Dale Fort Blog Number 35

4 09 2014

The History of Dale Fort

Part the Ninth

Blog 32 ended with the defeat of Tate and his Legion Noire.   Napoleon Bonaparte was finally defeated  at Waterloo in 1815 and this really ought to have resulted in a cessation of hostilities between Britain and France.  There was however his nephew Charles Louis Napoleon to deal with first.

Shipbuilding in Milford Haven

By 1800 there were around 30 small shipyards on the shores of Milford Haven. These had developed during the Napoleonic Wars. The existing Royal Dockyards were intermittently busy with repairs and maintenance of the expanded British Fleet, which was trying to blockade the major ports of Europe against the French Navy. These yards were on permanent standby for this work. The Royal Navy therefore developed a policy of having its new ships built at private yards, where interruptions for repairs and re-fitting would not occur.

Milford Haven was used because it had convenient access to oak, iron and a suitable labour force. The Royal Navy had secured the services of the renowned (French) naval architect Barrallier who was in charge of the dockyard. The dockyard was defended by two 24-pounders at Milford and a larger battery at Hakin (an established village before the building of Milford Haven) comprising six 32-pounders.

SB ML 32lb In 1809 Sir Charles Greville, the founder of Milford Haven agreed with the Navy a price of £4466 for a piece of land for the building of a new Royal Dockyard. Shortly after Greville died and his brother Robert took over. Robert demanded more money and refused to complete the contract. The Navy decided instead to move across the river to Pater where there was a government owned piece of land that they could use. By 1814 all their facilities had been moved to the new site, which was now called Pembroke Dock. According to J.F.Rees in The Story of Milford this deprived Milford of its one great chance for prosperity

Charles Greville 1809George, The Prince Regent, signed the order that officially created Pembroke Dock in 1815. The Royal Navy was by far the single most expensive commitment of government and for more than 100 years Pembroke Dock was to be an extremely important facility. There were 13 slipways for building on, (more than any other yard) and more than 250 ships were built there. These ranged from small cutters to massive ships like HMS Howe which at 6.5 thousand tons was twice the size of Nelson’s flagship Victory. The yard initiated the era of steel ships with the launch of HMS Iris in 1877. HMS Drake launched in 1901 was 553.5 feet long.

Pembroke dockyard 1820 labelledThere had been little serious attempt to defend Milford Haven since Elizabethan times. Britain had just finished its biggest ever series of wars against Napoleon’s France and memories of him remained strong. It was only 25 years since Tate’s failed invasion at Fishguard (see Blog Number 31 ) and Britain now had a major Dockyard on the shores of the largely unprotected Milford Haven.

Charles Louis Napoleon

Events in France were to confirm the views of the British that they should continue to be wary of the threat from over the Channel. The sole remaining Bonaparte was Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, the nephew of the “real” Napoleon. As a result of his link with Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles Louis had an overwhelming sense of his own destiny. He set about promulgating the romantic side of Bonapartism by publishing various political pamphlets. Twice he tried and failed to seize power in France. In 1836 he attempted to incite mutiny among French troops at Strasburg.

He was deported to New York, from whence he travelled to London. In 1840 he landed at Boulogne with a force of 50 men and a vulture (the unfortunate bird was acting as a substitute for the Imperial Eagle). A scuffle ensued and Charles Louis made his escape by diving into the sea. He was plucked from the water and arrested as he swam for a nearby rowing boat. He was now seen as something of a joke in France, but he cut a dignified figure at his trial. His defence was that since his uncle (Napoleon Bonaparte) had attained power by plebiscite and this had never been revoked, a Bonaparte (himself) should still be in charge. The French King Louis Phillipe was lenient and Charles Louis’ punishment was to be confined to a suit of rooms in the fort at Ham. The Imperial Vulture was sent to the Paris Zoo, where despite being entirely innocent it too was confined.

Whilst imprisoned Charles Louis wrote several popular books outlining social reforms and became well  thought of by many sections of French society. In 1846 he affected his escape. This he did by totally destroying his rooms.   When workmen arrived to repair the damage Charles Louis put a plank on his shoulder and simply walked out. He escaped to London where he joined the Special Constabulary and helped them bash up The Chartists. He also worked his way through 80 cigarettes a day and the ladies of the Royal Ballet.

ChartistRiot            Charles Louis Napoleon and his chums beat up some poor people who would like to vote

The monarchy of Louis Philippe was under pressure for several reasons: Firstly, the public remembered the glory days of Napoleon Bonaparte. By comparison Louis Philippe’s conservative foreign policy was seen as capitulating to England. Secondly, social conditions were poor for the majority and unemployment was rampant. Thirdly, socialism and expansion of the franchise were ideas increasing in popularity. In Britain, the Chartists were demanding an expanded franchise. Louis Philippe provoked further unease in Britain by appointing his son, Prince de Joinville as head of the French Navy. Joinville had a record of anti-British sentiment and the French Navy was in a period of expansion.

As early as 1845 Palmerston had addressed the House of Commons pointing out that the new technologies of steam ships and railways rendered Britain’s natural defence – the English Channel virtually useless. Palmerston said: Steam navigation has rendered that which was before impassable by a military force nothing more than a river passable by a steam bridge. Railways would permit the mobilization and transport of troops in numbers and at speeds never before allowed for.

Palmerston labelledTowards the end of 1846 General Sir John Fox Burgoyne published a report on the state of Britain’s coastal defences. (Observations on the possible results of a war with France under our present system of military preparation). Burgoyne was Inspector General of Fortifications and his report concluded that the French Navy could gain control of the Channel for long enough to land a massive army on the coast of Britain. Burgoyne recommended modernization of fortresses and naval dockyards. A month later Palmerston published a report extolling a similarly pessimistic view. In early 1847 the Duke of Wellington published a discourse along similar lines. Wellington’s report was leaked to the press and stimulated public panic and concern.

The worry about France was temporarily eased when King Louis Philipe abdicated in 1848 and a provisional government took over (The Second Republic). The provisional government initiated work programmes intended to improve the lot of the working classes. Most of these failed. Dissatisfaction came to a head when the Parisian working class rose up, erected barricades and demanded a better deal. The military and the rest of France did not see why this should be tolerated and 10,000 deaths and serious injuries were the result. Thousands were deported. The Second Republic was not off to a good start and conditions were ideal for the emergence of a new leader.

Charles Louis Napoleon now returned to France and in December 1848 won the elections for President by a landslide. The connection with Napoleon Bonaparte together with his previously published plans for social reform had won him the Presidency. Charles Louis’ period in office was due to end by law in December 1852. On December 2nd 1851 he staged a coup d’etat. He then asked the people for a mandate allowing him to remain as president for ten more years.

The results were as follows: Out of 8 million voters, 7.4 million voted for him and 0.6 million against. 500 people were killed, 27,000 arrested and 10,000 deported. Charles Louis justified it all thus: the votes of 7 million have granted me absolution. He spent the next year touring France and generally becoming more popular by virtue of his social reforms.

Calls were being made for him to become Emperor. Given his sense of destiny and his lineage one would not expect those calls to have gone unheeded. Another plebiscite was asked for and granted. Charles Louis dissolved The Second Republic and began The Second Empire. This was when he assumed the title Napoleon III. The second plebiscite marked the end of democracy in France. The Emperor Napoleon III now said I don’t mind being baptized in the waters of universal suffrage, but I refuse to live with my feet in them.

 CNP and E

All this caused more consternation in Britain. Palmerston was again at the forefront of those who insisted that there was a real possibility of an invasion by France. It was believed that 50-60,000 troops could be landed from Cherbourg in a single night. Although there was no evidence of the massive build up of shipping required to transport all these men, panic was still the result.

The Duke of Wellington was also concerned about the Americans. The Oregon Border Dispute of the mid 1840s was an argument between the British Government and the USA as to the precise placement of the Canadian border. Some American politicians made speeches tacitly threatening the British with military force. Lord Aberdeen, the Foreign Secretary was dispatched to negotiate.   In his History of the English Speaking Peoples Churchill states that the solution was arrived at in June 1846 as a result of Aberdeen’s accommodating nature. The Duke of Wellington was not known for his accommodating nature and felt that there existed a real threat from the USA. Any invading force would certainly approach the West Coast of Britain possibly via Ireland. The nearest relief was at Cardiff, at least two days away and there was a huge and vulnerable dockyard at Pembroke Dock.

The wave of panic that ensued hurried the government into a programme of improving coastal fortifications in The Solent, The Channel Islands and Milford Haven. After 200 years of neglect the defences of Milford Haven were being taken seriously.

Watch future blogs for what happened next.




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