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::HMS Bellerophon (1786)

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Title::billy    Ruffian::french    Goodwin::napoleon    Ships::fleet    Under::first    Squadron::british

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HMS Bellerophon was a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy. Launched in 1786, she served during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, mostly on blockades or convoy escort duties. Known to sailors as the "Billy Ruffian", she fought in three fleet actions, the Glorious First of June, the Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Trafalgar, and was the ship aboard which Napoleon finally surrendered, ending 22 years of nearly continuous war with France.

Built at Frindsbury, Bellerophon was initially laid up in ordinary, briefly being commissioned during the Spanish and Russian Armaments. She entered service with the Channel Fleet on the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars, and took part in the Glorious First of June in 1794, the first of several fleet actions of the wars. Bellerophon narrowly escaped being captured by the French in 1795, when her squadron was nearly overrun by a powerful French fleet, but the bold actions of the squadron's commander, Vice-Admiral Sir William Cornwallis, caused the French to retreat. She played a minor role in efforts to intercept a French invasion force bound for Ireland in 1797, and then joined the Mediterranean Fleet under Sir John Jervis. Detached to reinforce Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson's fleet in 1798, she took part in the decisive defeat of a French fleet at the Battle of the Nile. She then returned to England and went out to the West Indies, where she spent the Peace of Amiens on cruises and convoy escort duty between the Caribbean and North America.

Bellerophon returned to European waters with the resumption of the wars with France, joining a fleet under Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood blockading Cadiz. The reinforced fleet, by then commanded by Horatio Nelson, engaged the combined Franco-Spanish fleet when it emerged from port. At the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October Bellerophon fought a bitter engagement against Spanish and French ships, sustaining heavy casualties including the death of her captain, John Cooke. After repairs Bellerophon was employed blockading the enemy fleets in the Channel and the North Sea. She plied the waters of the Baltic Sea in 1809, making attacks on Russian shipping, and by 1810 was off the French coast again, blockading their ports. She went out to North America as a convoy escort between 1813 and 1814, and in 1815 was assigned to blockade the French Atlantic port of Rochefort. In July 1815, defeated at Waterloo and finding escape to America barred by the blockading Bellerophon, Napoleon came aboard "the ship that had dogged his steps for twenty years" (according to maritime historian David Cordingly) to finally surrender to the British. It was Bellerophon‍ '​s last seagoing service. She was paid off and converted to a prison ship in 1815, and was renamed Captivity in 1824 to free the name for another ship. Moved to Plymouth in 1826, she continued in service until 1834, when the last convicts left. The Admiralty ordered her to be sold in 1836, and she was broken up.

Bellerophon‍ '​s long and distinguished career has been recorded in literature and folk songs, commemorating the achievements of the "Billy Ruffian".


HMS Bellerophon (1786) sections
Intro  Construction and commissioning  French Revolutionary Wars  Napoleonic Wars  Napoleon's surrender  Prison hulk and disposal  Legacy  Notes  Citations  References  

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