Help support TMP

"Floating Purgatory – Life and Death Aboard ..." Topic

44 Posts

All members in good standing are free to post here. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the posters, and have not been cleared with nor are they endorsed by The Miniatures Page.

For more information, see the TMP FAQ.

Back to the Napoleonic Discussion Message Board

Back to the 18th Century Discussion Message Board

1,605 hits since 11 Jan 2018
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP11 Jan 2018 8:52 p.m. PST

…an 18th Century British Prison Hulk.

""MAN TOOK ONE of the most beautiful objects of his handiwork and deformed it into a hideous monstrosity." So wrote historian Francis Abell in his 1914 book Prisoners of War in Britain, 1756 to 1815.

In it, the author describes the horrendous conditions to be found on HMS Prothée, a captured 64-gun French vessel that had been dismasted and converted into a floating jail for prisoners of war.

Each night, according to Abell, he Prothée's portholes would be tightly sealed to prevent the inmates from escaping…."
Main page


britishbulldog18 Jan 2018 12:36 p.m. PST

In the 18 century did the British treat their POW's with less compassion than any other country did?
See my posting in the Thread Barbaric Brits.

Le Breton Inactive Member18 Jan 2018 4:38 p.m. PST

Also …. the numbers of prsoners and the delay in exchanges was way more than the hulks were designed to accept. This led to the construction of the first-ever purpose-built prisoner of war camp, at Norman Cross in Cambridgeshire, in 1797.

YouTube link

You can judge for yourself the degree to whihc the conditions were "barbaric" there.

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member19 Jan 2018 2:18 a.m. PST

For most of the 18th Century, responsibility for PoWs (food, clothing, pay, hospital facilities) remained with their own government and did not transfer to the captors, as it does today. The only exception was between Great Britain and France which had two treaties that provided for captives to be treated as the captor's own soldiers until the end of the war, at which point a tally would be presented by both sides and any excess on one side would be paid off. The French revolutionary government seems to have repudiated this system, based on how badly British PoWs were treated in the 1794-1803 period.

During the AWI, this system broke down early on for several reasons
- Congress's lack of money,
- the nature of the prisoners (privateers),
- the separation of exchange mechanisms between the Royal Navy and the British Army (ie who had captured them in the first place); that the privateers captured very few RN personnel made exchanges almost impossible,
- and a not insubstantial dose of bad faith on the part of Congress, who surmised – rightly as it turned out – that they could dump their responsibilities on the British and blame them when it all went horribly wrong (worth bearing in mind that the British garrison in NYC was on short rations itself for much of the war.

It's interesting that such books rarely discuss the Simsbury copper mines, or the fate (death) of the majority of the Saratoga Convention captives (who should have been handed back, according to its terms).

The modern system, whereby PoWs must be looked after by their captors to a non-negotiable minimum standard, irrespective of conditions within the captors' own country, is just asking for abuses and a refusal to take prisoners in the first place.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP19 Jan 2018 9:55 a.m. PST



Brechtel19819 Jan 2018 11:00 a.m. PST

The British use of prison hulks both during the War of the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars was not one of their most admirable actions.

The Spanish also used prison hulks, and the Russians and Turks treated their prisoners much worse than the British did.

42flanker19 Jan 2018 12:14 p.m. PST

Norman Cross


208 pages
ISBN: 9780750985932

"Norman Cross was the site of the world's first purpose-built prisoner-of-war camp built during the Napoleonic Wars. Opened in 1803, it was, however, more than just a prison: it was a town in itself, with houses, offices, butchers, bakers, a hospital, a school, a market and a banking system. It was an important prison and military establishment in the east of England with a lively community of some 7,000 French inmates. Alongside a detailed examination of the prison itself, this detailed and informative book, compiled by a leading expert on the Napoleonic era, explores what life was like for inmates and turnkeys alike – the clothing, food, health, education, punishment and, ultimately, the closure of the depot in 1814. "

In fact there was a POW facility at Norman Cross prior to 1803. My forbear was on duty at Stilton in 1798 with the Fife-shire Fencible Light Cavalry acting in support of the Army detachment responsible for security.

Le Breton Inactive Member19 Jan 2018 4:07 p.m. PST

"and the Russians …. treated their prisoners much worse than the British did"

Clearly, Brechtel knows nothing about this topic. Utterly and completely nothing. His assertion is completely wrong. And I imagine he has absolutely no primary source material beyond a couple of anecdotal accounts.

The first question is scale : the Russian picked up over 220,000 French and allied prisoners over a few months in 1812, while coping with having their country invaded. That is roughly double the number of prisoners taken by the British over the period 1793-1815. It is roughly the size of the standing Russian army of 1810.

Also, as there were so few Russian prisoners, exchage would not reduce the numbers.

Becoming a prisoner of the Russians might not go too well.
Leaving aside the possibility of angry local peasants taking personal revenge (which was prosecuted as a crime when it could be proven), the Cossacks really didn't take prisoners until offered a bounty for them beginning in November 1812. The march to the rear was quite long and in the winter. The invaders taken prisoner had insufficient winter clothes, and the Russians didn't get into gear to provide clothing for them until October. For the immediate needs until winter clothing could be produced, they granted each prisoner officer 100 rubles (6 months pay of a Russian lieutenant) and each other ranks 10 rubles (a year's pay for a Russian grenadier). Still the march away to the east was long, the prisoners in poor shape to start with, the the whole process rather poorly organized until the Spring of 1813 …. when the Russians were also less distracted by having their country invaded.

Once in their assigned eastern locations, the officer prisoners were – literally – the guests of the local gentry. The gentry could get their expenses repaid, if they wished. The other ranks were provided food, pay and clothing as per their rank as if they were part of the local garrison/police unit, to which they reported and with whom they often went on local patrols. The prisoners were free to settle as they wished, take up a trade, etc.

They were also offered citizenship – as free tradesmen (many became teachers) or Cossacks if accepted by a host. The new citizens were exempt from conscription and 10 years of taxes, or received a Cossack grant of land. Over 60,000 (roughly one-third !!) elected to stay when they were offered repatriation in August 1814.

Although prisoners were not supposed to be in the capital cities, it was found that 2300 applications for citizenship were filled in Saint-Petersburg, of which about 20 officers and 1100 Poles – the Poles had been serving with the Siberian cossack host and although orginally choosing repatriation, had changed their minds at the last minute.

There is an increasingly extensive literature on the topic, including many local studies done by local museums and universities. This literature is in Russian language. Here are some samples:

PDF link
PDF link

Prisoners joining the Siberian Cosscks in 1813 :


Le Breton Inactive Member19 Jan 2018 4:21 p.m. PST

Anecdote from Saratov, in south Russia – where one of the longest living veterans of 1812 resided (a former French chasseur à cheval).

One Sunday, soon after the arrival of the first French, the local people were concerned or afraid that as atheists and anti-christs, that they were a danger to the community.

A little mob came after Orthodox services and found the Frenchmen together, heads bowed and chanting what everyone took to be a curse. The local doctor knew French, and they asked him : "What are the devils saying?"

His answer :
"Отче наш, Иже еси на небесех!
Да святится имя Твое,
да приидет Царствие Твое,
да будет воля Твоя,
яко на небеси и на земли.
Хлеб наш насущный даждь нам днесь …."

Osterreicher19 Jan 2018 5:54 p.m. PST

Le Breton, brilliant contribution, much thanks, спасибо!

Do you know of any study that shows how or when during the campaign that these 220K French and allies were captured? That's such a huge amount, and I'm curious about how many were captured on the road to Borodino and Moscow.

Le Breton Inactive Member19 Jan 2018 11:52 p.m. PST

No info comes immediately to mind except a few snippets (and these from memory) :
--- of the 30,000 to 40,000 stragglers found at/around the Berezina, they were mostly too far gone to save and about only 10,000 to 15,000 survived to enter captivity – this loss of prisoners' lives prompted an inquisition to make sure that it was the condition of the prisoners and not a failure of providing for them that caused the hellish losses – Partouneaux's 12e division (another 6,000 or so) surrendered at this time
--- the 220,000 included about 20,000 non-military foreigners who followed the French/Allied army (which is about the correct percentage) …. you will see 200,000 also quoted in the literature, meaning captured soldieers and officers
--- If I had to make an estimate (my own opinion), I would say 10,000 prisoneers per month early in the campaign, rising in the autumn a bit, and then 10,000+ per week in November, December and January 1813
--- the rate of prisoner captures went way up from early November : the French/Allied were more disorganized and the bounty system for captures had gotten the attention of the Cossacks (and the local populace to a lesser extent) --- there was a separate bounty for weapons that was also very popular
--- note that western sources usually give a *much* lower number, about 110,000 to 140,000 prisoners : I am not a specialist enough to know if this is based on the count of returning prisoners, if it is based on counts of known prisoners and excludes those carried as "disparu" (i.e. disappeared – fate unknown, or if it is just wrong
--- the Russian method of dealing with prisoners reflects their idea of long-term conflicts (decades, generations) and had been in use since at least Catherine's time …. the French/Allied were treated like Swedes had been …. Poles might be considered rebels and could be sent to the far east, but might return home after serving their "sentences" for rebellion …. Turkish and Persian prisoners were converted to Orthodoxy (whether they knew it or not) and re-settled, never being sent home.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP20 Jan 2018 10:29 a.m. PST

Quite interesting info my friend!.

Many thanks!.


Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member21 Jan 2018 2:20 a.m. PST

The British use of prison hulks both during the War of the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars was not one of their most admirable actions.

Both Congress and the Directory refused to participate in the contemporary conventions regarding PoWs. The simple fact is that it was not the job of the British authorities to feed and clothe another nation's personnel whom they had captured. That, from common humanity, they did anything (especially when on short rations themselves) should be noted, as should the fact that it was originally for humanitarian reasons that American PoWs were transferred to the hulks in NYC harbour because their original home (the sugar warehouse) had become overcrowded. One could ask, with far greater justification, why none of the privateer commanders donated any of their ill-gotten gains toward supporting their captured comrades, if it was such a big issue.

The British built the world's first ever PoW camp to try to deal with the latter problem (and generally treated French prisoners far better than the French did their British captives); the former could not be dealt with as easily because the Rebels had access to all the land outside of the main coastal conurbations.

Brechtel19821 Jan 2018 3:10 p.m. PST

…generally treated French prisoners far better than the French did their British captives

How so?

The use of prison hulks was not done by the French, for example.

The tally of deaths and injuries in the British prison hulks during the Napoleonic Wars:

Charles Dupin's statistics of the mortality of French prisoners of war from 1803-1814 taken from Francis Abell's Prisoners of War in Britain, 1756 to 1815, 40-44.

Died in English prisons: 12,845.
Sent to France in a dying state: 12,787.
Returned to France since 1814, their health more or less debilitated: 70,041.
Returned healthy: 26,767.
Total: 122,440.

British Governmental Statistics on prisoners of war over the same period:
Died in English prisons: 10,341.
Sent home sick, or on parole or exchanged, those in the last two categories for the most part perfectly sound men: 17,607.
Returned healthy: 94,492.
Total: 122,440.

Dupin's figures are suspect, the major discrepancy being how many were returned healthy.

The book The Floating Prison by Louis Garneray is interesting, Garneray being a naval POW who was a prisoner in England from 1806-1814. Some of his memoir suffer from ‘remembering with advantages', but his description of life in the prison hulks are useful for the day-to-day existence in the deplorable conditions in the old ships.
From the Epilogue, 1814-1858, 216:

‘Garneray was released during the emptying of the hulks and prisons that began very shortly after Napoleon's abdication in April 1814. The prisoners who were subsequently brought to Britain during the Hundred Days and after the battle of Waterloo were imprisoned or paroled ashore and the hulks were never used again for prisoners of war. Prothee, Crown, Vengeance, Pegase, the vessels known to Garneray, were all broken up by 1816 and most of the floating prisons that had once been such a formidable feature of ports from Chatham to Plymouth soon ceased to exist. Shore prisons were sold off or their leases allowed to lapse, castles and buildings adapted to receive prisoners of war reverted to emptiness and decay, whilst Dartmoor Prison, the one great reminuder in the twenty-first century of the Napoleonic period and its captives, remained void for a generaltion until reopened as a convict prison in 1850.

From Swords Around A Throne by John Elting, 620 (the subject of other nations' prisoners of war is covered from 616-621):

‘Relations between France and England concerning prisoners of war were generally hard but correct. Neither furnished especially elegant accomodations; the English prison hulks were particularly damned, with Americans captured during the War of 1812 adding their bitter ‘amen.' The British government had no intention of cruelty, but various officials seem to have diverted prison funds to ensure that they themselves would live in the style to which they wanted to become accustomed. Similarly, Napoleon warned the Verdun authorities in 1804 that their citizens had jacked up the rents for Englishmen on parole from 36 francs to 300. If they were not reduced, he would shift the depot for English prisoners elsewhere. In 1809 a full-blown scandal erupted when General Louis Wirion of the gendarmerie, governor of Verdun, was found to have embezzled large sums of money belonging to English prisoners. He was brought to trial and committed suicide.* Both nations sent home prisoners too old, badly wounded, or dimwitted for further service. The French at least released young women and small children on several occasions. (Both nations held considerable numbers of each others civilians as well as soldiers and sailors.) Individual officers might be exchanged, but repeated efforts for large-scale exchanges fell through because of not unfounded mutual distrust. In 1813 Soult and Wellington were dickering over swapping three French for one Englishman and two Spaniards. Napoleon reluctantly accepted this, but how many soldiers actually were exchanged is uncertain.'

‘Over the years various English prisoners were pardoned or paroled-to look after a sick father, because they had pregnant wives or had shown courage fighting fires or had cared for French sick and wounded. Often Napoleon added a gift of cash. Possible the oddest of those releases was that of a young British doctor named Blount. Talma, the leading French actor, had a nephew who was a French naval officer; when the nephew was captured, Talma secured his release through the help of Charles Kemble, the famous English actor. To show his gratitude, Talma asked Napoleon to free Blount.'

‘Meanwhile some energetic individuals liberated themselves. Frenchmen seemed to have a knack of securing feminine assistance; they might even marry the girls who helped them get away. Escape usually involved stealing a boat, though some smugglers would ship escapees if sufficiently paid.'

*See Gendarmes and the State in Nineteenth-Century Europe by Clive Emsley, 65-66.

So it appears that the French did not treat British prisoners of war worse than the British treated French POWs-with the exception of using prison hulks.

Perhaps these references would be useful on the subject:


From A History of Napoleonic and American Prisoners of War 1756-1816: Hulk, Depot, and Parole:

‘Man took one of the most beautiful objects of his handiwork and deformed it into a hideous monstrosity. The line-of-battle ship was a thing of beauty, but when mast and rigging and sails were shorn away, when the symmetrical sweep of her lines was deformed by all sorts of excrescences and superstructures, when her white, black-dotted belts were smudged out, it lay, rather than floated, like a gigantic black, shapeless coffin. Sunshine which can give a touch of picturesqueness, if not of beauty, to much that is bare and featureless, only brought out into greater prominence the dirt, the shabbiness, the patchiness of the thing.'-Francis Abell describing the prison hulks.-70.

The British prison hulks were ‘stationed' at Plymouth, Portsmouth, and Chatham, 20 at each port, one used as a hospital ship at Plymouth, and two each at Portsmouth and Chatham.-81.

French prisoners of war held by the Spanish were partially interned in 10 prison hulks in Cadiz harbor.-179.

There is also a chapter on the Dartmoor Massacre where American naval prisoners rioted because they had not been released after the War of 1812 ended. They were fired upon by the British guard, with 7 Americans being killed, 2 were mortally wounded, 12 seriously wounded and 42 suffering lesser wounds.

‘This outrage, probably the most disgraceful in British prisoner of war history, too only a few minutes to perpetrate…'-297.

‘It was obvious that murder was committed that day, you no one ever hanged for it…'-297.

Brechtel19821 Jan 2018 3:32 p.m. PST

Regarding Russian prisoners of war and Russian treatment of French and allied prisoners of war:

From Swords Around A Throne by John Elting, 620

'Prisoners taken during the French invasion of Russia had routine handling, except that there is little or no mention of officers being granted paroles. Captured officers and NCOs were sent to the rear as soon as possible. Privates were organized into companies of one hundred, with one Russian sergeant apiece to administer them, and marched off in large batches. Their numbers quickly became an embarrassment; the 10,000-man prisoner-of-war depot in Danzig overflowed, and the officers and NCOs had to be sent on into France. Napoleon attempted to arrange a prisoner exchange, but the Russian command didn't agree. The general treatment was correct; even cold St Cyr had the wounded abandoned by the retreating Russian army collected, organized a hospital for them near Polotsk, found them food, and assigned French surgeons to treat them. During the French retreat there were still some thousands of Russian prisoners on hand; their fates were various, mostly unpleasant.'

Officially, the Russians followed the accepted laws of war toward their French prisoners. Their practice frequently was the complete reverse: no food, no shelter, plenty of beatings. Men who could not keep up often were lanced by their guards. Robbery was almost universal, Cossack officers setting an example. There was no medical care. Survivors remembered brutality from peasants and townspeople but kindness from the educated classes and gentry. Some Frenchmen ended in Siberia, reportedly still held there twenty years later; others were dragooned into the service of Russian nobles as cooks, valets, and tutors. A few found a wife and a home in Russia and never returned.'

A good source for Russian and Cossack treatment of French prisoners, see Chapter 19 in 1812 The Great Retreat by Paul Britten Austin.

For prisoners and other losses at the Berezina, see The Battle of the Berezina by Alexander Mikaberidze. I don't see the idea of 220,000 French and allied prisoners of war during the campaign. It is just too high. I have seen a more realistic figure of possible 100,00 which is much more realistic. I don't trust figures in Russian publications and it is a good idea to find and research other publications.

Le Breton Inactive Member21 Jan 2018 4:31 p.m. PST

Sure, Brechtel – Russians can't count. We all know that. It is because they are too drunk to remember the numbers.

I don't suppose you actually read any of the articles I linked, right?

So, what were the Coleonel Elting's sources? All the Russian archives were Soviet then, and not open (usually) to western authors – so what did he consult?

By the way, you seem to know nothing about the terms of service for Cossacks. Robbing the enemy was included in their compensation. Hence we see the occasional example in French memoirs of Russian officers buying back the items taken by the Cossacks and giving them to French officer prisoners. After the Russians put up a cash bounty for prisoners instead (November 1812), the Cossacks and other Native cavalry brought in prisoners.

"I don't trust figures in Russian publications"
So basically, you trust some guess written by French secondary source 100 years and more later and you do not trust a modern Russian PhD. candidate reaerching in his own archives?
Ethnic/national bias much?

Personal logo Whirlwind Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2018 1:38 a.m. PST

@Le Breton,

Thank you for some very informative posts.

I must also say it slightly brightened up my day – it was somehow very pleasing to know that far fewer Imperial French soldiers died than may have been assumed and that a great number may have survived as Russian citizens.

Le Breton Inactive Member22 Jan 2018 2:26 a.m. PST


I have been to all but one of the towns (now cities) that were the main destinations for prisoners : Saratov, Samara, Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk), Perm, Vyatka, Astrakhan, Omsk. These places were far, far away (still are). The Russians made no provisons for enlisted mail at first (forgetting that French enlisted were often literate). The distance from Paris is like 5,000 km.

In the late 20th and early 21st century, these places are still rather isolated developments on the edge of wilderness. They were mere towns in 1812. Yet most of them were/are quite diverse ethnically : Slavs, but also Vepsi, Old Finns (the small black-haired Finns – I don't know what they are called in English), Mordvins, Tatars, Nogais, Bashkirs, Kalmyki, Burati, Kirghiz, Adegye, Abhaz, Azeri, Georgian, and more.

The people still find a westerner to be rather exotic, interesting, unknown. They are a bit reticent at first, but warm up rather quickly when they sense you bear them no ill will.

The food is plentiful, if simple – game of all sorts, river fish, potatoes and so on. The vodka or samagon is nearly free. The local tobacco is indeed rough, but fresh and strong. The women, too, are strong – and yet pretty. The big housedogs keep the wolves at bay. And if its -30C outside, it is comfortably hot in the banya. The natural beauty of the land is breath-taking.

I have mis-spent my life travelling all over the world. But sometimes I think that it would not have been so bad to stay in a little cabin on the edge of the forest on the bank of the great river Kama outside of Perm.

I suppose some of the French thought the same.

Le Breton Inactive Member22 Jan 2018 4:57 a.m. PST

Picture of housedog from rural parts of Russia ….


GreenLeader Inactive Member22 Jan 2018 5:08 a.m. PST

I dread to imagine how much that beauty can eat.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2018 6:20 a.m. PST

Probably doesn't eat as much as you think. Many of the hadier breeds of the north are low in calorie needs. Polar dogs like Alaskan malamute and Siberian huskies. Need a lot less calories compared to other breeds in their weight class.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2018 9:33 a.m. PST

Beautifull animal!…


Le Breton Inactive Member22 Jan 2018 4:29 p.m. PST

"I dread to imagine how much that beauty can eat."

They are fed relative to the amount of exercise they get.
If they are on sheep or goats and moving all day at altitude as the flock grazes, then maybe a sheep lung or similar amount of other organ meat per day. If they are standing on a property, then maybe a nice fish and household leftovers.

Most people don't trust Russian-made or Chinese-import dog food. And western dogfood, if it is real and not just falsely labelled, people cannot afford. So they feed the traditional way.

They are very tough dogs, but do *not* fight bears. Wolves? Sure. Prowlers? Oh yes, please. But not bears. They will however, bark like crazy at bears, after which the bear is your problem.


Le Breton Inactive Member22 Jan 2018 5:38 p.m. PST

Yurt-dog (instead of house-dog), if you live near or in the steppes …. slightly lighter bone, shorter hair, longer legs, faster running, lighter color(s) …. they love ponies/horses …. tail is docked and ears cropped, just after birth, before the puppy opens eyes …: otherwise, they would just get ripped off when the young ones play ….
here, a young female :


Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2018 8:39 p.m. PST



Le Breton Inactive Member23 Jan 2018 1:28 p.m. PST

Soooooo off-topic, but Tango is Agrentine, I think.

rancho-dog ….


Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP23 Jan 2018 2:07 p.m. PST

Yes… very brave animals… I have seen them hunting wild pigs (here some are 500kgs strong)… that is their pourpose… and I don''t like it… so bloody fight!…

In the other hand… they are so good with kids!…

Thanks for the pic.!


Brechtel19831 Jan 2018 5:47 p.m. PST

[The British]…generally treated French prisoners far better than the French did their British captives

This comment is inaccurate and can be shown by the treatment that French and allied prisoners of war were treated in the British prison hulks which remained in service from 1794-1814. They were overcrowded, sometimes holding three times what the ships were originally designed for. The British civilian criminals confined on the hulks were treated better than prisoners of war.

The following primary source descriptions of the British prison hulks are taken from Hell Upon Water: Prisoners of War in Britain 1793-1815 by Paul Chamberlain. They can be found in Chapter 3, ‘These Floating Tombs' on the pages indicated:

‘It is difficult to imagine a more severe punishment; it is cruel to maintain it for an indefinite period, and to submit to it prisoners of war who deserve much consideration, and who incontestably are the innocent victims of the fortune of war. The British prison ships have left profound impressions on the minds of the Frenchmen who have experienced them; and an ardent longing for revenge has for long moved their hearts, and even today when a long duration of peace has created enemies, I fear that, should this harmony between them be disturbed, the remembrance of these horrible places would be awakened.'-Baron de Bonnefoux-55.

‘The Medway is covered with men of war, dismantled and lying in ordinary. Their fresh and brilliant painting contrasts with the hideous aspects of the old and smoky hulks, which seem the remains of vessels blackened by a recent fire. It is in these floating tombs that are buried alive prisoners of war-Danes, Swedes, Frenchmen, Americans, no matter. They are lodged on the lower deck, one the upper deck, and even on the orlop deck…Four hundred malefactors are the maximum of a ship appropriated to convicts. From eight hundred to twelve hundred is the ordinary number of prisoners of war heaped together in a prison ship of the same rate.'-Captain Charles Dupin-55.
‘The difference in the land prisons and the hulks is very marked. There is no space for exercise, prisoners are crowded together, no visitors come to see them, and we are like forsaken people.'-Sergeant-Major Beaudouin-61.

‘…half the time they gave us provisions which the very dogs refuse. Half the time the bread is not baked, and is only good to bang against a wall; the meat looks as if it has been dragged in the mud for miles. Twice a week we get putrid salt food, that is to say, herrings on Wednesday, cod-fish on Saturday. We have several times refused to eat it, and as a result got nothing in its place, and at the same time are told that anything is good enough for a Frenchman. Therein lies the motive of their barbarity.'-Sergeant-Major Beaudouin, 64.

‘…moral despair caused by humiliations and cruelties, and deprivations inflicted by low-born uneducated brutes, miserable accommodation, the foul exhalations from the mud shores at low water, and the cruel treatment by doctors who practiced severe bleedings, prescribed no diet except an occasional mixture, the result being extreme weakness. When the patient was far-gone in disease he was sent to hospital, where more bleeding was performed, a most injudicious use of mercury made, and his end hastened,'-Dr. Fontana, French surgeon-67-68.

‘From four to six were taken down with [typhus] every day. We have about nine hundred men aboard this ship; eight hundred of us wretched prisoners, and one hundred Englishmen [crew and garrison]. We are more crowded than is consistent with health or comfort. Our hammocks are slung one above the other. It is warm and offensive in the middle of our habitation; those who have hammocks near the ports are unwilling to have them open at night. All this impedes the needful circulation of air.'-Benjamin Waterhouse, 69-70.

‘One Hundred and sixty Americans were put on board her [the Bahama] in the month of January. She had been used as a prison for Danish sailors, many of whom were sick of typhus fever. These Americans came, like the rest of us, from Halifax; being weak, weary, fatigued and half-starved, their dejected spirits and debilitated bodies were aptly disposed to imbibe the contagion. Accordingly, soon after they went on board, they were attacked with it. All of the Danes were sent out of her; and her upper deck is converted into a hospital; the surgeon has declared the ship to be infectious, and no one communicates with he but such as supply the ship and attend the sick…Out of three hundred and sixty-one Americans who came last on board, eighty-four were, in the course of three months, buried in the surrounding marshes, the burying place of prison ships.'-Benjamin Waterhouse, 70.

The following tables indicate the different British former warships used as prison hulks for French and allied prisoners, as well as American prisoners. Location, name period of use, and the prisoner nationality are indicated. The information is taken from Hell Upon Water, 58-60:

Ship Period of Use Prisoner Nationality
Bristol 1794-1801 French, Dutch, Danes
Hero 1794-1801 French, Dutch
Eagle 1796-1800 French, Dutch
Sandwich 1797-1801; 1803-1809 Dutch
Gelykheid 1798-1800 French, Dutch
Camperdown 1798-1801 French
Vyrheid 1798-1801 French, Dutch
Bahama 1805-1813 French, Danes
Kron Prinds 1805-1813 French, American
Irresistable 1808-1813 French, Danes
Sampson 1808-1813 French, Danes
Glory 1809-1814 French
Canada 1810-1812 French, American
Brunswick 1812-1813 French
Fyen 1812-1814 Danes
Nassau 1812-1814 American
Belliqueux 1813-1814 French

Ship Period of Use Prisoner Nationality
Prudente 1794-1798 French
Commerce de Marseilles 1796-1810 French
Beinfaisant 1803-1814 French
Europe 1796-1801; 1803-1814 French
Genereux 1805-1814 Dutch
Hector 1805-1814 French, American
San Isidro 1796-1801; 1805-1814 French
El Firme 1807-1814 French
Bravo 1808-1814 French, Danes
Panther 1808-1811 French
San Nicholas 1809-1814 French
Ganges 1811-1814 French
Oiseau 1813-1814 French
St George 1813-1814 French
Temeraire 1813-1814 French, Danes
Vanguard 1813-1814 French
Neptune 1814 French


Ship Period of Use Prisoner Nationality
Captivity 1796-1800 French
Vigilant 1796-1801; 1806-1814 French
Fame 1797-1801 French
Portland 1797-1802 French
Prothee 1797-1801; 1807-1814 French, Danes
Royal Oak 1797-1802 French
Sultan 1797-1802 French
Crown 1798-1802; 1806-1813 French, Dutch, Germans
Fortitude 1798-1802 French
San Damaso 1798-1802; 1808-1814 French, Dutch
Le Pegase 1799-1802; 1803-1813 Spanish; Hospital Ship
Guildford 1806-1814 French, Russians, Danes
Suffolk 1806-1814 French
Vengeance 1806-1814 French
Veteran 1806-1814 French
Waldemaar 1807-1814 French
San Antoine 1808-1814 Spanish, German, Italian
Marengo 1809-1814 French
Ave Princess 1810-1814 French
Assistance 1811-1814 French, Danes French
Kron Princessa 1812-1814 French
Sophia Frederica 1813-1814 French

Note: The Guildford was formerly the Fame.

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member01 Feb 2018 2:04 a.m. PST

I see that Deleted by Moderator has been busy again. I would suggest that anyone wanting a fairer view of this book, which doesn't live up (down?) to its lurid title, looks here:-


Note especially these comments:

However the Board of Transport, which administered the prisoner of war system from 1795 as successor to the Sick and Hurt Board, was staffed by senior officers of integrity who were anxious to stamp out abuses. Ambrose Searle (1742-1812) one of the Board's civilian Commissioners, was liable to appear `without warning … for the Public Service' at prisons and make the lives of idle or dishonest staff exceedingly uncomfortable. Because of his scrupulousness on the prisoners' behalf we can take seriously his occasional commendation of the food supplied to them, as for example when he described the men from the little French army that landed at Fishguard in 1797 as receiving in prison `a better diet than many of the local inhabitants can procure and better than received in France.'

And this:

And yet the hulks and prisons had a genuinely hellish element, for which the prisoners and not the British authorities were largely responsible. Mr Chamberlain does not sensationalise this but shows that much of the disorder amongst prisoners sprang from their own depravity. Forgery of banknotes flourished, racketeers deprived their fellow-prisoners of clothes, provisions and hammocks, whilst a fever for gambling gripped the less restrained inmates. Those foolish enough to stake their money, clothes or rations on the throw of a dice or the turn of a card sooner or later ended as Rafalés, the naked and starving wretches in the depths of prison society.

And finally:

The causes of the wars, both with France and later the United States are explained followed by an account of the setting up of the Transport Board, a department of the Admiralty responsible for prisoners of war. Their fairness and the scrupulous regulations for the Agents in charge of prisoners will come as a surprise to many readers.

I can't help wondering if Deleted by Moderator

Brechtel19801 Feb 2018 4:08 a.m. PST

By the way, you seem to know nothing about the terms of service for Cossacks. Robbing the enemy was included in their compensation. Hence we see the occasional example in French memoirs of Russian officers buying back the items taken by the Cossacks and giving them to French officer prisoners. After the Russians put up a cash bounty for prisoners instead (November 1812), the Cossacks and other Native cavalry brought in prisoners.

So, by their terms of service, it was then OK to abuse and execute prisoners and loot civilians? If that was 'official' Russian policy, then by the policy the Russian commanders and government directly sponsored abuses and atrocities.

Brechtel19801 Feb 2018 4:13 a.m. PST

I would suggest that anyone wanting a fairer view of this book, which doesn't live up (down?) to its lurid title, looks here:-

I quoted directly from the book. Do you have a copy? Have you read it?

And, by your postings are you then condoning the treatment on the prison hulks?

What that treatment clearly demonstrates is that the British treatment of prisoners was not humane, at least for those on the hulks. And then we have the Dartmoor atrocity against American seamen after the War of 1812 was over.

The British government was responsible for the care and feeding of prisoners of war. It doesn't matter who did what to whom on the hulks-the British government, the Admiralty in particular, put those prisoners there and was responsible for the abhorrent treatment they received.

The Spanish were the only other government that used prison hulks.

The overcrowding of the hulks, by a factor of two or three, from what the hulks were designed to carry, as well as disease and the lack of edible food, was the responsibility of the Admiralty.

von Winterfeldt01 Feb 2018 4:34 a.m. PST

Brechtel should read memoires of those POWS in Russia – they do exist – please consult another book than Swords, then after reading several come back and try to discuss instead of continously offending other contributors, please try

Le Breton Inactive Member01 Feb 2018 4:45 a.m. PST

The French 1786 regulation on clothing


Also, in lesser quality, on Google Books (sroll down a bit):


And the related instruction of 1787:


4th Cuirassier01 Feb 2018 5:03 a.m. PST

….anything is good enough for a Frenchman

It's hard to disagree

Brechtel19801 Feb 2018 8:55 a.m. PST

Brechtel should read memoires of those POWS in Russia…

I already listed one reference for that from Paul Britten Austin…

Brechtel19801 Feb 2018 8:56 a.m. PST

You can judge for yourself the degree to whihc the conditions were "barbaric" there.

The British handled their prisoners of war much better ashore than in the prison hulks.

The exception to that was the Dartmoor Massacre…

42flanker01 Feb 2018 12:59 p.m. PST

The exception to that was the Dartmoor Massacre…

Or the "unfortunate occurrence of the 6th of April last at Dartmoor Prison, " as described by the British and American commissioners appointed to investigate the events leading up to the loss of life on that 'melancholy occasion" whose even-handed, if frustrated, report is appended here:

With 7 men dead, this hardly merits the name of massacre. There were, however, also 34 wounded. It was, rather, a chain of unfortunate events generated by the problems of containing over 6,000 restive POWs.

As for an atrocity, although continued firing by some soldiers when the perceived threat of a violent outbreak had diminished was condemned as "wholly without object or excuse and to have been an attack upon the lives of defenceless and at that time unoffending individuals," it was also noted that the squad of soldiers initially ordered to force prisoners back at point of bayonet were "unwilling to act as against an enemy."

How troops came to open fire remained unclear. Initially, warning shots were fired over the heads of prisoners taunting the soldiers. Overall it seems there was a breakdown in command at a crucial moment (many officers were at dinnner) and a failure of discipline, provoked by panic and "a state of individual frustration & exasperation" on the part of some soldiers.

Hardly an atrocity in intention or result, but unquestionably unfortunate and melancholy, not least since prior to the disturbances the prisoners had "unanimously declared, that their complaint of delay was not against the British Government, but against their own, which ought to have sent means for their early conveyance home, and in replies to distinct questions to that effect they declared that they had no other ground of complaint whatsoever."

Nine pound round01 Feb 2018 4:52 p.m. PST

In fairness to the English, anyone who has ever eaten pub food with a Frenchwoman has probably heard similar comments.

42flanker01 Feb 2018 6:18 p.m. PST

Mais, qu'est-ce-que c'est? C'est afreux. C'est impossible. C'est tout. Im-poss-ible. Bof.

Nine pound round01 Feb 2018 6:36 p.m. PST

Ah, ce n'est pas seulement possible, c'est une faite. Je l'ai vu moi-meme. Mais il est possible que ce place etait irlandais. Trop des annees sont passees…..

42flanker02 Feb 2018 12:00 a.m. PST

In fairness to the English, anyone who has ever eaten pub food with a Frenchwoman has probably heard similar comments.

"…only two days previous to the events the subject of this Inquiry, a large body of the prisoners rushed into the market Square, from whence by, the Regulations of the Prison they are excluded, demanding bread, instead of bisket, which had on that day been issued…"

Fatuus Natural02 Feb 2018 2:22 a.m. PST

"It's interesting that such books rarely discuss the Simsbury copper mines, or the fate (death) of the majority of the Saratoga Convention captives (who should have been handed back, according to its terms)."

I'd forgotten about this. I think the last time I read a reference to it, many years ago, it said their fate was completely unknown – they just disappeared from history. Do we now know what became of them?

Le Breton Inactive Member02 Feb 2018 4:03 a.m. PST

"anyone who has ever eaten pub food with a Frenchwoman"

The story my life. I
have learned the hard way that if I want Mickie D's or pub food, I equip the girl friend or wife with (i) expensive stinky French cheese and charcuterie, (ii) buy her a loaf of bread on the way, (iii) order for her hot water with lemon and an empty plate with some butter.

I will still get the "C'est afreux. C'est impossible, etc., etc."

Then I strike back with multiculturalism ….
"C'est la nourriture de mes ancêtres, mon héritage culturel! As-tu si peu de tolérance pour mes traditions ethniques?"

42flanker02 Feb 2018 10:10 a.m. PST

When all else fails hit low: horse meat, tap water and armpits.

Sorry - only verified members can post on the forums.