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The Settlement of Île Bourbon (Réunion)

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This page covers the early settlers of Île Bourbon whose descendants formed a major part of the populations of Réunion and Seychelles. It starts with some background on the French East India Company and its predecessors, the efforts to establish a foothold on Madagascar, and the decision to send a group of settlers to Île Bourbon. The next section covers those men who sailed from France, the Malagasy women who joined them, and the remnants of the population of Fort Dauphin who were relocated to Île Bourbon.


WikiPedia has a good high level article on the Compagnie française pour le commerce des Indes orientales (French East India Company), hereinafter the Company.

Fort Dauphin

In 1642 a forerunner to the Company made its first attempt to establish a settlement on Madagascar at Manafiafy but, after 14 of the original 40 settlers died within the first few months, the decision was made to move the settlement to a promontory overlooking Tolanaro bay. At this stage the settler population was 94. There they built a fort, which they called Fort Dauphin in honour of the future Louis XIV. This was in an area called Anosy, populated by an ethnic Malagasy group called the Antanosy. Although the Fort Commander married the niece of the local Antanosy king or chief, relations between the settlers and the Antanosy quickly deteriorated.

A number of the settlers rebelled against the Commander and twelve of them were sent to Île Bourbon in 1646. The men found shelter in a cave near to what became the initial settlement site. They were brought back to Fort Dauphin in 1649, but they had travelled through much of the island and provided a lot of information for the subsequent settlers.

The descriptions of Île Bourbon given by these men was in stark contrast to the conditions experienced by those at Fort Dauphin, and a number of the settlers there requested permission to move to Île Bourbon. One group of seven French and six Negroes, led by Antoine Couillard dit Taureau, went there in September 1654 with the intention of growing tobacco. They were abandoned there until June 1658 when they were tricked into leaving by a buccaneer named Gosselin.

The next attempt was by a man named Louis Payen, from Vitry-le-François, who was very keen to get away from Fort Dauphin. He went to Île Bourbon in 1662 with another Frenchman, seven black men and three black women. These were reportedly the first women on the island. This group settled at the place that had already been given the name Saint-Paul. The black part of the group went to the hills soon after arriving, they became a founding portion of the coloured part of the population. Louis and his companion remained by the coast.

In 1670 a ship arrived at Fort Dauphin and among the passengers were (from Guët):

Antoine Cadet, de la Brie; Louis Caron, de Canday, en Bretagne; Guy Royer, de Paris ; Jacques Lauret, dit Saint-Honoré, de Nevers; Julien Dailleau, de Sablé, en Maine.

These names will appear again.

"France, according to our calculations (Vincentians), sent to the island about 4,000 men, soldiers or settlers; two-thirds died of disease, starvation and wars, the other third has returned to France or provided the nucleus of the colony of Bourbon, daughter of one of Madagascar. "

Catholic missionaries

The earliest presence of the Catholic Church on Madagascar was in the early 16C associated with Portuguese settlers. The first missionaries relevant to this profile were sent to Fort Dauphin by St. Vincent de Paul in 1648. They were both dead within two years. Of the missionaries that followed, some died before arriving at Fort Dauphin, most of the others died there. When the French withdrew from Fort Dauphin only two of the thirty seven missionaries were still alive. During this time they had baptised hundreds of Antanosy, some of whom were the women who married French settlers on Île Bourbon:

Thérèse Heros
Marie Anne Sanne
Louise Siarane


The original intent of the Company in sending settlers to Île Bourbon seems to have been the establishment of a infirmary to support Fort Dauphin. To this end, in March 1665 Etienne Regnault and about twenty men boarded the ship Taureau in Brest, part of a fleet of four ships bound for the East Indies. This ship was the first one of the fleet to arrive at Saint-Paul; the date was 9 July 1665, regarded as the start of French colonization of the island. When they landed they found Louis Payen and his companion; Payen later returned to France, the name of his comrade is lost to history. Regnault and his men had four weeks to establish themselves before the Taureau, and the other two ships that had arrived, left for Fort Dauphin on 6 August.

Lacaze (1880) provides a list of the men from the Taureau: "François Riquebourg, Pierre Hibon, Fontaine, Macé, Baillif, Leger, Payet, Robert, Gruchet, Mancel, Cadet, Techer, Mottet, Aubert, Dennemont, Michel Esparon, Belon, Mussard Hoarau, Nativel, Launay, Touchard". Variations of this list appear in different sources, and it seems likely that some of them were later arrivals. There are records for men with some of the same family names arriving within thirty or forty years[1]. A more contemporary list was given by Père Barassin, one of the first Catholic priests to visit the island:

René Hoareau natif de Boulogne-sur-mer.
Jacques Fontaine natif de Paris.
François Vallée natif de Normandie.
Pierre Hibon natif de Calais.
François Mussard natif d'Argenteuil.
Athanase Touchard natif d'Issy.
Pierre Mollet natif de Paris.
Picard natif de Paris.
François Ricquebourg natif d'Amiens.
Pierre Colin natif de Nîmes.
Jean Bellon natif de Lyon.
Gilles Launay natif d'Urville (Manche).
Hervé Dennemont (ou Danemont).

Their number was increased by groups sent from Fort Dauphin for recuperation. Guët states that there were five young French women included in this number, and that from 1667 and 1671 these were the only ones on the island. He gives the following (paraphrased) details:

Antoinette Renaud, a native of Lyon aged twenty-four, married Jean Bellon, who had a son and six daughters. The eldest of these daughters married François Ricquebourg, whose numerous descendants spread in all districts of Bourbon. The youngest married Jean Gruchet, of Lisieux.
Marie Baudry, a native of Calais, married René Hoareau.
Marguerite Compiègne, a native of Picardy aged fifteen years, old joined forces with François Mussard.
Jeanne Lacroix, from Boulogne-sur-Mer aged fifteen years old, married first Henry Mollet, and second Pierre Hibon. These two marriages produced many children.
Finally, Mlle N ... (her name did not stay) married Hervé Danemont said in the oldest census of Île Bourbon as "married to a woman in France". She gave him, in 1668, the first child whose age is recorded in a census. Other sources give her name as Léonarde Pillé.

The population of the island was, therefore, largely male. In 1673 a group of fifteen orphan girls boarded the ship Dunkerquoise at La Rochelle bound for Île Bourbon. After a ten month voyage the ship arrived at Fort Dauphin on 14 January 1674. The population of Fort Dauphin at that time was 127, many times that number had died or fled since the settlement was established. They departed for Île Bourbon on 6 March, along with two priests also bound for the island. However, the ship was caught in the storm the next day and was wrecked. All the passengers and crew survived, but they were now stuck at Fort Dauphin. Guët says that three of the girls died in June. The gender mismatch there was not that much better than at Île Bourbon and, in spite of the efforts of those in charge of the expedition, six of the young women quickly married.

By this time the relations between the inhabitants of Fort Dauphin and the local Antanosy, who were led by Dian Manangue, were deteriorating. Letters written by the Catholic missionaries describe how the settlement produced very little of value, which was its reason for being, and was always short of food and water. The settlers were reduced to looting the countryside around the Fort, often killing the locals in the process. It is no wonder that the Antanosy harboured resentment. Dian Manangue, though, played a very clever game. He made an appearance of supporting the French, even helping them against common enemies, but prepared to strike against them. The marriage of the six young women apparently caused the French to drop their guard and Dian Manangue attacked on 27 August 1674, reportedly with 2000 men. Although French accounts refer to it as a massacre, it seems unlikely that that was the intention; with the numerical superiority that they had the Malagasy could have completely wiped out the remaining French population. As it was, quite a number survived. Guët asserts that the trigger for the attack was the marriages and the jealousy it aroused in the Malagasy women who had been married to the men concerned. He also states that seventy five of the French were killed.

These survivors were evacuated by the ship Blanc-Pignon on 9 September 1674 and eventually arrived in Mozambique. It took a long journey before two of the orphans and a number of the other colonists finally arrived on Île Bourbon in 1676. One of the women was Françoise Châtelain, who had married Jacques Lièvre at Fort Dauphin (he died in the attack and she married Michel Esparon), and the other was Nicole Coulon, who had married Pierre Martin (in the census of 1711 he is described as "un Bordelais, de soixante-seize ans"). They were the sixth and seventh French women to arrive. Some of the other orphans also escaped Fort Dauphin, but probably remained in Mozambique.

Guēt tells that of the sixty three survivors who boarded the Blanc-Pignon, thirty eight died before the ship arrived in Mozambique. Instead of making for Île Bourbon, which would have been only a few days sailing, the captain chose to steer for the African coast but the ship became becalmed for long periods. Of the remaining twenty five, two groups made their way to the island by different routes. The group that arrived on the Saint-Robert included Père Bernardin, who became a major figure in the history of Île Bourbon. The others who arrived were (according to Guët):

Pierre Nativel, his wife and a daughter
Antoine Payet and his wife (unlikely as Antoine married the widow of Etienne Grondon)
François River
Lezin Rouillard
Jacques Maillot
Etienne (Guët has his name as François) Grondin, his wife and son
Noël Tessier
Georges Damour
Samson Lebeau
Jean Jullien and his wife
François Duhamel
Jean Perrot
Guillaume Boyer

The French also suffered setbacks in their attempts to establish colonies in India, and a number of those settlers ended up on Île Bourbon.

Around this time a series of misfortunes afflicted the island. The "blacks", presumably Malagasies, having heard of the attack on Fort Dauphin were inspired to repeat the event. They killed two Frenchmen but their plot was discovered and the leaders executed. Many of the rest fled to the mountains. Rat numbers multiplied and they destroyed the plantations and food crops. The settlers were also victim to predatory ship commanders. In November 1678 the colony governor sent a letter to France asking for assistance, to which a group of the settlers added their own letter. The signatories of that letter were: Pierre Hibon, François Mussard, Jacques Fontaine, Pierre Collin, Claude du Chauffour, François Ricquebourg, Gilles Launay, René Houareau, Nicolas Prou. Hervé Danemont, Guillaume Girard, Jean Bellon, Pierre Nativel, Jacques-George Rolland, François Penhoët, George Pioleau, Jean Présien, François Vallée, Robert Vigoureux.

In January 1680 the governor died and, in the absence of any chain of command, the settlers asked Père Bernardin to lead them. In the six years and eleven months that he governed only three ships came to the island. When the third ship came in October 1686, Père Bernardin wanted to go to France to plead for assistance for the colony, but he needed someone to take his place a governor. The ship's captain suggested one of his passengers - Jean-Baptiste Drouillard. Although his intention was to return permanently to France, he agreed to take on the position. The settlers voted to accept him in November that year.

In his memoirs Père Bernardin gives a breakdown of the population at the time he left:

French of which there are ten families which, with their children, amount to fifty-three
French and Portuguese Indies there are twelve families, totaling sixty-four people
French and Malagasy women, fourteen families making seventy-eight people
Negroes and negresses of Madagascar, 5 families, for 40 people
Two Dutch, one of whom had married a French Creole, and the other a black woman Creole
Sixteen black Madagascar
Twelve Indian black (these were prisoners of war who had been left on the island years before and never been able to leave)

This is a total of 209 persons.

Drouillard fell out with the settlers (details will be added later but the general sense seems to be that he was trying to impose some order and they were unwilling to accept that).

The Father, though ill and although weakened, did not hesitate to return to Mascareigne and chooses companions Father Hyacinthe, of Quimper, which we will talk extensively, and brother Anthony, of Lannion, much more modest in all reports. This was the 20 March 1689 took place the signature of the king's orders for this. The first named Sieur Vauboulon governor of Bourbon; the second instituted the chief judge of the island; the third gave him detailed instructions for completing employment; the fourth, Drouillard was asked to hand over the command to Vauboulon. The fifth order finally contained a gracious letter from the king to the people of Bourbon.

Le directoire de Saint-Paul

Athanase Touchard, born in 1642 in Issy near Paris and arrived on the island with the group of Étienne Regnault in 1665. He married in 1676 to Elizabeth Hanno widow of Henry Mangrolles, who gave him eleven children. Upon his arrival in Bourbon, he obtained a concession to the Mountain, then another in Pond in 1690. He is a farmer, prior of the Carmelite congregation, founded in 1688, President and CEO of St. Paul.
René Hoareau, born in 1640 in Boulogne and arrived on the island with the group Étienne Regnault in 1665. He married about 1669 a little in Calais Marie Baude.
François Mussard, born in 1642, native Valdoisien Argenteuil and arrived on the island with the group Étienne Regnault in 1665. He married in Fort Dauphin in Madagascar in November 1666 a young girl from the Pas de Calais, Marguerite Compiègne. it is a master carpenter.
Antoine Payet, "La Roche", born in 1640 in Saint-Prim in Dauphiné. Served as a soldier in Madagascar and arrived in the island on November 19, 1674. He married about 1677 in Bourbon Louise Siarane.
Lezin Rouillard, born in Maurille.
Louis Caron said "The Pie", Bas Breton Caudan and former Madagascar.


  1. At this stage the suspect names are Macé, Baillif, Leger, Gruchet, Mancel, Techer, Mottet, Aubert
Souchu de Rennefort, Urbain, Histoire des Indes orientales, Paris, 1688
Guët, Isidore, Les origines de l'île Bourbon et de la colonisation française à Madagascar. D'après des documents inédits tirés des archives coloniales du Ministère de la marine et des colonies, etc, Paris, 1888
Lacaze, Honoré, L'île Bourbon, l'Île de France--Madagascar: recherches historiques, Paris, 1880
Ricquebourg, Camille, Dictionnaire généalogique des familles de l'Île Bourbon (1665 - 1810)

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