Pierre Berthelmy BOISSARD Jeanne Aricie BOISSARD Joan Mary BOISSARD Guy Peter Bartholomew BOISSARD Margaret Lilian BOISSARD Violet Agatha MELVILLE Louis Phillip BOISSARD Marie Aricie BERTHE treeI22.gif

Thomé Ariste BOISSARD

also known as Dick BOISSARD

5th Feb 1875 - Dec 1928

Life History

5th Feb 1875

Born in Grand Port, Mauritius

17th Jun 1913

Married Violet Agatha MELVILLE in New Orleans, Louisiana

6th May 1914

Birth of daughter Joan Mary BOISSARD in El Salto, Escuintla, Guatemala

19th Jun 1915

Birth of son Guy Peter Bartholomew BOISSARD in El Salto, Escuintla, Guatemala

6th Oct 1916

Birth of daughter Margaret Lilian BOISSARD

Dec 1928

Died in Guatemala

Tomé, about whose exact name I am still in some doubt, spent his early years in Mauritius where his father had a plantation almost certainly growing sugar on which Mauritian economy was founded. In the early 20th century the Boissards moved to Guatemala where, among other things, they grew sugar on a plantation or finca they called ‘Mauricio’ in Palin on the foothills of the Sierra Madre volcanic chain south of Guatemala City. Palin is the municipal seat in the Escuintla department of Guatemala. Tomé was accompanied by his parents who eventually died in Guatemala. He met his wife to be, Violet Lilian MELVILLE (Granny ‘Shuffle’ q.v.), in Guatemala where her father was working as a railway engineer. They were married in New Orleans.

Here's a picture of Tome; as a younger man.

[img class="noborder" src="images/small/tome1.jpg" width="274" height="393" /]

In spite of his name and origins, Tomé Boissard was a British subject, as were his parents, even though they were always referred to by Peg as grand-père and grand-mère. The latter, unable or unwilling to speak Anglais, stoutly insisted on being French, reinforced with occasional fortissimo renditions of La Marsellaise. Grand-père redressed the balance by insisting on being British. It wasn't just a question of lineage. The French took control of Mauritius in 1715 after the Dutch abandoned it and promptly renamed it Isle de France. The territory included the Chagos Islands. During the Napoleonic Wars, Mauritius was used as a base from which French corsairs raided British merchant shipping. Britannia put a stop to that in 1810, dispatching a Royal Navy expedition led by Commodore Josias Rowley, an Anglo-Irish aristocrat, to capture the island from the dastardly French. The immediate outcome was France's only naval victory of the Napoleonic Wars - the Battle of Grand Port. Undaunted, the British invaded Cap Malheureux three months later leading to a French surrender on 3 December 1810, on terms which allowed settlers to keep their land and property and to use the French language.

Under British rule the island's name reverted to Mauritius, heralding rapid social and economic changes. Notwithstanding the fact that as well as the French language the inhabitants were allowed to retain French civil and criminal law, slavery was abolished in 1835, doubtless to the advantage of the Boissards one of whom, Pierre, is recorded as owning 17 souls. The planters received two million pounds sterling in compensation for the loss of their slaves who had been imported from Africa and Madagascar during the French occupation. The abolition of slavery had important impacts on Mauritian society, economy and population. The planters brought a large number of indentured labourers from India to work in the sugar-cane fields. Between 1834 and 1921, around half a million indentured labourers were present on the island, not just as field workers but also in factories, transport and construction.

Under British administration the Chagos Islands were separated from Mauritius in 1965. Thereafter Mauritius was useful to Britain as a dumping-ground for those illegally dispossessed of their ancestral rights in Diego Garcia and the other Chagos Islands thereby creating a legacy of social, ethnic and cultural unrest as in every other colony. Mauritius gained full independence from Britain in 1968.

Long before that, life for the Boissards can't have been as sweet as all that otherwise why move half way round the globe to continue in much the same vein? What was it that made the cane seem sweeter on the other side of the planet? Reading between the lines I think two things prompted the move; favourable land deals offered by the Guatemalan government; and a contract for Tomé from Chalmers, Guthrie and Co. to manage a sugar refinery.

As an ex-pat Brit, Tomé sent his children to boarding school in England, firstly to Hurst Point, then to Malvern. It was while the children were away at school that Tomé died at a comparatively young age probably in 1928. According to Jo, his elder daughter, he died of an ailment that could apparently have been cured routinely by antibiotics. Were that the case, such premature deaths were commonplace in the ‘good old days’, especially among those living abroad; not only was access to adequate medical care patchy to say the least, but understanding of tropical medicine was in its infancy. For example, yellow fever, endemic in Central and South America, was thought to be spread by beetles, so hospital beds were stood in bowls of water to prevent the supposed beetles ascending to infect the beds' occupants. In reality, the bowls of water became perfect breeding grounds for the mosquitos which are the actual vector for the disease. However, according to another source, John Gordon Smith writing in ‘Finca Moca’ [2003] Tomé actually died of lung cancer. Here is what John Smith wrote about Tomé, whose ‘proper’ name he invariably gives as Aristide.

“Aristide (Dick) Boissard died of cancer in December 1928. Originally from the Island of Mauritius, he had gained experience in the growing of sugar cane and had been contracted by Chalmers, Guthrie and Co. to work at the sugar mill Ingenio El Salto in Escuintla. Like Gordon [Smith, John’s brother] he had also acquired a finca, a small cane finca near Escuintla, which he christened ‘Mauricio’. He left his widow Violet Melville with three young children to educate and only a small income. She finally moved to England where she taught at Malvern Girl’s School, got her children well educated (with financial help from Gordon for Guy’s education) and lived a long life near Cambridge.” [p. 46]

Reading lsquo;Finca Moca’ gave me an odd insight into how little I knew [know!] about my family. My father was commonly known as Dick. After he died it became apparent that my mother, Peg, the above Tomé's younger daughter, was unable to take care of herself properly and she came to live with us for a while until the inevitable move into a care home. Among other things, I asked her once what she called her own father, whom she cannot have known well as he died when Peg was about ten. She astonished me by saying “Dick.” I said something like “no, no, that was my father; but what did you call your father?” She insisted on Dick which, at the time, I put down to general confusion. But then we had a visit from a very old family friend, Sandra Smith, niece of the John Smith who wrote lsquo;Finca Moca’, and thus it was I learned almost all I know about ‘Dick’ Boissard.