#52 - DUCKING AND KEEL-HAULING

Yarmouth Vanguard, December 26, 1989

Some of the punishments which were inflicted in days of ore are repulsive to us of the 20th century. One of them was that of "ducking," which was inflicted in different ways and for different offences. In France, for example, at Marseilles and Bordeaux, lewd men and loose women were put in a cage and ducked a number of times in a river or in the sea. In Toulouse, the same punishment was applied to those who "blasphemed the name of God." It was much in use to chastise sailors.

In what was called in France "la cale mouillée" (ducking), the guilty one was tied to a rope which was attached to the end of the cross-trees of the mainmast of a ship, and from that height, he was thrown down overboard. The number of duckings varied with the gravity of the crime or offense; in many countries three duckings were the limit. Sometimes a cannon ball was attached to the feet of the victim which rendered the fall more rapid and more painful.

"La cale seché" (dry-duck) consisted in throwing overboard the guilty one in the same manner as in the previous way, but he was stopped on his way down five or six feet before reaching the water. It was rather a scary tactic for lesser crimes.

As if that was not bad enough, the Dutch invented "keel-hauling" called in France "le supplice de la grande cale," which can be translated as the torture of the grand ducking. The victim would be hauled through the water under the keel of a ship from one side to the other. In more details, the guilty person was tied with a rope around his body, thrown into the water, and each side of the ship sailors in dories, holding each end of the rope, would haul the poor wretch out of the water, give him enough time to take his breath (if he was still alive), and throw him back into the water to be hauled by the sailors on the other side of the ship. This would last as many times as it would have been decided by the captain or those in charge, in accordance to the gravity of the crime. It is easy to understand that two or three of such duckings were more than enough to kill a man.

Most of the time a cannon was fired to invite people to come to "watch and enjoy" this barbarous comedy.

Surprisingly enough, we have an example of this kind of torture right here in Acadia, around the end of the 17th century. It was inflicted to the greedy François-Marie Perrot, who was once Governor of Montreal and then of Acadia.

François-Marie Perrot was born in Paris in 1640. Having married in 1669 the niece of Jean Talon, Intendant or royal agent of New France (Quebec), Talon named him that same year Governor of Montreal. He was obsessed with making money. Once he traded some of his clothes with an Indian, for furs no doubt, which yielded about what would be now worth $1500; while he was bragging about it, the Indian was parading in town with the Governor's attire. In 1680, he realized an illicit profit of about $200,000. Two years later, he sold beaver pelts in France for an amount close to half a million. A contemporary author, says that to fill his purse, he quarrelled with the Sulpician Fathers, the Indians, the merchants. He soon got in conflict with Frontenac, who was Governor General of New France. He finally was brought to Quebec and put in prison. From here, he was sent to Paris to complete his time as prisoner at the famous prison "La Bastille," which was at the time the symbol of the ablsoute power of the King of France.

Thanks to the influence that his family had among the circles of princes and nobilities, he was absolved from any mischiefs he could have committed. More that that, he was named Governor of Acadia, where he arrived in 1785.

The few years that he had spent in prison had no effect on his thirst for profit and wealth. Here, he kept on piling up huge sums of money in dealing in illicit fur trade with the Indians. Although fishermen from New England were forbidden to fish on our coasts, he schemed a device to get money from them in establishing a system of permits at the rate of five pounds or close to $25 each, that he would sell to these fishermen, allowing them to fish on our shores.

He was very touchy when it came to his authority as Governor of Acadia, being afraid that it would be taken away from him. Having heard that the Governor General of New France had mentioned that Baron de Saint-Castin, who, in Maine, had married the daughter of an Indian chief and who was very influential in the affairs of Acadia, would be well qualified to be governor of Acadia, he did all he could to defame him. He even wanted to put him in prison. But not being able to find any misdoings on his part, he finally found a motive, viz., "the weakness that he had for women."

Finally, the authorities decided that enough was enough. After having been two years governor of Acadia, he was dismissed form his office. Figuring probably that there was more money to be earned in Acadia than in France, he took refuge on the St. John River, N.B.

The people from Boston, who had considered him the grand master of the Acadian coast, knew that he was a very rich man. He had been but a few days on the St. John River, when two pirate ships from New England went up the river and took hold of him. They started to molest him so that he would reveal where he was hiding his treasrues. They even had recourse to ducking; a French author says that they applied the "cale seché," the dry-duck; no doubt they did not want to kill him there and then before he would reveal where he was hiding his money. A French buccaneer was able to deliver him and take him to France. Although he was left weak and feeble and bruised, he was daring enough to ask to be named a new Governor of Acadia. The authorities did not have to give him an answer, as he died shortly after, probably from the tortures that he had received while he was in the hands of the New England pirates.

HOME