An epitaph found inscribed on a headstone in a churchyard in Odiham, Hampshire, put up in memory of a French paroled prisoner of war, Pierre Julian Jonneau, who died there on the 4th September 1809, aged 29, accurately displays the sympathy felt at the time for both the famous ship Temeraire and for the Napoleonic prisoners of war. (An extract of eleven verses): 1,2,3 and 4;
Ode to a Prisoner of War Bone Ship Model
The Fighting ‘Téméraire’
No tusk from trackless jungle brought,
No bone of slaughtered whale
Her wreathed and Tritoned sternposts wrought
And bulwarks eggshell frail.
Mellow as ancient ivory
And fine as carven jade,
From beef-bones of captivity
The shapely hull was made,
Whose making helped upon their way
Such limping hours and slow
As measured out the leaden day
That none but prisoners know.
Still, though the world in change bewhelmed,
From the small mimic bows
The antique warrior, mailed and helmed,
Looks out with frowning brows,
Like those beneath whose sightless stare
The sullen smoke-drift rolled
Round her, well named the ‘Témeraire’,
In famous fights of old
Or is, upon some gravestone hoar,
The legend plain to see:
‘He was a Prisoner of War,
But Death has set him free’?
Between 1803 – 14 it is estimated some 122,000 captured soldiers and sailors were brought to Britain where they were incarcerated and lived under dire circumstances. It is a curious fact that many of the greatest works of art have been created in places and under conditions which one would think would have mitigated against any success in the construction of a masterpiece.
The prisoners did not work from scale plans and so the ship models were often not accurate portrayals of the vessel they had graced with its name. Allowed to sell their wares to the local populace many of them were commissioned to produce favourite and more expensive works of art. The ‘Fighting Temeraire’ was one of the last second rate ships of the line to have played a distinguished role in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and became a famous symbol of British naval victory.