The warship gangway Napoleon Bonaparte stood on to surrender to the British following the Battle of Waterloo 208 years ago is set to fetch $75,741 at auction.
The piece of timber, which is now inset into a desk, was taken from HMS Bellerophon where the French Emperor surrendered to Captain Maitland in 1815.
The gangway has remained with generations of the Maitland family, who are now parting with the “national treasure marking the end of the Napoleonic Wars.”
The desk also incorporates a French coin thrown to a cabin boy by Napoleon and a couch he rested on in Maitland’s quarters is also included in the sale.
The gangway wood is expected to fetch between £40,000-£60,000 while the couch from HMS Bellerophon could make £30,000-£50,000.
Captain Maitland also kept the skull of a goat which supplied milk for Napoleon after he was captured, which is estimated to sell for £2,000-£3,000.
Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers, which is handling the sale, said they were the ‘most important historical objects’ they had ever uncovered.
He said: “Napoleon surrendered to Captain Frederick Lewis Maitland aboard HMS Bellerophon on July 15, 1815.
“It was a momentous historical moment and Captain Maitland later secured part of the gangway Napoleon stood on for posterity.
“He also kept the sofa Napoleon slept on aboard ship and other artifacts.
“They are coming to auction by descent through the Maitland family, their custodians for more than 200 years.
“For lovers of history, these are mind-blowing objects. They were kept by Captain Maitland to remind him of the role he played in a defining moment in history.
“They are undoubtedly the most important historical objects Hansons has ever uncovered, truly breathtaking.”
The historic items relating to the French emperor’s time aboard the 74-gun British warship were uncovered during a routine antiques valuation event.
Known as ‘Billy Ruffian’, the ship was a veteran of many bloody battles against the French and played a part in Nelson’s victories at the Nile and Trafalgar.
However, she will be best remembered for hosting Napoleon.
After defeat at the Battle of Waterloo Napoleon retreated to Rochefort, on the west coast of France.
He pondered on escape to America and a new life in the new world. His route was blocked by Britain’s Royal Navy in the formidable form of HMS Bellerophon.
After tense negotiations Napoleon surrendered to Captain Maitland in hope that he would be allowed to retire to the quiet life of an English country gentleman.
But the British Government refused to allow Napoleon to set foot in England and arranged for his exile to the remote South Atlantic island of Saint Helena where he died in 1821.
A plaque on the table states: “Made of part of gangway of HMS Bellerophon, on which Bonaparte stepped when he surrendered off Rochefort, 1815. 5 Frc piece given by Bonaparte to E.Sones.”
The log entry in the National Archives for July 15, 1815 also recorded the surrender.
In brisk naval fashion Captain Maitland noted the arrival of perhaps the greatest general the world has seen, a moment which ended some 20 years of war: “Received onboard Napoleon Buonaparte late Emperor of France.”
Whilst in custody Napoleon and his entourage were treated liked guests, with the former emperor given access to the Great Cabin of the ship – Maitland’s quarters.
Napoleon noted Captain Maitland had shown him and his officers kindness and hospitality aboard HMS Bellerophon.
Napoleon told Maitland he considered him a man of honor.
Auctioneers hope the items will be bought by a museum for posterity when they go under the hammer on March 22 next year.
They say global bids are expected with interest in the French military commander high due to the release of the Ridley Scott film Napoleon.
Charles added: “In 1836 HMS Bellerophon was broken up.
“Captain Maitland bought part of her figurehead and stern ornaments and deposited them in the collections of what eventually became the Royal Navy Museum.
“However, he retained a piece of gangway timber which Napoleon stood on when he boarded the ship to surrender.
“The desk, which bears a plaque detailing its provenance, was crafted for Captain Maitland and subsequently passed down through generations of the Maitland family.
“A French coin which Napoleon tossed to a cabin boy who assisted him is also embedded into the table.
“These objects are important national treasures. They represent a key moment in history, the end of the Napoleonic Wars which lasted from 1803 to 1815.
“It’s astonishing to think we have uncovered the timber Napoleon’s intrepid feet stood on to surrender.
“These artifacts have never been seen by the public. We expect them to be bought by a museum.”
Hansons’ valuer Katy Beardmore, who made the find, added: “Our lovely client attended an antiques valuation event and mentioned they had images of some family pieces.
“They were unsure whether to show them to me or not but when they did it left me speechless.
“Seeing the couch, desk and other objects and hearing of the connection to Captain Maitland and Napoleon gave me goosebumps.
“Being in the presence of the items and knowing of their importance within British maritime history has been a privilege.
“I hope they go to a museum collection for all to see.”
Other items from Captain Maitland’s private collection include his Bible and gunpowder flask mounted in silver.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker