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Fate of the Clémentine: Praslin-built Brig-Schooner in Seychelles and “The Laplace Affair”

Seychelles Ministry of Tourism and Culture  Jul 29, 2016

Julien Durup, a student of history, wrote in a recent historical article titled “An Early Seychellois in Micronesia,” that the Clémentine embarked on a journey when it left Sydney in mid-1836, with Louis Corgat, a Seychellois as first mate, en-route to Oahu Island, the third largest island in Hawaii. We did so without knowing where the Clémentine was built. However, it was recently when we came across a remarkable document written by Léonce Alphonse Jore (born in 1892 in Madagascar and died in Switzerland in 1975), the former French Governor of Tahiti, that we found out that Clémentine was in fact built in Praslin in the Seychelles.

In another article, the “Three Sturdy Seychellois Built Ships That Ended in Australia,” we mentioned that the 95-ton Arpenteur, which was also built on Praslin in 1839, was the first Seychellois built ship that went to Australia. Her remains were discovered in 1972, at Cheyne’s Beach, Western Australia.

Now we know for sure that in fact it was the Clémentine that went first. We also found out that no such vessel was registered with that name in the Seychelles, and we will later explain why.

The Clémentine was a Brig-Schooner built by Jean Mathiot alias “Gentil” at Praslin. Mathiot was at that time a well-known French shipbuilder in the Seychelles. He was from Sainte Croix in Bordeaux, the son of Louis Mathiot and Anne Laurent of the same place. As he was married to Catherine Charlotte Duvey, the daughter of Jean Lot Duvey of Normandy and Marie Catherine Hoareau, the Clémentine could have been built on the Duvey’s property at Grand Anse Praslin, which is still known today by the old Praslinois as “Terrain Duvey”.

Some time back, we came across at the Seychelles National Archives an important notarial deed on the Clémentine.

That deed was drawn on 6 July 1832, by Amable Lefebure-Mercy, a resident Notary on Mahé. It comprised the sale of a brig-schooner named Clémentine by Jean Mathiot to Captain Jules Dudoit.

Reference of the notarial document regarding the sale of the Clémentine: Seychelles National Archives

This unfinished vessel was launched a month before and was going to be registered after its completion. She had only her masts and yards and no other rigging and she was described as of about eighty-feet and seventy-six eighty-fourth tons, measured sixty-eight feet from bow to stern by seventeen feet ten inches in the beam and had a hold eight feet eight deep.

Captain Jules Dudoit 1803-1866

Soon after signing the deed, Captain Dudoit who was in a hurry to return to Mauritius, recruited 12 Seychellois crew, including Louis Marie Constant Corgat as first mate, and hurriedly finished fitting all the riggings. Corgat later became famous in Micronesia. They set sail with 3 passengers for Mauritius and arrived at Port Louis on 28 July 1832. The next day, he duly registered the Clémentine with the port authority and she was allowed to sail under the Union Jack.

In the deed we found out that Captain Dudoit was not a rich man and that he intended soon to come back to the Seychelles, because:

a) he only made a partial payment to Jean Mathiot and that the 1500 piasters remaining were going to be paid on 1 June 1833 to a friend of Jean Mathiot at Port Louis. b) that Jean Mathiot had to build a long boat which was to be ready upon the first trip of the Clémentine to the Seychelles. Did he come back to the Seychelles to collect the long boat? Up to now, we have not seen any documents that proved that he had done so. However, at the end of 1833 the money owed to Jean Mathiot and another two businessmen at Port Louis was not yet paid.

b) Forty-eight days after arriving in Mauritius, Captain Dudoit set sail on the Clémentine on [14 September 1832], her maiden voyage to Australia with a cargo of sugar for Port Jackson, where she arrived on 14 November 1832. On 1 January 1833, she sailed with five passengers and a food cargo for the prison in Tasmania. She left Hobart on 5 February (according to “The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser” of Tuesday 19 February 1833), with six passengers viz: Mr. Dennis Browne, Mr. George Richards, Mr. and Mrs. O’Keden, John Bowers and a soldier of the 4th Regiment and arrived at Port Jackson on the 27 February. From there, she made another trip to Hobart carrying goods and passengers. As those trips to Tasmania did not generate much profit. Captain Dudoit decided to sail the Clémentine with ballast to Singapore and he left Port Jackson on 2 June 1833, and on 11 November the Clémentine was in Batavia presumably with all her Seychellois crew. Her whereabouts from June to November remained a mystery, maybe she never went to Singapore. When she left Port Jackson she was under the command of Captain Joseph Walker and Captain Dudoit was a simple passenger. What was his motive for doing so?... may be because his mortgages to Mathiot and the loan he took from William Sibbald, a Scottish Physician and Sérendat, a Brazilian, two businessmen based in Mauritius to provision the Clémentine for her long journey to Sydney was not yet paid.

Presumably, he did so to avoid any early court case, and to confuse people, because at that time there was another ship named Clémentine which was later wrecked in 1844 in Tahiti. As he was not making any money, and perhaps his only motive was to sell the Clémentine in order to pay his debts.

In early December 1833, after finding no freight, he wanted to sell the Clémentine to Douglas MacKenzie, a businessman in Batavia. Mackenzie hurriedly wrote to two of his commercial friends in Port Louis informing them that Captain Dudoit had offered to sell him the Clémentine in order to be able to pay his creditors. The sale did not formalize because the original official paper was with the Port Department in Mauritius, and mail was very slow and took a long time to reach Mauritius and vice-versa. As soon as he arrived at Batavia, Captain Dudoit managed to befriend many high Dutch personalities. On 18 December, he wrote two letters to the Governor-General, surprisingly in Dutch, the first one was for permission for the Clémentine to fly the (horizontal tricolor), flag of the Netherlands under the command of Captain Clunes. In the said petition he declared that he still owes Jean Mathiot 1500 piasters and Mr. Sibbald and Sérendat 1313.20 piasters. But his request was turned down in a reply on 13 March 1834.

In the second letter, Captain Dudoit asked for permission for him to settle in the Dutch East Indies as a maritime merchant with the Head Office in Batavia. His request was supported by Mr. William MacKenzie and Nicolas Sigisbert Cézard, two respected merchants in Batavia. In his supporting testimony MacKenzie made a deceitful statement in favor of Captain Dudoit and the latter did not object to that because it served as an advantage for him. On 10 February 1834, Jean Chrétien Baud the then Governor-General who did not notice part of this false affidavit, granted him permission to stay only on a temporary basis.

While in Batavia, Captain Dudoit wanted to take advantage of the good existing trade with Canton, but the law that forbade ships flying the Union Jack doing business in the Dutch East Indes stymied his progress. At the end of February, he set sail on the Clémentine (presumably still with all her Seychellois crew), for the Hawaiian Islands via Ponapé in the Carolines. There, he traded for bêche-de-mer (sea cucumber), tortoise shell and edible white swiftlets (Apodidae collocaliini), nests, an expensive Chinese delicacy, for exportation to the Celestial Empire (China).

While in the Carolines, he traded with the local and his business became very profitable. He arrived in Hawaii on 29 March 1835, with an unrevealed cargo worth £1600, with 16 crew and the Clémentine was registered (with an increase tonnage because in the deed of sale she was slightly over 78 tons) as an 88-ton ship with 16 passengers. As soon as he arrived, Captain Dudoit wanted to sail the Clémentine back to the Carolines for more profitable trade, but had to postpone it to 1836. Meanwhile, he found a new captain for the Clémentine and he took command of his other well-armed ship, the Avon, which he acquired in mid-1835 and returned to Ponapé. A year later he sent the fully loaded Avon with sperm whale oil, under command of his First Mate to Chile, where the Avon was sold at Valparaiso with her precious cargo. For some historians, it was a dubious cargo, that Captain Dudoit had seized from the wreck of the whaler. Falcon. However, when Captain Dudoit took possession of all the cargo he made an agreement with Captain C H Hart for him to pay $800 and to deliver 70 lbs. of tortoise shells and also to transport all the surviving crew of the Falcon to Guam, Manila and China. Captain Hart later became friend with Captain Dudoit. because in 1837 Hart captained the Clémentine on a voyage to Ile du vent (Windward Islands).

Captain Dudoit later chartered the Clémentine for a lucrative trip to Monterey (a city that was later immortalised in “Cannery Row” in 1945, one of the novels of John Steinbeck), in California. On the 3 June 1835, the Clémentine set sail under Captain Handley with a cargo valued £2000, to Monterey. While there, at the end of July, the Clémentine encountered a strange incident, Governor Colonel Mariano Chico of Alta (Upper) California, and his entourage who were being pursued by the populace, took refuge on board. Captain Handley had a short time to leave the harbor with his unwanted visitors and took them to a safe place.

A few months later, a similar incident occurred after the appointment of Colonel Don Nicolas Gutierrez as the new acting Governor. Some rebels against the latter forced Captain Handley to take them to another secure point. They boarded the Clémentine at Monterey and they were left at El Cajon (The Big Box), where they re-joined their friends at “Mission La Purisima Conception”.

On 28 March 1837, the Clémentine left Santa Barbara for Honolulu where she arrived on 17 April 1837. Captain Handly did not know that on arriving back in Honolulu his ship was going to face a more or less a similar incident and that she was carrying two personae non gratae. The Hawaiian Royal policy visa-vis Roman Catholic priests had changed drastically, the Royals had been converted to the Church of England and the Catholics were unwelcomed.

Unbeknown, to Captain Handly of the diplomatic and political changes, when the Clémentine arrived with two Roman Catholic Priests, Fathers Alexis (Jean-Augustin) Bachelot a Frenchman from Saint-Cyr-la-Rosière, Orne, and Patrick Short of Ireland, those two clergies were not welcome even though they were there before. They first arrived in mid-1824, after the death of King Kamehameha II the one that gave permission to Catholics to establish in his Kingdom. But the new boy King was ruled by her stepmother who was a Protestant, she was against the incoming R C Priests. The two priests were later expelled in 1831 and they moved to California. The reason for coming back was that King Kamehameha III apparently verbally agreed to repeal the order against them.

After disembarking at Honolulu, the two priests were not welcomed and ordered to return to the Clémentine. They refused and they were manu militari taken on board and managed later have only a short stay in Hawaii. Captain Dudoit protested and lodged a complaint against the Government. In his plaints, he said that his ship (Clémentine) had been chartered to William French, an American businessman in Hawaii and refused to take the two priests out. As soon as his protest was rejected, he pulled down the Union Jack from the Clémentine and drew up a deed of surrender of her and sent it to the British Consul and claimed that the flag had been insulted and burned in the street. During the saga the authority seized the Clémentine.

On 6 July 1837, HMS Sulphur and Sterling under Captain Edward Belcher arrived and two days later, the French warship, the Venus under Captain Abel Aubert Dupetit-Thouars. The two captains took control but were unable to get permission from the King to set free the priests. When the negotiation became futile, they blockaded the harbor and boarded the Clémentine and took the two priests ashore where they were escorted by 300 French armed sailors. King Kamehameha III agreed to allow the priests to stay in Honolulu only until they could find a ship to transport them elsewhere. Father Short left on 30 October 1837, on the American ship the Peru for Valparaiso, and Father Bachelot became very sick and had to stay behind, by November 1837, he was well enough to leave Hawaii. He died at sea on 5 December 1837 and buried on the Island of Ponapé.

After the “Affair of Clémentine” which became well-known in the annals of Hawaii, the French Government sent Captain Cyrille Pierre Théodore Laplace on the Artémise with the instruction for an eventual military intervention to force King Kamehameha III to stop persecuting Catholics. On 12 July 1839, the King was forced out by the barrels of French guns to sign the “Edict of Toleration” which was later known as “The Laplace Affair” or “The French Incident” in which the King had to pay $20,000 in compensation for deporting the priests. And that the King had to provide land for the Catholics to build their Church. On 17 July 1839, the King under duress from Cyrille Laplace also signed a “Convention” of eight Articles, article VII provided for the protected of French merchandises especially wines and brandies. It stated that those produce shall not be prohibited, nor pay a higher duty than five per cent ad valorem.

Article IV provided for the protection of French citizens in the Kingdom, it stated that any one accused of any crime shall be judge by a jury composed only of foreign residents, proposed by Captain Dudoit (the French Consul), and to be confirmed by the Government of Sandwich Islands.

Captain Laplace was well known in the Seychelles during his visit in May 1930 on the frigate the Favorite, throughout his wrote the following about the charms of the Seychellois: “their desire to please and the absence of pretention, had me close my eyes to those points of comparison that would not have been in their favor” (McAteer 2000, p17).

After the departure of the British and French men-of-war Captain Dudoit managed happily to get the Clémentine back. He sent her on the 14 August 1837, to Christmas Island under Captain George Benson to collect all the cargo of the Briton that was shipwrecked there. She arrived back on the on 3 October of the same year. The Clémentine made another two voyages to the Christmas Island under Captain George Benson.

She was later chartered by William Sturgis Hinckley to transport a large number of American politicians and other personalities who were going to Washington to lobby for the independence of Hawaii. She left under Captain Blinn for Panama with the intention for the Americans to cross over to reach a United States port on the Atlantic coast. In early January 1838, the Clémentine encountered very clam weather off Acapulco for 21 days and the next three days she anchored in the port of Acajutla in San Salvador, where the passengers disembarked and crossed over via Guatemala. From Acajutla, she sailed to San Blas Islands and later arrived in Honolulu on 18 April 1838. While in Honolulu, she was chartered by a prominent businessman to go to the Kamchatka Peninsula and New Archangel (Sitka) in Alaska. She sailed under the command of Captain Dominis with supplies for the Russian-American Company and she arrived back in Honolulu on the 15 September 1838. Arriving back, another captain (Captain Rhodes) took command of the Clémentine and plied regularly until early 1839, between Honolulu and the other islands of Hawaii. During that time, a prominent businessman, Johana August Sater (John Augustus Sutter), arrived in the Kingdom on 9 December 1839, from Fort Vancouver on the Columbia. John Augustus Sutter was a German-born Swiss (from Kandern Baden Germany), who became a pioneer in California for his association with the “Gold Rush”, Sutter intended to stay for a short time. Even though the Columbia took 28 days to arrive in Honolulu, she was not fast enough and Sutter missed by a few days the only ship outward bound for California and had to remain Hawaii for four months. During his stay in Honolulu, he was known simply as Captain Sutter, and he befriended many businessmen and dined with the foreign Consuls, especially Captain Dudoit from whom he requested help in hiring the Clémentine. But there was nothing that Captain Dudoit could as his boat was on lease. At the end of the lease, Dudoit was ready for business again, he rented the Clémentine to William French on behalf of Sutter to take the latter and his entourage and cargo for Sitka and California. This time Clémentine set sail under Captain Blinn on 20 April 1839, with Sutter and the following passengers, A Thompson, two German “ébénistes”, nine “Kanakas” (native Hawaiians), 7 men and two women all at the employment of Sutter. En route, she encountered bad weather and arrived at Sitka where they stayed for a month. During that time Sutter was entertained in many lavish parties, hoisted by Kupreyanov, the Russian Governor. Later, the Clémentine left for the then very small seaport of Yerba Buena in San Francisco Bay where they arrived on the 1 July 1839. Two days later she arrived at her destination where her passengers, including Sutter, went ashore. The Clémentine later left for Honolulu, and arriving back she was refitted and later resupplied for a long journey to South America. After the “Laplace Treaty”, Captain Dudoit had promised to expedite the re-establishment of the Catholic Mission in Hawaii. The matter was left in abeyance because of the huge cost of sending a boat to fetch the priests in Tahiti and in the Mangareva (Gambier) Islands.

Before the departure of the Clémentine to South America, Dudoit decided to send her with a cargo direct to Valparaiso and to bring back more merchandises from there. His instruction was that on the way back the Clémentine, would have to stop at Gambiers and Tahiti to take up Bishop (Etienne Jerome) Rouchouze the Vicar-Apostolic of Central Oceania and other missionaries that the bishop would have liked to bring to Hawaii. The Clémentine, left Hawaii under the Michael Grombeck a Dutch captain on 3 November 1839, with cargo and only Father Columban Murphy a passenger destined for Tahiti.

She arrived at Valparaiso in December 1839, and left on 15 February 1840. A week later, Captain Grombeck became very sick and he told Father Murphy that as a Lutheran he wanted to be converted to Catholicism. He died before the Clémentine arrived at the Gambiers on 26 March 1840. The departure of the Clémentine was delayed because of the funeral and she left the Gambiers on the 5 April 1840, under her previous First Mate Captain Walker after visiting Tahiti and Marquesas Islands where they took two more priests and Father Murphy decided to stay on the island. The Clémentine arrived in Honolulu on 15 May 1840, with Bishop Rouchouze, and the following Fathers: Désire Louis Maigret, Chosson, Heurtel and Desvault. After their arrival, Dudoit took them on the Clémentine to visit the grave of Father Bachelot and he later made the following woodcarving depicting Father Maigret visiting the tomb of Father Bachelot.

Visit of Father (Louis) Maigret to the tomb of Father Bachelot.
Woodcuts by Captain Jules Dudoit c. 1840

After bringing the French Clergy, Dudoit chartered the Clémentine only as an interisland ferry for more than a year. Later, she made two more trips to Alaska under the command of Captain Molteno. She was nearly lost during the second voyage when she encountered a very bad storm. After losing her long boat and part of her rigging, she was forced to return to Oahu and later Honolulu. As the contract was not fulfilled, the loss was over thousands of dollars.

After Captain Dudoit, had received the title of Honorary French Consul by the Royal Ordinance of 26 October 1839, as a married man he decided not to go to sea again, and concentrated on his Consular and commercial activities. He chartered the Clémentine and his other ships to prominent local businessmen. When he retired as French Consul Captain Dudoit left Honolulu for Kauai to manage his big ranch with a herd of nearly 2,000 heads of cattle. There, he produced fresh and salted beef and butter which he exported mostly on his ship the “John Dunlap” to Honolulu. He sold his farmstead in 1866 and moved back to Honolulu.

At the end of 1845, he sold the Clémentine to J R K von Pfister, a prominent businessman in Honolulu, and she was registered under the new name of Ann. This somewhat had angered the “Sea Gods”, cursing her with bad luck. As “Sea Gods”, were very popular in Greco-Roman mythology, we do not know which one put the bad omen on her, maybe it was “Poseidon” the great god of the seas and water! On her first voyage (as Ann) to Tabuaeran Island (Fanning Island), in the central Pacific, she was totally wrecked on 27 May 1846, on the Kauai Island known also as “Garden Isle”. Providentially, all the crew and passengers were saved but lost all her cargo including a lot of money for the Roman Catholic Mission. And this was the end of her short life of (14 years).

The end of his former ship must have distraught Captain Dudoit because she was named in honor of his first wife Clémentine Labat of Mauritius. They had one girl Fanny-Clémentine who was born on 5 November 1829 and Clémentine died five weeks later. Captain Dudoit later settled in Honolulu where he married Anne Corney of Lambeth London the daughter of Peter Corney and Frances Loder. He died in Honolulu 20 July 1866 and his wife Anne much later on 28 June 1903. They had the following children in Hawaii: Jules; Charles Victor; Julia Anne Frances; Caroline Agnes Blanche; Adele Helene; Theodore Adrian and Alice Maude.

“Dudoit Lane” in Waikiki was where they used to stay. As a Mason, he was the co-founder in his store on 8 April 1843, of the first Lodge (Lodge le Progrès de l’Océanie) No.124, A S R., (Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite), in Hawaii, which was instituted by Captain Joseph Marie Le Tellier, Sovereign Prince Rose-Croix, 18th Degree, and Special Inspector of the Supreme Council.

In Hawaii Captain Dudoit became the main founding pillar of the Roman Catholic Mission. He was born at Port Louis, Mauritius, on 28 January 1803, his grandfather Pierre François Dudouët alias Dudoit arrived in Mauritius in 1767 from Brittany on the Saint Jean Baptiste. After studying at the lycée of Port Louis, he wanted to become a sailor and left at 13 years and boarded a ship to America and since then he kept a distance from his birthplace. His early life from 1816-1826 is enshrined in secrecy. The Clémentine was apparently one of his preferable and profitable sailing ships and he used to describe her and as “sweet and swift”. She had been immortalised in the history of Hawaii but sadly unknown in the Seychelles especially at Praslin where she was built. As for her first twelve Seychellois crew who sailed with her to Australia and Hawaii little is known about them except one Louis Corgat. The latter left the Clementine in 1836, while in Pohnpei Island in Micronesia where he married a local girl and became the chief pilot at the harbors of Rohnkiti and Lohd.

On his deathbed in 1853, Corgat told Mr. Sturges, an American clergyman, to look after his two children (a boy named Cayol and a girl named Kate) and to give them a good upbringing. His son Cayol later became a sailor on the beautiful American Missionary ship the “Morning Star”. As for Kate, she used to stay with the Sturges and later according to “The Friend” (the monthly newsletter of the American Mission), she was taken care of by Dr and Mrs. Luther Halsey Gulick, two prominent missionaries in Hawaii. Kate was at the school run by the “Kawaihao Seminary” founded by the Gulicks, where she was described as half-white. She was later according Sturges, kidnaped by an indigenous group.

Like Dudoit, Corgat had left descendants in Hawaii. It is interesting to note that Dudoit looked after the Catholic Missionaries and Corgat took care of American Protestant Missionaries in Hawaii.

Hoc est finis! (this is the end), of the story of the sad fate of the once sturdy Clémentine and that of her Mauritian Captain and Seychellois First Mate.

Fate of the Clémentine: Praslin-built Brig-Schooner in Seychelles and “The Laplace Affair”
The grave of Captain Jules Dudoit and his wife Anne, O’ahu Cemetery Honolulu

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