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Berthon collapsible boats used in the Paris flood of 1910

April 26, 2016

Always on the hunt for relevant Berthon history, MD Brian May recently came across these postcards depicting the great Parisian flood which occurred on January 21st 1910 when the Seine rose steadily for a week until January 28th, to 8.62m at its peak, or 6m above its normal level. Remarkably no-one died as a result of the flooding. The waters didn’t overflow the banks, instead the water seeped upwards via tunnels, basements and saturated soil.

Berthon Collapsible boats used at the Paris Floods Jan 1910

PC 245 (translation) Arrival in the square, the Berthon’s canoes are immediately put together by the sailors of the state.

This would have meant a simple opening up of the concertinaed “flat pack” (see Berthon Collapsible Boats advert below; you could argue it’s possibly easier to assemble than a modern day IKEA pack!) and the six or eight 12”-16” (dependent upon length of dinghy) struts put into the vertical position along with the horizontal seat(s) to prevent the canoe from folding up; then all that was left to do was to add the rudder and rowlocks and man the oars. Total time is less than a minute or so…. quicker than even a modern-day Avon or Zodiac dinghy! Note that a cushion is supplied for the Oarsman in typical Berthon attention to detail and our telephone number!

Berthon Collapsible Boats - Original Advert

Berthon boats - Paris Floods Jan 1910

(translation) Paris, the sailors assemble the Berthon canoes in front of the Caserne de la Cite , 28 January 1910

This is the Prefecture de la Police on the famous Ile de la Cite where Notre Dame is.

Berthon Lifeboats Paris Floods Jan 1910

PC 37 (translation) Rescue operation at Place Maubert by Berthon Boat (photo taken on January 28th 1910 at 0930hrs, water height at maximum)

Berthon Collapsible Lifeboats used at the Paris Floods Jan 1910

(Translation) The Paris floods, January 1910 – a Berthon Boat Quai de la Rapee

As this photo suggests this is adjacent to the River Seine and SE of the Ile de la Cite on Quai Henri IV, south of Boulevard de la Bastille.

More Information

There’s more on the collapsible lifeboat here:

For more information on the flood see:

There’s also an interesting article here:

I quote from Edwardian Promenade: “Naval boats of the collapsible Berthon pattern were to be seen on wagons in the Avenue de l’Opera, while bare-footed sailors splashed contentedly in the lake opposite the Saint Lazare Station. At times the incongruity of these things was scarcely realized”

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