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A Worthy Cause?

by Enochadmin

On the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian Struggle in 1870 Mr Frederick Gonner Value was a junior enterprise accomplice within the wine retailers Messrs. Delattre and Value. Based mostly in Canon Road, he was liable for the London facet of the enterprise, whereas his affiliate, Monsieur Delattre, the senior accomplice, was primarily based in Paris. The outbreak of the conflict on 19 July initially had little influence on their import and export enterprise, however shortly earlier than the Prussian Normal Helmuth von Moltke ordered the siege of Paris on 15 September, wherein town was surrounded by Prussian forces to stop escape, Delattre was ordered to report back to the French Nationwide Guard for service within the battle. Consequently, Value was compelled to maneuver to Paris and handle the enterprise from there.  

Value remained in Paris for a few months, making certain the safety of intensive inventory on the agency’s premises. With this achieved, he utilized for permission to cross the Prussian strains and depart town. His utility was reportedly refused, regardless of the same request by a celebration of British nationals subsequently being granted. In desperation he paid £100 to a daring aeronaut to hitch an tried escape by sizzling air balloon, a debacle which led to his imprisonment by the Prussians on suspicion of spying on 27 October.


All the way down to earth

Following his arrest, the Overseas Workplace was inundated with requests to safe the discharge of the unlucky younger Englishman, significantly as Britain had determined to stay impartial in what the federal government thought-about to be a central European conflict, whereas making an attempt to keep up optimistic diplomatic relations with each France and Prussia. However, Britain supplied passive help to the French via the sale of weapons, whereas offering medical help to either side with the deployment of huge numbers of nurses and ambulances of the newly based Purple Cross.

A up to date file accommodates particulars of 104 gadgets of correspondence between Earl Granville, Secretary of State for Overseas Affairs, Overseas Workplace officers and people asking that the federal government intervene on Value’s behalf. A few of the most fervent requests had been made by a fellow London wine service provider, Henry Littlewood, who wrote to Granville on 8 November to tell him that Value held a British passport and to argue that his tried escape by balloon was a completely justifiable plan of action, following the Prussians’ refusal to permit him to go away Paris. Littlewood, now performing as Value’s appointed consultant, wrote to each the Overseas Workplace and the press protesting the innocence of his colleague and beseeching the federal government and British public to do the whole lot of their energy to safe his launch.

Granville started to make enquiries and shortly acquired a report from Colonel Beauchamp Walker, of the British Embassy in Berlin, who had been allowed to go to Value in captivity at Versailles. Walker concluded that Value was an unlucky sufferer of circumstance and defined that he could be despatched to Prussia as a prisoner of conflict together with anybody who tried to go away Paris unauthorised. However, Walker reported that he had managed to obtain for him ‘some heat clothes, a second pair of shoes, and a change or two of linen’ in readiness for his departure and agreed to put up a letter Value had written to his mom, which was subsequently reprinted in The Instances, explaining his ordeal:

On Thursday, October 27, I left Paris by balloon in firm with three others. We left with a north-west wind, which might have carried us into Belgium, however the wind altering to direct east, we had been carried onto the Prussian strains. We left Paris at two o’clock within the afternoon, and as at half-past 4 it was virtually darkish, we had been obliged to come back all the way down to earth.

Simply as we emerged from the clouds, at about 250 yards from the bottom, we had been welcomed by a bathe of Prussian bullets, a few of which pierced the balloon, and with a view to keep away from being hit we had been obliged to come back down at an incredible tempo. After we touched the bottom there was in fact a horrible shock. I happily didn’t lose my presence of thoughts, and held on by the cords, in order that I didn’t really feel it a lot in leaping from the balloon. Nevertheless, I used to be thrown some thirty ft into the air and fell all of a heap with out being damage within the least.

Upon waving a handkerchief of give up, the Prussians ceased firing and took him prisoner simply exterior Verdun, from the place he was taken to Versailles, to await transportation to Germany.


I spy

It isn’t stunning that the Prussian troops reacted with hostility. The recent air balloon was a French invention pioneered by the Montgolfier Brothers in 1793, nevertheless it was quickly tailored for army functions. Balloons had been first used as a technique of observing enemy actions on the Battle of Fleurus in 1794. Throughout the Prussian siege of Paris, the French used balloons to ship communications and collect army intelligence. 

On 12 November Earl Granville wrote to Lord Augustus Loftus, British Ambassador to the North German Federation, stating that the British authorities believed Value must be allowed the freedom of a non-combatant. Loftus made inquiries into the grounds on which a British topic descending in a balloon could possibly be subjected to Prussian detention and argued that ‘escape by balloon was an incident of so novel a personality that it was fairly past the present provisions of the legal guidelines of conflict’. Nevertheless, he additionally privately confessed to Granville that he couldn’t perceive why Value had not merely left with the opposite English nationals as a substitute of making an attempt such a unprecedented escape.

‘Les Boules de Moulins’, zinc spheres used during the siege  of Paris to send mail.  They were thrown into the Seine and recovered by the inhabitants.
‘Les Boules de Moulins’, zinc spheres used throughout the siege of Paris to ship mail. They had been thrown into the Seine and recovered by the inhabitants © Picture Josse/Bridgeman Photographs.

Regardless of quite a few makes an attempt at interventions, Value left Versailles on the morning of 14 November 1870 on foot with different prisoners of conflict sure for Cologne. Walker had been allowed to see him and superior him 100 francs, but additionally reported for the primary time that Normal von Blumenthal, Chief of Employees of the III Prussian Military, believed Value to be a French spy. There adopted confused accounts within the British press and it was reported by The Instances’ Versailles correspondent on 14 November that the Prussian authorities had supplied to launch Value on a assure from Walker, which had been refused. The correspondent wrote:

How can a person be a spy who had no animus revertendi, and no technique of speaking information, and no army acquirements, and no nationwide object? I’m assured that any utility at headquarters on behalf of the British Authorities would directly have secured his launch on parole.

Walker wrote to London on 19 November stating that The Instances reportage was totally unfaithful. No such supply had been made.

On studying of Value’s departure from Versailles, Littlewood travelled to the Continent and despatched a telegraph to Granville from the Victoria Lodge in Cologne on 21 November stating that no person knew of the prisoner’s whereabouts. Value arrived in Cologne on 25 November and Littlewood despatched an pressing telegram to London requesting illustration by the federal government. Loftus utilized for permission to allow Littlewood to see Value and the case was even forwarded from the Prussian Ministry of Struggle to Otto von Bismarck, however an viewers was refused and Littlewood dejectedly retired to England in early December. Nevertheless, he didn’t return with out first acquiring a letter from Value, written on 29 November, which defined his determination to attempt to escape Paris by balloon:

Had I identified earlier than I engaged my place in a balloon that the foreigners must depart Paris, I ought to, in fact, have left with Mr Wodehouse, of the British Embassy who left some few days after I did. I made a number of inquiries, however I used to be knowledgeable that if foreigners had been in a besieged metropolis a lot worse for them. They may not get out; and as my household causes, as , had been sufficiently urgent to get away I attempted a balloon journey. 

The ‘household causes’ to which Value alluded involved the poor well being of his mom.



Regardless of his confinement awaiting court docket martial, it was reported that Value was housed in an officer’s room on the army jail and was free to jot down letters, in addition to procuring no matter provisions he wished. He himself praised his remedy. Nevertheless, the British press continued to painting his imprisonment as an injustice, invariably fuelled by correspondence from Littlewood. On 31 December, The Normal printed an article entitled ‘Prussian Therapy of Englishmen’, which defined that Value was nonetheless confined in jail and that, ‘as his associates thought he would possibly probably be detained over Christmas they despatched him a case containing a little bit wine and Christmas cheer’, however the governor of Cologne had refused to permit him to have it.

A scene from the siege of Paris, with hot air balloon, c.1870.
A scene from the siege of Paris, with sizzling air balloon, c.1870 © Common Historical past Archive/Common Photographs Group by way of Getty Photographs.

What remained true, nonetheless, was that there have been no particulars of the costs to be introduced towards Value, regardless of a flurry of diplomatic requests previous to the court docket martial that started on 18 January 1871. Even following the trial, a sentence was not pronounced and the court docket referred the case to increased authorities in Versailles. The indecision surrounded the contents of a letter, purportedly written by Value to Littlewood earlier than his flight from Paris on 27 October, which contained an order to buy weapons on behalf of the French authorities, which had been intercepted by the Prussians. The chief plea raised by Herr Fischer, assigned as defending counsel, was that Value had endeavoured to retrieve the letter quickly after writing it, nevertheless it had already been despatched by way of balloon put up.

If true, this may increasingly clarify why he had tried to danger escape in a balloon and the determined makes an attempt by Littlewood to safe his launch earlier than trial, however it might seem unlikely that he was making an attempt to smuggle arms into Paris when the British authorities had been already fulfilling an official contract.

In Britain questions had begun to be requested concerning the continued use of presidency assets to safe the discharge of the prisoner. The Regulation Journal wrote an open letter to The Instances, printed on 11 February 1871, plainly stating the authorized definition of Value’s predicament. It concluded that, though the federal government’s functions to the Prussians on behalf of a British topic had been certainly honourable, they had been neither accountable nor ready to legally affect the court docket martial proceedings. In essence they argued that Value had made a acutely aware determination to stay in a rustic at conflict and a metropolis that was about to be besieged regardless of having been given enough discover to depart. Consequently, the British authorities had no proper to demand his give up and so they reminded readers that:

A British topic doesn’t carry the legal guidelines of his nation about with him. He’s below the regulation of the nation wherein he resides. If he’s in a besieged metropolis, and nonetheless extra if he intentionally stays in a metropolis that’s about to be besieged, he’s below the legal guidelines of conflict, and has no proper to complain if he’s arrested when endeavouring to flee. The British Authorities can not defend British topics towards the implications of their very own actions.


A deflating finish

If Value was responsible of an offence, it was being in breach of the Proclamation of Neutrality issued by the queen on the outset of the conflict. Certainly, if the letter had been discovered on Value’s particular person, the legal guidelines of conflict would have permitted him to have been executed forthwith.

Whatever the severity of the costs, the case was in the end handled with excessive leniency; Value was acquitted by the army court docket at Cologne on 16 February 1871 and launched 4 days later. Upon his return to London he sought an viewers with Earl Granville on 16 March, wherein he pleaded his case for compensation from the Prussian authorities on account of his bodily well being and enterprise being fully ruined throughout his incarceration. Value acknowledged that he had suffered fever and diphtheria throughout his confinement at Versailles, which had been exacerbated throughout the enforced march to Cologne. Granville determined that the Overseas Workplace was unable to position such a declare. On 8 April Littlewood wrote for the ultimate time on Value’s behalf, acknowledging the Overseas Workplace’s determination to not pursue compensation. A unprecedented episode in British diplomacy was concluded.

It stays unclear whether or not Value wrote the letter that incriminated him. He died on 10 July 1904, leaving a spouse and a son and results of £159. 16s. 7d. There isn’t any proof that he continued within the wine commerce following his return to England. 


Tim Jenkins is an aviation historian.  

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