Abandoned: The incredible tale of a French castaway

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French cabin boy Narcisse Pelletier was shipwrecked, left to die, rescued and adopted by an Aboriginal family, and then ‘rescued’ again by European sailors seventeen years later.

ITM435752: Photographic material – Historical – Personalities, Dept no A209

Pelletier was born in Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, France, in 1844 and embarked from Marseilles aboard the Saint Paul as a cabin boy in 1857. The ship made for Bombay (now Mumbai) and then Hong Kong, where it picked up just over 300 Chinese labourers heading to the gold fields of Australia. In September 1858, the Saint Paul struck a reef in the Louisiade Archipelago near New Guinea and was wrecked. Captain Emmanuel Pinard, the crew and emigrants managed to reach an island near Rossel Island using smaller boats. Five of the crew decided to abandon the Chinese workers. Pelletier overheard the scheme and followed the sailors to the boat. They set out for the mainland and twelve days later landed somewhere near Cape Direction on the Cape York Peninsula. Pelletier was ill by that time and when he got out of the boat to lie under a tree the crew deserted him.

Left for dead, Pelletier existed on the fruit and berries he found nearby. Three days later, a small group of Aboriginal men and women discovered him and fed him coconuts. They took him to their people: a family of Uutaalnganu speakers, the Sandbeach People. Renamed ‘Anco’ or ‘Amglo’, Pelletier was initiated into their traditional lifestyle and marked with scars over his chest.

In 1875, Captain Joseph Frazer of the brig John Bell discovered Pelletier living among the Aboriginal people of the north-east coast near Cape Sidmouth and negotiated for him to return with them to Somerset. Narcisse Pelletier stated that ‘the sailors laboured under a misconception, and that neither did the natives wish him to go, nor did he himself wish to leave.’

ITM313071: Letterbook – Somerset settlement: Extract from report regarding the ‘rescue’ of Narcisse Pelletier; 11 May 1875

Pelletier eventually returned to his hometown in France, arriving in 1876, almost twenty years after he had left as a young boy. Pelletier was offered employment in a travelling show as the ‘huge Anglo-Australian Giant,’ but turned it down to instead become a lighthouse keeper in Western France. In 1880, he married seamstress Louise Désirée Mabileau with whom he lived childless until his death on 28 September 1894.

ITM435752: Photographic material – Historical – Personalities, Dept no 562 

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11 Responses

  1. Liam Ó Maonlaí

    It would be a good idea to make contact with the macadama people . They would have stories about him too I have no doubt . An Oral tradition going back over 40,000 years

      1. Re the Chinese labourers – most of them were killed and eaten by the locals – a particularly king was in power. See Stephanie Alexander’s excellent book Pelletier for a complete historical recount.

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