|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,
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
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 Franco-Spanish fleet lost 22 vessels and the British not one.
guns, was captured and taken as a prize.
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
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?