Charles Pictet de Rochemont (1755-1824)
From Geneva to Vienna, by way of Odessa
Committed to the public affairs of the city
Winter 1815, the Congress of Vienna. Europe’s leading political figures and luminaries had gathered to debate the fate of the lands freed from Napoleon’s subjugation.
France’s representative, the seasoned statesman Talleyrand, seemed irritated by the claims being made by Europe’s smallest republic. He sardonically remarked: “Well, it would appear we have five Continents, and then we have Geneva”. At the other end of the negotiating table sat Charles Pictet de Rochemont, a diplomat the Genevans had summoned from his self-imposed rural exile a few weeks earlier, resolutely refusing to back down. He was sticking with his demand for borders that were acceptable for Geneva whose territory, fragmented into disconnected pieces of land, was preventing it from becoming part of the Swiss Confederation. One year later, in Paris, France finally made the concession, handing over the municipalities that would make it possible to extricate Geneva from its enclave. Overnight, Pictet, at the request of his friend, Count Ioannis Kapodistrias, drafted a declaration recognising the neutrality of Switzerland that would be signed by all major European powers. Pictet de Rochemont’s diplomatic achievements are recorded in the annals of history: Geneva became the twenty-second Swiss canton and the neutral status of the Swiss Confederation was acknowledged internationally for the first time.
Reducing Charles Pictet de Rochemont’s life to his brilliant, but fleeting career as a statesman on the European stage does not do him justice however. After studying in the Canton of the Grisons where he learnt German, Italian and English, the Genevan embarked on a military and political career before eventually marrying Adélaïde Sara de Rochemont. Her Huguenot family had sought refuge in Geneva from France, and the family name ‘de Rochemont’ became attached to his own in keeping with customary practice in Geneva. When France annexed Geneva in 1798, he removed himself from the political arena.
Although he withdrew from public life, Pictet de Rochemont was not idle. He acquired an estate at Lancy on which he had a manor house built, and threw himself into a farming project to raise and breed Merino sheep. In a surprising foreshadowing of the tragic events unfolding today, he sent a flock of more than 800 sheep to Ukraine in 1809 at a time when Europe was in the full throes of the Napoleonic Wars. This expedition was led by his eldest son who went on to stay for five years on an estate near Odessa, known as Novoï Lancy, to farm the sheep.