BONNÉCAMPS, JOSEPH-PIERRE DE, Jesuit; baptized 3 Sept. 1707 at Vannes (dept of Morbihan), France, son of Nicolas de Bonnécamps and Anne Muerel; d. 28 May 1790 at the château of Tronjoly in the parish of Gourin (Morbihan).
Joseph-Pierre de Bonnécamps was admitted to the Jesuit noviciate of the province of Paris on 3 Nov. 1727. He studied philosophy at the Jesuit college in La Flèche (1729–32), taught grammar classes at Caen (1732–36) and the senior grades (belles-lettres and rhetoric) at Vannes (1736–39), and studied theology at the Collège Louis-le-Grand (1739–43). He then left for Quebec, where he was appointed a teacher of hydrography at the Jesuit college in 1744 and where he pronounced his solemn vows on 8 Dec. 1746.
From the beginning Bonnécamps was determined to give serious instruction using the most advanced instruments for his observations. On 29 Oct. 1744 Intendant Hocquart wrote to the minister of Marine, Maurepas, that Father Bonnécamps requested a second-pendulum and a telescope mounted on a quadrant, and that he was planning to build an observatory on the college roof. In 1747 the Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire des sciences et des beaux-arts (also called Journal de Trévoux) published a meteorological observation that Bonnécamps had made at Quebec on 12 June 1746.
On 9 Oct. 1748 Intendant Bigot asked the minister of Marine to send the instruments Hocquart had already asked for in 1744; obviously Bonnécamps had not yet received them, or at least not all of them. Bigot wrote: “Father Bonnécan, a Jesuit, a teacher of mathematics, has pointed out to me that for instructing young men who are going in for navigation he needed a second-pendulum, an observation telescope, a quadrant with a three-foot radius equipped with a telescope rather than sights, and a lodestone since the one he has is very weak.”
Although he had still not received all the instruments, in 1749 Bonnécamps accompanied Pierre-Joseph Céloron* de Blainville on his expedition to the Ohio River. A man was needed who could map the regions traversed, and there was no one more capable than the teacher of hydrography at the Quebec college. The expedition left Lachine on 15 June and was back in Quebec on 18 November. On his return, Bonnécamps prepared a report for Commandant General La Galissonière [Barrin*], who had just gone to France; the report, accompanied by a map, was sent to him the following year. In it Bonnécamps described everything that might appeal to a man of scientific interests such as La Galissonière: fauna, trees, natural curiosities, climate, location of forts and villages, and Indians. The priest wrote: “The longitude is estimated throughout. If I had had a good watch, I could have fixed some points by observation, but could I count on a watch of mediocre quality?” The expedition was of major importance in Bonnécamps’s life and scientific career, but it was not an isolated experience. On 25 June 1752 he was at Fort Frontenac (Kingston, Ont.) to make astronomical observations.
Meanwhile Bonnécamps had become known in the scientific community through the account of his trip to the Ohio and especially through the map he had drawn. In 1754–55 he was corresponding with Joseph-Nicolas Delisle, an astronomer and geographer in the French navy. Bonnécamps spent the winter of 1757–58 in France; in a letter of 8 Nov. 1757 to his friend and protector, Madame Hérault, Bougainville* had recommended the erudite Jesuit to her attention. On 25 March 1758 Bonnécamps again wrote to Delisle, this time to describe the desperate situation in Canada. After the capture of Quebec in 1759, he returned to France.
In 1761 Bonnécamps was again in Caen teaching mathematics at the Jesuit college, but he had to leave this post in 1762 when the colleges of the Society of Jesus in France were closed. Some years later, around 1765, he was serving on the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon with Father François-Paul Ardilliers; it is not known exactly when he returned to France. In 1770, however, he was chaplain at the convict prison in Brest, in accordance with the royal wish that former Jesuits of France come under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop of their birthplaces. Bonnécamps had earlier made the acquaintance of François-Jean-Baptiste L’Ollivier de Tronjoly, a compatriot, when he was ministering in Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. He became tutor to Tronjoly’s children, and in his château, near Gourin, he died on 28 May 1790, aged 82 years.
Joseph-Pierre de Bonnécamps’s writings include: “Observation météorologique faite à Québec en Canada, le 12 de juin 1746,” Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire des sciences et des beaux-arts (Paris), mars 1747, 572–74; “Relation du voyage de la Belle Rivière faite en 1749, sous les ordres de M. de Céloron,” JR (Thwaites), LXIX, 150–98. The map he drew when travelling through the Ohio valley is now held by the Service historique de la Marine (Château de Vincennes, Paris), Recueil de cartes anciennes, no.67, carte no.21.
ASJCF, 595; 596; 597; 4028, f.26c. Mélançon, Liste des missionnaires jésuites. Rochemonteix, Les jésuites et la N.-F. au XVIIIe siècle, II, 74–76, 156. L.-P. Audet, “Hydrographes du roi et cours d’hydrographie au collège de Québec, 1671–1759,” Cahiers des Dix, 35 (1970), 13–35. A.[-H.] Gosselin, “Le château de Tronjoly, dernière résidence du P. de Bonnécamps,” RSC Trans., 2nd ser., IV (1898), sect.i, 33–34; “Encore le P. de Bonnécamps (1707–1790),” RSC Trans., 2nd ser., III (1897), sect.i, 93–117; “Les jésuites au Canada; le P. de Bonnécamps, dernier professeur d’hydrographie au collège de Québec, avant la Conquête (1741–1759),” RSC Trans., 2nd ser., I (1895), sect.i, 25–61. O. H. Marshall, “De Céloron’s expedition to the Ohio in 1749,” Magazine of American History (New York and Chicago), II (1878), 129–50.