Paul Chamberlain Lecture 6517

French Prisoners of War, Smugglers and Conspiracies

The evening of 12th November Paul Chamberlain gave an excellent presentation for the Emsworth Historical Trust about prisoners, smugglers and conspiracies, held locally during the war with France in the 17th century.

Many French prisoners of war were held in Parole Depots in Hampshire, such as Odiham and Alresford, and many were aided in their escape by the smuggling gangs of the south coast. These smugglers had a base in Gravelines, France, where they worked with the French to carry tea, brandy, silks, and spies across the Channel to England; and gold guineas, newspapers, escaped prisoners of war and ‘traitorous correspondence’ in the other direction. This situation became more problematic for the British Government when General Simon, on parole at Odiham, organised a network of intelligence gathering and escapes amongst his colleagues, working closely with the smugglers. This is a story of espionage, the threat of French landings around the British Isles, escapes of French prisoners, and the activities of English smugglers.  

Paul explained that Odiham had a Parole depot 1803-12 for French POWs. Many had their families with them and were billeted on inhabitants of the town with a signed parole certificate that prescribed their parole limits. Lack of exchange of prisoners between Britain and France resulted in more escapes of officers from 1810 onwards. Many were helped to escape by smugglers with a Major gang run by Richard Waddell, with William Chalking and his stepson Thomas Green (12 years of age) as leading conductor. General Simon, captured at Battle of Bussaco in Spain, organised clandestine correspondence with France and with smugglers to aid escape of parole officers in Hampshire. His correspondence with France suggested that the French could land in the West Country and release the prisoners at Plymouth and Dartmoor. However he escaped and fled to London, where he was apprehended by the Bow Street Runners and Sent to Dumbarton Castle until the war ended in 1814. In1812 a Bill was passed stating that Britons who aided French escapes would be send to Botany Bay. The number of escapees soon reduced.

The lecture concluded with a lively question and answer session with members of the audience.