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"The Loss of Le Chameau"

Le Chameau was a 48 gun, 600 ton, French man-of-war, the pride of the French navy, "one of the fastest and best equipped line-of-battle ships in the royal navy of France."1 She comes first to our attention as a vessel employed to bring from France supplies and people to both Quebec and Louisbourg. For instance, during a busy four year period, beginning in 1721, when the French were pouring supplies and men into Louisbourg, the Le Chameau was making annual runs. On Jan 12th, 1721, she first comes to our attention: the authorities were preparing to despatch the flutes Le Chameau2 and Le Portefaix for Canada and Ile Royale."3

During the winter of 1724/25, Le Chameau (The Camel) was once again chosen to go to America. Though there was some delay in getting underway (the authorities were annoyed by the delay4), by July she was sailing for the new world. She was loaded with supplies5, money6 and dispatches7. In addition to new recruits for the garrisons - some as young as fourteen years of age - Le Chameau had aboard a number of French civic and ecclesiastical dignitaries, including: the new Intendant of Canada, Me. de Chazel; the Governor-Elect of Three Rivers, De Louvigny; and Jacques L'Hermitte8 who was a retired military engineer on his way back from France to his place of retirement, Trois-Rivières.

On August 27th, 1725, in a storm off the north-eastern corner of Cape Breton, while trying to make the mouth of Louisbourg harbour, Le Chameau was sweep in upon the hard rocky shore.9 Every soul aboard was lost.10 Much of the wreak was washed ashore and was picked up by those sent from Louisbourg. Cast up from the sea were 180 bodies. A burial, en masse, was carried out with the missionary priest at Baleine officiating. There was no sign of the after part of the ship having come ashore, so it was hoped that some salvage might be made of her guns and treasure, particularly as the rock on which she broke up was covered at low tide by only a few feet of water. ... The next season some soldiers who were skilled divers were sent from Quebec and were employed at the wreck."11 The treasure, however, was not located. The criticism, as may be found in the official correspondence, was that the local authorities waited too long to get proper people and recovery equipment in place, as was apparently available at Quebec.12

For the epilogue of this 18th century marine disaster, we must come up in time to the 20th century. After a continuing search, extending over a number of years, one, Alex Storm, a local diver and entrepreneur, located what was left of Le Chameau. Storm found, after it had laid on the bottom of the ocean for 250 years, the missing "after part" of the ship which had alluded the French salvors of 1726. The money cases were hauled to the surface, opened: and therein lay a large treasure of silver and gold pieces. After certain legal entanglements had been gotten through, these magical pieces of metal were to be disbursed the world over; so, too decorate museums. As for the shores at Baleine: they are as barren now as they were just before the debris and bodies were cast up in the foaming surf at the end of August in 1725: not a sign is to be seen in memorial of the 316 persons who perished and of them, the 180 buried nearby.


[1] See NSHS #9, p. 119; and see, Macdonald's work, The Last Siege of Louisbourg, p. 172.

[2] Her captain at this point in time, 1721, was Captain Lamirande. In 1725 it was to be Captain Charles Percheron.

[3] Report Concerning Canadian Archives Branch for the Year 1904 (CAR-1904), Appendix K.

[4] CAR-1904, Appendix K, p. 57.

[5] Included among the various supplies was a special carton for Father Gaulin, Indian missionary at Cap de Sable, La Hève and Shunébécady: "a complete chapel outfit, plain and portable with its case, a ciborium, monstrance for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and an iron to make hosts." (CAR-1904, Appendix K, p. 57.)

[6] According to an official French despatch dated June 5th, 1725, the "sum of 289,696 livres for the annual expenditure in Canada will be sent on the Le Chameau." (CAR-1904, Appendix K, p. 62.)

[7] The lost despatches, we see, were to cause a lot of problems. In those days all matters - civic, military and ecclesiastic - even down to the business of approving the marriage of a military officer, required written direction from the appropriate department in France. We see (for example, the despatch dated May 7th, CAR-1904, Appendix K, p. 71) where duplicate letters and orders had to be prepared and sent over. These duplicates, of course didn't reach until the following year; we can only speculate how many matters were tied up and intended projects suspended.

[8] Jacques L'Hermitte (c1652-1725) assisted in the initial set up of Louisbourg in 1713 and had been instrumental in the choosing of this site for the new Acadian capital. He may very well have been one of those 180 which were buried by the missionary priest at Baleine, though that has yet to be determined.

[9] Macdonald makes the place where Le Chameau came ashore to be at Big Loran (Lorambec). "Le Chameaut, bound into the port to land the new Governor, succumbed to a furious August gale. Her entire complement was lost, and next morning the bodies of dignitaries and ecclesiastics of New France strewed the shore, mingled with the battered corpses of the men and horses, the debris of military material, and the vestures and utensils of the church." (Macdonald, p. 172; see, too, Johnston's work, A History of the Catholic Church in Eastern Nova Scotia, at p. 52.) McLennan, sets forth his version of the disaster at pp. 73-4. And from the official French dispatch sent from Louisbourg to Paris dated October 21st, 1725: "... Le Chameau, bound for Quebec, was lost three leagues from Louisbourg, in the night of the 27th and 28th August and that no one escaped from the wreck. The body of M. de Chazel, Intendant of Canada, was cast on shore and recognized. It is feared that a leak was sprung and that M. de St. James was bound to put into port at Louisbourg, for the masts were found on the coast were unbroken. L'Elephant must be equipped and all the lost cargo replaced." (CAR-1904, Appendix K, p. 57.)

[10] The figure from an official French despatch was 316 persons, lost.

[11] McLennan, p. 74; also see NSHS #9, p. 119; also see Zink, pp. 41-4.

[12] "He [Le Normant de Mésy, the financial commissary (commissaire ordonnateur) at Louisbourg] will see that a statement is sent him of all that was saved from the vessel Le Chameau. He will indicate the use made thereof and the price obtained for such as was sold. Approves of his idea of having the cases containing the funds for Canada raised, but fears that the work would be useless, as they had waited a year to bring divers from Canada." (CAR-1904, Appendix K, July 2nd, p. 79.)


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Peter Landry
2012 (2020)