Passenger Lists From Morlaix - Crossing the English Channel During the Napoleonic Wars
17 April 2022
We have been extremely busy, Dear Readers, working with a wonderful set of passenger lists from the early nineteenth century. Though England and France were at war from 1803 to 1815 (with a small break for a tenuous victory), travel between the two countries did not cease, not at all. There was a fairly steady stream of people moving in both directions, including:
- Released British prisoners returning home
- Released French prisoners arriving from Britain
- American diplomats and merchants voyaging between Paris and London
- Wives and children of British détenus returning to Britain
- French civilians going to and returning from Britain
They all had to travel via Morlaix, the only port in the French Empire from which it was permitted to sail for or arrive from England. The set of passenger lists with which we are working are the original departing passenger lists from Morlaix (arrival lists seem not to have survived), signed by the port officer, the Commissaire de la Marine à Morlaix, a Monsieur Dusaussois, and countersigned by the British port authority on arrival, usually at Dartmouth. We have not finished with them but they appear to cover the years from 1810 to 1814, and give some very interesting and useful details for the genealogist and for the historian. For each passenger, is given the:
- Place of origin - this can be just a country but is usually a city
- Profession or status, e.g. seaman, captain, passenger, etc.
- If a prisoner of war returning to Britain, where they had been captured
- Details and dates of their passports, which often reveal where they had been in France
Here, we have a passenger list from July of 1812. (War against Great Britain had just been declared by the United States but these passengers may not yet have had the news.)
1. John WASTON [possibly WATSON], of Ireland, aged 11, Student, Passport of 15 June 1812, delivered by the Commandant of the Depot of Prisoners of War at Verdun on the decision of His Excellency the Minister of War of 19 March preceding.
2. Allen CASE, of New Bedford, United States , aged 34, ship captain, Taken by the privateer, ESPADON, from the ship, MASSACHUSETTS, which he commanded. Passport from the Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States of America at Paris on 10 June 1812, no. 250, visa given by the Minister of External Relations and by the Police General on 12 and 19 of the same month. To embark at Morlaix.
3. Lazarus LEBARON, of Rochester, [Massachusetts] aged 23, Mate, Included on the same passport.
4. William MILES, of Montgomery, aged 24, Seaman
5. Isaac STEWARD, black, of Philadelphia , aged 25, Seaman
6. John HERRIGTON, of Chatham, America, aged 21, Seaman
7. Samuel SKILDING, of Stramford [Stamford?], aged 20, Seaman
8. Eliza TUCKER, Mrs. HICKMAN, English, aged 24, Passenger, Road pass, dated 24 June 1812, no. 330, delivered by the Commandant of arms at Longwy, following the order of His Excellency the Minister of War.
9. Caroline HICKMAN, English, aged 20 months,Within the same Passport.
10. Mrs. Eliza HOLMES, widow of William ARNOLD, Lieut. R.N., of Mortonhall, aged 24, Passport dated 8 June 1812, no. 426, delivered by the Mayor of the City of Verdun, visa given by the prefecture of Police at Paris on the 30th of the month of June, no. 36738.
So, above, you have a young Irish boy, the crew of a captured American vessel, the MASSACHUSETTS, travelling to Britain, presumably expecting it to be easier there to find a vessel going to the United States, and three British women passengers coming from the prison depots at Longwy and Verdun.
These French documents have not survived in French archives but, remarkably, in the National Archives of Great Britain at Kew, in the Admiralty series ADM 103/480. Joyously for those of you, Dear Readers, who wish to see them, they are online on FindMyPast.co.uk, where the quality of indexing is, as we see so often on these commercial websites, abysmal. (For example Mme., the abbreviation for Madame, is repeatedly indexed as a first name. This sort of shabby work hinders rather than helps research.) We are profoundly indebted to Monsieur B.C. for helping us to find this series.
Further to the same pursuit, we recently embarked upon our first research voyage since the beginning of the pandemic, and visited the Municipal Archives of Morlaix. For years, it has been on our list of important archives that must be seen. It was in the Town Hall of Morlaix, facing the viaduct, in a lovely room of tall book cases.
These archives are open only on Thursdays and visits must be booked in advance. The archivist, when we booked, warned us that there was not much from the First Empire. He did not lie; there was next to nothing from that period. Our hopes of significant discoveries were dashed.
However, we did come across a very pertinent government publication of instructions concerning passports for French citizens and for foreigners, that goes a long way to explaining the passport notes on the Morlaix passenger lists, above.
For those of you researching an ancestor of this period, particularly but not exclusively a British prisoner of war in France, these passenger lists may be most useful.
©2022 Anne Morddel