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Was Your French Ancestor Taken Prisoner In the Bay of Biscay?


The Battle of Trafalgar was fought on the 21st of October 1805, between the British, under Admiral Lord Nelson, and the combined French and Spanish fleets, under Admiral Villeneuve. The British victory gave that country naval superiority for the rest of the Napoleonic Wars. Nelson was killed, Villeneuve was captured. The British lost one thousand five hundred men killed or wounded, while the French and Spanish lost fourteen thousand. No British ship was lost, but eighteen of the thirty-three French or Spanish vessels were. Eight French ships were taken by the British as prizes. Two were recaptured by the French and the other six sank or were wrecked before they could be taken in to a port.

On the 4th of November 1805, Captain Richard Strachan of the Royal Navy captured in the Bay of Biscay, an action known to the French as the Bataille du cap Ortegal, four French ships which had fought at Trafalgar and these he did manage to take in to Plymouth as prizes.

Those four vessels were the:

  • Scipion - Built at Lorient, launched in 1801, with a crew of 640 men
  • Mont-Blanc - Built at Rochefort, launched in 1791, with a crew of 640 men
  • Duguay-Trouin - Built at Rochefort, launched in 1800, with a crew of 640 men
  • Formidable - Built at Toulon, launched in 1795, with a crew of 860 men

Were the complements full, that would have made for a bit less than two thousand eight hundred French prisoners. 

The National Archives have digitised and put online the muster rolls and other documents taken from these ships. The records are online and may be searched by ship name or by an individual's name. The images may be ordered (costing a bit over three pounds usually) and downloaded in minutes.

With the details you may find, you may be able to advance your French research significantly.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy