Essential Wessex: The Napoleonic Wars in Wessex

HMS Victory, the world’s oldest serving warship, is a visible symbol of the Napoleonic wars, and of Wessex’s naval might. Moored in a dry dock in Portsmouth, visible from the main railway station and ferry terminal, she doubles as both a museum ship, and as the flagship of the First Sea Lord. She most famously served as the flagship of Admiral Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar.

When Nelson died in 1805, severe storms meant that the news took sixteen days to reach the Admiralty in London, which was exceptionally slow even by the standards of the time. The despatch was carried on the schooner Pickle, landing at Falmouth in Cornwall. From there, messengers took it across Wessex to Surrey and, eventually, London. The route those messengers took has now been labelled the Trafalgar Way.

The wars were by no means universally cheered in Wessex. In 1795 and 1801, riots took place in the Forest of Dean over bread shortages caused by the need to feed the armed forces.

Tiverton saw a substantial number of French prisoners of war. They appear to have been treated well, and integrated into the life of the town.

The Napoleonic wars were the subject of Thomas Hardy’s only play, The Dynasts. Due to its length and ambition, it has never been staged in full.

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