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Villa Namouna and James Gorden Bennett, Jr.


James Gordon Bennett, Jr. James Gordon Bennett, Jr. (May 10 1841 – May 14 1918) was publisher of the New York Herald, founded by his father, James Gordon Bennett, Sr and founder of the International Herald Tribue. He built Villa Namouna and has been linked to the British expletive "Gordon Bennett!"

Bennett was educated primarily in France. In 1866, the elder Bennett turned control of the Herald over to him. Bennett raised the paper's profile on the world stage when he provided the financial backing for the 1869 expedition by Henry Morton Stanley into Africa to find David Livingstone in exchange for the Herald having the exclusive account of Stanley's progress.

Bennett, like many of his social class, indulged in the "good life": yachts, opulent private railroad cars, and lavish mansions. He was the youngest Commodore ever of the New York Yacht Club. In 1861, Bennett volunteered his newly-built schooner yacht, Henrietta, for the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service during the Civil War. He was commissioned "third lieutenant" (viz., brevet second lieutenant) of the U.S. Marine Revenue schooner Henrietta beginning in June 1861. She patrolled Long Island until February 1862 when she was sent to Port Royal, South Carolina. On March 3, 1862, Bennett commanding Henrietta was part of the fleet which captured Fernandina, Florida. Bennett and the Henrietta returned to civilian life in New York in May 1862.

In 1866, he won the first trans-oceanic yacht race. The race was between three American yachts, the Vesta, the Fleetwing and the Henrietta. They started off of Sandy Hook, New Jersey, on 11 December 1866 amid high westerly winds and raced to The Needles, the furthest westerly point on the Isle of Wight, famous for its lighthouse. Bennett's Henrietta won with a time of 13 days, 21 hours, 55 minutes.

However, he often scandalized society with his flamboyant and sometimes erratic behavior. In 1877, he left New York for Europe after an incident that ended his engagement to socialite Caroline May. According to various accounts, he arrived late and drunk to a party at the May family mansion, then urinated into a fireplace (some say grand piano) in full view of his hosts.

Bennett's controversial reputation has been thought to have inspired, in the United Kingdom, the phrase "Gordon Bennett" as an expression of incredulity.

Settling in Paris, he launched the Paris edition of the New York Herald, titled The Paris Herald, the forerunner of the International Herald Tribune. He backed George W. DeLong's voyage to the North Pole via the Bering Strait. The ill-fated expedition led to the deaths from starvation of DeLong and 19 of his crew, a tragedy that only increased the paper's circulation.

In 1883, Gordon Bennett built the most magnificent steam yacht of its day, the beautiful Namouna. At 616 tons and 226 feet she was far larger than the next largest, the first Corsair at 185 feet.

Lady Namouna

Gordon Bennett used Namouna to travel up the Nile, to India and Ceylon, across the Atlantic regularly, and he did the navigation himself. He was always in touch with the Herald by telegraph and dispatches, and he entertained a regular stream of famous guests.

On a cruise down the east coast of Africa, he visited the Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia, who presented him with a monkey which Bennett then lodged in an elaborate cage in the garden at Villa Namouna, where he kept his Pekinese dogs. The elaborate cage and the graves of the dogs remain today!

He was a co-founder of the Commercial Cable Company, a venture to break the Transatlantic cable monopoly held by Jay Gould.

Bennett returned to the United States and organized the first polo match in the United States at Dickel's Riding Academy at 39th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City. He would help found the Westchester Polo Club in 1876, the first polo club in America. He established the Gordon Bennett Cup for international yachting and the Gordon Bennett Cup for automobile races.[8] In 1906, he funded the Gordon Bennett Cup in ballooning (Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett), which continues to this day. In 1909, Bennett offered a trophy for the fastest speed on a closed circuit for airplanes. The 1909 race in Rheims, France was won by Glenn Curtiss for two circuits of a 10 km rectangular course at an average speed of 46.5 miles per hour (74.8 km/h). From 1896 to 1914, the champion of Paris, USFSA football (soccer), received a trophy offered by Gordon Bennett. In 1880, Bennett commissioned McKim, Mead, and White to design the Newport Casino in Newport, RI.

He did not finally marry until he was 73. His wife was Maud Potter, widow of George de Reuter, son of Julius Paul Reuter, founder of Reuters news agency. He died on May 14, 1918 in Villa Namouna in Beaulieu-sur-Mer.

Bennett is buried at the Cimetière de Passy. The nearby Stade de Roland Garros, site of the French Open, is on the Avenue Gordon Bennett. After his death, the Herald was merged with its bitter rival, the New York Tribune.

Asteroid 305 Gordonia is named after him.

Gorden Bennett Jr. was very active in life in Beaulieu-sur-Mer and was behind the creation of La Reserve Hotel in town. He is commorated there in several large paintings and two of his yachts are on display with other memorabilia.



Notes: Title from unverified data provided by the Bain News Service on the negatives or caption cards. Forms part of: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).




For more information about Gordon Bennett Jr. read the lovely piece written by one of the visitors to Villa Namouna to learn more about his presence in Beaulieu-sur-Mer and our Villa. Go here.