French Xebec Boberach (captured from Algeria in 1830)

xebec, spanish, ship, lateen, sail
A Spanish xebec in 1826, Plate 33 in Collection de Toutes les Especes de Batimens… 3eme Livraison by Jean Baugean, from the collections of National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

The xebec (French chébec/chébeck) was a lightly-constructed vessel of the Mediterranean Sea that featured lateen sails as well as oars. Developed from the long, narrow oar-powered galleys of ancient times, xebecs were fast vessels able to sail close to the wind because of their triangular sails. This, as well as their shallow draft and ability to use oars when becalmed made them popular with pirates, as they could catch merchant ships and run away from warships. Being able to outrun a warship was important as, in a quote that has been credited to Thomas Jefferson (but I am unable to confirm) the xebec was “so light as not to stand the broadside of a good frigate.”

free, ship, plan, xebec, chebec, French, Algerian, lateen, sail, vessel
Boberach, an Algerian xebec seized by the French in 1830

Our xebec plan is “Du Chebeck de Boberach” (The xebec named Boberach) which was “Prise Africaine faite à Alger en 1830” (taken as a prize from Algeria) when France invaded the North African country in 1830. One source states she was captured in July, and commissioned into the French navy just a month later. (1) I haven’t been able to verify this, however, she does begin to appear in 1831 in the “Annales Maritimes et Coloniales” (Journals of Navy and Colonies) a bi-annual periodical published by the French government that includes ship movements, wherein it notes:

“The chébec the Boberach, commanded by Mr. Fournier, ship-of-the-line lieutenant, leaves Toulon August 19 enroute to Ajaccio, Corsica. Under the same commander, she left Toulon for Marseilles November 30.” (2)

She appears to continue this duty station, traveling between Toulon and Corisca, as noted in “Annales Maritimes et Coloniales”:

“The Boberach, xebec, commanded by Mr. L.F. Fournier, ship-of-the-line lieutenant, leaves Toulon, December 16 1831, to go to Corsica; returning to Toulon April 5 (1832), coming from Marseille, where it has transported the crew of the Léonidas, shipwrecked on l’ île Rousse; leaves Toulon 15 April, for Corsica; arrives at Toulon May 29, coming from Ajaccio; leaves for Corsica June 5.” (3)

xebec, malta, maltese, ship, vessel, lateen, sail
A Maltese xebec, under sail, with oars deployed

For a short time in 1832, the Boberach is reassigned to Séte, and we learn her captain’s full name:

“The Boberach, chebeck, Commanded by Mr. Louis-Jean Fournier, ship-of-the-line lieutenant, leaves Toulon June 5 for Corsica; returns to Toulon June 20; leaves this harbor August 13 to be going to replace the Chamois at Séte;” (4)

The Boberach’s exchange with Chamois, an escort vessel commanded by ship-of-the-line lieutenant Paul-Henri-Louis Pujol, is short-lived. She arrives in Toulon August 25, coming from Séte, and departs Toulon September 18 for Séte. (5) Boberach returns to Toulon October 8, coming from Séte; leaves Toulon the 14th of the same month for Bonne; leaves Bonne November 1; reaches Toulon the 12th of the same month. (6)

free, ship, plan, xebec, chapman, Architectura Navalis Mercatoria
Algerian xebec plan from Fredrik Henrik af Chapman’s Architectura Navalis Mercatoria (1768) **

The next year, we learn the Boberach has a new captain, and we learn a bit about what cargo she’s carrying to Corsica:

“The Boberach, chebeck commanded by Mr. Étienne*, ship-of-the-line lieutenant, arrives in Toulon April 7, coming from Corsica; left April 21 for Corsica; of return to Toulon May 7; left Toulon the 13th of the same month with 200,000 francs for Corsica; returning to Toulon the 22nd; leaves the 28th for Port-Vendres; retuns to Toulon June 6;” (7)

xebec, Genoa, Genoise, 14 cannons
A Genoise xebec of 14 cannons at anchor, Plate 17 in Collection de Toutes les Especes de Batimens…. 2eme Livraison by Jean Baugean, from the collections of National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

And, we have her first recorded voyage back to the land of her birth when we read she leaves for Bône (present-day city of Annaba, Algeria) 22 June. (8) And that the return trip from Bône lasts from October 2 to October 9. (9)

The next brief mentions of the Boberach note that in 1837 she is under the command of ship-of-the-line lieutenant Ritt (10), with ship-of-the-line ensign Lacroix second in command. (11) She was disarmed for a time that same year in Toulon. (12)

On 16 October 1838, now stationed in Algeria, Boberach is placed under the command of ship-of-the-line lieutenant. P.A. Bonfils, (13) with ensign Lacroix remaining second in command. (14)

xebec, lateen, ship, sail, gibralter, Vilhelm, Melbye
Xebecs and other shipping off Gibralter at sunset, oil on canvas, Vilhelm Melbye 1876

Boberach is reported to be rearmed in 1841 in Toulon, (15) however, on 2 February, 1841, she is placed under the command of Ship-of-the-line lieutenant J.M. Barnel with her station continuing to be North Africa “Cotes d’ Afrique — Algérie.” (15)

The next mention I find is Boberach was stationed in Algeria for local service in 1847 (16), so one could assume she was there since 1838.

Such a small ship, stationed in a foreign port, seems to escape notice, as that is the last mention I find until the Boberach appears in an article on the sinking of the ship ‘Avenger’ in the second volume of the 1850 edition of Colburn’s United Service Magazine (London), which states:

lateen, sail, triangular, square, rigged, sail, ship, vessel
Triangular Lateen sails gave xebecs the ability to sail much closer to the wind than square-rigged ships

“M. Bouchet Riviere, commanding the French xebec Boberach, charged with the surveillance of the coral fishery in Algeria, has just explored the Sorelli rocks. The dangerous rocks, commonly called the ‘Two Sisters,’ have the same basis, but are separated at their summit, and form two peaks or heads, over which there are but three or four feet of water, and between which the wreck of the Avenger now lies. M. Bouchet Riviere has seen the engines of the Avenger in the chasm between these rocks ; he has also perceived two anchors, a chain cable, and a gun, and has succeeded in getting up from the wreck some pieces of iron and a boarding cutlass.” (17)

lateen, sail, triangular, mediterranean, croatia, bracera
Croatian traditional bracera “Our Lady of the Sea” raising its lateen sail as leaving port by Ljubo Gamulin

The fate of Boberach appears to be no better than that of Avenger. The French Bulletin of the Laws 1 July to 31 December 1858 notes: “Mr. Francois Ferrand, assistant surgeon of the navy, was noted for good conduct in the grounding of the xebec Boberach.”(18)

The date of the grounding is marked as May 26, 1858; on 28th July 1858 she is noted as “rayé” (stricken from the rolls), (19) however, I cannot find the copy of “Archives Maritmes de Toulon” from which this is reported.

*This is the only commander of the Boberach I have been able to identify further. He was Jean Joseph Mathias Étienne, born February 24, 1797 in La Seyne Sur Mer in the provence of Cote D’Azur. A descendant’s genealogy page notes his career:

Commissioned ship-of-the-line lieutenant October 30 1829 in the port of Toulon. He was awarded the Knight of the Legion of Honor. 1 January, 1841, he was placed in command of the 110th Co. on the vessel of 86 cannons “Diadème” in the Mediterranean. He was promoted to Frigate Captain on 1 November, 1843. On 1 January 1849 he was given command of the vessel of 80 canons “Algiers” in Toulon. (20)

dhow, lateen, sail, vessel, ship, traditional, xebec
Dhow ferrying passengers from Inhambane to Maxixe in Mozambique, by Steven G. Johnson. Its lateen sail is in the “bad tack” (with the sail pressed against the mast). Xebecs often carried sails on opposite sides of the fore, main, and mizzen masts to counteract this problem.

While that reference doesn’t list the Boberach, archives of the the French Ministry of Defense indicate the “Papers of the Frigate Captain Jean-Joseph-Mathias Etienne (1797-1867) [include]: logbooks of the barges Loiret, Trout and Ciotat, vessels Colosse (Giant) and Diadème (Tiara), armored brigs Cuirassier (Division), Cygne (Swan), and Dragon, flûte (cargo-carrying corvette) Ariège, schooner Estafette, brig escort vessel la Flèche (the Arrow) and the chébec (xebec) Boberach. (21) He died 7 June, 1867, at the age of 70. (22)

** Chapman’s description (24):

une Chebeque Algerienne, son artillerie consistant de 16 Canons de 6 livres de balle par coté, 4 pieces de 12 en avant, & pieces de 3 sur son gaillard derrier, comme aussi 30 Espingols. A est une section de ce batiment a l’endroit de la grande chambre, B, est une pareille au frontau de lavant, & C en est une au maitre gabarit.

My rough translation:

An Algerian chebeque (xebec), artillery guns consisting of 16 cannons of 6 pound shot per side, 4 pieces of 12 (pound shot) forward & 3 pounders on the stern castle, also 30 pivot guns. Section “A” is the site of the Grand Cabin. Section “B”, is at the head, & section “C” is admidships.


(1) retreived February 2013.
(2) Annales Maritimes et Coloniales, Partie Non Officielle, 1831; pg 622
(3) Annales Maritimes et Coloniales, Partie Non Officielle, 1832. pg 340
(4) Annales Maritimes et Coloniales, Partie Officielle, 1833; page 378
(5) ibid; page 379
(6) ibid; page 378
(7) Annales Maritimes et Coloniales, Partie Officielle,1834; page 23
(8) ibid.
(9) Annales Maritimes et Coloniales, Partie Officielle, 1834; page 39
(10) Annales Maritimes et Coloniales, Partie Non Officielle, 1837; page 113
(11) Annales Maritimes et Coloniales, 1838 Partie Officielle; page 74
(12) ibid. page 206
(13) Annales Maritimes et Coloniales, Partie Officielle, 1839; page 162
(14) Annales Maritimes et Coloniales, Partie Officielle, 1838; page 783
(15) Annales Maritimes et Coloniales, Partie Officielle, 1841; page 250
(16) Annales Maritimes et Coloniales, Partie Officielle,1843; page 172
(17) Annales Maritimes et Coloniales, Partie Non Officielle,1847; Tome I; page 813
(18) Colburn’s United Service Magazine and Naval and Military Journal, 1850; Part II; page 636
(19) Bulletin des Lois de l’ Empire Français, Partie Supplémentaire, Tome Douzième; page 492
(20) Id.
(21);iz=35159;p=jean+joseph+mathias;n=etienne, retreived February 2013
(22) (Link no longer active)
(24) Description des plans dans l’Architectura navalis mercatoria retreived 02/23/2013


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