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Bonhomme Richard and Duras wines
Ship Ahoy story of Bonhomme Richard

Ship Ahoy!

This is the story of the Bonhomme Richard and Duras wines.

A ‘ship that sailed the globe’ and ‘Duras wines’ may not immediately seem to be linked but a major reconstruction is about to set underway that will revisit history in more ways than one.

The Duke of Duras

Built in 1765 at Lorient in France, the magnificent Duke of Duras merchant ship was named after the Marshall of France who had conquered the Franche-Comté and Alsace under Louis XIV.

Sailing under the French East India Company, with voyages between Lorient and the Far East, she returned to France to find that the company had been dissolved and its installations and ships were now part of the French Navy.  As a French naval ship she travelled to Isle de France, isle Bourbon, St Domingue and was then sold to private ship owners.

Easy conversion to a warship made her very attractive to some and, in 1779 she was acquired by Louis XVI and placed under the command of John Paul who needed a frigate capable of attacking the English during the American revolution.  Five months later she was a 42-gun warship and renamed Bonhomme Richard after John Paul’s good friend, Benjamin Franklin.

The initial plan was to attack England by sea, debarking troops at Liverpool. However, a collision with the American ship, Alliance, put paid to that. Forced to return for repairs, she left port again five weeks later as part of an American convoy of six, this time sailing into the North Sea and then down the east coast of Britain.

The fierce Battle of Flamborough Head, off the coast of Yorkshire in 1779, saw her engaging with the British fleet with John Paul refusing to surrender to the captain of the Serapis with the words “I have not yet begun to fight”. The battle continued until the British were vanquished and the Americans took possession of the Serapis. Sadly, Le Bonhomme Richard was severely damaged and sunk after two days.

As “father of the US Navy” which still uses the names of Jones and Bonhomme Richard, John Paul was a hero of the American Revolution. France honoured him with the title “Chevalier” and awarded a gold medal for his valour and brilliant services. He also received a decoration of l’Institution du Mérite Militaire and a sword from Louis XV1.

Bonhomme Richard engages the Serapis

Bonhomme Richard engages the Serapis

Why Duras?

What has all this to do with Duras?

  1. The name of the ship
  2. John Paul Jones, her captain, had a discerning palate and, it has been said, only drank wines from, yes you’ve guessed it, Duras!
  3. Today, several people from Lot et Garonne and, specifically, from Duras are working with Lorient Agglomération to build a full-size replica of this historic vessel in the same way that l’Hermione de Lafayette was rebuilt at Rochefort.

François Aubertin, former Mayor of Guidel near Lorient, and former vice president de Lorient Agglomération, explains “Starting from the premise that people want to reconnect with their past, the idea is to rebuild this historic vessel. It is obviously an ambitious and long-term undertaking and we are delighted that winegrowers in the Duras region are very much involved in the project.

The conditions at Lorient still lend themselves to the project. The historic, unused site of the original East India Company still has a dry dock and period buildings, all of which are ideal.   Thanks to Christian Plouzeau, and after 3,000 hours of painstaking work over nine months, we now have a 1/48th model here at Guidel which will be used to support the real-size reconstruction project.”

"I have not yet begun to fight"

John Paul Jones was

John Paul Jones was "father of the US Navy"

Fabrice Pauvert is one of the Duras winemakers who is involved. He comments, “I stumbled across the locally unknown history of the Duc de Duras ship and its incredible destiny as Bonhomme Richard at the end of 2016. Even if the reconstruction seems impossible or a little crazy it is, nonetheless feasible, as shown by the relatively recent 17-year rebuild of the Marquis de Lafayette’s ship in Rochefort.

“By recreating the Duke of Duras we are highlighting Duras and Lot et Garonne, its artisanal and agricultural produce, its heritage, and the history of the French East India company and the connection to Lorient from the days of the American Revolution, etc. The wine growers of Duras support the project, as do the departments of the Lot and Garonne and Morbihan, the Lot et Garonne chamber of agriculture, a former minister and a crowd funding site, etc.

Bottles of Bonhomme Richard and John Paul Jones wine were first produced in 2017 to help encourage interest, and L’Association Les Amis du Navire Duc de Duras Bonhomme Richard (Friends of the Ship association) was created on 11 February, 2019 in Brittany.

The adventure begins!


Bonhomme Richard wines are made by Duras viticulteurs

Bonhomme Richard wines

First published on the May/June 2019 issue of The Local Buzz

Images: Shutterstock and Bonhomme Richard Wines