Isle of France

The brig Mary’s destination was unclear when the anonymous writer of the John Pirie journal referred to it being ‘bound to the Isle of France (Île-de-France in French)’ on 4 June 1836. There are several possible destinations for the Mary. Probably a small island off the coast of Greenland bearing the name ‘Isle of France’ can be dismissed as being too far out of the Mary’s way. When it was under French rule, between 1715 and 1810, Mauritius was known as the ‘Isle of France’. In 1836 the island had been in British hands and known as ‘Mauritius’ for 26 years, but a ship sailing from Europe to Mauritius (off the east coast of Africa) might trace a route through the Atlantic Ocean similar to that of one bound for India, the East Indies or South Australia. The Mary could have been en route to France. The term Île-de-France describes both the ancient province and the modern administrative region that surrounds and includes Paris. The modern usage began in 1959 and is irrelevant. The ancient province of Île-de-France is landlocked and the Mary may have been bound for Paris, via the River Seine. The journalist, however, might have used Île-de-France as a metonym (the substitution of one term for another) for France, in much the same way that a modern commentator uses ‘Canberra’ to describe the Australian parliament. It is worth noting that Île-de-France was the personal domain of the original kings of France. If the term was used as a metonym, the Mary could have been destined for a number of French ports. The Mary’s actual destination in June 1836 must remain a mystery, though Mauritius might be the best bet.

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