Back to Research Topics

It was just towards the close of the last century that one of the most interesting and mysterious occurrences that ever disturbed the people of this county, and especially of Haverfordwest, took place - I mean "the French landing at Fishguard," as we have been accustomed to hear it called. The event has long since passed into the region of history; but some of the scenes in the immediate vicinity - as I have gathered them from the lips, of the  folks who well remember them I should like if I were able it describe, as they deserve to be. It was in the month of February 1797, which country people used to say was the hottest weather ever known at that season of the year farmers sowing corn being obliged to suspend work at mid-day, on account of the extreme heat - that the event happened. None now survive who were old enough at the time to notice all the surroundings: but, say forty years ago, there were many people with whom one could converse about it. Without any previous warning of impending peril, the tidings shot through the county "The French have landed at Fishguard!" As the event turned out, there was little to be frightened at; but this was not discovered till afterwards. But the amazing heroism of the peasantry, and their patriotism, were some of the grand things in connection with it. One incident I just remember, and I had it from the mouth of a bystander. A woman rushed out into the little garden, where her husband was busily preparing the ground for potatoes, and exclaimed in a voice of terror, "John Bowen, John Bowen, the French have landed at Fishguard!" Throwing down his spade, declaring he was not going to do work for the French, he went into his house, and, reaching down an old fowlingpiece he happened to have, then and there he started out without any more ado to meet the invaders.

At Nolton a village about six miles from Haverfordwest, where there lived an aged clergyman, the Rev. Moses Great grandfather of the late Lord Milford, I read the record in the parish register there, and I assure my readers, with a thrill of interest, all the able-bodied men immediately left their homes for the scene of the expected conflict; and the parson writes: "I assembled all the women and children in the church, and we commended ourselves to the protection of Almighty God." When the alarm subsided, the enemy, who proved to he a miserable and contemptible force, were speedily disarmed, and marched as prisoners to Haverfordwest, where nothing but pity and compassion was displayed. Poor, starving wretches, as they were, the townspeople outvied each other in ministering to their necessities. They were, of course, imprisoned; but in the parish church of St. Mary, most of them. So much for this marvel, a matter which became the central epoch of a couple of generations - I mean in the way of a local calendar - just, as the Norman Conquest still stands in English history. The date when a marriage or birth or death took place in a family would be fixed very commonly by its chronological relation to the landing of the French at Fishguard.

After a while the captured foreigners were released on their parole; and a lady told me the other day she had heard her father talk of one of them with whom he had often had a game of bowls at the bowling-green in front of our castle. He was here known as M. Bertrand, but became the attached and faithful companion of Napoleon Bonaparte in his exile, and was with him at his death in St. Helena. As is always the case after such an occurrence, numberless stories were circulated in reference to the affair.

One report was, that when the commander of the French force discovered the want of strategy displayed by the officer in command of the forces who disputed his advance inland, in afterwards placing his troops between the naked cliffs and the foe, whence they might have been easily swept, he gnashed his teeth, and declared, had he known his incapacity, he never would have surrendered.

Another story was, that when the French saw what appeared to be the immense number of troops on the heights, where the Welsh women, clad in bright scarlet "whittles' (a local name for shawls), showed up, they were seized with panic, and called on their officers to surrender. The only forces available on the spot were the Castle Martin Yeomanry led by Lord (afterwards Earl) Cawdor, and to them was granted the distinction of having the word "Fishguard" inscribed on their standard and on their uniform, as the troops which were engaged at Waterloo have that never forgotten name inscribed on theirs.

Sum.' interesting evidence of the patriotic part Haverfordwest men played when the French landed at Fishguard was discovered in recent years amongst some papers in the offices of Messrs Eaton Evans and Williams, Solicitors of Haverfordwest, in the form of an old Moore's Diary for 1797. The diary has endorsed on it, "James Jones of the parish of St Martins in the Town and County of' Haverfordwest Gent." Among the entries are the following:

1797 Feby. 22nd "1400 French landed at Pencare,"

do 23rd. "Went with Lord Cawdor's Cavalry, part of the Cardigan Militia, Fishguard and Pembroke Fencibles, and about 300 Haverfordwest Volontiers, in the whole about 800 armed men to attack the French, but did not come to battle. Night coming on, rendavoused at Fishguard that night at nine."

do 24th "At about 2 p.m. the French surrendered prisoners of war and laid down their arm- on Goodick sand, and marched into Haverfordwest that night by 12 o'clock."

do 25th "A few prisoners with 5 officers brot in and 36 officers marched off for England."

do 26th "5 officers sent off for England."

do 27th "658 prisoners embark at Milford for England."

"Mr. J. Thomas taken up and imprisoned for High Treason.

Hope he'll be shot if guilty."

do 24th (an additional note)

"At the time of the surrendor of the French, on a moderate calculation, there were 43000 men women and children in and near Fishguard, among which there were at least 8000 armed, viz 2000 with fire arms, the others with Pikes, Picks, Scythes, and other weapons."

The foregoing is a literal copy of Mr Jones' entries with the quaint spelling unaltered.

Back to Research Topics