# 39526

HARE, Joseph

[NAPOLEONIC WARS] A captured British sailor’s petition to the prize commissioners at Greenwich Hospital, written at the depot for British prisoners of war at Givet, northeast France in September, 1813.

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Manuscript in ink on laid paper, 1 page (240 x 195 mm); headed ‘Depot of British Prisoners at Givet in France, September 6th 1813’, the document is a petition by an imprisoned British naval seaman, Joseph Hare, formerly of HMS Hussar, to the Royal Navy’s prize commissioners at Greenwich Hospital, requesting that the share of Prize Bounties owing to him be paid to his wife, Hannah, back home in Yarmouth; the document was evidently prepared on behalf of the illiterate Hare by its two signatories, naval officers Thomas Fitzgerald, Boatswain of HMS Grasshopper, and James Anderson, Gunner of HMS Port Mahon; the verso has a number of annotations by naval clerks, including: ‘Mrs H[anna]h Hare, Mouse’s Alley, No[rth] Yarmouth, 25 April 1814’; ‘9 May 1814, 2.14.4 paid [signed] Le Mesurier’; ‘Nothing since May 14’;  ‘2 May 1817 Party must apply himself’; ’26 July 1823 Nothing since’;’10 Dec 1825 Nothing since’; original folds, well preserved and legible.

In early February 1804, Joseph Hare was serving as a seaman on the frigate HMS Hussar when his ship was wrecked on the coast of Île de Sein, off Cap Finistère. The crew attempted to sail for home in commandeered boats, but, in bad weather, most of these were forced to put into Brest. Hare became one of the approximately 10,000 Royal Navy personnel to be taken prisoner by the French during the Napoleonic Wars. He was incarcerated in the “depot” at Givet, a town situated on the River Meuse, some 200 km from the French coast, where he would spend the next ten years of his life. At any given time, the Givet depot housed between 1,000 and 1,500 men, most of them British sailors. While the majority of the prisoners were confined in cramped conditions in barracks along the riverfront, a smaller number were held inside the more formidable walls of the nearby Charlemont fortress. 

Hare’s petition was made with the help of two fellow prisoners, naval officers Thomas Fitzgerald and James Anderson. It requests that the ‘proper Officers of the Greenwich Hospital’ pay his wife, Hannah, for his shares in Prize Bounties earned through participation in the capture of several French vessels a decade earlier, while serving on HMS Hussar. The petition was prepared as the protracted conflict was nearing its end. In May 1814, the Givet prisoners would all be released – although to return to England, they were first compelled to walk across France for months in order to reach Bordeaux, where they were met by a special fleet organised by Wellington.

Based on the clerical annotations on the back of the document, it seems that Hare’s wife, Hannah, was paid the paltry sum of £2 14s. 4d. on 9 May 1814; ironically, this date roughly coincides with the release of prisoners from the Givet depot, which had commenced a few days earlier, on 4 May. There is no indication that any subsequent payments were made to either Joseph or Hannah Hare.

Full transcription of the document:

‘Depot of British Prisoners at Givet in France, September 6th 1813.

At seven days’ sight pay to my wife Hannah Hare, or Order, my proportion or share of Prizes, or Bounty money, for the following Captures (viz.) La Flora, on the 23rd of June 1803; La Sparke on the 9th July 1803; La Paix, on the 13 July 1803, and Brig, name unknown, captured on or about the 13th July 1803, when serving on board His Majesty’s Ship Hussar, in the quality expressed against my name.

[In tabular form] Name: Joseph Hare. Quality: Seaman. Signatures: Joseph Hare [in the hand of James Anderson – see below]. Where born: North Yarmouth. What County: Norfolk. Age: 42. Complexion: Dark. Eyes: Dark gray. Hair: Brown.

To the Agents of the said Captures, the proper Officers of Greenwich Hospital:

These are to Certify, that we have examined the said Joseph Hare, who signed the above Order, in our presence and from the Documents [he] has shown us (viz.) a Certificate signed by Philip Wilkinson Esq. late Commander of His Majesty’s late Ship Hussar, and his answers to our questions, we have reason to believe that he was serving on board the said ship, at the times of making the Captures above specified, and also that the description against his name is correct. Given under our hands, at the Depot of Givet in France, this 6th day of September 1813.

[signed] Thos. Fitzgerald, Boatswain of H.M. late Sloop Grasshopper / James Anderson, late Gunner of H.M.S. Port Mahon.’