Exhibition marks bicentenary of Napoleon in Plymouth Sound


Napoleon on HMS Bellerophon in Plymouth Sound August 1815 by Jules Girardet © PCMAG

Napoleon on HMS Bellerophon in Plymouth Sound August 1815 by Jules Girardet © PCMAG

A new exhibition opening at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery next week will explore the 10 dramatic days during the summer of 1815 when Napoleon Bonaparte was held as a prisoner in Plymouth Sound aboard HMS Bellerophon.

‘Fallen Emperor: Napoleon in Plymouth Sound in 1815’ will be centred around a popular painting from the Museum’s collections by Jules Girardet, which shows Napoleon standing on the deck of HMS Bellerophon while many hundreds of local people in rowing boats flock to catch a glimpse of him.

Deputy Council Leader Peter Smith said: “The Museum and Art Gallery does a brilliant job of highlighting key anniversaries connected to the history of our city through its exhibition programme. The ‘Fallen Emperor’ exhibition marks 200 years since Napoleon surrendered himself into the care of the Royal Navy after being defeated at Waterloo and his brief but significant time in Plymouth Sound.”

The exhibition, which will run from Saturday 23 May to Saturday 26 September, will tell the story of Napoleon’s short stay and the scenes in Plymouth Sound, as well as a dinner that took place here to discuss his future – a future that ultimately involved exile to the remote Atlantic island of Saint Helena.

It will also look at the ship (commonly known as the ‘Billy Ruffian’) – a Trafalgar veteran that ended her days in Plymouth as a convict ship – and the public’s mixed perceptions of Napoleon.

“As a military stronghold, the Napoleonic Wars had impacted quite directly on life in and around the historic ‘Three Towns’ of Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport,” said exhibition curator Nigel Overton.

“During the wars Napoleon had been portrayed as a disturber of the peace and the enemy – yet he was a folk-hero to the lower classes of all nations, even those he fought against. He was here from 26 July to 4 August 1815 and we’ll be exploring the reasons why so many people flocked to see him. Were they curious or sympathetic? Was he a celebrity or a threat?”

Lunchtime talks inspired by the exhibition will take place on Tuesday 16 June, Tuesday 21 July and Tuesday 28 July. Gallery talks on Wednesday 15 July and Wednesday 23 September and family workshops on Wednesday 27 May and Wednesday 19 August will also be on offer.

The theme for this year’s Lord Mayor’s Day on Saturday 6 June will also be Napoleon and HMS Bellerophon.

Exhibition opening hours will be 10am to 5.30pm Tuesday to Friday and 10am to 5pm on Saturdays. Admission is free.