Eugène Collache in samurai attire
29 January 1847|
|Known for||Western Samurai|
Arrival in Japan
Eugène Collache was an officer of the French Navy in the 19th century. Based on the ship Minerva of the French Oriental Fleet, he deserted when the ship was anchored at Yokohama harbour, with his friend Henri Nicol to rally other French officers, led by Jules Brunet, who had embraced the cause of the Bakufu in the Boshin War. On November 29, 1868, Eugène Collache and Nicol left Yokohama on board a commercial ship, the Sophie-Hélène, chartered by a Swiss businessman.
The Boshin War
The two French officers first reached Samenoura Bay (鮫ノ浦湾) in the province of Nambu (modern Miyagi Prefecture), where they learned that the Imperial forces had subdued the Daimyos of Northern Japan, and that the rebel forces favorable to the Shogun had fled to the island of Hokkaidō. They decided to go further north to Aomori, where they were warmly received by the Daimyo of Tsugaru. A visiting American ship brought them the news that an order of arrest had been issued against them. Eugène Collache and Nicol decided to board the American ship and reached Hokkaidō.
During the winter of 1868-1869, Collache was put in charge of establishing fortifications in the volcanic mountain chain protecting Hakodate (Nicol was put in charge of organizing the Navy).
On May 18, the decision was taken to make a surprise attack on the Imperial Navy, which was moving north to confront them. Collache thus participated to the Naval Battle of Miyako. He was on the Takao, former Aschwelotte, which he was commanding. The two other ships were the Kaiten and the Banryu. The ships encountered bad weather, in which the Takao suffered from engine trouble, and the Banryu was separated. The Banryu eventually returned to Hokkaidō, without joining the battle.
To create surprise, the Kaiten planned to enter Miyako harbour with an American flag. Unable to achieve more than three knots due to engine trouble, the Takao trailed behind, and the Kaiten first joined battle. The Kaiten approached the enemy ships and raised the Bakufu flag seconds before boarding the Imperial warship Kotetsu. The Kotetsu managed to repel the attack with a Gatling gun, with huge loss on the attacking side. The Kaiten, pursued by the Imperial fleet, steamed out of Miyako Bay just as the Takao was entering it. The Kaiten eventually escaped to Hokkaidō, but the Takao was unable to leave the pursuers and wrecked herself voluntarily.
Capture and imprisonment
Trying to escape through the mountain, Collache finally surrendered after a few days together with his troops to the Japanese authorities. They were brought to Edo to be imprisoned. He was judged and condemned to death, but he was finally pardoned.
Return to France
Back in France, he was discharged from the armed forces and court-martialed as a deserter, but the sentence was light, and he was allowed to reenlist for the Franco-Prussian War together with his friend Nicol.
He wrote "An Adventure in Japan 1868 - 1869" ("Une aventure au Japon 1868-1869"), which was published in 1874.
Other samurai of European descent
- William Adams (1564 - 1620), known in Japanese as Anjin Miura (三浦按針: "the pilot of Miura"), was an English navigator who travelled to Japan and is believed to be the first Englishman ever to reach the country.
- Jan Joosten - known in Japanese as Yan Yōsuten was a Dutch colleague of Adams, only know Dutch samurai. Today, Yaesu neighborhood in Chūō, Tokyo is named after him.
- Edward Schnell - known in Japanese as Hiramatsu Buhei was a Prussian arms dealer, who served the Aizu domain as a military instructor and procurer of weapons.
Jules Brunet (1838 – 1911) - was a French officer who fought for the Shogun in the Boshin War and later became a General and Chief of Staff of the French Minister of War in 1898.
- "Une aventure au Japon", by Eugene Collache, p.49
- Eugène Collache "Une aventure au Japon", in "Le Tour du Monde" No77, 1874