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1804 - Rochefort, the Basque Road, the islands of Oleron, Rhé and Aix

Friday 31 October 2008, by Pierre, 1139 visites.

A Description of the Town and Port of Rochefort, Basque Road, the Islands of Oleron, Rhé, and Aix, before the Continental Blocus.

Source : Naval and military memoirs of Great Britain from 1727 to 1783 – Robert Beatson – London – 1804 – T. 3 – Books Google



A town in France, in the territory of Aunis, is situated on the river Charente, about three leagues from its mouth, in Lat. 46. 3. N. Long. o. 45. W. The waters of this river abound in fish, and form several islands at its mouth, most of which are fortified.

Lewis XIV. very desirous of increasing his marine, by the advice of M. Colbert, purchased this spot, as a proper place for a Royal clock yard. A regular plan was laid down for the town, and a large space set apart for the foundery, magazines, and dock-yard.

The river has depth sufficient to admit the largest (hips, and they can lie afloat in the harbour even at low water. From its sheltered situations they are free from hurricanes. Bomb-vessels cannot come near enough to reach them ; neither does the worm bite here. The neighbouring provinces afford them every necessary for victualling fleets. The building of the town began in 1666, and in 1673 it contained 20,000 inhabitants, great encouragement being given to people to settle here. The public buildings are magnificent. The dockyard is very grand : it consists of several slips for building ships, and three docks for repairing and careening. In 1675 the town was fortified : this was much contrary to the opinion of M. Colbert, who did not want that it should be a garrison town : but that the place should only be inclosed with a plain wall. In his opinion the only side from which danger was to be apprehended was the river, and that avenue ought to be fortified in the strongest manner.

Besides the fort on the island of Aix, the mouth of the river is guarded by a strong redoubt on Isle Madame, the fort of Fouras, and the fort of the Point. A league above the entrance of the river, and on the south side of the Charente, stands fort Lupin, being a redoubt with loop-holes, surrounded with a circular battery of twenty-two guns, to fire to the right and left, and directly across the river ; but the chief protection to the place on this side is the number of shoals with which the entrance into the river abounds; and although frigates and smaller ships of war can go up to the town with all their guns and stores on board, yet before ships of the line can proceed as high, they are obliged to come to an anchor off the isle of Aix, and there put their guns and heavy stores into lighters, and thence proceed, in ballast only, to Rochefort : and, in like manner, before they proceed to sea, they take in their guns, &c. abreast of the isle of Aix.

The fortifications of Rochefort on the land-side are not deemed of any great strength, and will not stand any time against regular approaches, and unless the place is strongly garrisoned, might, by a brisk officer, and a resolute body of men, be carried by a coup de main. A few years after the founding of Rochefort, the project for registering sea- men first began here. They were afterwards divided into three classes, by which 60,000 seamen were registered in 1680 : they were to serve alternately ; 20,000 were allotted to the King’s fervice, 20,000 to trading vessels, and 20,000 to be at their own disposal. In 1674, the Dutch, under Van Tromp, made an attempt on Rochefort with a powerful armament, but were repulsed.

 Basque Road

Is formed by the main, the islands of Oleron, Rhé, and Aix.

Oleron is a well cultivated island, about five leagues long and two in breadth, and contains near 11,000 inhabitants, a great number of whom are mariners. Indeed this island has been long famous for its commerce and its sailors, the code of maritime laws being styled the laws of Oleron, The tower of Chassiron is a light-house, on that point which juts farthest into the sea, and intended to direct vessels to the entrance into the Pertuis d’Antioche, the name given to the strait or passage between the islands Oleron and Rhé.

The isle of Rhé is near four leagues long, and about a league broad : it is three leagues from Rochelle. It is well cultivated, produces plenty of salt, and an indifferent sort of wine, which, however, makes very good brandy. It is well situated for trade, and is very populous. Its chief town is St Martin, which, as well as the coasts of the island, is well fortified.

The island of Aix is situated about three leagues from the mouth of the river Charente. It is near one league long, and about a mile broad where broadest. It is well cultivated ; has a tolerably built little village, and a church : The inhabitants may be about 500 in number, who live chiefly by fishing. At the end of a long narrow point of land is the fort, built from a design of the famous M. de Vauban. A great deal of money had been expended on this fortification, the stones being brought from the neighbourhood of Rochefort. It in a manner commands the navigation of the Charente. The fort was constructed to mount from fifty to sixty guns, besides mortars.

The works were completed towards the land ; but the embrasures were not formed on the side next the sea, when the British forces took it in 1757.

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