August 6 1815: Going Out to Meet the Northumberland

“This forenoon [August 6 1815], I had a long conversation with Buonaparte. He complained bitterly of the conduct of the British Government; and entered, at considerable length, into the state of his affairs when he determined upon the measure of repairing on board the Bellerophon. “There still,” said he, “was a large party in the South, that wished me to put myself at its head; the army behind the Loire was also desirous of my return. At ten o’clock of the night before I embarked, a deputation from the garrison of Rochelle waited upon me, with an offer to conduct me to the army; in addition to which, the troops that were in Rochefort, Bourdeaux, and Isle d’Aix, amounting to twelve thousand men, were at my disposal. But I saw there was no prospect of ultimate success, though I might have occasioned a great deal of trouble and bloodshed, which I did not choose should take place on my account individually;—while the Empire was at stake, it was another matter.”

In the afternoon, Mr O’Meara, the surgeon, informed me that General Savary had made a proposal to him to accompany Buonaparte to St Helena as his medical attendant; Monsieur Maingaut, his surgeon, being a young man with whom he was little acquainted, having suffered so much from seasickness in the passage from Rochefort, that he felt averse to undertaking another sea voyage. He consulted me as to the propriety of accepting the offer. I told him it must depend very much upon his own feelings; but if he had no dislike to it, he had better accept the proposal, on condition that our Government consented, and agreed to pay his salary; but, in that case, an official communication must pass, through me, to the Admiral on the subject. This was the first intimation I received of Buonaparte having made any arrangement towards complying with the notification he had received from our Government.

About nine A.M. a large ship was seen to leeward, which, on closing, proved to be the Northumberland. The whole squadron then stood in, and anchored to the westward of Berryhead. I went on board the Tonnant, and reported to Lord Keith that Buonaparte had at last made up his mind to move from the Bellerophon without force being used; and that Count Bertrand was desirous of seeing his Lordship, that he might make the necessary arrangements about the people who were to accompany him. By the Admiral’s directions, I returned to my ship and brought Monsieur Bertrand to him. Soon after Sir George Cockburn arrived, and they were shut up together for nearly two hours.

When I first went on board the Tonnant, I received a memorandum from Lord Keith, from which I give an extract; and at the same time a verbal intimation, that I should receive an order in writing the next day, to, remove Buonaparte, and such part of his suite as he might select, to the Northumberland.

Extract of a Memorandum from Admiral Viscount Keith, G.C.B., addressed to Captain Maitland, of H.M.S. Bellerophon, dated Tonnant, off the Start, 6th August, 1815.

“All arms of every description are to be taken from the Frenchmen of all ranks on board the ship you command; and they are to be carefully packed up and kept in your charge, while they remain on board the Bellerophon; and afterwards in that of the captain of the ship to which they may be removed.”

While we were at dinner, Generals Bertrand and Montholon were employed making out lists of what would be required by the French officers and the ladies, to render them comfortable during their voyage to St Helena, which were despatched to Plymouth by Sir George Cockburn’s secretary.

In the course of the evening Lord Keith and Sir George Cockburn came on board the Bellerophon; when the latter was introduced to Buonaparte.

As soon as General Bertrand was at leisure, I told him I had orders to remove Napoleon to the Northumberland the following day, and also to take away the arms from him and his attendants, giving him to understand that they would be returned on their arrival at their destination. He seemed much hurt at being deprived of his arms, but said he would give directions for their being delivered; and I received them the next morning, with the exception of Buonaparte’s sword, which, by an order I subsequently received from Lord Keith, he was permitted to wear, when quitting the ship.

About half-past nine in the evening, Mons. Bertrand told me that Buonaparte was desirous of seeing me. On going into his cabin, he said, “Bertrand informs me you have received orders to remove me to the Northumberland; is it so?” I answered in the affirmative. “Have you any objection,” he said, “to writing a letter to Bertrand, acquainting him of it; that I may have a document to prove that I was forced to quit the ship, and that my inclinations were not consulted.” I replied, “I can have no objection to write such a letter, and shall do it this evening.” I was then going to retire, when he requested me to remain, having more to say. “Your Government,” he continued, “has treated me with much severity, and in a very different way from what I had hoped and expected, from the opinion I had formed of the character of your countrymen. It is true I have always been the enemy of England, but it has ever been an open and declared one; and I paid it the highest compliment it was possible for man to do in throwing myself on the generosity of your Prince: I have not now to learn, however, that it is not fair to judge of the character of a people by the conduct of their Government.” He then went on, (alluding to the Government,) “They say I made no conditions. Certainly I made no conditions; how could an individual enter into terms with a nation? I wanted nothing of them but hospitality, or, as the ancients would express it, ‘air and water.’ My only wish was to purchase a small property in England, and end my life there in peace and tranquillity. As for you, Capitaine,” (the name by which he always addressed me) “I have no cause of complaint; your conduct to me has been that of a man of honour; but I cannot help feeling the severity of my fate, in having the prospect of passing the remainder of my life on a desert island. But,” added he with a strong emphasis, “if your Government give up Savary and Lallemand to the King of France, they will inflict a stain upon the British name that no time can efface.” I told him, in that respect, they were under an erroneous impression; that I was convinced it was not the intention of his Majesty’s Ministers to deliver them up. “Je l’espère,” “I hope so;” was his only reply.—I then took my leave of him for the night.”

 — Captain Maitland of H.M.S. Bellerophon writes about August 6 1815.

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