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Friday 23 May 2008

Dr Jackson, Prisoner of War, Verdun, 1807

On Tuesday, February 7, 1807 The Times of London carried an article detailing recent events in the naval war against France. At end of of the article is a small footnote describing the death at Verdun of Dr Jackson on the 2nd of the month of a 'Putrid fever'.

I dug up this reference after yet another visit to lovely old Kirkby Stephen to get pictures of the memorials in the parish church, one of which commemorates the very same Dr Jackson, aged 29 and presumably of this town. Erected by a grieving parent the epitaph is taken pretty much verbatim from the article.

So why was he in Verdun?

The war with revolutionary France which had continued unabated since 1793 was temporarily suspended on March 25, 1802 with the signing of the Treaty of Amiens. It was a shaky peace and lasted only until May 18, 1803 when a declaration of war was laid before the British Parliament. As a response Bonaparte issued an order on May 22 that all British subjects within the borders of the French Empire be detained. Initially concentrated at depots in Fontainbleu, Valenciennes, Nismes & Nice they were in December ordered to Verdun.

The Times for September 20, 1805 carries a long article with lurid tales of how these events affected some of the higher caste detainees, such as the Marchioness of Tweeddale and Lord Elgin who was on his way home from an ambassadorial position in Constantinople with his marbles. Not a happy chap; at this time time his nose was rotting off with syphilis and while he was imprisoned his young wife, who was allowed to return home, struck up with one of her escorts. The pic shows His Lordship with a whole nose.

Indeed, one has also to feel sorry for Mr Churchill who had set out to France
to bring home a brother, who, by too copious use of quack
medicine, was in a state of imbecility.
It must be presumed that the fortress of Verdun became the holding centre for captured British seamen for on January 7, 1807, a further article in The Times describes the poor conditions they had to endure as prisoners. Their rations were a small square of Bullock liver, a slice of black bread and a glass of 'new brandy'. Both they and the civilian detainees had to pay for their own keep other than this and also pay their guards, the Gens -d'-Armes, ' a brutal set of people', at the rate of 6 francs per day. These frenchy rascals also claimed the right of sleeping in the same room as their prisoners, a suggestion that must have gone down like a lead balloon with the likes of the Marchioness of Tweedmuir! The author of the article suggests this poor treatment was part of of an attempt to subvert the seaman into joining French service, efforts that
to the eternal honour of our brave but unfortunate tars, were rejected with contempt and indignation. They resolved to perish rather than prove traitors to their country.
A few renegade Irishmen, we regret to state [ ...] gladly accepted the proposals of the French, and were accordingly employed in their service.
Quite a tale behind just a simple memorial! But it would be nice to know more about Jackson.

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