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Biographical entry Verling, James Roche (1787 - 1858)

MRCS Feb 7th 1823; FRCS (by election) Aug 26th 1844; MD Edin 1809.

27 February 1787
Cobh County, Cork
1 January 1858
General surgeon


Born at Cobh, afterwards Queenstown and now again Cobh, Co Cork, on Feb 27th, 1787, the second son of John Verling and of Eleanor Roche, his wife. James Roche Verling belonged to a family long settled in that part of Ireland. He 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 the Northumberland, having on board Napoleon and his suite. Verling spoke both French and Italian, and so became personally acquainted with Napoleon, who was ready to talk with any of the officers who could understand him.

St Helena was reached on Oct 17th, 1815, and Verling was placed in medical charge of the Artillery at Jamestown, the least healthy of all the military camps, and was thus busily engaged for the following three years.

On July 25th, 1818, Sir Hudson Lowe ordered Barry O'Meara, a Surgeon of the Royal Navy who had been Medical Attendant of Napoleon, to quit Longwood House, in consequence of orders from the British Government, and in a letter to Verling preserved among his papers, Lowe wrote:

"I have to request you will immediately proceed to Longwood to afford your medical assistance to General Bonaparte, and the foreign persons under detention with him, there to be stationed until I may receive the instructions of His Majesty's Government on the subject."

Verling at once proceeded to Longwood, and was thus involved for a time in the interminable controversy, partly as to the official title, 'General Bonaparte', in place of the 'Emperor Napoleon', partly as to the health of Napoleon, which it was claimed was being injured by the climate.

Verling not only spoke French and Italian, but was a man of experience with courteous manners, equally a friend of O'Meara's and of Lowe's. Whilst Napoleon refused to see Verling, the latter attended the Comtesse Bertrand, her children, and the Montholons. He supplied the Comtesse with books, including Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, and corresponded about getting her a shower-bath. When, on Jan 16th, 1819, Napoleon became very ill and was for a short time insensible, Stokoe, Surgeon on the flagship Conqueror, was sent for and attended for a week, but becoming involved in the controversy, was court-martialled and dismissed from the Navy. Verling did all he could to keep the authorities au courant, but was unable to supply the information demanded. Whilst both Bertrand and Montholon were friendly, they had to offer restrictions which Verling, as a medical military officer, was unable to accept, and refused to enter into what would have amounted to a secret agreement with Napoleon. Montholon himself suffered from intermittent fever, pain in the liver, and spitting of blood, symptoms which told against the situation of Longwood and the climate generally.

On the arrival of Antomarchi on Sept 20th, 1819, Verling was relieved of his unpleasant task, but a wrangle still continued over his attendances on Mme Bertrand and her children. He sailed from St Helena on April 25th, 1820.

In 1823 he was one of those who filed an affidavit in favour of Sir Hudson Lowe in his case against O'Meara, and in after-life hated to refer to the Longwood period whilst maintaining that Sir Hudson Lowe had treated him well. He came out of the ordeal with a good reputation, and afterwards waived the subject of Napoleon as something painful in retrospect. He firmly refused to help Forsyth in his History of the Captivity. On the other hand, he was full of reminiscences of the Peninsular Campaign.

Verling afterwards served in Malta, the Ionian Isles, Halifax, and Nova Scotia. He was promoted Surgeon on July 3rd, 1827, Senior Surgeon on Jan 1st, 1843, and Deputy Inspector-General of Hospitals on April 1st, 1850. He retired on full pay on April 1st, 1854, with the rank of Inspector-General, and spent the rest of his life at Queenstown, where he died on Jan 1st, 1858.

His portrait from the painting by J King, of London, dated 1837, is reproduced (at p36) in Dr Arnold Chaplin's Thomas Shorn with Biographies of some other Medical Men associated with the Case of Napoleon from1815-1821 (8vo, London, 1914) ; also in Walter Henry's Events of a Military Life (1843).

The Verling family papers came into the possession of Mr Henry Fitzgerald, South Abbey, Youghal, a grandnephew.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Dr Arnold Chaplin's Thomas Shortt (Principal Medical Officer in St Helena) with Biographies of some other Medical Men associated with the Case of Napoleon from 1815-1821, 8vo, London, 1914. Walter Henry's Events of a Military Life, 1843, ii, 52. Johnston's RAMC Roll, No 3122].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England