The Niau Family

Josephine Hyacinthe Niau wrote ”The Phantom Paradise. The Story of the Expedition of the Marquis de Rays”, published in Sydney, 1936. In it she described the experiences of the passengers of the ”India” and their eventual settlement at New Italy, which she visited in the early 1930s. M. Henri Joseph and Mme Marie Caroline Niau were in Paris during the Franco-Prussian War and the following Paris Commune period, in 1870 and 1871. M. Niau was completing his military service, and Mme Niau was staying with her mother.  Their home had previously been in Champigny. France remained unsettled for a number of years after, and they moved to England for Mme Niau”s health.

Looking for a better climate still, Henri Niau, became an investor in the Marquis de Rays” New France enterprise, as a member of the Farmers General company, and expected to have a working farm when he arrived at Port Breton. The Niau family, M. and Mme Niau, and Josephine Hyacinthe, then a tiny child, sailed independently of the other settlers on the British ship ”Lusitania” to Sydney, arriving in November 1880 and finding accommodation at Edgecliffe, and were to proceed to Port Breton from there. When the Genil, the smaller but most seaworthy of the ships then available to the Port Breton settlers, arrived in Sydney in December 1880 with news of the disaster the settlement had become, M. Niau went back on the Genil when it returned with supplies. The settlement having been abandoned in the meantime, M. Niau and two companions had to find their own way out of the area. It took M. Niau some months to return to Sydney.

After the failure of the New France expedition, M Niau took his family to Queensland where he attempted to establish a sugar cane farm on the Daintree River, but natural disasters and fears of marauding indigenous tribes destroyed his efforts. Having returned to Sydney he died there in 1888, aged 48 years. His wife, Madame Niau, died on 29 July 1933, forty years to the day after the death of the architect of the New France scheme, Charles Du Breil, the Marquis de Rays. Her obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday, August 1, 1933, recorded that: Madame Niau, a Frenchwoman who came to Australia in 1880, died yesterday at the age of 83. With her husband, Madame Niau first reached Sydney when on the way to New Britain, where they intended to take up land under the ill-fated colonising scheme of the Marquis de Ray. Madame Niau remained in Sydney while her husband went to New Britain. He returned disillusioned. M. and Madame Niau then went to North Queensland and were among the first sugar planters on the Daintree River.

They were again disappointed and returned to Sydney.  M. Niau died in 1888. Madame Niau devoted herself to literary and educational work  One of her books on pioneering life in the Australian tropics was published in Sydney in French, and was adopted by the Education Department as a text book. Madame Niau is survived by one daughter, Mlle Josephine Niau. A son enlisted for active service, and was killed in Palestine. Josephine, the last member of her immediate family, and ne of only two of nine children who survived to adulthood, died in 1956 at Mosman. The other child of Henri and Marie Niau to reach adult years, Josephine”s brother, John Samuel Niau (”le petit Jack”), had been a Light Horseman during the First World War and had been killed at Es Salt, Palestine, on 30 April 1918.

During the First World War Josephine had accompanied a group of nurses, known as the ”bluebirds” because of the colour of their uniforms, to France, teaching them French during the voyage. Josephine”s mother, Marie Caroline (Rousselet) Niau also worte a book, ”Souvenirs dune Parisienne aux Antipodes”, Sydney 1930, which included background details on why they had tried to join the failed settlement at Port Breton. A note at the end of the book states that after the familys return to Sydney a company was formed for the installation of electricity, with M. Niau as its prime mover; however, though all promised well and patents were issued,blood poisoning brought on by working with machinery, part of which was made of antimony, caused M Niau early death in 1888.

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