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A Short Walk to St Ives

Cornishman retraces 200-year-old march to freedom

Adrian Tregerthen Thomas holding a photograph of his 3x grandfather.

On Sunday 27 April, a Cornishman will reach Bordeaux in France after walking for 16 weeks from the border with Belgium. Adrian Tregerthen Thomas set off on 7 January from the site of a prison barracks in Givet where his great-great-great-grandfather spent ten years behind bars during the Napoleonic wars. Thomas was inspired by the story of John Tregerthen Short (1785-1873) to retrace his ancestor's route into captivity in 1804 and then to freedom and his return home in St Ives in 1814. In all, he will have walked around 1500 miles.

Short was a 19-year-old sailor in 1804 when his boat was captured in the Channel by Napoleonic privateers. He was taken to Dieppe, along with his cousin Thomas Williams, who was just 17. They were then marched to Givet, where they spent the next ten years, despite Williams' several daring escapes. They even saw Napoleon and Josephine from their prison window.

On the 200th anniversary in April 2004, Thomas followed their route from Dieppe to Givet, also on foot, though he didn't have to stay in 'stinking jails' like they did in 1804. And this year he is about to complete a much longer walk, following their long march to freedom in 1814. He started on the same date that Short left Givet (7 January) and will finish the French part of the walk on the same date that the two cousins reached Bordeaux (27 April).

"It's been a long trek, in all weathers," he says, "but it's been full of surprises and great hospitality." At least he didn't fall ill with typhus, like Short did during the horrendous winter of 1814. Along the way Thomas has seen places that Short saw, like the cathedral in Reims and a medieval icon in Laon. He's walked along the Loire and climbed high into the Massif Central and the Puy de Dôme. He's even been inside the current prison in Riom – built around an old monastery where the two cousins were detained for several weeks back in 1814. Thomas has been joined for parts of his walk by his brother and sisters, and family and friends will be joining him for the final, Cornish part of the saga in May.

On 4 May 1814, Short finally left France for England in a flotilla of tall ships commandeered by Wellington to transport 1500 released prisoners of war back home. Short jumped ship at Mousehole on 9 May and was offered a celebratory drink in the inn there, and again in Newlyn and Penzance, as he walked to Ludgvan in the company of another Cornish prisoner, Henry Blight. The next day, Short left Blight's home in Ludgvan and walked to his own home in Fore Street, St Ives. He’d been away for almost all of his twenties.

This year, on the afternoon of Friday 9 May, Thomas and members of his family will recreate the walk to Ludgvan and they plan to stop off for liquid refreshment along the way like Short and Blight did. Then on Saturday 10 May, starting at 11.oo at Ludgvan, they and other family and friends will walk the six miles into St Ives to complete this bicentenary tribute to these remarkable Cornishmen and their remarkable story.

Short described in his diary how he and Blight were dressed for these two last days: "I had on white cloth trousers, a red shirt, and a soldier’s knapsack on my back, each wore a white-painted straw hat, and must have made a strange appearance." So if you see a group of people, between Mousehole and St Ives on 9-10 May, dressed in red and white, you'll know it's Thomas and his supporters.


Adrian Tregerthen Thomas was born in West Penwith (he now lives in East Cornwall). He has begun a book on the life and times of John Tregerthen Short and is planning to write an account of his pursuit of Short's French adventure.

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