Perth Prison was built under the direction of Robert Reid (1774-1856) (“King’s architect and surveyor in Scotland. Reid was responsible for many public works, primarily inEdinburgh, including the Law Courts in Parliament Square. He also worked on the detailed layout of Robert Adam’s Charlotte Square after that architect’s death and built a house there for himself. In the square he completed the design for St. George’s Church (now West Register House), which had again been started by Adam. Reid planned the northern part of Edinburgh’s New Town (1802) and extended Adam’s Register House (1834). He is buried in Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh.”) – see Robert Reid for further information – between 1810 and 1812, as a depot for some 7,000 prisoners from the Napoleonic Wars.
‘A total of 122,000 prisoners of war were held in Britain between 1803 and 1814 – between 12,000 and 13,000 of them in Scotland.
It was in 1811 that the greatest mass of prisoners started arriving north of the border, partly because of greater numbers being captured in the West Indies and the Iberian peninsula, but also because there were fears that prisoners held in the south of England were plotting to break out and seize the naval arsenal at Portsmouth while Napoleon attempted a last-ditch invasion.
While many of the prisoners in Scotland were sailors captured at sea, most were captured during land battles such as Salamanca, Arroyo dos Molinos and Vigo, all in Spain.
All of the French prisoners were repatriated after Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and thousands of Perth people turned out to wave them off.’
Dundee Courier, 27 August 2015.
The Perthshire Advertiser of 27 September 1930 detailed the unveiling of a memorial plaque to mark the burial ground of French prisoners of war who died in Perth Penitentiary between 1811 and 1814 (the Peninsular War period). Unveiled by William Anderson the Secretary of State for Scotland the plaque reads:
“Near this spot was interned a number of French prisoners of war who died in military capacity at Perth about the year 1812.”
In 1842, the building began service as a civilian prison. The prison’s C Hall is part of the original Perth prison which housed the French prisoners. It is under threat of demolition but is being supported by Historic Scotland.
It is currently Scotland’s oldest prison. The Prisoner of War Visitor Experience at Edinburgh Castle has on display craft items produced by prisoners in Scotland. Amongst this collection is a wooden snuff box made by a prisoner held at Perth Prison in the 1800s – it is owned by Perth Museum and Art Gallery
Napoleonic Prisoners and Local House Construction
Whilst incarcerated many of the Napoleonic prisoners of war were used as labour in a small number of local house construction projects. These included Orchard House on Scone’s Lovers Lane which was built by them for the Governor of the prison.
In October of 2007 dozens of 19th century skeletons were unearthed at the prison. At least 24 people buried in deep trenches were unearthed during building works. These probably date back to the 1830s when the prison was home to an asylum. The fact that all the bodies were buried at the same time suggests that they all died during an epidemic – possibly Typhus.