The Napoleonic Wars

The 18th Century was a century of wars. On a number of occasions, Britain found herself in conflict with the major powers of Europe: France, Spain and Holland. After the French Revolution in 1789, it was but a matter of time before this country was again at war, with France now intent on exporting her revolutionary ideals abroad.

This war came in 1793, and involved all European nations, both large and small. This war against first Revolutionary France and then a France under the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte continued, with two short intervals of peace, until Napoleon's final overthrow in 1815. During the 19th Century this long conflict was known as the Great War, until this period was overshadowed by a more devastating 20th Century conflict.

Throughout the Napoleonic Wars, Britain was a constant and implacable enemy of France, and as far as the French were concerned, a frustratingly undefeatable enemy.

Warfare in any age brings with it casualties - many are killed; many wounded; many suffer from disease and privations; and many are taken captive by the belligerent powers.

From 1793 until 1815, about 200,000 prisoners of war were brought to Britain, to reside in the infamous prison hulks, or at the prison depots on land such as Portchester Castle near Portsmouth; Dartmoor Prison on the bleak Devon moorland; and at the depot of Norman Cross. This prison was one of the major prison depots of this period, administered by the Transport Board of the Admiralty.

By February 1796 the matter of accommodation for prisoners of war in this country had become most urgent. The prospect of large batches of prisoners arriving in the country concerned the Admiralty, as the existing war prisons were rapidly approaching their full capacity, and the supply of hulks could not keep pace with the demand.