French and American Prisoners of War at Dartmoor Prison, 1805-1816. The strangest experiment

Author(s) : DAVIE Neil
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French and American Prisoners of War at Dartmoor Prison, 1805-1816. The strangest experiment

This remarkable book turns the spotlight on an strangely un-illuminated part of the Napoleonic Wars, namely Prisoner of War incarceration, whether in Prison or in Hulks, focussing particularly on the specially constructed POW prison on Dartmoor (UK). Two juxtaposed statistics illustrate graphically why this book is welcome – there were between 130,000 and 150,000 French POWS imprisoned in Britain in the period 1803-1814 and only two important publications on the question were published before 2000. What makes it even more delightful to highlight this unknown area of research is that some of its statistics are derived from Fondation Napoléon “Membre correspondant” Patrick Le Carvèse’s ground-breaking two-part article published in Napoleonica La Revue, part 1 and part 2. The book also corresponds in Zeitgeist to recent French research on the detention island of Cabrera, in which the Fondation’s own François Houdecek participates. A fascinating read. (Peter Hicks)

Neil Davie is lecturer in Modern British History at Université Lumière Lyon 2

Publisher’s presentation:

This book explores the history of Dartmoor War Prison (1805-16). This is not the well-known Victorian convict prison, but a less familiar penal institution, conceived and built nearly half a century earlier in the midst of the long-running wars against France, and destined, not for criminals, but for French and later American prisoners of war. During a period of six and a half years, more than 20,000 captives passed through its gates. Drawing on contemporary official records from Britain, France and the USA, and a wealth of prisoners’ letters, diaries and memoirs (many of them studied here in detail for the first time), this book examines how Dartmoor War Prison was conceived and designed; how it was administered both from London and on the ground; how the fate of its prisoners intertwined with the military and diplomatic history of the period; and finally how those prisoners interacted with each other, with their captors, and with the wider community. The history of the prison on the moor is one marked by high hopes and noble intentions, but also of neglect, hardship, disease and death.


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Palgrave Macmillan London
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