“Lorient under the First French Empire” by S.M. O’Connor

Lorient was not as dangerous a place to live under the (First) French Empire as it had been during the French Revolution, and yet the population significantly declined.  Municipal leaders were as servile in their attempts to curry favor with the military dictator-cum-monarch and his officials as one would expect anyone in their position to be, but their behavior should also be seen in the context of being nationalistic or patriotic.

On October 29, 1804, the City Council of Lorient voted to hold a banquet to celebrate the coronation of General Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821) as Emperor Napoléon I of the (First) French Empire (1804-1814, 1815) and his (religious) marriage ceremony with his (first) wife Joséphine (1763-1814).  By December 31, 1804, the population of Lorient had slipped to 19,992.

By imperial decree, Tréfaven Castle became a gunpowder magazine on March 6, 1805.  A Coast Guard company was established at Lorient on April 1, 1805.  Vice-Admiral Denis Decrès (1761-1820), Minister of the Navy (1801-1814), decided to close the maritime hospital at Lorient that had opened in the former Récollets convent in Port-Louis on November 11, 1805.  He had the patients moved to the hospice-hospital of Lorient.  In 1805, Emperor Napoleon expropriated the Arnous shipyards at Tréfaven Castle, which had belonged to the previous owner’s widow, and assigned the Arnous shipyards to the French Imperial Navy.

In January of 1806, the hospice-hospital of Lorient, which had been renamed Hôtel-Dieu, received the patients from the shuttered maritime hospital.  It also received abandoned children.  On March 27, 1806, the prison expanded to accommodate 1,070 prisoners.  A large amount of hemp burnt in the hemp and tar stores of the Ropery on May 2, 1806.  Predictably, there was a revolt at the prison, on October 29, 1806, as a result of which, the leader, Badran, was executed.  Semaphores, the original telegraphy system, went into service at the 3rd Maritime District of Lorient on November 20, 1806.

On January 2, 1807, the Empire created regiments of naval workers, one of which was assigned to Lorient.  The Chamber of Commerce of Lorient was created by imperial decree on September 30, 1807, and subsequently opened in the Town Hall.  Vice-Admiral Antoine-Jean Marie Thévenard (1733-1815), the Maritime Prefect of Lorient, intervened in the sale of the former maritime hospital of Port-Louis on December 5, 1807, to preserve it for the Imperial Navy.

On June 1, 1808, the Maritime Prefect of Lorient informed Mayor Trestinian that Emperor Napoleon would visit Lorient.  At the end of the month, on June 30, 1808, an Arc de Triomphe was completed on the Cours de Chazelles to honor the Emperor.  On August 14, 1808, the City Council found out the Emperor would not be visiting Lorient after all because of the war in Spain.  He would never come to Lorient.  In such circumstances, the municipal government’s celebration of the Emperor’s birthday on August 15, 1808 must have been anticlimactic.  Two convicts, Véry and Moitel, were executed in the prison yard on September 28, 1808 for having murdered a prison guard with axes.  By December 31, 1708, the population of Lorient had further fallen to 17,837.

In January of 1809, a shipbuilding engineer named Fauveau founded an art school at the Arsenal de Lorient to decorate the bows of ships.  By March 1, 1809, the population of Lorient had shrunk to 14,939, with another 3,187 inhabitants of outlying villages.  The City Council voted to resume construction of the church at the expense of the municipal government.  They voted to allocate 20,000 francs for this purpose on the 1810 budget.  On May 15, 1809, the City Council of Lorient asked the Emperor for permission to hang his portrait in the Hall of Honor of the City Hall.  This portrait cost 3,000 francs.  Du Couëdic Street opened and Comédie Street reached the ramparts on September 9, 1809.  An imperial decree created the commercial court of Lorient on October 6, 1809.

On April 1, 1810, Emperor Napoleon I wed his second wife, Archduchess Maria Louise of Austria (1791-1847), and as part of the celebrations he sponsored the wedding in Lorient of Nicolas Got, a twenty-four-year-old gunner of the 4th Artillery Regiment, and Marie-Jeanne Le Feuvre, who was twenty-six years old, on April 22, 1810.  On September 20, 1810, Louis Le Lange was sentenced to death for the assassination of Gérard Prud’homme.  Consequently, he was executed in the prison yard on September 22nd.  Poterel de Pontivy won the contract to build the Saint-Christophe Bridge on October 16, 1810.  He began construction of December 3, 1810.  Five days later, construction began on a Civil Hospital for elderly people and women.  It was staffed by twenty-two sisters (not to be confused with nuns).   The City Council of Lorient approved estimates and plans to finish construction of Saint-Louis Church.  It was completed ten years later.

Convict Pierre Guitton was executed on March 7, 1811, having murdered two guards on the night of February 26th/27th, 1811.  The City Council approved the construction work at Saint-Louis Church for no more than 373,246 francs (not counting the presbytery).  The City of Lorient recognized Leclerc-La Bouvée, Chief Engineer, for his work on Lorient’s roads, Saint-Christophe Bridge, Saint-Louis Church, and Lorient’s docks, on May 9, 1811.  The City Council of Lorient reserved land for a slaughterhouse on the quays on November 30, 1811.  The Diadem, an eighty-gun Tonnant-class warship, launched at Lorient.

In 1812, the Lorient post office moved from place Daupine (now Place Alsace-Lorraine) to 76 rue du Port (in front of the Congregational Church).  This was, in part, a relay station for stagecoaches.

On December 26, 1813, there was a decree regulating the bakers of Lorient.  As of May 11, 1814, beggars in Lorient were required to carry copper plates.  They had the right of alms in the municipality.  They had the right to seek help from the Office of Charity and Beneficence.

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