Life in the Depot

One of the soldiers stationed at the depot in 1799 later wrote an account of his garrison duty there. He recalled that in Autumn of that year his regiment proceeded:

"....to Norman Cross for the purpose of guarding some thousands of unhappy Frenchmen, cooped up in that place and clothed in yellow (the prison dress), to expiate their revolutionary sins by many years captivity and exile in loathsome prison, cut off from family and friends.

"Their necessities forced them to exert their ingenuity in making various curious toys which the disposed of at a very low rate to enable them to procure a few comforts to alleviate their extreme wretchedness.....for want of clothes many of them suffered every privation rather than be clad in a conspicuous and humiliating colour."

It is not surprising to learn that the crowded mass of humanity within the walls of the depot was prey to epidemic disease. Of the total death count, 1,021 died during 1800 - 1801, mainly due to an outbreak of typhoid fever, and this total included both French and Dutch.

Other diseases took their toll. Outbreaks of smallpox, typhus, measles, consumption and dysentery resulted in deaths; not only of the prisoners, but of their guards as well.

And we must not forget the psychological effect the prison had on some inmates, whether it was the close confinement, or bullying colleagues. Jean Bosse, aged 49 years, was cook on board a French Privateer captured by the Royal Navy. He hanged himself in the prison on 12th June 1801.

Whether a prisoner died of disease, or by his own hand, the memorial at Norman Cross will remember such tragic men as these, and help to keep alive the fascinating and colourful story of the prison depot at Norman Cross.

For a detailed account of the role of the Militia in guarding the Norman Cross depot, see Passing Muster: the Militia in Leicestershire and Rutland on the 250th Anniversary of the Militia Act of 1757, 2007