When Rose de Freycinet started to write her diary of her voyage on the Uranie, she began with two very personal paragraphs addressed to the person for whom it was intended. She wrote:
It is for you alone, amiable and dear friend, that I want to write this diary, I will find pleasure in doing so, because it is something you have asked of me and which will please you; besides, will it not be a daily relaxation to trace all that can happen to me, happy or unhappy, in the hope of capturing the attention and of interesting a person who is so dear to me! I enjoy in advance the satisfaction that I will feel when, after a happy return, I will send you these feeble lines and you will feel all the more pleasure in seeing me again, knowing that I have escaped such and such a danger. If, on the contrary, I must succumb in the midst of this arduous journey, you will at least see that however distant from you I have been, my most pleasant occupation has been to think of and do a few things for my Caroline.
I would never have agreed to prepare a journal for anyone other than you. You alone have the necessary indulgence towards me to forgive a diffuse and often incorrect style. Moreover I think that when you pause over them you will not expect them to be reported elegantly or wittily, so I will simply trace the events and will very often let my heart speak without thinking of anything else.
Who that ‘amiable and dear friend’ was, she did not state, although in places in what followed she addressed her directly as ‘Caroline’. Her first transcriber, Charles Duplomb provided a little more information, but not very much. He removed the first two paragraphs from the main text and made them part of his Preface, and to the name he attached a footnote:
« Madame Caroline de Nanteuil, née Barrillon, sa parente »
The French word ‘parente’ is what my translator daughter would call a false friend. It means not ‘parent’ but simply ‘relative’, and the nature of that relationship was left unspecified. It might well be thought to be in any case of limited interest to readers of the diary, were it not for one fact. Having opened with such a heartfelt dedication, it would surely have been expected that Rose would end with something along similar lines; a prideful note, perhaps, to the ‘amiable friend’ to point out that she had indeed done what she had been asked to do. There is, however, nothing of the sort, and in the Duplomb edition the diary ends remarkably abruptly. Three short sentences are all that are given to the departure from Rio de Janeiro and the arrival in France.
I came on board and learned, while in the roads, of Madame Sumter’s accouchement.
Finally, we departed.
The passage passed without incident and we arrived at Cherbourg, the end of our voyage and of the account prepared for you.
Given Duplomb’s habit of omitting parts of the narrative, one immediately suspects that there might be more than this in the original but, remarkably, there is even less. What Rose actually wrote was, in translation:
I came on board and learned, while in the roads, of Madame Sumter’s accouchment.
Finally we departed and arrived in Cherbourg from where I will ???? write this.
The question marks indicate a word that I have found indecipherable, but whatever it was, it can scarcely have modified the starkness of the termination. There was not even the briefest of acknowledgements of there being any ‘you’ for whom the diary had been prepared. Was Rose no longer so enamoured of her ‘dear friend’? And if so, how could they possibly have fallen out, since they had not seen each other for more than three years? It all seems very odd and, at the very least, it makes one want to know a little more about Caroline.
To begin at the very end, there is a picture of her (shared) tomb on the internet.
One of the de Nanteuil family tombs located in Division 60 of the Père-Lachaise cemetery, the largest cemetery in Paris. The relevant part of the inscription reads “Ci Git Françoise Caroline Barrillon, Baronne de Nanteuil, décédée à Versailles, 28 Juin 1870, à l’âge de 68 ans”. Photo Pierre-Yves Beaudouin, 18 August 2018.
A further search of the internet leads to a history of the Barrillon family authored by Stéphanie Boysson which includes, in a footnote, the confirmatory information that
“Caroline nait le 1er octobre 1801 à Port-Louis de l’Isle de France et décède en 1870. Elle épouse le baron (de l’Empire) Edme Jean-Baptiste Poissallole de Nanteuil de La Norville (1792-1842), administrateur général des Messageries, d’où quatre enfants.”
Confirmatory, but also rather startling. The impression given by the very little that Duplomb and most other commentators (except Suzanne Falkiner) have had to say about Caroline is that she and Rose were of similar ages, but it turns out that Rose was born on 20 September 1794 and was therefore older by almost exactly seven years. This is a very significant difference for young women in their late teens and early twenties. When the Uranie left Toulon, Caroline was just two weeks short of her sixteenth birthday.
She was, however, already pregnant. When, on about 20 July 1818, Rose received the devastating news of the failure of her mother’s business, and also became aware of having missed seeing her sister Stéphanie in Port Louis by just one day, her only consolation was that the letter also told her of Caroline having given birth, with some difficulty, to ‘un beau garçon’, and having since regained her health. Given that even a fast passage from France to Réunion took several months in the days of sail (the Uranie was a sea for almost six months in getting there), the child must have been born in the spring of 1818, and therefore have been conceived the previous summer, while Caroline was still only fifteen.
It seems also that even this one apparently good piece of news in Stéphanie’s letter was merely a prelude to tragedy, because although Boysson notes that Caroline had four children, only three are shown on the family tree posted by Alain Garric, and the eldest of these, Armand Denis, was not born until 19 January 1822. The same source gives her marriage to Armand’s father as taking place on 6 March 1821. Had that early and presumably illegitimate child either died in infancy or been given up for adoption? Whatever had happened, the years of Rose’s absence were clearly no easy ones for Caroline.
It was not only in her personal life that those years were turbulent ones for Caroline. The Barrillons were an old and noble family but it seems that Caroline’s father, Claude George, was one of its greyer, if not black, sheep. Known at one time as the ‘Barrillon of the Iles’, according to Boysson he left France in 1789 at the age of 17 to seek his fortune on Mauritius, where he married and remained for twenty years, during which time Caroline was born (and her father may have met Louis de Freycinet, on either the outbound or homeward legs of the Baudin expedition). In 1809 he returned to France with a five year old daughter and a fortune, and set himself up as a banker. It seems that at first he prospered, and was described as a merchant and owner of privateer vessels, but letters written by Rose after her return show that this did not last. On 4 April 1824, she wrote in a letter to her sister-in-law Clémentine that the father had fallen into debt in 1822, although his situation had since improved. On 24 June, however, she wrote again, in a letter included in the documents photographed on behalf of Marnie Bassett in the 1940s, to say that, however bad their own family situation (she had just received news of the death of her brother-in-law Charles in Calcutta), it was better than the situation of the Barrillon family, which was always precarious. Caroline, however, was happy and the two children were doing well. She was, by this time, a Nanteuil and presumably more secure than her father, who died eight years later in Guadalajara, in Mexico.
A picture, then, is beginning to emerge. Rose may have had an often very stressful and sometimes very dangerous three years during her round-the-world journey, but for Caroline things had not been easy either. Rose may also have written less to her than anyone else, because she was keeping the diary specifically for her. If, as is very likely, she did write to her from Montevideo, telling her that the Physicienne was heading for Rio, she may have received only a very brief letter there, or even none at all. If that was so, then, put out by this seeming belittling of the diary she had kept faithfully for three long years, for this person and this person alone, Rose might have been sufficiently upset to stop writing. If that was the case, the letters of 1924 indicate that some form of reconciliation had taken place, but not that the two had again become close. Not close enough, perhaps, for Caroline to treasure the diary sufficiently to ensure that she did not lose a part of it.
It is a possible scenario, and there is one item that might be taken as supporting it. Rose effectively stopped writing her diary in mid-July 1820, but did not leave Rio until mid-August. She recorded only one incident during that time, which was that she was badly bitten by her (otherwise not mentioned) pet monkey, whilst she was offering it food. Did she include that episode on a last page of her diary, as a way of letting Caroline know how she felt when badly treated by someone on whose behalf she had made so much effort?