THE 'KEARSARGE' AND THE 'ALABAMA' - PAGE 5

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FRANÇOIS RONDIN PHOTOGRAPHS

On page 2, I indicated that François Rondin, a Cherbourg photographer at the time of the 1864 battle, took an image of the battle at sea & displayed it in the window of his (Place D'Armes, Cherbourg) shop. But that that image has disappeared! These were my words, with some modification, to set the stage for the material to follow:-

This is a good place to mention that while there are now many images of the engagement on this site, there is one most interesting image which I surely will never be able to present. And in view of the fact that the action did not take place particularly close to shore, the reference is all the more surprising. I read that 'photographer François Rondin set up his camera & made an exposure of the battle raging at sea between the U.S.S. Kearsarge & the dreaded Confederate commerce raider C.S.S. Alabama. Seen widely at the time in the window of Rondin's Cherbourg shop, the priceless print has disappeared'. How very interesting!

In early January, 2010, an e-mail message arrived from François Xavier Crevel, of Vernon, near Paris, France. Thank you, François, so very much.

François advised that at a flea market in Normandy, he had purchased, in 2009, 6 photographs that had been taken by François Rondin, the Cherbourg photographer to whom reference is made above.

The photographs bear the 'stamp' of François Rondin & the best example of that Rondin 'stamp', is at left.

The images are below. BUT ... in order to provide the images themselves in as large a size as possible, I have placed the printed title, which appeared under the image in each print, within the image itself. If you hover your mouse over each image, you are able to view the webmaster's effort at the translation into English of that printed title. In most cases that translation is not really required, however. And you can click each image to see it in a larger size on this site.

Amongst other matters, François indicates (with data also from Ron Tarburton) as follows:

a) that the photographs were provided to Ron Tarburton, historian, of Hagerstown, Maryland, who has extensively researched the related history in general & these images in particular. And has also been in touch with the webmaster.

b) that François Rondin, while Alabama was in Cherbourg, took photographs of the crew of the vessel either alone or in groups. Rondin's studio was, I am advised, only a few blocks from where the Alabama was moored while in port. And Rondin later assembled those many photographs into a photo montage for inclusion in a series of ten photographs, made available by 'Rondin' for sale to the public. But strangely the image shown below was misidentified as being Kearsarge, when it is, rather, the crew of Alabama. Ron Turbiton advises that the error was not Rondin's, that particular caption being added later by someone, a later owner of the image perhaps, who was misinformed. 

c) that of the persons included in that montage, (I understand that there, in fact, about 95 different individuals in the image), over 25 have been specifically identified, from photo archives & in reference to the uniforms that each wore. And also with the assistance of photographs of Alabama crew members taken in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1863 (in images that surfaced in 2005 & were acquired by the Merseyside Museum in Liverpool, England). William Robertson, the ship's 3rd engineering officer, is shown at the very top of the 'pyramid' (his image at left). He lost his life in the engagement & indeed was the only officer to do so.

The 'Cape Town' images can be seen via the Merseyside Museum website. Ron advises that the images can be viewed there in a large size, but the webmaster has not yet succeeded in doing that.

d) Prominently at top right in that montage is James D. (Dunwoody) Bulloch, described by Ron Tarburton as being 'the godfather of the Alabama'. Bulloch, apparently, was a Confederate naval officer who arrived in Liverpool, England in Jun. 1861 to buy or have constructed vessels for the Confederate Navy. He had to pass through Canada to reach England safely in the early part of the war. David White, a black sailor or mess attendant, also killed in the engagement, is within the group, #8 down if you count down the right edge of the pyramid from William Robertson #1 at the top, or #3 up from the bottom. Though his skin seems not to be very black in the image.

e) At top left in that same image is a small photograph of Alabama. It would seem (to those that would know) that at first glance, the vessel does not seem to be Alabama. But Ron Tarburton, I understand, is convinced that is it is indeed Alabama, disguised to look less recognisable to 'Union' spies, i.e. that Raphael Semmes had disguised his ship to look like a harmless square-rigged sailing ship when he entered Cherbourg harbour.

f) There is one most interesting 'face' in the bottom row of the montage, that of a very large baboon! Ron Turbiton advises that Alabama made landfalls in Africa & at an island off French Indo-China (now Vietnam) and that the baboon could have been captured in either location. There are, Ron advises, newspaper reports that wild apes were held aboard Alabama, chained in the holds, perhaps to unleashed were the ship to be boarded by an enemy. But the real reason, Ron believes, relates to the fact that political cartoons of the day depicted President Abraham Lincoln as 'that baboon in Washington'. 

g) Most of the images of Kearsarge, were taken by François Rondin at Cherbourg, when it stayed in port there after the battle.

h) The Kearsarge officers depicted in the following image, c. 1864, can all be identified, here & here, at the 'Naval History and Heritage Command' website. In the middle, at the bottom, is a 'suspected battle image' of Kearsarge.

i) François Rondin was an inventive fellow it would seem. The battle did not take place in the immediate waters off Cherbourg, rather some miles out at sea - 4 or 5 miles out or maybe 5 to 7 miles out depending on the report that you read. Rondin, it would seem, climbed to the top of the steeple of a church at nearby Querqueville, & using what we would now call a 'telephoto' lens, was able to photograph the battle - a battle which at that distance would have been scarcely visible to the naked eye. How very interesting! All taking place 146 years ago, in 1864.

Ron Tarburton, in touch with the webmaster also, I believe, confirms the accuracy of the above.

All of the images below are clickable, to larger images, made available via this site.



I would welcome the help of any reader who can correct, in any way however small, the facts as I have written them on these Kearsarge/Alabama pages.

To the Thomas Hemy datapage re the Kearsarge

To the Kearsarge/Alabama datapages 1, 2, 3 & 4.

And to the Special Pages Index.
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