Friday 26 February 2021

Monday 22 February 2021

Wednesday 17 February 2021

French Prisoners of War

From Snell (1892), the French prisoners captured before and during the Napoleonic Wars get a mention on page 230:

During the long war preceding the banishment of Napoleon to Elba so many prisoners had been captured through the English naval victories, that the prisons devoted to their custody were found totally inadequate, and the officers of the captured French vessels, as well as those of the Army, were located in different towns, and allowed their liberty on parole, subject to certain restrictions.

Tiverton consequently came in for a share of these gentlemen who were billeted on the inhabitants in a manner suited to their position and rank. With scarcely an exception these officers conducted themselves in such a way as to win the esteem and regard of their hosts, and in many instances, lasting friendships were formed with them. After the establishment of peace in 1815 some of the prisoners, rather than return to their country, preferred to settle in England. Among these was Monsieur Alexandra Lamotte, who chose Tiverton as his place of abode, acquired property there, and gained much respect as French master at Blundell's School.

Not a few of the Frenchmen were very clever and ingenious, and were wont to relieve the tedium of enforced leisure by arranging various games peculiar to their country, whilst others occupied themselves with carving wooden toys, making miniature models of their respective vessels, and in similar ways. Mr. Sharland is the possessor of a memento of one of these prisoners in the shape of a tiny beam and scales, and a box to fit them in. They were made of hard wood with no other tool than a pen-knife.

An incident occurred at this time which wounded the feelings of the officers, as it seemed likely to shake the faith of Tiverton people in their honour. This was the escape of two of the prisoners, who left the town by night, walked to Torquay, or some place in that neighbourhood, stole a small boat, and made off, but whether or not they reached France was never known.

Among the more distinguished prisoners of war stationed at Tiverton was Admiral Dumanoir, who in 1806 received a visit from Sir Sidney Smith. Another was General Boyer, concerning whom the following anecdote has been preserved. At the window of a coffee-room in Tiverton had been posted a notice to the effect that two thousand Turks had been murdered in cold blood at Jaffa by order of General Bonaparte. Boyer, who happened to have had a command in Egypt, read this bulletin, and with true French sang froid took out his pencil and altered the words "two thousand" into "three thousand five hundred."

As some proof of the interest taken by the inhabitants in the prisoners, I may quote the following entry in the Churchwardens' Accounts for the year 1796: "Richard Hawks, 4 quarts and 1 pint of brandy for the French prisoners! Os. 3d." Evidently this alludes to the rank-and-file. On the 5th of December, 1797, a hundred and eighty of the latter, under an escort of the Wiltshire Militia, were marched to Stapledon Prison, near Bristol. Their departure was much regretted.

At eight o'clock every evening during the time that the French prisoners were here on their parole, the bell was rung at St. George's, to warn them that they must be within the turnpike gates by that hour.

The French prisoners setup their own Freemason Lodge in Tiverton which you can read about in the book French Prisoners' Lodges: A Brief Account of Twenty-Six Lodges and Chapters of Freemasons, Established and Conducted by French Prisoners of War in England and Elsewhere, Between 1756 and 1814.