Éric de Bisschop

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Éric de Bisschop
Born October 21, 1891
Died August 30, 1958
Nationality France
Known for Navigation, Adventure books
Scientific career
Fields Ethnography

Éric de Bisschop (October 21,[1] 1891 – August 30, 1958) was a French seafarer, famous for his travel from Honolulu to France aboard the Polynesian sailboat Kaimiloa.[2][3][4][5][6][7]

He spent most of his adult life in the Pacific Ocean, notably in Honolulu (1935–1937 and 1941–1947) and in French Polynesia (1947–1956); he was not simply a sea adventurer but had a deep interest in the Pacific and its inhabitants, whose history he tried to study.


Early life[edit]

He was born in Aire-sur-la-Lys (Pas-de-Calais)[8] in a wealthy family from northern France; it is said that it was a noble family.[9] It is also said by some sources that Philippe Pétain was his godfather; it is true that he had very good relations with Pétain (see below).

Trained in a Jesuite secondary school then as a sailor, he commanded a patrol boat in the English Channel in 1914–1915, then was transferred to the air force and sustained a serious plane accident (1917).

China and the Fou Po[edit]

After the War, he went to China in 1927.[10] There in 1931 he met the man who was to be his teammate for the seven next years – Joseph Tatibouet.

He built a Chinese junk, the Fou Po and from 1932 to 1935 sailed with Tatibouet in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. Fou Po was destroyed in a hurricane on Formosa (modern day Taiwan), but de Bisschop quickly built a new, smaller junk, Fou Po II in 1933. In July 1935,[11] they were detained for two weeks by the Japanese in Jaluit (Marshall Islands) under suspicion of being spies and barely escaped, fleeing towards the Hawaiian Islands. On October 25, they reached, half starving, Molokai Island and were rescued at the Kalaupapa hospital. On the 27th, the Fou Po II was destroyed by a storm, along with all the scientific work done during these years of seafaring. After a while, they flew to Honolulu.[12]

Hawaii and the Kaimiloa[edit]

During the year 1936,[11] they built a Polynesian "double canoe" (a catamaran, but Eric de Bisschop always refused to use this word); he met a Hawaiian woman, Constance Constable, alias "Papaleaiaina", whom he married at the end of 1938.[13]

In March 1937 he and Tatibouet left Honolulu aboard the Kaimiloa, reaching Cape Town in September, Tanger in December, and after a long stay Cannes in May 1938. In 1939, he published his book Kaimiloa, which was translated in English in 1940.[14][15]

France (1938-40)[edit]

During their stay in France, the de Bisschops frequently met Maréchal Pétain, notably in Pétain's estate in Villeneuve-Loubet on the Côte d'Azur.[16]

A notable episode was the hearing by Eric de Bisschop[17] concerning Amelia Earhart, whom he had heard about while he was detained in Jaluit.

The Kaimiloa-Wakea and Hawaii[edit]

Eric de Bisschop then built a new boat, the Kaimiloa-Wakea, and on June 14, 1940, left Bordeaux with his wife, towards the Marquesas Islands. But the boat was destroyed in a collision in the port of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Financially helped by Pétain (since June 16, 1940 the chief of the Government, then of the State), they waited for judgment of the case ; in April 1941, Eric de Bisschop was appointed as Consular Agent in Honolulu, the office being vacant since Professor Pecker had resigned in September 1940. They traveled through the USA and reached Hawaii at the beginning of August 1941.

The couple lived in Constance's parents' house, which was ipso facto the place of the Consular Agency. They had some activity as Pétain propagandists (conferences, articles in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin), but on December 13, a few days after the Pearl Harbor attack, Eric de Bisschop was deprived of his diplomatic recognition by the State Department without explanation. In May 1942, the Constables' house was even thoroughly searched by Military Intelligence and the four people questioned; Eric de Bisschop was kept under arrest for three days. It seems that they had been denounced for imaginary crimes. In 1942 Constance de Bisschop wrote two letters to Sumner Welles to defend her husband. But the revocation had not been cancelled when on November 8 happened the diplomatic rupture between the USA and the Vichy Government.

French Polynesia and the Tahiti-Nui[edit]

It seems that he spent the rest of the war in Honolulu.[18] He left Hawaii and his wife (without ever divorcing) in 1947 and went to French Polynesia where he became a merchant seaman for 4 years. In 1951 his trade failed and he got an administrative job as geometer in the Austral Islands (Rurutu and Raivavae).

In 1956, he committed himself in a new "odyssey", a project he had had for some years: he built a Polynesian raft in order to cross the eastern Pacific Ocean from Tahiti to Chile (contrary to Thor Heyerdahl's crossing);[19][20][21] the Tahiti-Nui left Papeete with a crew of five on November 8, 1956. He had recruited two experienced sailors from Tahiti for this challenge: Michel and Alain Brun. When near the Juan Fernández Islands (Chile) in May 1957, the raft was in a very poor state and they asked for a tow, but it was damaged during the operation and had to be abandoned, although they were able to keep all the equipment aboard.

Chile, the second Tahiti-Nui and the death[edit]

In Chile a second Tahiti-Nui was built in Constitucion; they left on April 13, 1958 towards Callao, then towards the Marquesas, but they missed their target and were swept along towards Cook Islands where on August 30[22] the raft went aground and was wrecked at Rakahanga atoll.[23]

Eric de Bisschop was the only person who died in this tragic accident. He was buried in the island of Rurutu where he had had his house since 1951.[24][25]

People related to Eric de Bisschop[edit]

Constance de Bisschop[edit]

Born around 1905, she was proud of her Polynesian blood (25%), reason of her alias Papaleaiaina. She had had a daughter (Yolanda) from a first marriage. After their separation she met her husband in Papeete only once, when the Tahiti-Nui was about to leave (1956) and had friendly relations with the Polynesian woman whom he had been living with for years.

It seems that she had an artistic activity as Constance de Bisschop in Honolulu during the years ’50 to ’70.[26]

Joseph Tatibouet, alias Tati[edit]

Born on October 27, 1903, he was from La Trinité-sur-Mer (Morbihan, in Brittany). In China, he worked as an inspector of the French police in Hankou when he met Eric de Bisschop. After the Kaimiloa odyssey, he was the eponym of a book written by François de Pierrefeu, a friend of Eric de Bisschop's : Les Confessions de Tatibouet (about the Fou Po travels).

During the construction of the Kaimiloa, he must have met a Hawaiian woman, Annelie Knaack, graduate (Tourism Business) of the Hawaii University, whom he married in Cannes on December 24, 1938. They came back to Honolulu in 1940.

In 1948 they created their own hotel near the Waikiki beach, the Royal Grove Hotel, origin of the Aston Hotels.

Their son André S. Tatibouet, born in 1941, has been a protagonist in the economic and political life in Hawaii.

Irving Otis Pecker[edit]

Irving Otis Pecker, Eric de Bisschop's predecessor, had been the French Consular Agent since 1929 and had become Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur on bequest of the French Ministry of Navy: one of the consular tasks in Honolulu was to organize the visits of the French Navy (for instance the Jeanne d'Arc in 1934). An American from Boston, he was professor of French literature and head of the Department of Romanic Languages at the University of Hawaii. He resigned on September 26, 1940, after he had been one year away, under pressure from the University, because they did not want him to work for the Vichy Government. The funny thing is that he had to give Eric de Bisschop the archives of the Agency, and the new Agent could read letters from 1936, from the Consulate of San Francisco, where he was depicted like a fool with his Kaimiloa project. But Pr Pecker's resignation is also a testimony of the hostility to Pétain in the USA, although the US government and particularly Franklin Delano Roosevelt supported him.


Books by Eric de Bisschop
  • The Voyage of the Kaimiloa, London, 1940 (translated from French: Kaimiloa : D'Honolulu à Cannes par l'Australie et Le Cap, à bord d'une double pirogue polynésienne), Editions Plon, Paris, 1939 (Au delà des horizons lointains 1).
  • Tahiti-Nui, New-York, 1959 (translated from French: Cap à l'Est : Première expédition du Tahiti-Nui, Paris, Plon, 1958)
  • Vers Nousantara, ou l'énigme polynésienne, Editions La Table Ronde, Paris, 1963 (Collection L'ordre du jour).
Other sources
  • François de Pierrefeu : Les Confessions de Tatibouet, Editions Plon, Paris, 1939 (Au delà des horizons lointains 2) [about the Fou Po]
  • Bengt Danielsson: From Raft to Raft, 1961 (translated from Swedish) [about the Tahiti-Nui II]
  • Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 3, 4, 5 September 1941 : "Honolulu Girl Defends Petain As True Patriot", by Baroness Constance de Bisschop.
  • Honolulu Star-Bulletin, October 25, 1941, "UNFAIR TO MARSHAL PETAIN" (about a radiophonic commentary).
  • Honolulu Advertiser, August 8, 1942, "OUR APOLOGIES EXTENDED, CONSTANCE" (about an editorial of the newspaper).
  • Honolulu Advertiser, September 7, 1942, "AN ANSWER TO YOURS FOR JUSTICE" (about a letter published in the newspaper under the signature Yours For Justice).
  • Other (Paris-Match, etc.) : cf. the French page.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin and Honolulu Advertiser mentioned articles have been read in the Centre des Archives diplomatiques de Nantes,[27] as items in a file of documents about the French Consular Agency in Honolulu (Fonds "Washington", carton 1226[28]) ; they are probably also available in Honolulu and perhaps in Washington, D.C.


  1. ^ 21 instead of 23 : in Kaimiloa, chapter 1 (French edition, 1953: p. 9": "le 21 octobre, jour de mon anniversaire!"
  2. ^ Pierre Pierrard - Gens du Nord 1985 "Un grand navigateur méconnu : Éric de Bisschop"
  3. ^ Journal de la Société des Océanistes: Volumes 13–15 Musée de l'Homme (Muséum national d'histoire naturelle) - 1993 "Son corps fut ramené à Tahiti par le Lotus, stationnaire français de Papeete, après l'impressionnant adieu funèbre de cet îlot perdu. De toutes ces aventures Éric de Bisschop n'a laissé de traces littéraires que dans deux ouvrages .."
  4. ^ By MARSTON BATES; August 02, 1959, nytimes.com
  5. ^ Experimental Voyaging in the Pacific jstor.org
  6. ^ stampsoftheworld.co.uk
  7. ^ danstopicals.com
  8. ^ Tony Wheeler, Jean-Bernard Carillet, Tahiti & French Polynesia
  9. ^ Honolulu Star-Bulletin, September 3, 1941 : the newspaper says : Baron Eric de Bisschop, but in his books Eric de Boisschop does not refer to this title
  10. ^ No information has been found for the years 1918–1926, except holidays with the Pétains around 1919.
  11. ^ a b Source : Kaimiloa
  12. ^ West Australian, January 31, 1934, Story of a Chinese Junktrove.nla.gov.au
  13. ^ The Honolulu Star-Bulletin says that Pétain was a witness at the wedding
  14. ^ Wharram,James: ERIC DE BISSCHOP
  15. ^ Popular Science , September 1937 Google books
  16. ^ Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 3–5 September 1941, where it is very wrongly written Velleneune-Toubet
  17. ^ Amelia and the French connection
  18. ^ No information has been found for the years 1943-1946
  19. ^ Kon-tiki in Reverse)
  20. ^ T. R. Pearson, Seaworthy: Adrift with William Willis in the Golden Age of Rafting GGbooks
  21. ^ Ben Finney , Voyage of Rediscovery: A Cultural Odyssey through Polynesia [1]
  22. ^ Bengt Danielsson, From Raft to Raft, Chapter 9: "Rakahanga"
  23. ^ tahitiphilatelie.com
  24. ^ Jerald Fritzinger Pre-Columbian Trans-Oceanic ContactGgoogle books
  25. ^ David StanleyTahiti-Polynesia Handbook GGoogle books
  26. ^ Internet reference [2]. There is a mistake about Yolanda, who is not Eric's daughter.
  27. ^ CADN, 17 rue du Casterneau, 44000 Nantes, France.
  28. ^ Article and list of the documents (in French, but there are quotations in English) : [3]. Documents themselves to be published beginning of September.