Le Superbe – Grav. Jean-Jacques Outhwaite d’après A. Morel-Fatio 1859.
The «Meuse» departed long ago, with the cannons from the «Superbe». All that remains is the little improvised cemetery for the nine men who died. Worn down by time and the elements, it was in a sad state of neglect 70 years later.
It was then that the French consul in Paros, Nikephoros Kypraios, took control of the matter, «We cannot allow this site to fall into ruin after everything France has done for our independence».
He arranged for the municipality to restore the cemetery and build a commemorative monument. The pyramid-shaped monument was inaugurated in 1904 by the mayor, Petros Baos.
Today, the monument, which was on the brink of ruin under the onslaught of erosion, has regained its pride. We remembered in time that the French sailors had supported the Greek revolution….
The governor of «Superbe» d’Oysonville.
Marius-Louis Castellan (leading seaman gunner), Nicolas Chalamet (seaman second class), Gabriel Dodu (seaman second class), Jean Fritz (seaman third class), Joseph Gentil (ordinary seaman), Jean Gras (leading seaman gunner), Jean Jouglas (petty officer), Jean-Toussaint Leost (seaman third class) et Jean Nicolaï (seaman third class).
The shipwreck of «Superbe»
Text: Alain Desauvage
The monument of the French sailors
The last great naval combat waged with wooden sailboats, the naval battle of Navarino (1827), finalized the independence of Greece. The allies, the British, the French and the Russians, defeated the fleet of the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II, reinforced by Muhammad Ali Pasha of Egypt’s fleet. The latter then turns against the Sultan who appeals to Tsar Nicholas I for the help.
In March 1833, after occupying the city of Iconium (Konya), the Egyptian forces threaten to attack Smyrna (Izmir). The Russian fleet is sent to defend the Bosporus. France seizes the opportunity to line up the Oriental Fleet, stationing it off Smyrna and Nafplio, so as to intervene in cooperation with the British if the Russians march further south beyond Constantinople. This is «Superbe»’s mission, which «is called to take dynamic action, if circumstances make it necessary». But logic will prevail, guns will be silenced, and Captain d’Oysonville will get down to drawing up, onboard the ship, a detailed report on « advisable improvements in the equipment of the state’s ships». And then winter sets in…
What happened here in 1833?
On 4 April 1833, the «Superbe», commanded by captain André-Charles Théodore Du Pont d’Aubevoye, count d’Oysonville, had left Toulon to join in Smyrna (now Izmir) the Levant Squadron deployed to possibly interpose between the Russians, allies of the Ottoman sultan, and the Egyptian pasha, during the events that followed the War of Independence of the Greeks. She arrived there on the 23rd. The ship was a three-master, «fine looking with a good turn of speed», «the most attractive ship in the French fleet» and was built in Antwerp between 1809 and 1814 based on plans by the naval engineer Jacques-Noël Sané. At 56 metres long and 15 metres wide, with a crew of 570 sailors and fusiliers, she carried 74 guns. In those days it was common practice to bring warships into their home-port for the winter. As a result, at the beginning of December, the «Superbe» and the «Galatée» had received their orders to raise anchor and join in Nauplia, the Levant Squadron preparing to return to Toulon.
The two ships therefore left the port of Smyrna on Saturday 14 December 1833 and almost immediately sailed into a strong north-easterly wind that quickly turned into a violent hurricane. They were instantly separated.
The «Superbe» was pushed between Tinos and Mykonos, her sails torn to shreds. Stripped bare, the vessel came within sight of Paros but was unable to reach the fortified port of Naoussa. She was carried as far as Parikia, for which she had no maps. First the bowsprit broke off, killing one of the crew, followed by the snapping of one of the masts. On 15 December, at around 4 p.m., the ship, which was being held by two anchors (an error by the pilot, who had dropped the starboard anchor without orders) and buffeted by enormous waves, scraped a rock with her keel. She listed to port, with holes in her hull, and threatened to break in two.
Captain d’Oysonville showed immense courage: he harangued his panic-stricken men, forbade them to abandon ship until they had found a safe way of leaving her and threatened to execute anyone who disobeyed. He then fired four cannon rounds to alert the villagers. The British consul, Petros Mavromatis, who witnessed the drama, described «monstrous waves». One of the petty officers, Guigoux, agreed to try to swim to shore to seek help, in spite of the conditions. He made it, but the storm was too fierce to put the caique fishing boats to sea. The captain therefore ordered ropes attached to empty barrels to be dropped, hoping that the wind would push them into the coast so that the ship could be towed in. The idea failed, as did the attempt by an officer, Maisonneuve, to tow a cable with a dinghy.
In the end, after an immense amount of effort, they managed to lower a large rowing boat into the water. It took around 120 men, but broke up as it came into shore. Some life rafts saved around another sixty men each, and a heroic Greek fisherman managed to do four round trips in his caique, rescuing around another hundred sailors. The final 150 or so men on board owed their salvation to the sudden return of fine weather on 17 December. The consular officer, Nicolas Kondylis, efficiently coordinated help for the survivors of the shipwreck, for which France thanked him by granting him a lifetime appointment.
Aside from the sailor crushed by the falling bowsprit, only eight men were lost, all drowned as a result of having tried to save themselves by their own means. The nine bodies are buried close to the shore on the Delphini headland. According to d’Oysonville’s own account, the people of Paros were more than hospitable. They gave the sailors clothing and kept them warm, accommodating them in their homes for a whole week. Imagine what it was like, having hundreds of men suddenly arriving in a village whose own population was scarcely any larger.
Then, on 26 December, the crew, led by their drummer, arrived in Naoussa, where the «Ville-de-Marseille» was expected to take them to Nauplia.
The captain’s reputation restored
In Paros, a detachment of thirty-two French sailors under the command of Jean de Burgare kept watch over the wreck until the arrival of a recovery team. This arrived at Easter 1834 on the corvette «La Meuse», who raised the cannons and anchors (one of which had a broken ring and therefore no longer held the ship). In the meantime, Jean de Burgare had married a young woman from Paros. Their son was to spend his career in the French steam navy, which was then in its infancy.
The council of war, always meeting in such circumstances, acknowledged d’Oysonville’s actions and he was honourably acquitted by a unanimous decision, in Toulon, on 7 March 1834. He was made a commander of the French Legion of Honour. He died in 1862, at the age of 78, and is buried in the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris.
Alain Desauvage is a Belgian journalist, former President of the Federation of European Internal Editors Associations. He shares his time between Brussels and Paros