BRAY, ÉMILE-FRÉDÉRIC DE (sometimes spelled Debray), French naval officer and participant in the Franklin search; b. 9 March 1829 in Paris, France, first of three children of Achille-Hector-Camille de Bray, landscape painter, and of Théophile-Marie-Louise Borrel; d. 19 March 1879 at Brest, France.
On completing his education at the École Navale in 1846, Émile-Frédéric de Bray embarked on the corvette La Galathée for a three-year voyage to the Pacific. He then served two years in France and Italy, and on 2 April 1851 was promoted sub-lieutenant in the navy. At this time French interest in the search for the missing ships and men of Sir John Franklin* was heightened by the participation of the French naval officer Joseph-René Bellot* in William Kennedy*’s 1851–52 expedition, and de Bray felt encouraged to volunteer for the search expedition commanded by Sir Edward Belcher. The British Admiralty accepted his services and appointed him to hms Resolute (Capt. Henry Kellett) which sailed from London on 21 April 1852 and wintered at Dealy Island. De Bray commanded several sledge expeditions during his two years in the Arctic: in the autumn of 1852 he set up a depot at Cape Providence, Melville Island, and between 4 April and 18 May 1853 he surveyed the northwest coast of Melville Island while leading a party auxiliary to Francis Leopold McClintock*’s sledge expedition to Prince Patrick Island. On 8 May 1854 he left Resolute, which was shortly to be abandoned, and led a party of invalids to North Star anchored at Beechey Island. Four months later he departed for England on board Phoenix.
De Bray was a popular and energetic member of the expedition, and Kellett, M’Clintock, and Belcher praised him warmly for his services. He is the only Frenchman to receive the Arctic Medal. France rewarded him with nomination to knight of the Légion d’Honneur, back dated to 12 Aug. 1854, and promoted him lieutenant-commander on 5 Oct. 1855.
On his return to France, de Bray served in the Baltic. After his marriage on 20 May 1856 to Loetitia-Constance-Marie Le Bléis, he was stationed at Saint-Pierre and Miquelon and in Iceland. On 22 May 1869 he was promoted commander in the navy, and on 23 Jan. 1871 was made an officer of the Légion d’Honneur for his role in the defence of Paris in 1870 during which he had commanded a marine battalion and an army brigade. He spent the remainder of his career on shore service in France.
De Bray’s early death at 50, only 6 months after retirement, was attributed in part to his prolonged service in cold regions, which, it was remarked, had worn down his energy and enthusiasm. He survived his wife by six years and left four children; two others had died in infancy. Unlike Bellot, who died a hero’s death, de Bray never won widespread recognition for his role as a representative of France in the Franklin search, and his journal of the expedition has not been published. However, his friend Jules Verne made extensive use of de Bray’s knowledge of Arctic regions in Voyages et aventures du capitaine Hatteras: les Anglais au pôle nord – le désert de glace (Paris, 1867), a novel inspired by the Franklin search.
SPRI, ms 864/1 (Émile-Frédéric de Bray, “Journal de bord de l’enseigne de vaisseau Émile-Frédéric de Bray à bord de la frégate anglaise ‘La resolue’. Expédition polaire de 1852–1853 envoyée à la recherche de Sir John Franklin,” typewritten copy of the original, which has not been found); ms 864/2–4 (George de Bray, “Notice sur la participation de l’enseigne de vaisseau de Bray à l’expédition britannique de 1852–1854 envoyée à la recherche des navires de Sir John Franklin perdus dans les mers polaires,” typewritten notes, La Rochelle, 1926; copies of documentary and genealogical material relating to Émile de Bray). G.B., Adm., Further papers relative to the recent Arctic expeditions in search of Sir John Franklin and the crews of H.M.S. “Erebus” and “Terror” (London, 1855). G. F. M’Dougall, The eventful voyage of H.M. discovery ship “Resolute” to the arctic regions in search of Sir John Franklin and the missing crews of H.M. discovery ships “Erebus” and “Terror”, 1852, 1853, 1854 . . . (London, 1857). Jules Rouch, “Deux officiers de marine français Joseph Bellot et Émile de Bray, à bord de navires de S.M. Britannique dans les mers polaires (1852–1854),” France–Grande Bretagne: Bulletin des relations franco-britanniques (Paris), no.194 (mars 1945), 1–12; “Émile de Bray,” La Géographie (Paris), LXIX (1938), 257–63; “Le journal inédit d’Émile de Bray, explorateur polaire français,” Bulletin de la Section de géographie (Paris), LIX (1944, pub. in 1951), 61–69.