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THE MAN

Companions

The members of the Pavie mission

At the height of the mission, around forty people surrounded Pavie: topographers such as Cupet, scientists, political officials such as Coulgeans and Lefèvre-Pontalis, soldiers such as de Malglaive, Rivière, Friquegnon and Massie, and commercial agents such as Vacle. Among the scientists, Counillon is worthy of a mention, a geologist, who participated in Pavie's mission from 1889 to 1892 making survey sketches of the route, and who finished his career in Indochina. With him was Le Dantec, who was attached to the mission in 1889-1890, a doctor of natural sciences, who upon his return to France became responsible for the general embryology course at the Sorbonne. Lugan joined the Pavie mission in 1889. A civil servant in the residence, he was appointed to run the Vice Consulate in Luang Prabang on Massie’s death; he also participated in numerous explorations. His journals from his posting to Luang Prabang at the height of the Siamese crisis show his deep attachment to Laos. He finished his career as consul in Nan.

Captain Cogniard travelled through southern Laos in 1890-1891 in the company of Cupet and de Malglaive. He then became commander of the region of Laokay. Nicolon was part of the Pavie mission from 1887 to 1889 and together with Cupet was appointed to the Franco-Siamese border demarcation commission. He carried out several reconnaissance missions and took charge of the post in Luang Prabang when Pavie and Cupet were away. He left Indochina in very poor health in 1889. Before his departure he wrote to Pavie: "I must depart if I do not wish to leave here the little of me that remains – my bones and skin. Repeatedly troubled by fever, I am, as M. Massie says, at the end of my tether." He joined the 2nd regiment of the French Foreign Legion in Algeria; then following the massacre of Bonnier’s column in Timbuktu in 1894, he left for Sudan and died in February 1896, having only just returned to France.

All of Pavie’s companions left numerous written records. Pavie published them first, so paying tribute to the important role that they had played in his mission.

Cupet (Pierre-Paul) (1859-1907)

Cupet was one of Auguste Pavie’s closest collaborators. Born in Bar-le-Duc in 1859, the son of a policeman, he was admitted to the Saint-Cyr military academy in 1877. He left for Algeria in 1879 as a sub-lieutenant in the 2nd Zouave regiment, and remained there for five years. Pavie described him thus: "By turns a soldier, a topographer, a telegrapher and well-digger, he become almost legendary in the south of the province of Oran where he scaled every mountain searching for visual communication points and visited every watering place so that he could choose the best stopping points. The Arabs in the midst of whom he spent 1883 and the first months of 1884 and whose imagination he had fired only knew him under the evocative pseudonym of "Bou el Aroui" (father of the mountain sheep) because they had seen him cross the mountains so often." In January 1885 he embarked for Tonkin and took part in the last operations following the battle of Langson. He then joined the troops of Lieutenant Colonel Klipfel who were engaged against the insurgents in Cambodia. In 1886 he commanded the post of Mytho in Annam. The commandant in chief of the troops in Tonkin, Munier, appointed him to take part in the Franco-Siamese mission which, under the leadership of Pavie, was intended to fix the border with Laos. Spurred on by the latter, he explored the border region between Tonkin and Laos, Kammon and Tran-Ninh. He also travelled in the Sedang, Peunong and Radès regions on the plateau that separated the Mekong from the sea. In 1893, with Captains Friquegnon and de Malglaive, he worked on a new map of Indochina that was published in 1902. He himself surveyed 9000 kilometres of routes.

Cupet was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1903 and became an officer of the Legion of Honour in 1905. An indefatigable walker, Cupet was skilled in depicting the peoples that he met. He died during manoeuvres in the Drôme region on the eve of being appointed colonel in 1907. At his funeral, General Gallieni said that he had always been for Pavie "one of the most valuable collaborators and in the most difficult of circumstances exhibited initiative, skill, bravery, endurance in the face of both fatigue and the climate which soon reflected his unparalleled services […] We must also add to these qualities an extremely cultivated mind, great modesty, benevolence and an affability that extended to everyone."

Lefèvre-Pontalis (Pierre-Antonin) (1864-1938)

In 1885 Pavie found himself in Paris. It was at his hotel in rue Jacob where he met Lefèvre-Pontalis, a twenty year old student, who had come to attend a concert of Khmer music arranged by Pavie for Camille Saint-Saëns. The young man was taking courses at the school of oriental languages and dreamed of going to Indochina. Some years later, after having joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in October 1889 Lefèvre-Pontalis became a member of Pavie’s mission as an embassy attaché. He spoke Malay and Annamite. Pavie entrusted him with compiling a log book. Rapidly "he demonstrated the qualities of endurance, courage and willingness, all strengths for an explorer. A convinced disciple, he gladly faced up to the first fatigues, went barefoot as he walked, endured without difficulty the privations that a stay in regions without communications entailed and seamlessly adapted to the sober regime that involved a lack of bread, meat, wine, any alcohol, and everything else that best allowed the European to brave the climate." He accompanied Pavie for twenty months. Upon his return to France in July 1891 he was attached to the political leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He rejoined Pavie in January 1894 as an assistant commissioner of the Republic. He was part of the Sino-Tonkinese border demarcation commission and the Anglo-French Upper Mekong commission. To Pavie’s great regret, Lefèvre-Pontalis did not remain in Indochina, but pursued a diplomatic career. He occupied various posts in Cairo, Saint Petersburg, Athens and Washington and became minister in Bangkok in 1912.

Malglaive (Joseph de) (1862-1914)

"One of the nicest officers that I had the pleasure of knowing." (Auguste Pavie)

Joseph de Malglaive was admitted to the Saint-Cyr military academy in 1883. Upon leaving he was appointed sub-lieutenant in the 69th infantry regiment in Nancy. He left for Indochina in 1884. Posted to Hué with General de Courcy, he distinguished himself through his bravery during an Annamite attack. He then carried out numerous topographical surveys that earned him letters of congratulation and brought him into contact with Captain Cupet. In April 1889, he was appointed to the post at Lao-Kay as information officer and travelled the entire left bank of the Red River as far as Phé-Long. Pavie got to know him thanks to Cupet, and appointed him to the group formed to explore the territories of Kammon and Tran Ninh starting in February 1890. He subsequently entrusted the exploration of the Mekong to him as well as the job of searching for accessible routes through the Annamite range of mountains.

"When reading a report in which the traveller recounts with enthusiasm, spirit and an infallible good humour his disappointments and successes alike, one feels for him a lively sympathy that all who know him feel. His wise views on the military and civilian organisation of the regions he has visited deserve to have notice taken of them, ultimately one cannot hope enough to see those to whom these so diverse populations are entrusted lead them with the kindness and moderation that he advises." (Auguste Pavie)

Upon his return to Paris, de Malglaive was attached to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs until 1892 in order to compile a map of the mission. In 1893 he was reintegrated into the army in France, but he did not make his career there. Very disappointed, he wrote to Pavie following the publication of the volume about the mission of which he was the editor: "It is of infinite value to me that you classify me among your friends and companions that took on the peaceful conquest that was not without trouble or peril in the country of the Laos." He died at the front in September 1914.

Massie (Victor-Alphonse) (1854-1892)

A pharmacist major in the French land forces, Massie arrived in Tonkin in 1882. He was based in Sontay and at the hospital in Langson. In 1888 he joined Pavie’s mission as a naturalist. In 1889 Massie was assigned to manage the post in Luang Prabang. As writer of the post’s monthly journal, he described his life in contact with the peoples and his excursions into the areas around the town where he gathered numerous examples of prehistoric objects, shells and minerals. He was also responsible for providing a French-Lao dictionary. In April 1892 Prince Henri of Orléans, who was passing through Luang Prabang, wrote: "They go without drink water and live economically in the French consulate; M. Massie spends three quarters of his salary and savings on rescuing Annamite exiles from the Siamese and obtaining justice for them. See, says M. Massie, what I have been reduced to; it is always to be begun again. In the villages, the French flags are covered in fish tails in a sign of mockery. I write to Bangkok; I write to Paris; I pile up report after report; invariably the reply that comes is: Do your best, but do not risk anything, and above all no crises. Why pay officials if one is going to remove all of their power? We are maintained only to be inactive; you know how impotent we are when it comes to having our rights respected; what you see and know is nothing to what it actually is; but I will return to France; we shall see if the House, having been informed of what is taking place on the Siamese border will allow us to continue being insulted, humiliated, scorned, hunted as we are."

Massie committed suicide on 30th November 1892 after, it seems, a very acrimonious discussion with the Siamese officer from Khong. But he was undoubtedly at the start of a mental illness that manifested itself through voices that he heard, ideas of persecution that haunted him and a great irritability.

Vacle (Joseph) (1857-1907)

Vacle joined Pavie’s mission in 1888. At this time he was a member of the commercial mission in Laos. He travelled throughout the whole of Laos, and distinguished himself by his gentleness and great knowledge of the people. He was charged by Governor de Lanessan with re-establishing calm in the Cho-Bo region after the massacre of the resident Rougery, which he succeeded in doing in two months. Some years later, he was entrusted with the administration of Luang Prabang. As interim high commander of upper Laos he signed the declaration of 16th May 1896 with the British representative, Stirling, which returned the territory of Muong Sing to France in accordance with the Anglo-French agreement of 15th January 1895. He retired in 1906. Albert de Pouvourville described him thus in 1888: "We also saw the original and charming M. Vacle arrive, in the uniform of an alpine infantryman, a feather in his hat, a staff in his hand, frightening nervous people with his unusual appearance. He settles into his "tub", has himself rubbed down after the fashion of the hamam, delays dinner so that he can complete his evening toilet and finally presents himself in short trousers in mouse grey wool, mauve silk stockings, buckled shoes, a jacket that is fitted at the back, with everything nonchalantly covered by a low-cut pink satin Cambodian house coat. His success is much deserved. This originality that does not detract from the rest of his character does not prevent M. Vacle from being a daring explorer and sensible diplomat who is full of tact." Upon the death of Vacle, De Lanessan wrote an article in Le Siècle entitled "A model colonial". His description is similar to that of Pouvourville. "He presented himself in my office in short trousers, a ruffled shirt, black silk stockings and polished shoes with silver buckles. Small, a little portly, clean shaven, fresh and plump, always smiling and with exquisite manners, he had a miniscule fan in his right hand, a silver bracelet on his left wrist and seemed to have come straight from an eighteenth century ball […]"

Coulgeans (Marc-Daniel Durousseau de) (1856-1903)

In October 1877 de Coulgeans joined the administration of the postal and telegraphic service and left for Indochina. At the time of the troubles in Cambodia, he was responsible for the Krauchmar office. There he met Pavie. Attached to Pavie’s mission in 1890, he settled in Stung Treng as a commercial agent. He explored the surrounding region, wrote his journal, and conducted a very interesting study on the Se-Sane river and its inhabitants. His journals evoke, often with humour, the numerous irritations that the Siamese official at the post caused him. "The Siamese official would consider it dishonourable if, during his entire visit, he had not affected a thoroughly rude and insolent attitude. And he did not miss the opportunity." De Coulgeans also watched from close quarters the efforts of the launch Argus to navigate the Khône falls and ascend the Mekong. At the height of the Franco-Siamese crisis, in April 1893 he participated in the capture of Stung Treng in the company of the resident, Bastard, and Captain Thoreux. He would later become successively vice-consul in Korat, then consul in Battambang.

Rivière (Armand-Joseph) (1862-1895)

After graduating from the École polytechnique in 1882, Rivière asked to leave for Indochina. In 1887 he was seconded to the Annamite light infantry in Vinh as a lieutenant. In December 1889 he joined Pavie as a topographer. He participated in the exploration of Kammon and Tran Ninh with Cupet’s group. "Robust in appearance," as Pavie said, "with an energetic temperament, a cheerful character and full of drive," Rivière suffered from several bouts of dysentery, which weakened him. After having worked in Hanoi on the general map of the mission, he returned to France in July 1891; after rejoining his regiment, he was attached to the army’s geographic service. In October 1894 on his own request, he rejoined Pavie’s mission. He was part of the commission established to determine the borders with Great Britain. Ill once again, at the end of February 1895 he was taken to Luang Prabang. On 29th April he set sail on the Mekong towards Cambodia and succumbed on 21st May in Savanakek.