Within the walls of the depot there was a captive community composed of ex-soldiers and sailors from France, Holland, Spain, Italy, and the many German states allied to France; Negroes; a few women who had followed their menfolk into captivity; boys as young as 12 years of age; and many civilians from merchant vessels and government offices in enemy colonies captured by British force of arms.These men and women were captured both on land and sea.
French soldiers captured at Pondicherry in India in 1793 were transfered from Chatham to Norman Cross in 1800.
The great victory of the Royal Navy over the Dutch fleet at Camperdown in October 1797 brought 5,000 Dutch seamen to Norman Cross.
From 1808 onwards, a certain General Sir Arthur Wellesley, later The Duke of Wellington, campaigned successfully in Spain and Portugal, finally driving the French over the Pyrenees and back into France in 1814.
The prisoners incarcerated within the walls of the depot occupied their time by attending classes in languages, dancing, mathematics and navigation; or by manufacturing bone and wood models of ships, guillotines and anything that caught their imagination. A supurb collection of this work may be seen in Peterborough Museum.
These activities were encouraged by the authorities, as they allowed the prisoners to earn money from the sale of such models in the prison market, and kept the hands and minds of the men away from causing trouble or attempting escape.
The prisoners were also engaged in other activities; activities that were not condoned by the authorities, such as the illegal manufacture of straw plait; the forging of banknotes; and the not inconsiderable output of material of a pornographic nature.
A Detailed History >