French ship Belle Poule (1828)

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For other ships of the same name, see French ship Belle Poule.
Belle-Poule-IMG 4865.jpg
Model of Belle-Poule, on display at Toulon naval museum.
French Navy EnsignFrance
Namesake: Paule de Viguier, baronne de Fonterville
Laid down: 1828
Commissioned: July 1835
Decommissioned: 19 March 1861
Fate: Scrapped
General characteristics
Class & type: Surveillante class frigate
Displacement: 2500 tonnes
Length: 54 metres (177 ft)
Beam: 14.10 metres (46.3 ft)
Draught: 3.80 metres (12.5 ft)
Propulsion: sail
Complement: 300
Armour: Timber

The Belle-Poule was an Surveillante class 60-gun first rank frigate of the French Navy. She achieved fame for bringing the remains of Napoléon from Saint Helena back to France, in what became known as the Retour des cendres.


Construction and early career[edit]

Although construction was started in 1828, the Belle-Poule was launched only in 1834. She was one of the first ships to be built in a covered shipyard, which allowed the builders to delay construction while the political and financial circumstances were not favourable. Her design was inspired by the USS Constitution cruiser class.[1] She was commissioned in July 1835, and displayed very good sailing properties.

On 1 August 1839, under command of the Prince of Joinville, third son of King Louis-Philippe, she left Cherbourg to join the Eastern fleet of Admiral Lalande. She was back in Toulon on 21 December 1839.

Retour des cendres[edit]

Main article: Retour des cendres

On 27 July 1840, she set sail with special equipment for Saint Helena to bring back the remains of Napoleon. She had been painted black for the occasion. On 30 September, she arrived back in Cherbourg, where, on 8 December, the Emperor's remains were transferred to the steamship Normandie. The Normandie transported the remains to Le Havre and up the Seine to Rouen, for further transport to Paris.

The transfer of the remains from Belle-Poule to Normandie in the road of Cherbourg was executed in much ceremony, and became a subject of choice for marine and romantic painters.

Representations of the transfer of the remains from Belle-Poule to Normandie in the road of Cherbourg
Depiction by Eugène Isabey 
Depiction by Skelton 

Canada and Morocco[edit]

In 1841, the Belle-Poule cruised along the Canadian coast, landing in Halifax, and visited New York, where the Prince of Joinville visited the President of the USA. The Belle-Poule was back in Toulon on 14 July 1842.

In 1844, Joinville, then vice-admiral, was sent to Morocco to support the action of General Thomas Robert Bugeaud in Algeria, with the Suffren, the Jemmapes, the Triton, and the frigate Belle-Poule. Tanger came under attack on 6 August, and Mogador was taken on15 August.

Afterwards, the Belle-Poule cruised the Indian Ocean, where a cyclone left her with serious damage. She was repaired in Sainte-Marie de Madagascar, and returned to Brest.

Crimean War and late career[edit]

She took part in the Crimean War, mostly as a transport; she stayed in the East until August 1856, and sailed back to Toulon on 1 September.

In 1859, she was used to transport ammunition, and was decommissioned on 19 March 1861. She was still used to store gunpowder until 1888.

Model on display at the Musée de la Marine in Paris


  • Roche, Jean-Michel (2005). Dictionnaire des bâtiments de la flotte de guerre française de Colbert à nos jours, 1671 - 1870. Group Retozel-Maury Millau. ISBN 978-2-9525917-0-6. OCLC 165892922. 
  • "La Belle-Poule". 2013. Retrieved 28 April 2013.