July 14 1815: Napoleon Will Surrender to the British

Untitled

“On the 14th of July, at daybreak, the officer of the watch informed me, that the Mouche was standing out from Isle d’Aix, bearing a flag of truce, which I ordered to be accepted. Here it is necessary to mention, that the British flag of truce, being a white flag at the fore-top-gallant mast-head, which was also hoisted as a matter of course when Buonaparte was received on board, has by some persons been construed into the Bourbon flag, and thence into an intentional insult to him. It never was my intention, nor do I believe it could have been that of any British officer, to treat with insult any fallen enemy, much less one who had shown such confidence as to throw himself on the protection of his former foe.

When the schooner, the Mouche, reached the ship, Count Las Cases came on board, attended by General Count Lallemand. This meeting was highly interesting to me, as Lallemand had been a prisoner for three weeks in the Camelion under my command in Egypt, with Junot, whose Aid-de-Camp he then was; and General Savary, who accompanied Count Las Cases in his first visit to the Bellerophon, had lived nearly as long at Sir Sydney Smith’s table with me, at the Turkish camp at El Arish, when the convention, which takes its name from that place, was under discussion, being Aid-de-Camp to General Dessaix, who negotiated on the part of the French.

On their coming on board, I made the signal for the Captain of the Slaney, being desirous of having a witness to any conversation that might pass, as our communications were chiefly verbal: he arrived while we were at breakfast.

When Count Las Cases came on the quarter-deck, he informed me that he was sent off to learn whether I had received an answer from the Admiral to the letter he had brought off on the 10th instant. I told him that I had not, but, in consequence of the despatch which I had forwarded to him, I had not a doubt he would immediately repair here in person, and I was hourly in expectation of seeing him, adding, “If that was the only reason you had for sending off a flag of truce, it was quite unnecessary, as I informed you, when last here, that the Admiral’s answer, when it arrived, should be forwarded to the frigates by one of the Bellerophon’s boats; and I do not approve of frequent communications with an enemy by means of flags of truce.” I then went into the cabin and ordered breakfast, to prevent further discussion until the arrival of Captain Sartorius.

When breakfast was over, we retired to the after-cabin. Count Las Cases then said, “The Emperor is so anxious to spare the further effusion of human blood, that he will proceed to America in any way the British Government chooses to sanction, either in a French ship of war, a vessel armed en flute, a merchant vessel, or even in a British ship of war.” To this I answered, “I have no authority to agree to any arrangement of that sort, nor do I believe my Government would consent to it; but I think I may venture to receive him into this ship, and convey him to England: if, however,” I added, “he adopts that plan, I cannot enter into any promise, as to the reception he may meet with, as, even in the case I have mentioned, I shall be acting on my own responsibility, and cannot be sure that it would meet with the approbation of the British Government.”

There was a great deal of conversation on this subject, in the course of which Lucien Buonaparte’s name was mentioned, and the manner in which he had lived in England alluded to; but I invariably assured Las Cases most explicitly, that I had no authority to make conditions of any sort, as to Napoleon’s reception in England. In fact, I could not have done otherwise, since, with the exception of the order inserted at page 24, I had no instructions for my guidance, and was, of course, in total ignorance of the intention of His Majesty’s ministers as to his future disposal. One of the last observations Las Cases made before quitting the ship was, “Under all circumstances, I have little doubt that you will see the Emperor on board the Bellerophon;” and, in fact, Buonaparte must have determined on that step before Las Cases came on board, as his letter to his Royal Highness the Prince Regent is dated the 13th of July, the day before this conversation.

During the above-mentioned conversation, I asked Las Cases where Buonaparte then was? He replied, “At Rochefort; I left him there yesterday evening.” General Lallemand then said, “The Emperor lives at the Hotel in the Grand Place, and is now so popular there, that the inhabitants assemble every evening in front of the house, for the purpose of seeing him, and crying, ‘Vive l’Empereur!'”

I then asked how long it would take to go there: Las Cases answered, “As the tide will be against us, it will require five or six hours.” Why these false statements were made, I cannot pretend to say; but it is very certain that Buonaparte never quitted the frigates or Isle d’Aix, after his arrival there on the 3rd of July.

General Lallemand took occasion to ask me if I thought there would be any risk of the people, who might accompany Buonaparte, being given up to the Government of France: I replied, “Certainly not; the British Government never could think of doing so, under the circumstances contemplated in the present arrangement.”

They left me about half-past nine A.M. In the course of the day, I was joined by the Myrmidon, Captain Gambier, who had been sent to me by Captain Green, of the Daphne, with a letter he had received from Captain Aylmer, of the Pactolus, in the Gironde, bringing information that it was the intention of Buonaparte to escape from Rochefort in a Danish sloop, concealed in a cask stowed in the ballast, with tubes so constructed as to convey air for his breathing. I afterwards inquired of General Savary, if there had been any foundation for such a report; when he informed me that the plan had been thought of, and the vessel in some measure prepared; but it was considered too hazardous; for had we detained the vessel for a day or two, he would have been obliged to make his situation known, and thereby forfeited all claims to the good treatment he hoped to ensure by a voluntary surrender.

The two Captains dined with me, and afterwards went on board the Myrmidon, to take up a position to the north-east of the Bellerophon, to prevent vessels from passing close in shore, and thus to render the blockade of the port more complete.

Soon after they left me, a barge was perceived rowing off from the frigates towards the Bellerophon with a flag-of-truce up; on which I recalled Captains Sartorius and Gambier, by signal, that they might be present at any communication that was to be made. The boat got alongside about seven P.M. and brought Count Las Cases, accompanied by General Baron Gourgaud, one of Buonaparte’s Aid-de-Camps. On their coming on deck, I immediately addressed Las Cases, saying, “It is impossible you could have been at Rochefort, and returned, since you left me this morning.” He replied, “No; it was not necessary; I found the Emperor at Isle d’Aix, on my arrival there.” He then told me, he was charged with a letter from General Bertrand. We walked into the cabin, when he delivered it to me; it was as follows:—

“Le 14 Juillet, 1815.

“Monsieur le Commandant,

“Monsieur le Comte de Las Cases a rendu compte à l’Empereur de la conversation qu’il a eue ce matin à votre bord. S. M. se rendra à la marée de demain, vers quatre ou cinq heures du matin, à bord de votre vaisseau. Je vous envoye Monsieur le Comte de Las Cases, Conseiller d’État, faisant fonction de Maréchal de Logis, avec la liste des personnes composant la suite de S. M. Si l’Amiral, en conséquence de la demande que vous lui avez adressée, vous envoye le sauf conduit demandé pour les États Unis, S. M. s’y rendra avec plaisir; mais au défaut du sauf conduit, il se rendra volontiers en Angleterre, comme simple particulier, pour y jouir de la protection des loix de votre pays.

“S. M. a expédié Monsieur le Maréchal de Camp Baron Gourgaud auprès du Prince Régent, avec une lettre, dont j’ai l’honneur de vous envoyer copie, vous priant de la faire passer au Ministre auquel vous croyez nécessaire d’envoyer cet officier général, afin qu’il ait l’honneur de remettre au Prince Régent la lettre dont il est chargé.

“J’ai l’honneur d’être,
Monsieur le Commandant,
Votre très humble et très obéissant Serviteur,
Le Grand Maréchal,
Comte Bertrand.”

“À Monsieur le Commandant
des Croisières devant Rochefort.”

TRANSLATION.

“Sir,

“Count Las Cases has reported to the Emperor the conversation which he had with you this morning. His Majesty will proceed on board your ship with the ebb tide to-morrow morning, between four and five o’clock.

“I send the Count Las Cases, Counsellor of State, doing the duty of Maréchal de Logis, with the list of persons composing His Majesty’s suite.

“If the Admiral, in consequence of the despatch you forwarded to him, should send the passport for the United States therein demanded, His Majesty will be happy to repair to America; but should the passport be withheld, he will willingly proceed to England, as a private individual, there to enjoy the protection of the laws of your country.

“His Majesty has despatched Major General Baron Gourgaud to the Prince Regent with a letter, a copy of which I have the honour to enclose, requesting that you will forward it to such one of the ministers as you may think it necessary to send that general officer, that he may have the honour of delivering the letter with which he is charged to the Prince Regent.

“I have the honour to be,
Sir,
Your very humble servant,
Count Bertrand.”

“To the Officer commanding the
Cruizers off Rochefort.”

List of persons composing the suite of Napoleon Buonaparte, enclosed in the above Letter, and the manner in which they were distributed during the passage to England.

Bellerophon.

Généraux.

Le Lieutenant Général Comte Bertrand, Gd. Maréchal.
Le Lieutenant Général Duc de Rovigo.
Le Lieutenant Général Baron Lallemand Aide de Camp de S. M.
Le Maréchal de Camp Comte de Montholon Aide de Camp de S. M.
Le Comte de Las Cases Conseiller d’État.
Dames.

Madame la Comtesse Bertrand.
Madame la Comtesse de Montholon.
Enfans.

3 Enfans de Madame la Comtesse Bertrand.
1 Enfant de Madame la Comtesse de Montholon.
Officiers.

M. de Planat, Lieutenant-Colonel.
M. Maingaut, Chirurgien de S. M.
M. Las Cases, Page.
Service de la Chambre.

M. M. Marchand 1 Valet de Chambre.
Gilli Valet de Chambre.
St Denis Valet de Chambre.
Novarra Idem.
Denis Garçon de Garderobe.
Livrée.

Archambaud 1 Valet de pied.
Gaudron Valet de pied.
Gentilini Id.
Service de la Bouche.

M. M. Fontain 1 Maître d’Hôtel.
Piéron Chef d’Office.
La Fosse Cuisinier.
Le Page Idem.

2 Femmes de Chambre de Madame la Comtesse Bertrand.
1 Femme de Chambre de Madame la Comtesse de Montholon.
Suite des personnes qui accompagnent S. M.

1 Valet de Chambre du Duc de Rovigo.
1 do. du Comte Bertrand.
1 do. du Comte de Montholon.
1 Valet de pied du Comte Bertrand.
Total 7.
Recapitulation.

Généraux 5
Dames 2
Enfans 4
Officiers 3
Service de la Chambre de S. M. 5
Livrée de S. M. 3
Service de la Bouche 4
Suite des personnes qui accompagnent S. M. 7

Total 33

La Corvette.

Officiers.

Le Lieutenant Colonel Resigni.
Le Lieutenant Colonel Schultz.
Le Capitaine Autrie.
Le Capitaine Mesener.
Le Capitaine Prontowski.
Le Lieutenant Rivière.
Le Sous Lieutenant Ste Catherine.
Suite de S. M.

Santini Huissier.
Chauvin Id.
Rousseau Lampiste.
Archambaud Valet de pied.
Joseph Id.
Le Charron Id.
Lisiaux Garde d’Office.
Ortini Valet de pied.
Fumeau Idem.
Recapitulation.

Officiers 7
Suite 10

Total 17

Enclosed was likewise a copy of the well-known letter addressed by Buonaparte to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent.

“Altesse Royale,

“En butte aux factions qui divisent mon pays et à l’inimitié des plus grandes puissances de l’Europe, j’ai terminé ma carrière politique, et je viens comme Thémistocle m’asseoir sur le foyer du peuple Britannique. Je me mets sous la protection de ses loix, que je réclame de votre Altesse Royale, comme au plus puissant, au plus constant, et au plus généreux de mes Ennemis.”

“Rochefort, 13 Juillet, 1815,
“Signé, Napoleon.”

TRANSLATION.

“Rochefort, July 13th, 1815.

“Your Royal Highness,

“A victim to the factions which distract my country, and to the enmity of the greatest powers of Europe, I have terminated my political career, and I come, like Themistocles, to throw myself upon the hospitality of the British people. I put myself under the protection of their laws; which I claim from your Royal Highness, as the most powerful, the most constant, and the most generous of my enemies.

Napoleon.”

On reading the above, I told Monsieur Las Cases that I would receive Buonaparte on board, and immediately forward General Gourgaud to England by the Slaney, along with my despatches to the Admiralty; but that he would not be allowed to land until permission was received from London, or the sanction of the Admiral at the port he might arrive at obtained. I assured him, however, that the copy of the letter with which he was charged would be forwarded without loss of time, and presented by the Ministers to his Royal Highness. Count Las Cases then asked for paper, that he might communicate by letter to Bertrand my acquiescence in the proposal he had brought, for my receiving, and conveying to England, Buonaparte and his suite.

When General Gourgaud was about to write the letter, to prevent any future misunderstanding, I said, “Monsieur Las Cases, you will recollect that I am not authorised to stipulate as to the reception of Buonaparte in England, but that he must consider himself entirely at the disposal of his Royal Highness the Prince Regent.” He answered, “I am perfectly aware of that, and have already acquainted the Emperor with what you said on the subject.”

It might, perhaps, have been better if this declaration had been given in an official written form; and could I have foreseen the discussions which afterwards took place, and which will appear in the sequel, I undoubtedly should have done so; but as I repeatedly made it in the presence of witnesses, it did not occur to me as being necessary; and how could a stronger proof be adduced, that no stipulations were agreed to respecting the reception of Buonaparte in England, than the fact of their not being reduced to writing? which certainly would have been the case had any favourable terms been demanded on the part of Monsieur Las Cases, and agreed to by me.

The French boat was soon after despatched with the letter to Bertrand, in charge of a French naval officer, who had attended Las Cases on board; and as soon as I had finished the following despatch to the Secretary of the Admiralty, I sent Captain Sartorius, of the Slaney, to England, accompanied by General Gourgaud.

Extract of a Letter from Captain Maitland, of His Majesty’s ship Bellerophon, addressed to the Secretary of the Admiralty, dated in Basque Roads, 14th July, 1815.

“For the information of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, I have to acquaint you that the Count Las Cases and General Lallemand this day came on board His Majesty’s ship under my command, with a proposal from Count Bertrand for me to receive on board Napoleon Buonaparte, for the purpose of throwing himself on the generosity of the Prince Regent. Conceiving myself authorised by their Lordships’ secret order, I have acceded to the proposal, and he is to embark on board this ship to-morrow morning. That no misunderstanding might arise, I have explicitly and clearly explained to Count Las Cases, that I have no authority whatever for granting terms of any sort, but that all I can do is to carry him and his suite to England, to be received in such manner as his Royal Highness may deem expedient.

“At Napoleon Buonaparte’s request, and that their Lordships may be in possession of the transaction at as early a period as possible, I despatch the Slaney (with General Gourgaud, his Aide de Camp), directing Captain Sartorius to put into the nearest port, and forward this letter by his first Lieutenant, and shall in compliance with their Lordships’ orders proceed to Torbay, to await such directions as the Admiralty may think proper to give.

“Enclosed, I transmit a copy of the letter with which General Gourgaud is charged, to his Royal Highness the Prince Regent, and request that you will acquaint their Lordships, that the General informs me, he is entrusted with further particulars, which he is anxious to communicate to his Royal Highness.”

When these gentlemen had left the ship, as well as the Saale’s barge, I said to Monsieur Las Cases, I propose dividing the after-cabin in two, that the ladies may have the use of one part of it. “If you allow me to give an opinion,” said he, “the Emperor will be better pleased to have the whole of the after-cabin to himself, as he is fond of walking about, and will by that means be able to take more exercise.” I answered, “As it is my wish to treat him with every possible consideration while he is on board the ship I command, I shall make any arrangement you think will be most agreeable to him.”

This is the only conversation that ever passed on the subject of the cabin; and I am the more particular in stating it, as Buonaparte has been described, in some of the public Journals, as having taken possession of it in a most brutal way, saying, “Tout ou rien pour moi:”—All or nothing for me. I here therefore, once for all, beg to state most distinctly, that, from the time of his coming on board my ship, to the period of his quitting her, his conduct was invariably that of a gentleman; and in no one instance do I recollect him to have made use of a rude expression, or to have been guilty of any kind of ill-breeding.

As the ship had for some time been kept clear for action, with all the bulkheads down, it became necessary to prepare for the reception of so many guests, by putting the cabins up again: in consequence of making the requisite arrangements, it was past one o’clock in the morning before I could get to bed. About ten at night, the officer of the watch informed me that a boat from the shore had asked permission to come alongside. A man being allowed to come on board from her; “I am sent off from Rochelle,” said he, “to inform you that Buonaparte this morning passed that town in a chasse-marée, with another in company, for the purpose of escaping to sea by the Pertuis de Breton: he is now in that passage, and means to set sail this night.” I told him, “that I doubted his information, having at that moment one of his attendants on board, who had come with a proposal for me to receive him into the ship.” I then asked him how he came by his intelligence? He answered, “The vessels passed close to a boat that I was in; and I saw a man wrapt up in a sailor’s great coat, whom one of the people with me asserted to be him: for my part, I am not acquainted with his appearance, never having seen him; but when the owner of the vessels attempted to go on board of them, he was kept off, and told that they were required for two or three days, when they would be restored with ample payment.” He told his story so circumstantially, and with such confidence, that I feared there must be grounds for what he stated; and the anxiety of my situation may be easily conceived, when it is recollected that I had sent off a ship to England with despatches, announcing the intention of Buonaparte to embark the following morning in the Bellerophon. After a little consideration, I determined to inform Las Cases abruptly of the intelligence I had received, and endeavour to judge by the effect it had on his countenance, whether there was any truth in the report or not. I accordingly went into the cabin and did so; he seemed perfectly calm and collected, saying, “Pray at what hour does your informant state the Emperor to have passed Rochelle?” “At ten A.M.” “Then I can safely assert, on my honour, that he was not in either of those vessels. I left him at half-past five this evening, when it was his full intention to come on board this ship to-morrow morning; what he may have done since that hour, I cannot be responsible for.” I answered, “As you give your word of honour that Buonaparte had not left Isle d’Aix when you quitted it, I shall trust to what you say, and take no steps in consequence of the information that has been brought to me, but conclude it has originated in some mistake.”

About three in the morning, the officer of the watch awoke me, and said that another boat wished to come alongside. I rose and went upon deck immediately, and found that she brought the same intelligence from another quarter; and they both eventually proved correct, to a certain extent: for two chasse-marées, as I was afterwards informed, had been prepared, manned, and officered from the frigates, to be used as a last resource to attempt an escape in, in the event of Las Cases’ mission to the Bellerophon not being successful; and they had actually passed Rochelle, in their way to Pointeau d’Aguillon, at the hour specified, and were there to await his joining them should it prove necessary.[3]

After I had determined to abide by Las Cases’ assurance, that Buonaparte had not quitted Isle d’Aix, I enquired of the person who brought off the information in the evening, “What was the state of Rochelle, and whether I might with safety send a boat there to purchase refreshments?” as the white flag was then hoisted all over the town; he said, “he would not recommend it, as, though the towns-people were well inclined towards the Bourbon family, the garrison, consisting of four thousand men, were all attached to Buonaparte; but if he were once on board the ship, there would be no risk in doing so, as their fear of his meeting with bad treatment would keep the soldiers in awe.”

— Captain Maitland of H.M.S. Bellerophon, in the Atlantic off of Rochefort, writes about July 14 1815.

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