14 July 2014

The character of Auguste Naudin

I have written about Auguste Naudin (Augustus Theophile Naudin) before - he was the first husband of my 2x great grandmother Frances Turnbull. However I've been doing some more digging on him, and have uncovered a new source of information on him - the notes from a voyage of the Allier, a French steam ship taking troops from France to New Caledonia in 1878-9. After stopping in at Java along the way, people aboard the ship started coming down with some kind of illness (malaria/typhoid/smallpox) with 21 deaths occurring before they reached Cooktown, Queensland on 9 Feb 1879. The captain of the ship begged to be allowed to stop in at Cooktown, so they were allowed to stay on the north shore where there had previously been a quarantine station. The ship stayed there for several weeks until the quarantine was lifted and they were able to continue on to New Caledonia.

Notes on the voyage written by C. Milleret, entitled "Une Épidémie a Bord" were published in La Revue Hebdomadaire in June 1895.
"Vendredi 14 fevrier. En même temps que les provisions est arrivé à bord un particulier mal vêtu, autorisé, comme représentant de la municipalité cooktownaise, à s'installer chez nous en qualité de "surveillant". C'est un Français nommé Naudin. Ses fonctions sont d'une utilité contestable. Je ne nous vois pas essayant de forcer l'entrée de la rivière ou allant nous promener à terre incognito. Il y a un dessous, Naudin est un pauvre diable venu en Australie pour y chercher fortune. Après avoir tenté d'infructueuses expéditions en Nouvelle-Guinée, essayé plusieurs métiers confinant, je le crains, à la traite ou à la piraterie, il s'est échoué à Cooktown où il meurt de faim, peu s'en faut. Pour lui trouver une occupation, en même temps qu'un salaire lucratif et ne coûtant rien à la bourse des contribuables australiens, on n'a rien imaginé de mieux que cette place de surveillant dont les émoluments demeurent, comme de juste, à la charge des surveillés. Tout le temps de la quarantaine, Naudin sera nourri à la table du carré et recevra, au compte du gouvernement français, une demi-livre ou 12 fr. 50 par jour." pp.101-2.
Roughly translated (and no, I don't speak French, so its quite rough and possibly inaccurate - I welcome suggestions) this says that Naudin arrived, badly dressed, with provisions, as the authorised supervisor of the quarantine. They weren't at all sure that he'd be of much use to them - "of questionable usefulness". He was a Frenchman, who came to Australia to seek his fortune, and after trying some unsuccessful expeditions to New Guinea, where he tried several jobs, bordering - they feared - on trafficking and piracy, at which he failed, he returned to Cooktown, nearly dead from hunger. So that he wasn't employed at the expense of Australian taxpayers they gave him this job of supervisor of the quarantined, fed and paid for by the French government, at a half a pound or 12 francs 50 per day. Much of the narration doesn't mention Naudin, but the entry on Monday March 10th was a gem:
"Ce Naudin est un vrai type. Sur ses nouveaux appointements, il s'est fait envoyer toute une garde-robe. Ce n'est pas trop tôt. Il a usé toutes nos vieilles culottes. Si le quart de ce qu'il nous raconte est vrai, ses mémoires auraient du succès. Quelle mine pour Boussenard ou Jules Verne!" p.239.
The rough translation: "This Naudin's a real dude. On his new salary, he is getting an entire new wardrobe - not before time though - he's used all our old pants. If a quarter of what he says is true, his memoirs would be very successful. What a wealth of material for someone like Boussenard or Jules Verne!" And, at the end of the period of quarantine on March 18:
"La garde de police qui surveillait le camp est levée... Naudin aussi est licencié, "pour cause de suppression d'emploi". Sans rancune, nous lui offrons de conserver son couvert au carré jusqu'au départ définitif; avec empressement il accepte." p.240.
Translation: The police who guarded the camp have finished up. Naudin was also dismissed because of job cuts. There were no hard feelings, they offered to pay him until they departed, and he eagerly accepted.

Perhaps its a little harsh but Naudin comes across as a badly dressed fast-talker, full of stories, always out to make a buck. It's worth noting that he had previously been married, in NSW, to Charlotte McMunn, and left her with their three young children, to follow the gold rush to Queensland. He never returned, never divorced Charlotte, and then married his second wife Bridget Murry (also known as Frances) on 14 February 1877, with their first child born in December that year. Which means that it is quite likely Naudin was off galavanting around New Guinea looking to make his fortune while his poor wives were at home with their children, waiting for him. And again, while he was off supervising the quarantined Allier at the expense of the French government. Of course, it must be said that this was probably the norm for the time. I get the impression he was looking for adventure and didn't like being tied down to one place or family for too long. So that's a little bit more about Augustus Theophile Naudin and his character. 


  1. What a great story Prue. Such a fantastic discovery. He may well have been trafficking as we were told in Milne Bay that the guide's family had done that our of Cooktown.

    1. I forgot you had PNG links Pauleen! Yes, he sounds like he was on the dodgy side!