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Guest post! The death wedding of Honfleur…

Frederic Shoberl Esq., when writing his ‘Excursions in Normandy’ in 1841, relayed the tragic story of the death-wedding of Honfleur.

Frederic was aboard ‘Le Passager’, sailing between Le Havre and Honfleur, when he struck up a conversation with the Helmsman, who told him of a strange tale of heartache, catastrophe and the deceitful sands beneath the Seine.
St Catherine stitch up - we needed three photos to fit it all in!
St Catherine stitch up – we needed three photos to match the postcard!

I have transcribed his story here:

“When I was a boy I once saw such a wedding as is very seldom held. A journeyman watchmaker, an excellent fellow, married his master’s daughter, and they were such a pair that it did people’s hearts good to look at them.

Bridal couple Journal des Dames 1826
Bridal couple Journal des Dames 1826

The old watchmaker was rich, and gave a handsome treat to the wedding party. Next day, the nearest friends of the bride and bridegroom helped to clear away the remains of the feast, and after dinner they went together in a boat to a sandbank full half a league long, which is left dry every day at ebb-tide. You will see it by and by higher up the Seine.

The merry party drew the boat upon the sand and all of them were soon dancing, cheerily around the fiddler they had bought with them. The water began to rise but they were too busy with their sport to observe that the circle upon which, they were dancing was getting, smaller and smaller.

Eugène Boudin; Les figures sur la plage
Eugène Boudin; Les figures sur la plage

When the fiddler gave up playing and they looked about for the boat it was far from the sandbank, and the current was drifting it away at a great rate. This put an end to their sport, and a cruel end it was. Not one of them could swim to overtake the boat; besides, it might by this time be too far off. We afterwards saw it a league from the sandbank.

This grew smaller from minute to minute. The sounds of mirth were turned into shrieks of despair and cries for help; but these cries were drowned by the dashing of the waves, and it was not till the sandbank was almost entirely covered by the water that the distress of the party upon it was perceived from the shore. 

Twenty or thirty boats put off immediately. I leaped into my father’s, and we all rowed as if for our lives. But the water kept rising, and at last the whole party, thirteen men and women had only just ground enough to stand on.

Near Honfleur
Eugène Boudin; Near Honfleur

And then we saw them fall upon their knees and lift their hands towards heaven; and we pulled away harder than ever. But the water got high and rougher, as if angry that it was kept so long from seizing its prey. We saw it enclose them by degrees, and heard at times through the roaring of the waves a cry for help that cut us to the heart.

Hard as we worked we made way but slowly, for the wind too was against us; and we were yet a good bit from them, and we were the foremost, too, when a wave came rolling and broke over them, and carried them away.  All we saw afterwards was the clothes of the women two or three times on the surface of the water, and then these disappeared.

Their last shriek of agony rang from boat to boat and it was some little time before we were calm enough to say a Paternoster for their souls.

The Calvary, overlooking the Seine estuary
The Calvary, overlooking the Seine estuary

Till my dying day I’ll not forget it.   There were thirteen of them and they were married on a Friday.  The old watchmaker was a freethinker and would have it so, or we should certainly have saved them.

Next day we found the bride and bridegroom locked in each others arms on the beach, and the day after that the whole town went to the death-wedding, as we called the funeral.”

As related to Frederic aboard ‘Le Passager’.

Pages 201-3 from:
Illustrative of the
Of the
And of the
Edited from the Journal of a recent traveller
In two volumes.
Volume 1.
Original carte postale, Église Sainte-Catherine, reverse
Original carte postale, Église Sainte-Catherine, reverse


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