Saturday 16 December 2017

Lenotre on the noyades (cont.)

View of the port of Nantes before the Revolution (attributed to Ozanne Nicolas)

The Terrorists of Nantes now moved on to the mass of detainees who filled the prisoners. As Jean-Joël Brégeon emphasises, the decision to carry out futher drowning was in part a panic response to the threat of disease and to the sheer logistic difficulty of feeding ten thousand "mouths" By this time the prisoners had already been concentrated outside the town centre, in the Entrepôt des cafés and on board ships moored in the harbour. 

On 14 and 15 frimaire (4-5 December) a series of conferences took place which are  reveal the anxieties  which beset the authorities; all parties must have been well-aware of the two noyades of priests  carried out clandestinely a fortnight previously.

On the evening of 14 frimaire Carrier, together with the principal members of the Revolutionary Committee, met in the former Chambre de comptes with representatives from the Revolutionary Tribunal,  the Municipality and the Departmental administration. The immediate pretext for action was the discovery of  a conspiracy among the prisoners in Le Bouffay.  It was a dramatic meeting; according to bishop Minée a “horrifying bacchanalia”.  Jean-Jacques Goullin suggested putting all the prisoners to death, a proposal  which so horrified the president of the Tribunal, Phelippes de Tronjolly and his fellow judges that  they immediately walked out.  Robin, Carrier’s close companion, who was less than twenty years old, supported Goullin, thundering against “moderatism, Feuillantism and federalism”. Carrier interrupted him to express his fears of “plague” in the prisons and plots among those detained.  They came down in favour of proscription.

It was decided to convene a jury to draw up a list of those to be executed.  The members sat for two days and two nights without pausing to eat more than a hasty meal of biscuit and fricot.  By 5 o’clock on the morning of  15 frimaire they had compiled a list of three hundred names.  An order to bring out the prisoners was presented to General Boivin, commandant of the city, who refused to execute it; Minée, in charge of the department, suspended it.  Discussion resumed, but Carrier dared not force the issue.  The following day, however, he wrote to the Committee of Public Safety detailing “the most horrible plot”, reporting the execution of the six prisoners involved, and declaring ominously, "A grand measure will deliver us of the others”.  The stage was set for the noyades to go ahead.

Brégeon observes that there were two different sets of terrorists involved in actually carrying out the drownings.  The first  was the "compagnie Marat", one of the best organised and most militant of the armées révolutionnaires. The Marats already existed at the time of Carrier's arrival in Nantes, having been constituted by the Revolutionary Committee on 14th October 1793 with the approval of the representative Francastel.  According to Richard Cobb, they numbered about fifty men, mostly poorer artisans, many from the former luxury trades.  They were paid 10 livres a day  and took a colourful oath: “Death to Royalists, Fanatics, Muscadins, Feuillants, Moderates of all colours and guises!” The majority had served in the National Guard during the recent conflict, an experience which goes much of the way towards explaining their mercilessness towards the "brigands" of the Vendée.  Theoretically the Marats were answerable to the Representative or the Committee, but in practice they were difficult to control.  However,  they were more interested in plundering the well-to-do of Nantes, and participated in the noyades only intermittently.  Carrier suppressed them: by end of nivôse the compagnie no longer existed as an entity.

The second group represented Carrier’s handpicked entourage. The chief instigator was Guillaume Lamberty, a coachbuilder by trade, distinguished by his ardeur against Vendéans and by his talents as an informer;  Carrier had probably encountered him during his brief time with the army.  His lieutenant was Robert Fouquet.  Other individuals named were  Laveau, Foucault, Robin and O’Sullivan (a Nantais of Irish origins) (See Brégeon, p.162-3).

The noyades

Having been thwarted by Boivin, then by Phelippes-Tronjolly in person, the Revolutionary Committee finally got its way on the night of 24 to 25 frimaire (14th–15th December). This third noyade took the lives of 129 detainees from the Bouffay prison.  Led by Goullin and Grandmaison, the “Marats” arrived at the prison and presented  the concierge Bernard Laquèze with an order for the transfer of prisoners to “Bellelle-en-Mer”.  Too drunk to verify their lists, they took prisoners at random, rifled their possessions and bound them two-by-two, employing a great deal of brutality and callous humour.  Goullin tried to hurry them along by warning that the tide would soon be out.  The prisoners were taken down river and drowned near the Île Cheviré just past Trentemoult.

The subsequent noyades are more difficult to unravel. They involved almost exclusively Vendéan prisoners from the Entrepôt. The 19th-century historian Alfred Lallié believed he found documentary evidence for eight further drownings. Gaston Martin, writing in the 1920s, verified only three, possibly four, more.   They took place mainly in the pool between Trentemoult and Chantenay, styled by Carrier la baignoire nationale. Tales of “republican marriages” and the systematic drowning of children are almost certainly apocryphal.  

The noyade of 3 nivôse (23rd December) is testified to by two  witnesses, and alluded to in the records of the Revolutionary Committee, which refers to 850 livres paid for “gabarage”.  The batelier Pierre Robert testified to “about eight hundred individuals” of all ages and both sexes, who were loaded onto two boats and drowned opposite Chantenay “as in the preceding noyade”.  The carpenter Affilé, who was charged with adapting the gabares, reckoned about five hundred prisoners were embarked.  Two rowing boats were attached to each barge in order to tow them out into open water  to be scuppered.  In their desperation some prisoners managed to escape and climb onto the boats, only to be repelled with sabres.

From 9 nivôse (29th December) to 18th January took place the so-called noyades des galiotes. Rather than being taken directly from the prisons, the victims first transferred to galliots in the harbour, where they could be more effectively stripped of their possessions.  It is impossible to say whether there were two or three occasions.  Pierre Robert and various other boatmen  affirmed that each time there were two or three hundred prisoners, of both sexes, and including children; they were plundered of their personal effects “without regard for the modesty of the women” and were drowned off the Île Cheviré. Two survivors supplied further details.  Jeanne Blanchard spent only three days at the Entrepôt, then eight days in the hold of a boat moored near the Sechérie.  Then “men with great golden epaulettes” had pillaged the belongings of the women and made them get into a flat bottomed barge.  At the last minute the sailors had helped her back onto the boat and saved her from death.  Jeanne Chesneau had seen death at even closer quarters. Transferred from the Entrepôt to one of the galliots, at between five and six in the evening of the 11th January, she was herded among three hundred prisoners, bound in pairs, onto a barge, wearing only her chemise. She was rescued in extremis by a customs man who had hauled her onto his boat at the moment that the barge sank.

The final noyage, which was intended to empty the Entrepôt prison, took place on the night of the 29th-30th January, and involved about four hundred prisoners.

The total number of victims of the noyades is impossible to determine exactly.  Lallié estimated 4,860, whereas Gaston Martin thought  only 1,800. In all probability, says Jean-Joël Brégeon, the truth lies "somewhere between the two". Although Saturnin Depois, a guard at  the Entrepôt, thought he recognised Carrier, and Lenotre imagines him watching from the window of the hotel de Villetreux, in reality Carrier did not take part personally.  Nor is it likely he organised the drownings of children which Thomas and Phelippes-Tronjolly talked of at his trial.

The Third Noyade

Forthwith the hatch was closed and carpenters began to secure it with blows of the hammer; but in a last despairing effort the bellowing cargo piled itself together, writhing frantically, and gave the crazy woodwork so mighty a heave that they raised the  planking of the deck. The ruffians hastily nailed rings on the panels/ and the order was given to cast loose. ..

The lighter, guided by Affilé and his carpenters, took the stream and disappeared in the night, floating down the river. 

On the lid of this great gliding coffin, full of uproar and groans, sat Grandmaison and the men of his gang ; they were singing uproariously, to drown the cries of their victims. 
" To Cheviré Island," commanded Affilé in a low tone. 

Cheviré is a bank of low earth, the spit of which lies down-stream of Trentemoult, at a point where the width of the river, divided into several branches, attains 1700 feet. The lighter glided with the stream, towing two little boats, which the assassins would presently use to reach the bank.  Rene Naux had just made use of one of them to carry an order signed by Goullin to the gunners on guard at the pontoon  of La Sécherie to " let them pass."  The lighter passed in due course, and was soon level with Chant enay. Affilé gave warning that the critical moment was at hand. 

His workmen descended into the boats and prepared to open the ports to admit the water.  But the uproar from the hold of the lighter continued to augment, and cries of " Save us! Save us! There is yet time ! " rang through the night. 

Most of the doomed, heaped together like dung in this floating oubliette, had succeeded in unfastening their bonds.  Thereupon a frightful scene ensued ;  their fingers clutched and con- vulsively tore aside the planks, which, yielding, revealed a crowd of hands and arms, tossed in gestures of despair.  The " Marats " were seized with alarm, and while the shipwrights, hacking at the planks, opened the ports for the whirling wave, Grandmaison, wielding his sabre like a sickle, severed these beseeching hands and writhing arms, plunging his blade into the gaps, and piercing at random  his unseen adversaries, whose prison, invaded by the water, sank slowly and evenly ;  its inmates on the point of suffocation, uttering shrieks of terror so piercing that they were heard even in the city.

The Loire did not keep the secret of what had befallen in this great sunken tomb even till the jaded assassins got back to shore.  As the waves filled and silenced those howling mouths, overwhelming their heads and flinging hither and thither  the bodies of such as clung to the sides of the lighter, one had remained desperately clinging and suspended by the hands to an opening of the hatch.  It was the body of Julien Leroi, the egg-dealer [who testified at the subsequent trials]….

Julien Leroi was not dead.  At the moment of embarkation, when flung to the bottom of the lighter, he had cut with his teeth the rope that still bound him to his fellow ; the latter in turn unbound him also, and when the water rushed into the vessel,  Leroi, whose hands were free, remained chnging despite the terrible eddy. The lighter, sunk on a shallow, did not go down wholly.  Her upper port remained above the water, which, finding its level, left between its surface and the deck of the vessel a space sufficient to allow Leroi' s head to rise above it. He could thus breathe, but in what a horrible position!  We have his own narrative of that night of terror….  It does not seem that the poor fellow felt any great emotion ; the only thing that struck him was that he was still alive, and he gloried in the thought.   All else mattered little to him. He says nothing of his sensations when the outcry of his fellows suddenly came to an end in that terrifying obscurity ; nothing of the dying men whom he felt jostle and writhe around him :he floated " for two hours upon corpses."  At daybreak — the drowning, though no one gives the exact time, must have taken place after five in the morning — Leroi heard a boat pass and hailed the boatman who, without appearing either astonished or horrified, climbed on the deck of the sunk lighter, cut a hole in it with his boat-hook, and threw a rope to the survivor, whom he took on board his boat and carried ashore. 

Leroi went straight to the guard-house. He was almost naked ; he said he came from Montoir and had been shipwrecked. The soldiers lent him a cloak and took him before the Revolutionary Committee, where he found Bollogniel, Leveque, Perrochaud, Jolly the deputy, and Bachelier, who was presiding.  On seeing the poor wretch, shivering and dying of distress, these worthy dignitaries realised whence he came. "They looked at him and burst into laughter." But Jolly, whose vanity as an author was at stake, since he was one of the organisers of the drowning, took a severe view of this insolent fellow, this refractory, who had the effrontery not to be dea ; he decided that he should be " pitched back into the water."  Bachelier, for fear of vexing his colleague, gave the order that Leroi should be taken back to Le Bouffay, and "led out" that evening with the others.  But the eggman got off with a hundred days in durance on bread and water. 

[The second survivor] Alexis Garnier, who had escaped before the embarkation, had made his way to Nantes itself, to the house of a friend. There he remained in hiding for three months, waiting for a chance to get on board a ship.  One day, having been rash enough to leave his hiding-place, he encountered the turn-key of Le Bouffay, Joson Gerardeau, who seized him by the collar and dragged him before the Committee. GouUin abused him roundly. " What, rascal, is that you ? I used a whole candle looking for you, but you shall pay me well for it." 

He was reincarcerated at Le Bouffay, and thrown into an underground dungeon. " Don't trouble," he was told, " we shall come back one of these days for you, and you will make one with the others." And they came indeed to look for him. But it was in the hour when the Committee, now muzzled, was cast into prison in its turn

The gabares

Our intention is not to narrate in their tragedy the various  noyades  of Nivôse and  Pluviôse, year II. That would only mean multiplying scenes of horror similar to those already described…. But it will not be superfluous …to group together a few features common to all the "noyades”….

We know the leaders of these  forays.   In almost all of them the share of Lamberty, Grandmaison, Foucaud, Robin, Fouquet, O' Sullivan, Jolly, and Lavaux is attested, these having as understudies certain chosen "Marats" — Durassier, Naux, Ducou, Richard, and Lucas, jointly with other satellites of hearty goodwill, hailing from none knows where, and who came to filch a shirt or a pair of shoes. Affilé the carpenter, appointed as a sort of engineer in ordinary to this staff of bandits, made it his business to manipulate the boats and engage the boatmen necessary to handle them on the Loire. 

Detail from an illustration to  Prudhomme, Histoire générale...des erreurs..., Paris, 1797  Bibl.nat

The craft intended for the " noyades " were, it will be remembered, " sapines " or " gabares," of the nature of tenders, roughly fashioned and ordinarily used as lighters to vessels of larger tonnage between Nantes and Paimboeuf, and having no other value than that of the planks of which they were knocked together. They were taken to pieces after each trip, and their price did not exceed two or three hundred livres apiece ; but they needed a certain amount of preparation before being turned to account for a " noyade." 

The tradition has been preserved of vessels which gaped widely at the bottom and allowed their human cargo to slide into the river in a solid mass. This is a fable ; for at first, at any rate, the immersion was effected by means of ports pierced above the water-line, and which were opened in mid-stream. However, this plan had its inconveniences, and would seem to have been improved upon, while retaining the ports, by the addition of a plug.  Affilé's evidence is the clearest on this point. " Fouquet," says he, " brought me four boats to insert plugs in them." … O'Sullivan also owns the use of " boats with plugs."  Grandmaison likewise vouches for it.  When asked if a carpenter had not contrived  "a trap designed to send the vessel to the bottom”  he answered, "That is so, but I had no share in it " ;  and Laurence the armourer declared that he saw '' the trap opened on a ' sapine ' crowded with prisoners, and the whole of the poor wretches sent to the bottom."  If we are to believe one of the witnesses, this contrivance worked automatically by means of a petard stowed on board the "gabare," which by its explosion opened the trap. 

Boats with traps were thus employed, but this contrivance was not intended merely to discharge the victims, while keeping the " gabare " afloat ;  it was an extra port pierced in the bottom of the vessel, and only subserving the more rapid influx of water. All the " sapines " used in the " noy-ades " were in reality doomed beforehand, and so little did they reckon on the opening of the trap to expel the heaped-up bodies into the river  that the latter were sometimes secured by ropes and iron clamps to the very bottom of the vessel itself.  Lighters and victims were engulfed together. 

Moutier, the blacksmith, recalled that Carrier, passing one day along the quay of La Fosse, inquired where were the boats set apart for the destruction of the brigands. On being shown them he remarked, " That's very convenient."

For one thing, the small amount of time spent in these preliminary manipulations made any complicated carpentering out of the question.  When a drowning was fixed, Fouquet, Lamberty  and Robin went and bought one or more "sapines." These were usually supplied by Joachim Mary of Port Maillard, who under took to bring the boats round to the Cale Chaurrand, not far from the Entrepôt, where Affilé  trimmed them up.  All was finished the same day, and when evening came the slayers, backed by soldiers requisitioned at the neighbouring post, proceeded to the prison. The course of events was always the same. Fouquet and Lamberty, brilliantly habited as general officers,  and with gold epaulettes, caused the doors to be opened to them, and armed with enormous bundles of new lengths of rope paraded the warehouses and barns crowded with prisoners, binding with their own hands those of whom they made choice. Strongly tied together in couples by the wrists and arms, the victims passed down into the street, where soldiers awaited them, drawn up in line before the entrance of the Entrepôt.  Orders were given for the utmost silence.  It was a very long business ; for when the batch was a heavy one, these preliminaries lasted from five to eleven in the evening.

The doomed victims took their places docilely in file, two couples to a rank ;  peasants for the most part, farmers, labourers, workmen from the spinning shops at Cholet, some sick and scarcely able to stand, others still vigorous.  As they had been allowed to suppose they were being merely transferred to Brest,  they were not uneasy.  Some even appeared content.  The most wary showed their doubts of the fierce air of the whippers-in and the gloomy mien of the soldiers.  All had prepared themselves for a journey, carrying with them their bread, baskets, and little bundles of belongings tied to their belts, or slung over the shoulder with string or cloth-edgings.

Exploits of the Compagnie Marat, print 1794/5.  Bibl.nat.
The file, watched only by some National Guards, lengthened out at the foot of the walls of the Entrepôt, those in front moving forward as others arrive, and formed up in their rear. Sometimes it extended as far as the Sanitat.  These poor folks complained of nothing but their bonds. When they saw Fouquet, Lamberty, Robin, or Foucaud going round, with candles in their fingers, they begged that their bonds might be loosened, for they caused them unbearable tortures.  One day young Robin, infuriated by these outcries, was seen to rush into the ranks and furiously overturn five pinioned couples, whom he battered haphazard with the flat of his sword.

The signal to start being given at length, Fouquet passed along the ranks, tightening such knots as seemed too lax, and the herd moved forward in good order. Carrier came once to witness the march past and hold a review of the grim levy ; he wore a dark roquelaure and a round hat.  His squeaking voice was heard commanding, " Quicken your step ! March in line ! " [according to testimony of Satumis Depois, turner]

When the funereal column was almost wholly composed of women, as was the case in Nivôse when three hundred female captives were drowned at one sweep, the scene was heart- breaking. These hapless beings were more suspicious than the men ; for they could not, like them, be duped with the pretext of a necessary transfer for the erection of fortifications.  That day, by-the-bye, the sightseers were in exceptional numbers on the road from the Entrepôt to the quayside.  How did the rumour spread through the city that women were going to be the victims ?  No one knows, but certain people were always informed in good time of the place and hour where their charity might be exercised, and came to save the children. There were indeed mothers among those who were to die; with their free arms they held their babies tightly clasped. All lamented and sobbed, and when the slayers bade them go forward, their cries of despair redoubled ; they appealed to the spectators ranged along their path. " They are going to drown us," they cried, " and they will not try us ! "

Despite the arms held out to them in pity, many would not part with their children ; others, more heroic or more loving, gave them over to strangers.  One of them determinedly flung her little one among the crowd. At once it was caught " like a ball " by a woman who cried out to the mother " “that she would take care of it." ….. Plenty of families at Nantes, poor and rich alike, thus gave shelter to little strangers who grew up without ever knowing who were their parents.

When the procession reached the side of the Loire, facing the embarking slip, a halt was called ; a gangway formed of planks laid from vessel to vessel  led to the yawning lighter. The ruffians quickly searched each couple, bore off their ties and belts, turned out their pockets, and passed a hand under their shifts ; then they piled up on the quay the spoil, which later on they would gather together in large baskets, to be sold next day at the harbour….

The prisoners were pushed on to the gang-way, where a boatman stood, who in his turn snatched whatever he could clutch in passing, hats or caps, of which he made a heap in the barge.  One of the soldiers having ventured on board and cast an eye on the bottom of the gabare, already full , saw in the welter of heaped-up bodies a man whom he recognised, still despoiling them and carrying off what little his fellows had not taken…..

"Carrier in 1794"  Print from the Bibl. de Nantes

The Galliot drownings

The narratives of these excursions, which have been styled "galliot drownings," are fairly abundant. Many of them emanated either from boatmen or National Guards, who had to be called in to protect the drowners.  One of these auxiliaries declares that, the night he was on duty, Lamberty's vessel had some fifty women on board ; there were also children and some boys of fifteen, who were brought out of the hold one by one to be flung into the water.   Julien Pichelet, whose evidence will be quoted at full length, for he owed his life to a whim of Robin's, was put on board the galliot with three hundred men and fifty women.  All were summoned separately into the captain's cabin, stripped, bound together, and let down in their shifts into a lighter which had put out. Even this miserable rag — this shroud, more properly — excited the cupidity of the executioners, for on one of the raids, probably that of January 17th (Nivose 28th), the seamen told off to work the craft saw at first thirty women let down wholly naked.  Roused to indignation, they ventured to protest, when the remaining victims were left their shirts.

Though inured to such frequent sights, these seamen were sometimes seized with pity.  Oneof them, Colas Freteau, seeing them throw a weeping woman into the lighter, struggling and calling for help, was bold enough to suggest to Fouquet, " Citizen, let us at least save that woman. If you agree, I will go and fetch her." Fouquet gave vent to an oath. " Are you going shares with her, b…… scoundrel ? " he bawled.

And flinging himself on the suppliant he split her head with a blow of his sword.
Such was discipline on board. 

On the occasion of another " noyade," while three hundred naked prisoners, with hands tied behind their backs, were being shaken down in the lighter, "a young man, singing the Carmagnole the while "—we seem to recognise Robin— struck off the heads of two "brigands," who seemed to be no more than eighteen. Their headless trunks were flung into the water.  When the Loire was at low water the plan adopted was as follows : men were flung from a launch into a part of the river which was shallow, and if they succeeded in getting a footing, were shot or sabred by the slayers from boats. This carnage, which was witnessed by two Nantais, lasted an hour and a half.

At times also whether it was that the lighters were not forthcoming or for some other reason, the condemned would remain some time on board the galliot, awaiting a propitious opportunity for execution.  In this manner a volunteer of the Vendéan army languished for two days with three hundred and fifty companions on a boat anchored within sight of Chézine. Did they feed these men, lying at death's door, or what did they do? On half a pound of bread a day, says a witness ; but most assuredly no care was taken of them.  Berthé, the boat-builder, saw " a great crowd of prisoners " taken on board the galliot from the Entrepôt; they went down into the depths of the hold and the hatches were battened. When these were opened " some days later " eighty of these unfortunates were found dead of hunger or lack of air. They picked out sixteen  of the survivors from among the most robust and sent them back to the Entrepôt, in order to clean their prison. When the work was done they took them back again to the galliot, which was found empty; dead and living alike had been flung into the Loire. Although the sixteen flattered themselves that they would be spared, they " made difficulties about going on board  again," narrates the witness, but next day were drowned  one after the other.

The system of separate immersion, as well as that of wholesale treatment in a lighter, had its advantages, but also sundry drawbacks. The latter, to be sure, was the more expensive method, since the vessel went down with its cargo. Moreover, when she sank in a deep place she blocked the bed of the river, but at least she retained the corpses, so that the turn of the tide could not carry them back towards the city, which was invariably the case with bodies despatched singly or in couples. It must also be noted that the " gabare " sometimes went to pieces on a sandbank and allowed its freight to escape. This is what happened on December 13th (Nivôse 3rd), at the great whelming of the eight hundred. They had been divided between two craft, one of which sank in midstream ; the other, dropping down, ran against the foreshore of the Prairie au Due, went aground and burst open. The victims, thus released, fled, tumbling over each other, among the rushes ; but naked and pinioned, they could go no farther. Fouquet and his  men hastened in pursuit, and drove them back into the water with sword- thrusts.


It was therefore in the great pool formed by the Loire below the Prairie au Due, between Trentemoult and Chantenay, that the chief " noyades " took place. And this is what Carrier styled "the National Bathing-place." It appears that only for one such excursion did  they take time sufficient to drop down as far as Indret.  A very useless precaution for that matter ; as the constant action of the flood and ebb drifted the corpses from Paimboeuf to Nantes, and flung them upon the two banks. Stranded on the sands of the foreshores, they afforded pasture to the dogs and birds of prey. At Indret they gathered at  Île Pivin, and on the embankments.  The Commandant of the Republican Foundries caused " many women and naked men to be buried there." One barge even floated down stream as far as Lavau, and came to on the sands ; two hundred and twenty-six corpses were found in it "pinioned with ropes several times twisted, and which had undergone no change."  They were interred five hundred ells from the village, at the foot of La Garenne Tower. The riverside folk hastened to thus bury them. When the Conventional Dubois-Crancé  came to The Foundries "he had before his eyes," as he protests, "the heartrending spectacle of a crowd of delvers ranged along the bank, and were doing nothing but interring heaps of corpses." ' Testimonies  of this kind abound ; those of the boatmen who phed on the river are not less eloquent.  Noel, a mariner of Nantes, perceived on the bottom of the water a barge full of dead ;  Boutel, a ship's captain, found half a score of bodies, tied together in a sunk lighter. A third saw a sunk "sapine" full of drowned women ; they were all naked and bound to the side of the barge — " some peasants unbound them and buried them in a great trench."  

Berthé, the boat-builder, testifies that the sunk " gabares " were " all constructed alike, and that the year after the " drownings " several were still to be seen in the Loire."  One of these craft was sold as jetsom to a certain Bouvier, who, wishing to float it again, found in it the pestilent remains "of a prodigious number of bodies."  And many Nantais can still re- member having seen, some thirty years ago, in a shed on the Cale of the Entrepôt, a heap of human bones, taken from an old lighter fished out of the river by the men of the Ponts et Chaussées. The Loire did not cast up all its victims. People declare that one of Lamberty's  "gabares" is still sanded up somewhere towards the  Île Cheviré, and that its mouldered hull occasionally shows at low tide. 

Wednesday 13 December 2017

The incumbent of Saint-Lyphard

"Saint-Lyphard sous la Révolution", Son et Lumière performed in July 2016.
Lenotre devoted a chapter to the sole survivor of the first noyade,  the abbé Julien Landeau, former rector of Saint-Lyphard, a small town north of the Loire in the marshes of Brière.  The narrative is of interest not only for its testimony to the drowning but for the details of Landeau's subsequent life of hiding in these remote marshlands, where the Revolution was only vaguely understood and impacted little on the daily life of the peasantry.

A native of Queniquen in Guérande,  Landeau had been born in 1745 and ordained in 1770.  At the outbreak of the Revolution, he was vicaire of the parish of Moisdon, but in August 1789 he moved to Saint-Lyphard.  In February 1790 his parishioners unanimously elected him as mayor of the township with his vicaire, Jean Gougeon acting as his secretary and substitute. However, since he declined to take the oath to the Civil Constitution of Clergy, he was obliged after a few months to resign his mayorial office.  In December 1791 the department ordered all non-jurors to be taken to detention in Nantes.  Landeau continued to fulfil his ministry clandestinely, and now went into hiding,  but he was eventually discovered and in February 1793 taken to in the prison of the Carmelites, where he rejoined his brother Jacques, also a priest.   In August he was transferred to the galliot Thérèse, thence to the Petits capuchins, and finally on board the Gloire.  On the fateful night of 16th-17th December he was among the handful who escaped  death in the waters of the Loire:

The abbé  Landeau escapes drowning

At that very hour one of the ninety priests, and one only, having escaped the "drowning," was wandering through the streets of Nantes in terror of being recaptured, and horrified at what he had witnessed. It was the abbé Julien Landeau, incumbent of Saint Lyphard.

When in his turn he had been taken out of the galliot, tied to an old monk and lowered into the lighter, he found that the rope which secured his arm to that of his fellow might easily be unfastened. The two united their efforts, got rid of the manacle, and waited anxiously.

From the motion of the lighter the abbé Landeau soon realised that the heavy craft was going down-stream. He heard the mallet blows which opened the ports; in gushing torrents the waters poured in, gurgling and unceasing, overwhelming in a mass the maddened and unwary victims, lifting them up and dashing them against each other in a terrible hubbub of cries, floating bodies, and suffocation.

The abbé was a skilful swimmer: taking in tow the old man whom the ruffians' choice had made his brother in the death-struggle, he fought his way out of the dreadful turmoil. Groping in the murk of whirling water, and thrusting aside the contorted bodies, he reached a port-hole or scupper, and at length came out on the surface of the river. Lamberty's boat was there, quite close at hand. The priest of Saint- Lyphard's saw the ruffians grappling with their boat-hooks, and holding under water those quivering wretches whom, like himself, a desperate effort had carried out of the lighter, and heard the heavy blows of the oars falling on their heads.

Escaping from the hideous melee, he swam with his right hand, and with the other upheld his inert fellow. Soon he was far away, in the full flow of the Loire, panting with exertion, alone on that heaving expanse. What should he do? Try to reach the bank? Would he not find there other ruffians on the alert, it might be, or timorous fishermen, who would refuse to help him? Or should he swim with the current as long as might be and ground in some osier-bed or on some sandbank, where he might take breath? And afterwards? Would he, for that matter, have strength to keep up so long? The weight of his fellow paralysed his movements. In the icy water, which blinded and choked him, the old monk, groaning at his last gasp, urged the swimmer not to persist, but to save himself alone and let him die. Yet Landeau persevered, though each valiant stroke exhausted him, his strength began to fail, and his burden stopped all progress. He felt the clutching hands of the old man unclasp as he resignedly relaxed his hold, and, yielding to his fate, allowed himself to sink.

Thus lightened, the abbé found relief by floating on his back, and permitted the stream to carry him whither it would, when suddenly through the void and stillness a sound of voices reached his ears. He turned round in the water and saw the outline of a boat gliding through the night, and heard the men who manned it chatting among themselves. He struck out till he came alongside, seized the gunwale, and in an imploring voice begged for help. One of the men, astonished, leant over and asked him who he was.

" A priest that they have just thrown in to drown."

There was a brief consultation between the boatmen, while Landeau, all a-tremble, over-heard their parley.

"Bah' said one," he's a 'black cowl.' There will be enough of his kind left."

"My friends," cried another, "if he were an enemy's dog we should not consent to let him perish. Let us save him. " 

The swimmer was forthwith grappled, drawn from the water and hoisted on board the barge, but scarcely was he seated beside the boat men than these rough men took fright at the half-dead man, dripping, shivering, and at the last gasp. Already the fame of Carrier was spreading baseness, as miasmas spread pestilence. After some debate the boatmen rowed towards the right bank, and landing, left the wretch on the sand, explaining that they had done enough for him, and that he would have to get out of the scrape without their help.

Thus left alone the abbé Landeau tried to find his bearings. In the middle of November the nights are long, and it was still very far from earliest dawn. He saw, however, that he had come to land near the hamlet of Roche Maurice, about a league down-stream from Nantes. Shivering with cold, almost naked, and fainting with hunger and weariness, the first thing he needed was to find a shelter. But to whom could he apply? Would not asking for help mean self-betrayal ?  No matter, he was at the end of his energies; approaching a hovel, he knocked, but the door remained closed. He dragged himself towards another dwelling. There his call was heard, some peasants received him with cordiality, and gave him clothes and food and seated him before a good fire. The abbé began to breathe more freely; little by little the awful nightmare faded away. 

 Dawn was approaching, what should be his next course ? The peasants who had taken him in were growing alarmed; they too were frightened. They were glad, they said, to have succoured him, and would be still more so to keep him, but the villages were infested by patriots, and the next house which he had visited first, but which luckily had not been opened to him, was inhabited by one of the most ardent of these. M. le Curé must understand that, for his own sake as much as for that of his hosts, he could not stay where he was; every one must look to his own safety, so he must leave before day-light. For that matter they would not abandon him, their daughter went every day to Nantes to take the milk of her cows ; she knew a worthy woman there, Mme. Lamy, who, like the abbé, came from Queniguen. No doubt she would be willing to shelter the priest for some days, and would busy herself with placing him in safety.

Sejourn in Nantes

The incumbent of Saint-Lyphard thanked his hosts.  They consented, out of charity, to let him keep a pair of breeches, a jacket, and some clogs; they furnished him with a basketful of vegetables and bade him adieu. Thus accoutred the priest was shown to the door, and with a wary and alert eye, trying to disguise his alarm and affecting the air of a market-gardener on his way to the city market, he took the road to Nantes.

He reached the centre of the town without mishap, was received at Mme. Lamy's at the Port-au-vin, went to earth there, and from his refuge sent a letter to one of his brothers living at Queniguen near Guérande, who came to Nantes, wearing the broad hat, the white jacket and loose breeches of the marshmen of the peninsula, to look for the incumbent, bringing with him an outfit like his own. When, in order to leave the town, they had to pass the guard. the abbé Landeau, on whom that awful night had left its mark in a morbid timidity, took alarm at seeing soldiers grouped by the door of the guard-house. He was taken with a violent trembling that he could not check; he was like to be noticed and questioned, and would not be able to answer. His brother, who had kept his full presence of mind, pretended to be taking home a drunken man. He scolded his companion, pushed him about, gave a great cut with the whip on the quarters of the mule the abbé was riding, and went off at a trot. The two fugitives thus cleared the dangerous passage without mishap.

In Queniguen -  narrowly misses being recaptured

The vicar of Saint-Lyphard spent the whole winter at Queniguen. It is a hamlet lying on the edge of salt-marshes. There he had two hiding-places, one in his brother's house, where he lay smothered under a truss of hay, and the other in a hollow west of the village. At night he went about the country bearing the consolations of his ministry to the faithful.  No one in that secluded spot had an idea of what was going on in France. Save for the patrols, who sometimes turned up unexpectedly to make a search at some farm that had been pointed out to the vigilance of the patriots, no stranger ventured into this haunt of the dead.  Often enough the abbé saw himself on the verge of being taken: he cherished an instinctive and only too well-founded terror of the '' Blues." But none the less he went all over the Guérande district, carrying consolation to the dying or sprinkling the newly born. The record of baptisms was inscribed by means of a nail on a brass plate which was buried in some field, to be recovered in better days.

One evening at Queniguen some peasants were gathered at the house of the curé's brother, to take part in a night mass which he was making ready to celebrate. He had already withdrawn the sacred vessels from their hiding-place and arranged the simple accessories, when some one took alarm at a sound of footsteps in the village. Beware! It was the Guérande National Guard. In a moment the house was surrounded; the peasants hastily put the preparations for the rite out of sight, the candlesticks returned to their place on the chimney-piece, the chalice was stowed on the top of a dresser. As for the abbé, he had rushed to the steps of the barn, reached his usual lurking-place, and slipped under the hay. The soldiers broke into the house, and called loudly for the " calotin " (frocked gentleman) they were harbouring. They rapped the walls with their butt-ends and rummaged the stable, making a great pother and threatening to burn everything. One of them, raising his eyes, saw the chalice perched on the top shelf of the dresser. What a surprise! He said nothing, but casting a glance to see that none of his comrades were watching, gave the incriminating article a shove with the tip of his musket, and hid it behind the bulge of the piece of furniture.

The search of the barn was meanwhile proceeding. The "Blues" sounded the piled-up forage with their sabres or bayonets, whose points more than once touched the fugitive. One of the soldiers discovered his presence in that way. The man slipped in among the hay, making believe to search vigorously, reached the priest, seized his arm, said in a low tone, " Don't stir," and going back to his comrades assured them there was no one there, and that nothing remained for them but to withdraw.

His return to Saint-Lyphard

The abbé Landeau was saved; but he could not reckon on the recurrence of such a piece of luck, all patriots not being so merciful as the National Guards of Guérande. For a long time he had been wishing to make his way to Saint-Lyphard, which he had not seen since his arrest in 1791. He knew that he was beloved there, and could devote himself to his parishioners without too much danger. Two brothers, Charles and Jean Deniaud, offered to receive him. The latter lived in the hamlet of Kerbriant, while the former had a small farm at Kergonan, both places scarcely a league from Saint-Lyphard, and remote from any main road.

Saint-Lyphard is a village of some importance, on the outskirt of the Grande Brière, a vast expanse of marsh, beneath which a druidical forest lies submerged, whose trees still stand unseen, buried in the slime up to their topmost boughs; and still bent, men say, by the breath of the west wind, which has not blown on them for over a thousand years. During two days only of the year the Brièrons— as the dwellers on the shore of this sea of mud are called— are authorised to rummage in the mire and dig out these tree-trunks, twelve or fifteen centuries old, and as hard and black as ebony.  During a week the people of La Brière are also licensed to extract peat from these vast swamps, which they retail in "turf," a fuel in use throughout Lower Brittany. The rest of the time the folks fish in the ponds for leeches, eels, and pike, or busy themselves with rearing geese and cattle. For La Brère is at once a sea and a grazing tract. In winter it is a lake four leagues in length and five in breadth, with little depth of water, without waves or ripples. In fine weather the soil dries somewhat, and sheep and cows can graze on it without sinking in too far. A stranger would run great risk in venturing upon this treacherous surface, but the Brièrons know its geography, and float over it with as much certainty as they can walk; so that it is not uncommon to see one of their punts apparently gliding over a green meadow, while close by comes a pedestrian, staff in hand, who seems to walk on the water. La Brière is like a congealed sea and, so to speak, without horizon. No scenery is more affecting in its melancholy; the eye is disconcerted by this boundless level, whose dimensions it cannot gauge, and which, at eventide, assumes the aspect of a disc of lead bossed here and there with the black gnarlings of heaps of peat.

On the Saint-Lyphard side, at the promontory of Pierre Fendue, it is impossible to tell where solid ground finishes and marsh begins. The "Blues," as may be imagined, did not venture on to this quaking area, which for a native well versed in its treacheries offered the safest of hiding-places. A hundred metres from the verge a man lying on the grass of this watery steppe is invisible. The abbé Goujon [Gougeon], vicar of Saint-Lyphard, who had remained in those parts since the outbreak of the Revolution, thanks to his perfect knowledge of the marsh, had thrown out all pursuers. M. Landeau was delighted to see him once more and to share his life of adventure.

Whenever the approach of a patrol was signalled they took to the marsh, made for a pile of turfs or a field of reeds, crouched there, and remained till the soldiers were gone. In winter the curé went back to the house of the brothers Deniaud, or mayhap sought a refuge less distant from La Brière. One of his parishioners, Jean Lebeau, who had sent one of his boys to the Vendean army, acted as his guide. Followed at a distance by the priest he would go up to a house, knock at the window and ask, " Are there any strange sheep in the fold ?"

Kerhinet historic village
The hamlet of Kerhinet was bought by the parc naturel régional de Brière in the 1970s.  It comprises eighteen traditional cottages, thatched with reeds, together with two abread ovens, a well and a washing place. One of the cottages has a  reconstructed 18th-century interior.

Such was the catchword agreed upon. The peasants answered "yes" or ''no" as it might be; in the latter case the door was opened, and the curé found a refuge for the night either among the hay or in the pig-shed, unless for greater safety they opened for him the double bottom of the manger, usually standing in the living room, and in which they put fodder for the beasts, who from the adjoining stable thrust their horned heads through great holes made in the panel, so as to get at the crib. Some of these old houses are still to be shown at Kerloumet in the Saint-Lyphard district.  They have huge roofs thatched with La Brière rushes, and embellished to the ridge with a pretty plant bearing pink cups and called "birds' vine." They show you also in the village, cheek by jowl with the house of the present vicar, the old vicarage in which the abbé Landeau lived, a decent old cottage built of grey stone and with narrow windows. Not seldom during the course of his roving life must he have cast a glance of regret and longing at that rustic abode which once was his own. He was destined never to enter it again.

Death of the abbé Landeau

Plate from Lenotre
The Terror had long since come to an end, but non-juring priests were still outlawed. Incessant dread, misery, and nights spent in the marsh broke down the vigorous health of the vicar of Saint-Lyphard. He died, tended by his faithful curate, at Charles Demand's on June 24, 1799, aged fifty-five. His flock, who were not unaware of his story and looked on this sole survivor of the drowning of the priests as a miracle, wished ardently to keep his remains in the village cemetery. But Kernogan, where his death took place, is in the district of Guérande, so it was to Guérande that his body would be carried and thrown into the common ditch, according to the regulations then in force. To avoid such profanation they played a last trick with the abbé in his death; they carried his corpse by night to the hamlet of Crutier, scarcely a hundred metres from Kernogan, but forming part of the Commune of Saint-Lyphard.  It was laid, so the story runs, in the bed of an old man at death's door, whom they carried off to Kernogan, where he died. The exchange having been thus effected, the common ditch of Guérande was not deprived of a body, while the cemetery of Saint-Lyphard resumed its rights to that of the abbé Landeau.  Hence it was that the death was announced at Crutier and the priest buried close to his old church. 

Tomb of the abbé Landeau
When in more recent times [in 1872] that church was pulled down and the cemetery removed they laid his honoured remains in the chapel of the new God's acre. That chapel is a sort of grotto, excavated under a bluff surmounted by a Calvary. The abbé Landeau's grave adjoins that of M. Goujon, his curate and successor. From the crest of the bluff, which you mount by a steep path, the eye ranges over the whole of La Brière, which begins at this point. The vicar of Saint-Lyphard — his memory will live as long as men remember the "noyades " of Nantes — lies on the margin of this sleeping ocean, a sea without flood, or tide, or current, as if the element to which Carrier committed his victims here shared the eternal repose of the priest whom the Loire refused to receive.

 Note: It is from the abbé Landeau's own account that the recital of these occurrences has been preserved — a narrative recorded by his nephew, of the same name, incumbent of Muzillac, and published in Notices sur les confesseurs de la foi dans le diocèse de Nantes pendant la Révolution, by the abbé Briand (vol. ii. p. 597 et seq.).


G. Lenotre, Tragic episodes of the French Revolution in Brittany (1912), p.68-82

See also:

"Julien Landeau - Recteur et Maire de Saint-Lyphard", Archives de Saint-Lyphard

Here is a blog with a nice set of photographs of Saint-Lyphard and the surrounding area:

In July 2016 the abbé Landeau was the subject of a son et lumière production created by local author Patrick Roussel.
"Saint-Lyphard sous la Révolution, Son et Lumière  30 & 31 Juillet 2016" [photos]

Monday 11 December 2017

Lenotre on the "noyades" of Nantes

This year I have grown a little tired of Lenotre's mawkishly sentimental Christmas tales.  Instead, on an altogether more sombre theme, here are some extracts from his classic account of the "noyades de Nantes",  which took place in the winter of 1793-94.  Lenotre's text, translated into English in 1912, remains grimly evocative;  my accompanying notes are summarised  from Jean-Joël Brégeon's modern study Carrier et la Terreur nantaise (2016).

According to Brégeon, the "drownings" - one of the worst atrocities of the Terror - were not the result of a systematic plan.  They arose as "la fuite en avant", a response to complex conditions, which then took on  a momentum of their own.  By the end of 1793 the radicals of Nantes, leaded by the Jacobin proconsul, Jean-Baptiste Carrier faced organisational crisis as the population of the once-prosperous port swelled with wounded and sick soldiers, republican refugees and, above all,  prisoners from the conflict in the Vendée. The illegal execution of these unwanted and pestilence-ridden "mouths" was an ever-present temptation.

The First noyade

The first victims of the noyades were a hundred and sixty refractory priests. The idea of drowning priests was not entirely novel; it had already mooted in speech by Louis Legendre in the Jacobins, who suggested loading them onto the maries-salopes of Brest and floating them out to sea. 

Following the Law of 26 August 1792, which ordered the deportation of refractories, Nantes was one of the centres in which they were concentrated for embarkation.  The majority were shipped to Spain under the protection of the revolutionary authorities;  only the old and infirm remained in Nantes.  On 25th October 1793, eighty-six detainees were transferred from the former capuchin convent to the Dutch galliot La Gloire, where they were battened down in the hold and confined in the most abject conditions.  With their allowance of 25 sous per day withdrawn, they were reduced to starvation; soon the majority were more dead than alive. Carrier, however, signalled his desire to be rid of these “foutus calotins” altogether.

A "Dutch galliot", illustration from Lenotre.  
A galliot ("galiote") was a large fishing vessel with a square mainsail and two triangular sails forward.
The galliot was moored opposed the Sécherie, a quai surrounded by private warehouses. Carrier’s lieutenant, Lamberty, secured passage through one of these warehouses in order to transfer the priests to a gabare, a flat-bottomed lighter.  A boatbuilder called Baudet was employed to insert hatches so that it could be easily scuppered, supposedly as part of a barracade to protect the harbour. Carrier himself was absent in Angers from 1st to 5th November but his complicity is confirmed by his allocation of funds for the project.

On Carrier's return, Lamberty received an order to allow him free movement with his “gabareau chargé de brigands”. (This order was to be one of the most damning pieces of evidence at Carrier’s eventual trial).

The drowning was carried out on the night of 16th-17th November.  A gunner called Wailly (or Vailly), on one of the pontoons guarding the  entrance to the Sécherie, testified that he was asked by eight men in a canoe to let pass the lighter which they said had on board ninety “brigands”.  When Wailly refused, the revolutionary Fouquet showed him the order signed by Carrier.  A quarter of an hour later Wailly heard noise and shouts which made him understand what had happened.  

Three survivors of this first drowning -  the rector of Corsept, a priest from the parish of Sainte-Croix in Nantes, and one other another identity is not certain -  were picked up by fisherman, only to be returned by the authorities to the galliot, and to perish in the second noyade.  A fourth, Julien Landeau rector of Saint-Lyphard, managed to remain at liberty and lived to leave an account.  Several bodies were washed ashore at Chantenay and Basse-Indre but were hastily buried.

The Second noyade

Again it was Lamberty who was the prime mover.  Preparations took place in a certain amount of disorder, since certain members of the local armée révolutionnaire, “ les Marats” led by Foucauld, set about robbing the ecclesiastics of their meagre personal possessions.  On the galliot  were fifty-eight priests who had arrived from Angers. Transferred to a specially adapted barge, they were taken far from the port to the entry of the estuary; opposiite the pointe d’Indret. This time there were no survivors.  The sources record unseemly quarrels over the pickings:   Foucauld himself took possession of a pair of shoes that he was still wearing at the time of the trial of the Committee; Lamberty complained vocally to Carrier and was awarded the galliot itself in compensation.

Carrier profited from the occasion of Haxo's victory over Charette to write to Paris that the priests had been engulfed by the “revolutionary torrent” of the Loire.   His letter was greeted with applause in the Convention.


The priest are transferred to the galliot La Gloire

The transfer of the priests took place on October 28th.  From the prison in the former couvent des Petits-Capucins  to the Sechérie the way was not long; the sloping gardens of the convent led down to the quay, and it was easy to avoid exposing the pitiable procession to the sympathy of passers-by…….

A mere perusal of the list of captives will enable one to imagine the descent of this band, lengthened out, according to the strength of each : their shaking heads, grey hairs, bent figures, tottering legs. One was a Capuchin of eighty, Father Kermoran ; another in the same decade. Abbé Lemercier, priest of Guérande; a vicar in Nantes, well known by the whole city, Abbé Fleuriau, seventy-nine years of age; the former rector of Gorges, M. Dugast, had also told seventy-eight years.  Two were helpless: Abbées Briand and Lamarre; while another, Abbé Leroy, though young, hobbled on two crutches. Ninety of them in all, carrying under their arms all they owned in small parcels — supporting, helping each other, urged on by the soldiers, hurried by Commissary Viau, who was in charge of the embarkation. Then the mustering of the miserable band along the quay, its difficult scramble into wherries tossed by the waves, the shocks and buffet ings, the transport in groups towards the galliot, up the sides of which awkward shapes are seen from a distance painfully mounting, to be seized by men at the bulwarks, and disappear at once, swallowed by the 'tween- decks. 

The hatches being reclosed, a guard of soldiers was placed on board the galliot. How did the priests live, packed so closely in this floating prison ? Who fed them ? There are signs to show that daring Nantais managed to slip on board and take them victuals ; it is known that at least one woman came habitually to bring food to one of the captives, and assuredly this was not an isolated instance. But officially no further mention is made of them. ….

The  noyade

On November 16th, when night had fully fallen,[Lamberty]  proceeded to the Sechérie accompanied by [his lieutenant] Fouquet. Some men of the Marat Company escorted him, for they had to beware of the soldiers, and had induced adjutant-general Boivin, commanding the town, to withdraw the guard stationed on board the galliot.  Lamberty posted a sentinel at Dame Pichot's wine-shop to watch the quay, and made off with the rest of his band.  Some moments later the hostess later testified that she saw through the night the barge gliding along the water, a broad and deep coffin, which from their “bachots", the boatmen, were guiding towards the galliot. 

They range alongside, and Fouquet, Lamberty, Foucauld, and the others climb on board. How many of them are there ? Who gave the order ? No one knows. It is impossible to unravel from the abundance of testimony how the perpetrators shared the work between them. No picture that we can form for ourselves could exceed the tragedy of that moment, the attitude of these men coming in cold blood and without instructions to commit the craftiest and most deliberate of murders upon this herd of old men, sick and crippled, whom no tribunal had condemned to death. There must have been a warder on the galliot. What pretext did they use to get him to hand over the prisoners ? No doubt a fictitious order of removal. Who had the effrontery to descend first into the 'tween-decks where the poor wretches lay, or to awake and warn them ? We only know that to avert all resistance, however improbable, they had received beforehand, in view of a fresh transfer, an invitation to place their watches, money, and whatever they valued most in the hands of the commandant. These articles, they were assured, would be given back to them at the manor-house of La Musse, at Chantenay, whither they were to be taken.  Thanks to this warning, when the captives saw Lamberty and his myrmidons appear in the 'tween-decks, they told themselves that their transfer was now going to take place. …

Lamberty brought the captives out of the 'tween-decks, two by two. They were searched/ deprived of everything of any value whatever, then tied one to another, and the couple thus trussed was let down into the barge moored alongside the galliot. Then two more were called. It was done politely, with excuses — “ merely as a precaution," they said, "and in no way to incommode them."  

In the " gabare" they fell placidly into three rows. None of them had an inkling of imminent death. Still, when M. Hervé de la Bauche, vicar of Machecoul, took his place, he drew his neighbour's attention to the fact that the flat white stones lying at the bottom of the lighter in the guise of ballast hid holes by which water entered. Another remarked that, as the craft seemed far from sound, they would do well to absolve each other. All thereupon took to their prayers and blessed each other piously. The moon, now at its full, silvered in the distance the broad face of the  river, which the ebb drew in great gurgling eddies towards the sea. 

The cargo was complete. Lamberty, O'Sullivan, and Fouquet, in order to furnish escort to the barge, ensconced themselves with several " Marats " on a wherry, and at once the moorings were severed. Gauthier and Foucaud remained on board the galliot. The heavy pine hull, carried by the retreating tide, got under weigh with the current, towing the wherry in which stood the drowners ready to direct the final manoeuvre : it was about half after midnight.  They were scarcely a few cables' lengths from the galliot when, as the barge and its pilots were passing the floating battery La Samaritaine, a peremptory challenge rung out on the bright night. It came from the deck of the battery, where sentinels were posted. A voice from the boat sent up the reply, " Commander, we are coming on board! "  

Accordingly, the master-gunner of the pontoon — his name was Vailly — saw coming towards him the boat with eight men on board, among them Fouquet and Lamberty. These two  hoisted themselves on board, and the latter, explaining that he was in charge of a barge full of brigands, asked leave to pass. Vailly replied that, embargo being the order of the day, he could let no vessel pass along the river. Fouquet became angry, threatening to cut the insolent gunner to pieces, and protesting that he and his men were authorised to pass anywhere. But Vailly obstinately demanded that such authorisation should be shown him. Lamberty at length drew from his pocket Carrier's order, and the other, on reading it, insisted no longer.^ He and Fouquet then sprang into their boat and bade the rowers catch up the barge. A moment later Vailly, still on the watch, saw the latter pass slowly in the dim light by his battery.^ No sound proceeded from this great ark, gliding down the meandering stream. Doubtless the bound priests were collecting their thoughts and praying. Borne by the stream, it floated down the river in touch with the executioners' wherry. In a few moments it had passed Trentemoult, which is on the left bank ; had left Chantenay on the right, and entered the vast basin above Chevire Island, where the river, spreading like an inlet, is 1700 feet in breadth. This was the suitable spot. 

Lamberty's men, with heavy blows from mallets, then opened the ports ;  the rushing waters burst in torrents into the barge, while at the same time they began to roar at the bottom, displacing the tufa blocks which served as ballast. From the passengers, as yet silent, a clamour arose. The hapless wretches were heard struggling and calling for help. One of the soldiers that manned the boat, being somewhat of a wag, boarded the barge and crept to the centre. The victims, now on their feet, were jostling each other, the water being already to mid-leg. Eager to add insult to the frightful death-struggle which was beginning, the man pretended to bale the water, using as scoop a chestnut-roaster full of holes. The farce over, he came up and got back to his boat which was already sheering off, so as not to be dragged down in the coming whirl, and the barge, now left to itself, logged by the infiowing waters, went its way in the night down-stream, slowly settling down as it went. She was already out of sight when, in the deep silence, a long-drawn cry arose from the horizon where her black outline was vanishing, an outcry of heartrending anguish, which suddenly died down. All was silent, extinguished, swallowed up.

The deed was done ! A few strokes of the oar brought the boat to the spot where the lighter had sunk. Here and there black forms tossed by the eddies still struggled and strove desperately. The boat gave chase to them; a few blows with boat-hooks or with the sweeps, and in a moment or two all was over. As far as eye could see nought floated on the vast reaches of the river. ... 

The drowning had gone off well, though not perfectly ; for there still remained something more to achieve. Thus he learned that three of the priests, having succeeded in undoing their bonds, had escaped death. One had been saved by a fisherman, while the current had carried the other two to the bank.  All three had been picked up by the men of the Imposant and were on board that ship, lying in Lavigne Harbour. The trouble, to be sure, was of the smallest ; the Revolutionary Committee had only to claim the three priests of Captain Laflerie, in command of the Imposant. A fellow named Racau brought them back to the galliot, and all that was necessary was to throw them back into the water next morning. More by token, Foucaud took advantage of his luck to take possession, before the plunge, of the foot- gear of one of them, and thus became master of a good pair of shoes, in which he paraded, and which long served his turn in wear.

There was another hitch more serious. Whether the ports had been too widely opened, or that, being dashed against some sandbank, the fragile hghter had been damaged, that craft had not, as was desired, retained the corpses, but, borne by the current, they were drifting at the mercy of the waves. A fisherman picked up in the tideway a book, a basket, a small box full of butter, and five hats which " lacked the tricolour cockade." ' A drowned man was found on the sand, near the Basse Indre, and instantly buried.^ Another floated as far as Lavau. At Chantenay, on November 19th, the rising tide left on shore the body of an old man about seventy-five, clad in a Capuchin habit, and six others in knee-breeches, cassocks, and black stockings. The body of a man of eighty was recognised as that of M. Fleuriau, incumbent of St. Jean at Nantes. One whom they did not succeed in identifying had the left hand torn off. The victim, seeking to rid him self of his bonds, had only mutilated himself.
These grim jetsoms were noised abroad, and Nantes was no longer ignorant of the drowning ; but as no man protested, this general silence might be taken as approbation, and from that point of view the success of the experiment was complete. 


G. Lenotre, Tragic episodes of the French Revolution in Brittany (1912)

Jean-Joël Brégeon, Carrier et la Terreur nantaise (2016, first ed. 1987)

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