These pages come from the Midshipman’s Log of Francis Wall Justice who served aboard HMS Bellerophon, also known as the “Billy Ruffian”, a 74-gun ship of the line on blockade duty off the coast of France. Midshipmens’ logs were journals of quotidian events and could be compared to the black boxes now carried by so many modes of transport as a means of record.
July 14, 1815 was a busy day for those aboard Bellerophon. Norman Mackenzie, author of Fallen Eagle, describes some of the challenges:
As Bellerophon had been cleared for action in this uncertain period when she might have to engage the [French] frigates, cabins had to be set up again and furnished as far as possible—starting with the makeover of [Captain F.L.] Maitland’s fine stern cabin for Napoleon. The protocol as well as the practical problems were great. The cabins were graded by rank; how should they be graded for the five generals? Where were the footmen and the cooks to be put? And what was to be done, on a ship already crowded with over 500 men, about a dozen maids? ... There had been some extraordinary sights on the Billy Ruffian over the years, but the hustle and bustle to get all these arrangements made must have been quite remarkable, a splendid test of the Royal Navy’s capacity to fit-as-fit-may at short notice. Maitland would have been pleased with the way his officers and men accomplished such a transformation, as if they were engaged to produce some sort of nautical pantomime. (2009, pp. 146/7)
After days of negotiation, on July 15, 1815, l’Epervier set out at daybreak under a flag of truce bearing Napoleon on the penultimate stage of his journey into exile. In an atmosphere of silent expectation and some apprehension on Captain Maitland’s part, a party of marines was assembled to greet the “Corsican Ogre.” Dressed with extreme care and wearing his bicorn adorned with a tricolour cockade, Napoleon was piped aboard—the bosun’s whistle the only sound to break the silence. Napoleon doffed his hat and greeted Maitland with the words; “I am come to throw myself on the protection of your prince and laws.” Norman Mackenzie takes up the story:
After the rest of his suite had come aboard, and introductions had eased the inevitable embarrassment of the moment, Maitland was glad to take up Napoleon’s request to be shown over the ship, a custom often observed on such occasions. There was the usual run of small talk and an agreeable social tone was picked up by the officers, each astonished by the presence of the emperor relaxing in the courtesy of their deck. “From the time of his first coming on board my ship,” Maitland reflected, “to the period of his quitting her, his conduct was invariably that of a gentleman.” Such a testimonial explains the unexpectedly comfortable way a ship’s company and its extraordinary passengers were to pass their days together. (Adapted from pp.156/7) ... All the letters and diaries that survive give a surprisingly agreeable impression of a voyage which might easily have been intolerable. One officer described the voyage as ‘halcyon days.’ (p. 148)
MacKenzie, N. (2009). Fallen Eagle: How the Royal Navy Captured Napoleon. Lewes, UK: A Bellerophon Book.