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Marquis de Rays (1832–1893)

by Hugh Laracy

This article was published:

Marquis de Rays (1832-1893), speculator and romantic, was born on 2 January 1832 at the family château at Quimerc'h in Finistère, France, and baptized Charles Marie Bonaventure, son of Charles du Breil, nobleman, and his wife Marie, née Prevost. Inheriting his father's title in 1838, de Rays developed an inordinate taste for the grandiose. In his youth he sought, but failed to find fortune and greatness in the United States, Senegal, Madagascar and Indo-China, and returned to his estates in Brittany. On 22 September 1869 he married Emilie Labat, by whom he had five children, including at least one son, Eugène Paul Emile.

The sad state of France after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and the journals of some navigators stirred de Rays to return to youthful goals and to attempt to restore the ancient glory of France and of the Catholic Church. He sought a personal empire in the Pacific. In 1877 he declared himself 'King Charles of New France', an area that extended from eastern New Guinea to the Solomon Islands, unclaimed by European powers. With newspaper advertisements, posters, meetings and in his own journal, Nouvelle France, he expounded his plans for colonizing his allegedly fertile and healthy domain and for converting its inhabitants. On the basis of R. P. Lesson's account in Voyage Autour du Monde … (Paris, 1839) of Duperrey's 1823 visit to southern New Ireland, he planned to begin by founding the Colonie Libre de Port Breton at Port Praslin. Governments denounced his scheme; but the promise of cheap land, cheap labour and an assured market for tropical produce, and the offer of a new life with houses, schools, roads, factories, a hospital and even a cathedral, appealed to credulous people in Europe.

In 1880 and 1881 de Rays's ships the Chandernagore, Gentil, India and Nouvelle Bretagne brought about 570 colonists to Port Breton, mostly French, German and Italian. Supplies were inadequate, malaria was rife, the death rate was high. Most of the colonists soon fled to Australia, New Caledonia and the Philippines. De Rays did not go to Port Breton and was arrested in Spain in July 1882; extradited, he was sentenced by a French court to six years for criminal negligence. After several other dubious ventures, he died near Rosporden, France, on 29 July 1893.

'New France' contributed to Australian sensitivity to the dangers of a northern threat, culminating in the declaration of the British New Guinea Protectorate in 1884: the 240 Italian colonists, most of whom eventually settled at New Italy on the Richmond River in New South Wales, were rumoured to be part of an expeditionary force to New Guinea under Menotti Garibaldi. The scheme also brought the Catholic Church back to New Guinea from which it had withdrawn in 1855. Two chaplains had accompanied the settlers and in 1881 the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart took over the vacant vicariates of Melanesia and Micronesia. The successful traders, Thomas Farrell and 'Queen' Emma Coe, got from the colony much of their initial equipment. A millstone in Rabaul remains a memorial to 'New France'.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Baudouin, L'aventure de Port-Breton et la Colonie Libre dite Nouvelle-France (Paris, 1883)
  • M. H. Vermont, Le Procès de Marquis de Rays (Marseille, 1884)
  • J. Lucas-Dubreton, L'Eden du Pacifique (Paris, 1929)
  • A. Dupeyrat, Papouasie: Histoire de la Mission, 1885-1935 (Paris, 1935)
  • Prime Minister's Dept, Commonwealth of Australia, Official Handbook of the Territory of New Guinea (Canberra, 1937)
  • J. H. Niau, The Phantom Paradise (Syd, 1936)
  • R. W. Robson, Queen Emma (Syd, 1965)
  • E. and H. Laracy, The Italians in New Zealand and Other Studies (Auckland, 1973)
  • P. Biskup (ed), The New Guinea Memoirs of Jean Baptiste Octave Moutton (Canberra, 1974).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Hugh Laracy, 'Rays, Marquis de (1832–1893)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 13 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • du Breil, Charles Marie Bonaventure

2 January, 1832
Quimerc'h, Finistère, France


29 July, 1893 (aged 61)
Rosporden, France

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