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Item - BSL - Secret Admiralty Orders 1815



Sir Edward Thornborough

A Very Fine set of Admiralty Secret Orders from an a distinguished Admiral of the Red Aboard his Flagship the "Prince of Wales" at Spithead in Portsmouth Harbor to a Hero of the Empire concerning Napoleon’s Capture and Containment. The Capstone to Napoleon’s quest for European Domination. A very nice Napoleonic Wars companion piece.

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Two Weeks earlier Napoleon had Fallen at Waterloo and was considering an escape - remarkably to England - preferably America. The Returning Bourbons in France and the advancing Prussians had a simpler solution - Hang Him. Word was leaked to the British Admiralty that Napoleon was seeking a ship and the Sea Lords issued this Secret Order about how to Handle Bonaparte's Capture.

Admiral of the Red Sir Edward Thornborough (1754-1834)

Historical Note

3 page Handwritten Document – Signed and Dated: 2 July 1815
Text as Follows:

Prince at Spithead
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
                                                    Edw'd Thornbrough Admiral
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

Thornborough's naval 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 year.

Britain's Predicament

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.

The 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 picture

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. See 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.

Document Specifications:
Very 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.

 Offered by Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd.

End of Item - BSL - Secret Admiralty Orders 1815

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