Figurehead of the HMS Bellerophon (nicknamed 'Billy Ruffian')

Basic Information

Figurehead type
Figurehead of the HMS Bellerophon (nicknamed 'Billy Ruffian')
Vessel name
HMS Bellerophon
Type (Naval/Merchant)
Copyright owner
© National Museum of the Royal Navy
Copyright notes
Photo: © National Museum of the Royal Navy
Current location
National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth
Location date

Physical Information

This figurehead is a portrayal of the Greek hero, Bellerophon, a warrior. He fought the Chimera and also caught the winged horse Pegasus using Minerva’s magic, as it is told in Greek myth. Before it was damaged the figurehead represented Bellerophon as a nude figure draped in a red cloak riding Pegasus, his right arm raised, holding a javelin. The horse’s wings were spread. All that remains is the helmeted head. The figurehead would have been painted white during its time in service. In 1814 the Navy Board approved more use of gilding and colours for figurehead decoration.
Date made
Place made
Object history
The ship was broken up in 1836 when Sir Frederick Maitland obtained the figurehead and stern carvings. They were placed in a mould-loft at Portsmouth but unfortunately decayed. Only the head remains. As stated in the Admiralty Catalogue(1911) there was also a board bearing the following inscription; " This ship commenced the war, being the first line-of-battleship engaged in Lord Howe's action, 1794, in which she bore a distinguished part, as well as in Cornwallis's retreat, 1795 ; the Battle of the Nile, 1798 ; the Battle of Trafalgar, 1805 ; and concluded the war as well as completed her own services by conveying to England Napoleon Bonaparte after his defeat at Waterloo, 1815." The figurehead may have been carved by members of the Crichley family.
Vessel history
HMS 'Bellerophon' was a 3rd rate, 74 gun ship, nicknamed ‘Billy Ruffian’ by the Navy. Launched in 1786. The ship won four battle honours for The Glorious First of June in 1794, Cornwallis’ Retreat 1795, the Nile 1798 and Trafalgar in 1805. This ship saw more action than any other whose figurehead is preserved in the RN Museums, Portsmouth collection. After his defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon traveled to England in her, en route to exile at St Helena. HMS Bellerophon returned to England in 1816 and became a convict hulk at Sheerness. The ship was renamed 'Captivity' in 1824 and finally sold to be broken up in 1836.
David Pulvertaft ‘The Warship Figureheads of Portsmouth’ (Stroud, 2009) p.28.
David Pulvertaft 'Figureheads Of The Royal Navy (Seaforth, 2011)p.21
Admiralty Catalogue(1911) No 340

Ownership Information

Owner type
Public Institution
Owner name
National Museum of the Royal Navy
Contact details
National Museum of the Royal Navy, HM Naval Base (PP66), Portsmouth PO1 3NH
Ownership can be cited online
Accessible to public
Data verified by owner
Date verified

Connect with us

Our social media space