Author(s): David Cordingly
The biography of a ship of the line from birth in the Medway in 1782 through the key naval engagements of the Napoleonic era to its death in 1836. This is the story of the Bellerophon, a ship of the line known to her crew as the Billy Ruffian. And like any good biography, it runs from birth (in a small shipyard on the river Medway near Rochester in 1782), to death (in a breaker's yard a mile or so upstream at the age of fifty-four). In the intervening years, under fourteen captains, she played a conspicuous part in three of the most famous of all sea battles: the battle of the Glorious First of June (1794), the opening action against Revolutionary France; the battle of the Nile (1798), which halted Napoleon's eastern expansion from Cairo; and the battle of Trafalgar (1805), which established British naval supremacy for 100 years and during which her captain was shot dead with a musket ball an hour before Nelson was mortally wounded. But her crowning glory came six weeks after the Battle of Waterloo, when Napoleon, trapped in La Rochelle, surrendered to the captain of the ship that had dogged his steps for more than twenty years.