A Traitorous Correspondence:
General Edouard Simon and the Conspirators of Odiham
By Paul Chamberlain
Throughout the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars Britain faced a constant threat of either invasion by the enemy or local attacks around the coastline. There had been invasion scares during the 1790s, and the British public was in no doubt of the seriousness of such threats when French troops landed at Fishguard in Wales in 1797 and Ireland the following year. Napoleon’s invasion preparations from 1803-05 placed the country in the grip of ‘The Great Terror’, when the whole nation rallied to prepare to deal the invader a blow from which he would never recover. While the Battle of Trafalgar and the switch of Napoleon’s attention to Austria placed this invasion on hold, the danger never entirely disappeared. Britain was aware that there was a constant threat of an attack on the mainland, whether it was actual or implied. Britain had to be constantly alert to such a possibility and expend resources to counter it.
A sight that the British public dreaded. French troops advancing across English soil. (Napoleonic Association, Hole Park, Kent, 2017. Photo by Paul Chamberlain)
The government became even more concerned over the country’s security in 1810 when the rapid expansion of the war prison system brought many thousands of enemy nationals to these shores. These prisoners of war posed a threat, if they could be released from the depots and armed, in conjunction with a landing of French or Dutch troops. This was at a time when there was civil unrest in the country, and the smuggling gangs of the south coast were increasing their activities to aid French prisoners to escape. The period 1810 to 1812 gave the government many a headache, especially when General Edouard Simon entered the story.
The War Prison system in 1810
The war prison system was administered by the Transport Office of the Admiralty, presided over by the Transport Board, whose commissioners regularly visited the depots. Prisoners of war were housed at the Prison Ship depots of Portsmouth, Plymouth, and Chatham; in Land Depots such as Norman Cross, Portchester Castle, and Dartmoor; and in the Parole Depots.
By 1810 the prisoner population was expanding rapidly. The Iberian theatre was generating thousands of captives, not just from the land actions but from the increased naval activity around Spain, Portugal, and France. Troop transports were captured; along with merchant vessels supplying the French forces; and French privateers who preyed upon the increased British merchant traffic supplying the allied forces in that theatre. There was a continuous flow of prisoners coming to England from this region. On 19 March 1810 the number of French in confinement in Britain was:
|Seamen in confinement||23,711|
|Soldiers in confinement||17,400|
|Officers on parole||2,572|
For comparison, France held about 12,500 Britons.
The parole prisoner population consisted of:
|Rank||Number on parole||Rank||Number on parole|
|Servants to officers||43||Masters, Merchant vessels||134|
|Mates, Merchant vessels||196|
|Servants to officers||41|
This was the situation in early 1810. Many of these men (and some also had their families with them) had arrived since the beginning of the Peninsular War, but many had also been in captivity since the early years of the conflict. The lack of exchange between Britain and France meant that new arrivals were coming into parole depots where the existing officer population had been there a while and were obviously going nowhere. Note that in the table there are large numbers of junior officers; the captains, lieutenants, and midshipmen; who saw long captivity as affecting their career opportunities in the French military machine.
The Transport Board saw an ever-increasing number of prisoners arriving in the country. In early 1810 the bulk of the prison depots (apart from some parole depots in the Midlands) were in the southern part of the country, many near major naval bases. The pressure on the system was eased by re-opening Portchester Castle near Portsmouth, and adding new vessels to the Prison Ship depots, but this increased the number of enemy nationals in the south of England, and rapidly increased the expense of housing such captives.
The Land Gate at Portchester Castle, painted by Captain Durrant of the West Yorkshire Militia, who did duty there guarding prisoners of war.
This prompted the Admiralty to open talks with the French over prisoner exchange in early 1810. There had been such proposals between 1803 and 1808, but these achieved nothing. A convention agreed between Britain and France in 1780 formed the basis for exchange of prisoners during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic period, not only with France but with Holland, Spain, Denmark, and the United States. Prisoners could be exchanged man for man, rank for rank, with each officer rank being worth a number of common men. Prisoners deemed no longer fit for service were sent home without waiting for an exchange cartel.
The discussions in 1810 foundered over the repatriation of invalids (10,467 were released from England from 1803 to 30 July 1811, while France released only 13 [thirteen] during that period); the question of the détenus – those Britons who had been detained in France on the outbreak of war in 1803; the soldiers of the Hanoverian Army captured early in the war who the French wanted to include in exchange negotiations; the San Domingo garrison who the French claimed should have been sent back to France on parole, not to the prisons of England; and the French demand that the Spanish captives they held should be included in the negotiations for French prisoners held in England. The lack of balance between the number of prisoners held by each side meant that no practical agreement could be reached. Consequently, these negotiations broke down.
The negotiations, and political comments on them, were reported in the British Press so officers residing in the parole depots were well aware that their chances of exchange were minimal, if they existed at all. From 1810 there were more escapes from the depots, summarised as:
|Period||Number of officers who escaped|
|1803 – March 1809||367|
|Year ending 5th June 1810||57|
|Year ending 5th June 1811||71|
|Year ending 5th June 1812||179|
There was one community who were quick to take advantage of this situation, and whose involvement is a significant part of the story of General Simon.
Smugglers had always been involved in assisting prisoners of war to escape and certainly expanded their activity in the final years of the Napoleonic conflict, when it became a very lucrative part of their business with the continent.
Smugglers by J. A. Atkinson (1808)
Until 1810 English smugglers were not officially welcomed in French ports, but this changed when on 15 June 1810 Napoleon issued an Imperial decree opening the port of Dunkirk to ‘ships known under the name of Smugglers’. In early 1811 the port of Wimereux, near Boulogne was also opened. Dunkirk was the most important base, with 300 English smugglers residing there compared with only 30 at Wimereux. However, Dunkirk was a site for armament production, so the English smuggling community was transferred to Gravelines, a port between Calais and Dunkirk, by an Imperial decree of 30 November 1811.
So why did Napoleon allow English smugglers to reside in a French port? The policy was designed to help French manufacturing and banking and subvert the British economy and strengthen his war finances. From the continent came tea, spirits, tobacco, and silk. To the continent went English gold, especially in the form of guineas, newspapers and French officers who had absconded, or ‘Run’ as was the official naval term, from the parole depots.
Aside from the newspapers, smugglers also carried correspondence from the French in England. In conversation with Barry O’Meara on St. Helena, Napoleon had this to say about these men:
During the war with you all the intelligence I received came through English smugglers. They are people who have courage and ability to do anything for money. They had at first a part of Dunkirk allotted to them, to which they were restricted; but as they latterly went out of their limits, committed riots, and insulted everybody, I ordered Gravelines to be prepared for their reception, where they had a little camp for their accommodation, beyond which they were not permitted to go. At one time there were upwards of five hundred of them in Dunkirk. I had every information I wanted through them. They brought over newspapers and despatches from the spies that we had in London. They took over spies from France, landed and kept them in their houses for some days, then dispersed them over the country, and brought them back when wanted.
O’Meara suggested to Napoleon that many of these smugglers were double spies, and they brought intelligence from France to the British government. Napoleon responded:
That is very likely. They brought you newspapers, but I believe, as spies, they did not convey much intelligence to you…and did great mischief to your government. They took from France annually forty or fifty millions of silks and brandy. They assisted the French prisoners to escape from England. The relations of Frenchmen, prisoners in your country, were accustomed to go to Dunkirk and make a bargain with them to bring over certain prisoner. All they wanted was the name, age, and a private token, by means of which the prisoner might repose confidence in them. Generally, in a short time afterwards, they effected it; as, for men like them, they had great deal of honour in their dealings.
The smugglers from Kent and Sussex took full advantage of this change in relations with Napoleonic France, and when it came to the smuggling of escaped prisoners particular gangs focused on specific parole depots in the search for business, setting up well-organised escape networks. In 1811 the one network most thoroughly and effectively investigated by the Transport Board was centred on the Folkestone area, with Richard Waddell of Dymchurch as the leading escape agent. This group focused on Thame (Oxfordshire) and the Hampshire depots but could work further afield by arrangement, as they had the men and resources to conduct three or four escape operations at the same time. One of the leading conductors of this gang was William Chalkling, who lived near Maidstone and travelled the country fairs as a gingerbread salesman, often accompanied by his 12-year-old stepson Thomas Green, who played a significant role in contacting prisoners who wished to escape. Both regularly visited Odiham Parole Depot.
The Parole Depots
So, what were the Parole Depots? These were towns and villages around the country where the local inhabitants were happy to have ‘foreign gentlemen’ billeted upon them; where there was ample accommodation available; and where an appointed Agent and the local magistrate were happy to oversee the security and behaviour of the prisoners. Those prisoners granted parole were commissioned officers of the rank and above of sous-lieutenant in the army and gardes-marine in the navy; captains and second officers of merchantmen over 50 tons, and captains and the next two officers of privateers carrying 100 men and armed with at least 14 four-pounder guns.
The officer signed an undertaking to abide by the parole regulations, to obey the laws of the country and not to carry on any clandestine correspondence with other prisoners elsewhere in the country. The regulations restricted his movements and prescribed when he was allowed out of his lodgings.
Certificate issued to Parole Prisoners
…he has liberty to walk on the Great Turnpike Road, within the distance of one mile from the extremities of the town; but that he must not go into any field or cross-road, nor be absent from his lodgings after five o’clock in the afternoon, during the months of November, December, and January; and after seven o’clock in the months of February, March, April, September, and October; or after eight o’clock in the months of May, June, and July; nor quit his lodgings in the morning until the bell rings at six o’clock…
Notices were posted around the depot to inform the locals of the parole restrictions, and a bell was rung fifteen minutes before the officers were due back in their lodgings. Any officer who abused these rules could be arrested, and repeat offenders had their parole rescinded and were sent into close confinement in the land prisons or prison ships. On the whole the system worked well, and most officers were accepted into the community. Each officer was given an allowance of 1s 6d per day from which he had to pay for his lodgings, food, and other necessities. If there were upwards of 100 men on parole in a town, this brought welcome business to the area and generally parole prisoners and the locals got on well together.
Frenchman’s Oak outside of Odiham. This ancient tree is situated by the milestone and became an additional marker of the parole limit.
The basis of the parole system was that by giving your word of honour you would not escape and would abide by the regulations; in effect you were an officer and a gentleman. This system had worked very well during the conflicts of the 18th century when most officers taken captive were from the nobility, and their word of honour was an important part of their character. During the war of 1803 to 1814 between Britain and Napoleonic France the breakdown of the customary exchange system meant that some of these officers were spending many years residing in captivity while their military careers were passing them by.
Also, while the ‘career open to talents’ that had been generated by the French Revolution had brought men from the ranks into the officer corps, and many of these officers were now on parole in England, there were a large number of them whose claims to be considered gentlemen were either tenuous or non-existent. This resulted in an increase in the numbers of officers who broke their parole and/or attempted escape from 1810 onwards, especially from depots such as Odiham, Alresford and Bishops Waltham in Hampshire.
The Board had experienced troublesome French generals before. The generals captured at St. Domingue in 1803 were admitted to parole, with Generals Rochambeau, Pageot and Boyé, together with their servants and ADCs, being sent to Ashbourne in Derbyshire. Rochambeau was furious at what he considered to be double-dealing over the British Government’s interpretation of the capitulation he had signed and from the moment he arrived in Ashbourne it was obvious he was going to cause trouble. He refused to hand over his arms to the Agent and wrote many an indignant and forceful letter to the Board complaining of the treatment of the French officers taken in the Caribbean. It soon became apparent that he was corresponding with other French officers in the country, frequently exceeding his parole limits, and the Board feared that he was trying to contact dissident elements in the country and attempting to foment a rebellion of parole prisoners in the Midland depots. To make matters worse, the generals at Ashbourne were writing to many influential people, such as Lord Melville and Sir Sidney Smith, requesting their help in arranging an exchange with France. This was going over the heads of the Board, who unsurprisingly were indignant at this development, and emphatically pointed out to Sir Sidney that he was so disliked by the French government that his involvement in the exchange of prisoners was more likely to be a hindrance than help.
The reports of abuse of parole from the depot continued to reach the Transport Office, so that in October 1804 both Rochambeau and Boyé were removed to Norman Cross. They were later re-admitted to parole but caused further issues for the Board, eventually being exchanged in 1811.
General Pageot caused problems of a different kind. He was an affable character and made many friends whilst on parole. In late 1804 it became well-known in the area that he was paying a lot of attention to a young lady, despite being a married man with children. Romantic liaisons between French officers and local girls occurred in many of the depots, although the Board discouraged such relationships. Pageot’s romantic adventure however, got into the Derby Mercury, whose editor wrote an indignant report of the affair:
A report prevails (we are much concerned to state) that an accomplished, nice young woman of great respectability in the neighbourhood of Ashbourne, Derbyshire, is about to bestow her now unpolluted hand and heart upon one of those reptiles who so luckily for himself escaped to this country from the savages of St. Domingo, less ferocious in their nature than his fellows in arms and called a French General. This wretch it is supposed, has a wife and child already somewhere abroad. We must add for the honour of Old England, and for the interest which this female ought to feel for the preservation of her character, that she will see her error in time, and avoid bringing so foul a stigma upon her country and her sex. Depravity of character is far from being a feature in the daughters of Albion’s isle, however prominent it may be in French men and French women.
The ‘reptile’ Pageot, together with his ADC and their servants, was ordered to transfer to Montgomery, but Pageot refused to go and was immediately placed under house arrest. The Board was reluctant to send him with the other generals to Norman Cross, so offered Odiham as an alternative place of parole. Pageot accepted and was safely removed from temptation and arrived at the Hampshire village on 20 March 1805.
The Parole Depot of Odiham
Odiham is a sleepy little village in Hampshire and was one of a number of communities in the county used as parole depots during the Napoleonic Wars. The 1811 census recorded that 22 houses were occupied by parole prisoners, some of whom were lodged on the locals, while groups of officers often rented an entire house for their dwelling.
One of the houses in the High Street, Odiham, showing evidence of prisoners being billeted there. Odiham had been used as a Parole Depot in the earlier wars of the 18th century, so this may also refer to earlier inhabitants of the building.
Frenchman’s Cottage in the High Street, Odiham. This image was taken in the 1980s, and the building has been refurbished since then with the historic name sadly having been removed.
There were soldiers such as Lieutenant Augustin La Croix, serving in the Army of St. Domingo and captured in November 1803. He was living in Odiham since 5 October 1804 alongside his wife Jacome Lalette and their three children Louis, Josephine, and Caroline. John Louis Blangin was captain of a transport taken off Cape Francois, arriving in Odiham on 6 September 1804 with his two sons Jacques Brutus (aged 11) and Louis Adolph (aged 3½). Jacques was buried in the churchyard of Odiham on 7 February 1806. Officers could have their family and servants on parole with them (they were subject to the same parole regulations) as long as they took responsibility for their actions,
It was not just French officers residing here. Lieutenant Leon Tomaszewski (spelt Thomaskise in the General Entry Book) was one of 5,000 Polish troops sent to the Caribbean in 1802 and found himself captive of the British after the capitulation of the French Army of St. Domingue. He spent some time on parole in Jamaica before arriving in England in November 1804 and being sent to Odiham.
With these officers residing in the village for some years, without hope of exchange, it was to be expected that some would find romance within the community. Henri Barré, a naval officer captured off St. Domingo, had a daughter Adelaide, born to a local woman Anne Webb.
This was a quiet community. A Commissioner from the Board visited the depot and reported on 13 July 1805 that:
…I visited the residences of Parole prisoners at Odiham…and found that no complaints from the inhabitants had been signified to the Agent…on the contrary, I was assured that the people were rather gratified than otherwise from the prisoners resident with them.
Two years later a Commissioner again visited the depot reporting that:
…no complaints existed, but that the prisoners on Parole conducted themselves generally with propriety and gave but little offence to the neighbourhood…In this town were 132 French officers upon their parole.
The peace and quiet of this depot were to change when General Edouard François Simon arrived.
General Edouard François Simon
Baron Edouard François Simon was born on 1 December 1769 in Troyes. He joined the army in May 1792 as a sous-lieutenant in the 1er Régiment d’Infanterie de Ligne. His bravery and intelligence allowed him to rise rapidly through the ranks, and by 1795 he was ‘chef de bataillon’, and within months commanded a brigade. As colonel he was on the staff of the army that sailed to Ireland in support of General Humbert’s invasion of Ireland in 1798, only to be captured by the British when the ship he was on, the Hoche, was taken. He spent a short period as a prisoner of war before being exchanged.
1801 found him on the staff of General Bernadotte. The following year saw the Treaty of Amiens bringing peace between France and Great Britain. Within the French military there were many generals who were now without employment, and some of whom felt that the principles of the Revolution had been betrayed when Napoleon became First Consul. Through Fouché, Napoleon was aware of those officers who opposed him and decided the best course of action was to disperse them throughout France. Bernadotte, who openly disapproved of Napoleon’s autocracy, was sent to command the Army of the West in Brittany and the Vendée, along with his Chief of Staff, General Simon. With Bernadotte’s approval, Simon distributed anti-Bonaparte literature. The former was too powerful for Napoleon to arrest, but Simon was not. He was apprehended in August 1802 and imprisoned on the island of Oléron near the port of Rochefort on the west coast of France. Two years later he was granted clemency by Napoleon but sent into exile in Champagne, where he remained until 1808 when he returned to military service with the rank of general de brigade, serving in the Peninsula. He commanded a brigade in the 3rd Division of the VI Corps under Ney, attacking Wellington’s position at Busaco on 27 September 1810, being severely wounded in the face by a round of spherical case shot, or Shrapnel’s shell. He was taken prisoner. His wound healed but left him with a very distinctive scar on the left cheek.
While a prisoner and being treated for his wound, his servant attempted to cross to the British lines to care for him but was shot at by British sentries each time he tried. A cantinière of the 26eme Régiment de Ligne was determined to assist the general. Loading her donkey with medical supplies she crossed the battlefield stating, “Let us see if the English are brave enough to kill a woman”. The English let her through, and she looked after Simon for several days before returning to her unit. Who this woman was, and indeed if this story is true, she did not travel with him to England.
General Simon in Odiham
Simon arrived on parole in Odiham on 28 October 1810, along with his servant Pierre Ladouce and other officers taken in Spain. He arrived at a time when it was common knowledge that exchange negotiations had broken down between Britain and France; with officers realising that their chance of returning to the continent by exchange was remote; and with smugglers becoming more active in assisting these men to escape by visiting the Hampshire depots. Simon entered an environment that suited his penchant for plotting!
He had not been long in Odiham when he began secret communication with the French government and clandestine correspondence with other officers held on parole around the country who formed a team of conspirators. These letters were conveyed via the smugglers who visited the depots to assist escapees. Simon’s letters were assisting the authorities in France to locate specific officers they wanted returned.
The British authorities were receiving a variety of worrying intelligence that involved the ever-increasing prisoner of war population. Simon’s letters with officers on parole in Devon were suggesting that a French raid on the area could release the prisoners held at Plymouth and Dartmoor and cause serious problems for the country. This was at a time when the military were having to send thousands of troops to the north of the country in response to the Luddite Riots that began in March 1811. Workers in the wool and cotton weaving industries were rebelling against the introduction of more efficient power looms that threatened jobs and wages. This unrest continued throughout 1811 and 1812.
To confirm their fears, the Admiralty received an ‘Extract of Secret Intelligence’ from an agent in Antwerp in late December 1811:
The large fleet here remain perfectly inactive, but the flotilla are only waiting for orders. I was yesterday told by one of the captains that 6,000 men would soon be embarked, that the place of landing was to be as near as possible to Stilton Prison [Norman Cross prison], and that every man was to carry two complete sets of arms etc. in order to equip the prisoners they may release.
Le Feure, Derrisham and De Musey are to embark in an American ship and are to be landed in England as American Gentlemen, on what part of the coast I did not hear, but their headquarters are to be one at Liverpool, one at Hull, and one where deemed safe and convenient between Plymouth and Portsmouth, of course all possible information is to be collected by these Gentlemen and they are desired to take every opportunity of visiting whatever French Prisons may be in their neighbourhood to prepare the minds of their Brethren for the great event; the one from Hull is to be very frequent in his visits to Stilton, and to be particular as to the number of troops stationed in that quarter.
Another disturbing report had been received by the Transport Board earlier that month. Northampton was a parole depot for French officers and located about ten miles (16.7 kilometres) to the west was the important barracks and arms depot at Weedon Bec. Major Tidy of the 14th Foot doing duty there reported that two French officers from Northampton were seen in the vicinity of the depot. He was reprimanded for not having apprehended them, but on enquiry the Board discovered that a prisoner by the name of Raffray was known to have regularly violated his parole regulations and left the town in the direction of Weedon Bec. He was arrested and sent to the hulks at Chatham.
So how did the authorities discover General Simon’s ‘traitorous correspondence’?
William Chalkling and his associate Thomas Green had come to Odiham to assist in the escape of some French officers. By this time the smugglers were assisting either officers who expressed a desire to abscond or fulfilling requests from the French authorities in Boulogne. On occasion smugglers were apprehended with a list of French officers in their pocket.
Jean Dutache was a privateer captain who had been at Odiham since June 1808 and wished to return to France. In August 1811 he was one of a group of officers who met with Chalkling and Green at the lodgings of Augustine Sagory. The two smugglers told the six officers present that they could get them across the Channel for £45 per head and they agreed ‘that he should have his price, half on arriving at the boat and the other half on landing in France’. Chalkling told them that he would take them to Dunkirk. However, Dutache could not raise the £45 required and so did not leave the depot when the smugglers came for the others.
Prisoners who performed some service for the authorities were often released without waiting for any possible exchange cartel to be arranged. Some prisoners at Andover helped to put out a fire in the town and were sent home to France. Joseph Maudet, on parole at Oswestry, saved a child from the paws of a lion, an exhibit in a travelling menagerie, and after the townsfolk petitioned the Admiralty about his bravery, he was released.
Dutache saw an opportunity and informed the Agent at Odiham, Mr Shebbeare, who in turn informed the Transport Office. Dutache gave a full statement about Chalkling and Green who were arrested in early September, and who also gave full statements about their activities in the south of England. As a reward Jean Dutache was granted his release from captivity and sent home to France. However, his fate on arrival was sealed by General Simon.
In January 1812 the Transport Board acquired an intercepted a letter via the two arrested smugglers, that led them to General Simon and his co-plotters. Letters from these officers were found amongst Simon’s papers and implicated Lt. Colonel Francois Joseph Charles Abraham Vaxoncourt; Assistant Surgeon J. M. Pasquier; and two midshipmen – Cornier de Mede and J. Lampo, all on parole at Alresford. At Odiham the conspirators included Captain Flamaud, Lieutenant Dismasure; and at Thame Midshipman Lasourdion. The Board noted that ‘the letters of Colonel Vaxoncourt were more offensive than those of the other prisoners.’ Vaxoncourt had written to Simon ‘Thanks to you mon General in this plan the French will finally unite to create one group and through this union will confound our weak but proud enemy…’.
Vaxoncourt was one of the officers from Guadeloupe who arrived at the French community along with his son Horace. It came to the attention of the Transport Office that Horace frequently went outside the parole limits. His father explained this behaviour by complaining that his son often ran away, was guilty of wanton and dissolute conduct, and often disappeared for weeks at a time, only to return penniless. The Office accepted this explanation, unaware that in fact Horace was delivering messages between the parole towns, taking letters from Alresford to Odiham, Bishop’s Waltham, Andover, Thame and even to Gosport.
The Board had written to the Admiralty on 13 January 1812:
…in consequence of an intercepted letter we judged it proper to seize the papers of the French General Simon residing on parole at Odiham and from these papers it appears that he has in violation of his parole been carrying on a correspondence with France through the mediation of several Frenchmen resident in London some of whom have already been apprehended and that the prisoner Dutache was shot on his arrival at Morlaix in consequence of a communication thus made by General Simon.
This prompted the Admiralty to agree to the Board’s proposal that Simon be sent into close confinement for such a gross breach of his Parole Honour. Before this could happen, General Simon fled from Odiham . Two days later the newspapers were publishing details of the reward offered for his recapture.
Transport Office January 15 1812
One Hundred- and Thirty-Pounds Reward
Breach of Parole, And Traitorous Correspondence
Whereas the French General Simon, called a Baron and Chevalier of the French Empire, has absconded from Odiham, in violation of his parole of honour, and is also charged with carrying on a traitorous correspondence with persons in this country; the Commissioners conducting the Transport Service do hereby offer a reward of One Hundred Pounds to any person who shall apprehend the said General Simon, and deliver him at this office, or otherwise cause him to be securely lodged in any of His Majesty’s Gaols in this kingdom; and a further reward of Twenty Pounds for the conviction of any British subject who shall be convicted in aiding the said General Simon in his escape.
He is forty years of age, five feet ten inches high, black hair, hazel eyes, oval visage, swarthy complexion, and has a scar on the left cheek.
The said French general is accompanied by Philip Boiron, a surgeon in the French Army, for whose recapture a reward of Ten Guineas will be paid…
This advert offering a substantial reward appeared in many newspapers and the story made good copy, the newspapers picking up on the ‘traitorous correspondence’ aspect. The St. James Chronicle reported that ‘…the traitorous correspondence of General Simon …with the French government respecting the landing of a considerable number of troops on the coast of Cornwall. General Simon, it is said, undertook to arrange with the prisoners here to join them’.
As for his accomplices, Vaxoncourt and their co-conspirators were sent to Portchester Castle, but in April 1812 Vaxoncourt, Pasquier and Lampo were re-admitted to parole at Abergavenny.
Bow Street Officers and Prisoners of War
At this stage of the story, it is pertinent to examine who was instrumental in investigating matters relating to prisoners of war as these men are frequently referred to in the correspondence of the Transport Office.
In 1740 a Magistrates Court was established at 4 Bow Street, London, where people were encouraged to report crime and the accused could be tried for their criminal actions. By the end of the decade this office had begun Crime Reporting, and by the end of the century both Horse and Foot Patrols had been instigated to patrol London and its environs to prevent highway robbery. Many of the officers employed in these patrols, as they gained experience and built up a network of contacts in the criminal underworld, were promoted to Principal Officers, whose role was in the detection of crime so that offenders could be prosecuted, and on occasion, stolen goods recovered. They wore no uniform and became known as the Bow Street Runners, and frequently went into the rookeries of London to obtain information from their network of contacts.
Such was their expertise at detecting crime and assisting victims to prosecute offenders, that they were often called upon by government departments for assistance. The Post Office used them to probe offences on their behalf such as investigating thefts from the mail, especially thefts of bank notes by sorters or letter carriers. The Bank of England (and provincial banks) employed Bow Street officers to detect and assist in the prosecution of forgers of bank notes, and as prisoners of war were, on occasion, involved in this activity, the officers worked with both the Bank and the Transport Office to detect offenders in the land depots and the prison ships. They were also employed by private individuals to investigate theft cases; by insurance companies to investigate cases of arson, and by the Home Department to assist in the apprehension of smugglers.
While the officers were employed by the Bow Street court at a rate of one guinea per week (in 1811), it was accepted that they could take on private work for individuals and organisations, receiving remuneration from those employers, and that included any reward money offered. The two officers whose names appear regularly in the records of the Transport Board are Stephen Lavender and John Vickery, with both being held in high regard by other government departments as well, frequently working together. Aside from investigating crime, they also formed armed security escorts for the transport of bullion, for example when they escorted the conveyance of £33,000 (over £3 million in today’s terms) in Spanish dollars to Portsmouth so the army could be paid in Spain.
John Vickery was the ideal man to send to Odiham as part of the investigation into the activities of General Simon, as the town was his birthplace, He married Sarah Marriner in Farnham, Surrey, and they had two children, residing in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. In 1801 he was living with Ann Brown, with whom he had three children, but it appears he did not cut his ties with Odiham, as when he died in 1840 in his will he left two dwelling houses and lands there, plus £80 of bequests, together with stocks and annuities in public accounts, to his son John Vickery Junior and his daughter, Phoebe Vickery, and provision for his three other children.
He had become a Bow Street officer in 1800 and by 1810 he was a regular at the Old Bailey, giving evidence in 65 cases in that year alone. By then he had become a very active and respected officer, even amongst the criminal fraternity. He often went into Flash Houses – public houses of low repute where criminals met – where he had a network of informers who assisted him, for a few tankards of ale and coin. In 1820 he suffered an apoplectic fit and two years later decided that he had had enough of being a Bow Street officer. He successfully applied to become Prison Governor of Clerkenwell House of Correction (by 1822 renamed Coldbath Fields). He remained in this role until 1829, retiring with a pension. When he died suddenly on 18 June 1840, he was a wealthy man, hence the generous bequests in his will.
Vickery’s colleague and frequent partner, Stephen Lavender, was appointed an officer in 1807, resigning in 1821 and becoming deputy high constable of Manchester in the same year. He died in 1833.
General Simon apprehended
General Simon was at large for two days, before being traced to an address in London. What helped Vickery and Lavender to apprehend Simon was that at the time were a number of French nationals who had been working in the country, having come here many years before and been allowed to continue their residence but under the watchful eye of the Alien Department. Some of these individuals had been traced via Simon’s seized correspondence and were thus known to the authorities.
The two Bow Street officers, on the trail of the escaped general, called upon a French doctor in Dover Street, Piccadilly, who had been suspected of corresponding with General Simon. He was not there, but this visit led them to the house of a Madame Gion, in Great Pulteney Street. Simon was not here, but they did find three escaped French officers who were hiding in the building. Their investigations then took them to a house in Pratt Street, Camden Town, where they did find both Simon and Boiron.
Aside from retaking the general and other escaped parole prisoners, the authorities dealt heavily with the French nationals residing in London who had helped the general. One Reynaud, who had been working as merchant’s clerk, was sent to the hulks at Chatham. Desguerrais, an artificial florist; Dezier, a music master; and three ladies – Mesdames Lami, Marie and Gion, were sent to France on the next available cartel ship. A Monsieur Lausteau, who kept a chemist’s shop, was permitted to go to America at his own request.
And what of General Simon?
From October 1810 the Transport Board had been investigating suitable sites in the north of England and Scotland to house prisoners of war, rather than concentrating the captive population in the southern half of the country. Two prisons, Esk Mills and Valleyfield were hastily opened in 1811, while a new depot for up to 7,000 prisoners was constructed at Perth and from August 1812 prisoners from the Peninsular theatre were shipped there directly from Lisbon. Further Parole Depots were established in the north and many officers on parole in the south of England began to be transferred to these depots from late 1810 onwards.
General Simon was a special case, however. It was decided that he was ‘to be kept in close military custody…in one of the forts in Scotland’. Dumbarton Castle was chosen as home to the general and his servant Pierre Ladouce, who arrived there in March 1812.
Dumbarton Castle, built on a volcanic rock rising almost 76 metres above the river Clyde, was a very secure fortress. The garrison consisted of half a dozen veteran gunners under the master gunner who rejoiced in the name Romeo Grisdale, and a company of militia. Simon was confined in a two-storey building next to the barracks, in ‘a suite of rooms with iron-stanchioned windows’ and was ‘vigilantly guarded by two soldiers with loaded arms and fixed bayonets’. He was allowed exercise twice a day, from 10am to 12 noon and from 4 to 6pm, by walking to the top of the eastern peak of the Castle rock and back again. When, in 1813, it was discovered that he was still corresponding with French officers regarding the escape of prisoners on parole, orders were sent to Dumbarton that not only was Simon to be deprived of newspapers, but that he was not to be allowed pens and ink, ‘as he made such a scandalous and unbecoming use of them’.
Retaliation in Verdun
The French Ministry of Marine complained to the Admiralty about the harsh treatment of Simon, and in retaliation withdrew the parole privileges of Major-General Lord Blayney, then on parole at Verdun, and placed him into close confinement.
Blayney had been captured at the Battle of Fuengirola on 15 October 1810, when he led a force from Gibraltar into Spain. He spent the next four years in captivity and being the senior officer at Verdun he looked after the other prisoners assisting them to get an allowance for clothing and their pay from the British government. Blayney lived comfortably in the depot until March 1812. He related in his Narrative of a Forced Journey through Spain and France as a Prisoner of War in the years 1810 to 1814, published in 1814:
…I was visited one morning by the lieutenant of gendarmerie, who notified the commandant’s desire to see me immediately. On my arrival, this officer expressed his concern at the very unpleasant duty imposed upon him, in being obliged to inform me that I was a close prisoner, by order of the emperor, and then read a letter from the Minister of War, explaining the cause. From the general I was conducted to the convent of St. Vannes, in the citadel, where a small room, about fourteen feet square, was allotted me, the window of which was strongly barred. Two gendarmes were placed in a little passage leading to the room, each of whom I was obliged to pay for guarding me.
Blayney wrote to Lord Liverpool and the Duke of York requesting help to ‘relieve me of my present situation’, writing:
I beg leave to inform your Lordship that I am this moment put in close confinement, by order of the French Government, in consequence of the French General Officer, Simon, being arrested by the British, for what cause I have not been informed…
…Whatever may be the cause of General Simon’s arrest, I hope the British government will be pleased to consider how unjust it is that I should be the victim of any rash or imprudent act on the part of the General.
By the time Blayney compiled his Narrative, he had discovered the exact reason for becoming a close prisoner:
In this close confinement I remained for seven weeks, as a hostage, to deter the English government from punishing a French general officer, who had not only broken his parole, but had also laid plans for arming and raising of the French prisoners in England, which according to the laws of war, subjected him to the punishment of a spy.
The British Reaction
In response, the British government threatened to send all French parole prisoners into close confinement on the hulks. General Simon was an extreme case of an officer abusing his parole and the innocent Blayney was released from close confinement. General Simon and his servant returned to France in May 1814 along with other prisoners of war in Britain.
Aside from sending prisoners of war to the north of the country from 1810 onwards, to improve security in the southern half of the country, the British Government introduced harsher penalties for Britons aiding French officers to escape. In July 1812, a bill was passed that made the aiding of escapes a felony punishable by a maximum penalty of transportation for life. While this did not stop smugglers from assisting French officers to escape, it meant that the minor players in the business, the messengers, the farmers who hired out a barn for the concealment of escapees, the men hired to row the boats containing escapees across the Channel; if they were arrested then to avoid a trip to Botany Bay they would willingly inform on the organisation that employed them. By late 1813 the escape routes were well-known to the authorities, and the number of escapes declined.
General Edouard François Simon was one of the more extreme officers who abused the trust placed in him by the authorities, who had granted him parole and a comfortable existence in Odiham. His ‘traitorous correspondence’ caught the public’s imagination. However, one correspondent in the Admiralty summed up the situation when he wrote ‘General Simon is not a gentleman’.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to John Morewood for reviewing this paper prior to publication.
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 Derby Mercury, 14 February 1805.
 Bennett ibid. p123 and NA: ADM 103/563 General Entry Book of French Prisoners of War at Odiham.
 Lalowski, Marek Tadeus and North, Jonathan. War of Lost Hope: Polish Accounts of the Napoleonic Expedition to Saint Domingue 1801-1804 (Private publisher, 2018) p19-21 and p110-111.
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 Ibid. 2 October 1807.
 Sparrow, Elizabeth. Secret Service: British Agents in France 1792-1815 (Boydell Press, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1999), p253-254.
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 Tonder, Gerry van. Nottingham’s Military Legacy (Pen & Sword Books, Barnsley, 2017), p24-29
 TNA: ADM97/130. Admiralty to Transport Board, 9 January 1812.
 TNA: ADM98/133 Transport Boards letters to Public Offices, 11 December 1811 and 3 January 1812.
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 Bennett, Arthur C. and Parsons, Edmund. A History of the Free School of Andover (Edmund Parsons, Andover, 1920), p200.
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 Ibid. 25 January 1812. Biddell, Barbara. Napoleonic Prisoners of War in and around Bishop’s Waltham (Two Plus George Ltd. Barnham, West Sussex, 2007), p63.
 TNA: ADM98/119. Letters to the Admiralty, 11 January 1812.
 TNA: ADM103/563 ibid.
 The Globe, 16 January 1812.
 St. James Chronicle, 21 January 1812.
 TNA: ADM103/552. General Entry Book French Prisoners of war on parole at Alresford and Abergavenny.
 Kennison, Peter and Cook, Alan. Policing from Bow Street: Principal Officers, Runners and the Patroles (London, 2019), p89-103.
 Cox, David J. A Certain Share of Low Cunning: A History of the Bow Street Runners 1792-1839 (Routledge, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, 2012), p66-101.
 Kennison and Cook, ibid. p184-188.
 Beattie, J.M. The First English Detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750-1840 (Oxford University Press, 2014), p219.
 Oxford University and City Herald, 7 March 1812.
 Chamberlain, ibid. p81.
 MacDougall, Ian. All Men Are Brethren: Prisoners of War in Scotland, 1803-1814. (Birlinn Ltd. Edinburgh, 2008), p390
 Ibid. p392
 Blayney, Major-General Lord. Narrative of a Forced Journey through Spain and France as a Prisoner of War in the Years 1810 to 1814. Volume II (London, 1814), p176-177.
 Ibid., p180-181.
 Ibid., p490-491.
 Ibid., p182.