Big mystery behind little Paris letter

National Archives of Australia supplied imageImage copyright
National Archives of Australia

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“But Patience! The hour of deliverance will strike,” Mr Mesnier writes of the Prussian siege of Paris

A puzzling little letter, flown over Paris in a balloon during the Prussian siege, has been found in Australia.

Now the National Archive wants to know how it ended up in the Queensland city of Brisbane, almost 150 years later.

The letter, written in 1870 by a man living in the besieged French capital, is addressed to his mother in Normandy.

A (or ‘Ch’, Charles) Mesnier (or Mesmier) asks his “bonne mère” whether she and the family are safe.

‘Your devoted son’

The letter was posted from Paris on 7 December and was received just over a week later by Madame Mesnier.

“We don’t need any more than a note that you are in good health to reassure us,” writes the man, whose age is unknown,.

“So far the siege has not really had an effect on the state of our health. We don’t have much meat every day and when we do get some it is not very much but we can easily get by as things are and no one in our household is complaining.

“Embrace for me uncle and aunt and Maria as I embrace you with all my heart. Your devoted son.”

The man also details the passion and dedication his fellow Parisians displayed in holding back the Prussians.

“We cannot succeed in all our attacks but I have the firm conviction, my good mother, that the ultimate success will be for our just cause,” he writes.

The Prussians besieged Paris from September 1870 until January 1871, when the French surrendered the city.

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National Archives of Australia

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Mr Mesnier tells his mother in the letter that “the only thing I have fired at is the practice target”

Hot-air postal service

Almost two million letters were posted by hot air balloon so as to bypass the enemy after cables were cut under the River Seine.

The balloons often carried important people west, as well as homing pigeons which would return messages back to Paris.

Letters were delicately folded into a tiny envelop so as many as possible could fit inside the balloon.

The Australian National Archives has been in discussions with its French counterpart, Archives Nationales, about a potential exhibition.

“We were delving into our collections to see what material connects to France, and it was extraordinary to find this intriguing piece of history,” National Archives assistant director-general Louise Doyle told the BBC.

“I find it romantic and elegant all in the same breath, and quite a beautiful the relationship this man has with mother.”

Ms Doyle said it was possible the letter was bought at auction and then donated to the Queensland Telegraph Museum, but its journey was not entirely clear.

The National Archives hopes to determine whether there is a solid Australian connection with the letter, and whether any of the sender’s relatives are living in Brisbane.

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Getty Images

Image caption

An image originally published in the Illustrated London News of a balloon leaving Paris by night, carrying mail out of the city during the siege by Prussian forces

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