The Objects

16th Jul 1815

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Source: National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth Dockyard; images reproduced with the permission and support of Dr Victoria Ingles.

The Bellerophon's Masthead

Contributed by: Tom Stammers

On July 15th, Napoleon surrendered on board HMS Bellerophon just off Rochefort, bringing the Hundred Days to an end. Two vestiges of that historic ship survive. The first is a fragment of the masthead depicting the Greek hero Bellerophon, nicknamed by the crew ‘Billy Ruffian’; the second is a pair of muscular carvings of the Greek god Atlas which adorned the stern of the ship.

Both would have originally been created by the firm Graves of Frindsbury in 1786, when Bellerophon was launched as a third-rate, 74 gun ship. She went on to serve with distinction at major naval engagements such as the Glorious First (1794), the Nile (1798) and Trafalgar (1805).

This veteran warship transported Napoleon to Britain, en route for his later transfer to St Helena. After 1815 the ship became a prison hulk before eventually being sold and broken up in 1836. Fortunately, the former captain of the Bellerophon, Sir Frederick Maitland, purchased the carvings and placed them in a mould-loft at Portsmouth dockyard.

This conservation gesture was only partially successful, as much of the original composition - which had featured Bellerophon riding Pegasus with his cloak flying behind him, brandishing a javelin in his hand - subsequently decayed.