Dictionary of Sydney

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De Vernicourt, Pierre Lalouette

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De Vernicourt, Pierre Lalouette

Pierre Lalouette de Vernicourt was born in Paris, on 4 April 1754, the second child of Pierre Lalouette (1711–1792) and his wife Françoise Julie Marie Le Dran. Lalouette's father, a distinguished anatomist, was decorated with the Cordon noir de l'Ordre de Saint-Michel, and ennobled in February 1773.

In the wake of his father's ennoblement, Pierre adopted the name Lalouette de Vernicourt and joined the army. In August 1787 he married Légère Anne Apoline Grandemange d'Anderny.

Army officer and royalist

Vernicourt was promoted to the rank of captain on 2 June 1789. He later asserted that he served three years in three campaigns in India under the orders of Suffren. On 24 August 1793, as capitaine de grenadiers in Pondicherry, he was given provisional permission to wear the ribbon of the croix de Saint-Louis, having satisfied the usual prerequisites for the decoration according to his royalist superior. This was seven months after Louis XVI's execution. In the wake of the tumultuous events in France, he reportedly surrendered to British forces under John Floyd, then joined the military service of one or more Indian princes, before growing vines at Chingleput near Madras and then seeking asylum in England as an émigré.

Refusing to bear arms against France, but 'disgusted with a life of indolence', on 25 July 1800 he sought permission from the Duke of Portland to settle in 'la Nouvelle Hollande'. In London, on 1 December of the same year, using the name Pierre Lalouette Declambe De Vernicourt, he requested of 'Son Altesse Royale Monsieur' (presumably the exiled Louis XVIII) to be made Chevalier de l'Ordre royal et militaire de St Louis. On 14 December 1800, he was once more granted provisional permission to wear the ribbon of the order once he left England, but his request for the actual decoration was ultimately refused on 2 April 1801. Nevertheless he assumed the name 'Chevalier de Clambe' and departed Spithead on the Minorca for New South Wales on 21 June 1801.

Vernicourt in New South Wales

Sailing via Rio de Janeiro, he arrived in Port Jackson on 14 December 1801. On 1 February 1802 he was granted 100 acres (40 hectares) of land at Castle Hill by Governor Phillip Gidley King, and assigned six convicts. There he was known under the name of Lieutenant-Colonel Declambe, although he was later referred to as 'Vernicourt de Clamb' in his obituary in the Sydney Gazette . [1]

François Péron, who met him when Nicolas Baudin's expedition visited Port Jackson, referred to him as 'M De La Clampe', and found him ' presque nu [almost naked]', like his convict labourers. At Castle Hill, he built a house called The Hermitage which Péron described variously as a ' modeste habitation' and a 'manoir champêtre [rustic manor]' the interior of which was

l ' agréable alliance d ' une extrême simplicité et d ' une sorte d ' élègance, qui prouvoit d ' autant mieux l ' esprit et le goût delicat de son auteur, qu ' elle étoit plus complétement étrangère à toute espéce de luxe

an agreeable union of extreme simplicity and a sort of elegance, which proved the delicate taste of its owner, at the same time that he was an utter stranger to every sort of luxury. [2]

Just five feet two inches (1.57 metres) tall, with black eyes, a very dark complexion and a greatly protruding lower lip, Vernicourt lived an isolated and frugal existence – growing wheat and maize, but also planting coffee from 'seeds he brought with him' and, according to Péron, cotton. Although he is said to have largely shunned colonial society, Matthew Flinders encountered him in August 1803, as did the visiting French merchant Louis Charles Ruault Coutance.

Earlier in 1803, he found himself in the midst of tumultuous events. On 15 February 1803, his farm was attacked by 15 fugitives from the government farm (largely worked by Irish nationalist political prisoners) at Castle Hill. The very first issue of the Sydney Gazette reported that his house was

ransacked, and stripped of many articles of plate, wearing apparel, some fire and side-arms, provisions, spiritous and vinous liquors, a quantity of which they drank or wasted in the house. [3]

The culprits were caught and several were later sentenced to death. [4]

On 4 April 1804 Vernicourt augmented his landholding by purchasing Ramsay Farm, part of William Cox's estate at Dundas, for 37 guineas. Vernicourt was never reunited with his wife and died of what was diagnosed at the inquest as apoplexy on the night of 4 June 1804. [5] Ironically, he was on his way to a dance at Government House – one of the very few social invitations he appears to have accepted in the colony, and one which fate prevented him from keeping.

He was buried on his estate which was sold at auction by his administrator, Robert Campbell, on 3 August 1804. The advertisement offers a picture of his domain:

Several Head of Horn Cattle, a capital Mare, 69 Sheep, two female Goats, and fifty-nine Pigs: with A Quantity of WHEAT, MAIZE, and POTATOES, Farming Utensils, Household Furniture, &c &c

And to be Let at the same time, for the Space of two Years,

That excellent FARM known by the name of the HERMITAGE; containing One Hundred and Fourteen Acres, of which about Fifty are cleared, Eleven and a half under Wheat, and Three laid out in a Garden well stocked with Fruit-trees and Vegetables.

On the Premises there is a small Dwelling House, Barn, &c. [6]

On 25 June 1811, Major Barry, Chief Secretary of the government of Mauritius wrote to the Secretary of New South Wales and appended a memorial signed by 'Madame Grande Mange de Vernicourt' seeking information on her husband known as the 'Baron De Clambe'. A response advising her of her husband's death was drafted on 21 March 1811 and dispatched on the Guildford. Vernicourt's widow was remarried at Grand Port on 15 September 1812 to Edouard François Rolandez, by whom she had another two daughters.


Etat de Service, Service Historique de la Défense, Château de Vincennes

Chief Secretary Barry to the Government of New South Wales, 25 June 1811, National Archives, Mauritius, RB 8, folios 171–73

Charles Bateson, The Convict Ships 1787—1868, Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1983, pp 338–39

Colonial Secretary's Correspondence 4/3491 pp 198–9, 202–3, State Records New South Wales

Etat nominatif des officiers cote D2/C/143 – CAOM Aix-en-Provence

Ian Nowland, '"The Hermitage" at Rogans Hill', Hills District Historical Society, 2003

Gaston Sarré, Recueil de renseignements généalogiques sur les familles de l'île Maurice (typescript c 1944)

F Watson (ed), Historical Records of Australia, series 1, Governors' Despatches to and from England, vol 3 1801–1802, Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, Sydney, 1915, pp 109, 406


[1] Sydney Gazette, 10 June 1804

[2] François Péron, Voyage de découvertes aux terres australes, Paris, 1807, tome i, pp 431–32. In English, François Péron, A voyage of discovery to the southern hemisphere, Richard Phillips, London, 1809, pp 308–39

[3] Sydney Gazette, 5 March 1803

[4] Sydney Gazette, 19 March 1803

[5] Sydney Gazette, 10 June 1804

[6] Sydney Gazette, 29 July 1804