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August 2016

A Boatload of California Gold Rush Hopefuls from France


In our last post, we wrote of the ship documentation on the website of the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime. Generally, it covers the period of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for ships from Le Havre and Rouen, with many gaps. We have been playing around with that and have come across something that may be of interest to those of you, Dear Readers, who have a French ancestor who was willing to leave the red poppies of Europe and go to the fields of California's golden poppies to hunt for the metal of that colour. We wrote not so long ago about resources on the French during the California Gold Rush here and this find ties in very nicely, we think.

In August of 1849, the Cachalot, a three-masted, 438 ton vessel owned by Messrs. Jos. Lemaitre & Company of Le Havre and captained by Monsieur Legrand, sailed from Le Havre, bound for San Francisco. The documentation is full of notes that give great detail. The Cachalot was built at Le Havre in 1833, having been ordered on the 2nd of July 1829. Just before this voyage, a box of medicines was brought on board. The Cachalot's voyage to California would have taken her through the Straits of Magellan during the southern hemisphere's spring, for she arrived at Valparaiso in November 1849.

It must have been a very crowded voyage. The first seven pages give the names of the crew, when they signed on, at what pay. Their physical descriptions and places of birth are also given. Many jumped ship at San Francisco. These are followed by fourteen pages of passenger names. Not all passenger names have details, but many have the passenger's:

  • Full name
  • Age
  • Town and department of birth
  • Place of residence
  • Profession
  • Physical description

They came from all over France and included a small number of women. Nearly all embarked on the 18th of August 1849 at Le Havre, and disembarked in San Francisco on the 14th of January 1850, to start their new lives.

The Cachalot remained in San Francisco until March. She then made a short voyage to Panama and Hawaii, returning to San Francisco in August. Captain Legrand did not linger again, but began the long, indirect voyage home, taking in Sydney in October of 1850, where he hired more men to crew the ship and picked up a few passengers, then back, via Tahiti, to Valparaiso, where he waited for more than seven months, through the southern winter. He left Chile in December and arrived back in Le Havre in late January 1852. It was then, three years after departure with all those hopeful gold miners, that Captain Legrand turned in his documentation, which included the passenger and crew lists for the entire voyage.

Thus, the documentation appears in the archives for the year 1852. As the Cachalot was a merchant ship, and sailed from Le Havre, it is in the category Rôles des bâtiments de commerce within the Quartier du Havre and in the subcategory of Autres : bâtiments de commerce (long cours, cabotage, bornage et grande pêche) as it was a very long voyage. In the list of désarmements for 1852, numbers 0001 to 117, the Cachalot's papers begin on image number seventy-three and run for more than thirty pages.

Perhaps your ancestor can be found there. If not, enjoy the read!

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy