Battle of Trafalgar, 1805

At Cádiz, in Spain, a combined French and Spanish fleet finally set sail under the command of Admiral Pierre de Villeneuve. Lord Nelson's fleet had bottled up the Mediterranean, and so the combined French and Spanish fleets came to fight their way out. It took two days, October 19 and October 20, for the combined fleet to clear the harbor at Cádiz, and on the morning of October 21, the British approached as the Spanish and French ships were still struggling to form up south of Cádiz in light and contrary winds.

The French had 18 ships of the line: Bucentaure, Formidable, Neptuno, Indomptable, Algesiras, Pluton, Mont-Blanc, Intrepide, Swiftsure, Aigle, Scipion, Duguay-Trouin, Berwick, Argonaut, Achille, Redoutable, Fougueux, and Heros. The Spanish had 15: Santissima Trinidad, Principe de Asturias, Santa Anna, Rayo, Neptuno, Argonauta, Bahama, Montanez, San Augustin, San Ildefonso, San Juan Nepomuceno, Monarca, San Francisco de Asis, San Justo, and San Leandro.

Nelson had 27 ships of the line: Britannia, Royal Sovereign, Victory, Dreadnought, Neptune, Prince, Temeraire, Tonnant, Achilles, Ajax, Belleisle, Bellerphon, Colossus, Conqueror, Defence, Defiance, Leviathan, Mars, Minotaur, Orion, Revenge, Spatiate, Swiftsure, Thunderer, Africa, Agamemnon, and Polyphemus.

The battle progressed largely according to Nelson's plan. At 11:35, Nelson sent throughout the fleet the famous flag signal, "England expects that every man will do his duty". He then attacked the French line in two columns, leading one column in HMS Victory; while Admiral Collingwood in HMS Royal Sovereign led the other column.

As the battle opened, the French and Spanish were in a ragged line headed north as the two British columns approached from the west at almost a right angle. Because the winds were very light during the battle, all the ships were moving extremely slowly and the lead British ships were under fire from several of the enemy for almost an hour before their own guns would bear. At 12:45, Victory cut the enemy line between Villeneuve's flagship Bucentaure and Redoutable. Meanwhile, Royal Sovereign had already engaged the Spanish Santa Ana.

A general mêlée ensued, and during that fight, the Victory locked masts with the French Redoutable. A sniper's bullet struck Nelson in the spine. Nelson was carried below decks and died at about 16:30, as the battle that would make him a legend was ending in favour of the British.

The Franco-Spanish fleet lost 22 vessels and the British not one.

Bahama, 74 guns, was captured and taken as a prize.

HMS Bellorophon

The 74 gun 3rd rate squared rigged ship of the line, in Nelson's day, was one of several hundred ships of all sizes built in England (on the Medway in this case). Most were held in reserve in case of war, particularly with France and Spain, both at home, where there were threats of invasion, and far away in the Americas. Her construction required something more than 3,000 oak trees.

She was named the Bellerophon after the mythical Greek hero who tamed the winged horse Pegasus. But sailors had great problems pronouncing the name, as may be imagined, and so Christened her the "Billy Ruffian".

She achieved great fame when, in 1815, Napoleon surrendered to her captain shortly after the battle of Waterloo, but by then she already had a long and distinguished record.

Perhaps more than any other ship of her day the Bellerophon was a reflection of the history of her times, particularly the long conflict between Britain and France, starting in 1793 seven years after the Bellerophon was launched, and ending at Waterloo some 22 years later. The Bellerophon was there at the beginning, she was miraculously still there at the end, and she played a key role in the years in between.

She was the first ship to engage the enemy at the opening sequence of The Battle of the Glorious 1st of June, the start of the naval war against Revolutionary France. She was with the squadron led by Nelson which hunted down and destroyed the French fleet in the Mediterranean at the Battle of the Nile. Here she was extensively damaged, losing all three masts and suffering the highest casualties of any of the British ships when she engaged the huge French flagship L'Orient.

The annihilation of the French Navy at The Battle of the Nile effectively left Napoleon's army stranded in Egypt.

At Trafalgar the Bellerophon's captain received a fatal shot from a French sniper in the rigging of an opposing ship, just one hour before the same fate befell Nelson himself. Her first lieutenant quickly took command and fought off four enemy ships, before capturing a prize to be towed off to Gibraltar - it appears 4th Lt  John Douglas took part in this action, boarding and capturing the "Bahama", a large Spanish ship.

HMS Bellerophon later spent months basking in the tropical sun as part of a squadron on the Jamaica Station defending the West Indian colonies, before finally helping to put an end to Napoleon's ambitious plan to invade England and to march on London.

Finally, capturing Napoleon in his attempt to escape to America, the Bellerophon's captain Maitland brought him back to England, before transferring him to HMS Northumberland for his long sail to the South Atlantic - he never set foot on English soil.

Napoleon told captain Maitland that "If it had not been for you English, I should have been Emperor of the East; but wherever there is water to float a ship, we are sure to find you in our way."

Records show that a LM James Douglas serves on this ship at Trafalgar. He also fought at Curacoa. Could this be the same person described above?