Some years back we had the opportunity to work a bit with the late Sean McMenamin, one of Ireland's most gifted archivists. He stunned a room full of colleagues by saying that he thought the torching of the national archives of Ireland in 1922 was the best thing that had ever happened to that country. This post is about the destruction of another collection, only a few years earlier.
On the night of the vernal equinox in 1919, boxes containing the entire history of the Port of Bordeaux went up in flames. They were held in a large warehouse belonging to the navy, along with about a million francs worth of rope, which was also lost. Not so unlike Sean, there were those who thought the loss of the rope was a greater tragedy than the loss of the archives. They were not genealogists.
The loss was calculable, for the archives had been classified and numbered some years before they burnt. They covered the activities of the port from 1726, including:
- ministerial correspondence about all aspects of the port
- all maritime instructions that had any relation to Bordeaux
- lists of and files on naval personnel, port personnel, prisoners taken from captured ships, and wounded sailors
- records of merchant vessels and privateers
- 62 folio volumes of all documentation relating to all ships that sailed from Bordeaux during the War of the Austrian Succession, the Seven Years War, and the American Revolution
- crew lists from before and after the French Revolution, up through the 1870s
A major swathe of the documentation of French maritime history -- from the reign of Louis XV to the Restoration -- was lost. For those hoping to search passenger lists or crew lists from during that time, we fear that there is nothing left to search.
©2010 Anne Morddel