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Compagnie de Navigation d'Orbigny (Shipping company, France)

Last modified: 2012-06-23 by ivan sache
Keywords: d'orbigny | faustin | letter: o (black) |
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[Orbigny house flag]

House flag of d'Orbigny - Image by Ivan Sache, 7 December 2003

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Presentation of d'Orbigny

Alcide d'Orbigny and Eucher Faustin (quickly succeeded by his son Georges) founded in January 1865 in La Rochelle the A. d'Orbigny et E. Faustin company, aimed at "trading coal and all other stuff inside and outside France". After having chartered ships transporting coal from England to France, the associates purchased in 1870 the steam three-master Marie-Fanny, named for the first name of their respective wives. Five trawlers joined the fleet in 1874-1881.
Due to the success of the company, the fleet was increased in 1880-1883 with 13 England-built ships. Eleven of them were operated on triangular lines between France, England and Spain to transport coal and ore. Seven of them were named for French towns with steelworks (Montataire, Boucau, Rive de Gier, Saint Chamond, Commentry, Isbergues and Trignac). The two remaining, bigger ships, Panama and Suez, were used for deep-sea tramping in America and Asia.
Alcide d'Orbigny was Mayor of La Rochelle in 1893-1905, succeeding Émile Delmas (elected in 1884), another famous shipowner.

In 1893, benefiting of a law that sponsored the building of sailing ships, d'Orbigny ordered five four-masters from a Rouen-based shipyards, of which only two, Europe and Asie, were actually built. Inaugurated in 1897, they were used to ship wheat from Oregon (USA) to England and nickel from New Caledonia to France, until sold in 1908 to Bordes, which continued to operate them. D'Orbigny entered the African market, with the purchase of the Deux-Charentes and Vienne in 1901, operated in Algeria and Tunisia, and of the Vendée, Deux-Sèvres, Indre, Sarthe, Mayenne and Loiret in 1906-1908, shipping groundnuts from Senegal.
Alcide d'Orbigny died in 1907, aged 72, and was succeeded by one of his associates, Albert Capelle (1860-1928). Renamed in 1909 Compagnie de Navigation d'Orbigny after the merging with Albert Capelle & Cie, the company had its social seat moved to Paris in 1913. The company sold in 1912 all its ships but the Vosges, the biggest ship of the company at the time (6,200 t), launched in 1909. Originally operated in Asia, the Vosges was lost in 1914 during its first journey to Brazil. Of the five brand new ships ordered from a shipyard of Sunderland, only the Meuse and the Marne were actually built. The torpedoing of the two ships in 1917 ended d'Orbigny's maritime activity for a few years.

In 1921, d'Orbigny purchased the Zénon, chartered to the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, which eventually purchased it in 1934. The company inaugurated in 1925 scheduled lines to South America (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay), served by ten new ships, including five ships named for ancient Greek celebrities, Platon, Solon, Criton, Myson and Strabon. Names ending with -on became the company's "trademark", most subsequent ships being named for French and Argentinean towns whose name ended with -on. The origin of this weird onomastic is not clear. This was, most probably, a discrete tribute to Marcel Capelle's elder brother, Robert-Alcide. An excellent Hellenic scholar, he served in the French Navy and disappeared with the Danton, torpedoed on 19 March 1917. This "family" onomastic was at par with the company's management, which remained "familial" for several decades. Albert Capelle and his successors often travelled, with wife and children, on the company's ships and expressed their concern for safety by hiring well-trained captains and crews.
When Albert Capelle died in April 1928 and was succeeded by his son Marcel (1893-1980), captain in the fleet since 1923, South American navigation was the main source of income of the company.

Of the ten ships forming the d'Orbigny fleet in 1939, only one survived the Second World War. Sunk in Casablanca in 1942 during the American landing, the Fauzon was refloated and repaired in 1943; together with the liberty-ship Lyon, the Fauzon allowed the company to maintain a limited business. The d'Orbigny fleet was reconstituted in 1947-1955 with ten England-built ships, all named for French towns (Vernon, Chinon, Dijon, Redon, Chalon, Crozon, Vierzon, Gaillon, Lannion and Meudon).
The South American lines became less profitable in the late 1950s because of the local economical situation and of the raise of local shipowners, favoured by their respective governments. In 1959, Chargeurs Réunis and Louis-Dreyfus & Cie set up the SEAS joint-venture, joined in September 1962 by d'Orbigny. The Compagnie de Navigation d'Orbigny was suppressed and superseded by the Nouvelle Compagnie de Navigation d'Orbigny on 1 January 1963. The two main partners of the venture progressively entered the capital of d'Orbigny, which ceased to be a family business. In 1963-1964, the ten d'Orbigny ships were sold to India and replaced by the three SEAS ships operated on the South American line, renamed Salon, Sauzon and Arzon.

The Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes took over d'Orbigny in 1965. The Rhin and the Rhône, formerly chartered by the SEAS, were allocated to d'Orbigny and renamed Luchon and Ablon, respectively. In 1972, Marcel Capelle was named President of Honor, which eventually ended the d'Orbigny-Capelle rule over the company. His son-in-law Jean Corpet, still the nominal director of d'Orbigny, kept little influence on the management of the company, especially after the death of the patriarch in 1990. The family would eventually sell its remaining 28% of the shares of the company in 1988. The Compagnie Générale Maritime, founded in 1977 by the merging of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique and of the Messageries Maritimes, took over d'Orbigny, which lost most of its ships, deemed obsolete, and keep operating only two ships, Thonon and Toulon.

In a last attempt, d'Orbigny purchased in 1990 the Eiffel from the Compagnie Générale Maritime and registered her under the Panamanian flag. Sold in 1999 to Viking, the Eiffel was the last of the 78 ships owned by d'Orbigny since 1870. In the 1990s, the company focused on ship chartering and management. In 1993, its financial owner, the Société Financière de l'Atlantique, merged the Compagnie de management d'Orbigny with the Stim, involved in port management, to form Stim d'Orbigny. Renamed in 2004 d'Orbigny Ship Management, the chartering branch of the company ceased to operate in 2009.

- Gérard Cornier. 2010. D'Orbigny : un vieux nom de la marine marchande. French Lines association, Bulletin No. 69, 3-6;
- Gérard Cornier. 2005. La Compagnie de navigation d'Orbigny, un sillage refermé sur l'Amérique du Sud. Navires et Marine Marchande, 24, 20-36;
- Thomas Corpet. 2005. La Compagnie de navigation d'Orbigny. Le Chasse-Marée, 178, 18-32.

Alcide d'Orbigny, the founder of the company, was the nephew of the naturalist Alcide d'Orbigny (Alcide Charles Victor Marie Dessalines d'Orbigny, 1802-1857). In 1825, d'Orbigny published the Tableau méthodique de la classe des céphalopodes, in which he showed that the microscopic organisms known by their beautifully ornamented tests should be classified in a brand new order that he named "Foraminifera". The report yielded enthusiastic support by Georges Cuvier, the father of palaeontology, and marked the emergence of a new discipline, subsequently named micropaleontology.
The next year, d'Orbigny was appointed by the Paris Museum of Natural History as a "naturalist traveller" and commissioned to explore the yet little-known South America. D'Orbigny related his 8-years travel (1826-1833) in his monumental Voyage en Amérique méridionale (11 volumes, 4,747 pages, 302 colour plates and 122 black and white plates), published in 1834-1847. The book reports detailed observations on the flora and the fauna, but also on geography and geology. The special emphasis put by d'Orbigny on the relations between the environmental features and the organisms living there make of him a precursor of biogeography. Steeped in humanism, d'Orbigny paid great attention to the local societies and their history, including in the book reports of significant ethnographical value. Charles Darwin, who would visit South America a few years later than d'Orbigny, considered the book as "one of the monuments of science in 19th century". The memory of Alcide d'Orbigny is still extremely vivid in the then "young" countries he visited; this is, most probably, one of the reasons of the success of the d'Orbigny company in South America.
Appointed Professor of the newly founded Chair of Paleontology at the Museum in 1853, d'Orbigny developed the concepts of modern stratigraphy, designing the first scale of geologic layers and coining several layer's names still in use. From his collections of plant and animal samples including more than 100,000 items, carefully kept at the Museum, he described thousands of new species. In 1840, d'Orbigny started the Paléontologie française, of which he could complete "only" 9 volumes (some 4,000 pages and 1,440 plates), published in 1840-1860, describing and classifying all the fossils of Molluscs and Urchins found in France. After his death, the French Committee of Paleontology resumed his works, publishing another 16 volumes to form a collection of 25 volumes still considered as a reference work.

Source: MNHN website

Ivan Sache, 28 February 2012

House flag of d'Orbigny

After the Second World War, all sources but one consistently shows the house flag of d'Orbigny horizontally divided blue-red-green, the red stripe broader.

The house flag is a straightforward derivation from the arms of La Rochelle, "Gules a three masted sailing ship or the sails argent a champagne vert a chief azure three fleurs-de-lis or". These arms, already mentioned in the 13th century, were confirmed by the Armorial Général in 1696 and again by King Charles X in 1827.
T. Corpet writes that the flag was adopted very early, already at the times of the d'Orbigny-Faustin partnership. A technical drawing of the series of steamers built in 1906-1908 indeed shows the tricolor house flag and funnel marking. Whether the coloring is part of the original drawing or was added later is a matter of speculation. A scale model of the Zénon, built in 1921, has also the same funnel marking.

Ivan Sache, 28 February 2012

Early house flags of d'Orbigny

d'Orbigny & Faustin

[Orbigny house flag]         [Orbigny house flag]

House flag of d'Orbigny & Faustin, two versions - Images by Ivan Sache, 28 February 2012

The early flag of d'Orbigny & Faustin is a white swallow-tailed flag with a red border and red lettering in the middle.
Griffin (1895) shows, for d'Orbigny & Faustin fils, the letters "O & F". Lloyd's book of house flags and funnels of the principal steamship lines of the world and the house flags of various lines of sailing vessels, published at Lloyd's Royal Exchange. London. E.C. (1912) [LLo12], also available online thanks to the Mystic Seaport Foundation, shows, for A. d'Orbigny, Faustin & Cie, the letters "O.F & Cie".

Neale Rosanoski, 27 November 2004

Compagnie de Navigation d'Orbigny

[Orbigny house flag]

House flag of d'Orbigny, as shown by Brown - Image by Jarig Bakker, 12 January 2006

From 1926 [wed26] to 1943, Brown shows for Compagnie de Navigation d'Orbigny a flag horizontally divided red-white-green with a black "O" all over.

[Orbigny house flag]

House flag of d'Orbigny, as shown by Talbot-Booth - Image by Ivan Sache, 28 February 2012

Talbot-Booth (1936) [tbb36] shows the flag horizontally divided blue-red-green, the red stripe broader and charged with the black lettering "Cie. de Nion O."

[Orbigny house flag]

House flag of d'Orbigny, as shown by Brown (1958) - Image by Ivan Sache, 28 February 2012

After the Second World War, all sources but one consistently shows the flag horizontally divided blue-red-green, the red stripe broader.
The exception is Brown (1958) [wed58] who shows the flag with the red stripe only slightly broader than the two other ones and inscribed "CIE DE N. D'O", but then confuses matters by stating in the Notes that the letters now no longer applied after not having shown them in 1951 [wed51].

Neale Rosanoski, 27 November 2004