Richard Holledge's book dramatises little known episode in British history
Hammersmith journalist and author Richard Holledge has written an unusual novel based on a little known, but shameful, episode in British history.
Called The Scattered, it tells of the ethnic cleansing of a small colony of French-speaking people called Acadians.
They had been descended from French settlers in Nova Scotia in Canada and lived there peaceably until they were subjected to British rule and driven out in October 1755.
Richard, who lives in Brook Green, says: " I had never heard of Acadians until I saw a mention of them in a guide book to Louisiana, where, it transpired, hundreds of refugees fled to escape the British.
" But I was galvanised into writing when I read the book Crucible of War by American historian Fred Anderson who described the expulsion as 'chillingly reminiscent of modern ethnic cleansing operations'."
Richard says the Arcadians' expulsion from Canada was just the beginning of a saga that, for some, lasted 30 wretched years and included a spell in English prisons.
He explains: “It was the Seven Years War; the British wanted to drive France out of America and this small nation was in the way. Almost the entire population was 'removed'.
" It seemed to me to be a story that had a resonance for today - the familiar news stories about the plight of the dispossessed and the cruelty of great nations."
Most Acadians were shipped to British-owned North American colonies where they worked as cheap labour or were left to survive the best they could, with many dying of starvation and sickness.
But around 1,200 were shipped to England in 1756 after being prevented from landing in Virginia, and were then imprisoned in disused warehouses and barns around the country.
“Of course, no one wanted this rag tag bunch of French speaking rejects in this country," says Richard, "and hostility increased when the exiles contracted smallpox and the locals feared an epidemic.
" The death toll was horrible; of the 300 or so sent to Bristol, half perished within three months and in Falmouth 63 were buried in a mass grave."
Richard has dramatised the story by basing his book on the life of one real person, a carpenter called Jambo LeBlanc, who was 26 when he and his family were expelled. His wife died in their Liverpool prison, leaving him with two children, but he found new love and went on to have three more children.
“So it is a love story as well as a saga of suffering and survival,” says the author.
At the end of the war the exiles were shuttled off to France where they were treated with as much hostility as they had experienced in England. Then in 1785, when most of the original exiles had died, they were offered a new home in Spanish-owned Louisiana by a French businessman.
1,500 of them elected to make the Atlantic crossing, and settle on the bank of the Mississippi including LeBlanc, though he died within a year.
Richard, who lived in Canada as a boy and regularly visits New Orleans and Louisiana, says:
" With the mix of French and Spanish speakers it was inevitable that in time the name Acadian became corrupted.
"Today they are known as Cajuns. That always surprises people."
The Scattered is available on Amazon and Kindle, priced £8.54.
February 1, 2013