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Auguste Bernard Duhaut-Cilly (1790-1849)

DUHAUT-CILLY, Auguste Bernard (1790-1849), early French explorer born in St Malo, France on March 26, 1790. As commander of the French ship, Le Heros, Duhaut-Cilly sailed from Le Havre to establish trade with the Canary Islands and California. He stopped in several California ports during 1827-28. The sketches of his California visit were reproduced in his book, Voyage Autour du Monde (Paris, 1834). After this trip he settled in St Séverin, France and served as the town mayor until his death of cholera on Oct. 26, 1849.

In April 1826 Duhaut-Cilly left France with a shipload of merchandise that his backers expected him to trade for furs on the Pacific coast of North America. Following a well-established route, he was to carry these American furs to China, where they would sell at a substantial profit, and then return to France. Unfortunately, the trade goods chosen in France did not much interest the Indians or the Spaniards of California. Duhaut-Cilly reached San Francisco at the start of 1827 and spent almost two years trying to unload his merchandise. By the end of 1828 he had tried ports from San Francisco to Peru, with two side trips to Hawaii. He finally reached China in December 1828, disposed of such cargo as he’d been able to assemble, rounded the Horn of Africa, and arrived back in France on July 19, 1829.

While Duhaut-Cilly lingered in California he wrote down enough observations of Spanish and Indian life to fill more than five hundred pages. The Franciscan mission system was at its height and Duhaut-Cilly, as a fellow Catholic, was allowed to see places and inquire about topics that would have been off-limits to an Englishman like Vancouver, a Russian like Rezanov or an American like Wilkes.

After his return, Duhaut-Cilly published his Voyage autour du Monde. principalement à la Californie et aux Iles Sandwich, pendant les années 1826, 1827, 1828, et 1829 (Paris, 1834-1835), much of it written on board ship while the events were unfolding. That French edition is so rare that only about a dozen copies are thought to have survived, and Duhaut-Cilly became better known through an 1841 Italian edition. His account of California in 1827 and 1828 is 108 pages.

Duhaut-Cilly's Account of California in the Years 1827-1828:

“...The 28th, we saw at the same time the islands forming the channel, called Santa Barbara, and Point Concepcion. This point, beyond which the coast takes an easterly direction, is very remarkable from its form. Appearing like a wedge, it rises from the sea; then falling toward the interior, after describing a long trail, it ascends again gently to the tops of the mountains. As soon as we had passed this cape, the sea, before very much disquieted, became fair and smooth; but the breeze was light, and we advanced but slowly, having on our right the islands of San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz.... (p. 156)

...Opposite this place, four leagues away, appears the lofty and quite large island of Santa Cruz, and to the left of this, the Anacapa (Indian name) group, composed of four small islands... (p. 157)

...We steered our way so as to pass between Anacapa Islands and Point Conversion, which forms the eastern end of the Santa Barbara Channel. Before reaching this point, we passed in front of Mission San Buenaventura. This establishment is a poor one, and the anchorage there is bad; so we did not stop. Before Point Conversion the mountains retire toward the interior, and all the land bordering the coast is low: the water's edge is sown with rocks, making dangerous a near approach to it; it is well to give it a wide berth, especially during the night.

The bay at San Pedro, whose opening is turned towards the south, forms three sides of a square, and is sheltered, to the west by Point Vicente. About six leagues opposite is Santa Catalina Island. On the morning of the 9th we caught sight of Point San Vicente which, coming from the west, may be taken for an island of moderate elevation, until, on nearing it, the low lands joining it to the mountains of the interior are revealed: we coasted along it a half-mile away, and we cast anchor in seven fathoms, sandy bottom... (p. 165-165)

... Scarcely were we out of the roads when the wind became violent; but we were no longer uneasy, and we passed through the little hurricane quietly between San Pedro and Santa Catalina Island... (p. 250)