Story: Langlois, Jean François

Page 1: Biography

Langlois, Jean François

1808–?

Whaler, coloniser

This biography, written by Peter B. Maling, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.

Jean François Langlois was born on 26 June 1808 in La Luzerne, near St Lô, Manche, France, the son of Jean François Langlois and his wife, Anne Mauroird (also spelt Maurouard). In his teens Langlois registered as a sailor in the port of Cherbourg. From 1826 he served on whaling ships out of Le Havre, becoming a captain in 1833. On 4 July 1833 at Le Havre he married Zélie Alphonsine Mélanie Sebire. In 1837 he was captain of the Cachalot.

From May until August 1838 the Cachalot was whaling off the coast of Banks Peninsula, New Zealand, using Port Cooper (Lyttelton Harbour) as base. Langlois conceived the idea of setting up a French commercial settlement on the peninsula, with whaling its principal activity, to establish French authority and counter the British domination of the North Island. In August 1838 he persuaded a number of local Maori to sell him most of Banks Peninsula for the sum of 1,000 francs. A down payment of articles of clothing and a pistol was made, the balance to follow on occupation.

In May 1839 Langlois returned to France and began to form a company to exploit his land purchase, and to interest the French government in his grand scheme. In July 1839 he was in touch with the Duke of Decazes, an industrialist and former statesman, who began to recruit investors. The Marquis de las Marismas del Guadalquivir Aguado, an influential financier, became interested and introduced Langlois to members of the government and to Admiral V.-G. Duperré, the minister of marine and colonies. However, the marquis withdrew his support when Langlois insisted on retaining a large share of the land for himself. Captain Cécille of the Héroïne, a French naval frigate which had been in Banks Peninsula harbours in 1839, was one of Langlois's supporters.

In October 1839 Langlois informed the government that he had found a group of capitalists in Le Havre willing to provide financial backing for his project. In November in Bordeaux he finalised plans with Decazes, who had persuaded businessmen from Nantes and Bordeaux to put up capital for the formation of 'la Compagnie Nanto-Bordelaise'. The company's objects were to buy land in New Zealand and its dependencies, and to send out colonists to New Zealand in a vessel which would then engage in whaling under Langlois's command. The government agreed to supply a vessel for use as an emigrant ship, and to send a warship in advance for the settlers' protection.

Langlois went to Rochefort, where the Mahé was selected as his ship and renamed the Comte-de-Paris. By January 1840, 53 French and German emigrants, including 12 children, had been recruited. They set sail from Rochefort on 20 March 1840, a month after the naval corvette L'Aube, under Captain C. F. Lavaud, had sailed from Brest. Langlois's brother Aimable travelled on L'Aube.

By the time Lavaud reached the Bay of Islands, in July 1840, Lieutenant Governor William Hobson had annexed the whole of the South Island for Britain. This changed the entire complexion of the French undertaking. Hobson dispatched two magistrates to Akaroa on the Britomart, and Lavaud followed in L'Aube on 27 July. The Comte-de-Paris reached Pigeon Bay, Banks Peninsula, on the evening of 9 August 1840. On 14 August Langlois held a meeting of local Maori at Pigeon Bay, where his original deed of purchase was ratified by Iwikau of Akaroa, and some goods distributed in payment. From whalers Langlois sought news of L'Aube, which he had expected to precede him. On 15 August he learned that L'Aube had arrived at Akaroa. The Comte-de-Paris arrived there on 17 August and the migrants were landed at Paka-ariki Bay two days later.

Before leaving France Langlois had been informed by the Nanto-Bordelaise Company that P.-J. de Belligny had been made the company's agent in New Zealand. There was friction between Belligny and Langlois and in October Lavaud reported to his superiors in France that Langlois's jealousy of Belligny was disruptive. The colonists had other views, but at a meeting to declare their support for Langlois their leader was put under arrest by Lavaud. Feelings ran high in the small settlement. Lavaud's strict naval discipline and refusal to negotiate led to clashes with Langlois, who was determined to stand up for himself.

From December 1840 to April 1841 Langlois was whaling in the Comte-de-Paris. On his return to Akaroa he was eager to land his crew, some of whom were suffering severely from scurvy. The sailors' behaviour on shore, and their refusal to submit to his restrictions on their leave and the consumption of liquor, caused Lavaud to arrest a number and order them back on board promptly. Langlois's defiant response provoked Lavaud into confining him to the ship as well, and reporting that he considered Langlois should be severely punished on his return to France.

In May 1841, having eventually apologised to Lavaud, Langlois was again free to go whaling in the Comte-de-Paris. He took his brother Aimable with him. They travelled as far as Tonga, and returned to Akaroa late in February 1842. Langlois returned to France in the Comte-de-Paris. By the end of October 1842 he was back in Bordeaux. The quantities of whale oil and bone he brought back were insufficient to be profitable.

Although it was obvious that the Nanto-Bordelaise Company could not establish French sovereignty in the South Island, Langlois persisted in his attempts to fulfil his dream. In 1844 he still considered Banks Peninsula to be French sovereign territory, and in 1848 he called on the French government to assert its authority. He suggested the peninsula as the site of a convict settlement. He offered to cede his personal land rights to the nation, but no legal transfer followed this patriotic gesture. In 1849, after protracted negotiations, complicated by Langlois's cupidity and obstinacy, the Nanto-Bordelaise Company was liquidated and its assets sold to the New Zealand Company.

Langlois did not return to New Zealand. In 1847 he tried without success to create a whaling company with 15 ships and a capital of five million francs. In 1851 he became manager of a maritime company which intended to fit out 50 ships for cod and whale fishing, but does not appear to have actually undertaken any whaling. By 1857 he had retired to Paris. Details of his later life are unknown.

How to cite this page:

Peter B. Maling. 'Langlois, Jean François', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1l2/langlois-jean-francois (accessed 22 November 2017)