Wrecked on a Reef
— II — François Edouard Raynal
Engraving of Raynal by Alphonse de Neuville
François Edouard Raynal
Engraving of Raynal by Alphonse de Neuville
His life and his book
The varied images of 19th century New Zealand projected in the fictions of such famous French writers as Alexandre Dumas, Jules Verne and Leconte de Lisle have held a fascination for me over the years. Since none of these writers spoke English or ever visited New Zealand, they gleaned their information from occasional visitors to this country, through accounts from missionaries, doctors on whaling ships and travellers published in France. As first-hand accounts came to light, Dumas or Jules Verne transformed them into surprising fictions. Equally unexpected was the transformation of an old Maori chief, encountered on Chatham Island by a doctor on a whaling ship; the poet Leconte de Lisle made him the symbol of a so-called 'dying race' and the mouthpiece of his pessimistic philosophy.
When research uncovers a book as special as François Raynal's account of his unique experience of shipwreck and survival on a remote island, all hopes of discovering a literary treasure are fulfilled. The story, characters, and a typical 19th century New Zealand background are there to enjoy. It is a gripping tale with a hero who overcomes dangers, conquers illness, works out salvation for the group and finally returns to his homeland after years of travels. His odyssey reads like a novel indeed, though in this case, reality has surpassed fiction.
No wonder this book haunted Jules Verne's imagination to the end of his career — though Vernian scholarship has rarely underlined its seminal influence.1page 230
Wrecked on a Reef; or, Twenty Months among the Auckland Isles, is not a novel, though it came out in 'Our Boys' Select Library,' Thomas Nelson Publishers, London. The subtitle reminds us that it is: "A true story of shipwreck, adventure, and suffering," thus expanding the French subtitle: Récit authentique. It comes as a surprise that the writer's name does not appear on the title page, nor even in the course of the introduction in the 1880 edition which we have republished. A brief note following the title page simply informs us that this is a translation from "a French narrative of much interest".
François Edouard Raynal, the writer of the narrative, is not a character in a novel, and the book's first English edition dated 1874 did mention his name. His identity as a real person is well documented in the introduction of his book which provides a detailed account of his background and career from the time he left his native France as a young man.
He was born in Moissac, in the departement of Tarn et Garonne, on 6 July 1830. Moissac is a small town in southwest France, between Montauban and Toulouse, and famous for its ancient Romanesque cloister and church. So far, research in Moissac has not provided any clue about the family circumstances which led Raynal to leave college and become a sailor, apart from the possibly relevant fact that between 1843 to 1847 a canal was built in Moissac through the land where his parents' property was standing. Whatever their cause, the family's economic difficulties prompted them to move first to Bordeaux, then to Paris where they settled.
François Edouard was the eldest of three children. His brother Romain Hubert was born in 1835 and his sister Anne in 1837. The French edition of his book contains a dedication to his mother in which we learn that both siblings had died before he finally returned to France in September 1867.
The introduction of his book gives a detailed account on his activities, first as a sailor, then as a sugar plantation overseer in Mauritius, and finally as a prospector in the Australian mines and Campbell Island, the southernmost island of New Zealand. He appears as a self-reliant and hard-working man, a pioneer eager to do well and to learn from experience. His talent for survival had already been thoroughly tested before his adventure in the Aucklands. After shipwreck he summoned up all his inner resources and skills to make the most out of the wreck and the meagre resources of the place.
In the second half of the 19th century, lands in the southern Pacific were offering their natural resources to exploitation and attracted countless adventurers. Raynal had the initiative, self-confidence and knowledge necessary to gain his share of the world's bounty. In this ascending phase of 19th century capitalism the emphasis was not on conservation but on exploitation — legally recognised since Raynal was hoping to get a mining permit to prospect Campbell Island for argentiferous ore, or failing that to collect seal skins on the Auckland Islands. To the modern reader such an enterprise based on mere hearsay through "an acquaintance of mine known in France years ago"2 seems rather foolhardy, but in those days rumours of that kind commonly led to similar expeditions.
After shipwreck, help failed to materialise and the story turned into an page 231illustration of the maxim Aide-toi, le del t'aidera'(Heaven helps those who help themselves; the original of this English version used 'Dieu' for the more usual 'le del'.)
Raynal's return to France
Research on the remaining part of Raynal's life following his Auckland Island experience has uncovered a less than adventurous career after his return to France, though the work in which he was involved taxed his powers of adaptation and organisation again.
On his return from Australia he lived at first with his parents in their flat at No 92 rue Nollet, Batignolles, in the 17th arrondissement3 of Paris, then he moved next door to No 94 until he retired. The publication of Les Naufrages helped him to find regular work with the Municipal Council of the 1 7th arrondissement in Paris. He seems to have secured his position thanks to the recommendation of a director of Hachette & Co Publishing who was on the Paris Municipal Council.4
He started work on 12 September 1870, first as a 'temporary auxiliary commissioner' 'with the 'Commission des Contributions Directes.' His service was interrupted during the Second Siege of Paris under the Commune uprising from 28 February to 7 June 1871. No information has come to light on his life during the Paris Commune, though it is unlikely he would have joined the ranks of the insurgents. After that interruption he resumed work for the administration of the city of Paris. His letter dated 28 October 1871 to the Prefet de la Seine, in firm elegant handwriting, is a simple though dignified application for work. It was accepted and from then on we can follow his career with the administration as he moved up the Civil Service ladder, with a regularly increasing salary until he retired in 1889.
His personal file, kept in the Paris Archives, records some of the activities which had a bearing on his life and career with the department of rates and taxes of the City of Paris.
On 19 April 1873 he was invited to attend a meeting by the 'Commission of the Transit of Venus' at the Académie des Sciences, Paris, who were preparing the French expedition to the Antarctic islands. He gave an account of the meteorological conditions in the islands, based on the journal written with seal's blood he had kept in 1864-65. He debated the comparative merits of their setting an observation station on Campbell versus Auckland Islands, favouring the former as a better base. He described the nature of the soil and gave practical advice on possible landing places, and where best to set up scientific equipment.5
A fortnight later on 1 May 1873 he was confirmed in his appointment and his salary was increased to 2000 francs a year, being promoted to 'Commissaire repartiteur adjoint' something like an assistant to the assessor of land and property rates in his district.
Raynal's application for a job with the Commission des Contributions Directes in the 17th Arrondissement of Paris mentions his membership of the Societe de Geographie and his authorship of Les Naufrages des ties Auckland, which was translated as Wrecked on a Reef,
In 1881, on the personal recommendation of the general secretary of the Paris Prefecture, he was admitted to the Order of Palmes Academiques. The document supporting his candidacy mentions his rightful claims to the distinction, as a writer and member of the Geography Society and adds a detail which reveals another of Raynal's talents: "He has been entrusted with the task of helping the teacher of English at the primary school situated next to the Primary Teachers 'Training College at Auteuil". It is not clear whether it was out of love for education, or a way of increasing his resources.
Year after year, the reports on his work and personality confirm the picture readers may have about the writer of the book. They consistently describe a model employee, whose personality and service were much appreciated by his superiors. A report dated 7 December 1886 is representative of his superiors' opinions on him:
Mr Raynal never misses an opportunity to carry out the tasks entrusted to him with great zeal; he is very hard working and conscientious, has gained a considerable experience in rating assessment, and shows a genuine competence in handling contentious cases. Though he manages the Ternes and Plaine Monceau areas which extend far and wide, and where evaluations are particularly strenuous, Mr Raynal's service leaves nothing to be desired. Always correctly dressed, soft spoken and pleasant, he is one of the Commission's best employees.
Two years later the December 1888 end-of-year report, still as complimentary as ever, gives us a more precise picture of his activities and foreshadows his impending early retirement on medical grounds:
Mr Raynal is a zealous, active and punctual worker; always regular and conscientious in his work which involves a lot of travelling in the particular areas he assesses, namely the Ternes and Plaine Monceau, involving inspection of the new buildings which have sprung up in a few years … unfortunately, Mr Raynal has been rather unwell for a month, following the extra work created by the census, and has had to suspend his active service, in the course of his life, he has been the victim of a number of accidents, and is at present feeling the effects of the hardships and sufferings he experienced for a number of years after his shipwreck on a desert island. We can only wish him well, and hope he will soon recover and work as usefully as ever for the Commission.
He did not recover enough to continue working, however, and requested an early retirement which was officially granted to him for medical reasons on 18 August 1889. From a yearly salary of 4500 francs, his resources dropped to 1,413.33 francs a year, as the pension he received was based on his 18 years page 234of service. This would account for his leaving Paris to return 1 7 km from his birthplace, at Valence d'Agen, where he bought a house and eventually died nine years later on 28 April 1 898, still a bachelor, aged 68.7
Wrecked on a Reef; or, Twenty Months Among the Auckland Isles is the translation into English of Les Naufrages, ou Vingt mois sur un recif des lies Auckland, published in Paris in 1870 by Hachette & Co, with thirty-nine woodcuts by Alphonse de Neuville and one woodcut showing the 'Sea-lion family' drawn by Mesnel. The English translation came out in 1874 (Thomas Nelson & Sons Publishers, London) and was often reprinted until the end of the 19th century. We decided to reproduce a copy of the 1880 edition, which was in a better condition that the earlier edition, and had the advantage of a handsome cover displaying a medallion reproduction of engraving No 17 of chapter VIII, which illustrates the sentence: "I fired two barrels at the cormorants, and brought down six-and-twenty."
The English edition does not contain the writer's prefatory dedication to his mother, nor his appeal to the reader's indulgence, but there are no important cuts in the text, only occasional omissions of a date before a journal entry.
The first version of Les Naufrages appeared in three instalments in the travel magazine Le Tour du Monde in July 1869, with illustrations by Alphonse de Neuville, specifying that they had been "drawn from sketches by the writer." The magazine version, which has not been translated into English, is much shorter though not basically different from the book. There are no chapter headings and only seventeen divisions instead of the twenty-three chapters of the book. It seems that the travel magazine wanted to preserve the direct impact of the story, cutting out any paragraph that might have detracted from the dramatic events. There is no introduction about the writer and his life before the adventure in the Auckland Islands. The first sentence of the narrative starts with "It was in 1863. I was in Australia…," as it does in chapter I of the book. Similarly, the end of the adventure is summarised rather briskly.
In the book, Raynal developed the various episodes of the ordeal, describing with greater physical detail the strenuous activities of the castaways. He explains more fully how he directed their efforts to salvage whatever they could use from the Grafton, how their cottage was built, how he solved the problems of making walls, roof, chimney and flooring.8 More details are given about making soap, tanning sealskins, making shoes and clothing, and finally how they transformed their dinghy into a sailing ship. This involved building a smithy, making bellows, tools and nails one by one. However, the narrative is never just a book of do-it-yourself recipes for would-be castaways, for we are made to follow problem solving step by step and we become involved in the ingenuity of the writer.
The desire to gather and pass on information on the islands is a feature of both Raynal's book and Captain Musgrave's Journal, A narrative of the wreck of the Grafton on the Auckland Island. Once the needs for shelter and food were catered for they explored their surroundings and made regular observations on the climate, birds, seals and plants. Raynal felt that the time page 235in the Aucklands should not be just a personal adventure; it should prove profitable to science.9 "We made it part of our duty, therefore, to take advantage of the fine weather for some solar and lunar observations, so as to define as exactly as possible the geographical position of the group…. The chart of Port Carnley which we had undertaken to lay down we carefully continued, and nearly completed."
Comparing their observations with the charts available at the time, they realised that those were inaccurate: "The Auckland group lies fifty miles more to the west than is shown by Laurie10 in his chart published in 1853, and the books Epitome of Navigation, by Norie11 and Pilot of the Pacific Ocean by Findlay."12
After their return to civilisation they were eager to denounce the consequences those faulty charts would have for shipping, especially after Captain Musgrave returned to fetch the last two sailors in Carnley Harbour. The discovery of the corpse of a dead sailor in Port Ross prompted him to alert the authorities on his return to Melbourne, so that a general exploration of the southern islands would be mounted to search for other castaways. His plea was heard and in October 1865, under the command of Captain Norman, the Victoria visited New Zealand's subantarctic islands in search of castaways. Captain Musgrave was on board as a cabin passenger and helped as pilot.
By the time Raynal's book was published, four years after their adventure, there had been two confirmed shipwrecks in the Auckland Islands. The cargo boat Invercauld wrecked only five months after the Grafton in 1864 — the corpse found by Musgrave was that of the second mate of the Invercauld. The General Grant wrecked in May 1866 — only six months after the Victoria's search for castaways — and was reported in the Illustrated London News.13 Good enough reasons for Raynal to include them in the two appendices following his narrative.
There are other elements in the book which transform it into a work of literature in its own right. Its length gives the writer scope to comment on the story by adding welcome paragraphs of personal reflection on the events. While Musgrave kept an occasional diary14 it was Raynal's duty as mate of the Grafton to keep the official log where meteorological and other observations were recorded: "Every night before going to bed … I also gave a brief summary of our adventures and actions; and sometimes I allowed myself to note my personal impressions" (chapter VIII).
From the outset, in spite of his weak physical condition, Raynal showed his willingness to share in domestic activities besides planning the building of the cottage. When they moved into Epigwaitt his conciliatory attitude did much to ensure the smooth running of the household. A hint of the men's reluctance to obey orders can be found in Musgrave's diary for 7 February 1864: "I find there is somewhat of a spirit of obstinacy and independence creeping in amongst the men. It is true I no longer hold any command over them, but I share everything that has been saved from the wreck in common with them, and I have worked as hard as any of them in trying to make them comfortable, and I think that gratitude ought to prompt them to still continue willing and obedient … They page 236have not as yet objected to do anything that I have told them to do, but they did it in that manner which says plainly, why don't you do it yourself?"
An entry a week later shows Raynal's influence on the group. Musgrave's diary, 14 February 1864:
Since we came into the house we have arranged that one man shall cook for a week, and that they will take it in turns; and as Mr. Raynal wished to take his turn with the rest, I did not object to his doing so. He was cook last week (they change on Sunday nights), and an excellent cook he is; he has set the others a good example for cleanliness and good cooking…
If we read Raynal's account of the same incident we have a measure of his influence on the organisation of the household. His competence in practical and technical matters, displayed throughout their stay in Carnley Harbour, must have impressed the men. Similarly, his willingness to help with teaching the three illiterate sailors, providing games to occupy the long winter evenings and reading in common from the Bible, underline his contribution to the atmosphere of the household. We may conclude that when Musgrave uses "we" he should often have said: "Raynal and I."
Musgrave had more reason than any of the other castaways to be frustrated with their exile. His impatience and occasional short temper, noted several times by Raynal, were brought on by his anxiety for his wife and family. Musgrave's agony is a recurring note in his diary; he feels guilty for having undertaken the trip, guilty of surviving in limited comfort at Epigwaitt while his family may be lacking food and support altogether. Musgrave finds some relief in jotting down his concerns and explains that his best way of fighting the pain of separation is to go for long exploratory walks around Carnley Harbour. While physical exertion helps to combat depressive moods, making precise observations on climate, geography, flora and fauna, gives him a sense of purpose. Both Musgrave and Raynal hoped that others might one day benefit from their observations. They even planned to bury their notes and journals for safekeeping, if they ever felt that the end was near.
While impatience and despondency are frequently mentioned in Musgrave's account, they are played down in Raynal's. Nostalgia for past Christmases with his family in France appears once in chapter XVIII, on Xmas day 1864. It is presented as a determining factor in the decision to leave the island by building a boat instead of waiting for an elusive rescue.
We may never be able to fully compare Raynal's personal diary, the logbook he kept as mate of the Grafton, with the printed texts we have, for unfortunately these documents have disappeared.
Raynal's narrative differs from Musgrave's inasmuch as it has a special claim to being a work of literature. The power of memory to recreate events and places is constantly at work, underlining the difference between diary jottings and terse logbook entries and a narrative intended for a reader totally unfamiliar with the experience of survival on a subantarctic island. Raynal follows chronological order in his retelling, but lingers on chosen moments so that the reader may share in the atmosphere of the story and in the significance of chosen incidents.page 237
Take his evocation of the furious equinoctial tides at the beginning of chapter XI, and the first snowfall around Epigwaitt in chapter XIII, faithfully rendered by the translation:
May 23rd: An extraordinary calm broods over sea and land. The surface of the bay is scarcely rippled by the almost imperceptible breath of the hushed wind. The emerald crests of the waves have ceased to move to and fro, and no longer wear their white crowns of foam. The sea, smooth as a mirror, reflects every surrounding object — the cliffs and the trees of the coast, as well as the mountains shrouded in their white panoply, which appear, through an optical delusion, not above one-half their usual altitude.
At the end of the same chapter we delight in his evocation of the Aurora Australis:
"It was a southern aurora in all its pomp of splendour. The cold was intense; the breeze had ceased to blow … The stars paled before the sheaves of fire of different colours which rose from the horizon, and sprang towards the zenith, swift as lightning, but succeeding one another without intermission…"
There are more passages where the writer evokes the beauty of the wilderness. He conveys the lonely grandeur of the land while remaining strictly precise in his descriptions. Those who have visited the western arm of Carnley Harbour can vouch for the accuracy of his description of Victoria Passage in chapter VII:
It was a scene worthy of Salvator Rosa's brush. Let the reader figure to himself a kind of ravine, about five hundred yards wide and three thousand long, pent up between two cliffs as perpendicular as walls, and from eight hundred to twelve hundred feet in height. The base of these immense rocks was hollowed with numerous caverns, into whose depths the waves plunged with hoarse wild murmurs, which, repeated in all directions, prolonged them-selves indefinitely … The west wind dashes violently into it, and finally breaks upon a little isle, which … divides it again into two small very dangerous creeks.
In contrast to the overwhelming grandeur of the island landscapes, he remembers the comfort of returning to Epigwaitt after a day's hunting for seals in chapter XV:
We opened the door; we crossed the threshold: what an enticing spectacle was presented to our gaze! What a contrast with the scene we had just left! Outside, night and intense cold, and a whistling, biting wind; inside, light and warmth. A huge fire crackled and flamed upon the hearth; a warm atmo-sphere surrounded and penetrated us; all the lighted lamps filled the interior with a joyous brightness.
There is a wonderful appreciation of the birds and their songs in Chapter VI, and the delightful episode of Harry's caging of 'parroquets' in chapter XI. A superficial critic dismissed these passages and the book altogether as "an alternative and a highly romanticised version of the shipwreck published in Paris under the name of Musgrave's French mate, M Frederic Raynal,"15 yet page 238Wrecked on a Reef stands apart from usual shipwreck stories as an exceptional work of literature. The fact that Raynal's first name Frangois is misquoted as Frederic may point to a rather hasty perusal of his book.
Raynal's book was extremely popular until World War I. It was translated into Italian and German in 1871, into English in 1874 and into Norwegian in 1879, and was often reprinted. In France it joined the ranks of edifying end-of-year school prizes, and Hachette & Co published it in their collections intended for families.
The maxim that "Style is the man himself is true in the case of Raynal, and gives a clue to the success of his book. The manner of telling his unique adventure reveals a balanced and sensitive personality, unlikely to change. The testimony of those he worked with after his return to France includes an appreciation by the president of the 'Commission des Contributions Directes' dated 7 December 1886 which summarises previous testimonials and the impression his readers may have formed:
M Raynal … intelligent, educated, active and hard-working, writes well, shows courtesy and good manners. He shows a great concern for his work and a devotion to duty which cannot be praised enough…
1 O Dumas et J van Herp, "Un Oncle Robinson, Une lie Mystérieuse, et autres, sous influence," Bulletin de la Societe Jules Verne, Paris, No 111, 1994, pp34-41
2 Chapter 1. Charles Sarpy born 25 February 1825, was the son of a prominent seed merchant in Moissac. We find "Sarpy and Musgrave, importers and warehousemen, 93 King St, Sydney" mentioned in Sands & Kenny's commercial and general Sydney directory of 1863 (p240), 1864 (p268), 1865 (Sarpy & Musgrave, drapers and clothiers, p85). This was Thomas Musgrave's uncle.
3 Paris is divided into 20 administrative districts, arrondissements. The 17th is in the north-west of the city.
4 Raynal's address is mentioned in his personal file held in the Paris Archives. See also two letters from Hachette & Co to Mr Macpherson, Invercargill, in the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, MS Papers 3995.
5 Academie des Sciences, Comptes-rendus, Seance du 19 avril 1873, pp207-208
6 Montyon Jean-Baptiste Antoine Auget, Baron de M (1733-1830), A French philanthropist born in Paris who financed several prizes to reward literary works of high standing. Created in 1782, they were awarded annually by the Academie Francaise. Cf Academie Francaise, Palmares des Prix Montyon 1874, pp21-24
7 Research in the cemetery at Valence d'Agen revealed that Raynal's body was buried in Dr Talbere's family vault. Dr Talbere was Raynal's neighbour and friend, and a signatory on Raynal's death certificate.
8 The last remains of Epigwaitt have been investigated by an archaeological survey in January 2002, conducted by the NZ Department of Conservation. See PG Petchey, 'Epigwaitt: The site of the Grafton Wreck survivors' Hut, Carnley Harbour, Auckland Island.' Unpublished manuscript report, DOC Invercargill, NZ. The location of Epigwaitt is given as 166° 04' 42.2" E x 50° 49' 04.6" S
9 Raynal, end of chapter XVII
10 Richard Holmes Laurie (1818-1888) was a London chartmaker in Fleet Street and competitor to Norie and Findlay listed below. The 1853 chart mentioned by Raynal could not be located. A copy of an 1851 chart published by James Imray, revealed that the Auckland Islands are in fact "placed 35 miles to the south of their true position." H Armstrong, Cruises of the Brig Amherst, NZ Government Gazette, province of Southland, Vol 6, 11 April 1868. p56. For useful information on chart publishing in 18th and 19th century London, consult Susanna Fisher, The makers of the blueback charts: a history of Imray Laurie Norie and Wilson Ltd, St Ives, Cambridgeshire, 2001, Imray Laurie Norie & Wilson publishers.
11 John William Norie (1812-39), A Complete Epitome of Practical Navigation to which is added a set of tables, 1 57 Leadenhall St, London, 1 st edition 1805, constantly reprinted throughout the 19th century. Raynal may have used the 16th edition of 1856 which contains Tables on New Zealand Islands and Lord Auckland's Group, as the coordinates listed for Auckland Island are indeed at odds with modern ones.
13 The Illustrated London News,19 April 1868; article on "The wreck of the General Grant on the Auckland Island," p382, with a dramatic illustration of the sinking ship
14 Musgrave, Thomas, A narrative of the wreck of the Grafton from the private journals of Captain Thomas Musgrave, with a map and some account of the Auckland Islands, edited by JJ Shillinglaw, FRGS, Melbourne, HT Dwight, 1865. English edition, Lockwood and Co London, 1866, reprinted in an abridged edition as Castaway on the Aucklands, Wellington, AH & AW Reed, 1943.