Courbet was born in Abbeville, France in 1828 as the youngest of three children. His father died when he was nine years old. After education at the École polytechnique, which is a higher education establishment run under the supervision of the French ministry of defence, he joined the French navy and gained rapid promotion. He was appointed governor of New Caledonia from 1880 to 1882, then commander of the Naval Division of Tonkin in 1883. He established the Protectorate of Annam after shelling the Annamite imperial capital at Hué during a succession crisis and compelling the new Emperor to submit to French authority.
Pierre Loti was an officer ("Enseigne de Vaisseau") under Courbet. He wrote:
“He was very careful not to shed French blood. His battles were highly organized, worked in advance with so rare a precision that the result, often decisive, was always obtained by losing very little of ours; and then, after the action which he had undertaken with total absolutism, he became again another man, very soft, making the visit of the ambulances with a generous and sad smile. He wanted to see all the casualties, even the humblest, to hold their hand, and they died more content, more comforted by his visit.”
The Canna introduced in honour of the admiral is a medium sized Crozy Group cultivar; green foliage, oval shaped, spreading habit; round stems, coloured green; clusters of flowers are open, yellow with carmine spots, staminodes are medium size, edges irregular, petals yellow, fully self-cleaning, low bloomer; fertile both ways, not self-pollinating or true to type, capsules globose; rhizomes are thick, up to 3 cm in diameter, coloured white; tillering is average. Introduced by A. Crozy, Lyon, France in 1888.