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Author Topic: A Snippet of Australian Black Powder History: How Claude Lost His Pistol  (Read 1337 times)

Offline Benny Nganabbarru

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  • Location: Australia
Hi All,

I grew-up on a farm west of Esperance in Western Australia. One of my brothers is interested in local history, and has done quite a bit of research. I asked him to refresh my memory about the story of how a lost Frenchman from long-ago lost his pistol in the bush. I've got no idea what kind of pistol it was, but I'd guess it was a flintlock. Anyway, my brother can write the story better than I can. It's just a little story barely featuring a flintlock and some (not enough) black powder from a long time back. I hope you find it interesting.



Offline Benny Nganabbarru

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Re: A Snippet of Australian Black Powder History: How Claude Lost His Pistol
« Reply #1 on: November 22, 2016, 05:08:49 AM »
Bonjour le ____!
Righty oh… The year was 1788, and after a quick ‘Bonjour’ to Sydney’s Botany Bay, two French frigates (a fun word to say, if not somewhat naughty!), the Astrolabe and the Boussole, had disappeared without a trace – no ships, no crew; gone.
The French aristocracy eventually put their monocles in and checked their collective gold and diamond encrusted pocket watches, and discovered, to their amazement, “Sacré bleu! It’s 1791, and well past the curfew of the Astrolabe and the Boussole!”
Thus, thereby and therefore, on September 29 that year, two more French frigates (chortle), the Recherche and the Esperance, buggered off from the land of the fried-frog-leg to look for their lost hombres.
A tickle over a year later, on December 9, 1792, the Recherche and the Esperance found themselves in a beauty of a storm off the south coast of WA, and a little Frenchman up the mast, a chap named Le Grand, said “FOR THE LOVE OF FRENCH-FRIED-FROG-LEGS SKIPPER, GET IN BEHIND THAT ISLAND!!”
The commander listened, and the ships were saved in the area between Observatory Island (the lookout on the tourist loop just past Twilight Beach as you head out) and the mainland. Thus the French named Esperance Bay, the Recherche Archipelago and Cape Le Grand, among many other bits of the local scenery…
During the storm, the Esperance in particular had sustained a few bruises, and the commanders, Antoine Raymond Joseph de Bruni d'Entrecasteaux and Jean-Michel Huon de Kermadec, decided to pull up for a few days to tend to their vessels lest they end up on the bottom of the ocean themselves.
Now it happened that aboard the Esperance was a ‘naturalist’ named Claude Riche, and such was his excitement at the prospect of exploring the mainland that he had to cross his legs whilst seated. On December 14, like a little school girl, he had run off into the scrub with such glee that he managed to lose all sense of time, as well as his bearings.
By nightfall, old Claude hadn’t returned, and having seen a few of the locals, those on the ships feared the worst, knowing the natives were restless… Claude, meanwhile, had seen water and, believing it to be the sea, soon found himself on the banks of a strange looking pink lake – the very same Pink Lake. Being clueless and having no idea where the coast was (it’s the wet bit to the south), he managed to find a fresh water spring and camped there for the night.
Eventually a recue party managed to find shoe prints near this ‘Pink Lake’, and then some of old mate Claude’s notes, his hanky, and one of his “pocket pistols”, but alas, no Claude. Seeing “…the marks of naked feet” trailing Claude’s, they all feared that “…he had been dragged by the savages into the interior country.”
Mere moments before the big boss-men planned to abandon Claude and continue on their journey, the prodigal naturalist stumbled upon the beach after more than fifty-four hours lost ashore in a state so weak that he could hardly speak. Being an oddball, Claude had studied the native leavings to learn about their diets, discovering that they mainly consisted of ‘pips and grains’. Eventually he managed to find some natives and tried to approach them, but they always fled, behaviour that somehow led him to conclude that they were neither ‘skilled fishermen nor hunters’. Although armed, Claude recorded that his “…only weapons were my geologist’s hammer and a loaded pistol without powder or spare bullet for a second shot.” Nowhere does it say why he dumped his pistol specifically, however Claude does record that he dropped everything unnecessary as his condition had worsened during the Esperance summer. My best guess is that at some point he let off his only shot as an unsuccessful distress signal, otherwise the purpose of the shot would have been mentioned or he would have kept the loaded pistol.
Anyhow, thus the Recherche and the Esperance continued on their merry way! As a side note, the fate of the Astrolabe and the Boussole is a fascinating one, and the story remained unknown until fairly recently. It turns out that they’d wrecked in the Solomon Islands, and then a great majority of the crew was massacred by the locals, to the point where there were no survivors.