August 4 1815: Napoleon Put Out To Sea

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For August 4 1815, Captain Maitland of H.M.S. Bellerophon writes:

At three in the morning of the 4th of August, the officer of the watch brought me a letter from Lord Keith, informing me that a courier had just arrived from London, and that it was probable the ship would be required to put to sea at a moment’s notice. In consequence of this order, we unmoored at daylight, bent the top-gallant sails, and made other preparations for getting under weigh. The Frenchmen were very watchful of all our motions, appeared much alarmed and annoyed, and questioned me frequently as to the cause. I told them, what was literally the fact, that I had received directions to be ready to put to sea, but had no orders to carry it into effect; and that was all I knew.

Between seven and eight o’clock, I waited on Lord Keith, who said he had received information that a habeas corpus had been taken out for the purpose of bringing Buonaparte on shore, and that a lawyer was on his way down to serve it; desiring me, therefore, to be ready to put to sea whenever the signal might be made.

On returning on board, I had an interview with Buonaparte, who was very urgent to know why the ship was preparing for sea. I told him, by Lord Keith’s directions, that it was the intention of our Government, his removal should take place at sea; and that we were going out to meet the Northumberland, the ship which was to convey him to St Helena.

He begged I would write to Lord Keith, and say he wished very much to see him; and Count Bertrand told me he was also desirous of having the newspapers. I accordingly wrote to his Lordship, who was then on board the Tonnant: who, however, declined visiting him, but sent me a note, of which the following is an extract.

Extract of a Note from Admiral Viscount Keith, addressed to Captain Maitland, of H.M.S. Bellerophon, dated Tonnant, 4th August.

“I send you the paper, and shall be glad to hear the determination of the General, whom you may inform that the answer is arrived from London, and that I have no authority to alter, in any degree, any part of the former communication; which induces me to wish the selection of the persons he is inclined should attend him.”

I communicated the contents to General Bertrand, who made his report to Buonaparte. On his coming out of the cabin, I pressed him on the subject of nominating those that were to go with him to St Helena; but the only answer he returned was, “L’Empereur n’ira pas à St Hélène;”—the Emperor will not go to St Helena.

Soon after nine o’clock, the Bellerophon’s signal was made to prepare to weigh, and at half-past nine to weigh: we immediately started. As the light air of wind that blew was right into the Sound, and the flood-tide against us, the guard-boats were sent ahead to tow; but, soon observing a suspicious-looking person in a boat approaching the ship, I ordered one of them to cast off, keep under the ship’s stern, and not allow any shore boat, under any pretext, to come near us. The person alluded to proved afterwards to have been the lawyer mentioned by Lord Keith; not with a Habeas Corpus, but a subpœna for Buonaparte to attend a trial at the Court of King’s Bench as a witness. He was, however, foiled: as Lord Keith avoided him, and got on board the Prometheus, off the Ramehead, where he remained until joined by the Tonnant; while the guard-boat prevented him from approaching near enough to the Bellerophon, to serve his writ on me.[10]

While the ship was working out of the Sound, two well-dressed women in a boat kept as close to her as the guard-boat would allow, and, whenever Buonaparte appeared at the stern windows, stood up and waved their handkerchiefs.

On joining the Prometheus off the Ramehead, where Lord Keith’s flag was then flying, I received the following note from his Lordship.

No date; received August 4th, in the Afternoon.

“I have been chased all day by a lawyer with a Habeas Corpus: he is landed at Cawsand, and may come off in a sailing-boat during the night; of course, keep all sorts of boats off, as I will do the like in whatever ship I may be in.

Keith.”

“Captain Maitland.”

Buonaparte wrote another letter this evening to the Prince Regent, which I carried to Lord Keith, who again told me of his having been chased all day by a lawyer: who had first started him out of his own house, then followed him to the Tonnant, where he attempted to get in at one side, as his Lordship left her on the other; he afterwards pursued him towards Cawsand, but the Admiral being in a twelve-oared barge, out-rowed him, and gave him the slip round the Ramehead. It was on his return from this chase that he attempted to get on board the Bellerophon.

Buonaparte now confined himself entirely to his cabin, never coming on deck, or appearing at breakfast or dinner. He was not served from the table, but what he ate was prepared and carried in to him by Marchand, his favourite valet de chambre. Messrs Bertrand and Las Cases passed much time with him; and this evening the protest was prepared, which will appear in the sequel.

Buonaparte’s Protest.

“Je proteste solennellement ici, à la face du Ciel et des hommes, contre la violence qui m’est faite, contre la violation de mes droits les plus sacrés, en disposant par la force, de ma personne et de ma liberté.

“Je suis venu librement à bord du Bellerophon; je ne suis point prisonnier; je suis l’hôte de l’Angleterre. J’y suis venu à l’instigation même du Capitaine qui a dit avoir des ordres du Gouvernement de me recevoir, et de me conduire en Angleterre avec ma suite, si cela m’étoit agréable. Je me suis présenté de bonne foi pour venir me mettre sous la protection des loix d’Angleterre. Aussitôt assis à bord du Bellerophon, je fus sur le foyer du peuple Britannique. Si le Gouvernement, en donnant des ordres au Capitaine du Bellerophon, de me recevoir ainsi que ma suite, n’a voulu que tendre une embûche, il a forfait à l’honneur et flêtri son pavillon. Si cet acte se consommoit, ce seroit en vain que les Anglais voudroient parler à l’Europe de leur loyauté, de leur loix, et de leur liberté. La foi Britannique s’y trouvera perdue dans l’hospitalité du Bellerophon. J’en appelle à l’histoire; elle dira qu’un ennemi qui fit vingt ans la guerre aux peuples Anglois, vint librement, dans son infortune, chercher un asile sous ses loix. Quelle plus éclatante preuve pouvait-il lui donner de son estime et de sa confiance? Mais comment répondit-on en Angleterre à une telle magnanimité?—On feignit de tendre une main hospitalière à cet ennemi, et quand il se fut livré de bonne foi, on l’immola.

“Signé, Napoléon.”

À bord du Bellerophon,
4 Août, 1815.

TRANSLATION.

Buonaparte’s Protest.

“I hereby solemnly protest, in the face of Heaven and of men, against the violence done me, and against the violation of my most sacred rights, in forcibly disposing of my person and my liberty. I came voluntarily on board of the Bellerophon; I am not a prisoner, I am the guest of England. I came on board even at the instigation of the Captain, who told me he had orders from the Government to receive me and my suite, and conduct me to England, if agreeable to me. I presented myself with good faith to put myself under the protection of the English laws. As soon as I was on board the Bellerophon, I was under shelter of the British people.

“If the Government, in giving orders to the Captain of the Bellerophon to receive me as well as my suite, only intended to lay a snare for me, it has forfeited its honour and disgraced its flag.

“If this act be consummated, the English will in vain boast to Europe of their integrity, their laws, and their liberty. British good faith will be lost in the hospitality of the Bellerophon.

“I appeal to History; it will say that an enemy, who for twenty years waged war against the English people, came voluntarily, in his misfortunes, to seek an asylum under their laws. What more brilliant proof could he give of his esteem and his confidence? But what return did England make for so much magnanimity? They feigned to stretch forth a friendly hand to that enemy; and when he delivered himself up in good faith, they sacrificed him.

“Signed, Napoleon.”

“On board the Bellerophon,
4th August 1815.”

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