About This Artifact
Social class has become a way to define humans and place them within a system of percieved worth and value. This societal structure is even relevant in terms of warfare. Although prisoners of war are assumed to be treated equally for committing the same style of crime, they were actually treated differently based on their rank and position. For example, some French captains and officers who were captured by British soldiers (or Americans captured during the War of 1812) had the ability to reside in private homes and were even given some allowances by the Transport Board. Some men were given time to study in local libraries. Occasionally, French prisoners of war even decided to remain in England after they were let free. However, this life of semi-luxury was not the same for regular soldiers and sailors who were caught by the enemy. These lower-level French prisoners of war were kept in either overcrowded barracks or on captured ships, which were called hulks. Transport Board agents were sent to make sure that proper food rations and adequate clothing were available to all who were detained. These agents were also bound by law to report any sort of neglect on the part of the prison guards. However, depending on the overseer in charge, these reports could go unwritten.
Between being bound by the barracks and sheer boredom, how did the average French prisoner of war keep himself from utter insanity? The answer was to stay creative and entertain oneself. Many prisoners of war decided to escape the everyday monotony by utilizing materials around their cells such as bones from their food to create magnificent pieces of art. One common item designed by prisoners of war were model ships. Due to the fact that many of those captured were sailors who spent many months at sea, they may have used their astute memory to recreate a piece of "home." Many prisoners of war were provided with the opportunity to sell their pieces as souvenirs and keep the money they made.
French prisoners of war often made British model ships due to the fact that they had to market their products to a particular audience (in this case, British citizens). In the photograph above, the French prisoner of war who designed this piece decided to recreate a four deck display of the H.M.S. Queen Charlotte using beef bones, which he probably obtained from his food scraps. The H.M.S. Queen Charlotte, the flagship of Admiral Lord Howe, may have been a popular choice because this ship was already famous for its role against the French at the Battle of the Glorious First of June and the Battle of Groix. The H.M.S. Queen Charlotte also played a key role as the meeting place for negotiations during the Spithead Mutiny of 1797.
Questions for Further Thought
- What sorts of activities do you do to alleviate boredom? How much time do you put into an activity before you become bored with the activity itself?
- Should prisoners of war be treated with respect? Why or why not?
- What types of souvenirs make great presents? Why?