Jacques Félix Emmanuel Hamelin

Baron Jacques Félix Emmanuel Hamelin (13 October 1768 – 23 April 1839) was a rear admiral of the French navy and later a Baron. He commanded numerous naval expeditions and battles with the British Navy as well as exploratory voyages in the Indian Ocean and the South Seas.

Jacques Félix Emmanuel Hamelin
Jacques Félix Emmanuel Hamelin-Antoine Maurin.jpg
1837 lithograph
Born13 October 1768
Died23 April 1839(1839-04-23) (aged 70)
Service/branchFrench Navy
Years of service1792 - 1833
Rankrear admiral
AwardsLegion of Honour
Baron of the Empire


Early careerEdit

Hamelin was born in Honfleur, Calvados, France. At age 17, Hamelin embarked on a trade ship belonging to his uncle as a young marine to learn sailing. In April 1786, he was a crew member of the ship Asie of the merchant marine which was destined for the coast of Angola on a ten-month campaign. He then proceeded to Cherbourg on board the Triton as a helmsman. In July 1788, Hamelin returned to Honfleur, where he embarked as a midshipman on the ship Jeune Mina and campaigns on several other vessels.


He was conscripted by the French Revolutionary Government for the French Revolutionary Wars and in 1792, quit commercial sailing and joined the Navy. In August 1792 he was a quartermaster aboard the vessel Entreprenant which was a part of a naval division under Rear Admiral Louis-René Levassor de Latouche Tréville. Tréville's division joined together with another squadron of Admiral Truguet and took part in operations against Oneglia, Cagliari, and Nice.

In August 1793 Hamelin was named midshipman of the frigate Proserpine, with which he took over the Dutch frigate Vigilante and part of the convoy she was escorting.

He was promoted to lieutenant in August 1795, and on Minerve, took part in the Action of 7 March 1795, in which HMS Berwick was captured.

He took part in the Action of 7 October 1795, in which Rear-Admiral de Richery's squadron met with a British convoy bound for Smyrna, taking 30 out of 31 merchant ships, and retaking the 74 gun Censeur.

On 21 November 1796, Hamelin was promoted to capitaine de frégate (commander) and took a commission as first officer of Révolution. He took part in the Irish Rebellion.

Hamelin subsequently took command of the Fraternité for three months, after which took command of Précieuse, part of a squadron under Admiral Eustache Bruix.

He then embarked as second-in-command on the Formidable.

Exploration of the South SeasEdit

From 1 October 1800 to 23 June 1803, Hamelin captained the bomb ship Naturaliste, along with Captain Nicolas Baudin on Géographe, on a scientific expedition exploring the South Seas. This voyage was intended as a scientific exploration of New Holland and the charting of the as yet unknown southern coastline. There were no instructions from the French government to claim any land in the name of France. This expedition returned to France the largest collection of plants animals and seeds from New Holland and Timor that Europe had ever seen, including two short-legged emus from King Island who lived out their days in Josephine's garden. Baudin did not believe in the imperialistic ideas that prevailed at the time that lands that were already occupied should be claimed by any other nation, and he wrote letters to this effect. No aborigine was harmed during the expedition's two-year visit to the Great South land. A party of Hamelin's men discovered a plate, left by Willem de Vlamingh in 1697, which had in turn replaced an earlier plate left by Dirk Hartog in 1616. Hamelin's men initially removed the plate but it was returned on his orders and left intact until a later visit by Louis de Freycinet in 1818. De Freycinet was on Hamelin's 1801 crew.

On his return to France, Hamelin was promoted to captaine de vaisseau (captain), and oversaw the weaponry of the large fleet intended for the invasion of England.


Fight between Vénus and HMS Ceylon

In July 1806, Hamelin took command of the frigate Vénus from Le Havre. He set sail for Isle de France (now Mauritius), seizing four ships along the way. In March 1809, Vénus entered Port Napoléon (formerly Port-Louis, Isle de France). This is the start of the Mauritius campaign of 1809–1811 between the French and the British, to maintain control of these well-located islands between the coast of Africa and India (for the British) or the islands of modern-day Indonesia (for the French).

On 26 April, after orders from the general captain of Mauritius to leave, he sailed off, having under his command Vénus, the frigate Manche, the brig Entreprenant, and the schooner Créole.

He visited Foulpointe on the east coast of Madagascar. Besieged by natives, he moved on the Bay of Bengal, entered Saint George's channel in the Nicobar Islands, seized several British ships, sank a great number of boats sent out by the British, and on 18 November 1809, seized the British settlement of Tappanouti. On the return voyage to Mauritius, he captured three large East India Trading Company ships in the Action of 18 November 1809.

On his return trip, he seized several more British ships, until he encountered HMS Ceylon on 17–18 September 1810. Ceylon was captured, but the next day a British frigate squadron seized both Ceylon and Vénus.

Hero's returnEdit

On returning to France in February 1811 Hamelin was presented to Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, and made a Commandeur de la Légion d'honneur, created a Baron of Empire, raised to the rank of rear-admiral and named commander of a division of the squadron under the orders of Admiral Édouard Thomas Burgues de Missiessy.

In April 1818 he moved to Toulon as general major of the navy, a post that he occupied until 18 May 1822. In early 1823, he was bestowed the rank of Grand Officer de la Légion d'Honneur.

In 1832 Baron Hamelin was appointed Inspector General of Marine Crews, and in 1833 he was named Director of Marine Cartography.

He retired shortly after, and died in Paris.

His nephew was Admiral Ferdinand-Alphonse Hamelin.


Hamelin on Arc de Triomphe, north pillar

The completion of the hero's welcome in 1811 was that his name was inscribed on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, on the north pillar, the only naval officer to be so honored from the Napoleonic Wars. He was part of the Battle of Grand Port, a naval battle won by the French, which captured the imagination back home. The battle is inscribed on the Arc de Triomphe also.

See alsoEdit


  • Edward Duyker François Péron: An Impetuous Life: Naturalist and Voyager, Miegunyah/MUP, Melb., 2006, ISBN 978-0-522-85260-8,
  • Fornasiero, Jean; Monteath, Peter and West-Sooby, John. Encountering Terra Australis: the Australian voyages of Nicholas Baudin and Matthew Flinders, Kent Town, South Australia, Wakefield Press, 2004. ISBN 1-86254-625-8
  • Frank Horner, The French Reconnaissance: Baudin in Australia 1801—1803, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1987 ISBN 0-522-84339-5.
  • "Jacques Félix Emmanuel Hamelin", in C. Mullié, Biographie des célébrités militaires des armées de terre et de mer de 1789 à 1850, XIXe siècle (in French)
  • This article draws heavily on the Jacques Félix Emmanuel Hamelin article in the French Wikipedia, which was accessed in the version of 26 July 2006.
  • Marchant, Leslie R. French Napoleonic Placenames of the South West Coast, Greenwood, WA. R.I.C. Publications, 2004. ISBN 1-74126-094-9
  • Taillemite, E. Dictionnaire des marins français, Editions Maritimes et d’Outre-Mer, Paris, 1982, p. 156.

Further readingEdit

  • Playford, Phillip E.(1998) Voyage of discovery to Terra Australis : by Willem De Vlamingh in 1696-97 Perth, W.A. Western Australian Museum. ISBN 0-7307-1221-4