HMS Bellerophon, Colin Pengelly

HMS Bellerophon, Colin Pengelly

Although individual ship histories are now fairly common, when this book was published in 1966 it was one of the first. HMS Bellerophon was a 74-gun ship of the line, the most common type in the British line of battle. Her career spanned the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars - she was commissioned in 1786 for a previous naval scare, and decommissioned in 1815, becoming a prison ship. During her almost 30 years of service she took part in three fleet battles - the Glorious First of June, the Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Trafalgar, but was most famous as the ship that Napoleon surrendered to in 1815 after his defeat at Waterloo.

We start with an introduction on ship building, life aboard ship, food (this section looks less accurate after reading the excellent 'Feeding Nelson's Navy', but presents the accepted view in 1966). After a look at the early inconclusive campaigning in the Revolutionary Wars we move onto the first of the set-piece battles, the Glorious First of June. The three battle accounts are excellent - in this case the author acknowledges that the First of June might have been a tactical victory, but the failure to intercept the vital grain convoy being escorted by the French fleet was actually a significant British defeat. The battle accounts are really the heart of the book, with good coverage of the wider battle as well as the Bellerophon's part in it.

If the book has dated in content it is on the relative lack of interest in the long periods of blockade. Here they are rather skipped over, while the author looks at the major events of these periods. Modern authors would have presented more info on daily life during the blockade, and the smaller incidents that kept the French in port for most of the war. Some of the language is also a bit dated, especially when discussing the slave revolts on Haiti, but the author's attitudes are fine.

There is an interesting final section on Napoleon's surrender to the Bellerophon and his treatment onboard ship. This section is nicely balanced, avoiding the twin perils of treating Napoleon as either a victim of British cruelty or a monstrous ogre who deserved everything he got.

Although this book is now nearly fifty years old, it still stands up as a good history of one of the most famous Napoleonic warships.

1 - Construction
2 - Life on board a Sailing Ship
3 - Skirmishing with the French
4 - 1794-1796 - The Glorious First of June
5 - With Cornwallis and Bridgport in the Channel
6 - The Battle of the Nile
7 - Trafalgar
8 - The Long Blockade
9 - In Northern Waters
10 - Surrender of Napoleon

I - Captains and Flag Officers who served in the Bellorophon 1791-1815
II - List of Sources
III - Glossary

Author: Colin Pengelly
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 304
Publisher: Pen & Sword Maritime
Year: 2014 edition of 1966 original

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