Research Subjects: Miscellaneous


 

MÉMORIAL DE SAINTE HÉLÈNE

JOURNAL OF THE PRIVATE LIFE

AND

CONVERSATIONS

OF THE

EMPEROR NAPOLEON

AT SAINT HELENA

By

Count Emmanuel De Las Cases

Volume I, Part I


MY RESIDENCE

WITH

THE EMPEROR NAPOLEON

AT ST. HELENA

 

July 1st and 2nd [Saturday-Sunday].

We passed through Limoges on the 1st, at four in the afternoon; dined at Rochefoucault on the 2nd, and reached Jarnac about seven. We slept here, owing to the obstinacy of the postmaster, which forced us to remain till next day.

3rd. [Monday]

We could not set out before five o'clock. On account of the misconduct of the postmaster, who not content with detaining us all night had recourse to secret means for keeping us still lon­ger, we were obliged to proceed almost at full speed to Cognac, where the postmaster and inha­bitants received us very differently. It was easy to perceive that our journey occasioned a great deal of agitation amongst all parties. On reach­ing Saintes, towards eleven o'clock, we nearly fell victims to the fury of some miscreants, collected by an officer of the royal guard, a native of that place, whom Napoleon's return had displaced. This person had prepared an ambuscade for us, and had even laid a plan for our assassination. They arrested us, but a part of the na­tional guard interfered, and conducted us as pri­soners to an adjoining inn. It was said that we were carrying off the treasures of the State, and therefore merited death. Some of them, who pre­tended to be the most distinguished inhabitants, and above all, the women, were the most out­rageous, and called for our immediate execution.

We saw these females defile in succession be­fore some windows that were open near our temporary prison, in order that their insults should not be lost on us. It will scarcely be credited that they went so far as to grind their teeth in sign of hatred, and from vexation at seeing the indifference we displayed; yet they formed the fashionable circle of Saintes! Could Real be in the right, when he told the Emperor, during the hundred days, that as for Jacobins, he had a right to know something of them: protesting that the only difference between the blacks and whites was, that the former wore wooden shoes and the latter silk stockings?

Prince Joseph, who was passing through Saintes unknown to us, came to increase the in­terest of our ad venture. He was also arrested and conducted to the Prefecture, but highly respected.

The windows of the inn faced a large square, which continued to be filled with an agitated and hostile rabble, who were extremely violent and abusive. I found an old acquaintance in the under-prefect, who was thus enabled to state who we were. The carriage in which we tra­veled was next examined; while we were ourselves retained in a species of solitary confinement. I obtained leave, however, to visit the Prince about four o'clock.

While on my way to the prefecture, and though guarded by a non-commissioned officer, several individuals addressed me: some put notes secretly into my hands; others whispered something friendly; while all united in assuring me we might feel perfectly tranquil for the patriots and well-intentioned inhabitants would protect us

Towards the evening we were allowed to de­part; and by this time things had so totally changed that we left the inn amidst the most lively acclamations: females of the lower classes in tears kissed our hands: many persons offered to accompany us, that we might avoid the enemies of the Emperor, who, they said, lay in wait to murder us, at a short distance from the town. This singular transition was in some degree due to the arrival of numbers of country people and federates, who gave an immediate turn to public opinion.

4th. [Tuesday]

On approaching Rochefort we met a party of gendarmerie, who, on the report of our reception at Saintes, had been dispatched to meet us. We arrived at this place about two o'clock in the morning: the Emperor had reached it on the preceding evening.[1] Prince Joseph arrived in the afternoon and I conducted him to the Emperor.

I profited by the first moment of leisure to inform the President of the Council of State why I absented myself. "Rapid and important events;" I said, " obliged me to quit Paris without the ne­cessary leave of absence. The peculiarity and importance of the case led to this irregularity: being in attendance on the Emperor at the moment of his departure, it was impossible to see the great man, who had governed us with so much splen­dor, and who banished himself to facilitate the tranquillity of France, of whose power nothing now remains but its glory and, name; I repeat, that I could not allow him to depart without yielding to the desire of following his steps. During the days of his prosperity he conde­scended to bestow some favors on me; I now owe him all that I can offer, whether of sentiment or action."

5th-7th. [Wednesday-Friday]

At Rochefort, the Emperor no longer wore a military dress. .He lived at the prefecture: numbers were constantly grouped round the house; and acclamations continued to be frequently repeated. The Emperor appeared two or three times at the balcony. Numerous proposals were made to him, both by generals who came in person, and others who sent emis­saries.

During our stay here the Emperor has led the same sort of life as if at the Tuileries: we do not approach his person more frequently: he scarcely receives any persons but Bertrand and Savary; so that we are reduced to reports and conjectures as to all that concerns him. It is, however, evident that, in the midst of this state of agitation, he continues calm and resolute, even to indifference, without manifesting the least anxiety.

A lieutenant of our navy,[2] who commands Danish merchant-ship, has generously offered to save the Emperor. He proposes to take him on board alone and conceal his person in such a way that it will escape the severest scrutiny; and, moreover, he will immediately set sail for the United States. He requests but a small sum by way of indemnifying his owners for any loss they may sustain through his enterprise. Bertrand agrees under certain conditions, which he has drawn out in my name. I have signed this fictitious bargain in presence, and under the eyes of, the maritime prefect.

Embarkation of the Emperor

8th [Saturday]

The Emperor proceeded to Fourras in the evening, followed by the acclamations of the people wherever he passed.[3] He slept on board the Saal,[4] which he reached about eight o'clock. I did not arrive till a much later hour, having had to accompany Madame Bertrand in another boat, and from a different point.

9th [Sunday]

I attended the Emperor, who disembarked at an early hour in the Isle of Aix: he visited all the fortifications, and returned on board to breakfast.

10th [Monday].

I was dispatched towards the British cruisers, [5] with the Duke de Rovigo, early in the morning, to know whether they had received the passes, which had been promised to us by the Provisional Government, to proceed to the United States.[6] The answer was, that they had not but that the matter should be instantly referred to the commander-in-chief.[7] Having stated the sup­position of the Emperor's setting sail with the fri­gates under flags of truce, it was replied that they would be attacked. We then spoke of his passage in a neutral bottom and were told in reply that all neutrals would be strictly examined and, perhaps, even conducted to an English port; but we were recommended to proceed to England; and it was asserted that in that country we should have no ill usage to fear.[8] We returned at two in the afternoon.

The Bellerophon,[9] having followed, soon after anchored in Basque Roads, in order to be nearer us; so that the ships of both nations were now in view of and very near each other.

On reaching the Bellerophon, the captain had addressed us in French: I was not eager to inform him that I knew something of his own language. Some expressions, which passed between him and his officers, might have injured the nego­tiation, had I seemed to understand them. When, a short time after, it was asked, whether we understood English, I allowed the Duke of Rovigo to reply in the negative. Our situation was quite sufficient to remove any scruples I might have otherwise entertained, rendering this little deception very pardonable. I only mention this circumstance, because, as I remained a fortnight amongst these people, I was compelled to impose a tiresome restraint upon myself, to avoid disclosing what I had concealed in the first instance. In fact, though I could read the language with facility, yet, owing to an absence of thirteen years and consequent want of practice, it was with considerable difficulty that I understood English when spoken.

11th. [Tuesday]

All the outlets being blockaded by English ships of war, the Emperor seemed ex­tremely uncertain as to which plan he would pursue. Neutral vessels, and chasse-marées,[10] manned by young naval officers, were suggested for his conveyance; propositions also continued to be made from the interior.[11]

12th. [Wednesday]

The Emperor disembarked at the Island of Aix, amidst cries of exultation on every side. He quitted the frigates in consequence of the commandant's having refused to sail; whether from weakness of character, or owing to his having received fresh orders from the Provisional Government, is not known. Many were of opinion that the attempt [of breaking through the blockade] might be made with some pro­bability of success; but it must be allowed that the winds still continued unfavorable.

13th. [Thursday]

Prince Joseph visited his brother in the course of the day.[12] Towards eleven at night, the Emperor was on the point of embarking in one of the chasse-marées; two having been prepared, and some property and attendants already on board. M. de Planat[13] was in one of them.

14th. [Friday]

I returned to the Bellerophon at four in the morning, accompanied by General Lallemand,[14] to ascertain whether any answer had been received. The Captain [Maitland] told us he expected it every moment, adding that if the Emperor would em­bark immediately for England, he had instructions to convey him thither.[15] He still farther declared it as his private opinion, and several captains who were present expressed themselves to the same effect, that there was not the least doubt of Napoleon's meeting with all possible respect and good treatment: that there, neither the king nor his ministers exercised the same arbitrary authority as those of the Continent; that the English people possessed a generosity of sentiment and, liberality of opinion far above sovereignty itself. I replied that I would return and communicate the Cap­tain's offer to the Emperor, as well as the whole of his conversation. I added that I thought I had a sufficient knowledge of the Emperor Napoleon’s character to induce a belief that he would­ not feel much hesitation in proceeding to Eng­land thus confidentially so as to be able to continue his voyage to the United States. I described all France, south of the Loire, as being in a blaze [and] stated the propositions hourly made to him from various directions. [I stressed] his determination not to become either the cause or pretext of a civil war [and] the generosity shown by him in abdi­cating, merely to render the conclusion of a peace more easy [as well as] the firm resolution he had taken to banish himself in order to make it more prompt and complete.

General Lallemand, who, from having been condemned to death, was interested on his own account in the determination that might be made, asked Captain Maitland, whom he formerly knew in Egypt, and whose prisoner, I think, he had been, if persons implicated in the civil dissension of his country, like himself and going thus vo­luntarily to England, had any reason to fear being ever delivered up to France. The captain replied that they had not, repelling the doubt as an insult. Previous to our separating, the conference was summed up, by my repeating that it was possible, from the state of affairs and his own intentions, the Emperor would avail himself of Captain Maitland's offer so as to get safe-conducts for America. The latter begged it to be understood that he would not guarantee the permission we demanded being granted, upon which we departed.

To say the truth, I did not myself think it would be given but the Emperor, wishing to lead a life of tranquillity in future, had resolved to be a stranger to political concerns: we therefore conceived the probability of not being allowed to leave England without much uneasiness; but our fears and conjectures went no farther. It is very likely that Captain Maitland was of the same opinion: at all events I will do him as well as the other officers, the justice to believe they were honest and sincere in the description they gave us of the sentiments of the people of England.

We reached the island at eleven o'clock; mean­while the storm approached, and time became precious so it was necessary to decide one way or another. The Emperor having assembled us in a sort of council, all the chances of escape were discussed: that of the Danish vessel seemed impracticable, and the chasse-marées were no longer thought of; the English cruisers were not to be forced; so that there seemed only two alternatives - either to renew the war, or to accept the offers of Captain Maitland: the lat­ter was chosen. On reaching the Bellerophon, we said we shall be at once on British ground and the English will then find themselves bound by the ties of hospitality, which are held sacred amongst the most barbarous nations. [Therefore,] we shall also be under the civil rights and privileges of the country. The people of England will not be so insensible to their glory as not to seize so for­tunate a circumstance with avidity: upon this, Napoleon wrote the following letter to the Prince Regent.

ROYAL HIGHNESS

Exposed to the factions which divide my country, and to the hostility of the greatest powers of Europe, I have closed my political career. I come, like Themistocles, to seek the hospitality of the British nation. I place myself under the protection of their laws, which I claim from your Royal Highness, as the most powerful, the most constant, and the most generous of my enemies.

(Signed) NAPOLEON

I set out about four o'clock, with my son and General Gourgaud, to go on board the Bellerophon, whence I was not again to return. My mission was to announce the coming of his Majesty on the following morning; and moreover, to deliver the letter above quoted to Captain Maitland. General Gourgaud was commissioned to carry the Emperor's letter to the Prince Re­gent immediately, and to present it in person. Captain Maitland read Napoleon's letter, which he greatly admired. Two other captains were permitted to take copies of it, to be kept secret till it became public; after which no time was lost in preparing to dispatch Gourgaud in the Slaney, a sloop of war, forming part of the squadron.

Soon after the Slaney had parted company with the Bellerophon, and while I was seated in the captain's cabin of the latter with my son, Captain Maitland, who had gone to issue some orders, suddenly entered, and with a countenance expressive of deep concern, exclaimed, “Count Las Cases, I am deceived when I treat with you. The consequence of detaching one of my ships is, as I have just heard, that Napoleon has es­caped. Should this be the case, it will place me in a dreadful situation with my Government.”

These words startled me - I would have given the world had they been true. The Emperor had made no engagement, I was perfectly sincere and would, therefore, have most willingly become the victim of an event of which I was quite innocent. I asked Captain Maitland, with the utmost cool­ness, at what hour the Emperor was said to have set out. He had been so astonished that he had not give himself time to inquire; but went out again to ascertain this point; and on returning, said, “at twelve o'clock.” If that be the case, I replied, the Slaney's departure can do no harm as you have only just sent her away; but do not be uneasy, for I left the Emperor in the Island of Aix at four o'clock. “Are you sure of that?” he asked. On my repeating the fact, he turned to some officers who were with him, and observed, in English, that the intelligence must be false as I was too calm and seemed to be sincere; and besides, I had pledged my word on the subject. The English cruisers had numerous sources of information on our coast and I was subsequently enabled to ascertain that they were minutely in­formed of all our proceedings.[16]

Nothing was now thought of but preparing for the next day. Captain Maitland asked whether I wished his boats to be sent for the Emperor, [and] I replied, that the separation was too painful for the French seamen not to let them have the satisfaction of attending him to the last moment

Embarkation of Napoleon on board the Bellerophon.

15th. [Saturday]

At daylight,[17] one of our brigs, the Epervier, was seen under weigh and coming towards the Bellerophon, having a flag of truce flying. Both wind and tide being contrary, Captain Maitland sent his barge to meet her. Seeing the boat return, the Captain was extremely anxious to discover, with his spyglass, whether the Emperor was on board; he frequently begged I would look myself, but I could not as yet reply with certainty. At length the matter was placed beyond farther doubt, as the Emperor came along­side surrounded by all his attendants. I stood at the gangway to present Captain Maitland to whom he said, “I come on board your ship to place myself under the protection of the laws of England.” The captain then led him into his cabin of which the Emperor was immediately put in possession. All the officers of the Belle­rophon were presented to him soon; after this ceremony over, he came out of the cabin, and visited every part of the ship during the morning. I related the alarm felt by Captain Maitland the preceding evening relative to his escape; the Emperor did not see the matter in the light in which it had appeared to me. “What had he to fear?” he asked, in an emphatic and dignified manner – “ were not you in his power?”

Towards four o'clock, the Superb, a seventy-­four-gun ship, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Hotham,[18] the commander on the station, anchored close to the Bellerophon. The admiral came to visit the Emperor and remained to dinner. From the questions asked by Napoleon relative to his ship, he expressed a wish to know whether his Majesty would condescend to go on board the following day; upon which the Emperor said he had no objection and would therefore breakfast with the Admiral accompanied by all his attendants.

16th. [Sunday]

Accompanied the Emperor on board the Superb: all the honours, except those of firing cannon, were liberally done. We went round the ship and examined the most trifling objects, everything seemed to be in admirable order. Admiral Hotham evinced throughout, all the refinement and grace of a man of rank and education. On our return to the Bellerophon, she got under weigh, and made sail for England: this event took place twelve days after our departure from Paris.

On our leaving the Bellerophon in the morning to visit the Superb, the Emperor stopped short in front of the guard drawn up on the quarter-deck to salute him. He made them perform several movements, giving the word of command him­self: having desired them to charge bayonets, and perceiving this motion was not performed altogether in the French manner, he advanced into the midst of the soldiers, put the weapons aside with his hands, and seized a musket from one of the rear rank with which he went through the exercise himself according to our method. A sudden movement and change of countenance amongst the officers and others who were present, sufficiently expressed their astonishment at seeing the Emperor thus care­lessly place himself amidst English bayonets, some of which came in contact with his person. This circumstance produced a most strik­ing effect. On returning from the Superb, we were indirectly questioned on the subject and asked whether the Emperor had ever acted in the same way with his own soldiers; while the greatest surprise was expressed at his confi­dence. Not one amongst the officers had formed any idea of sovereigns who could thus explain and execute their own commands; it was there­fore easy to perceive they had no just conception of the personage now before them, notwithstand­ing his having been so marked an object of atten­tion and curiosity for above twenty years.

17th-18th. [Monday-Tuesday]

Though nearly a calm, we lost sight of land.

19th. [Wednesday]

The wind being very strong, though not favourable, we proceeded at the rate of nine miles an hour.

20th-22d. [Thursday-Friday]

We continued our course, with winds that were by no means favourable. The Emperor was not long amongst his most inveterate enemies, those who had been conti­nually fed with rumours no less absurd than irrita­ting, without exercising all the influence of glory over them. The captain, officers, and crew soon adopted the etiquette of his suite, showing him exactly the same attention and respect. The Captain addressed him either as Sire or your Majesty; when [Napoleon] appeared on deck everyone took off their hats and remained uncovered while he was present -this was not the case at first. There was no entering his cabin, except by passing the at­tendants and no persons but those who were invited appeared at his table. Napoleon was, in fact, an Emperor on board the Bellerophon. He often appeared on deck conversing either with some of his suite or the officers of the ship.

Of all those who had followed the Emperor, I was perhaps the person of whom he knew the least: it has already been seen that, notwithstand­ing my employment near his person, I had en­joyed but little immediate intercourse with Napo­leon. Since our leaving Paris he had scarcely spoken to me, but I was now addressed very frequently. The occasion and circumstances were highly favourable to me. I was sufficiently acquainted with the English language to be able to give vari­ous explanations as to what was passing around us. I had been in the navy, and could afford the Emperor any information he required relative to the maneuvers of the ship, and state of the wea­ther. I had been ten years in England, and had formed definite notions of the laws, manners, and customs of the people, which enabled me to reply to the Emperor's questions with facility. My Historical Atlas, too, had stored my mind with a number of facts, dates, and coincidences upon which he always found me prepared to answer.

A part of my time was occupied in drawing up the following summary of our situation at Rochefort and the notions, which had dictated the de­termination of the Emperor.   

Summary dictated by Napoleon himself

The English squadron was not strong: there­ were two sloops of war off Bordeaux, where they block­aded a French corvette and gave chase to Ame­rican vessels which sailed daily in great numbers. At the Isle of Aix, we had two frigates well armed; the Vulcan corvette, one of the largest vessels of its class, and a large brig, lay in the roads: the whole of this force was blockaded by an English seventy-four gun ship of the smallest class, and an indifferent sloop or two. There is not the least doubt that by risking the sacrifice of one or two of our ships, we should have passed, but the senior captain was deficient in resolution, and refused to sail. The second in command was quite determined, and would have made the attempt: the former had probably received secret instructions from Fouche, who already openly betrayed the Em­peror, and wanted to give him up. However that may be, there was nothing to be done by sea. The Emperor then landed at the Isle of Aix.

“Had the mission been confided to Admiral Werhuel,” said Napoleon, “as was promised on our departure from Paris, it is probable he would have sailed.” The officers and crews of both frigates were full of attachment and enthusiasm. The gar­rison of Aix was composed of fifteen hundred sea­men, forming a very fine regiment. The officers were so indignant at the frigate not sailing, that they proposed to fit out two chasse-marées of fifteen tons each; the midshipmen wished to navigate them but when on the point of putting this plan into execution, it was said there would be great difficult in gaining the American coast without touching on some point of Spain or Portugal.

Under these circumstances the Emperor summoned a meeting from amongst the individuals of his suite. Here it was represented that we could no longer calculate on the frigates or other armed vessels; that the chasse-marées held out no probable chance of success, and could only lead to capture by the English cruisers in the open sea, or to falling into the hands of the allies. Only two alternatives remained: that of marching to­wards the interior, once more to try the fate of arms, or that of seeking an asylum in England. To follow up the first there were fifteen hundred seamen, full of zeal and willing to act; the com­mandant of the Island was an old officer of the army of Egypt, entirely devoted to Napoleon. The Emperor would have proceeded at the head of these to Rochefort, where the corps would have been increased by the garrison, which was also ex­tremely well disposed. The garrison of La Rochelle included four battalions of federated troops and had offered its services: with these we might then have joined General Clausel, who firmly stood at the head of the army at Bordeaux, or General La­marque, who had performed prodigies with [the army] of La Vendee. Both these officers expected and wished to see Napoleon. It would have been exceedingly easy to maintain a civil war in the interior. But Paris was taken, and the Chambers had been dis­solved. There were, besides, from five to six hun­dred thousand of the enemy's troops in France. A civil war could therefore have no other result than leading to the destruction of all these ge­nerous men who were attached to Napoleon. This loss would have been severe and irreparable and it would have destroyed the future resources of the nation, without producing any other advan­tage than placing the Emperor in a position to treat and obtain stipulations favourable to his interests. But Napoleon had renounced sovereignty; he only wanted a tranquil asylum and abhorred the thought of seeing all his friends perish to attain so trifling a result. He was equally averse to become the pretext for the provinces be­ing ravaged, and above all, he did not wish to deprive the national party of its truest supports, which would sooner or later reestablish the ho­nour and independence of France.

Napoleon's only wish was to live as a private individual in future. America was the most proper place, and that of his choice. But even England, with its positive laws, might also answer; and it appeared, from the nature of my first interview with Captain Maitland, that the latter was empowered to con­vey the Emperor and suite to England to be equitably treated. From this moment we were under the protection of British laws and the people of England were too fond of glory to lose an opportunity which thus presented itself, and that ought to have formed the proudest page of their history. It was therefore resolved to surrender to the English cruisers as soon as Captain Maitland should positively declare his orders to receive us. On renewing the negotiation, he clearly stated that he had the authority of his Government to receive the Emperor, if he would come on board the Bellerophon, and to convey him as well as his suite to England. Napoleon went, on board, not that he was constrained to it by events, since he could have remained in France. Rather, he wished to live as a private in­dividual, no longer meddle with public affairs, and had determined not to embroil those of France. He would, most assuredly, not have adopted this plan had he suspected the unworthy treatment, which was preparing for him as every body will readily feel convinced. His letter to the Prince Regent fully explains his con­fidence and persuasion on the subject. Captain Maitland, to whom it was officially communicated before the Emperor embarked on board his ship, made no remarks on the above document and had, by this circumstance alone, recognized and sanctioned the sentiments it contained.

23d. [Saturday]

We saw Ushant at four in the morning, hav­ing passed it in the night. From the moment of approaching the Channel, ships of the line and fri­gates were seen sailing in various directions. The coast of England was observed towards evening.

24th. [Sunday]

We anchored at Torbay about eight in the morning; the Emperor had risen at six, and went on the poop, where he surveyed the coast and anchorage. I remained by his side to give the explanations he required. Captain Maitland immediately dispatched a mes­senger to Lord Keith, the commander-in-chief at Plymouth. General Gourgaud rejoined us; he had been obliged to give up the letter for the Prince Regent because he had not only been refused permission to land, but prohibited from all communications. This was a bad omen, and the first indication of those numberless tribulations that followed.

No sooner had it transpired that the Emperor was on board the Bellerophon, than the bay was covered with vessels and boats full of people. The owner of a beautiful countryseat in sight of the ship sent his Majesty a present of various fruits.

25th. [Monday]

The concourse of boats and crowds of spectators continued without intermission. The Emperor saw them from the cabin windows, and occasionally showed himself on deck. On return­ing from the shore, Captain Maitland handed me a letter from Lady C., enclosing another from my wife. My surprise was extreme, and not less than my satisfaction; but the former ceased when I reflected that the length of the passage had given the French papers time to transmit an ac­count of what had occurred to a considerable distance, so that whatever related to the Emperor and his suite was already known in England, where we had even been expected for five or six days before. My wife hastened to address Lady C. on the subject, and the latter wrote to Captain Maitland, to whom she enclosed my letters, with­out knowing him.

My wife's letter bespoke feelings of tender affection but that of Lady C., who, from being in London, had heard our future destiny, was full of reproaches. “I was not my own master, thus to dispose of myself; it was a crime to abandon my wife and children,” etc. Melancholy result of our modern systems of education, which tend so little to elevate our minds that we cannot conceive either the merit or charm of heroic resolutions! We think all has been said and every plea justified when the danger of private interests and domestic enjoyments is put forward, little imagining that the first duty towards a wife is to place her in a situation of honour, and that the richest inheritance we can leave our children is the example of some virtues, and a name to which a little true glory is attached.

26th. [Tuesday]

Orders had arrived in the night for the ship immediately to repair to Plymouth. Having­ sailed at an early hour, we reached our new destination at four o'clock in the afternoon ten days after our departure from Rochefort, twenty-seven after quitting Paris, and thirty-five from the Emperor's abdication.

Our horizon became greatly overcast from this day. Armed boats were placed round the ship and those whom cu­riosity had attracted were driven away, even by firing musketry at them. Lord Keith, who was in the bay, did not come on board. Two frigates made the signal for sailing immediately and we were told that a courier extraordinary had brought dispatches for a distant quarter. In the morning, some of our party were distributed amongst other vessels. Every visage seemed now to look at us with a sullen interest and the most sinister reports had reached the ship. Several destinations were mentioned, each more frightful than the other.

Imprisonment in the Tower of London was the least terrific and some spoke of St. Helena. Meanwhile the two frigates, which had greatly excited my attention, got under weigh, though the wind was contrary for leaving the roadstead, stood towards us and anchored on each side, nearly touching the Bellerophon. Upon this, some person whispered to me that these ships were to receive us in the course of the night, and to sail for St. Helena.

Never can I portray the effect of these terrible words! A cold sweat covered my whole frame: it was an unexpected sentence of death! Un­pitying executioners had seized me and I was torn from all that attached me to life. I extended my arms sorrowfully towards those who were dear to me, but in vain - my fate was inevitable! This thought, together with a crowd of others, which arose in equal disorder, excited a real tempest of the mind. It was like the struggle of a soul that sought to disengage itself from, its earthly ha­bitation! It turned my hair grey!

Fortunately, the crisis was short, and, as it happened, the mind came forth triumphant. So much so indeed, that from this moment I seemed above the world. I felt that I could thenceforth defy injustice, ill treatment, and sufferings. Above all, I vowed that neither complaints nor solicita­tion should escape me. But let not those of my companions to whom I appeared tranquil in those fatal circumstances, accuse me of being deficient in feeling! Their agony was prolonged in detail­- mine operated all at once.

One of those coincidences, which is not the least extraordinary of my life, recurred to my thoughts soon after. Twenty years before, and during my emigration to England, without possessing any worldly goods, I had refused to seek a certain fortune in India because it was too remote, and I thought myself too old. Now, at twenty years older, I was about to quit my family, friends, fortune, and enjoyments, to become a voluntary exile two thousand miles off, in the midst of the ocean; for nothing. But no, I am mistaken! The sentiment that now impelled me was infinitely superior to the riches I then disdained: I followed him who had governed the world and will oc­cupy the attention of posterity.          The Emperor continued to appear on deck as usual. I sometimes saw him in his cabin, but without communicating what I had heard: I, wished to console him, and not to be his tormentor.

The reports had, however, reached him: but he had come so freely and confidently on board the Bellerophon; he had been so strongly invited by the English themselves; he so completely regarded his letter to the Prince Regent, transmitted before­hand to Captain Maitland, as so many tacit con­ditions; he had, in fact, acted with such mag­nanimity throughout the proceeding, that he re­pelled with indignation all the fears which were attempted to be excited in him, not even per­mitting those around him to entertain doubts.

27th-28th [Wednesday-Thursday].

It would be difficult to de­scribe our torments and anxiety at this moment: most of us were dumb and inanimate. The least circumstance which transpired from the shore - ­an opinion, however unimportant, expressed on board an unmeaning paragraph in a daily paper became the subjects of our most serious argu­ments, and the cause of perpetual oscillations be­tween our hopes and fears. The most trifling reports were sought with avidity; whoever ap­peared was urged to give a favourable version of deceitful anticipations: so little do the ardour and activity of our national character contribute to endow us with that stoical resignation, that imperturbable composure which can only be acquired from settled principles and positive doctrines imbibed from early infancy.

The public papers, particularly those of the ministerial side, were let louse against us; it was the outcry of Ministers preparing the blow they were about to strike. It would not be easy to form an idea of the horrors, falsehoods, and im­precations accumulated on our heads; and there is always a portion communicated to the multitude, however well disposed it may be, so that the demeanor of those around us became less easy, while their politeness became embarrassed and their countenances more misgiving.

Lord Keith, after announcing himself for some­time before, had only just made his appearance. It was evident that our company was shunned, our conversation avoided. The papers contained an account of the measures which were about to be taken; but, as nothing official had appeared and there was some contradiction in the details, we were induced to flatter ourselves as to the final result: thus remaining in that state of suspense and uncertainty which is worse than a knowledge of the most painful truths. Never­theless, our arrival in England had produced a singular sensation: the presence of the Emperor excited a curiosity bordering on delirium. It was the papers themselves that informed us of the circumstance, while they condemned it. All England seemed to hurry towards Plymouth. A person who had left London, on hearing of my arrival, was obliged to stop on the road for want of post-horses and accommodation. The Sound was covered with an immense number of boats; for some of which, we heard, above fifty pounds had been paid.

The Emperor, to whom I read all the news­papers, did not betray any decrease of composure either by his conversation or general habits. It was known that he always appeared on deck towards five o'clock. A short time before this hour, all the boats collected along-side of each other; there were thousands of them and so closely connected that the water could no longer be seen between them: they looked more like a multitude assembled in a public square than any thing else. When the Emperor came out, the noise and ges­tures of so many people presented a most striking spectacle: it was, at the same time, very easy to perceive that nothing hostile was meant, and that if curiosity had brought them, they felt interested on going away; we could even see that the latter sentiment continued to increase; at first people merely looked towards the ship, they ended by saluting; some remained uncovered, and occa­sionally went so far as to cheer. Even our sym­bols began to appear amongst them. Several individuals of both sexes came decorated with red carnations, but this was only turned to our de­triment in the eyes of the Ministry and its parti­sans, so that it rendered our agony more poignant.

It was under these circumstances that the Emperor, who, notwithstanding his calm demeanor, could not help being struck by what he heard, dictated a paper to me, worthy of serving as a model to jurists, discussing and defending his real political situation: we found means of conveying it on shore, but I have kept no copy.

Ministerial Decisions

29th--30th. A report had circulated during the two previous days, that an under-secretary of state was coming from London officially to notify the resolutions of the Ministers with respect to the Emperor. Accordingly he appeared; it was Sir Charles Bunbury: he came on board, accom­panied by Lord Keith, and delivered a dispatch ordering the removal of the Emperor to St. Helena, and limiting the number of persons who were to accompany Napoleon to three, excluding, however, the Duke de Rovigo and General Lallemand, comprised in the list of proscribed.

I was not called before the Emperor. The bearers of his sentence spoke and understood French; they were admitted alone. I have since heard, that he objected and protested, with no less energy than logic, against the violence exercised on his person. "He was the guest of England," said Napoleon, "and not its prisoner, he came of his own accord to place himself under the protection of its laws; the most sacred rights of hos­pitality were violated in his person; he would never submit voluntarily to the outrage they were preparing for him: violence alone should oblige him to do so, &c." The Emperor gave me the ministerial docu­ment to translate for him, of which the following is a copy.

Communication made by Lord Keith, in the name of the English ministers.

As it may, perhaps, be convenient for General Buonaparte to learn, without farther delay, the intentions of the British Government with regard to him, your Lordship will communicate the following information.

It would be inconsistent with our duty towards our country and the allies of his Majesty, if General Buonaparte possessed the means of again disturbing the repose of Europe. It is on this account, that it becomes absolutely necessary he should be restrained in his personal liberty, so far as this is required by the foregoing important object.

The island of St. Helena has been chosen as his future residence; its climate is healthy, and its local position will allow of his being treated with more indulgence than could be admitted in any other spot, owing to the indispensable pre­cautions which it would be necessary to employ for the security of his person.

General Buonaparte is allowed to select amongst those persons who accompanied him to England, (with the exception of Generals Savary and Lallemand) three officers, who, together with his surgeon, will have permission to accompany him to St. Helena; these individuals will not be allowed to quit the island without the sanction of the British Government.

Rear-Admiral Sir George Cockburn, who is named Commander-in-chief at the Cape of Good Hope and seas adjacent, will convey General Buonaparte and his suite to St. Helena; and he will receive detailed instructions relative to the execution of this service.

Sir G. Cockburn will, most probably, be ready to sail in a few days; for which reason it is desirable that General Buonaparte should make choice of the persons who are to accompany him without delay.”

Although we expected our transportation to St. Helena, we were deeply affected by its announce­ment: it threw us all into a state of consternation. The Emperor did not, however, fail to appear on deck as usual, with the same countenance; and, as before, tranquilly surveyed the crowds that seemed so eager to see him.

31st [Sunday]

Our situation had now become truly frightful; our sufferings beyond every power of description; our existence was about to cease with regard to Europe, our country, families, and friends, as well as our enjoyments and habits. It is true, we were not forced to follow the Emperor but our choice as that of martyrs; the question was a renunciation of faith, or death. Another circumstance was added, which greatly increased our torments; this was the exclusion of Generals Sa­vary and Lallemand, whom it struck with the ut­most terror: they saw nothing but a scaffold before them, and felt persuaded that the Ministers of Eng­land, making no distinction between the political acts of a revolution, and crimes committed in a mo­ment of tranquillity, would give them up to their enemies to be sacrificed. This would have been such an outrage on all law, such an opprobrium for England herself, that her enemies would be almost tempted to invoke it; but it was only for those who were included in the same proscription to talk thus. At all events, we did not hesitate to desire that each of us might be amongst those whom the Emperor would choose; entertaining but one fear, that of finding ourselves excluded.


Notes:

[1] Editor: The following is the Emperor's Itinerary during the jour­ney: Left Paris on the 29th June, and slept at Rambouillet; at Tours on the 30th; and at Niort on the 1st July. Left Niort on the 2nd, and reached Rochefort on the 3rd; remained there till the 8th. At Rochefort, Napoleon learned the Provisional Government had refused him the furniture he requested and that his librarian Antoine-Alexander Barbier was not allowed to transport Napoleon’s Trianon library.

[2] Editor: Louis Marchand identified this captain as Captain Besson. Similar offer was made also by Captain Bodin of another French vessel.

[3] Editor: According to Marchand, “the entire town lined [Napoleon’s] way, having but one cry for him: Vive l’Empereur!”

[4] Las Cases’ note: The name of one of the frigates destined to receive Na­poleon on board.

Editor’s note: The ships name was the Saale (40 guns, completed in 1810) and it was commanded by Pierre Henri Philibert (1774-1824), an officer with experience serving in Martinique, Domingo and the Indies. Besides the Saale, there was also a 44-gun frigate Méduse commanded by Captain Ponée.

[5] Editor: The main ship was the Bellerophon commanded by Sir Frederick Lewis Maitland (1777-1839) served under Lord Howe in early 1790s and commanded a sloop. He was captured by the Spanish in 1799 but participated in the Egyptian campaign in 1800-1801. Serving in various commands for the rest of the war, he proved himself a capable officer and was given command of the Bellerophon in 1814. After meeting Napoleon in 1815, his respectful treatment of Napoleon was debated in England and he was deprived of command until 1818. Nevertheless, he went on to have a successful career becoming a rear admiral in 1830 and commander-in-chief of East Indies Squadron in 1837.

[6] Editor: Savary delivered the following letter addressed to Admiral Henry Hotham:

9 July 1815

Sir,

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 enquire 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 any trouble it may cause.

I have the honour to be,
Your excellency’s Most Obedient etc.etc.
Bertrand
Grand Marshal.

Maitland replied with the following letter:

Sir,

I have to acknowledge the honour of your letter of yesterday’s date addressed to the Admiral commanding the English Squadron before Rochefort, acquainting me that the Emperor, having abdicated the Throne of France and chosen the United States of America as an asylum, is now embarked on board the Frigates at Rochefort to proceed for that destination and awaits a passport from the English Government, requesting to know if I have any knowledge of such passports, and if I think it is intention of the English Government to prevent the Emperor’s voyage.

In reply I have the honour to acquaint you that I cannot say what the intention of my Government maybe; but the Countries at present being in a State of War, I cannot allow any ship of War to be put to sea from the Port of Rochefort: as to the proposal made by the Duke of Rovigo and the Count de Las cases, of allowing the Emperor to proceed in a Merchant Vessel, it is out of my power without the sanction of my commanding officer 9Sir Henry Hotham) who is at present in Quiberon Bay, and to whom I have forwarded your dispatch, to allow any Vessel under whatever flag she may be to pass with a Personage of so much Consequence.

I have the honour to be,

F.L. Maitland

Captain of H.M. Ship Bellerophon.

[7] Editor: In fact, Admiral Hotham informed Maitland on 30 June that the British Government had received a request from Paris for safe conducts to allow Napoleon to proceed to the US. This request was denied and Lord Keith ordered the strictest watch to be kept by the ships under his command. Maitland was also informed that the French Ministry of Marince placed two frigates at Napoleon’s disposal.

[8] Editor: See similar details in Marchand’s Memoirs, 281-282. Napoleon was also threatened by the Provisional Government, whose formar order of arrest was delivered by a special messenger Captain de Rigny to Rochefort.

[9] Editor: The Bellerophon was a 74 gun ship, built in 1786 and present at Aboukir and Trafalgar. It was commanded by Captain Frederick Maitland.

[10] Editor: Small vessels usually employed as coasting-vessels in France.

[11] Editor: Marchand noted, “Young naval officers came to propose to the grand marshal that the Emperor go on board a coastal sloop: they were MM. Gentil, Duret, Pottier, Salis and Chateauneuf, and all warranted they could slip through the British cruisers without being seen by them. The Emperor was touched by so much devotion, and for a moment decided to trust their courage and share their dangers, and a few personal effects were carried on board. The drawback of such a vessel was that for want of water and food it would be forced to stop somewhere along the coast. They did not follow through with the plan, and the personal effects were unloaded. The Danish ship, with Captain Besson, offered a much better chance: Count Bertrand and the Duke of Rovigo [Savary] went to visit it and food was brought on board along with weapons and some of the Emperor’s personal effects; the departure time had been settled, when other decisions were reached…. [Yet] much time had been wasted in Rochefort and the delay can only be blamed on the uncertainty of the orders issued by the provisional government, the passports that were expected, the unfavorable winds and the blockade of the exit by British vessels. Had he been alone, the Emperor would not have hesitated on the choice to be made; as early as Niort he had said, “As soon as Marchand arrives, I will go to Rochefort and board the first ship I find there sailing for America, where people can come and join me.” Steered away from this solution, he came to have with him women and children, hence his hesitation.”

[12] Editor: According to Marchand, “King Joseph, whose attachment never failed the Emperor, came on the 13th to offer to give himself up to the British while pretending to be His Majesty, thus giving the Emperor an opportunity to escape. The Emperor embraced him and rejected this proposal while saying goodbye and urging him to look after his own safety.”

[13] Editor: Nicholas Louis Planat de la Faye (1784-1864) was born into a noble family and served in the French army during the Empire, becoming Napoleon’s aide-de-camp in 1813-1815. He followed Napoleon to Rochefort but the British did not allow him to accompany the Emperor to St. Helena. He was imprisoned with Savary at Malta and, returning to Europe, served as an aide-de-camp to Prince Eugene.

[14] Editor: Baron Charles Francois Antoine Lallemand (1774-1839) volunteered for service in 1792 and participated in virtually every revolutionary campaign and in the Napoleonic Wars. During the Restoration, he served as the military governor of Laon and of the Department of the Aisne, but rallied to Napoleon in 1815. He commanded the artillery of the Guard at Waterloo and followed Napoleon to Malmaison and Rochefort. The British refused him to accompany Napoleon to St. Helena and imprisoned him in Plymouth. Lallemand later traveled to the US before returning to France, where he continued his military career into 1830s.

[15] Editor: Maitland received instructions from the Admiralty stating : “The Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty having every reason to believe that Napoleon Bonaparte 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 Rt 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…. 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 keep him in careful custody and return to he 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 with the shore.”

[16] Las Cases’ note: While on our passage to St. Helena, Admiral Cockburn placed his library at our disposal. One of our party, in turning over the leaves of a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica, found a letter from La Rochelle, addressed to the commanding officer of the English squadron: it contained, word for word, the whole of our affair relative to the Danish ship; the moment of her projected departure, future intentions, etc. We passed this letter from hand to hand, taking care that it should be replaced where first discovered. It gave us very little information; we were aware of the understanding, which existed both in and out of France, but were desirous of seeing a proof of it so much to the point. How did this letter happen to get on board the Northumberland? Captain Maitland had doubtless, when transferring us to that ship, also delivered up the documents concerning our capture. This was the letter which occasioned so much alarm on the part of the Captain, relative to the supposed escape of the Emperor, soon after my embarkation

[17] Editor: According to Marchand, at 6:00 a.m.

[18] Editor: Sir Henry Hothan (1777-1833) was nephew of Lord Hotham and began his career in his staff. He later served at Toulon and Trafalgar and was promoted to rear admiral in 1814. After the war ended, he rose to become a Sea lord of the Admiralty in 1828 and Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet in 1831.

 

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: February 2006

 

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