“I can’t wait to have you,” Anne Le Cerf wrote to her husband, a petty officer on the Galatée, a French warship, at the start of the Seven Years’ War. Jean Topsent, imprisoned somewhere in England, never read the love letter of, “your obedient wife, Nanette.” More than 250 years later, Renaud Morieux, professor at the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge and Pembroke College, has just been the first to do so, along with a hundred others, sent to the sailors of the Galatée by their fiancées, wives, parents and brothers in 1757 and 1758.
The Galatée was sailing from Bordeaux to Quebec when it was captured by the British ship Essex and sent to Portsmouth. The crew was imprisoned and the ship sold. The French postal administration had tried to deliver the letters by sending them to various ports in France, but they always arrived too late.. When they learned that he had been captured, they sent them to England, where they were confiscated by the Admiralty in London.
“It’s agonizing how close they came to being handed over,” says Morieux, who believes that British officials opened and read a couple of them, to see if they had any military value, but since they only said “family things,” They decided to keep them for a time, which ended up being two and a half centuries.
“I hug you with all my heart, since I can’t do it with my mouth,” says another of the letters. «I could spend the night writing to you… I am your forever faithful wife. Good night my dear friend. It’s midnight. I think it’s time to rest », Marie Dubosc wrote to her husband, the first lieutenant of the Galatée. Marie did not know where Louis Chambrelan was, nor if his ship had been captured by the British. She would never receive the letter from him and they would never meet again. Marie died the following year in Le Havre, almost certainly before Louis was released. In 1761 he remarried and returned safely to France.
“I only ordered the box out of curiosity,” explains Morieux. «There were three piles joined by a ribbon. They were very small and sealed, so I asked the archivist if they could be opened and I did. I realized I was the first person to read these very personal messages since they were written. Their recipients did not have that opportunity. “It was very emotional.”