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Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (1778-1846)


Le Havre has its great poet - as great as he is unknown - of the sea. There could be no more splendid an adventure. A young man from Le Havre, at the end of the eighteenth century, son of a resourceful father [...] and a good draughtsman, signs up as a helmsman on the vessel Le Géographe, leaving for the Antipodes, an incredible endeavor; only Cuvier would appreciate the results of this audacious act. Later, in a second thrust of the imagination, Charles-Alexandre Lesueur leaves for America, to follow a geologist and philanthropist - living there from 1816 to 1837. "Crossing the ocean," he tells us, "always attracted me." His title? "I am," he replies, "a naturalist painter."

His drawings, the hundreds of drawings that speak to us of his twenty-year sojourn in the United States, are the truest living encyclopedia [...] The albums of Lesueur are an enchantment, the walks on which he takes us through the fields of sugar cane, in taverns, in the lead mines of Mississippi, through the huts of slaves [...]; when his work is better known, people will be amazed that such a treasure could have remained unheard of for so long.

- Edouard Herriot, La Porte Océane, 1932. Translated from French.     

 

 

 

 

 

Port of Sydney, by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur

Port of Sydney, by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (1807)

From the atlas accompanying François Péron's
Voyage de Découvertes aux Terres Australes

Portrait of Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, by Charles Willson Peale, courtesy Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia

Portrait of Charles-Alexandre Lesueur,
by Charles Willson Peale (1818)

Courtesy of the Academy of Natural Sciences
of Drexel University

The first biographies on Charles-Alexandre Lesueur


Until Ernest Hamy's biography of 1904, very few people had written about Charles-Alexandre Lesueur in France. A first biographical note on his scientific career appeared during his lifetime in 1842, written by Henri Deligny, the son of Lesueur's cousin. Unfortunately, the account contains very little information. In 1858, Lesueur's nephew Edouard Quesney co-authored a second biographical note, published in the Journal of Le Havre, which gave some complementary details about Lesueur's life. However, it contains many erroneous conjectures, and on the whole, cannot be considered trustworthy. As early as 1840, Lesueur had been included in the list of famous zoologists by William Swainson, but the British author did not know Lesueur personally. On the other hand, the memoir by Lesueur's American friend George Ord, published in 1849, two-and-a-half years after the Frenchman's death, can be considered reliable, with the exception of some awkward passages on New Harmony and the Baudin Expedition. This twenty-eight-page biography has nevertheless become a reference in Europe and the United States, and Hamy used it extensively to write his book.

In 2007, author and historian Bauke Ritsert Rinsma published the first volume of an entirely new biography of Lesueur, based on thousands of manuscripts located in the Le Havre Natural History Museum, the Paris Natural History Museum, the French National Archives, the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, the New Harmony Working Men's Institute, and many other European and American libraries. The first volume of Rinsma's biography covers the years 1778 to 1825, and the second volume, still to be printed, deals with the years 1825 to 1846. A third book, available in English (the other two books are in French), focusses on Lesueur's residence in the United States of America between 1816 and 1837. It contains many sketches, drawings and watercolors by Lesueur and tells the story of his life in Philadelphia and New Harmony as well as his involvement in Robert Owen's utopian enterprise. The title of the English book is Eyewitness to Utopia: Scientific Conquest and Communal Settlement in C.-A. Lesueur's Sketches of the Frontier. It can be ordered on this website or via Amazon France. Do check out the books on this website, because there are different editions available!

Available books on Charles-Alexandre Lesueur

 

The book by Ernest Hamy


A first detailed biography of Charles-Alexandre Lesueur was published in 1904, written by Ernest Théodore Hamy, president of the Société des Américanistes de Paris. It focusses on Lesueur's stay in America, from 1816 to 1837, but encompasses the scientist's childhood and death. Hamy was the first to use archival sources, such as Lesueur's manuscripts and albums, to write his biography. As a consequence, in spite of the many errors, Les Voyages du Naturaliste Ch. Alex. Lesueur dans l'Amérique du Nord remains a reference work to all persons interested in Lesueur's art and scientific work. Hamy's biography was translated into English in the 1960s by Milton Haber, edited by Hallock F. Raup, and published by the Kent State University Press in 1968 under the title: The Travels of the Naturalist Charles-A. Lesueur in North America, 1815-1837.

The French biography by Ernest Hamy

 

Biographical note by William Swainson


One of the first persons to write a biographical note about Charles-Alexandre Lesueur was Great Britain's William Swainson, in his Biography of Zoologists (1840). We have put the content of his article online because it shows how Lesueur's contemporaries viewed his artistic talent and scientific work.

Read the biographical note by William Swainson

 

First short biography on Lesueur in France


In France, a short biographical note on the scientific career of Charles-Alexandre Lesueur was published during his lifetime in 1842. It was written by H. Deligny, the son of Lesueur's cousin Sophie Félicité Vieillard. This article was published the next year in the Annuaire Normand under the title "Notice sur M. Charles Lesueur, Né au Havre, Naturaliste et Peintre d'Histoire Naturelle" (Caen: 1843).

Read the biographical note by Henri Deligny

 

The memoir by George Ord


On April 6, 1849, George Ord read his "Memoir of Charles Alexander [sic] Lesueur" to the members of the American Philosophical Society. The first eighteen pages of this memoir rely heavily on the official narrative of the Baudin Expedition (1800-1804), contained in the two-volume  Voyage de Découvertes aux Terres Australes, written by François Péron and Henry Freycinet (first published in 1807 and 1815). Péron's account, however, is not always accurate, which becomes evident when comparing his story with the journals of the other members of the expedition. Moreover, the two volumes only cover four years of Charles-Alexandre Lesueur's life and do not provide much detail about events posterior to 1804. As a consequence, when George Ord published his memoir in 1849, he only gave little information about the years 1805-1815, i.e. the period when Lesueur lived in Paris.

Ord met the French scientist at the end of 1816, when Lesueur settled in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, the active collaboration between Ord and Lesueur from 1816 to 1825 is only briefly mentioned in his memoir. Things are even worse for the period that starts in January 1826 because Ord is much biased against Robert Owen's utopia in New Harmony in which Lesueur participated. As a consequence, there are many inaccurate statements in this part of Ord's biography, which should not be trusted blindly, even though they are based on real events and Ord's regular correspondence with Lesueur.

Read the memoir by George Ord

Portrait of George Ord, by John Neagle, courtesy Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia

Portrait of George Ord, by John Neagle (1829)

Courtesy of the Academy of Natural Sciences
of Drexel University

House of C.-A. Lesueur in New Harmony, photo by Ritsert Rinsma

House on Church Street, New Harmony,
where Lesueur lived from 1827 to 1834

Photograph by Ritsert Rinsma

The article by Oursel, Quesney and Marcel


Edouard Quesney, one of Charles-Alexandre Lesueur's nephews and heirs, co-authored a biographical note published in the Journal of Le Havre, dated July 21, 1858. It is a summary of major events, told by three individuals having personally known Lesueur during the last years of his life. Logically, the passage on his stay in Le Havre is particularly interesting. Unfortunately, things are very different for Lesueur's stay in America. The only source the authors seem to know is George Ord's "Memoir of Charles Alexander [sic] Lesueur" and no mention is made of any discussion with Lesueur himself. It would seem the French scientist talked little about his busy years in Philadelphia and New Harmony, and as a consequence, the 1858 article is rather incomplete, in spite of its usefulness.

Read the article by Oursel, Quesney and Marcel

 

Lesueur's sketchbooks of the frontier: Eyewitness to Utopia


After courageously defending the city of Paris in 1814 and 1815, first to protect Napoleon, next to get rid of him, Charles-Alexandre Lesueur was in need of a better world. A philanthropic businessman provided the opportunity. Enthused by his scientific knowledge, William Maclure brought the French explorer to the United States. There he met the Founding Fathers and all the great minds of his time. Every knowledgeable American agreed to this: no one knew more than Lesueur. He was a living encyclopedia, the most talented student of Georges Cuvier. His contributions to American science were revolutionary. Then, suddenly, history forgot about him when together with a group of intellectuals he created an experimental scientific utopia. Abandoned by most of his friends on the American frontier, he initiated its geological exploration and systematic discovery.

Read it all in: Bauke Ritsert Rinsma, Eyewitness to Utopia: Scientific Conquest and Communal Settlement in C.-A. Lesueur’s Sketches of the Frontier, drawings and sketches by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, foreword by Edouard Philippe, Donald E. Pitzer and Ralph G. Schwarz, translated by Leslie J. Roberts (Heuqueville, France: Heiligon, 2019).

The honorable Edouard Philippe, MP, Prime Minister of France, declared about Eyewitness to Utopia: "I am delighted that the present memoir reveals the immensity of this historical figure from Le Havre."

Dr. Donald E. Pitzer, Director Emeritus, Center for Communal Studies at the University of Southern Indiana, wrote: "By happy coincidence, Lesueur’s fellow Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville took his own investigative tour of the United States in 1831-1832 while Lesueur was still in New Harmony. Tocqueville articulated his astute observations of the country’s social and political institutions and practices in his incisive Democracy in America, published in 1835. Lesueur made a similar contribution with his incomparable sketches, documenting America’s natural and built environment, its ancient and living wildlife, and the utopian vision of its people. Two centuries later, Ritsert Rinsma’s Eyewitness to Utopia presents Lesueur’s artistic gift to the New World in its most complete rendition and elevates this artist, scientist and communitarian to his own proper status among the most notable figures in the early Republic."

Dr. Ralph Grayson Schwarz, Founding President of Historic New Harmony, wrote: "In this groundbreaking book, Ritsert Rinsma, with his comprehensive knowledge and acute perceptions, has succeeded masterfully in capturing the significance of Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, illuminating the context of his meaningful American sketchbooks."

Front cover of the book Eyewitness to Utopia by Bauke Ritsert Rinsma and Charles-Alexandre Lesueur

Cover of the book Eyewitness to Utopia, written by Ritsert Rinsma,
and illustrated by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, showing New Harmony, Indiana (front), and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (back)

Back cover of the book Eyewitness to Utopia by Bauke Ritsert Rinsma and Charles-Alexandre Lesueur

Cover of the book Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, Painter and Naturalist: A Forgotten Treasure

Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, Painter and Naturalist: A Forgotten Treasure,
by Gabrielle Baglione and Cédric Crémière.

Lesueur's illustrations are beautiful but often reproduced as tiny images, which is a shame given the large size of the book. Moreover, quite some captions are incomplete or inaccurate, and the main text and maps are flawed.

A missed opportunity...
Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, Painter and Naturalist: A Forgotten Treasure


Recognition for C.-A. Lesueur's scientific contributions - be it in France, Australia, Tasmania, Africa or North America - is growing steadily, mainly thanks to the hard work of the former curator of the Lesueur Collection of the Natural History Museum in Le Havre, Madame Jacqueline Bonnemains, who spent her entire career organizing, cataloguing and transcribing the immense archive of papers, letters and drawings the naturalist left behind. The catalogues and articles she published from 1978 to 2005 allow researchers to dig deep into the life of this energetic, artistic Frenchman as new light is being shed on his many accomplishments.

In September 2009, the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle du Havre published a major compilation of Madame Bonnemains's lifelong efforts in a highly illustrated 400-page album Charles-Alexandre Lesueur Lesueur, Peintre Voyageur: un Trésor Oublié (Paris: Editions de Conti, 2009), translated into English under the title Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, Painter and Naturalist: A Forgotten Treasure (Paris: MFK Editions, 2016). The publication contains many drawings and watercolors from different periods of Lesueur's existence, accompanied by the precise transcriptions and scientific identifications found in Jacqueline Bonnemains's catalogues.

Curiously, Madame Bonnemains is not mentioned as a co-author, and no foot- or endnote hints to her preparatory work, even though it makes up 70% of the book. Moreover, this otherwise valuable compilation of Lesueur's art includes introductory sections (for each period) which undermine Jacqueline Bonnemains's lifelong work with factual and historical errors. To mention just a few: the French edition attributes Lesueur's portrait to V. Gribayedoff instead of Charles Willson Peale; the portrait of Lesueur's grandmother is mistaken for that of his mother; Lesueur's bust is wrongly attributed to "Madame Mezzara" and not to her son Joseph Ernest Amédée Mezzara (1820-1901); two drawings by painter Louis Lesueur (1746-1803) are reproduced (CL 46 260, 46 263, MHNH) and presented as artwork by C.-A. Lesueur; technical terms like "steamboat," "flatboat" and "keelboat" are mixed up, and many dates and place names are approximate or erroneous.

Few other sources than Jacqueline Bonnemains's catalogues and publications seem to have been consulted by Gabrielle Baglione and Cédric Crémière, yet the former curator's name is missing, except in the preface by the mayor of Le Havre (removed from the international edition) and in the book's bibliography, which refers to five minor contributions. None of these issues have been addressed in the album's English translation, apart from Lesueur's portrait, which is now almost correctly attributed to "Charles Wilson [sic] Peale."

The quality of most of the reproduced artwork is satisfactory, but unfortunately Lesueur's interesting sketches of hundreds of American towns and villages he visited between 1816 and 1837 are absent. The views that are present have to share the same page with two or three other images, and sometimes up to six drawings of American scenes and sceneries are lined up together, making it impossible to perceive Lesueur's wonderful details. Instead we have mosaics of tiny pictures in an oversized book.

 

Rinsma's biography on Charles-Alexandre Lesueur


In 1818 the American painter Charles Willson Peale, curator of Philadelphia's first natural history museum, wrote about his portrait of naturalist Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (which hangs in the library of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, now part of Drexel University): "I have put into the museum a portrait of Lesueur who perhaps has the most knowledge of Natural History of any man in the world." The famous Swiss ichthyologist Louis Agassis deemed Lesueur's contributions second only to his own, and English zoologist William swainson declared:

"Inferior and commonplaced artists are attached to the establishment of the French Museum, while the Raffaelle of zoological painters was suffered to emigrate, and pursued his professional career as a private teacher in Philadelphia, where, we believe, he now is. [...] It is deeply to be regretted, that his works are so scattered, in collections of papers hardly ever seen in Europe; and that no one volume will hereafter point out the matchless excellence of Le Sueur."

Born in Le Havre in 1778, Charles-Alexandre Lesueur traveled around the world, exploring Europe, Australia, South Africa and North America, before taking residence in Philadelphia, where he lived for ten years. There he befriended the greatest minds of his time, those working in the direct entourage of Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States from 1801 to 1808. In spite of his efforts, and unlike Bougainville and Humboldt, this great explorer and artist would soon be forgotten by history. "What can be done in regard to Lesueur?" inquired American entomologist Thaddeus William Harris, a professor at Harvard College, and its university librarian from 1831 to 1856, "[as he] seems forever lost to his friends and to the world, after a debut the most brilliant. Will he too pass away without leaving behind him any memorials of his eventful career, or any one to record the history of his life and labours?"

Published in 2007, and entirely based on primary sources, the first volume of the biography Alexandre Lesueur, written by Bauke Ritsert Rinsma, recounts the travels and tribulations of this scientist from France in an innovative and complete way. Together with his patron William Maclure, Charles-Alexandre pursued the noblest of Thomas Jefferson's objectives, that of acquiring Useful Knowledge and disseminating it to the greatest number of people. This fascinating human adventure started on the day when a twenty-two year-old man from Le Havre courageously decided to change his destiny.

 

Alexandre Lesueur, tome 1, by Bauke Ritsert Rinsma

Cover of the first volume of the biography by Ritsert Rinsma, showing Market Street, Philadelphia, drawn by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur

Cover of catalogue 42, Lesueur in North America, by Jacqueline Bonnemains

"Dossier 42" of the series Charles-Alexandre Lesueur in North America was Jacqueline Bonnemains's last catalogue, published just before her retirement in 2005.

Bonnemains's catalogues on Lesueur in America


Jacqueline Bonnemains, former curator of the Lesueur Collection in the Natural History Museum of Le Havre, chose the drawing of a tree on a rock (Lesueur Collection # 40 217), labeled Vues Pittoresques des Etats-Unis d'Amérique (Picturesque Views of the United States of America), to illustrate the cover of her eight published catalogues entitled Charles-Alexandre Lesueur en Amérique du Nord, 1816-1837. She also prepared the catalogues for Lesueur's travels to Australia, Tasmania, South Africa, France, Great Britain and the Antilles, which remain unpublished because the series was discontinued by her successor after Madame Bonnemains retired in 2005.

In 1978 Jacqueline Bonnemains began a worldwide correspondence with the principal scholars and institutions interested in Lesueur's documentary legacy. These exchanges led to the creation of a considerable library made up of a few thousand publications, related in different ways to Lesueur's œuvre. A first inventory was published in March 1984. This publication marked the beginning of the series of catalogues on Lesueur in North America. The rest of the available information in the museum library mainly concerns Captain Nicolas Baudin's Voyage to the Antipodes, including Lesueur's scientific work in Australia and Tasmania, which is well documented. Some other books concern Lesueur's stay in the United States of America.

As mentioned above, for the period from 1816 to 1837, there are eight published "dossiers," numbered 39 to 46. Each "dossier" or catalogue consists of one or two volumes. Inside are a selection of plates as well as the full description of each and every drawing, letter and watercolor in the Lesueur Collection for the American period. "Dossier 45" contains extracts of Lesueur's correspondence, whereas the other catalogues are organized by geographical themes: # 39 retraces Lesueur's trips in the northeastern United States (1816-1822); # 40 has Lesueur's views of Philadelphia and the surrounding area (1816-1825); # 41 presents all the plates of Lesueur's trip down the Ohio onboard the Philanthropist, as well as views of New Harmony and towns of the area (1825-1834); # 42 contains the drawings and accounts of Lesueur's excursion with Gerard Troost in 1826 to and in the State of Missouri; # 43 has the pictures of their fieldtrip to Tennessee (1831) and Lesueurs' travels on the Mississippi River (1828-1837); # 44 supplements # 43 with views of the lower part of the Mississippi and drawings of boats and people; # 45, as already stated, contains Lesueur's correspondence; and # 46 completes the series with a variety of sketches and lithographs of different regions, put together in one file, because of their unusual size (for storage reasons).

The biography of Lesueur by Ernest Hamy


Below we have reproduced Ritsert Rinsma's annotated translation of the introduction to Ernest Théodore Hamy's biography, The Travels of the Naturaliste Ch. Alex. Lesueur in North America (1815-1837), from Manuscripts and Works of Art in the Archives of the Museum of Natural History in Paris and the Museum of Natural History in Le Havre (1904). The complete work in French can be downloaded from the "Books" section of this website or by clicking on the link above. The following translation is different from the one by Milton Haber of 1956, completed and published by Hallock F. Raup in 1968 (Kent State University Press). The errors in Hamy’s text have been corrected using the books Alexandre Lesueur (2007) and Eyewitness to Utopia (2019) by Ritsert Rinsma, a historian and researcher at the University of Caen, France, who was able to compare the biography of Doctor Hamy with the manuscripts and original documents in the archives.

INTRODUCTION

[p. 1] All scientists know, at least by name, Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, the collaborator of François Péron during the famous Voyage to the Antipodes which provided so many important discoveries to the geographical and natural sciences in the first years of the last [19th] century. He was born in Le Havre on January 1, 1778, to Jean-Baptiste-Denis Lesueur and Charlotte-Geneviève Thieullent. Since his father was an officer in the Admiralty, he was accepted at the age of nine at the Royal Military School of Beaumont-en-Auge, and he remained there as a pupil from 1787 [p. 2] to 1796. [ERRATUM Jean-Baptiste Denis Lesueur was a civil servant, clerk, ship owner and merchant in Le Havre. Moreover, his son Charles-Alexandre never went to school in Beaumont-en-Auge. The establishment was in crisis in 1786 and was definitively closed in May 1789. See Rinsma, Lesueur, 23-27.] At the age of 18, he made his first campaign in the English Channel on board the sloop the Hardi and afterwards lived in Le Havre, waiting to find an employment where he could make use of his already remarkable talent as a draughtsman. [REMARK The career of C.-A. Lesueur in the Navy lasted only five weeks. He had enlisted to avoid military conscription. Disembarked by force by the local authorities on his return to Le Havre, he managed to get a dispension so that he would not have to go to the front. See Rinsma, Lesueur, 30-32.]

The armament of the two corvettes the Géographe and the Naturaliste which were to undertake, by order of the First Consul, the exploration of the Southern Lands still largely unknown, came to reveal to Lesueur his irresistible vocation for traveling and drawing. He no longer wanted anything else. Unable to get himself recruited as an artist, the positions being already taken, he embarked, as Jussieu said, under a vague title (a), happy to be able to announce to his father (who was not in favor of his departure) that Baudin, with whom he got along well, would employ him usefully, him and other comrades, without obliging him to do the work of a sailor.

"Our part will rather be to illustrate" he added, and, in fact, as soon as he arrived at Ile de France [Mauritius], on 4 Floréal Year IX [24 April 1801], he was in a position to announce that he was in charge "of drawing the objects of natural history, to go hunting and to help the secretary of the commander who has no shortage of work..." (b) Indeed, Baudin had appointed him to replace the landscape painter Milbert, whom he had to leave behind with Michel Garnier, genre painter, and Louis Lebrun, architectural painter, because all of them were more or less seriously ill. [REMARK Hamy misleads us by using the expression "more or less seriously ill." In fact the official draughtsmen did not want to continue their voyage of discovery with Captains Baudin and Hamelin. See Rinsma, Lesueur, 35.]

Of the ten naturalists of the expedition, four remained at Ile de France, and three others died of illness during the remainder of the journey. Péron and Lesueur alone survived, together with mineralogist Depuch and draughtsman [p. 3] Petit (c), fulfilling, from a natural history point of view, the purpose of the expedition. [ERRATUM Hamy suggests that Péron, Petit, Lesueur and Depuch were the only scientists to survive the journey and able to continue the scientific mission, which is not true.]

Péron was only sixteen months older than Lesueur (d); the two young men, who were brought together by common tastes and complementary aptitudes, formed a solid friendship, and it were their united efforts that ensured the unprecedented success of this historical voyage. [REMARK This is indeed what Georges Cuvier's report states. However, this report is incomplete and does not specify the contributions of the deceased scientists.]

The collections brought back by the Géographe and the Naturaliste consisted, according to Cuvier's testimony, of more than one hundred thousand specimen of animals. As for the new species, in the opinion of the Museum's professors, they exceeded 2,500. Péron and Lesueur had on their own discovered "more new animals than all the naturalists of this last age." [REMARK The expression "on their own" is of course greatly exaggerated.]

Cuvier's report on behalf of the Imperial Institute (e), from which these figures have been taken, convinced the Secretary of the Navy to publish an account of the voyage which would do so much honor to our country [France] (f). Péron, in charge of the historical part (August 4, 1806) quickly set to work and, in 1807, published the first volume which told the story of the expedition from the departure from Le Havre (October 19, 1800) until November 18, 1802. This volume was accompanied by an atlas comprising a plan and five pages of coastal views, twenty-two plates of drawings by Lesueur (representing landscapes, animals or [p. 4] ethnographic objects), and ten portraits of natives by Petit.

Péron had supervised the printing of his second volume up to the end of the XXXth chapter when the deterioration of a chest disease, of which he had contracted the germ during the voyage, forced him to go to Nice (g). He died in Cérilly (Allier), at the age of only 36, on December 14, 1810.

This death, "as distressing for the friends of the sciences," says Freycinet, "as it was for his family," interrupted the work "that had cost the author a great deal of trouble and which had been partly written on his death bed with a courage of which there are few examples”. When he died, Péron bequeathed his manuscripts "to his most intimate friend, to the faithful companion of his work and his research in natural history, to the good and modest M. Lesueur." (h) As he was "far from possessing," says Lesueur senior in one of the many petitions with which he assaulted the competent authorities… As he was "far from possessing the elocution and the warmth of his friend's engaging style, which had inspired his writings, his memoirs and his historical narrative, he did not hesitate to seek the benevolence and support of several distinguished men of letters to revise and correct the manuscripts that were to form the remainder of the second volume. Toulongeon, Latreille and Noël de la Morinière were thus successively requested to be associated with this publication. Toulongeon, who was part of this collaboration, [p. 5] died on December 26, 1812; Latreille and Noël declined, and the task of completing the second volume of the Relation du Voyage was devolved to Louis Desaulses de Freycinet, ensign, and later lieutenant of the expedition, who had just completed the publication of volume III devoted to hydrography. (i) [REMARK In fact, Lesueur was dismissed from his job during the Hundred Days for having chosen the side of the Royalists. Freycinet was appointed to replace him. After Waterloo and the fall of Bonaparte, Lesueur chose to depart with William Maclure. See Rinsma, Eyewitness, 27.]

This second volume was not to appear until 1816. The Empire had just fallen; everything that could recall its glories was systematically erased. The text of the last chapters was unscrupulously mutilated to avoid offending England, and a whole series of superb engravings by Lesueur and Petit, which were ready for printing, were suppressed for the sake of economy.

Lesueur did not know about this painful sacrifice until later. He had left Paris for America on the fifteenth of the preceding August. The fall of the Empire had particularly affected the unfortunate artist. He had not been able to get paid by the Droits-Réunis [state royalties] for many drawings executed after 1812 in the offices of the first division. A factory which employed him had to close its doors at the beginning of 1814; he had only a modest pension of 1,500 francs given to him by the Emperor on August 24, 1806 (j), and a small apartment at the Sorbonne which he shared with his father. [ERRATUM Lesueur's pension was 3,000 francs a year, not 1,500 francs. The fact of having supported the Royalists enabled him to keep this pension throughout his life. Hamy is therefore mistaken about Lesueur's “very embarrassing situation”. See Rinsma, Eyewitness, 26.]

It was in this very embarrassing situation that one day Lesueur found [p. 6] on his road the rich and learned American geologist and philanthropist, William Maclure (k), who easily managed to persuade him to accompany him to the New World. (l) [REMARK Lesueur met Maclure in Paris for the first time in 1804, shortly after his return from the Baudin expedition. See Rinsma, Eyewitness, 27.]

After having been involved in commercial activities in New York and London for more than twenty years, William Maclure came to France for the first time in 1803, charged with an official mission, together with Mercer and Burnett [SIC Barnet], to present the claims of American citizens who had suffered damages in the course of the Revolution. After completing this delicate task and preparing the treaty signed on 10 Floréal Year XI (April 30, 1803) (m), he made several geological trips in Europe, to train himself to achieve, what he called, the great object of his ambition, a first geological survey of the United States. [REMARK Maclure's geological trips and travels had started long before 1803. See Rinsma, Eyewitness, 82.]

Reduced to his own strength, without official support and without a collaborator, Maclure was however in a position, less than six years later, to submit to the American Philosophical Society (n) [p. 7] a whole series of precise observations, coordinated with method, and covering in their entirety the territories of the Union from the Saint Lawrence River to the Gulf of Mexico (o). Maclure returned to Paris after the Hundred Days to look for a travelling naturalist who could accompany him in the complementary survey which he was contemplating. Lesueur was introduced to him, and he had no difficulty convincing the adventurous artist to follow him to the United States. [REMARK As noted above, Lesueur met Maclure in Paris in 1804, shortly after his return from the Baudin expedition. See Rinsma, Eyewitness, 27.]

On August 8, 1815, William Maclure and Alexandre Lesueur signed a contract containing nine clauses which would govern their relations during the planned voyage. (p) Lesueur agreed to make all the drawings that concerned natural history, to unite all the notes on the habits and manners of the animals observed, and to preserve in alcohol or to have stuffed those specimens which Maclure deemed worthy of being part of a collection.

Once the trip behind them, the artist had to contribute by supervising the work of engraving ordered by the head of the expedition. If a publication were to follow, it would be "under the names of both MM. Maclure and Lesueur" and the profits and benefits that might result from it would be "put at the disposal of Sieur Lesueur, after deduction made of all the expenses of the enterprise." In case no publication should follow, Lesueur had the possibility to constitute an identical collection for himself out of the gathered specimens.

All the general expenses of the trip having been taken care of (cost of passage, transport of belongings, food, accommodation, [p. 8] etc.), as well as some special expenses (supplies of paper, pencils, colors, jars, alcohol, etc.), Lesueur was to receive a salary of 2,500 francs, payable quarterly. The intended duration of the trip would be two years. In case of an accident involving M. Lesueur during this period of time, Maclure agreed to return all the personal belongings that Lesueur had taken with him to his family, everyone "depending in this matter on the benevolence and trust that Mr. Lesueur was placing in him." A final clause assured the traveling artist of his return to France together with the things that belonged to him, but "without insurance for the risk at sea". [NOTE This contract is reproduced in Rinsma, Lesueur, 342-344, as well as in Eyewitness, 5-6.]

The two naturalists left Paris (q) on August 15 (r). They arrived in Dieppe on the 17th and disembarked in New Haven [England] on the 18th (s). Lesueur was very happy to resume the active career of traveling naturalist, which had provided him with the best moments of his life. The first evening found him observing and drawing, among the limestone rocks that cover the beach of New Haven, the honeycombed Sabella of Ellis (t). While he was studying the shapes and habits of the annelids, bryozoans and gorgonians, Maclure took the cross-section of the cliffs between New Haven and Brighton.

[p. 9] Then they departed for London, and a note by Lesueur gives his impressions of the Hunter Museum (u), Kew Gardens (v), the drawings of Bauer, the birds of Bulow, and the fossils of Sowerby. For Cuvier he sketches several rare samples belonging to this last naturalist [Sowerby], which he sent to him via Leach who was going to France. On October 4, after a four-day journey during which they visited the famous megaliths of Stonehenge (of which Lesueur left a valuable watercolor) (w), they returned to Falmouth where the packet boat Louisia was being fitted out for the Antilles.

Waiting for the day of departure, the travelers roamed the neighboring country; Penzance, the home of Humphry Davy, where Lesueur drew the humble little house made famous by the first experiments of this great chemist (x); Saint Michael's-Mount, which picturesque physiognomy he also reproduced; Land's End and its bare granite rocks; the Moving Rock; Longship's Stone and its famous lighthouse, [p. 10] which dated from 1797 and of which Lesueur made a landscape drawing in sepia; Saint-Just and its wild rocks; Saint-Yves and its steep gorge; and finally Cooper House and Redruth in the center of the peninsula. A geologist from this small town, Doctor Paris, introduced Maclure to this mining district. Lesueur eagerly sketched the main sites, or he studied the marine animals so abundant along these shores; kingfishers, bell animalcules, planarians, sea-nymphs, etc. In one place he observed a small species of ascidiacea, living in colonies around the stems of a rockweed; in another he saw a flatworm, moving slowly in the middle of long bundles of lines which serve as nets for this hairy fisherman.

The Louisia was not ready yet and a last trip took Maclure and Lesueur to the Lizard Cape via Helfort and Saint-Yvan. Here they admired the rocky pyramid known as The Giant, the arches and the sea caves, Saint-Kynan, etc.

Finally, on November 16, after a delay of 43 days, the Louisia, Captain Gibbon, fourteen crewmembers and some English passengers left Falmouth for Barbados (y), and, with the same zeal as on board the Géographe not so long ago, Lesueur resumed writing down the little facts of every day, the ones that could be of interest to the natural sciences. As for the phosphorescence of the ocean, of which he understood the multiple causes, he marked its intensity every night, taking the temperature of the sea at the surface, and next comparing it to that of the open air or the interior of the vessel. The animals he came across: dolphins, petrels, phaetons, flying-fish, dorados, etc.

[p. 11] Net in hand, as soon as the weather permitted, he would try to catch, as it floated  by, some unknown creature that had lost itself on the top of a wave; such as this shell-fish, for example, similar to a shrimp, and whose body lights up brightly; or that little geryonia with ringed tentacles and very vivid movements; a mollusk related to the carinarians, which he seized as it was swimming along; a new specimen of physalia, etc.; next came some physophoridae, velellas, hyales and atlantes. Once they caught a dolphinfish of which he reproduced the beautiful colors and analyzed the [contents of its] stomach.

The weather grew stormy. December 5, the ship fell victim to the most violent assaults; the main yard was broken, the foremast was taken away by the sea, and Lesueur, who compared this hurricane to the ones that caused damage to the Géographe near the Cape of Good Hope and Bass Strait, assures us that he never experienced anything like this during the entirety of his great journey. The calm returned. The sea was beautiful. He picked up his net again and showed his companion the fragments of that same spirula which, when it was discovered during the Voyage to the Southern Lands, shed so much light on the history of the ammonites.

This encounter, and the circumstances in which it had just occurred, recalled the memory of a dearly cherished collaborator, and Lesueur, whose unskilled pen always betrayed his sentiments, wrote in an embarrassed style on one of the pages of his notebook an emotional and forceless appeal to the one who, a few years earlier, knew so well how to give a brilliant description of their common observations.



a. He first appears in the registers of the Geographe as a novice helmsman. [ERRATUM In Nicolas Baudin’s logbook Lesueur is first listed as assistant gunner.]

b. Arch. Mus. of Havre.

c. The love for adventure led this young artist to enlist in the expedition just like Lesueur, where he started as an assistant gunner (Cf. E. T. Hamy, L'oeuvre ethnographique de Nicolas-Martin Petit (L'Anthropologie, Sept.-Oct. 1891).

d. He was born in Cérilly (Allier), on August 22, 1775.

e. This report is printed at the beginning of volume one of the account of the expedition (p. i-xv).

f. Ibid., p. xv.

g. "The health of my friend Péron not having improved," Lesueur wrote to his father on January 18, 1809, "he was advised to make a little trip to Nice where I intend to accompany him. Our departure is set for Saturday the 21st of January" (Arch. Mus. Havre).

h. Voy. de découv. aux Terres Australes. Historique, t. II. Preface by M. Louis de Freycinet. Paris, Impr. Roy. 1816, in-4°.

i. Lesueur did not follow his father in the quarrelsome demands he addressed to Freycinet about this appointment, which did not take into account the imperial decree of August 4, 1806. He was mainly preoccupied with combining into one volume the natural history memoirs he had produced together with Péron, who had wanted these to be dedicated to the Countess of Mollien. There are two versions of this dedication in the archives of the Museum of Le Havre, one of them bears the date of June 6, 1815. Lesueur's departure for America interrupted this intended publication.

j. See the text of Champagny's letter, August 1806, announcing the imperial decision to Lesueur in the notice by Dr. Ad. Lecadre, Dicquemare et Lesueur, Le Havre, 1874, in-8°, p. 12.

k. II était fils de David et d'Anna Maclure et était né en 1763 à Ayr, en Ecosse (A Memoir of William Maclure, Esq. Late President of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, by Samuel George Morton, M. D. one of the Vice-Presidents of the Institution. Read July, 1, 1841. Philadelphia, 1841, in-4°, 37 pp. avec portrait).

l. These are the words in which Lesueur recounts his enlistment. "Beseeched for a long time by Mr. Maclure to accompany him on the excursions he wanted to take in the United States, I allowed myself to be tempted, so much I still wanted to visit some distant seas in order to add a few more facts to my numerous observations..." [REMARK Hamy has reformulated Lesueur’s sentences. For the exact wording, see Rinsma, Lesueur, 63-64]. Moreover, Lesueur recognizes that the offer was generous and he appreciates the advantage of having an educated traveling companion. (See at the Museum of Le Havre the small 10-page notebook entitled: "Crossing from Falmouth to the United States of America, sketches and views since our departure").

m. This treaty, dated April 30, 1803 (30 Floréal Year XI) was signed by Bonaparte, First Consul, and Barbé-Marbois, for France, and for the United States by Robert Livingston, Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States, and James Monroe, also a member plenipotentiary and envoy extraordinary to the government of the French Republic.

n. This memoir is entitled Observations on the Geology of the United States explanatory of a Geological Map. It was read on January 20, 1809, and published in the sixth volume of the Transactions of the Society. Laméthrie, a friend of Maclure, provided a French summary, written by the author himself, who knew our language very well (Journal de Physique, t. LXIX, p. 201-215, 1809).

o. In this extraordinary undertaking, writes Morton, we have the forcible example of what individual effort can accomplish, unsustained by Government patronage, and unassisted by collateral aids, p. 10.

p. Articles of conditions and commitments made and concluded on this 8th day of the month of August 1815, etc. (Arch. Mus. Havre, ms.)

q. Lesueur took 473 kilograms of paperback and bound books with him, as well as office supplies valued at 200 francs, natural history objects estimated at 500 francs, and clothes and linen worth 1,500 francs (Arch. Mus. Havre).

r. Lesueur wrote on the 9th to the Assembly of Professors of the Museum to offer them the plates of the first two deliveries of his Jellyfish and to announce his departure for London, and he asked "a word of recommendation for some members of the most recommendable societies of this capital" (Arch. Nat. Hist. Mus. of Paris, box 33).

s. I borrow these precise details from an unfinished note in Lesueur's hand, entitled Itinerary of the Voyage of Ch.-A. Lesueur since August 15, 1815 until his return to France on ... 18…, and to his travel diaries which are part of a batch of papers that were given to me by one of his nephews, the late Mr. Quesney. [REMARK The diaries given to Ernest Hamy by Edouard-François Quesney remained in his personal possession and were lost after Hamy’s death in 1809.]

t. It is by the description of this curious animal that he inaugurates the notebook entitled: Zoological and geological descriptions, begun August 18, 1815, in New Haven, England. - The first forty-seven pages contain notes on several living mollusks, Sabella, Flustra [foliacea], and fossils, Cerithium, etc., observed at New-Haven, Falmouth, etc., the remainder (10 pages) is a travel journal of the trip from Penzance to Saint-Yves, etc. [REMARK This travel journal was also lost after Hamy’s death in 1908.]

u. "Mr. Hunter's museum," Lesueur writes, "contains a collection of objects all the more interesting because each of them were prepared by the doctor himself" (the docter the museum was named after). There are in particular "many jars containing a multitude of very well prepared anatomical parts taken from all the kingdoms of nature, arranged part by part, in such a way that any portion of the [exhibited] animals show all the [anatomical] organizational differences, following each series from the plant to the man."

v. The greenhouses are very rich in foreign plants. The director showed us one after the other. They contain many interesting plants that we do not have in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. The collection of those of New Holland is quite complete. All the species of Banksia which we don't have are gathered there." (Ibid.)

w. This watercolor, which shows the state of the famous monument in 1815, is found with a few others (as well as a number of charming drawings) in a small oblong portfolio, entitled Stay in England in August 1815, which is kept in the library of the Museum of Le Havre.

x. It is a small house composed of a ground floor and a low second floor, in which, under the edge of the roof, is a window of 16 small panes - the window of Humphry Davy. Lesueur drew this humble home twice; a view of the street and the house alone. These would be images to reproduce.

y. A second small portfolio contains 88 pages of notes relating to this crossing; ten of these pages contain meteorological observations taken during 33 days from Nov. 24 to Dec. 24, 1815. [REMARK Part of this portfolio still exists and is catalogued under number 37 047 of the Lesueur Collection in the Le Havre Natural History Museum.] An oblong notebook n° 2 is entitled Zoological description of the animals observed during the crossing from Europe to the West Indies on the liner the Louisia Captain Gibbon. [REMARK This notebook by Lesueur appears to be lost like so many others. See notes (s) and (t).]

Titre du livre d'Ernest Hamy

Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, cap de la Hève, Le Havre, France

Scree at Cap de la Hève, by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (c.1840) - Lesueur Collection 32 054, Natural History Museum of Le Havre.

Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, port du Havre, France

Entrance to the port of Le Havre, by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (1808) - Lesueur Collection 36 026, Natural History Museum of Le Havre.

Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, port de New Haven, Angleterre

Scree and entrance to the port of New Haven, by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (1815) - Lesueur Collection 37 002R, Natural History Museum of Le Havre.

Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, observatoire de Greenwich, Angleterre

Greenwich Observatory (London), by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (1815) - Lesueur Collection 37 010R, Natural History Museum of Le Havre.

Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, Stone Henge, Wiltshire, Angleterre

Megalithic site of Stonehenge (Wiltshire), by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (1815) - Lesueur Collection 37 011V, Natural History Museum of Le Havre.

Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, Stone Henge, Wiltshire, Angleterre

Megalithic site of Stonehenge (Wiltshire), by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (1815) - Lesueur Collection 37 012R, Natural History Museum of Le Havre.

Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, Stone Henge, Wiltshire, Angleterre

Plan of the megalithic site of Stonehenge (Wiltshire), by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (1815) - Lesueur Collection 37 014R, Natural History Museum of Le Havre.

Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, mine de cobalt près de Redruth, Cornouailles

Cobalt mine near Redruth (Cornwall), by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (1815) - Lesueur Collection 37 021R, Natural History Museum of Le Havre.

Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, maison de Humphrey Davy, Penzance, Cornouailles

Birthplace of Sir Humphrey Davy (Penzance), by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (1815) - Lesueur Collection 37 031R, Natural History Museum of Le Havre.

Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, épave dans Mount's Bay, Cornouailles

Wreck of the Delhi in Mount's Bay (Marizon), by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (1815) - Lesueur Collection 37 032R, Natural History Museum of Le Havre.

Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, phare d'Eddystone, Cornouailles

Eddystone Lighthouse at Land's End (Cornwall), by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (1815) - Lesueur Collection 37 038R, Natural History Museum of Le Havre.

Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, Saint Michael's Mount, Cornouailles

Saint Michael's Mount (Cornwall), by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (1815) - Lesueur Collection 37 048, Natural History Museum of Le Havre.

Charles-Alexandre Lesueur,Saint Michael's Mount, Cornouailles

Saint Michael's Mount in Mount's Bay (Cornwall), by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (1815) - Lesueur Collection 37 035R, Natural History Museum of Le Havre.

Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, baie de Penzance, Cornouailles

Penzance and Mount's Bay (Cornwall), by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (1815) - Lesueur Collection 37 034V, Natural History Museum of Le Havre.

Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, traversée de l'océan Atlantique

Crossing the Atlantic Ocean, by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (1815) - Lesueur Collection 38 001R, Natural History Museum of Le Havre.

Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, passagers de la Louisa, océan Atlantique

Travelers on the Louisia (Atlantic Ocean), by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (1815) - Lesueur Collection 38 003, Natural History Museum of Le Havre.

 

 

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