BELVÈZE, PAUL-HENRY DE, French sailor, commander of La Capricieuse, descended from an old family of Languedoc; b. 11 March 1801 at Montauban, son of Antoine-Jean-François de Belvèze and Marie-Josèphe-Jeanne Garrigues de Saint-Fauste; d. 8 Feb. 1875 in his mansion at Toulon.
A former pupil of the École Polytechnique, young Paul-Henry de Belvèze joined the navy in 1823 and was subsequently put in charge of various expeditions, notably to South America, Europe, and the Holy Land. In 1855, while he was cruising in the Gulf of St Lawrence as “commander of the French forces in the waters of Newfoundland,” Napoleon III’s government decided to entrust to him the mission of renewing relations with Canada, a mission which, in the terms of the official mandate, was to be above all “commercial, with no diplomatic character.” This objective was exceeded: in Canada East where deeply moved spectators watched the return of the French colours, the sailor’s passage was a triumph; towns such as Ottawa, Kingston, and Toronto, despite some reservations, felt obliged to extend a welcome to the French delegation, which was invariably correct and sometimes warm. The moment seemed well chosen: Great Britain had just abolished the former customs duties which hitherto had made trade between Canada and abroad impracticable. Moreover, relations between France and England had never been better; the French sovereigns had been the guests of Queen Victoria in 1850, and the latter, in that same year 1855, was to return their visit on the occasion of the universal exposition in Paris, at which Canada had an exhibit.
The mission’s success must be attributed to a large extent also to the personality of the commander – a “very well educated, extremely capable” man, as one of his superiors had said of him in 1831. In 1848 he was judged to be “one of the captains best fitted to command.” A true meridional, Belvèze had the natural gifts of a brilliant speaker, but in him spontaneity was held in check by a wisdom and tact worthy of a professional diplomat. A detailed report of his observations appeared later and was reproduced in the newspapers. The introduction to this report is to be found at the end of his Lettres choisies . . . , published in 1882 through the good offices of his widow.
The commander was retired in 1861 without obtaining the promotion to which he thought he was entitled. One of the practical results of his mission was the establishment, in 1859, of a consulate at Quebec, where France had been represented only by an agent named Edward Ryan.
[C.-L.] de Beauvau-Craon, La survivance française au Canada; notes de voyage (Paris, 1914), viii. [P.-H. de Belvèze], Lettres choisies dans sa correspondance, 1824–1875, Hubert et Georges Rohault de Fleury, édit. (Bourges, France, 1882). Le Canadien (Québec), 10 juin–15 sept. 1855. Journal de Québec, 10 juin–15 sept. 1855. La Minerve (Montréal), 10 juin–15 sept. 1855. Ottawa Tribune, 3, 10, 17 Aug. 1855. Henri Cangardel, “Voyage de La Capricieuse au Canada,” La Revue maritime (Paris), nouv. sér., no.3 (juill. 1955), 865–83; “Voyage de « La Capricieuse » dans les eaux du Saint-Laurent en 1855,” Communications et mémoires (Académie de Marine, Paris), nouv. sér., no.24 (juin 1947), 1–32. Jacques Gouin, “Un agent français « plus ou moins secret » à Ottawa en 1855: la visite du commandant Belvèze dans la future capitale du Canada,” Asticou, no.2 (janv. 1969), 5–14. R. D. L. Kinsman, “The visit to Canada of ‘La Capricieuse’ and M. le Commandant de Belvèze in the summer of 1855 as seen through the French-languge press of Lower Canada,” unpublished ma thesis, McGill University, 1959. Armand Yon, “Les Canadiens français jugés par les Français de France, 1830–1939,” RHAF, XVIII (1964–65), 517–33; “L’Odyssée de la « Capricieuse », ou comment la France découvrit de nouveau le Canada en 1855,” Le Canada français, 2e sér., XXIII (1935–36), 837–56.