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Jean-Louis Barrallier was a gifted marine engineer, who commenced work at the Toulon Arsenal on his 16th birthday and rose steadily through the ranks to become, in 1792, Ingénieur en chef des Travaux Maritimes. If he had confined his activities to his official position, there would be little record of him beyond evaluating his professional expertise. Jean-Louis, however, followed his father in dabbling in politics, which, in the turmoil of the time, was a risky business.
In 1793, following the execution of the king and the declaration of war by Britain, a series of counter-revolutions took place in France. The one in Toulon took a particularly dramatic turn when the counter-revolutionaries handed over the port to a combined British-Spanish-Neapolitan force. The go-between in the negotiations between the Toulonese and the British (who were the lead force in the Allied Fleet) was Jean-Louis Barrallier. A siege commenced, with Toulon surrounded by a revolutionary army that included an unknown artillery captain named Napoleon Bonaparte.
Jean-Louis, having put all his eggs in one basket, was an energetic collaborator and, for his efforts, was awarded the post of Secrétaire de l’Armeé de S.M. britannique à Toulon. This new prestige was to no avail: after four months, the revolutionaries gained the upper hand and, in December 1793, the port had to be evacuated. Amidst scenes of mass destruction and panic, with much of the French fleet on fire in the harbour, several thousands of the citizens of Toulon accompanied the departing Alllied vessels. Amongst them, were Jean-Louis Barrallier, his wife and several of their children.