top of page

HMS Superb & The Capture of Napoleon Bonaparte

Anchor 2

In 1815 Napoleon Bonaparte, having caused mayhem in the western world for several years must have decided that he wanted to spend more time with his family and so abdicated the throne of France.  Like many after him he asked the British Government for a British Passport and free passage to the United States !  However, the British Royal Navy was having none of that.  Read on ...

Extract of an Order from Rear-Admiral Sir Henry Hotham, K.C.B.;

addressed to Captain Maitland of H.M.S. Bellerophon, dated Superb,

Quiberon Bay, 6th July, 1815.



"Having this morning received information that it is believed Napoleon Buonaparte (sic)  has taken his road from Paris for Rochefort, to embark from thence for the United States of America, I have to direct you will use your best endeavours to prevent him from making his escape in either of the frigates at Isle d'Aix; for which purpose you are, notwithstanding former orders, to keep any frigate which may be with you, at the time you receive this letter, in company with the ship you command, for the space of ten days, to enable you to intercept them in case they should put to sea together: but if you should have no frigate with you at the above time, you will keep the ship delivering this, (which will probably be the Slaney or Cyrus,) in company with the Bellerophon, ten days, and then allow her to proceed in execution of the orders her Captain has received from me."


The Slaney brought the letter and order, parts of which are extracted above, and having no frigate in company, I detained her as part of the force under my command, though she was, on the 8th, sent down to the Mamusson passage, with orders for Captain Green of the Daphne, and did not return until the evening of the 11th.


On the 8th of July, I was joined by a chasse-maree (See Note) bringing a letter from Sir Henry Hotham, part of which is as follows:--



Extract of a Letter from Rear-Admiral Sir Henry Hotham, K.C.B.,

addressed to Captain Maitland, of H.M.S. Bellerophon, dated Superb,

Quiberon Bay, July 7, 1815.



"Having sent every ship and vessel out from this bay, to endeavour to

intercept Buonaparte, (sic) I am obliged to send the chasse-maree, which has

been employed in my communications with the Royalists, with this

letter, to acquaint you that the Ferret brought me information last

evening, after the Opossum had left me, from Lord Keith, that

Government received, on the night of the 30th, an application from the

rulers of France, for a passport and safe conduct for Buonaparte (sic) to

America, which had been answered in the negative, and, therefore,

directing an increase of vigilance to intercept him: but it remains

quite uncertain where he will embark; and, although it would appear

by the measures adopted at home, that it is expected he will sail from

one of the northern ports, I am of opinion he will go from one of the

southern places, and I think the information I sent you yesterday by

the Opossum is very likely to be correct; namely, that he had taken

the road to Rochefort; and that he will probably embark in the

frigates at Isle d'Aix; for which reason I am very anxious you should

have force enough to stop them both, as the Bellerophon could only

take one, if they separated, and that might not be the one he would be

on board of. I have no frigate to send you; if one should join me in

time, I will send her to you, and I hope you will have _two_

twenty-gun ships with you. I imagine, from what you said in your

letter by your barge, that you would not have kept the Endymion with

you, especially as the Myrmidon would have rejoined you, by the

arrangements I sent down by the Phoebe for Sir John Sinclair to take

her place off the Mamusson; therefore, I trust that my last order to

Captain Hope will not have deprived you of his assistance, but hope it

may have put him in a better situation than before. The Liffey is

seventy or eighty miles west from Bourdeaux, (sic) and the Pactolus, after

landing some person in the Gironde, goes off Cape Finisterre, where

the Swiftsure is also gone; and many ships are looking out in the

Channel and about the latitude of Ushant.


"Buonaparte is certainly not yet gone; I presume he would naturally

await the answer from our Government, which only left London on the

1st; my own opinion is, that he will either go with a force that will

afford him some kind of security, or in a merchant vessel to avoid



"The orders from the Admiralty, received last evening, are, that the

ships which are looking out for him, should remain on that service

_till further orders, or till they know he is taken_, and not regard

the time of ten days or a fortnight, which they first named: therefore

you will govern yourself by that, and keep any ship you have with you

till one of those events occurs, without attending to the ten days I

specified in my letter to you by the Opossum yesterday, and make the

same known to any ship you may communicate with. The information you

sent me, which had been transmitted to you from Bourdeaux, (sic) is now

proved to have been erroneous, by our knowing that Buonaparte (sic) was at

Paris as late as the 30th of June, and that paper must have been

written on the 29th, as you received it on the 30th. The Eridanus will

not rejoin you; she has been stationed, by Lord Keith, off Brest.


"Let me know by the return of the chasse-marée, particularly, what

ships you have with you, and where the other ships are, as far as you

know, and what position you keep in. If you had ships enough to guard

Basque Roads, and the Channel between Isle d'Oléron and the long sand

(where a frigate may pass), you would be sure of keeping them in, by

anchoring; but that would afford you little chance of taking

Buonaparte, (sic) which is the thing to be desired; therefore I think you

would be better off the light-house, where I dare say you keep

yourself; and on that particular subject I do not think it necessary

to give you any instructions, as I depend on your using the best means

that can be adopted to intercept the fugitive; on whose captivity the

repose of Europe appears to depend. If he should be taken, he is to be

brought to me in this bay, as I have orders for his disposal; he is to

be removed from the ship in which he may be found, to one of his

Majesty's ships."


Nothing of consequence occurred on the 9th; but on the 10th of July, at daylight, the officer of the watch informed me that a small schooner was standing out from the French squadron towards the ship: upon which I ordered everything to be ready for making sail in chase, supposing she might be sent for the purpose of reconnoitring.


On approaching, she hoisted a flag of truce, and joined us at seven A.M. She proved to be the Mouche, tender to the ships of war at Isle d'Aix, and had on board, General Savary Duc de Rovigo, and Count Las Cases, chamberlain to Buonaparte (sic), charged with a letter from Count Bertrand (Grand Marechal de Palais) addressed to the Admiral commanding the British Cruisers before the port of Rochefort.


Soon after the Mouche arrived, I was joined by the Falmouth, bringing me a letter and secret orders from Sir Henry Hotham, some extracts from which I shall insert for the better understanding what follows, previous to entering into what passed with Buonaparte's (sic) attendants.



Extract of a Letter from Rear-Admiral Sir Henry Hotham, K.C.B.,HMS Superb

addressed to Captain Maitland, of H.M.S. Bellerophon; not dated, but

must have been written on the 8th of July, 1815.



"I sent a chasse-marée to you yesterday with a letter, and you will

now receive by the Falmouth, officially, the orders which I therein

made you acquainted with.


"I send you four late and very interesting French papers, by which you

will see all that has been done and said on the subject of providing

for Buonaparte's (sic) escape from France: you will see that the Minister of

the Marine had been directed to prepare ships of war for that purpose;

that they were placed at Buonaparte's (sic) disposal; and that two frigates

in particular had been provided for him: also that it was announced to

the two Chambers, that he left Paris at four o'clock on the 29th;

likewise that it was believed in Paris, he had taken the road by

Orleans to Rochefort; and I have no doubt that the two frigates at

Isle d'Aix are intended for him, and I hope you will think so too, and

I am sure you will use your utmost endeavours to intercept him. I am

sorry I have not a frigate to send you; I have literally none but the

Endymion under my orders. Captain Paterson is off Brest, by Lord

Keith's order; and the Phoebe is also ordered to that station, when

the Hebrus arrives off the Gironde.


"The attention at home appears to be paid chiefly to the ports in the

Channel, but I have received no additional means whatever to guard

those of the Bay. I have long been expecting a frigate from the Irish

station, but none has yet appeared; and I have written to Lord Keith

for two frigates; but they cannot join me in time, I fear."



Extract of an Order from Rear-Admiral Sir Henry Hotham, K.C.B.,

addressed to Captain Maitland, of H.M.S. Bellerophon, dated H.M.S.

Superb, Quiberon Bay, 8th July, 1815.



"The Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty having every reason to

believe that Napoleon Buonaparte (sic)  meditates his escape, with his

family, from France to America, you are hereby required and directed,

in pursuance of orders from their Lordships, signified to me by

Admiral the Right Honourable Viscount Keith, to keep the most vigilant

look-out for the purpose of intercepting him; and to make the

strictest search of any vessel you may fall in with; and if you should

be so fortunate as to intercept him, you are to transfer him and his

family to the ship you command, and there keeping him in careful

custody, return to the nearest port in England (going into Torbay in

preference to Plymouth) with all possible expedition; and on your

arrival you are not to permit any communication whatever with the

shore, except as herein after directed; and you will be held

responsible for keeping the whole transaction a profound secret, until

you receive their Lordships' further orders.


"In case you should arrive at a port where there is a flag-officer,

you are to send to acquaint him with the circumstances, strictly

charging the officer sent on shore with your letter, not to divulge

its contents: and if there should be no flag-officer at the port where

you arrive, you are to send one letter express to the Secretary of the

Admiralty, and another to Admiral Lord Keith, with strict injunctions

of secrecy to each officer who may be the bearer of them."


Messrs Savary and Las Cases, who came on board, from the Schooner

above mentioned, at seven o'clock on the 10th of July, presented the

following letter to me:--



                                                  "Le 9 Juillet, 1815.


"Monsieur l'Amiral,


"L'Empereur Napoleon ayant abdique le pouvoir, et choisi les Etats Unis d'Amerique pour s'y refugier, s'est embarque sur les deux fregates qui sont dans cette rade, pour se rendre a sa destination. Il attend le sauf conduit du Gouvernement Anglais, qu'on lui a annonce, et qui me porte a expedier le present parlementaire, pour vous demander, Mons. l'Amiral, si vous avez connoissance du dit sauf conduit; ou si vous pensez qu'il soit dans l'intention du Gouvernement Anglais de se mettre de l'empechement a notre voyage aux Etats Unis.

Je vous serai extremement oblige de me donner la-dessus les renseignemens que vous pouvez avoir.


"Je charge les porteurs de la presente lettre de vous faire agreer mes remercimens et mes excuses, pour la peine qu'elle a pu vous donner.


  "J'ai l'honneur d'etre, Monsieur l'Amiral, de Votre Excellence, &c. &c.

       Le Grand Marechal Cte. BERTRAND."


"A Monsieur l'Amiral commandant les Croisieres avant Rochefort."







"The Emperor Napoleon having abdicated the throne of France, and chosen the United States of America as a retreat, is, with his suite, at present embarked on board the two frigates which are in this port, for the purpose of proceeding to his destination. He expects a passport from the British Government, which has been promised to him, and which induces me to send the present flag of truce, to demand of you, Sir, if you have any knowledge of the above-mentioned passport, or if you think it is the intention of the British Government to throw any impediment in the way of our voyage to the United States. I shall feel much obliged by your giving me any information you may possess on the subject.


"I have directed the bearers of this letter to present to you my

thanks, and to apologise for the trouble it may cause.


  "I have the honour to be, Your Excellency's most obedient, &c. &c.

                                        Grand Marshal Count BERTRAND."





At break of day, on the 15th of July, 1815, l'Epervier French brig of war was discovered under sail, standing out towards the ship, with a flag of truce up; and at the same time the Superb, bearing Sir Henry Hotham's flag, was seen in the offing.


By half-past five the ebb-tide failed, the wind was blowing right in, and the brig, which was within a mile of us, made no further progress; while the Superb was advancing with the wind and tide in her favour. Thus situated, and being most anxious to terminate the affair I had brought so near a conclusion, previous to the Admiral's arrival, I sent off Mr Mott, the First Lieutenant, in the barge, who returned soon after six o'clock, bringing Napoleon with him.


On coming on board the Bellerophon, he was received without any of the honours generally paid to persons of high rank; the guard was drawn out on the break of the poop, but did not present arms. His Majesty's Government had merely given directions, in the event of his being captured, for his being removed into any one of his Majesty's ships that might fall in with him; but no instructions had been given as to the light in which he was to be viewed. As it is not customary, however, on board a British ship of war, to pay any such honours before the colours are hoisted at eight o'clock in the morning, or after sunset, I made the early hour an excuse for withholding them upon this occasion.


Buonaparte's (sic)dress was an olive-coloured great coat over a green uniform, with scarlet cape and cuffs, green lapels turned back and edged with scarlet, skirts hooked back with bugle horns embroidered in gold, plain sugar-loaf buttons and gold epaulettes; being the uniform of the Chasseur a Cheval of the Imperial Guard. He wore the star, or grand cross of the Legion of Honour, and the small cross of that order; the Iron Crown; and the Union, appended to the button-hole of his left lapel. He had on a small cocked hat, with a tri-coloured cockade; plain gold-hilted sword, military boots, and white waistcoat and breeches. The following day he appeared in shoes, with gold buckles, and silk stockings--the dress he always wore afterwards, while with me.


On leaving the Epervier, he was cheered by her ship's company as long as the boat was within hearing; and Mr Mott informed me that most of the officers and men had tears in their eyes.


General Bertrand came first up the ship's side, and said to me, "The Emperor is in the boat." He then ascended, and, when he came on the quarter-deck, pulled off his hat, and, addressing me in a firm tone of

voice, said, "I am come to throw myself on the protection of your Prince and laws."


When I showed him into the cabin, he looked round and said, "Une belle chambre," "This is a handsome cabin." I answered, "Such as it is, Sir, it is at your service while you remain on board the ship I command." He then looked at a portrait that was hanging up, and said, "Qui est cette jeune personne?" "Who is that young lady?" "My wife," I replied. "Ah! elle est tres jeune et tres jolie," "Ah! she is both young and pretty."


He then asked what countrywoman she was, begged to know if I had any children, and put a number of questions respecting my country, and the service I had seen. He next requested I would send for the officers, and introduce them to him: which was done according to their rank.


He asked several questions of each, as to the place of his birth, the situation he held in the ship, the length of time he had served, and the actions he had been in. He then expressed a desire to go round the ship; but, as the men had not done cleaning, I told him it was customary to clean the lower decks immediately after their breakfast, that they were then so employed, and, if he would defer visiting the ship until they had finished, he would see her to more advantage.




Chasses-Marées are small decked vessels, rigged as luggers; they are generally from twenty to thirty-five

         tons burthen, and are used almost exclusively for the coasting trade of France.



Read the full account by clicking on this link



bottom of page