Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire

Fearing for Merseyside: Liverpool, its Defences and the French Invasion Scare of 1858–1859

Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire (2019), 168, (1), 139–153.


From the spring of 1858 to the winter of 1859, Britain was gripped by fears of a French invasion. These were prompted by a fraying of Anglo-French relations, following the attempted assassination of the French Emperor Napoleon III by a group of revolutionaries that included British citizens. The fear that Napoleon might take military action against Britain in response first arose in the spring of 1858, whereafter the national feeling intensified over the summer of 1859, when the emperor launched a successful invasion of Italy, raising the spectre of Britain having to deal with a new Bonaparte who could match his famous namesake both ambition and martial ability. The purpose of this article is to re-assess the French invasion scare of 1858–59, focusing on how the fear was both nurtured and responded to, not at a national, but at a local, level. Specifically, the focus here is on one of Britain’s key port cities, Liverpool which, as a maritime and commercial centre, seemed to many on Merseyside as a probable target for a waterborne attack. By analysing how the press and public of the greater Merseyside region responded to this perceived threat, this article sheds light on the division between fears and reality in public perceptions, and the understudied, localised reaction of Liverpudlians to this apparent national crisis.1

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Author details

Crossland, James