Are you related to a French-Caribbean revolutionary? A sound installation at Portchester Castle may hold the answer

ACADEMICS have unveiled a new sound installation at Portchester Castle in the hope it will inspire visitors to see if they have a French-Caribbean revolutionary as a distant relative.

Monday, 8th July 2019, 7:52 pm
Updated Monday, 8th July 2019, 9:22 pm

The installation, called ‘These Walls Bear Witness,’ has 13 speakers within the castle's keep broadcasting the names and stories of French Caribbean prisoners of war from 18th and 19th centuries.

More than 2,000 soldiers from St Lucia and St Vincent were kept in the castle - with some marrying Portchester residents working in the prison.

Professor Katherine Astbury, Professor of French Studies at the University of Warwick, said she hoped the installation will inspire people to 'start digging' through their family history.

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From left, sound artist Elaine Mitchener, consultant historian Abigail Coppins and professor of French studies at the University of Warwick Kate Astbury Picture: Sarah Standing (080719-321)

She said: ‘We know there were multiple escape attempts from Portchester.

'We also know there were marriages between prisoners here and the local population.

'If you go to the church in the grounds and look at the records you will see there was intermingling.

'To what extent you will be able to find people in the Portchester area who can trace their lineage directly back to the prisoners here, I'm not sure I can say - but that's a call to action.

The lives of French and French-Caribbean prisoners of war held at Portchester Castle are the inspiration for an evocative new sound installation Picture: Sarah Standing (080719-232)

'Start digging through your family papers and see what you've got - you never know.'

The records of the prisoners’ names were uncovered by Abigail Coppins, a curator at English Heritage, in 2017.

She said: ‘I'm grew up in the New Forest and I'm based here in Hampshire, and I've always been passionate about my local history.

'It had always been said to me there was very little black history in Hampshire, so when I came across references to there being black prisoners of war here in the 18th century, I thought that was incredibly interesting.

'There was a huge diversity of prisoners here at the castle and I was nosey about their lives, basically.'

Former prisoners include Captain Louis Delgrès, who later became leader of the resistance movement in Guadeloupe, fighting the reinstatement of slavery by Napoleon.

The installation will be at the castle until Saturday November 30.