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.
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).
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.