of the Red Sir Edward Thornborough (1754-1834)
Handwritten Document – Signed and Dated: 2 July 1815
Text as Follows:
Secret 2nd July 1815
William Mounsey Esq.
Captain of His Majesty’s Ship
In reference to my orders to you of yesterday’s date relative to
Napoleon Buonaparte I am to acquaint you a proposition has reached His
Majesty’s Government from the present rulers of France demanding a
passport and safe conduct for Buonaparte and his Family to proceed to
America. In this proposition His Majesty’s Government have returned a
negative answer and it now seems more probable than ever that Buonaparte
will endeavor to effect his Escape either to England or what is more
likely to America.
I have therefore to desire that if you should be fortunate as to
intercept Buonaparte you will transfer him and his Family to His
Majesty’s Ship you Command and [there] (end page 1) There keeping him in
careful custody, you are to return to the nearest port of England with
all possible Expedition.
You are not to permit any communication whatsoever with the shore and
you are to observe that you will be held responsible for keeping the
whole transaction a profound Secret until the pleasure of the Lords
Commissioners of the Admiralty shall be received.
Should you, having Buonaparte on Board, arrive at a port in which there
is a Flag Officer you are to send and acquaint him with the
circumstance, strictly charging the Officer sent on shore with your
Letter not to divulge its contents; if there should however be no Flag
Officer at the Port at which you may arrive you are to send a Letter by
Express to the Secretary of the Admiralty with a strict injunction [of]
(end page 2 ) of Secrecy to the Officer who may be the Bearer of it.
Instead of the ten days mentioned in my said Order of yesterday you are
to remain out until you receive further directions from me or have
certain information that Buonaparte has been taken.
I am Your most Obedient humble Servant
You are to communicate
The contents of this Letter
To the Commander of the
Brig under your Orders
As well as to the Captains &
Commanders of such of
Her Majesty’s Cruizers you
May fall in with
Background on Sir Edward Thornborough
career, in which he rose to Admiral of the Red, is unusual for the
length of its active service, which was nearly sixty years. He first
went to sea 1761 at the age of six or seven as a 'captain's servant' in
the 'Arrogant', 74 guns, in which his father was serving as first
lieutenant. Thornbrough served during the American Revolutionary War, on
the Falcon, one of the ships which covered the attack on Bunker's Hill
on 17 June 1775, and then on the Richmond frigate. He afterward
endeavored to take a schooner out of Cape Ann harbor, but was wounded in
the attempt. He was on the "Flora" frigate, which captured "La Nymphe"
in 1780, was promoted to the rank of commander for his gallantry on the
occasion and became post-captain in the following year. He was wrecked
in 1782 in the " Blonde" while bringing a captured vessel into Halifax.
In 1793 he was Captain of the Latona a 38 gun Frigate, in 1795 Captain
of the 74 gun Robust, in 1799 Captain of the 98 gun Formidable. He
became a junior flag officer in the Channel fleet from 1801 until the
Peace of Amiens and on renewal of war in 1803 served in the North Sea
under Keith and Gardner. In 1804 he hoisted his flag as Rear Admiral of
the White aboard the 110 gun Hibernia with the Channel Fleet. He was a
Vice Admiral Squadron Commander at Trafalgar in 1805 and served three
years with Collingwood in the Mediterranean from 1806-1809 as Vice
Admiral of the Blue aboard the 100 gun Royal Sovereign. In 1813 he was
appointed Commander-in-Chief off the Irish Coast. His last service was
as Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth from 1815-18. His distinguished
career ran from the American Revolution all through the Napoleonic Wars.
In fact from 1761 to 1818 he was only twice unemployed for more than a
The British were in a
predicament. They wished to capture Napoleon to control his fate and not
permit him to escape to America. But they also did not want him to set
foot upon English soil. If he landed in England, he would have certain
rights including the right to a trial. The British did not want to
publicly re-live the Terror of Boney. Hence the Lords Commissioners
of the Admiralty issued these orders directing their Captains and
Commanders to capture Bonaparte or any of his family and to then
return poste haste to the nearest English Port and contact the Port
Admiral (Flag Officer) who would then discuss with the Admiralty the
proper course of action. The ship would be quarantined and no one
permitted on or off. Despite these efforts at secrecy
news accounts of the day
caught wind of Napoleon’s surrender to Maitland and his return to Torbay
and Plymouth on board the Bellerophon. Crowds of boats and sightseers
surrounded the vessel to get a glimpse of Napoleon.
News - Sunday August 6, 1815 excerpt:
"Though not on the
British soil, he is within the protection of the British law. If at
Plymouth, he is in a British county. An Habeas Corpus, if issued, must
be obeyed; and would no doubt willingly be obeyed by the Captain of the
Bellerophon. It would be issuable, being Vacation, by the Chancellor,
the Chief Justice of England, or other of the Judges at their house or
chambers, immediately, founded on an affidavit. And if all
communication with the Bellerophon is shut out, which might enable
Napoleon himself to make application, the imprisonment of any individual
within the limits of the English laws and Constitution, concerns the
dignity, the liberty and the rights of every Englishman; fault or error
in respect to this all protective law, which being remedial must be most
liberally construed. He voluntarily came on board; Captain Maitland
received him, agreeably, as the Captain understands, to secret orders.
If he is debarred of all communication and correspondence, and forbidden
to land, this must be some order or for some purpose. And the Writ of
Habeus Corpus is the legal mode of investigating as to all persons
whether their liberty be legally or illegally restrained.”
Click here for full editorial and
Background on William Mounsey
The Orders are
directed to Captain William Mounsey of the Feurieuse. It is of note that
William Mounsey was a recipient of the
Naval Gold Medal. This was the highest campaign award given from the
Glorious 1st of June 1794 through the close of the Napoleonic Wars. Only
22 such medals were awarded and Nelson got three of those. So it of
considerable import that Capt Mounsey received such a medal for his
valorous conduct aboard the 21 gun Bon Citoyenne against the much larger
Feurieuse. on the 6th of July in 1809.
detailed account As a reward he was given command of the 36 gun
Feurieuse and a painting was done by
Webster to commemorate the event.
On a popular note, the Arts & Entertainment Network (A&E) has begun
making movies about Horatio Hornblower, C. S. Forester's erstwhile
British naval hero of the Napoleonic Wars. In the third movie the plot
centers around the very subject of these orders and these orders are
cited by Admiral Pellew as dictating the quarantine and isolation of any
vessel capturing Napoleon or any of his family.
Fine Document on Batonne Laid Paper, Watermarked "T Edmonds 1813" and
“Crown over Sitting Britannica in Oval” wmk., signed by "Edw.
Thornbrough Admiral" as Commander in Chief in Portsmouth dated "Prince
at Spithead July 2, 1815". Each page measures approximately 7.8" wide x
12.75" tall (200mm x 325 mm). Three handwritten pages on one folded
folio sheet. Several vertical and horizontal original file folds.
Docketed "2 July 1815, Admiral Thornbrough, Bonaparte". Very Fine
Condition and a Capstone not only to Napoleon's Dream of Conquest but
also to any Fine Napoleonic or British Naval Collection.
by Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd.