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The Paddle Steamer Emeraude – Colonial Indochina and Today’s Vietman

Cruising The Past: In 1910 a paddle steamer called the Emeraude was offering unforgettable cruises in Halong Bay for visitors to what was then French Indochina. The Emeraude was part of a flotilla owned by the Roque family who had left Bordeaux in 1858 in search of adventure and fortune.

Over a period of more than 50 years they found both. After several ups and downs including successful trading and timber businesses, near bankruptcy and being taken hostage by pirates, the Roque brothers built Emeraude, Perle, Saphir, Rubis and Onyx to ferry passengers and freight along the waterways of Indochina and cruise on magnificent Halong Bay.

Today the Emeraude offers a regular cruise service on board a luxurious replica steamer with 38 cabins meticulously designed to evoke the nostalgic charm of colonial Indochina.

Visit the Emeraude website for more information and reservations.

Background and History:

In 1999, the chance discovery the postcard of a paddle steamer Emeraude cruising in Ha Long Bay inspired a search for it origins in the vaults of the French Colonial Archives in Aix-en-Provence. From historical documents unearthed there, it was discovered that the Emeraude was part of a fleet of ships operated by the Roque family, transporting freight along the waterways of French Indochina and offering cruises in Ha Long Bay.

Letters were sent to all 1,200 people with the family name of Roque listed in France and eventually the descendants of the family of ship-owners were found. The Roque family in question kindly made the family archives available. As a result, the project to rebuild the Emeraude began in a Hai Phong shipyard in 2002.

The story of the Emeraude goes back to 1858 and three brothers, Victor, Xavier and Henry Roque, who lived in a small village in South-West France. Driven by their entrepreneurial spirit and dreams of adventure, the brothers headed to the Far East in search of their fortunes.

Arriving in Manila and then moving onto Hong Kong, the brothers were soon in business supplying fresh food and provisions of all kinds to the French Army. In 1860, following the taking of Sai Gon by the troops of Admiral Rigault de Genouilly the previous year, the Roque brothers left Hong Kong to set up business in the newly colonized city.

Their business prospered and in addition to providing supplies of flour, bread, biscuits and fresh meat for the army they also now supplied timber for construction, towing services, manufactured sugar, undertook public construction work and traded in opium.

In 1872, the Roque brothers, financed by the British trading house of Jardine & Matheson, signed a contract with the French colonial administration to establish the Cochinchine Steam Lines. In exchange for an annual fee, the company provided transportation services for passengers, freight and mail between Cochinchine and neighbouring Cambodia.

In 1890 Victor Roque obtained a coal concession in Dong Trieu in northern Tonkin. Success breeds envy and two of the Roque brothers were kidnapped, along with others in their employ, by bandits led by the notorious Luu Ky. To pay the ransom, the Roque family was forced to sell off family assets, leaving the company weakened. Victor Roque, then 61 years-old, bankrupt and in ill-health, returned to France.

Following the departure of Victor, Henry assumed sole responsibility for the Roque family business but was soon joined by Paul Roque, son of Xavier, in Hai Phong. It was here that they had the idea to build a small fleet of ships to transport freight and offer pleasure cruises on Ha Long Bay. The construction of the four flat-bottomed paddle-steamers, to be named EMERAUDE, RUBIS, PERLE and SAPHIR, was carried out in Hong Kong. Each ship could be easily distinguished by the coloured band around the top of its funnel: green for EMERAUDE, red for RUBIS, white for PERLE and blue for SAPHIR.

By 1919 the business became a limited company known as the Société Anonyme de Chalandage et Remorquage d’Indochine, or SACRIC for short. Paul Roque returned to France in 1921 and was appointed a Vice-President for life. One of the future Presidents of the company was to be Edmond Giscard d’ Estaing, father of Valéry, who was elected President of France in 1974.

In 1937, the Emeraude sank en-route from Hai Phong to Mong Cai without loss of life With the French withdrawal from Tonkin in 1953, the Société Anonyme de Chalandage et Remorquage d’Indochine was no more. Paul Roque died in 1966.

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