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Medaille d"Honneur 1st Class Silver, Rare colonial issue Lifesaving medal


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Recent pick up.

Medaille d"Honneur 1st class in Silver, Ministry of Marine and Colonies 

Embossed on Reverse "Incendie du 15-16 Aout 1879" (Fire of 15-16 August 1879)


When I bought it I had no information on the details and neither did the seller.  Still I sort of knew there was a decent chance of narrowing this one down.

My research started with what I knew.  A fire in 1879.  

I reasoned that a "Marine and Colonies" medal for a Fire was likely for a colony and not a marine issue.  Even a fire on a ship would not  be called an "Incendie".  

Then the question was ... how many fires in French colonies could have occurred on August 15-16, 1879?  Not many, right?

Well I was right.  I found just one.  The New York Times reported a ... "Violent fire that devoured 24 houses along with the ministry of the Interior, the Navy and the Post Office which were totally destroyed."

Location: St. Pierre et Miquelon (France's last remaining North American colony.  A tiny outpost near Newfoundland, home to the France's Cod fishing interests).

Then I found this in the "Annuaire de Iles Saint-Pierre et Miquelon" published in 1900...  

https://books.google.com/books?id=kdE-AAAAYAAJ&pg=PA175&lpg=PA175&dq="incendie+du+15-16+Aout+1879"&source=bl&ots=8LYfQA_WIl&sig=_a8ZaMhEQkKGGlZVXokC9sCH-WY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi9_pKS_5XdAhWKt1kKHdujCaAQ6AEwAHoECAAQAQ#v=onepage&q="incendie du 15-16 Aout 1879"&f=false

"Recompenses Honorifiques"

"Medaille de 1re Classe En Argent" 

"A l'occasion de l'incendie du 15-16 Aout 1879"

Hacala, Sergent-Major du Pompiers

Marsoliau, calfat (caulker)



I suppose I'll never know which of these two men earned this medal or why it was embossed with only the incident and not the name too.  (Or why the "Annuaire" only printed their last names).  Hacalas and Marsoliaus still live on St. Pierre et Miquelon today.  Hacala is a common name there, of Basque origin (as many names are on St. Pierre).




Edited by ralstona
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  • 4 months later...

This is a VERY strange medal indeed !  I have collected French lifesaving material for over half a century and I cannot recall EVER having seen an UN-NAMED life saving medal such as this one.

I am sure the reference you mention is correct.

A first class silver lifesaving medal of this type was only awarded to a person who previously had received a second class silver medal or would have given absolytely outstanding services at his/her utmost risks.

Congratulations !


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Could it have been done out of frustration and lack of good communications channels?

i.e. the medal is ordered, the engraver asks for the details, they send the date, he says he needs the names, they think "Damn... we don't have the names... and by the time we get a message out there and wait for the answer we will be old and grey"... so they tell the maker just to put the date on and Basta!

I imagine it was a ship every two months kinda deal?

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It would appear Marsoliau's first name is "Léonce" and he did receive a 2nd class silver medal prior to the 1879 fire ...

In the "Journal Officiel de la République Française" of 15 November 1875, Léonce Marsoliau is mentioned as having been awarded the 2nd class silver medal for his actions on 31 July of that year :


I haven't found anything on Hacala nor on the award of the 1879 medals.



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Interesting points!  I have always liked these Medaille d'Honneur.  Especially the large ones for marine and colonies.  I've always wanted one with an Africa connection (the search continues).  I've managed to find a nice early ribbon for it.   Sadly I don't imagine St.PetM was high on anyone's priority list so if it got sent out without a name it probably didn't bother anyone.  They probably figured it would be so uncommon in the colony that no one would know the difference.

Edited by ralstona
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