"... but wherever there is water to float a ship, we are sure to find you in our way.” Napoleon's Surrender in 1815

15 July 1815, off Rochefort, Napoleon surrendered to Captain Maitland who commanded the British ship-of-the-line “Bellerophon” blockading the harbour, ending the hostilities of the Napoleonic Wars.
 
“He pursued the subject of Syria, and said, patting me (who was sitting next to him) on the head, “If it had not been for you, English, I should have been Emperor of the East; but wherever there is water to float a ship, we are sure to find you in our way.” (“Captain Maitland’s Narrative of the Surrender of Buonaparte”)
 


Napoleon on Board the Bellerophon, exhibited in 1880 by Sir William Quiller Orchardson


Fleeing from the field at Waterloo on 18 June, Napoleon first turned to Paris, and after seeing that the good people there were not exactly in his favour, left for the home of his ex-wife Josephine at Malmaison and, after hearing that the pursuing Prussians had received orders to take him dead or alive, made for the Atlantic coast with the intent to board a ship and escape to America.

The Royal Navy blockaded the French Atlantic ports almost continuously since the beginning of the war twelve years before in any wind and weather and Admiral Hotham’s squadron was in place since 1813. When word arrived that Napoleon was somewhere in the west of France, the ships went closer inshore to prevent him from escaping. Maitland’s “Bellerophon”, “Billy Ruffian” to her crew, a third rate ship-of-the-line and veteran of most major naval battles of the war, from the Glorious First of June to the Nile and Trafalgar, actually had orders to sail for Bordeaux, but her commander found Rochefort to be the more likely spot. His instinct was correct. Napoleon arrived there on 2 July.

Napoleon on the Bellerophon at Plymouth,
 by Sir Charles Lock Eastlake, 1815
 
  
With a crack battleship cruising between the Île d'Oléron and the mouth of the river Charente and a chain of British frigates patrolling the Atlantic coast from Bayonne to Brest and allied troops coming closer, Napoleon ran out of options and started negotiating with Captain Maitland, finally surrendering himself a fortnight later to one of the men who played such a decisive strategic role in his defeat. In the meanwhile, Hotham’s flagship HMS “Superb” (74) had turned up that very day and Maitland collected the defeated emperor with one of “Bellerophon”’s barges to receive him before his Admiral came alongside. The wars that raged across Europe and the rest of the world for almost a generation were finally over.

Maitland sailed “Billy Ruffian” and the emperor to England, obviously having quite lively conversations with Napoleon en route until they reached Plymouth Sound. Napoleon saw France for the last time when the ship passed the Ile d'Ouessant and awaited his fate aboard her – on 7 August, Napoleon finally left HMS “Bellorophon”, thanked her officers and crew for their hospitality and was transferred to HMS “Northumberland” (74), the ship that brought him into his final exile on St Helena.

Depicted below is John James Chalon’s (1778 – 1854) painting “Scene in Plymouth Sound in August 1815 (1815), with the “Bellerophon” in the centre, flanked by the two frigates HMS ”Eurotas” (38) to the right and HMS “Liffey” (44) in the background while the Sound is filled with boats full of curious onlookers trying to catch a glimpse of Napoleon. According to Maitland’s memoirs, both frigates had ordered guard boats to be rowed around the three ships, their crews firing their muskets in the air to keep the spectators at bay. “He (Napoleon) complained about the two frigates being placed guard-ships over him, “as if, “said he, “I were not perfectly secure on board a British line-of-battle ship” and was annoyed by the musketry – Maitland ordered the two junior frigate captains that this process was to be stopped.

Scene in Plymouth Sound in August 1815, an 1817 painting by John James Chalon