An end to conflict: Napoleon’s surrender to HMS Bellerophon

Saturday 15 July 2017 marks 202 years since the Napoleonic Wars finally came to an end. Former Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte surrendered to Captain Frederick Lewis Maitland of HMS Bellerophon on 15 July 1815.

Photograph of the first page of Captain Maitland's handwritten account of Napoleon's surrender

First page of Captain Maitland’s account of Napoleon’s surrender to the Bellerophon (catalogue reference: FO 97/159)

Six weeks after his disastrous defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon faced an uncertain future. After his abdication, he was unwelcome in France, with his capture sought by Prussian and Austrian forces.

Captain Maitland of HMS Bellerophon wrote an account of the events that followed for a personal statement; this can be found at TFhe National Archives under the document reference FO 97/159.

On 10 July 1815, HMS Bellerophon was guarding the French port of Rochefort when a French vessel bearing a flag of truce approached. On board were General Anne Jean Marie Rene Savary and the Comte de Las (Count of) Cases, with the first announcement of Napoleon’s consideration to surrender to the British.

There was further contact between the French party and the Bellerophon over the following days.

At 07:00 on 14 July a vessel approached the Bellerophon. The Comte de Las Cases was again on board, this time accompanied by General L’Allarand. They had a letter from Napoleon, wishing to discuss the terms of General Bonaparte’s surrender.

After leaving Bellerophon, Comte de Las Cases returned at 19:00 the same day with a letter from Napoleon’s General, Count Bertrand revealing that Napoleon was currently on Isle D’Aix and fully prepared to surrender.

Napoleon’s arrival on the Bellerophon is recorded in the log for the ship dated 15 July 1815 (ADM 53/192).

Handwritten log entry from HMS Bellerophon, noting Napoleon's arrival

HMS Bellerophon log entry for 15 July 1815, which notes Napoleon’s arrival on board (catalogue reference: ADM 53/192)

While in custody Napoleon and his entourage were treated like guests, with the former emperor given access to the Great cabin of the ship. Napoleon wanted to travel to North America, where he hoped to gain asylum; upon refusal of this by the British, he hoped to be allowed to live out his life in England. Maitland’s account in FO 97/159 appears to have been triggered as a response to enquiries from his superiors, after they had dealt with accusations from Napoleon’s party that they had been promised residency in England by the Captain.

Escorted by HMS Myrmidon (ADM 53/852), upon arrival in England the Bellerophon anchored at Brixham. It then took Napoleon to Plymouth, where he was held aboard the moored Bellerophon and not allowed to set foot on British soil, much to his annoyance. Over the following weeks, the British government considered the fate of the ship’s famous prisoner. These discussions are recorded in ADM 1/4361 and again in FO 97/159.

Despite the British authority’s attempts to keep Napoleon’s presence in Plymouth a secret, word began to spread about his residency on the Bellerophon, causing a vast number of small vessels to swarm around the ship in the hopes of catching sight of him. HMS Liffey (ADM 52/4169) and HMS Eurotas (ADM 51/2322) were anchored as guard ships in the hopes of dissuading these smaller ships.

Eventually a decision was made to designate Napoleon and his entourage as ‘Prisoners of War’, with the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic chosen as their place of exile. This was a fate far removed from the ‘small estate’ where Napoleon wished to live out his days at in Britain.

While many of the loyal officers in his entourage chose to follow him, the surgeon in Napoleon’s company did not wish to journey to Saint Helena. Barry C O’Meara, the surgeon of the Bellerophon, offered to make the voyage with Napoleon instead (his offer is recorded in FO 97/159). For the voyage to Saint Helena, Napoleon was transferred to HMS Northumberland, a transit recorded in ADM 37/5494.

In his statement, Maitland revealed that General Bertrand had told him that in thanks for his kindness and hospitality, Napoleon wished to give the Captain a box containing a diamond encrusted portrait. Due to his position, Maitland felt that he was unable to accept such a gift, and he notes his actions to inform Napoleon and his party of this without causing offence.

Before leaving the Bellerophon, Napoleon had not been granted his desired audience with the Prince Regent. He revealed to Captain Maitland that part of his wish to meet the Prince was in the hope that he could recommend Maitland for promotion to Rear Admiral, as an appreciation of the hospitality that the Captain had shown him (Maitland would eventually rise to the position of Rear Admiral by the time of his death in 1839). Napoleon told Maitland that he considered him ‘a man of honour’.

In 1826, Captain Maitland published a detailed further account of his time spent with Napoleon. Captain Frederick Lewis Maitland’s Royal Navy service record can be found at The National Archives under the reference ADM 196/68/292.

12 comments

  1. John says:

    Please not ‘The HMS Bellerphon. It was HMS Bellerophon

    1. Nell Brown (Admin) says:

      Hi John,

      Thanks for your comment. I’ve updated the blog.

      Best,

      Nell

  2. Mr.E.P.Daly says:

    I read with interest the above contents on Napoleon’s surrender.You may be aware the
    reason for the surrender was to avoid civil war in France where Napoleon could have gone
    to LaVendee to protract the conflict.Preferring not to draw France back to the dark days of
    the Revolution with further bloodshed the best route was capitulation,but he thought he
    would have been given route to the where he had a cult following.The U.S.A.
    Remember,Britain’s war with the U.S.A.(War of 1812)only ended 6mths earlier in 1815.
    Persons I’m researching:DidoElizabethBelle&JohnDaviniere experienced the raise of
    Napoleon,here in London in the mid-late1790’s,through the newspapers.Daviniere himself
    a Frenchman.I understand you have the rate books there for RanelaghStreet,Pimlico for
    the 1790’s?Please confirm as very interested in the Daviniere’s house number!

    1. Nell Brown (Admin) says:

      Hello,

      We’re unable to help with research requests on the blog, but if you go to our contact us page: http://nationalarchives.gov.uk/contact/ you’ll see how to get in touch with our record experts via phone, email or live chat.

      Good luck with your research.

      Nell

  3. John Porter says:

    Andrew Crosse of Fyne Court, Somerset, was a pioneer of electrical experimentation, but certainly did not ignore what was happening in the rest of the world. In a letter to his friend John Kenyon, dated “Broomfield, July 23rd, 1815”, he writes:

    “I should like to see Bonaparte: if he lands at Plymouth I shall endeavour to get a peep at him.”

    Twelve days later he got his wish. Napoleon arrived off Plymouth as a prisoner of the Royal Navy. He was held on board the “Bellerophon”, commanded by Captain Maitland, while the government were making up their minds what to do with him. Andrew kept a note of his trip.

    “I left home on Wednesday morning about eight o’clock, reached Exeter on my mare about four o’clock, left Exeter ten o’clock same night, reached Plymouth Dock at half after five Thursday morning, saw Bonaparte about six o’clock same night. He started in the Bellerophon, without signal, at about one o’clock, Friday, August 4th, 1815, was met by a sloop-of-war, who exchanged signals with the Bellerophon; followed by the Eurotus frigate with French officers of rank aboard … The Bellerophon bore eastward, and I followed her some hours; was on the water from twelve to two; sailed ten miles from dock, and about twenty-five or thirty in all. Saw Bonaparte between decks, afterwards, in the cabin window, the curtain of which was drawn by a French lady; got within thirty yards of him, and was told by Captain Maitland to keep off.”

  4. Suzanne Martin-Newcastle says:

    Was this the ‘Maitland’ after whom the name of the City of Maitland in NSW just north of Newcastle was named in the 1830s? In July 1818 Governor Lachlan Macquarie named the site Wallis’ Plains but a later Governor changed it to Maitland-would you know why this was?
    Thank you

    1. David Gill says:

      Dear Suzanne, according to this newspaper article: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/18944854
      , Maitland in New South Wales was named after Sir George Maitland, the Under Secretary for the British Colonies in the 1830s, not Frederick Lewis Maitland of HMS Bellerophon.
      Thanks for your comment.

  5. Suzanne Martin-Newcastle says:

    Hi David. thank you so very much for getting back to me re George Maitland who I will google.It will be 200 yrs on 31st July since Macquarie named Wallis’Plains but I am so pleased to know-at last-who our Maitland was named for.
    All good wishes..Suzanne M.

  6. Anne Eastham says:

    who was captain of HMS Northumberland?

    1. David Gill says:

      Dear Anne,
      Whilst Charles Bayne Hodgson Ross was the appointed Captain of HMS Northumberland at the time of Napoleon’s journey to Saint Helena, the superior naval officer on board was Admiral George Cockburn. Captain Ross’s service record (document reference: ADM 196/68/344): http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/D7606479 and Admiral Cockburn’s service record (document reference ADM 196/3/480): http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C9727940 Thanks for your comment.

  7. Richard Thomson says:

    What were the names of the ships company on HMS Bellerophon under Captain Maitland at the time of the surrender of Napoleon Bonaparte? I think one of my ancestors may have been among them.

    1. Liz Bryant (Admin) says:

      Hi Richard,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Unfortunately we can’t answer research requests on the blog. The best way to go about exploring the different records we hold for Royal Navy crew from this period is to look through our Royal Navy research guides:

      http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/?research-category=military-and-maritime&sub-category%5B%5D=royal-navy-royal-marines

      There are large numbers of records you can consult yourself online by using these guides in conjunction with our catalogue.

      You could try our guide to officers’ service records 1756-1931 as well as searching digitised versions of our records on Ancestry.co.uk:

      http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/royal-navy-officers-service-records-1756-1931/

      If you need more help, go to our ‘contact us’ page at http://nationalarchives.gov.uk/contact/ – you’ll see how to get in touch with our record experts by email or live chat.

      Kind regards,

      Liz.

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