From Torbay to Plymouth in unseasonal weather

PlymouthAt three in the morning of the 26th of July 1815 Captain Maitland of the Bellerophon received his orders. He was to leave Torbay for Plymouth Sound. They left immediately. It was not a pleasant journey on another windy day in that cold, wet summer. They passed Berry Head and headed south-west passing the estuary of the River Dart and the wide sweep of Slapton Sands towards Start Point and once around the inhospitable southern coast of Devon faced into a strong northerly wind. Despite the weather, Napoleon spent much of the time on deck, observing the country that he knew was to become his home. As they passed the Plymouth Breakwater, at that time still under construction, Maitland reported that Napoleon expressed admiration at the men who could approve and finance such an undertaking.
Those who did not know Napoleon’s plans believed that this move from Torbay to Plymouth, a port more remote from London, meant that the newspaper reports of exile to St Helena were accurate and were dismayed.
Those who did know his plans knew the true reasons for this move to Plymouth.
In the shallow waters of Torbay there had been no way to prevent the masses of sight seers’ boats from crowding The Bellerophon. Under those circumstances it had proved impossible for Bernard Lacey to come and go as he needed to. It was believed that in the deep water harbour of Plymouth it would be possible to keep the ship secure from unwanted attention. This, however, proved impossible and for the twelve days it took for the politicians to confirm what was to be done with Bonaparte, and for Lacey’s plan to be agreed upon, the Bellerophon was the subject of intense interest to men, and especially women, from all levels of society.
Lacey, however, was an ingenious man and found a way to, eventually, make the switch successfully and the government cover up detailed in A Set of Lies could begin.


Captain F L Maitland

MaitlandCaptain Frederick Lewis Maitland was born in 1777, an aristocrat as his grand-father was an Earl. He was always going to be a naval man, as his father had been.
He was 36 years old in the summer of 1815 when he experienced arguably the most important weeks of his life.
Captain of the Bellerophon, he was stationed off Rochefort, a small but important port on the west coast of France in what was a major British blockade of the Biscay coast to prevent Napoleon Bonaparte from escaping. It was Maitland’s ‘decided opinion’ that any escape would not be from busier ports such as Bordeaux but would be from the Rochefort area. He obeyed his orders to cover the coast by positioning the vessels under his command widely but he kept Rochefort for himself.
Maitland writes: “Nothing of consequence occurred on the 9th; but on the 10th of July, at day-light, the officer of the watch informed me that a small schooner was standing out from the French squadron towards the ship. (The Bellerophon) upon which I ordered every thing to be ready for making sail in chace [sic], supposing she might be sent for the purpose of reconnoitring. On approaching, she hoisted a flag of truce, and joined us at seven A.M. She proved to be the Mouche, tender to the ships of war at Isle d’Aix, and had on board, General Savary Duc de Rovigo, and Count Las Cases, chamberlain to Buonaparte, charged with a letter addressed to the Admiral commanding the British Cruisers before the port of Rochefort.”
This letter confirmed that Napoleon and his entourage were, indeed, in the Rochefort vicinity and that they expected passports for their safe passage to the United States of America.
Thus began four days of negotiations that lasted until 15th July and ended with Napoleon’s surrender to the good will of the British.
In the days that followed Maitland (in A Set of Lies) met another man, Bernard Lacey, who was to be instrumental in deciding Napoleon’s fate.