The Strange History and Legend of the Moran Moor
Extract Two. Arrival in Toulon
According to the harbor log ‘La Resistance’ dropped anchor in Toulon bay on the 6th June 1799, an hour after four bells in the forenoon. A large six oared rowing boat ferried passengers, including Sergeant of voltigeurs Devout, his spouse Cecile and the swaddled Julien. the short pull to the harbor steps. This was the new arrivals first contact with the prisoners of the Bagne of Toulon, who manned the oars in their unmistakable uniform of white shirt, yellow trousers and red vest and smock. Cecile noted with some trepidation that three of the rowers wore the green cap that denoting life imprisonment. The stout iron ring or ‘manille’ firmly attached to an ankle of each prisoner did little to relieve her discomfort, even though the trailing eighteen links of heavy chain weighing in a minimum some seven kilograms ensured their inability to move comfortably or freely. These “bagnard’, as the prisoners were known, would soon become a familiar sight to Madam Cecile, her husband having accepted a well-paid position, a ‘grades-chourmes’ within the prison hierarchy in recompense for the laming injury he had received to his left thigh during the Egyptian campaign.
Madam Cecile had noticed almost immediately upon becoming foster parent to the young Julien that he was unnaturally silent. He grimaced much like other babes in arms, mouthed cries with gusto but without volume, making none of the din Cecile had become familiar in hearing from her own children. It occurred to her that the boy might be mute, or that perhaps the traumatic experiences already crammed into his short life had caused some temporary lack of vocal ability. Her concern showed itself in an almost frantic need to have the infant around her at all times, something that soon caused her husband to feel put out, particularly at hours when he expected some degree of private time between them. Sergeant Devoit unfortunately proved himself to be a less than perfect step parent and was quickly drawn, like so many other disabled veterans, into a life of drunkenness and whoring.
Little record can be found of the life of Julien Lasalle-Bargossa during the next decade, except for some rather general accounts within the registers of the school responsible for the education of infants of military personnel. Where Julien does appear, he is noted as being an average student, that fact being of some surprise to his tutors as his was now considered to be an irreversible mute. It is perhaps worthy of mention that his father’s elevation to firstly a hero of the republic and secondly a marshal of the empire ensured a decided measure of care from those having authority over him. There are several mentions of Antoine Lasalle having shown a degree of interest in his sons’ development, thankfully more than might easily be expected from a high-ranking officer of that epoch to his bastard son.
On the 13th September 1809, at the still tender age of ten years and almost seven months Julien was enlisted in the Marine Nationale to train as a midshipman, a position where his lack of a voice would prove a minimum of an inconvenience. The ability to salute smartly and nod on cue was generally considered all the communication required of junior naval officers. Indeed, in situations of battle the ability to communicate through signal alone was a decided advantage in the presence of continuous cannon fire.
Posted to the ‘Favorite’, a 44-gun frigate of the Pallas-class, Julien found himself immediately bound for the Adriatic sea and the continuing conflict off the coasts of the Venetian and Illyrian provinces.
The ‘Favorite’ was under the command of rear admiral Bernard Dubourdieu a long-time acquaintance of Julien’s father Lasalle.
Musèe national de la marine, Place Monsenergue, Toulon
Archives of the Bagne de Toulon, 1798-1805
Maritime National Entries 1809, Les Invalides, Paris
Log of th the ‘Favorite’, Toulon National Maritime Museum
‘The Naval History of Great Britain, Volume 6, 1811–1827’ William James 2002
‘The War for All Oceans.’ Roy Adkins 2007