British passport 1814 provisional Belgian government (Napoleonic Wars)

What you see here is an outstanding British passport issued in August 1814 by Charge d’affairs John Mordaunt Johnson at the provisional government of the Belgian provinces (then French Empire) at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon abdicates for the first time. Wellington won the battle of Toulouse. End of Feb 1815, Napoleon escapes Elba. The Battle of Ligny, Quatre Bras, Waterloo, and Wavre were fought in June 1815, then Napoleon’s second and final abdication. The French rule ended and the Congress of Vienna, which was one of the most important international conferences in history, formed a new Europe.  British passport Belgian government

The passport was issued to Henry Joyce Gentilhomme (?), a resident of England, for Calais.

John Johnson was born in Dublin around 1776. His parents both came from English families that had long settled in Ireland. He attended Trinity College, Dublin, and then Trinity College, Cambridge, but did not take a degree from either university. His father died in the spring of 1798. Johnson left Cambridge, and on 20 September 1798, he joined the 51st infantry regiment as an ensign. He bought a promotion to lieutenant in January 1799, but became bored with the lack of action and sold this position in the autumn of 1800.

British passport Belgian government

After leaving the army, Johnson added “Mordaunt” to his name and spent some time traveling in Europe. He became proficient in several languages and becoming a friend of the Duke of Brunswick. He came back to England in the spring of 1803, then returned to Dublin, staying there until the autumn of 1804 when he returned to Europe. He spent three more years there, mainly in Germany, renewing his connections with influential people and learning about the political situation. He returned to England, hoping to gain a position with the government, and ran into financial difficulties. British passport Belgian government

Johnson wrote A Memoir on the Political State of Europe, intending to publish it. Prime Minister Spencer Perceval read this work, interviewed Johnson, and gave him a position in the Foreign Office as a confidential agent. He undertook several missions on the continent, at that time primarily controlled by Napoleon, who was at war with Britain. He was active in the Habsburg territories at a time when normal diplomatic relations had been suspended. Metternich considered that he was the most capable and discreet of the British agents in Germany at that time. When Sweden declared war on Britain on 17 November 1810, announcing its ports were closed to British merchants, Johnson met with Count von Rosen, who assured him that the declaration would have a little real effect on trade and Sweden had no intention of any act of hostility. British passport Belgian government

After the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1814, bringing temporary peace, Johnson was appointed chargé d’affaires at Brussels, and then was made British consul at Genoa. He was said to be “in close and friendly correspondence with the principal ministers and generals and leading public characters of almost all the states of Europe.” Johnson became infected with Tuberculosis. He traveled to Florence for the sake of his health, dying there on 10 September 1815 at the age of 39. He was unmarried. He had purchased many rare books from the collection of the Fontecastello monastery at Monte Pulciano, in Tuscany. These went on sale after his death. This document must be one of the very few and very last passports he issued as Charge d’Affairs in Brussels. A significant record of British/Belgian diplomacy, which comes with a fully intact red seal. British passport Belgian government


Belgian Passport 1927 Countess Marie Elisabeth d’Oultremont

FAQ Passport History
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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...