15th January 1793. Thomas arrives into the port of Calais from Dover. The town was accustomed to British travellers disembarking here for the Grand Tour but this business had died away since 1789, however an infrastructure for tourists must have been in place and I imagine it would’ve been easy to catch the post chase from here to Paris.
Relationship with place
Thinking back, I’ve probably visited Calais half a dozen times. In 1974 on a family holiday travelling in a VW camper van on the way to Estartit, then again as an art student through a cheap European rail ticket and most recently heading off to various campsite holidays with my own young family.
The most vivid recollection I have of the place was arriving in a lay-by on the fringes of town in 2009. It was dawn and I was switching seats with Jackie after an overnight drive through France. I wasn’t consciously watching the activity around the articulated lorry that was parked in front of us, but I noticed something that seemed unusual. I saw a figure running off into the sand dunes and scrub that was near by. I didn’t see where they came from but the running seemed unusual behaviour. In front of us the driver of the articulated lorry with the doors open at the back wasn’t paying any attention to the people climbing out from among the boxes in the back of his truck. People of all types climbed out, the most arresting of all was a Chinese looking man in a suit holding a baby in a christening gown. I was shocked and amazed and unable to think what to do next, so Jackie and I changed seats and drove off.
We think a lot about the émigrés who migrated out of France in 1791 to escape the French revolution but think less about the people who left other countries to join in the Revolution. Tom was really one of these people who along with Thomas Pain and Anacharis Cloots wanted to be part of this real-time discussion on how to restructure society. He was fully immersed in a campaign for political reform in Scotland and had been invited to speak by political allies in London and would have been excited about the possibilities of fraternity with the new French politicians he was about to meet.
Costs were covered through participation in the exhibition ‘L’Art est un sport de combat’ curated by Jean Marc Huitorel in April 2011. I was working with the Imperial War Museum at the time and had meetings in London covered by an IWM budget. The museum in Calais paid for a Euro star ticket from London to Calais Frethun and on into town. There I stayed at the Hotel Pacific. After the opening I remember walking with all the French artists and friends to the train station where they caught the train to Paris. After everyone left I set out to take photographs for this site.