THE FRENCH LEATHER DRESSER. EUGENE GONAT / LOUIS ROGER

Eugène Gonat was born 13 September 1851 at Clamecy, Bourgogne, France. He was the son of  Francois Cléophas Casimir Gonat and Françoise Virginie Guillien. 

The birth was registered at the Marie in Clamecy. (Translated)

In the year 1851, the 15th September at 10.00 before me Pierre Augustus, officer of the town hall of Clamecy , Francois Cleophas Casimir Gonat, tanner, living in Clamecy on the Promenade, aged 34, presents a male child born on the 13th of this month at 6.30 and Francoise Virginie Guillien, his wife, unemployed, aged 31, living with him in Clamecy name their child Eugene in the presence of Pierre Bazile Guillien, tanner, aged 26 and Pierre Augustus Gaudet  merchant, aged 47, both living in Clamecy, the maternal uncle and second cousin of the child.

The Gonat family had been tanners for many years.

In 1848, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte had been elected President of France and for the next few years there was much conflict in the National Assembly. The Coup d’état of 2 December 1851 was a self-coup staged by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte and it  dissolved the National Assembly, granted dictatorial powers to the president and preceded the establishment of the Second French Empire the next year. The Coup was was held in Paris, top opposition leaders were arrested and the National Assembly was restored.

The coup triggered revolts in other places across France. A total of 32 departments were put under a state of alert from 8 December and the rebellious areas were controlled in a few days. Opponents were arrested and some were forced to flee. Victor Hugo was one of them. By the end of the rebellion, 26,000 people were arrested, 9,530 were sent to Algeria and 250 to the prison of Cayenne.

Francois Cléophas Casimir Gonat , Pierre Bazile Guillien,and Jean Alexandre Guerbet were three of the men arrested .

A new constitution was adopted in January 1852. It dramatically expanded the powers of the president, who was elected for a period of 10 years with no term limits. For all intents and purposes, he now held all governing power in the nation.

Emperor Napoleon III, became concerned by rising crime and insufficient colonists to consolidate France’s empire, came up with a new solution. He  wasn`t interested in social reform, but decided on social cleansing where criminals could be just  exported elsewhere and forced into servitude, preferably never to return. His plan was for a system of penal colonies in French Guiana. Inmates called it ‘Le Bagne’.

The same year in 1852 Francois Casimir Gonat, was accused of” attack with the aim of changing the government” for offences which took place in 1851 and was condemned as a political prisoner which was usually for espionage or conspiracy.  His sentence was to 15 years of forced labour from the date of the sentence (decision of His Majesty Napoleon the 3rd). He was further sentenced to deportation for 15 years as a prisoner in Guyana by the second permanent council of war on the 13th February 1852.

Francois Casimir Gonat was sent out on the ship L’Allier, sailing from Toulon on the April 25th, 1853, and was imprisoned on the penal colony of Cayenne. Also deported at the same time and for the same offence was his brother-in-law Bazile Pierre Guillien, who were both employed as tanners.Another prisoner was Jean Alexandre Guerbet.

Of the 3 men only one survived.  François Casimir Gonat arrived on the 6th of July 1853 and was interned on the small Ilet La Mère, he was transferred to Ile Saint Joseph the following month and

died in 1855 of Yellow Fever aged just 38, the 2 registrants of his death were penitentiary supervisors at 49 rue de Berry in Cayenne (Guyana). He would have been buried in the cemetery in Cayenne as it was on the mainland.

Jean Alexandre Guerbet was authorised to return to France in 1854 but died on the 4 January 1855 on Îles Royal du Salut. This island also was known as l’île du Diable, or the notorious Devils Island, there was no cemetery and those who died were just taken out to sea and put overboard. This practice made efforts to escape the island by swimming a bad idea, as it was surrounded by sharks waiting for a meal.

 Bazile Pierre Guillien .  There are notes from the Bulletin de la Societe Scientifique et Artistique de Clamecy -L’Insurrection de 1851.  Bazile Pierre Guillien,   25 years old, born June 29 1826 at Clamecy, brother in law of Casimir Gonat, master tanner. Accused by the head of insurrection, he was sentenced by the war council on 13 February 1852 to the simple transportation to Cayenne. He escaped in July 1856 on a raft to Dutch Guyana. He returned to France in 1858 and died in Clamecy in 1910.

Back in France Eugene Gonat was brought up by his mother Françoise Virginie with his two younger sisters, Eugénie Virginie and Justine Françoise. He became a currier following his father’s trade.

On the 1872 census for France he was living with his grandfather George Francois Guillien at Rue Tour Lourdeau, Clamecy. Also living there were Virginie Guillien (his mother), his Uncle Bazile Pierre Guillien and his wife and daughter.

On 24 January 1875 banns were published at Clamecy. Eugene Gonat was to marry Eugenie Jeanne Anais Hena Guerbet.   It was a declaration of intent to marry in Paris where Eugene and Eugenie were both living on Rue Jean de Beavais.  There was an entry for 2nd February, but it was cancelled so it seems the scheduled marriage didn`t take place and it was re-scheduled for a week later for some unknown reason.

The marriage finally went ahead in Paris on 9th February 1875.  On the official entry it states that his father was Francois Cléophas Casimir Gonat who died in Cayenne, French Guyana.

The information for Eugenie Jeanne Anais Hena Guerbet says that her father was Jean Alexandre Guerbet who died on Îles Royal du Salut, French Guyana. So their fathers had both been in the revolts of 1851 and probably knew each other.

There are no more records for either Eugene Gonat or his wife together, and no children have been found. Eugenie Jeanne Gonat died aged 31 on 5th June 1883 in Sceaux, Paris. What happened to Jeanne Guerbet between 1875 and 1881 we don’t know but she died on 5th June 1883 in Sceaux, Paris.

The death registration shows that she is known as Jeanne de Beaulieu. Her death is reported by Henry Anatole Gaucher de Beaulieu aged 58, an art inspector living in Paris. The parents of Jeanne also lived on the Avenue D’Orleans. What her relationship was to Henry Anatole Gaucher de Beaulieu we don’t know.

Sometime between after 1875 Eugene made his way to Wales, and in 1881 was lodging with Eliza Nadin and her family in Wrexham. By now he had changed his name and was known as Louis Roger, he was working as a currier. Eliza was the widow of Police Inspector Joseph Nadin who had died in 1873, her son Charles was also a police officer. Eliza`s daughter Mary Elizabeth wasn`t at home, she at the St Mary`s Rectory in Chester and working as a domestic waitress for the Rector Charles Bowen.   Information from family research in France in the 20th century states that “Eugene didn’t succeed in business and following a fraudulent bankruptcy he fled the country “

Obviously Louis and Mary got to know each other and on 23 September 1882 the couple married at St Mary’s Church, Chester. Louis was a leather dresser living in Chester, and names his father as Cosmia Roger, a currier.  Mary Elizabeth was still at St Mary`s Hill. The couple moved back to Wrexham and soon had children. Louis was employed by   Messrs Jones and Rocke leather dressers.  Their third son was given the middle name of Gonat which is more than a coincidence. By 1891 they were in Roderick Street, but two of their children had died.

Louis took up fishing and was a member of the Wrexham Angling Association, he did quite well and won a few prizes.

Their last child was born in the summer of 1893.

Sadly Louis died a year later leaving Mary with a young family. His death certificate shows he died from Phthisis pulmanosis haemoptysis (repeated attacks of asthma) on 5 August 1894 aged 42 years old. Death certified by Enoch Moss M. D. Occupation: Leather Dresser/Journeyman.

He was buried in Ruabon Road Cemetery under the name of Louis Roger, he also made a will using that name. His death was registered in both names, which suggests that Eliza knew the truth.

There was also the record of death in the records at Clamecy. It was most unexpected and had been notified to Clamecy by the Registrar of Wrexham via Paris.

At that time his mother Françoise Virginie Gonat was still alive; she died in France in 1899.  

Their daughter Lucy died aged just 9 months in September 1890 and was buried in Wrexham Cemetery, Louis joined her in 1894 and in March 1895 Eugene Leon died aged 10 years. The remaining five children born between 1883 and 1893 were baptised at St Giles all on the same date, 15th September 1895 which was over a year after his death.

Early in 1897 Mary Elizabeth married Thomas Coleman in a civil marriage at Wrexham. Thomas was born in Oxfordshire and was working in Wrexham as a gas main layer. In 1911 some of the Roger children were still at home along with Thomas and Mary’s daughter Emily. A younger child Hilda had died 2 in 1897 and was buried with Louis and his children.

By 1911 George Roger had moved away to Nottingham and had joined the Police Force.

Three of Louis and Mary’s sons served in WW1, George, Joseph and Louis.

 Llangollen Advertiser 3rd August 1917

Roger. Sergt. George, Liverpool   Kings Regiment .

Sergt. Roger reported missing on July 30, 1916, is now reported killed. He was an old pupil of the National School at Wrexham, and served his apprenticeship with Messrs. Cudworth and Johnson, Wrexham. Sergt. Roger was a member of the old Volunteer Corps, and afterwards of the Territorials. He was a member of the Territorial band for several years and assisted with the R.W.F. Barracks band. Prior to. his enlistment he was a member of the Liverpool Police Band. Two of his brothers are serving, Pte. Joseph Roger, who is now in France, and C.Q.M. Louis Roger, stationed at Wrexham Barracks, who has been twice wounded.

Sgt George Gonat Roger was buried at Serre Road Cemetery, Beaumont-Hamel, Departement de la Somme, Picardie, France.

Mary Elizabeth Coleman died aged 76 early in 1937, she was buried with Thomas who had died in 1931, their daughter Emily never married and died in 1941 aged 88.


Researched by Annette Edwards. August 2021.

Many thanks to Jean François Morin who did an amazing amount of research and has given me his permission to use it.

Also Cari Pugh, “garstonite” and especially “joger” who kindly translated the original documents from French for me.

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