had entered Grenoble upon the 7th at 8 p.m., and that General Marchand, with the staff and most of the officers, had retired. It may be inferred from this that the rest and the private soldiers have betrayed their duty.
This state of affairs is so serious, that I determined to go off immediately to Nice, in order to convey the earliest intimation of these melancholy circumstances to Lord William Bentinck at Genoa. I shall also report to him my observation as to the bad disposition of the troops at Antibes, and the little reliance that can be placed upon the regular army, so that he may prepare for the worst.
No actual disposition has been made by the Piedmontese for the passage of the long bridge over the Var, which separates them from Antibes.
Set off from Draguignan at 3 A.M., and arrived at Nice at 5 P.M. At 10 P.M. went on board of H.M.S. ‘Partridge’ at Villa Franca, but it blew so hard that she could not with safety attempt to beat out.
Lord Sunderland has arrived from Marseilles. There it is universally believed that the English had favoured Napoleon’s return, and the people are furious against us. the same idea also prevails everywhere in the South of France and in Piedmont. A newspaper of Turin, just arrived at Nice, states positively this to be the case!’
14 March 1815
‘Sailed out of Villa Franca at 6 A.M., and arrived at Genoa at 8 P.M.’
15 March 1815
‘Wrote Lord Burgbersh with news from Draguignan of the 13th inst., and mentioned a report of Napoleon having entered Lyons.
Madame Mère, as I am informed, states that Napoleon had three deputations from France before he consented to quit Elba.’
18 March 1815
‘H.M.S. ‘Aboukir’ sailed for Leghorn.’
19 March 1815
‘H.M.S. ‘Partridge’ left Genoa for Leghorn and Sicily.’
20 March 1815
‘Left Genoa. During the night robbed of my watch and between fifty and sixty guineas by brigands near Novi.’
21 March 1815
‘4 P.M. at Milan.’
22 March 1815
‘7 A.M. Domo d’Ossola. 7 P.M. Left the Simplon.’
23 March 1815
‘11 A.M. Sion. Carriage-wheel broke. 8 P.M. Vevay.’
24 March 1815
‘Midday, Morat. Overtook Mr. Perry, the courier, who had left Genoa the morning before me.’
25 March 1815
‘11 A.M. Basle. 7 P.M. Fribourg.’
26 March 1815
‘2 P.M. Rastadt. 5 P.M. Carlsruhe.’
27 March 1815
‘3 A.M. Manheim. Passed the Rhine.’
28 March 1815
‘10 A.M. Lisère; passed the Moselle in a flat.
4 P.M. Treves. At midnight, Luxembourg. Stopped four hours to pass through the fortress.’
29 March 1815
‘4 A.M. Left Luxembourg.’
30 March 1815
‘6 P.M. Brussels. Remained three hours.’
31 March 1815
‘6 P.M. Ostend. Sailed at 8 P.M. in H. M. brig ‘Rosario,’ Captain Peak.’
1 April 1815 [Last entry in published diary.]
‘9 A.M. Landed at Deal, and at 9 P.M. arrived in London. Next day had interviews with Lord Castlereagh, and with H. R. H. the Prince Regent at Carlton House.’
It is worth noting that in the biographical memoir section of the book, there is mention of another journal kept by Campbell during his journey to the Windward and Leeward Islands in 1808. Here is what the memoir says about that journal, including an extract from it (although I can find no further information about this journal anywhere else).
‘A Journal kept by him during the voyage, and illustrated by plans and drawings, relates the usual incidents on board a troopship of that period, sailing from Woolwich to Barbadoes, and passing by Porto Santo, Madeira, and Teneriffe. The ‘Creole’ mounted twelve six-pounders and two nine-pounders; had a crew of twenty-four men, including master and mate; and carried, besides Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell and his servant, a detachment of Artillery, consisting of five officers and forty-six men. At the Downs she joined company with 150 sail, many of them transports destined for Spain; but soon after, weighing anchor from thence, the convoy was caught by a tremendous gale, which effectually dispersed it, and blew over several of the vessels - the ‘Creole’ among them - to the French coast near Boulogne, though with no ultimate loss. On November 2nd, off Lymington, a detachment of Foreign Artillery, consisting of one sergeant and twenty-sis men, was taken in.
On the 4th the ‘Creole’ passed through a fleet of light transports beating up Channel. ‘These are probably,’ Colonel Campbell notes, ‘the ships returning from France, after landing the French troops agreeably to the Convention of Cintra.’ ‘On the 18th, the day being a dead calm, the boat was lowered to pursue a turtle, which was spied 800 yards from the ship. Two hands rowed, I took the helm, and the master sat in the bow of the boat ready to seize him. As he seemed to be asleep upon the surface of the water, we approached him with as little noise as possible. When the boat almost touched him, the mate suddenly grasped him by one of his fore-fins, and tossed him into the boat. The exploit being witnessed from the ship, we were welcomed by a loud cheer in exultation of our success. The appearance of the ship with all its sails set, indolently bending from one side to another, her deck and sides crowded with men, the sea clear and smooth as glass, and the delightful warmth of the day, were truly beautiful and cheering to our spirits. There was no small anxiety to view the prize - sailors and soldiers, women and children, all crowding about us to satisfy their curiosity. The turtle was laid on his back upon the deck, to the joy of every one. In course of the evening we made three attempts after other turtle, but none of them succeeded. They were not asleep, and, when we approached within a few yards, lifted up their heads, surveyed us, and disappeared.’
The Diary Junction