Friday, 12 February 2010

Sepia Saturday: A Blast from the Past

Researching the details of my father's bible (see last Saturday's post), I came across this, quite by chance. I already knew that an ancestor of his, Jean Rivron, had also been a prisoner of war - albeit a luckier one. I even knew what he looked like as I possess a copy of what is almost certainly his photograph (right). He'd been taken prisoner by the English last time England was at war with France. That's how we ended up over here. However, I didn't know he had a walk on part in Prisoners of war in Britain, 1756 to 1815; a record of their lives, their romance and their sufferings (by Francis Abell, LOUP (1914)).The book tantallisingly fleshes out what little I know:


THE following descriptions of life in parole towns by French
writers may not be entirely satisfactory to the reader who
naturally wishes to get as correct an impression of it as possible,
inasmuch as they are from the pens of men smarting under
restrictions and perhaps a sense of injustice, irritated by ennui,
by the irksomeness of confinement in places which as a rule do
not seem to have been selected because of their fitness to ad-
minister to the joys of life, and by the occasional evidences of
being among unfriendly people. But I hope to balance this
in later chapters by the story of the paroled officers as seen
by the captors.

The original French I have translated literally, except when
it has seemed to me that translation would involve a sacrifice
of terseness or force.

Listen to Lieutenant Gicquel des Touches, at Tiverton, after
Trafalgar :

' A pleasant little town, but which struck me as particularly
monotonous after the exciting life to which I was accustomed.
My pay, reduced by one-half, amounted to fifty francs a month,
which had to satisfy all my needs at a time when the continental
blockade had caused a very sensible rise in the price of all
commodities. ... I took advantage of my leisure hours to
overhaul and complete my education. Some of my comrades
of more literary bringing-up gave me lessons in literature and
history, in return for which I taught them fencing, for which
I always had much aptitude, and which I had always practised
a good deal. The population was generally kindly disposed
towards us ; some of the inhabitants urging their interest in us
so far as to propose to help me to escape, and among them
a young and pretty Miss who only made one condition that
I should take her with me in my flight, and should marry her
when we reached the Continent. It was not much trouble for
me to resist these temptations, but it was harder to tear myself
away from the importunities of some of my companions, who,
not having the same ideas as I had about the sacredness of one's
word, would have forced me to escape with them.

' Several succeeded : I say nothing about them, but I have
often been astonished later at the ill-will they have borne me
for not having done as they did.'

Gicquel was at Tiverton six years and was then exchanged.

A Freemasons' Lodge, Enfants de Mars, was opened and
worked at Tiverton about 1810, of which the first and only
master was Alexander de la Motte, afterwards Languages
Master at Blundell's School. The Masons met in a room in
Frog Street, now Castle Street, until, two of the officers on
parole in the town escaping, the authorities prohibited the
meetings. The Tyler of the Lodge, Rivron by name, remained
in Tiverton after peace was made, and for many years worked
as a slipper-maker. He had been an officer's servant.

Piggot and Co's Directory of 1844 includes the name of John (he anglicised his christian name) Rivron of Gold St in its list of boot and shoe-makers. A man of the same name accused a Mary Ann Garvey of stealing a shilling in 1850. The case was discharged. Along with the photograph of Jean/John, I've also got a photo of his a son, Dominic, who grew up to be a soldier too, only this time in the British Army:

 And to think I used to think family history was a load of old cobblers.


The Weaver of Grass said...

Do you think there is any likeness there? I have looked long and hard but can;t see any. What fascinating facts you have found to add to what we already knew.

Poetikat said...

Excellent work, Dominic!
These are two fine photographs.

Is the son in the photograph mentioned at the end your namesake?

Did you see where you can sign up now for Sepia Saturday?

Visit to add your name to the links' widget.


Alan Burnett said...

I have been away for a few weeks so I missed the previous posts in your Sepia Saturday series, but I have read the back story with growing fascination. Wonderful story : great Sepia Saturday post.

Martin H. said...

A well researched and nicely written account. You have a fascinating family history and it's a joy.

Get Off My Lawn! said...

Cool stuff. I have heard of ancestors of mine fighting in the American civil war but I have very little knowledge or evidence. Perhaps I should go looking for an old bible.

willow said...

Weaver asked the same question that I wondered. You can surely see the family resemblance between father and son. Very handsome men!

Nishant said...

Excellent work, Dominic!
These are two fine photographs

Work From Home

Elisabeth said...

There's a lot to be said for researching your roots, Dominic. It's a great reminder of where you've come from. You have fascinating ancestors here Dominic.

subby said...

First time over here and mighty impressed! Especially with the written accounts, which tend to get lost o'er time...

Barry said...

What a great find and how interesting to get such insight into how prisoners of war were treated in those days.

Those photos are treasures.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

great photos - such great facial hair

....and two prisoners of war in the fam - fascinating stories

i too was wondering if you are named after this dominic

Betsy said...

What a fasciating story. Oh my...and how wonderful that you have the book, too. Yes, they look like father and son, for sure. Wonderful photographs!

tony said...

What An Amazing Family Dominic.It Must Have Come As Quite A Jolt When You First Read The Book.

John Hayes said...

An amazing piece of family history, & fine photographs. Fascinating in light of your fatehr's ordeal to trace your family history in Britain to another prisoner of war.

Leah said...

Absolutely riveting! I look forward to working backwards and reading more of your blog.

BwcaBrownie said...

Family History is indeed fascinating.

That 'fishwife' who made the accusation re the shilling was clearly a spurned lover, but just think - if she had prevailed, he may have been Transported down here to Australia.

Now that you know details of those ancestors, can you see elements of your own character/personality, which may have come from their experiences?

Stephanie said...

Fascinating. Really enjoyed your post.

L. D. Burgus said...

You are so fortunate to have family history the goes so far back in time. My family fled Germany in 1800's and those left behind are just gone. Fighting in a war or going to jail was their reason for leaving. Your photos are very old but still exhibit the souls.

Golden West said...

I've so enjoyed reading about your family - thank you for sharing with us!