Thomas James Walker.

The depot for prisoners of war at Norman Cross, Huntingdonshire, 1796 to 1816 online

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of the French while dealing with Mr. Pillet. They
are wicked calumnies, which, even on a casual examina-
tion, carry with them their own contradiction. The
British Government expended an enormous sum on the
prisoners, and in 1817 made a claim on the French for
the maintenance of French prisoners in England.* The
correctness of that claim was never questioned ; whether
it was settled is another matter. According to
Alison, the British Government generously forgave
the debt.

The prisoners in each quadrangle were visited daily
by the surgeons, and any prisoner complaining of illness,
and found by the doctors to have good ground for his
complaint, was removed at once to the hospital, where
he was, according to the sworn evidence of the French
surgeons themselves, carefully and liberally treated.
From the pay-sheets accompanying the hospital ac-
counts, the earliest of which at the Record Office is
for the year 1806, the staff of the hospital appears to
have been at that time, the surgeon (Mr. Geo. Walker),
two assistant-surgeons (M, Pierre Larfeuil and Mr.
Anthony Howard), a dispenser, an assistant-dispenser
(prisoner), dispensary porter (do) and messenger (do),
two hospital mates and clerk, a steward of victualling,
a steward of bedding, with two assistants (prisoners),
two turnkeys, matron, and seamstress (the two last
named and the wives of the married turnkeys being, up
to the advent of the surgeon's bride in 1808, the only
women within the prison walls), a messenger, and the
following thirteen, who were all prisoners, two inter-
preters, one tailor, one washerman, one carpenter (who
made bed-cradles and other appliances for the ward
and did odd jobs), an assistant lamplighter (a more
important post than it sounds, as it would be very
convenient for an}^ prisoner or prisoners wanting to

* The expense of the prisoners' clothing, provision, and supervision
was £1,000 a day exclusive of buildings. — Naval Chronicle, xxxiv., 460.


escape to find a careless lamplighter, who would forget
to light, or supply with sufficient oil, one or two of the
numerous lamps which lighted the prison and its
environs), two stocking-menders, two labourers, one
barber for the infirm and itchy, and two nurses — in all,
thirteen British and twenty French prisoners, the
staff of nurses being, of course, increased if necessary.*
The hospital was evidently conducted on a liberal
scale. The dietary was ample ; it was as follows :

Established Diet

1st. Full Diet

Tea, or water-gruel with salt, for breakfast ; the same
for supper. Meat 12 oz., with potatoes or greens, and
1 pint of broth, for dinner. Bread 14 oz., sugar 2 oz.,
beer 2 pints (of beer at 16s. the 38 gallons), and if any
other drink is wanted, water, or toast and water

2nd. Reduced Diet

Tea, or watcr-grucl with salt, for breakfast; the same
for supper. Meat 6 oz., with potatoes or greens, and 1
pint of broth, for dinner. Sugar 2 oz. The same
quantity and quality of bread and beer as on full diet.

3rd. Low Diet

Watcr-grucl or tea for breakfast. Water-gruel or
baricy-watcr for dinner. The same or rice-water for
supper. Bread 7 oz. Patients on low diet are supposed
to require no stated men!, drinks only being allowable,
or even desirable; a small (piantity of beer may be
given when anxiously wished for and jxTmitled by their
surgeon. The broad is supposed to be chielly for toast
and water, or, should the patient incline, a bit of toasted
bread without butter, with a little of his gruel or tea.
Sugar 2 oz.

* Appendix F. Full roturn, with namea, etc., of the hospital staff,


4th. Milk Diet

Milk, 1 pint, for breakfast. Rice-milk, 1 pint and a
half (sweetened with sugar when desired), for dinner.
Milk, 1 pint, for supper. Bread 14 oz. Drink — water,
barley-water, or rice-water. Sugar 2 oz.

5th. Mixed Diet

Milk, 1 pint, for breakfast. Meat 4 oz., with potatoes
or greens, and 1 pint of broth, for dinner. Milk, 1 pint,
for supper. Bread 14 oz. Drinks as on milk diet.
Sugar 2 oz. Beer 1 pint.


The meat mentioned in the different diets to be beef
and mutton alternately. Should any patient particu-
larly require a mutton-chop or beefsteak, instead of
either the beef or mutton boiled and made into broth,
the surgeon may direct it accordingly.

The matron is allowed to purchase ripe fruit, or any
other article not comprehended in the several diets, by
permission and direction of the surgeon.

Sago, when particularly ordered by the surgeon, will
be furnished in the quantity equal to the value of one
day's ordinary diet, but then for that day the matron
is to supply nothing else, save toast and water, water-
gruel, or barley-water, and any bread which may be
ordered by the surgeon.

No beer is to be issued to any patient in the hospital
until after dinner, unless particularly ordered by his
surgeon, and no patient is allowed to give his allowance
of beer to another, for when he does not choose the
whole, or any part of it, it is to remain with the matron.
In fact, when we look to the sanitary condition of
the hospital, its staff, its furnishing, the diet, the arrange-
ments for the admission, the retention, and the treatment


of the patients, we find in the records sufficient evidence
that the provision for the care of the sick prisoners
was at Norman Cross equal to, if not superior to, that
offered by any civil institution of that date.

To pass from the discomforts of the prison to the
luxurious life of the hospital was a temptation which
favoured malingering, especially in the case of one of
" Les Miserables," who, having nothing left wherewith
to gamble, needed a bed and food. The agent had
in 1801, to issue a special order as to the precautions
necessary to prevent prisoners shamming illness in
order to obtain admission into the hospital. This
was the year of the epidemic, when the hospital
had been in the earlier months overcrowded, and we
can only trust that no mistake was ever made, and
that no prisoner sickening for the fatal disease was
dealt with as a malingerer and denied admission into
the wards.

As stated in an early chapter, the prisoners passed
out of the agent's charge when they fell sick, and the
order of Captain Woodriff may have been the result
of friction between himself and the surgeons.

The excellent arrangements made by the Government
department for the care of the sick and wounded gave
the sick prisoners the best chance of recovery. It was,
nevertheless, the cruel fate of nearly 1,800 of those
incarcerated at Norman Cross between 1797 and 1814
to end a raj)tivity which had endured for a period
varying from a few days to eleven years, without the
sol.u-c of a glimpse of their native land, away from
relatives, friends, and home, by death in the prison
hospital, whence their bodies were borne to be laid in the
prisoners' cemetery, where they still lie, unknown and

• Tho following, cojiif^d from a Iooho papnr lyinp; botwoen tho paf!;cfl
of Reg. 02H at tlio Record Oflico, i» evidently an rtii.swer to tho inquirioa
of a prisonor'B friends, mado ton years after Ixia death. It gives a chance


The succeeding chapter deals with this cemetery and
cognate matters.

insight into one of the duties of the agent, and is evidence that the
French were at least treated with courtesy :

" Le Soussign6 Agent du Gouvernement Britannique Charg6 du
Boin et de la Surveillance des Prisonniers de Guerre au Depot de
Norman Cross, Certifie que le NommtS Vincent Fontaine, natif de Veli,
Pris a Bord du transport La Sophie, en qualite de soldat, entre en
Prison au D6p6t de Norman Cross le 25 Septembre 1804, est mort a
I'hospital du susdit Depot le Vingt trois mars, mil huit cent huit, ag6
de Trente ana et demi, ainsi qu'il couste par lea Registres de la

" En foi de quoi j'ai ddlivr^ le Present Extrait pour aervir a qui de

"Norman Cross le 1" Juin 1814.

"(Signed) W. Hanwell, Capt. R.N., Agent."


"The Undersigned Agent of the British Government in charge of the
care and the superintendence of the Prisoners of War at the Depot of
the Norman Cross, certifies that the named Vincent Fontaine, native
of Veli, taken on board the transport La Sophie, as being a soldier,
entered into the Prison at the Depot of Norman Cross on the
25th September 1804, died in the Hospital of the above-mentioned
Depot, 23rd March 1808, Age 30^ years, as shown by the Prison Re-

" In Witness whereof I have delivered the present Extract to be used
by Whom it may concern.

"Norman Cross, 1st June 1814.

" (Signed) W. Hanwell, Capt. R.N., Agent."

Vincent Fontaine was the only prisoner who died during the week
ending 27th March 1808. The certificate was signed by Thos. Press-
land, the agent at that date.




No column high-lifted doth shadow their dust.
And o'er their poor ruin no willow trees wave ;
Yet their honour is safe in the thought of the Just,
And their agony fireth the hearts of the Brave
Unto deeds that shall shine tlirough Oblivion's rust.

Norman Hilx,, Pere Lechaise.

For a short period after the oceupation of the Depot,
the prisoners who died were buried outside the prison
wall, in the north-east corner of the site. The discovery
of human skeletons by workmen engaged in excavating
gravel in this locality gave rise to tales of violent
deaths in duels and of surreptitious burials, tales which
have to be dismissed as idle since our researches have
brought to light the fact that the spot was for a brief
period — the exact length of which cannot be deter-
mined — the burial-place of the prisoners. It is certain
that very few burials took place in this corner. Early
in the history of the prison, as mentioned in a previous
chapter, the Government bought a portion of a field
on the opj)osite — the western — side of the North Road
for use as the prisoners' cemetery, and in this field rest
the remains of .il least 1,770 of the captives taken by
us in that long war.

There is nothing now to distinguish the prisoners'
cemetcr}' from the surrounding fields; it is only by
careful observation that the irregularities of the surface
can be recognised as the mounds which mark the graves,
these in the course of a hundred years having become
very ill defined.



The occasional disturbance of the bones of the dead
in agricultural operations, or by irreverent explorations
of the graves by the village lads, alone keep alive in
the minds of the rustic population the knowledge of
this burial-place. The burial-places attached to other
depots for prisoners of war have one after the other been
distinguished by a monument erected to the memory
of those who lie in them. Too long has the respect due
to the memory of the brave men who fought and suffered
for their country, and died at Norman Cross, been
forgotten. Too long, alike by the nation whose foes
these prisoners were and by the nation whose sons
they were, has this God's Acre, doubly sacred, because
in it lie only patriots who died for their native land,
been neglected and left without a mark to show that
it is a sacred spot. Happily the animosity of a hundred
years ago has been replaced by UEntente Cordiale,
and a movement originated by Mr. H. B. Sands, the
late Secretary of the Association which has adopted
that title, is even now in progress, the object of the
movement being to acquire a portion of the ground,
to fence it, and to erect upon it, close to the North Road,
a monument with a suitable inscription to the memory
of the foreign soldiers and sailors who, after years of
captivity, died in the prison, and were buried in this
neglected spot.

The information as to any provision for the spiritual
welfare of the prisoners is very meagre. Marriages
and births, calling for the sanctification of a church,
there were none, but 1,770 deaths and burials there
certainly were, as the certificates show.

Neither in the register nor on the certificate of those
deaths, whether the prisoners were Roman Catholic
or Protestant, does the name of priest or parson appear.

This applies only to the prisoners who died in con-
finement, not to the soldiers who guarded them. The
Depot was in the parish of Yaxley, and in the church-


yard of St. Peter's, the parish church, the majority of
the British soldiers who died while quartered at the
barracks were buried, and their names are entered in
the parish register and signed by the officiating minister.

The first entry connected with the Depot in the Yaxley
Register is that of " John Smart, suffocated at the Bar-
racks, February 12th, 1797." He was probably a work-
man employed during the erection of the buildings,
which were not occupied until two months later; after
this date, and up to 1814, occur entries of soldiers'
burials at the rate of from twenty to thirty per annum.

The last funeral from the barracks was that of Captain
Pressland on 21st March 1814. After fifteen years the
soldiers' graves were crowding the churchyard to such
an extent, that in 1813 a plot of land adjoining the
barrack-master's house was purchased by the Govern-
ment for a special burial-place for the barracks, and
the ground was consecrated by the Bishop of Lincoln
on 29th October in that year. The first soldier was
buried in it on 4th November 1813, just seven months
before the clearing of the barracks and the prisons was
accomplished. This plot has been absorbed into the
property on which stands the barrack-master's house,
now owned by J. A. Herbert, J. P. When and how the
absorption took place is not known ; it is now an orchard,
and the few gravestones there were in it have disap-
peared. From the Register of Folksworth, about a
mile from the barracks, it would appear that this village
was a favourite place for the wives of the married
soldiers quartered at Norman Cross to reside; several
baptisms of the soldiers' children, and one or two of
the adult soldiers themselves, are there registered.

The prisoners' cemetery and the barracks were in the
mission of the Roman Catholic priest wlio lived at
King's Cliffe, l)ut no register of deaths kej)t by him is
known to exist, nor is there any record by a minister of
religion of any burial service in this cemetery.


It must, I fear, be accepted that the men who were
in captivity at Norman Cross during the seventeen
years the prison was occupied received very little
spiritual help, and in times of pressure many of those
whose bones lie in the prisoners' burial-place were, too
probably, interred without religious rites of any kind, and
scarcely ever with a single mourner at the grave side.

From the possibilities, nay probabilities of the burials
during the epidemic of 1800-01, let us turn with a
shudder and a sigh of regret for whatever blame attaches
to our country for that tragic year in the history of
Norman Cross.

Mrs. Sands says that, in examining the register in the
Record Office, she and her late husband found that a
large number of those buried came from Protestant
provinces of France.

The Depot being in Yaxley parish, it is probable that
during its occupation the vicar would be asked to bury
the Protestants and possibly to minister to the sick
and others in the prison. But that no entry of any
such burial is found in the parish registers, nor any note
by an incumbent of duty performed either in the
prison or cemetery, points to the fact that the prison
was considered extra-parochial. The present vicar,
the Rev. E. H. Brown, who is keenly interested in the
subject of this narrative, has ascertained from a relative
of the Rev. T. Hindc that, to her certain knowledge,
that clergyman, a former curate of Yaxley, was " Pro-
testant chaplain to Norman Cross Barracks." Mr.
Brown adds that Mr. Hinde was apparently curate
from September 1813 to January 1816 ; this would cover
the last eight months only of the prison occupation.

This statement, from a member of Mr. Hinde's family,
leaves room to hope that the Vicar of Yaxley or his
curate actually officiated as Protestant minister for
those prisoners who were his co-religionists during their
enforced sojourn within the boundaries of his cure.


But it must be borne in mind that those days were
not as ours, and that there was little probability that
Britain's prisoners would be better treated than her
soldiers and sailors. A writer in Notes and Queries
quotes, respecting the treatment of the latter :

"Gleig—'The Subaltern' of 1813-14, who subse-
quently took holy orders and wrote a Life of Wellington
— ^assures us that a hundred years ago Tommy Atkins was
' spaded under ' without benefit of clergy, and it is
highly improbable that any existing memorial marks,
nay, that any memorial ever marked, the grave of
even one of the thousands of British privates who lie
among the Spanish hills and valleys. All that the tourist
can hope to find in these distant and lonely spots is the
occasional tomb of a British officer, or (quite excep-
tionally) of a favourite ' non-com.' " *

That priests did frequent the prison in the earlier
years of the war, 1797-1802, before the Peace of Amiens,
we know from the correspondence of the Transport Com-
missioners with the agents. The prisoners themselves
petitioned to have priests sent to them, and at length
two priests were permitted to reside in the })rison. That
these gentlemen did not strictly confine themselves to
the spiritual duties of their ofilice we have reason to believe
from an instruction given to Captain Pressland, the agent
appointed when the prison was reopened in 1803. He
was told tliat, " profiting by exjicricnce gained during
the previous war," the Board had decided that " no
priests were to be admitted, except in extreme cases,
and then under carefully arranged restrictions, as they
had abused the privileges allowed them," and that " a
turnkey or clerk was to be present during the whole time
they were in the hospital." This memorandum evi-
dently implies that at this time there was no regular
provision for the spiritual needs of the general body of

* Note* and Queries, Ser. ii., v. 204.


prisoners, no chaplain appointed by the authorities,
and that no regular visitation except to the sick and
dying was to be permitted.

The Government was not without evidence that many
of these priests had supplemented the spiritual aid
by acting as go-betweens and secretly conveying corre-
spondence to and from the prisoners. Any collusion
between the prisoners and possible foreign agents out-
side was provided against by the regulation that all
letters should pass through the agent's hands.

The continual recurrence throughout the war of plots
for a general rising, originating with the French Govern-
ment ; the frequent attempts either of single prisoners
or a combined body of them to escape, were probably, at
the period with which we are dealing, felt to be sufficient
reason for an order which in the present day would hardly
be tolerated by the British public. A year later, in
1804, the commissioners, while affirming that they
had no power to prevent French priests living in Stilton,
were most decided in declining to allow them to live
in the Depot, saying that at such a critical time they
could not possibly grant such a privilege to foreigners
" of that equivocal description " !

The Transport Board must have seen reason to relax
the orders, for three years after this direction was given
we find the Bishop of Moulins not resident in the Depot,
but living at Stilton a mile from it, on an allowance
received from the British Government, and earning a
high character for his work among the prisoners. He
was also officiating outside the prison, for in the register
kept by the neighbouring priest, the Rev. W. Hayes
of King's Cliffe, in whose mission Stilton was, are,
among others, the following three entries of baptisms to
which allusion has already been made in Chap. IV, p. 59 :

1st. " 1807. — John Stephen Felix Delapoux, son of
John Andrew Delapoux and of Sarah Mason (his lawful
wife), of Norman Cross, Yaxley, Huntingdonshire, was


born July 22 and baptised August 2nd, 1807, following, by
Charles Lewis de Salmon du Chattelier, formerly Vicar
General of the Diocese of Mans, and Canon of the Cathe-
dral Church. Sponsor, the Rt. Rev. Stephen John
Baptist Lewis de Galois de la Tour, residing at Stilton
in the said county, which I, the undersigned, hereby
certify from the original. " W. Hayes."

2nd. " 1808. — William, son of Hugh and Margaret
Drummond, Avas baptised by the Bishop of Moulins
at Stilton, Hunts., May 30th, 1808. Sponsors, Edward
Courier and Margaret Anderson, attested by Mr. Wm.

3rd. " 1814. — Louis Stanilas Henry Paschal, son of
John Andrew Delapoux and of Sarah Mason (his lawful
wife) of Yaxley, Huntingdonshire, on May 3rd, was
baptised May 14th, 1814, by the Rt. Rev. Stephen John
Baptist Lewis de Galois de la Tour, residing at Stilton.
Sponsor, Mr. Paschal Lcvisse of Oundle, Northampton-
shire, which I, the undersigned, hereby certify from the
original act. " W. Hayes.'


In the first entry, 1807, the officiating priest is " the
late Vicar General of the Diocese of Mans, and Canon of
the Cathedral Church," who was possibly attending to
the prisoners until the Sponsor, the Rt. Rev. Stephen
John Baptist Lewis de Galois de la Tours (the Bishop-
designate of Moulins), took up the work. John Andrew
Delai)oux, the father of the child, was a clerk at
Norman Cross — many of the officials had French names,
and were probably naturalised British subjects, or
children of naturalised Frenchmen and familiar with
the French language. He had been married to Miss
Mason, in Stilton Parish Church, on 2nd September 1802,
and until the research undertaken for the purposes of
this work revealed his identity, these were supposed to be
entries of the ba})tisnis of children of a French prisoner
who had married an English wife. In the second, 1808,


the Bishop of Moulins is entered as the officiating priest.
In the 3rd the priest performing the ceremony is the
Rt. Rev. Stephen John Baptist Lewis de Galois de la
Tour. The priest in whose mission the Baptism took
place and who made the entry, gave the Christian and
family names of the Bishop-designate of Moulins, but
not the episcopal title, as in the second entry. The
prefix Right Reverend marks the ecclesiastical rank
claimed by the Bishop; but a letter from Lord Mulgrave *
states that he was only Bishop-designate. He had never
been consecrated, and he would therefore not be always
recognised by his brethren as Evequc de Moulins.

It is unfortunate that it is the duty of the humblest
historian to push aside the glamour that tradition and
the writers of romance weave around a man and to
show him as he is, and the traditional story of the
Bishop of Moulins is not the only illusion which has
been dispelled in the course of our investigations.

The Bishop of Moulins has been, by traditions authori-
tatively reproduced in print, gradually elevated to the
position of a saint who voluntarily relinquished his high
office in France, and sacrificed its emoluments in order
that he might minister to his fellow countrymen in cap-
tivity. In his little romance, t the late Rev. Arthur
Brown says, p. 44 :

" And the Chaplain was none other than the Bishop
of Moulins. He had voluntarily come to England out of
pure compassion for his imprisoned countrymen, and
with true missionary zeal was giving himself up to their
spiritual welfare. He was a venerable-looking man,
much respected by the prisoners generally. It was a
noble act of self-sacrifice.'^

* Appendix G. — Letter enclosing short autobiography from the
Bishop of Moulins to Earl Fitzwilliam. Reply from Earl Fitzwilliam
and correspondence between his lordsliip and Lord Mulgrave, etc.

f The French Prinonera of Norman Croaa. A tale by the Rev.
Arthur Brown, Rector of Catfield, Norfolk. (Hodder Brothers.)


111 a romance it is quite legitimate to adopt a name
for an imaginary character, and to endow the fictitious
individual with virtues which the real owner of the

Online LibraryThomas James WalkerThe depot for prisoners of war at Norman Cross, Huntingdonshire, 1796 to 1816 → online text (page 15 of 29)