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The Reign of George III. - (Concluded.) page 6


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Buonaparte had arrived in Rochefort on the 3rd of July - only fifteen days after the battle of Waterloo. The two frigates provided by the provisional government to convey him to America - the Saale and the Medusa, accompanied by the corvette Balladière and the large brig, Epervier - lay in the Aix roads; but Buonaparte was very sure that the British government would not permit them to sail. That government, anticipating such an event as the endeavour of Napoleon to make his escape to America - whence he might watch his opportunity of once more renewing the troubles of the world - had, immediately after the battle of Waterloo, placed no less than thirty vessels of different descriptions along the whole coast of France, from Ushant to cape Finisterre, thus making it impossible for any vessel to pass out of a French port without undergoing the severest search. An order was issued to the commanders of the British vessels engaged in this blockade, by admiral lord Hotham, by authority of the lords commissioners of the admiralty, directing any one to whom Buonaparte might surrender himself to convey him and family to England, entering Torbay in preference to Plymouth; that he was to be kept in safe custody, and the most profound secrecy, not permitting any contact with the shore by either Buonaparte, any of his train, or any person belonging to the ship, except by the officer or officers dispatched, under orders of strictest secrecy, to lord admiral Keith, or to the admiralty itself.

Buonaparte was well satisfied that the attempt to sail out in the frigates was useless, but he thought he might possibly escape by a small coasting vessel, manned with young officers of the navy, equivalent to our midshipmen; but this was despaired of, as sure to attract the notice of English ships at sea; and then a Danish corvette was fixed on, and Buonaparte was to be smuggled away in a cask stowed away in the hold, and supplied with air by tubes; but neither would Buonaparte venture, after reflection, on this uneasy mode of concealment, and he began to turn his attention to getting away to the Loire, and resuming the command of the army. But this prospect did not appear very flattering, when the allies had eight hundred thousand men on foot; and, after a week spent in discussing these schemes, he was compelled to send Savary and Las Cases to captain Maitland on board the Bellerophon. They represented that Napoleon expected a passport from England, and wanted to know if captain Maitland would allow the frigates to sail with him, or some neutral vessel. Maitland informed them that, by his orders, he could not allow either of these measures. This interview took place in the presence of captain Knight, of the Falmouth. On the 14th Las Cases came again with general Lallemand, and captain Maitland sent for captain Sartorius, of the Slaney, to be present. The emperor's messengers represented that he was anxious to spare further effusion of blood, and, though he was under no necessity to quit France, was anxious to retire to America in any vessel that the British government should think proper. Captain Maitland, who was well aware that every day the emperor's necessity to escape became more imminent, replied that he had no authority from his government except to receive him on board and convey him to England, where he must await the decision of the British government as to his reception and his disposal. Finding captain Maitland firm, Las Cases and Lallemand informed him that Napoleon had written a letter to the prince regent, and requested that general Gourgaud might be allowed to proceed to England with it. To this captain Maitland consented, and general Gourgaud was dispatched the same day in the Slaney. The following morning Buonaparte proceeded on board the Bellerophon, accompanied by four of his generals - Bertrand, Savary, Lallemand, and Montholon - as well as Las Cases, counsellor of state, and the ladies of Bertrand and Montholon, with four of their children, the son of Las Cases as a page, nine officers of inferior rank, and thirty-nine domestics. The chief persons were received on board the Bellerophon, the rest were sent into the corvette. He went on board the Bellerophon from the Epervier, and the crew of that vessel, after he left it, continued to cheer him so long as their voices could be heard. He was received on board the Bellerophon with respect, but without any honours. Captain Maitland advanced to meet him on the quarterdeck. Napoleon took off his hat, and, addressing him in a firm voice, said, " I come to place myself under the protection of your prince and laws." As it is interesting to know how this extraordinary man appeared at this eventful moment, this is captain Maitland's account: - " His 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 with gold, plain sugar-loaf buttons, and gold epaulettes, being the uniform of a 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 a small cocked hat with a tricolour 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 afterwards wore while with me."

As when previously on board captain Usher's vessel, Buonaparte showed a curiosity regarding everything in the ship, and in its movements. He praised the marines greatly, and both he and his officers declared that there was now no army in the world equal to the English; that you might as well charge a stone wall as the infantry, and he added that the duke of Wellington, in the management of an army, was equal to himself, and superior in prudence. This is a very différent style of language to that which he afterwards permitted himself at St. Helena. On the voyage they passed Ushant on the 23rd of July, where he saw the last of France. He remained long on deck looking at the coast, but made no observation. At daybreak they lay off Dartmouth, and about eight that morning they entered Torbay, at the sight of which Buonaparte expressed much surprise at the beauty of the scenery, which he said reminded him of that of Porto-Ferrajo. No intercourse was permitted with the shore, and on the 26th the vessel received Orders to move round to Plymouth Sound. Newspapers then found their way on board, which struck consternation into Napoleon and his party; for in them it was freely declared that the French emperor would be sent to St. Helena. He there- upon expressed a great desire to see lord Keith, to whose nephew he had shown kindness when he was wounded and taken prisoner at Waterloo. On the 28th admiral lord Keith went on board, but could give Napoleon no assurance as to his destination, having yet no Orders from the government. Meantime, the Bellerophon was surrounded by such shoals of boats, loaded by eager deviants of a sight of the long-talked of Buonaparte, that it was only by firing muskets into the water that they could be kept at the prescribed distance of a cable's length. Buonaparte was received with stunning hurras whenever he showed himself, and he expressed much astonishment at the curious excitement of the crowd.

On the evening of the 30th major-general Sir Henry Bunbury, one of the under secretaries of state, came on board, accompanied by lord Keith and Mr. Meike, the secretary of lord Keith, bringing the decision of the government. The following is a copy of the letter of Buonaparte to the prince regent: -

" Rochefort, July 13th, 1815.

" Royal Highness, - A victim to the factions which distract my country, and to the enmity of the greatest powers, of Europe, I have terminated my political career, and I come, like Themistocles, to throw myself on the hospitality i of the British people. I put 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. " Napoleon."

This note contained much that was not true. It implied that Buonaparte had come voluntarily and without necessity on board the Bellerophon, whilst it was well known that perhaps another hour would have been too late to secure him from seizure by the officers of Louis, king of France.

He affected to claim the protection of British laws, when he was a notoriously proclaimed outlaw, so proclaimed by the whole of the allied powers for the breach of his solemn: engagement to renounce all claims on the throne of France. There was, therefore, no answer whatever to that note from the prince regent, who was under engagement to his allies, as they to him, to hold no communication with a man who had so shamefully broken his word, and had, moreover, thereby sacrificed so many valuable lives. The reply was from lord Melville, first lord of the admiralty, announcing to him that the British government, with the approbation of its allies, had determined that, to prevent any further opportunity for the disturbance of the peace of Europe by general Buonaparte, he should be sent to St. Helena; and that they had been guided in this choice, not only by the desire of his security, but also by the consideration that the island was extremely healthy, and would afford him much greater liberty than he could enjoy in a nearer locality; that the general might select three officers, with his surgeon, and twelve domestics to attend him. From the number of the officers Savary and Lallemand were expressly excepted. It also added that the persons permitted to accompany him would be subject to a certain degree of restraint, and would not be permitted to leave the island without the sanction of the British government. It was finally added that general Buonaparte should make no delay in the selection of his suite, as rear-admiral Sir George Cockburn, appointed to the command of the Cape of Good Hope, would convey him in the Northumberland to St. Helena, and would be presently ready to sail.

During the reading of this most unwelcome document by Sir Henry Bunbury, which was done in French, Napoleon listened without any apparent impatience or emotion of any kind; but when he was asked whether he had any observations to make, he pronounced a most determined protest against the whole design. He declared the British ministry had no right to dispose of him in that manner; that he had come on board the Bellerophon a free agent, claiming the protection of the British laws; that he had stated this to the captain, and by him had been led to expect that he would have freedom to live in England; that if this were not meant, it was a snare that had been spread for him; that he would never go to St. Helena - it would be his death in three months. He declared that he could have gone to his father-in-law, the emperor of Austria; or he could have remained for years concealed in France, where the people entertained a warm affection for him. He resented the term " general Buonaparte," and declared himself still a prince, and ought to be treated as such. Again and again lie vowed that he would never go to St. Helena, and demanded that his request to land, and live in England under any surveillance that the government might please, should be immediately forwarded to the ministry, and no the lost in communicating their reply. Sir Henry Bunbury and lord Keith replied that they had no authority to enter into any discussions; they had discharged their entire commission by making him acquainted with the resolution of government. He next appealed expressly to lord Keith to interfere on his behalf; but his lordship replied that he could only obey his instructions, and assured him that he would be much better off in St. Helena than if given up to Russia. " Russia! " exclaimed Napoleon - " God preserve me from that! "

Napoleon now raised the loudest outcries against the English government, and directly charged captain Maitland with having promised him that he should be well received in England. Las Cases asserted the same thing. On the 7th of August he presented a protest to lord Keith from Buonaparte, which commenced with the assertion that England was violating her most sacred rights, though it was self-evident enough that, having broken his convention with the allied sovereigns, and in consequence been proclaimed an outlaw, he had no rights whatever, except such as a prisoner at the mercy of his captors may have. To assume such rights it was necessary to plead promises on the part of his captors, and he did not hesitate through Las Cases, as he had done personally, to charge captain Maitland with the breach of such promises. Lord Keith bluntly replied that if captain Maitland had made any promises of a reception by England, he must be a fool, for he had the strictest orders, drawn up by himself, and to which we have already referred, to offer him nothing but a passage to England, there to await, while still on board, the orders of government. In this respect, Napoleon, however, treated captain Maitland no worse than he was in the habit of treating his own generals, on whom he continually, as we have shown, laid the blame of his own measures. Lord Keith, however, to set the matter at rest, called on captain Maitland to answer the charge, who attended and repeated what he had before said, that Napoleon did not freely come on board the Bellerophon; for he could not escape the English vessels at sea, or the French pursuit on land; that he gave him no promises, for his instructions authorised him to give none, but that he had refused to make any promises whatever, in presence of both captain Sartorius and captain Gambier, to the repeated importunities of both Las Cases and general Gourgaud. The characters of these officers for manly honour and straightforwardness were quite sufficient to satisfy any honourable mind. Captain Maitland afterwards published a statement of all that took place whilst Buonaparte was on board his vessel, which is quite sufficient to convince any one, were there no other evidence; but fortunately we have the evidence of both Napoleon and some of his officers.

On the 6th of August, the very day before Las Cases made this statement to lord Keith, Napoleon said to captain Maitland - " They say I made no conditions. Certainly, I made no conditions. How could an individual enter into conditions with a nation? I wanted nothing of them but hospitality, or, as the ancients would say, air and water." If he made no conditions, there is an end of the matter; but it may be as well to furnish the confirmation of count Montholon, who, before quitting the Bellerophon, pressed captain Maitland to accept from Napoleon his portrait set in diamonds. Maitland declined, and also mentioned how much he was hurt at the emperor charging him with making delusive promises to him. Montholon said that was Las Cases's representation; that he wanted to throw from himself the responsibility of inducing Napoleon to go on board a British ship; " But I assure you," he added, " the emperor is convinced your conduct has been most honourable;" and, taking his hand and pressing it, added, " and that is my opinion also." Yet, after all this, French writers have continued to repeat the charge.

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Pictures for The Reign of George III. - (Concluded.) page 6

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