Jean François Marie de Surville

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Jean-François de Surville.jpg

Jean François Marie de Surville (born January 18, 1717 in Port-Louis , France , † April 8, 1770 in Chilca , Peru ) was a French naval officer , trader and explorer .


Jean François Marie de Surville was the youngest of nine children of Jean de Surville, a government official in Port-Louis, and his second wife, Françoise Mariteau de Roscadec, daughter of a shipowner . He was three years old when his father died.

Surville went to sea at the age of 10 and served the French East India Company (Compagnie française pour le commerce des Indes Orientales) mainly in the Indian Ocean and in the waters off China . During the Austrian War of Succession and the Seven Years' War he served as 2nd ensign at sea (enseigne) in the French navy. He was captured twice by the English in 1745 and 1747.

In 1748 he went to Réunion and Mauritius as 1st ensign at sea . On September 24, 1750 he married Marie Jouanneaulx in Nantes . They had two sons who both became officers in the army.

In 1753 he went to Bengal as 2nd lieutenant and was appointed captain shortly afterwards . He was awarded the Order of Saint Louis on March 30, 1759 for a war wound. At sea, too, he was cold-blooded in the face of dangers to his ship, its passengers and its cargo. He lived in Port-Louis for some time in 1766. as a member of the council of the Compagnie des Indes, he was appointed deputy governor of Puducherry in 1767 and the royal commissioner for the recovery of the French branches of India.

On June 3, 1767, he left Port-Louis on board the Saint-Jean-Baptiste , a ship of 650 tons and with 36 cannons, for India to undertake trade trips in Indian waters. Towards the end of 1768 there were confused rumors in circulation about the discovery of an "island in the South Seas" 700 nautical miles from Peru, and particularly fruitful (meaning probably Samuel Wallis ' discovery of Tahiti ). In coordination with the French governors in Chandannagar and Puducherry, Surville was entrusted with the important and delicate secret mission of occupying this island. To camouflage he received the financial resources for a combined discovery and trade trip to the central Pacific and a rich cargo destined for Callao in Peru.

He set sail from the Ganges estuary on March 3, 1769 with a crew of 114, including 24 soldiers with their captain, in June they reached Sumatra and passed the Strait of Malacca . On August 25, 1769, in the waters around the Philippines , he observed comet C / 1769 P1 (Messier), which Charles Messier had discovered in Paris a few days earlier, and described it as "curly ... not bright". On August 24th he reached the Pacific; he sailed without land contact through western Micronesia and then eastward until he reached New Guinea . During the trip they experienced numerous storms and difficult navigational conditions; in addition, a large number of crew members suffering from scurvy and dying forced him to look for a safe anchorage.

On October 7th he saw again unknown land for the first time, which he called "Île de la Première Vue" (the island of Choiseul ). The ship anchored for a week in "a very beautiful port with infinite resources" which he called Port Praslin (on the island of Santa Isabel ). While searching for water, the natives attacked them with arrows, which they returned with gunfire. They killed 20 to 30 islanders and captured a fifteen year old who Surville wanted to raise and take with him to France. He sailed further east and mapped the coast, which made a significant contribution to the later European discovery of this complex archipelago of the Solomon Islands , which was only explored in 1888. However, the condition of his men forced him to suspend further discoveries and to look for supplies in New Zealand .

On December 12, 1769, the New Zealand coast was sighted at Hokianga Harbor . They continued sailing and circled North Cape on December 17th during a storm that blew James Cook's ship Endeavor , which was sailing northward along the east coast, out of sight. The two sailors passed each other unnoticed, probably only 20 or 25 nautical miles apart . Coincidentally, both de Surville and Cook were here at the same time. They were the first Europeans after Abel Tasman's visit a century earlier.

Surville anchored from December 18 to 31, 1769 for 14 days in the north of a bay he called "Baie de Lauriston", but which had already been named by Cook Doubtless Bay eight days earlier , north of the Māori village of Whatuwhiwhi . He gathered herbs in the coastal area that helped restore the health of the crew, although seven more men died of scurvy in the waters around New Zealand.

Relations between the native Māori and the French were friendly for most of the time. Surville tried to respect Māori etiquette as he understood it; he asked permission to fell trees and on one occasion gave the chief a sword. The local Māori provided him with fruits and vegetables, and in return he gave them pigs, a rooster, a chicken, wheat, rice, peas and clothes. Surville and his officers wrote notes and sketches of their impressions of Māori life and their artifacts, which gives a valuable insight into the pre-colonial life of communities in northern New Zealand. The chaplain Paul-Antoine Léonard de Villefeix probably also celebrated the first Christian mass in New Zealand at Christmas .

The friendly mood changed in the last two days after an incident. On December 27, a group of the crew was stranded in a storm near Whatuwhiwhi, where they were treated kindly by the Māori. The same storm tore the ship's three anchors from the bottom, the cables of which had to be cut to prevent the ship from drifting on rocks. The towed yawl of the ship ran aground on rocks and also had to be cut loose. The ship was being driven out of the bay by strong northeast winds.

After the storm, the stranded sailors returned to the ship. On December 31st, the yawl was sighted on the coast of Tokerau Beach , surrounded by Māori. An armed group was dropped off to retrieve the boat. This met a group of Māori armed with spears and the chief Ranginui, who approached Surville with a green leafy branch as a sign of peace. Surville arrested Ranginui for allegedly "stealing" his boat, burned about 30 huts, destroyed a canoe filled with nets and robbed another. They brought Ranginui to their ship. There, the crew members stranded during the storm identified him as the Māori chief, who had treated them kindly.

Determined to keep his prisoner, however, in the hope of obtaining information from him about New Zealand's resources, De Surville set sail the same day as the storm had shown Doubtless Bay's unsuitability as an anchorage. Ranginui was treated well and regularly fed at the captain's table, but like many others he suffered from scurvy and died at sea on March 24, 1770.

The Saint-Jean-Baptiste drove east across the South Pacific in search of the mysterious island, the destination of her journey, but made no further discoveries. Since he could not find any land and the crew was increasingly weakened (more than a third had already died of scurvy), Surville decided to abandon his project and seek help in the port of Chilca in Peru as soon as possible. On April 8, 1770 Surville tried to go ashore in heavy seas; his boat capsized and he drowned with two sailors.

Surville was buried in Lima with all honors due to his position as governor of Puducherry. The Viceroy of Peru Manuel d'Amat i de Junyent had the sick on board cared for in a hospital, but kept the ship and the cargo. Only after numerous interventions by French and Spanish ministers was the Saint-Jean-Baptiste released in August 1772 and returned to Port-Louis on August 20, 1773 after more than eight years.

Honors and commemorations

  • The Compagnie des Indes registers list Surville as "a great navigator, a very good soldier, fit for big business, active, spiritual, steadfast and determined, a man with great details ...".
  • The Surville Cliffs at the northernmost point of the two main islands of New Zealand are named after Surville, who sighted them a few days off Cook in December 1769.
  • In 1967 a street in Port-Louis was named after him.
  • 1969 in Whatuwhiwhi In 1969 a plaque commemorating the events in New Zealand was unveiled in Whatuwhiwhi.
  • The cut anchors were located in 1974 by marine archaeologist and diver Kelly Tarlton (1937–1985), lifted on December 21 and donated to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington . One is on display at the Far North Regional Museum today. They are the oldest authentic European objects found in New Zealand.

Reception in literature

The New Zealand poet Gerry Webb wrote the poem "Surville at Doubtless Bay" in 1996 about the incident in Doubtless Bay.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ DAJ Seargent: The Greatest Comets in History: Broom Stars and Celestial Scimitars . Springer, New York, 2009, ISBN 978-0-387-09512-7 , p. 122.
  2. ^ WF Parkes: The Visitors' Guide to the Far North - Mangonui County , 3rd ed., Ca.1965, pp. 23-25.
  3. Michael King: The Penguin History of New Zealand , 2003, ISBN 0-14-301867-1 , pp. 109-110.
  4. ^ John Dunmore: Surville, Jean François Marie de. In: The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved July 23, 2014 .
  5. Jean-François de Surville (1717 - 1770) L'explorateur . In: Center d'Animation Historique du Pays du Port-Louis - Portraits . Archived from the original on August 8, 2014 ; accessed on September 13, 2019 (French, original website no longer available).
  6. ^ Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  7. ^ Gerry Webb: Surville at Doubtless Bay - December 1769. In: trout - a south pacific journal of the arts. R. Sullivan, accessed July 23, 2014 .