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Was there a high ranked French navy officer who fought at the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21st 1805, and had a last name Picard?

In the film Star Trek Generations, the fictional character Jean-Luc Picard mentions his ancestor fighting in the Battle of Trafalgar:

From being a small child, I can remember being told about the family line. The Picard who fought at Trafalgar. The Picard who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. [...]

Was there really a navy officer named Picard at the Battle of Trafalgar?

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    This alludes to Trek: memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Battle_of_Trafalgar Please include that in the main body of the question (and explain why this is not better asked at SciFi:SE or similar) Oct 22, 2022 at 10:26
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    @kimchilover: That's a tough call - it's only "not a History question" if the answer is "No." Oct 22, 2022 at 12:55
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    @kimchilover I disagree... sure the reason for the question is the result of a science-fiction series episode, but the actual question is is most definitely answerable by knowledge of history and/or historical sources of information.
    – CGCampbell
    Oct 24, 2022 at 15:12
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    Why do you say "A high-ranked officer"? I don't see how that's implied by the quote, just that some sailor in his family line was there.
    – llama
    Oct 24, 2022 at 16:45
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    FWIW, this is somewhat common in Star Trek. Riker supposedly had an ancestor who fought in the US Civil War, who Memory Alpha claims was not himself historical but based on a real US Army officer of the era who did fight. In other words, the OP's question is whether the reference to a Picard at the Battle of Trafalgar is historical fiction or real history.
    – Robert Columbia
    Oct 25, 2022 at 13:36

4 Answers 4

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Conclusion from the below, as well as other answers:

  • There was a senior French naval officer named Picard, who by 1814 was Captain of Vessel (namely Scipion (1813)) equivalent to a Royal Navy Captain.

  • Two individuals named Picard fought (sort-of) at Trafalgar, but were respectively a seaman and petty officer. Both were shortly thereafter captured by the British; thus neither could be the later Captain of Vessel Picard, if only because there were no French-British prisoner exchanges subsequent to Trafalgar.

  • Captain of Vessel Picard apparently took command of Scipion (1813) in or about early 1814 from Barthélémy de Saizieu.

  • We have no evidence as yet that (the later) Captain of Vessel Picard fought at Trafalgar.

Does anyone have access to a copy of this 2003 book?

  • Dictionnaire des Capitaines de Vaisseaux de Napoleon by Bernard et Danielle Quintin.

It's in the University of Michigan Library system - but apparently only for in-person use (and of course in French).


From French Muster Rolls at Trafalgar of the UK National Archive.

  1. enter image description here
  2. enter image description here

A fee is required to proceed beyond just the index search above.

So there were at least 2 French sailors named Picard at Trafalgar, one a Quarter Master on Formidable. I'm unsure just what rank "Matelots a 24" signifies.

Formidable was the 80 gun flagship of Rear-Admiral Pierre Dumanoir le Pelley at Trafalgar, Pelley commanding six ship French vanguard including also the 74-gun Scipion. Both vessels were part of the squadron defeated and captured following Trafalgar in the Battle of Cape Ortegal, on 4 November 1805.

Update:

Referencing the find by @justCal of a Captain of Vessel Picard in the 1811-14 time frame, in command of the French 74-gun ship Scipion (1813), not to be confused with any of:

All of Scipion (1790), Scipion (1798) and Scipion (1813) were French 74-gun Temeraire class vessels equivalent to a British Third Rate, while the renamed Saint-Esprit was a unique 80-gun design.

Wikipedia list the captain of Scipion (1813) as being Louis François Richard Barthélémy de Saizieu from its launch through the second abdication; but this reference for that individual is suspect (my emphasis):

Louis François Richard Barthélémy de Saizieu , born on January 31 , 1773in Tunis and died in Paris on March 27 , 1842, is an Empire starship captain.

However that source also states that Barthélémy de Saizieu fought in the 1814 campaign as commanding officer of the Sailors of the Imperial Guard, as Colonel and baron d'Empire: implying that he was replaced as Captain of Scipio (1813).

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    Another source here
    – justCal
    Oct 22, 2022 at 13:01
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    Matelot is "seaman", and "matelots a 24" is a slight mangling of "matelot à 24 fr.", seaman of wage 24 francs/month.
    – hobbs
    Oct 23, 2022 at 4:30
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    @PieterGeerkens : Matelots à 24 were the ordinary seamen, with 1st and 2nd classes above and apprentices below. 24 F per month compared with 36 F four 1st class. books.google.fr/…
    – grahamj42
    Oct 23, 2022 at 9:43
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    That UK National Archive source seems to have 70 matelots à 24 on the Scipion discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/results/r/…
    – Henry
    Oct 23, 2022 at 16:15
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    Fair point. Additionally, the title question asks about "high ranking", but the question in the body asks about any "naval officer". I guess the answer, at least to the body question is "yes", because "Petty Officer" is, by definition, an "officer". With exceptionally limited naval knowledge ("look - a big boat!", OK, I'm done :) it's hard to say how high ranking that is.
    – FreeMan
    Oct 25, 2022 at 13:19
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This 1829 source, Histoire des combats d'Aboukir, de Trafalgar, de Lissa, du cap Finistère indicates there was a Picard in command (at some point) of a ship, the 74-gun Scipion, equivalent to a third rate ship of the line.

enter image description here

However, as Steve Bird has pointed out in a comment, the date on the list (1811-1814) from the book I cited was for a later ship, so the Scipion which was commanded by a Picard could not be the same ship which fought at Trafalgar on 21 October 1805.

The Scipion which fought at Trafalgar was captured by the British On 4 November 1805, in the Battle of Cape Ortegal. That Scipion was captained by Charles Berrenger, as mentioned elsewhere in the same book and in the relevant Wikipedia entries.

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    The list you're quoting from is for the French Mediterranean fleet from 1811-1814 (six years after Trafalgar). The Scipion that fought at Trafalgar was captured after the battle and taken into British service (under the same name). So, this is a different, later vessel.
    – Steve Bird
    Oct 22, 2022 at 19:21
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    Well that would explain the multiple listings. Editing my answer. Thanks.
    – justCal
    Oct 22, 2022 at 19:28
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    @SteveBird - ...also, that Scipion was commanded at Trafalgar by Charles Berringer
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 23, 2022 at 1:54
  • You may want to edit your answer to more clearly state your answer to the original question. (Also, rather than editing in changes at the end of your post with an "Update:"-type edit note, you should edit your answer to read as if it were always the best version of itself. I've tried to edit it to address this issue, at least.)
    – V2Blast
    Oct 24, 2022 at 2:40
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    @SirHawrk This transcript of the movie script confirms that the only mention of "Trafalgar" is the one quoted in the question: "The Picard who fought at Trafalgar." The wiki provides no source for the fact other than the movie, so the "commanded a French warship" version of the claim appears to be an invention by fans.
    – IMSoP
    Oct 25, 2022 at 8:52
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There's actually a handy Wikipedia page for the Order of Battle at Trafalgar.

Looking it over, there doesn't appear to be a "Picard" captaining or acting as an Admiral on any of the ships of the line involved. I'd argue that anyone else there would not qualify as a "high ranked navy officer". So the answer to the question as asked is "no".

However, that doesn't have to be the end of the story. The odds against one particular famous ancestor of a person 40ish generations prior being the direct male ancestor are astronomically small (mathematically like a trillion to 1, but of course there weren't that many people alive back then).

So there's no reason to believe said ancestor would have been actually named "Picard". Far more likely, it was someone else. I don't know that we have enough information to pick out which person, but the list of French naval officers in command isn't huge. Feel free to look it over, and find some likely suspects.

Also, while I didn't see the episode in question, the Memory Alpha link neither says that his ancestor at that battle was high-ranked, nor that he was French.

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    The Memory Alpha site mentions a Spanish branch to the Picard family, so the relative could have been in the Spanish fleet (there were a total of 26,020 French and Spanish soldiers and sailors involved in the battle).
    – Steve Bird
    Oct 23, 2022 at 7:45
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    Not on ships of the line, but there were many frigates participating in that battle too.
    – vsz
    Oct 23, 2022 at 11:33
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    There were five French frigates and two brigs, none of which was commanded by a Picard.
    – Steve Bird
    Oct 23, 2022 at 13:41
  • If you take a random ancestor, the odds of them being a direct male ancestor may be astronomically small, but that isn't the scenario at hand. The issue at hand is there (according to the fiction) being "the Picard" in their family line who fought at Trafalgar. It's already telling you that their last name is Picard. But being in the "family line" doesn't necessitate being a direct ancestor (consider that your father-side uncle and unmarried aunt typically share your last name - if your surname is X, they'd be in the X family line).
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 25, 2022 at 14:25
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Frame shift. Why should we care? Picard is a quite common French name, coming in at #81 currently, with 37k out of 60m French people. i.e. about 1/1600, in current France. It was probably higher in the past.

Picard is also an old French name, coming from the inhabitants of Picardie, a region in France that... sits on the English Channel.

In the US, #81 puts you at Ross - 80, Foster - 81, Gomez -82.

Was there really a Mr. Ross at Waterloo? A Mr. Foster at Trafalgar? How would that be a history question?

My probability-fu is rather outdated, but I suspect this is a variation of the shared birthday at a party problem.

(It is not the same problem, but it does boil down to calculating the probability that not a single person is named Picard, which is similar and uses the same reasoning of proof-by-opposite condition often found in probability problems).

If you have 1 officer, the probability that that 1 officer is not named Picard is (1 - 1/1600) is 0.999375. If you have 2 officers, the probability the 2nd one is independent, so the overall probability that neither is named Picard is the 0.999375 x 0.999375. I.e. .999375 to the nth power.

At 200 men you have an 88% probability no one is named Picard, at 500 73% probability. At 1000, 53% and at 2000 men there is only a 28% probability that no one is called Picard.

If I instead use a 1/1000 frequency (before immigration in France, taking into account location of Picardie region compared to a naval battle in the Atlantic) we already have a 40% likelihood of a Picard at 500 count.

Even without looking at detailed data, given the overall troop count there is a very low probability no one called Picard would have participated at Trafalgar.

Am I moving the goal posts by now talking about troops rather than high officers? The top answer here talks of a matelot, pretty much the lowest naval rank. And of another, quarter master, being a senior non-com rank.

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    If you don't think the question is useful, downvote. That's literally what the button is for. This only serves as noise in the search result for people who would like to know the answer.
    – pipe
    Oct 24, 2022 at 4:34
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    Meh. suis Francais moi-meme. w similar compound given name. You hear noise, fine. I'm just saying the answer's not a big deal in itself. Make out of that what you want ;-) Oct 24, 2022 at 8:01
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    As a humble longtime lurker,I believe I have never downvoted an answer before. But this i must downvote as totally unhelpful. ☹️ Oct 25, 2022 at 4:08
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    +1 this is useful insight and a nice calculation to back it up. One can conclude, as long as one has a decently common name, one can claim that "others with this name" have been at X, where X is an event with lots of people. Oct 25, 2022 at 13:00
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    I certainly did not miss that your math was correct; but please don't use "birthday problem" to describe this, it is the wrong name, and confuses things more. Using the term when it's NOT actually the term just because you think people might listen to you more is somewhere between misleading and lying.
    – Joe
    Oct 25, 2022 at 19:55

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