François Péron and ‘Terre Napoléon’

by Dr Edward Duyker

‘Circumnavigating Napoleon Symposium’

National Gallery of Victoria,
Melbourne, 21 July 2012

Edward Duyker is Honorary Professor of the Australian Catholic University and an Honorary Senior Lecturer of the University of Sydney.

 

Terre-Napoléon_Kanguroo-Island_1802-1803

Terre-Napoléon_Kanguroo-Island_1802-1803
Nicolas Baudin’s expedition with Le Géographe (red, blue and yellow), Le Naturaliste (red), Le Casuarina (yellow)

 

I am going to speak today about one object on display in the NGV’s ‘Napoleon’ exhibition which has drawn particular attention from the public and the media.[1] It is the map of southern continental Australia bearing the name ‘Terre Napoléon’.  You will find it reproduced on page 147 of the exhibition catalogue.  It was drafted by Louis de Freycinet for plate 10 of the first part of the atlas of the Voyage de découvertes aux Terres australes published in 1811.  This was just one of the published results of the expedition of Nicolas Baudin to Australian waters approved by First Consul Bonaparte in March 1800.  In the wake of Baudin’s death in Mauritius, in September 1803, the official historical account of his expedition was written by François Péron.  He was initially one of Baudin’s most junior scientific staff members. He had originally sought appointment as a self-styled ‘anthropologist’ to the expedition; instead he gained a place last on the list of zoologists as an élève or trainee ‘specially charged with comparative anatomy’. But as his colleagues either deserted or died, Péron would rise to prominence within the expedition’s ranks.  Unfortunately for Baudin, Péron utterly loathed his commander.

Péron arrived back in France in March 1804, in the last months of the Consulate: a repressive police state with no free press and few remaining republican virtues—a state at war and subordinate to the demands of the military.  It was the same month in which the hapless young Duc d’Enghien was kidnapped and summarily executed in the fosse of the Château de Vincennes on the orders of the First Consul for Life, Bonaparte. (But what was one murder for a man who could order the cold-blooded execution of 3000 prisoners of war on the beach at Jaffa in 1799?)  Péron sought to win the favour of this ruthless administration.  He managed to gain the attention of Madame Bonaparte and the ‘director’ of her gardens at Malmaison, François Brisseau de Mirbel,[2] after whom the Australian plant genus Mirbelia is named.  For all her frivolity and impecunious extravagance, Joséphine was genuinely appreciative of the natural splendours brought back to France by hardworking zoologists, botanists and gardeners.  Indeed, Malmaison would become a focus for several important natural history publications and splendid artistic endeavours.

Joséphine’s apparently warm letters to Péron have not survived, but a copy of one of his replies to her, on 12 May 1804, is preserved among the Lesueur Collection in Le Havre.  It is clear that Péron gave her insect specimens, plant seeds, and even the expedition’s ethnographic collection.  The latter included a rich collection from Oceania made by Surgeon George Bass, the discoverer of Bass Strait.[3] We also know that he pleaded for Joséphine’s intercession, so that he could publish the results of his work carried out under the ‘auspices of her glorious spouse’.[4]

About the same time, or soon after, Péron drafted a letter to Bonaparte himself and requested permission to publish the ‘Zoography of New Holland’ at government expense.  He would never publish such a work and his drafts of further pleading letters became ever more sycophantic after the First Consul for Life abjured his republican commitments, declared himself Emperor and reinvented his wife as an Empress and his Corsican family and gang of generals as a new aristocracy. But gaining the attention of the Emperor was problematic even for the Empress; he was often absent from Paris and busy bathing Europe in blood.  In some cases with the help of some of my ancestors.

Nevertheless, Péron’s star continued to rise in Paris, particularly with his election as a corresponding member of the Institut impérial, France’s peak scientific body, in October 1805. By June 1806, the government had already resolved to publish Péron’s Voyage de découvertes aux Terres australes.  Nevertheless, the official Imperial decree actually dates from 4 August 1806.  In it, the government only undertook to publish the first three volumes—historical, anthropological, physical and meteorological—at government expense, with natural history to be published by subscription.[5] In 1987, my late friend Frank Horner, in his wonderful book The French Reconnaissance, argued that the imperial toponyms for the Voyage were adopted by Péron and Freycinet while the former was still employed by the navy minister in the ‘hope of reviving the flagging interest of the Emperor’, rather than through coercion–as the explorer Matthew Flinders and the geographer Conrad Malte-Brun believed.[6] Yet what is clear from Péron’s correspondence with Jean-Marie Degérando, is that his draft chapters were subject to personal scrutiny and arbitrary change by the minister.

While there is little doubt of Péron’s calculated sycophancy, this should still be considered in the context of the suffocating hubris and narcissism of the Napoleonic despotism and the culture of subservience, exaggerated court etiquette and flattery which the self-styled heir to the Roman Emperors and Charlemagne now insisted upon.   The insertion of ‘Terre Napoléon’ on the chart of southern Australia was only one arrogant example which characterized the period. In Brittany the town of Pontivy became ‘Napoléonville’; in the ravaged Vendée, La Roche-sur-Yon was reconstructed as ‘Napoléon-sur-Yon’ and the neighbouring towns of Le Poiré, Le Bourg and Beaulieu, all had ‘sous-Napoléon’ appended to their names. Major fortifications in Ostende (in Belgium) and Almaraz (in Spain) were also ‘baptized’ in the Emperor’s name.  Even in the distant outpost of the Ile de France (my mother’s native Mauritius), Captain-General Decaen changed the name of Port Nord-Ouest (formerly Port-Louis) to Port-Napoléon and Mahébourg to Port-Impérial in 1804.[7] And in August 1806, the island of Réunion (formerly Bourbon) was renamed ‘Ile Bonaparte’.[8] Matthew Flinders, a prisoner of war at the Ile de France at the time, would have been well aware of these surrounding toponymic changes and of the political culture which demanded the propitiation of the demigod Bonaparte.[9] It should also be remembered that if the Voyage had been privately published, it would still have required the imprimatur of the imperial censor.

It seems very unlikely that Péron, Freycinet and Lesueur could have issued such a politically sensitive atlas and accompanying narrative with names which were entirely of their own choice or which recognized the names of the Englishman Flinders — even if such names were known to them — or the prior geographical and territorial claims of France’s enemy. Conrad Malte-Brun, who knew Péron personally, certainly believed that he was troubled by the lack of acknowledgement that Flinders received in the Voyage de découvertes aux Terres australes and declared: ‘M. Péron, the French scientist, conversing on the subject of the discoveries of the English navigator, always appeared to us agitated by a secret sorrow, and gave us to understand that he regretted not having the freedom to say all he knew about them’.[10]

During the Bourbon Restoration and six years after Péron’s death, Louis de Freycinet would conveniently absolve himself of responsibility for the imperial toponymy of the official account when he wrote the preface to volume II of the Voyage.  Although he shifted the blame onto his late friend, he did so with subtle acknowledgement of the norms and difficulties of the period.  ‘Péron had conceived the project of all the names of all the places we had visited’, wrote Freycinet, and he added, ‘this project had been adopted by the authorities; it thus had to bear the imprint of the epoch during which our expedition had been undertaken and the circumstances in which Péron had written the account’.[11] For his part, Péron only referred to what ‘our geographers have named’[12] when he mentioned Cape Péron on Maria Island, christened in his honour.

In times of despotism or foreign occupation, there are those who actively collaborate and make Faustian contracts out of conviction or self-interest and still more who passively collaborate because they have little choice. Napoleonic France was in many respects the precursor of the totalitarian dictatorships of the twentieth century. As in those dictatorships, Bonaparte crushed all free expression of opinion with ruthless censorship and sought to control the very minds of his subjects; he also co-opted a generation for the prosecution of aggressive war, conquest and the fulfillment of a megalomaniacal sense of destiny.[13] Péron was only one of many obedient subjects — but also careerists and hero-worshippers — who helped to legitimize Bonaparte’s rule; in his (and Freycinet’s) case with the Emperor’s name written large across the expedition’s Atlas.  But we must not forget that science was then very much subordinate to the Emperor’s will.  The Ecole Polytechnique, for example, had already been militarized and, in the year the first volume of Péron’s Voyage appeared (1807), Bonaparte made it abundantly clear that he believed that the Institut impérial existed to fulfil his wishes and that its members had no right to object to tasks he assigned.[14] In such an environment, is it really possible that Baudin would have been any less compliant than Péron, had he lived to write the official account of the expedition?  It seems unlikely.  He too was an obedient servant of the then First Consul and diligently fulfilled his orders—even to the extent of ripping out cabins to satisfy Mme Bonaparte’s whim for living Australian animals.  His recompense may have been the honour of a Baudin Peninsula or a Cape Baudin, where today the map bears the names of Péron and Freycinet. And perhaps some of his sarcastic manuscript names, such as Cap des Mécontents and Anse des Maladroits, might have survived, instead of Cape Naturaliste and Vasse River (Wonnerup Inlet) on Geographe Bay in Western Australia, to commemorate the unfavourable opinion he held of some of his men.

As I have just mentioned, the first volume of Péron’s Voyage was published by the Imprimerie impériale in 1807.  Péron is reported to have personally presented a copy to the Emperor after Mass on the morning of Sunday 10 January.[15] Two German editions and an abridged English translation soon followed. It was peppered with French toponyms, in many places where one might have expected an acknowledgement of the priority of Matthew Flinders.

Although he died in 1810, four years before Flinders’s charts were published, Péron must have had some knowledge of Flinders’s toponyms — such as Kangaroo Island — after the Géographe’s meeting with the Investigator at Encounter Bay.  Furthermore, he was apparently present when Flinders showed Baudin a draft chart at Port Jackson.  Flinders, however, refused to think ill of Péron whom he came to know personally; he was more inclined to blame the Napoleonic régime: ‘I believe’ declared Flinders, ‘his candour to have been equal to his acknowledged abilities and that what he wrote was from over-ruling authority, and smote him to the heart.[16]

Imperial pressure, or sycophancy, or both may explain Péron’s failure to acknowledge Flinders’s priority, but it is possible that Péron, as a zoologist, simply adhered to the conventions of the natural sciences.  Regardless of whether a scientist is the first to discover, collect or describe in manuscript form a plant or animal species, if he or she is delayed in publishing, someone else has an opportunity. Even today, belatedly published manuscript names are still regarded as mere synonyms.

It remains to be said that the British hardly had the right to cast the first stone.  Governor King, clearly anxious that the French might establish a colony on the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, in Van Diemen’s Land, persisted in referring to the waterway as the ‘Storm Bay Passage’, even in a letter to Baudin.[17] And in a letter to Lord Hobart, of 24 June 1803, he acknowledged that it was called by ‘the French “Le Canal D’Entrecasteaux” to whom they attribute the discovery of that passage’.[18]

And while Flinders named Cape Willoughby on Kangaroo Island, he did not name the peninsula from which it juts. On Freycinet’s chart of New Holland the previously unnamed peninsula bore the name ‘Presque’île La Galisonnière’.  For all the criticisms heaped on Péron for appending French names to Flinders’s prior discoveries, it is worth noting that since August 1874 this same peninsula, which was first surveyed in its entirety and first named by the French, has honoured the Christian name of a Californian lawyer, Dudley Field, father-in-law of South Australia’s Governor Anthony Musgrave (1828—1888).[19] It would seem that for Anglo-Saxon sensibilities, ‘Dudley’ was preferable to the name of one of France’s greatest naval heroes, responsible, as Péron gleefully pointed out, for the defeat of the unfortunate Admiral Byng at Minorca!

The question still needs to be asked: was there ever a prospect of a ‘Terre Napoléon’ actually settled by France?  It should be remembered that the French had reached Van Diemen’s Land before the British.   Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne’s expedition, the first after Abel Tasman’s, anchored on the east coast for five days from 6 March 1772 in waters embraced by Marion Bay now named in his honour. Thirty years after Marion Dufresne’s visit, France seemed even more likely to colonise Van Diemen’s Land, in British eyes at least, given the statements of François Péron.  Although the Baudin expedition had no such orders, in 1802 Péron brazenly told Colonel Paterson (who then told Governor King!) that France ‘had the plan to make a settlement on d’Entrecasteaux’s Channel’.[20] The British knew well that the Channel was first charted by the French in 1792 and revisited by them in 1793 and 1802.  It should also be remembered that in 1800 the naturalist Labillardière had stated that the D’Entrecasteaux Channel ‘might present great advantages to a commercial nation’.[21] Governor King would take no chances; that commercial nation would be Britain rather than France. Thus Baudin’s second-in-command, Hamelin declared indignantly that the ‘English are about to take from us the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, where it would . . .  interest the French Republic very much to have a settlement’.[22] Twenty-three years later there was a similar scenario: news of Dumont d’Urville’s voyage provoked preemptive British settlement of Western Port and King George Sound by Governor Darling (on the orders of Lord Bathurst) in late 1826.  I should add that Western Australia had been visited and claimed (in one of the flag-raising pantomime’s of the time) as early as March 1772 by another French explorer: François Marie Aleno de Saint-Aloüarn.

There was, of course, an alternative to founding a French colony in Australia and that was to capture a pre-existing British one.  This is precisely what François Péron advocated on returning to Mauritius and learning of the collapse of the Peace of Amiens in 1803.  Péron thought that this could be done with the aid of rebellious Irish convicts. In 1810, the year Péron died, Bonaparte did finally order Vice-Admiral Decrès, the Navy Minister, to “faire prendre la colonie anglaise de Jackson” [take the English colony of Jackson].[23] Of course it was pure political whimsy; France did not have the naval resources to do this.  Indeed at the end of that very year, Mauritius, Bonaparte principal naval base in the Indian Ocean, would fall to the British.

I am not sure whether our indigenous inhabitants would have fared better under France than Britain.  There is no doubt that a number of French explorers, Labillardière, d’Entrecasteaux, Péron and Baudin, pursued inter-cultural exploration here joyfully, peacefully and admirably.  But had France settled Van Diemen’s Land prior to the Revolution, we might now have been dealing with a legacy of slavery.  Bonaparte for all the fine phrases of progress and individual liberty with which he dressed-up his despotism, did not extend freedom to the slaves of his colonial empire.  (I should propose a toast at this point to the much-maligned Governor Hudson Lowe who liberated the slaves of Saint Helena!)

The late-eighteenth century has other lessons for us regarding what Van Diemen’s Land (if not Victoria) might have been like under French rule. When France sided with the American revolutionaries during the American War of Independence, a number of formidable expeditions were mounted from French colonies.  In Mauritius, many colonists took up privateering (state-sanctioned commerce raiding).  But while Mauritius did not have a hinterland large enough to provide adequate naval stores, Van Diemen’s Land and Victoria (or should I say ‘Terre Napoléon’) could have fulfilled that purpose well. Its worth looking at the Mauritian statistics. Between 1793 and 1802, the local French naval squadron and 18 armed local merchantmen-turned-privateers preyed on British Indian shipping with spectacular success: more than 176 British ships were taken as prizes!  Shipbuilding and commerce-raiding became major local industries.

However, even if colonial Van Diemen’s Land and perhaps Western Port Bay in Victoria had started out French, I think it highly unlikely that they would have remained French in the wake of the destruction of French seapower at Trafalgar. British arms would soon have taken Tasmania – as Quebec was conquered in 1759 and Mauritius was conquered in December 1810.  But, who knows, perhaps Bonaparte would have seen the writing on the wall and thrown his Franco-Australian colonies in as sweetener when he sold off Louisiana to the Yanks in 1803 for $15 million. Given the natural frontier of Bass Strait, perhaps a Tasmanian version of the Louisiana Purchase would have left Tasmania looking like an even more far-flung Hawaii or Alaska on the nose of Anglo-Canada, or, in our case, Anglo-Australia. Ultimately, the imperial omnivore Britain, gobbled up the entire Australian continent and its offshore islands.  Despite the injustices done to the indigenous people, a head of state who lives 17,000 kilometres away and a schizophrenic national flag, we can celebrate the political unity of one democratic continent between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, where women got the vote fifty years before France and where the legal system is based on the principle of habeas corpus, something entirely absent from the Code Napoléon.

Thank you!


[1] See, for example, Maunder, P., ‘How Very French’, The Age, 20 May 2012, pp. M8–9.

[2] Mirbel is mentioned in a number of Péron’s letters, including one to the Freycinet brothers, in which he describes him as ‘my friend’; see copy of a letter from Péron to one of the Freycinet brothers, circa 1804, without postal address, original in the possession of the Baron de Freycinet, Aubanais, Charente; Muséum d’histoire naturelle du Havre (MHNH), Collection Lesueur, Ms 22072.

[3] Péron, F., ‘Inventaire général de tous les objets relatifs à l’histoire de l’homme recueillis pendant le cours de l’expédition ou remis à M. Péron, naturaliste zoologiste du Gouvernement dans cette expédition, et présentés par M. Geoffroy et lui à Sa Majesté l’Impératrice Joséphine le 9 prairial an XII’, in Copans, J. and Jamin, J. (eds.)  Aux origines de l’anthropologie Française: Les Mémoires de la Société des Observateurs de l’Homme en l’an VIII, Le Sycomore, Paris, 1978, pp. 195—203; see also Hamy, ‘Les collections anthropologiques et ethnologiques du voyage de découvertes aux Terres Australes (1801—1804)’, Comité des Travaux historiques et scientifiques, Bulletin de Géographie historique et descriptive, Année 1906, pp. 24–34.

[4] [Draft] Letter from Péron to Mme Bonaparte, 25? floréal an 12, MHNH, Coll. Lesueur, Ms 22054.

[5] Extrait du décret Impérial, rendu au Palais de Saint Cloud le 4 Août 1806, MHNH, Coll. Lesueur, Ms 22069-1.

[6] Horner, F., The French Reconnaissance: Baudin in Australia 1801—1803, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1987, p. 333.

[7] Toussaint, A., Port Louis: A Tropical City (translated by W.E.F. Ward), George Allen & Unwin, London, second edition, 1976, pp. 59—60.

[8] Toussaint, A., Histoire des îles Mascareignes, Berger-Levrault, Paris, 1972, p. 136.

[9] Even an anonymous British reviewer of volume 1 of the Voyage (thought to have been John Barrow, Secretary to the Admiralty), believed Péron was not independently responsible for the political claims of his book: ‘. . . he must have been betrayed by superior influence.  Of M. Péron, as a man of general science, we are disposed to think highly; but we repeat, that in the publication of the work before us, we do not and cannot consider him as a free agent.  It is brought forward, in the first place, under the immediate sanction of Buonaparte, in consequence of a report of the Imperial Institute’; see, Quarterly Review, vol. iv, August 1810, p. 44.

[10] Malte-Brun, C., ‘Mémoire sur la découverte de la côte sud-ouest de la Nouvelle-Hollande, ou de la Terre Flinders, de la Terre Napoléon, et de la Terre Grant’, Les Annales des Voyages, de la Géographie et de l’Histoire; ou collection des voyages nouveaux les plus estimés, traduits de toutes les Langues Européennes: des relations originales, inédites, communiquées par des voyageurs Français et Étrangers, Chez F. Buisson, Paris, tome xxiv, 1814, p. 289.

[11] Freycinet’s preface, in Péron [and Freycinet], Voyage de découvertes aux Terres australes, exécuté par ordre de sa Majesté, l’Empereur et Roi, sur les corvettes le Géographe, le Naturaliste et la Goëlette le Casuarina, pendant les années 1800, 1801, 1802, 1803 et 1804, L’Imprimerie Impériale, vol. ii, Historique, p. viii.

[12] Péron, op. cit., tome i, p. 263 (Phillips trans., p. 205).

[13] I must admit to the profound influence of Pieter Geyl on this point.  In the preface to the first Dutch edition of his masterly Napoleon: For and Against, drafted seven months before the Netherlands was liberated from Nazi tyranny, Geyl wrote: ‘He [Napoleon] was a dictator who attempted to break with new legislation what resistance was left in the old society; who intensified his power in the State by means of a centralized administration; who suppressed not only all organized influence or control and expression of opinion, but free thought itself; who hated the intellect, and who entered upon a struggle with the Church which he had first attempted to enslave; and who thought that with censorship, police and propaganda he would be able to fashion the mind to his wish.  He was a conqueror with whom it was impossible to live; who could not help turning an ally into a vassal, or at least interpreting the relationship to his own exclusive advantage; who decorated his lust of conquest with the fine-sounding phrases of progress and civilization; and who at last, in the name of the whole of Europe, which was to look to him for order and peace, presumed to brand England as the universal disturber and enemy’.  For a more recent study, see Desmond Seward’s Napoleon and Hitler: A Comparative Biography, Viking, New York, 1989.

[14] Hahn, R., The Anatomy of a Scientific Institution: The Paris Academy of Sciences, 1666-1803, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1971, p. 311.

[15] Anon., ‘Intérieur’, Le Moniteur universel, no. 13, mercredi, 13 Janvier 1808, p. 1.

[16] Flinders, M., A Voyage to Terra Australis: Undertaken for the Purpose of Completing the Discovery of that Vast Country, and Prosecuted in the Years 1801, 1802, and in 1803, in his Majesty’s Ship the Investigator, and Subsequently in the Armed vessel Porpoise and Cumberland schooner. With an Account of the Shipwreck of the Porpoise, Arrival of the Cumberland at Mauritius, and Imprisonment of the Commander during Six Years and a Half in that Island, G. and W. Nicol, London, 1814, vol. i, p. 193.

[17] Governor King to Baudin, 23 November 1802, in Bladen, F. M. (ed.) ,Historical Records of New South Wales, vol. 4. Hunter and King, 1800, 1801, 1802, Government Printer, Sydney, 1896 (facsimile edition, Lansdown Slattery, Mona Vale, 1979), p. 1007.

[18] Watson, F. (ed.), Historical records of Australia, series 1, Governors’ Despatches to and from England, vol. 3. 1801—1802, Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, Sydney, 1915, p. 698.

[19] The name ‘Dudley’ was first given to the eastern-most ‘Hundred’ (administrative division) of the island and thereby to the peninsula; see Nunn, J. M., This Southern Land: A Social history of Kangaroo Island 1800-1890, Investigator Press, Hawthorndene (S. Aust.), 1989, p. 133.

[20] Ronsard, Journal, Archives nationales, Marine 5JJ 30, folio 42.

[21] Labillardière, J. J. H. de, Relation du voyage à la recherche de La Pérouse fait par ordre de l’assemblée constituante, pendant les années 1791, 1792, et pendant la 1ère. et la 2e. année de la République Françoise, 2 vols. and atlas, H. J. Jansen, Paris, An VIII [1800], tome i, p. 192 (Stockdale trans., pp. 136–7).

[22] Quoted by Frank Horner in The French Reconnaissance, p. 264.

[23] Correspondance de Napoléon Ier, tome xx, 1866, [document 16,544], page 467.

François Péron and the Tasmanians: an unrequited romance — Konishi, Shino

François Péron’s visit to Tasmania in 1802 is a revealing story of love gone wrong, writes Shino Konishi

28 January 2009

From
http://inside.org.au/an-unrequited-romance/

FRANÇOIS PÉRON WAS MY FIRST. A slight man with a sickly aspect, blind in one eye and possessing a long patrician nose that gave him an imperious air, he had a tendency to be self-indulgent and was not averse to plotting against anyone he disliked. He could easily bend the truth if he saw any benefit in it, and could never be accused of mincing his words. His dedication to self-justification was exasperating, to say the least.

I first encountered Péron when I was an undergraduate history student. I found him repellent; almost everything he said was disagreeable. Initially I was only interested in refuting him, dissecting his words and proving that he was an ignorant egomaniac. It was what he said about Indigenous people and how he perceived women that offended me. He could be callously clinical in his descriptions. He never refrained from running his cold eye over the body of a black man or woman, focusing on any physical quality he saw as lacking, aberrant or simply unattractive. He lacked self-awareness and humility, so he never missed an opportunity to present himself as a hero, a role that rested precariously on his slender frame.

Yet over the years I have begun to look beyond the oft-cited descriptions that sparked such ire, humoured his pomposity, and slowly changed my opinion of Monsieur Péron. Where once I dismissed him, now I try to engage with him. Without realising it I have developed a relationship with him, and like all romances it is turbulent. At times he appals me and I detest him. At other times, I affectionately imagine I can see through his façade, and see him as he truly is. I guess I have cast myself in the role of tragic heroine, and want to redeem my man.

François Péron significantly changed my life. He was the first to make me want to become an historian. He was my first primary source; his writings, the first object of my study. While I have since developed relationships with others, they can never be the same. I have journeyed to the other side of the world to see his handwritten letters and journals and to touch the same paper on which he spent the last years of his short life writing, to feel whether he left any remnant of himself imprinted on the surface. I walked through the town from which he departed on his epic voyage, whose people he imagined had wished “may you… return once more to your country, and the gratitude of your fellow citizens!” as he set sail for my side of the world. I have done all this in order to understand him better; to grasp exactly what it was that made him say those terrible things.

In 1800, at the tender age of 25, Péron was the last to join the scientific expedition to Terra Australis. Devised by the veteran seadog, Post-Captain Nicolas Baudin, its scale and cost had surpassed his humble amateur naturalist fantasies when it was co-opted by the newly formed Société des Observateur de l’Homme and sponsored by Napoleon Bonaparte. But I am jumping ahead of my story, and must return to Péron’s life before the expedition so you can understand how he became that self-confessed “irresponsible, scatter-brained, argumentative, indiscreet,” opinionated and alienating man, “incapable of ever giving way for any reason of expediency.”

Péron was not born into a wealthy family, and his father died at an early age. He was guided on the usual trajectory of an intellectually curious, eighteenth-century French man from the lower orders: he was encouraged to join the seminary. But in the course of one of Napoleon’s numerous campaigns he was forced to enlist, and became a prisoner of war at the age of nineteen. After his release he moved to Paris and, under the patronage of Monsieur Petitjean, enrolled in a medical degree, becoming a student of the esteemed men of science and members of the Société, Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu and Georges Cuvier. Upon hearing of the expedition to Terra Australis, Péron abandoned his studies and immediately entreated his mentors to recommend him. He was given the post of zoologist and anthropologist, a science still in its infancy. An artefact of its recent inception was the disparity between the two treatises that served as his instructions: Cuvier’s were inspired by the new science of comparative anatomy, while Joseph-Marie DeGérando’s reflected the eighteenth-century philosophical approach of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

I had not anticipated arriving at Rousseau so early in this story. In order to best describe his significance, I need to jump ahead from Péron joining Baudin’s expedition, skipping over the departure of the Géographe and the Naturaliste from Le Havre and the ships’ stop at the Île de France (Mauritius) where they lost a significant proportion of their crew, disaffected by the slow journey and scant provisions. I want to pass over the brief visits to Western Australia, including their first encounters with Aboriginal people and their longer sojourns in Tasmania and Port Jackson. In fact I want to skip over all of the events on the journey that changed him. Instead, I want to introduce you to Péron as he was about halfway through the expedition, just after his departure from Port Jackson on 18 November 1802, when he had already become a disappointed man.

Péron had concluded volume one of the four-volume journal, Voyage of Discovery to the Southern Hemisphere, and the ships were about to return to France via Western Australia. Péron’s last chapter describes the results of his experiment comparing the physical strength of Indigenous men and European men, using a newly invented mechanical device known as Regnier’s dynamometer. Within this ostensibly objective and empirical context Péron launched into a derogatory and bitter description of the Tasmanian people.

He began with a minutely detailed disquisition on their bodies, easing into his subject matter by stating that the Tasmanians’ height is similar to that of Europeans. The head warranted fuller description because Péron thought it “uncommonly large” and oddly proportioned, being much longer than it is wide. His comprehensive survey then moved down the length of the body, pausing at the torso, which appeared to merit more positive, albeit economically worded, praise. The Tasmanian men’s shoulders were broad, their loins “well formed” and their buttocks “sizeable.” It was when he scrutinised the men’s legs, however, that Péron’s aim became clear. He elaborated the muscular stockiness of their torso only to heighten the apparent feebleness of their extremities: his eye discerned “scarcely any muscle” and he thought their scrawniness was accentuated by their abdomens, which bulged like a “balloon.” This vignette is classic ethnography à la Péron, and widely quoted.

But it was not just the Tasmanians’ bodies that came under attack; he also dismissed their society, polity, abode, arts and diet. Péron’s entire description was damning. It inexorably led to his pronouncement that “the inhabitant of these regions unites all the characters of man in an unsocial state, and is, in every sense of the word, the child of nature.” This is a familiar sentiment to any student of Aboriginal history, but Péron’s pointed use of italics suggests the reason for his ire: it was a rebuke against those “vain sophists” who “attribute to savages all the sources of happiness and every principle of virtue.”

Now Rousseau can enter the story. As a student Péron had been influenced by the eminent philosopher’s thesis on the state of nature. He was seduced by the fantasy of the “noble savage,” a child of nature not only more virtuous than civilised man but physically superior in both form and function. My first impression of Péron’s vitriolic attack on the body of the Tasmanians was that it was fuelled by the bitter disappointment of a former acolyte – by the realisation that his deeply held faith was a fantasy.

My first sympathetic understanding came from believing that Péron’s disillusionment with “J.J,” as he intimately called Rousseau in his notes, was heartfelt, perhaps enflamed by having lost his real father. His filial misfortune led me to suspect that he did not take the disappointment of a fallen patriarch such as Rousseau lightly. I believed then that there was a tragic romance between Rousseau the mentor and Péron the disciple. Naturally, I concluded that the Tasmanians were merely innocent unfortunates caught in the crossfire, purely a means to Péron’s end of proving that Rousseau was a charlatan philosophe. The idea that the Tasmanians themselves played almost no role in shaping these derogatory European attitudes was compelling, and widely held by other scholars.

But re-reading Péron again and again I have come to question this belief, for although it is not often acknowledged, Péron was not always damning in his appraisals of the Tasmanians. It seems that his vitriolic fire was not sparked by Rousseau alone, but also fanned by the Tasmanians. Not by their inferiority and physical degradation as Péron implies, but rather by their cool indifference to him, their reluctance to play the foil to his heroic self-imaginings. After acquiring a more intimate knowledge of his writings, I have come to the conclusion that Péron’s unrequited romance was not with Rousseau at all, but with the Tasmanians.

I WILL NOW RETURN to Péron as he was on 13 January 1802: a prodigy in the science of natural history, idealistic and expectant. His enthusiasm was partly attributed to the relief of finally catching sight of Tasmania after an arduous sixty-one-day journey from Timor marked by dysentery, death and despair. To Péron the Tasmanian coastline was an Arcadian vision. Despite the brisk temperatures he stood on the deck of the Géographe transfixed by the sight of the “lofty mountains,” the inland plains which rose “in amphitheatres” over the whole island and the “immense forests.” He listened to the calls of the seabirds that circled the ships and the dolphins’ splashes as they danced in the ship’s wake. All the sights and sounds contributed to his solemn feeling that he had “touched the extreme boundary of the southern world.”

Péron’s admiration of the landscape grew as the ships sailed into the d’Entrecasteaux Channel in search of fresh water. Observing the lush green of the vegetation and prodigious mountains and the beautiful plumes of the local parrots and majestic swans, he declared that it was the “most picturesque and pleasant” place they had seen during their long voyage. It was in this halcyon environment that Péron first glimpsed the Tasmanians.

As the ships approached the shore two men appeared on the beach, disappearing as the ships neared. Then, after the French disembarked, another two men appeared, the braver of them immediately bounding down the rise to greet them. This young man captivated Péron with his athleticism, for he “seemed rather to spring from the top of the rock than to descend from it.” His physicality made him appear “strong” and the only defect he appeared to have was a looseness to his joints. Péron scanned the Tasmanian’s face and, seeing that his eyes were “lively and expressive,” concluded that his “physiognomy had nothing fierce or austere” about it.

This figure bewitched the young anthropologist. Here was his noble savage, a man of impressive physical strength and dexterity with an open and guileless demeanour. Péron’s compatriot Freycinet immediately embraced the man and he followed suit. It was in this fleeting caress that Péron got his first inkling that his admiration was not reciprocated. The aloof Tasmanian received the strangers’ embrace with an “air of indifference,” but in his excitement at finally beholding this fabled noble savage, Péron was willing to overlook the minor rebuff. Instead, he interpreted it as a sign that physical displays of affection had little meaning to the man, a theory he would later apply to all Tasmanians. But for the time being, Péron was enchanted by the man’s insatiable curiosity.

The Tasmanian ran his hands over the Frenchmen’s clothes, marvelling at their white skin and layers of attire. Opening their jackets and lifting their shirts, perhaps even rolling up their sleeves and tugging at their waistbands, he inspected their skin, punctuating his fervid manoeuvring with “loud exclamations of surprise” and stamping his feet. The boat then caught his eye, and he rushed over to inspect it with the same zeal. Ignoring the men still seated aboard he jumped in and immediately began running his hands along its wooden boards.

The young man was then distracted by a bottle of arrack given to him by one of the bemused sailors. Holding the bottle in the sun he slowly turned it, catching the rays of light that glinted off its surface. Suddenly, his attention again seized by the boat, he threw the bottle overboard, much to the chagrin of the sailors. The loud splashes as one of the Frenchmen dove after the bottle did not distract the Tasmanian, who was then attempting to push the boat off and sail it by himself. Péron was charmed by the man’s display of energetic inquisitiveness and impressed by his deductive reasoning. He would later write that they were “the most striking demonstrations of attention and reflection which we had ever seen among savage nations.”

While this scene was being played out in the water, Péron and Freycinet wandered further ashore to meet the second Tasmanian in a somewhat less frantic exchange. This man’s salt-and-pepper hair and beard suggested that he was more than fifty years old, and while he was obviously frightened by the strangers’ sudden appearance he gave an impression of “kindness and candour.” Once he too had dishevelled their strange clothes and scrutinised their white skin, he beckoned two women to join them on the beach.

After some deliberation, the women approached with the elder leading the way. The skin on her belly was marked with “furrows” and ridges, a telltale sign for Péron that she had mothered many children. The younger woman nursed a baby girl, giving Péron an excuse to linger over the shape and fullness of her bosom in his written description. But when he lifted his gaze to her face he was taken aback by her expression as she openly returned his stare. Unlike the “kind and friendly” countenance of the older couple, this young woman had “fire” burning in her eyes. Yet when her eyes flitted back to her baby they changed, becoming warm with affection as she fondled and cared for her infant in a display of “maternal love” that Péron could only assume was a peculiarity of women the world over. Again, Péron’s delight at beholding real-life noble savages led him to overlook the woman’s momentary flintiness.

After this meeting Péron’s fellow naturalists wished to move on to begin their scientific studies, but he opted to stay with the two women and the Tasmanian patriarch so he could “collect some words of their idiom.” Meanwhile the young man remained with the sailors, gathering wood and lighting a fire when he realised that they were cold. As both parties converged at the fire Péron had another opportunity to delight in the innocence of these “children of nature.” When one of the sailors removed his glove the young woman suddenly screamed, fearing that this strange man could simply detach his hand “at pleasure.” Realising her mistake, the Frenchmen all laughed heartily at her naivety. It was during this first stage of the romance that the ill-fated bottle of arrack re-entered the story.

Under the cover of this distraction, the elderly patriarch took the same bottle of arrack that had been given to his son and headed off towards his camp. The loss of such a valuable resource, comprising “a great part” of their “stock,” incited the sailors’ to roughly reclaim the bottle. The Frenchmen’s erratic behaviour over this supposed gift sparked the old man’s ire, and he immediately led his family away from the strangers, ignoring their subsequent gestures of appeasement and requests to stay. Despite this hiccup in the budding relationship, Péron was confident that he could regain their affections, so he joined his fellow naturalists for a spot of shell collecting.

Later that afternoon some explorers ventured further along the shore looking for specimens and discovered a hut and canoes, which they keenly inspected. After deciding that they lacked sophistication and workmanship, they met the same family, whose number had since swelled to nine. The Tasmanians rushed forward with cries of delight and joy, the earlier altercation seemingly forgotten. They took the sailors back to their hut and prepared a simple meal of broiled shellfish, which the Frenchmen found to be “succulent and well-flavoured.” The happy guests hoped to repay their hosts’ hospitality by regaling them with a spirited rendition of La Marseillaise. Péron thought the song would serve an anthropological purpose by revealing “what effect our singing would have on our audience.” The Tasmanians did not appear surprised by the sudden rendition, though they responded to the music with “diverse contortions” and “odd gestures” which greatly amused the explorers. The Tasmanians’ immediate “exclamations of admiration” at the conclusion of the stirring anthem encouraged Péron to entertain them with more song.

Changing the mood somewhat, he led his fellow voyagers in crooning some of their “tender airs.” Even though the Tasmanians appeared to “comprehend the sense” of these romantic ballads, they remained unaffected, much to the dismay of the amateur troubadours. After what could only have been an uncomfortable period of silence, the awkward atmosphere was broken by the sudden appearance of Ouré-Ouré, a Tasmanian belle. She was about sixteen or seventeen years old, thought to be the younger sister of either the energetic young man or his flinty wife, and attracted the strangers’ keenest attention. Her nakedness and “delicate” form could not be ignored, but Péron, in a moment of chivalry, refrained from clinically describing her body, and thought her beguilingly unaware that there could be anything indecent or immodest about her “absolute nudity.” Even though she paid Freycinet the most attention, Péron thought her glances toward all of them were “affectionate and expressive.”

To Péron Ouré-Ouré was a natural coquette. Yet, when she behaved in a more forward manner, Péron was taken aback. “Taking some burnt charcoal in her hands, she crushed it so as to reduce it to a fine powder” then daubed it all over her face, expressing a confident and satisfied attitude towards her beauty regimen. The Frenchmen were flattered by her attentions and amused to discover that “fondness for adornment… prevails in the hearts” of all women, but Péron was also distressed by how “frightfully black” it made her. Evidently Péron found her coy preening simultaneously enticing and disturbing. Yet he accepted Ouré-Ouré’s new look and later seized the opportunity to try to usurp Freycinet in her affections. Noticing that she owned a bag made of rushes, he thought to himself that “as this girl had also shewn me some marks of regard” he would venture “to ask her for this little trifle.” She happily gave him the bag, accompanied by “an obliging smile” and “some tender expressions” that he lamented not being able to understand. In response to this flirtation Péron inundated her with presents, including a handkerchief, a hatchet and a hammer, disregarding Baudin’s orders to be sparing with gifts.

Péron was enamoured not only of the Tasmanians’ hospitality and camaraderie, and Ouré-Ouré’s affections, but also of the playful mischievousness of the children, and the ease with which he seemed to converse with the Tasmanians, despite not sharing a common language. Upon bidding their adieus the French were accompanied back to their boat by the Tasmanians, where they met the French sailors, most of whom also noticed Ouré-Ouré’s considerable attractions and festooned her with even more gifts. The Tasmanians’ seemingly mutual feelings of affection were evident in their reluctance to allow the Frenchmen to leave.

THIS DAY WOULD be Péron’s most romantic with the Tasmanians, full of laughter and warmth. He was impressed not only by how the family had embraced their visitors but also by the tenderness they had shown one another. Later he would reflect that on that day he “saw realised with inexpressible pleasure, those charming descriptions of the happiness and simplicity of a state of nature, of which I had so often read, and enjoyed in idea.” Yet only two days later, on 15 January, Péron would begin to rethink this evaluation.

On that fateful day Péron was completely oblivious to how events would play out. In fact he was not even thinking of the Tasmanians, but was instead charting the Port of Swans in a small boat, marvelling at the countryside and wildlife. The naturalists had discovered a river, which they named after the celebrated hydrographer Fleurieu, and Péron decided that a European colony should be established there, as the river would supply the settlement with water all year round.

Meanwhile, hostilities flared on Bruny Island. That day some sailors had ventured out on a fishing expedition, and shortly after landing had encountered a group of Tasmanians. Péron later learned that a burly midshipman by the name of Jean Maurouard, perhaps anticipating the study Péron would later conduct with his dynamometer, had decided to test the strength of the infamously physically adept noble savages. After presenting the “natives” with gifts and finding them to be friendly, Maurouard felt at liberty to try something new. Selecting the one who “appeared to be the most robust” he indicated his desire to engage in a little roughhousing. Planting his feet firmly in the sand, the Frenchman grabbed the Tasmanian’s wrist and gestured that both should “pull as hard as possible.” Assuming that his gestures were fully comprehended the midshipman engaged in numerous feats of strength, repeatedly toppling or throwing his opponent into the sand. Mighty Maurouard won out every single time, but as the game was played amid much laughter and frivolity he did not anticipate the Tasmanians’ reaction.

Tired of wrestling and collecting fish, the Frenchmen decided to withdraw to the ship. They said their goodbyes and presented more gifts. With his back turned to the Tasmanians as he pushed the boat out into the water, Maurouard was suddenly speared in the shoulder. The Frenchmen immediately sprang into action: Sub-lieutenant St. Cricq drew his pistol, and together with the irrepressible Maurouard charged back up the rise to find the attacker. They later reported to Baudin that they came upon seven or eight armed men who did not react upon seeing the Frenchmen. Struck by their peculiarly impassive demeanour, St. Cricq and Marouard decided that it was most prudent to return to the ship, so retreated back down the rise without further incident.

Péron reported the story differently, however. When he heard news of this attack a few days later he was filled with horror. How could those noble savages whose company he had so thoroughly enjoyed only days earlier have behaved so barbarically? But then perhaps he recalled those brief incidents during his first day when their response had been cool or indifferent, not to mention their attempt to steal the arrack. Perhaps those minor rebuffs by the Tasmanian men preyed on him. He certainly remembered the hostile attacks that they had suffered on the west coast of New Holland. Possibly the Tasmanian men were not as different from their mainland neighbours as he had first thought. Péron judged this attack to be a “perfidious and cowardly” display of brutality. He immediately assumed that it was a vindictive response to their resounding defeat at the hands of Maurouard.

It never occurred to him that the Tasmanians might have been demonstrating their own indigenous game of skill, the art of spear dodging, or that the Tasmanians might have tired of the strangers’ presence and wanted them to leave. In fact Péron did not even entertain the notion that the Tasmanians had any motivation other than an inherent “destructive instinct”, because to him they were little more than a cipher for his fanciful projections. His penchant for melodrama, which became more pronounced over the course of his journey, revealed itself in his retelling of this incident. According to his narrative the French immediately gave pursuit, and he claims they would have “punished them as they deserved” had the cowardly locals not already “escaped among the rocks, or hid themselves among the brambles.” This would not be the only time that Péron allowed his fantasies to obscure the truth.

After a reprieve of only a few days, the French had another encounter with the Tasmanian men that played out in a similar fashion, again resulting in “violent aggression.” For a second time Péron missed out on the action, but at his request the botanist Jean-Baptiste Louis Claude Leschenault wrote him a report, so he had all of the important details. That is to say, the report described the violent actions, mentioning neither how the Tasmanians were encountered nor what their attitude had been, because after the spearing of Maurouard the French could only see the Tasmanian men’s actions as inexplicably and instinctively violent.

This day began with a small party, led by Jean Félix Emmanuel Hamelin, captain of the Naturaliste and including the artist Nicolas-Martin Petit, setting out to make some progress on their ethnographic research. After meeting a group of Tasmanians Petit drew portraits of the men as they sat in repose smiling and talking. Despite their relaxed demeanour Petit was soon to realise that they were not merely passive anthropological subjects; when Petit had finished the portraits, one of his subjects suddenly grabbed hold of the drawing. Petit steadfastly held on to his work, forcing the Tasmanian to relinquish his hold and up the ante by seizing and brandishing “a log of wood.” Thanks to the spearing of Maurouard the French were on guard against potential attacks, so the rest of the party immediately rallied to the artist’s side. The increased support induced the man to surrender his claim to his portrait, though not his indignation. Despite French attempts to placate the Tasmanians with another round of gifts, they were sent running back to their ships with a volley of rocks.

Leschenault reported this second attack to Péron, who included it in the official journal of the voyage. The report contained the critique of Jean-Jacques Rousseau which would come significantly to influence Péron: “I am astonished,” wrote Leschenault, “to hear sensible people aver, that men in a state of nature are not wicked,” adding that it was preposterous to believe that the natives never played the role of aggressor. Two attacks were evidently enough for him to reject the claim that the Tasmanians were noble savages. Péron, on the other hand, with lingering memories of Ouré-Ouré, still had a soft spot for the women.

On the last day of the month, after almost two weeks with little contact, Péron came across a group of Tasmanians. Following Leschenault’s advice to the letter he turned back “without hesitating a moment.” Beating a hasty retreat along the shoreline he happened to meet sub-lieutenant François Antoine Boniface Heirisson. Bolstered by this extra support, he decided to return to where he had seen the “natives.” Realising that they had no chance of catching the Tasmanians if they chose to avoid them, Péron and Heirisson signalled their good intentions by calling out, holding up their presents so they could be seen, and “waving their handkerchiefs.” The group eventually submitted to these entreaties and stopped, allowing Péron and Heirisson to catch up. It was as they approached that Péron realised that “they were women, and that there was not a single male among the party,” which instantly lifted his spirits. Unfortunately these women were not to live up to Péron’s fantasies, for they were hardly shy and malleable coquettes.

FROM THE OUTSET of their encounter the women were in control. It was the women who allowed the Frenchmen to draw near, the women who instructed them to sit, and the women who made them disarm. The Frenchmen not only had to submit to the women’s instructions but also had to tolerate their interrogations and mockery. Péron thought that they seemed “often to criticise our appearance” and laughed “heartily at our expense.” When the surgeon Jérôme Bellefin attempted to repeat their earlier success with the Tasmanians by singing to them, the women again seemed to appreciate it, but one, who they later learned was called Arra-Maida, mimicked his “action and the tone of his voice.” Her singing had such an unfamiliar melody that Péron thought it difficult to “give any idea of music” and her dancing plainly shocked Péron. Her contortions and “attitude” bordered on “indecent,” forcing him to primly note that these savage people were still absolute “strangers to all the delicacy of sentiment and conduct” that was a natural “consequence of complete civilisation.”

Péron’s earlier ambivalence regarding Ouré-Ouré was only exacerbated by these seemingly brazen paramours. Having been tantalised by Ouré-Ouré and entranced by demure flirtations that allowed him to play the role of chivalrous seducer, he was clearly taken aback at being forced into the role of blushing coquette himself. But his surprise at this inversion of roles paled in comparison to the women’s attempt to transform the Frenchmen’s appearance. Once Arra-Maida had finished her performance she approached Péron, taking from her rush bag some charcoal which she crushed between her hands just as Ouré-Ouré had done. But instead of powdering her own face she applied it to Péron’s and then Heirisson’s. Even though both men “submitted to this obliging piece of caprice,” and Péron even recognised that the Tasmanians might have the same disdain for white skin that Europeans had for black, this meeting with the women further cooled Péron’s ardour for the Tasmanians.

In contrast to his chivalrously discreet account of the delectable Ouré-Ouré, Péron openly scrutinised these women, describing their bodies in clinical and derogatory detail, picking out any flaw, no matter how minor, in his exhaustive catalogue of imperfections. Even the young girls, who possessed an “agreeable form and pleasant features,” were criticised because their “nipples were rather too large and long.” He concluded that “in a word, all the particulars of their natural constitution were in the highest degree disgusting.” In Péron’s eyes, signs of the women’s brazen behaviour were now physically apparent in their bodies.

Even though Péron’s opinion of the Tasmanians had become jaded, he was not the one to end the romance. Despite his ambivalence towards the women Péron stayed with them as long as he could, playing the dupe to their “many tricks” and “drolleries” and enjoying a “merry” time. As he followed them home from their fishing expedition, musing on the unjust burdens imposed on savage women, he was suddenly roused from his reflections by one woman’s “loud cry of terror.” The women had just caught sight of the manned French boats. The realisation that there were more intruders waiting just off the shore ignited their fears, and all but one of the women fled towards the forest. The indomitably courageous Arra-Maida hectored her fleeing sisters and eventually convinced them to escort the party back to their boat. As they neared the shore Péron realised that the “husbands” of these women had also converged where the boats were moored, but instead of being fearful they appeared to be filled with “malevolence” and suppressed anger, which Péron assumed to be consequent to their “inability to contend” with the superior Europeans. Yet the Tasmanians seemed to have decided that the best way to contend with the French trespassers was to spurn their advances by evading them and giving the Frenchmen an apparently unambiguous sign of their disdain.

On 3 February, only a few weeks after their first meeting, the French returned to Bruny Island. On seeing two women walking down the mountain to the sea, two of the explorers who had yet to encounter the Tasmanian women immediately ran towards them hoping for a closer look. When the women realised they were being pursued they sprinted off, disappearing before the men could catch them. Disappointed, the entire party continued along the coast and eventually spied a huge bonfire that appeared to have been burning since the night before. As they approached the pyre they realised that it was surrounded by “almost all the presents” that the French had given to the Tasmanians. Like any jilted lover Péron was in denial. Instead of recognising that the Tasmanians had rejected the French explorers’ overtures, he imagined that this bonfire and deliberate return of their gifts was just a manifestation of their “puerile curiosity.” He deluded himself by thinking that “these uninformed men threw away what no longer pleased or amused them,” and refused to recognise that it was actually he and his compatriots who no longer pleased the Tasmanians.

Had this romance been a fiction rather than being based on historical events the story would have ended here, perhaps with Péron mourning the end of the affair, or moving on to look for another race of impossible noble savages. But the harsh and prosaic reality of the situation was that Péron and the French lingered in Tasmania, unwanted, for a few more weeks, meeting other Tasmanians and making further futile attempts to study these children of nature. The French continued to try draw their portraits, document their vocabularies, discern whether or not they indulged in “kisses and tender caresses,” and test their physical strength with their dynamometer. Their attentions were frequently rebuffed, and encounters usually ended in violent or aggressive altercations, with the French having to resort to drawing their weapons.

So why did I develop some sympathy for Péron, this vindictive, “irresponsible, scatter-brained, argumentative,” and “indiscreet” man? It was not because he lost his father at an early age, nor because he was a prisoner of war. My change of heart was because after years of reading him again and again, I recognised that he had been searching and longing for something that did not exist. He had adopted such a passionate faith in a singular idea that it bordered on religious zeal. He was desperate to find the perfect noble savage, a tabula rasa on which to project his fantasies of an ideal human society. When he finally found it on the temperate shores of Tasmania he did not anticipate that things would play out the way they did. He never expected that his offerings and paternalistic guidance would be rejected, that the noble savages would refuse to do his bidding and be model objects of study, and that they would fail to behave as Rousseau had led him to believe. So he reacted with the vindictiveness of a jilted lover.

So you may ask again, why do I sympathise with Péron? The answer is simply because his quest mirrored my own. As an Indigenous historian I have combed these first contact narratives for any accounts and revelations about pre-contact Aboriginal people in order to understand the heartbreaking experiences and momentous changes that colonisation wrought for indigenous Australians. Despite seeing myself as standing at the opposite end of a temporal and colonial abyss from François Péron, I now realise that we are in some instances uncomfortably aligned. For I too have idealistic fantasies about Aboriginal society and have attempted to impose this romanticised vision on the historical record. In doing so I have come to realise that I have inadvertently glossed over the complexities and idiosyncrasies of pre-contact Aboriginal society, and ignored the playful and amicable relations that were formed in those first moments of contact. I have been blind to the power that the Indigenous people had in those early colonial encounters. Like Péron I made the mistake of misinterpreting and misjudging the agency of eighteenth-century Aboriginal people and treated them as mere ciphers for my post-colonial theories. I sympathise with Péron because I eventually recognised this, and unlike him, I am now free to be intrigued and enthralled by the real complexities of the Tasmanians and other indigenous historical figures all over again. •

Shino Konishi is a research fellow at the Australian Centre for Indigenous History, Australian National University, and a descendant of the Yawuru people of Broome, Western Australia. This essay is based on a chapter in Transgressions: Critical Australian Indigenous Histories [1], edited by Ingereth Macfarlane and Mark Hannah, published by ANU E Press and Aboriginal History Incorporated.


URL to article: http://inside.org.au/an-unrequited-romance/

URLs in this post:

[1] Transgressions: Critical Australian Indigenous Histories: http://epress.anu.edu.au/transgressions_citation.html

[2] Australia “>Reviewing Indigenous history in Baz Luhrmann’s Australia : http://inside.org.au/reviewing-indigenous-history-in-baz-luhrmanns-australia/

[3] Moralising the colonial past: http://inside.org.au/moralising-the-colonial-past/

[4] Two-up, one down: http://inside.org.au/two-up-one-down/

[5] The strange career of the Australian conscience: http://inside.org.au/the-strange-career-of-the-australian-conscience/

[6] Windschuttle, again: http://inside.org.au/windschuttle-again/

[7] Battle over a war: http://inside.org.au/battle-over-a-war/

[8] Compulsory viewing: http://inside.org.au/compulsory-viewing/

[9] Secret history: http://inside.org.au/secret-history/

[10] “We know each other, but we’re not loving… That’s what the state ward took from us”: http://inside.org.au/we-know-each-other/

[11] The shattered silence: http://inside.org.au/the-shattered-silence/

 

Horner, Frank (1917—2004) — Obituary by Jane Southwood & Edward Duyker

Obituary: Dr Frank Benson Horner (1917—2004)

by Jane Southwood & Edward Duyker

Dr Frank Horner was that rare individual: a statistician who in retirement abandoned figures for words and published two of the most elegant works of French-Australian history in the late-twentieth century.  At the age of seventy he emerged as the pre-eminent authority in Australia on the great French navigator, Nicolas Baudin.

Frank Benson Horner was born in Melbourne on 28 October 1917, into a talented family.  His brother Arthur (born 1916) achieved fame as a syndicated political cartoonist and his brother Jack (born 1922) achieved prominence as an author and advocate of Aboriginal rights.  Frank studied for a Bachelor of Economics during evening classes at the University of Sydney, while employed by the New South Wales Bureau of Statistics which he joined in 1935. He graduated in 1938 with First Class Honours in Economics and the University Medal.   While at Sydney University he also joined the University Regiment, recounting proudly, years later, how he had floated a gun carriage across the Georges River during an exercise.  It was perhaps a sign that he was destined to get his feet wet. When war broke out he was seconded to the Commonwealth Treasury as an adviser to the Secretary, but was eventually commissioned as a naval officer serving mainly in New Guinea waters.

On Australia Day 1946 Frank married Patricia Gray, whom he had met at a party in Canberra in 1943 and whom he had courted by letter and during his shore leave. It was to prove a long and happy union, lasting 54 years, until Pat’s death in 2000.

In 1946 Pat and Frank sailed on the SS Waiwera to England for Frank to study for his doctorate at the London School of Economics on his pre-war Walter and Eliza Hall Research Fellowship, a Denison Miller Scholarship and with the support of Pat.

They returned to Australia in early 1949 where Frank developed a number of new fields of statistical analysis at the NSW Bureau of Statistics and Economics.

He then moved to Canberra in 1958 to work with Sir Stanley Carver, the Commonwealth Statistician. Between 1963 and 1965 he was Secretary of the Vernon Committee of Economic Enquiry, a report he was primarily responsible for writing. Frank was known for his pioneering work in the introduction of social indicators to Australia and for his professional rigour.

On retirement Frank turned his attention to another great love – maritime history. Over a seven-year period, he carried out meticulous and exacting research which resulted in his powerful vindication of Baudin and his expedition. His research was initially made possible by the existence in Australia of two important collections : the so-called Hélouis collection of documents pertaining to Baudin’s expedition, made by Madame Robert Hélouis prior to and during the First World War, at the instigation of Sir Ernest Scott, a copy of which is held in the National Library ; and thirty-five reels of microfilmed copies of the French official archives on the Baudin expedition – including Baudin’s Journal de Mer – assembled in the 1960s by Brian Baldwin for the Libraries Board of South Australia. These collections were rounded out by research Frank carried out in France.

Frank’s book, The French Reconnaissance: Baudin in Australia 1801-1803, published by Melbourne University Press in 1987 – the non-fiction selection for the Fellowship of Australian Writers’ Barbara Ramsden Award in 1987 – is still considered the finest work ever written on the navigator.  A French translation, undertaken by Martine Marin, President of Les Amis de Nicolas Baudin, is nearing completion.

After The French Reconnaissance Frank directed his energies into a second piece of meticulous research on Baudin’s precursor in Australia [D’Entrecasteaux]. This resulted in Looking for La Pérouse: D’Entrecasteaux in Australia and the South Pacific 1792-1793 (Melbourne University Press, 1995) which soon went into paperback.

For these two ground-breaking works Frank was decorated by the French government. On November 19 2002, in a moving ceremony performed by France’s Ambassador to Australia, His Excellency, Monsieur Pierre Viaux, he received the insignia of the Palmes Académiques. Though frail, he was still witty, and quipped that as a chevalier he needed a horse.

At the largest international  conference ever held on Baudin – at the University of Sydney in September/October  2002 – every scholar in attendance paid tribute to the man whose work is still pre-eminent in Baudin circles and who has paved the way for further research on the navigator.

Frank was a passionate devotee of classical music. He sang with several choirs, was on the committees of the Canberra Youth Orchestra and the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and spent much time browsing in Canberra Record Society library. He was delighted when one of his grand daughters – Zoë Barry – became a very fine classical musician.

He was also a wonderful wordsmith. With his beloved wife Pat, he wrote When Words Fail Us A Casebook of Language Lapses in Australia (1980). The success of the book led to a column of the same name in The Age which ran for eighteen years.

Frank Horner died in Canberra on 20 July 2004, aged 86.  His books and published articles remain as testimony to his fine intellect and his painstaking research on an important part of Australian and French history.

He is survived by his brother Jack, by his three daughters, Harriet, Elizabeth and Philippa, and by his granddaughters Zoë, Emily, Thea and Sarah.

Adieu Frank

Jane Southwood & Edward Duyker

Les géographes de l’expédition Baudin et la reconnaissance des côtes australes, par Dr Bréelle, Dany

LES GÉOGRAPHES DE L’EXPÉDITION BAUDIN ET LA RECONNAISSANCE DES CÔTES AUSTRALES

Dr Dany Bréelle

Flinders University, Adélaïde, Australie

Etudes sur le 18ème siècle, vol. 38, 2010, Editions de l’Université de Bruxelles, pp. 213-223.

En octobre 1800, Charles-Pierre Boullanger et Pierre-Ange François-Xavier Faure embarquaient en qualité d’ingénieurs-géographes à bord du Géographe et du Naturaliste, les corvettes du voyage de découvertes aux Terres australes commandé par Nicolas Baudin. Leur mission était de travailler à la cartographie des côtes soit mal connues, soit encore inconnues des Terres australes. Tous deux étaient de jeunes adultes. Faure, né à Nantes en 1777, accomplissait son premier voyage au long cours ; Boullanger, né à Paris en 1772, avait déjà expérimenté la mer en tant qu’aspirant de la marine[1]. A partir de l’analyse des divers écrits, croquis et plans qu’ils remirent au commandant au retour du voyage[2], le propos de cet article est d’estimer le travail de reconnaissance que les deux géographes accomplirent au cours et à l’issue de cette expédition pour « combler les blancs de la carte » de la Nouvelle-Hollande[3], et vérifier l’exactitude des cartes déjà existantes. Je traiterai d’abord de l’enseignement que Boullanger et Faure reçurent pour obtenir le titre d’ingénieur-géographe et être sélectionnés parmi les savants de l’expédition ; je m’arrêterai ensuite sur les méthodes de levés et de cartographie qu’ils appliquèrent en m’appuyant sur leurs registres, journaux ou cahiers déposés aux Archives nationales[4] ; enfin je replacerai leur production géographique dans les contextes politique et culturel de l’époque, m’attachant à discerner les facteurs qui limitèrent la promotion du travail de Boullanger et Faure.

Formation scientifique et missions hydrographiques

Boullanger et Faure reçurent une excellente formation scientifique, en intégrant la toute nouvelle École polytechnique, où de prestigieux savants tels que Gaspard Monge, le père de la géométrie descriptive, le chimiste Bertholet, les mathématiciens Lagrange ou Prony enseignaient les principes généraux des sciences indispensables aux ingénieurs. Tous deux passèrent avec succès l’examen d’admission[5], le premier en 1795 (promotion du 28 ventôse an 3/ 18 mars 1795) et le second en 1796 (promotion du 23 nivôse an 4/ 13 janvier 1796).

À l’issue de deux années d’enseignement intensif, particulièrement en mathématiques, ils furent admis par concours, avec Laplace comme examinateur, dans une des cinq écoles d’application associées à Polytechnique, celle des ingénieurs-géographes. Cette nouvelle école, associée à l’Ecole nationale aérostatique et dirigée par Prony, avait ouvert ses portes en 1797 pour pallier aux graves déficiences de recrutement auquel le Cadastre de la France se heurtait, et à l’aspect rudimentaire de l’enseignement que le Dépôt de la guerre assurait. Joseph Lanz, ancien officier de marine espagnol et calculateur du Cadastre, y enseignait « certaines parties de l’astronomie … utiles aux ingénieurs géographes, telles que la manière de déterminer les latitudes et les longitudes, la figure de la terre, les réfractions, la théorie de la lune, celle des éclipses des satellites »[6].

L’expédition Baudin comptait trois autres polytechniciens de formation, Maurouard, de la promotion du 17 germinal an 4 (6 avril 1796), spécialisé dans la marine militaire, Bailly, de la promotion de frimaire an 5 (novembre/décembre 1796), spécialisé dans les arts et manufactures, et Hyacinthe de Bougainville, de la promotion de l’an 8 (1799/1800), spécialisé comme Maurouard dans la marine militaire[7]. La présence de polytechniciens dans une expédition avait un prestigieux précédent, l’expédition d’Égypte, où, sous l’impulsion de Monge, ils formaient l’ossature des équipes employées à étudier et cartographier l’Égypte et à identifier les vestiges de sa civilisation pharaonique. Le choix de géographes de haut niveau[8] témoignait des ambitions de la France de s’assurer une présence dans le Pacifique où des espaces restaient encore à découvrir, à cartographier et, peut-être, à s’approprier.

Fleurieu, membre de l’Institut et du conseil d’Etat pendant le Consulat, fut chargé de composer les instructions du voyage[9], à la demande du ministre de la Marine, Forfait. Fleurieu avait déjà rédigé celles de Lapérouse et d’Entrecasteaux. Mais contrairement à ces dernières, les objectifs géographiques de l’expédition Baudin se limitaient essentiellement à la Nouvelle-Hollande et à la Terre Van Diemen : Il s’agissait de « faire reconnaître avec détail les côtes du sud-ouest, de l’ouest et du nord de la Nouvelle-Hollande, dont quelques une sont encore entièrement inconnues, et d’autres ne sont connue qu’imparfaitement ». Les instructions étaient précises et incluaient de visiter « exactement » la côte orientale de l’île Van Diemen (Tasmanie). Boullanger et Faure devaient donc travailler « à fixer avec précision la position géographique des points principaux des côtes […] pour en lever des cartes exactes[10] ».

 

Tableau 1. Quelques-unes des missions de reconnaissance des deux géographes

 

Boullanger

 

Faure

 

•       Expédition en canot faite pour relever le plan de l’Ile Maria  (avec Péron). Départ le 19 février 1802  (sur la côte orientale de la Tasmanie, maintenant un parc national)•       Expédition avec le grand canot du Géographepour relever la côte orientale de la Terre de Diémen, depuis le Cap Tourville (avec Maurouard). Départ le 6 mars 1802•       Expédition avec le canot du Naturalisteentre le Promontoire Wilson et Port Westerndépart le 6 avril 1802 (avec St Cricq).(au SE de Port Phillip Bay et de Melbourne)

•       Géographie des Iles Hunter, sur la goélette Le Casuarina, commandée par Louis Freycinet. Départ le 7 décembre 1802 (au NO de la Tasmanie)

•       Géographie des 2 golfes, sur la goélette Le Casuarina, commandée par Louis Freycinet. Départ le 10 janvier 1803 (golfe St Vincent avec Adelaïde et golfe Spencer avec Port Lincoln, en Australie méridionale)

 

 

•       Expéditions avec le grand canot du Naturalistepour faire la géographie de la baie des Chiens Marins (Shark Bay, en Australie occidentale), Départ le 21 juillet 1801(avec Heirisson) ; le22 août 1801 (avec Moreau)•       Géographie de la baie dite Frederik Hendricks (avec la Péninsule de Tasman, à l’Est d’Hobart)Départ le 23 janvier 1802•       Géographie des îles Schouten départ le 19 février 1802 (avec Bailly) (îles de la mer de Tasman, le nom Schouten désigne maintenant plus spécifiquement une île qui se trouve au sud de la péninsule Freycinet)

•       Géographie et plan de la baie de King. Départ le 13 mars 1802 (à environ 200 km au S-SO de la baie de Melbourne et port Phillip Bay).

•       Géographie du port Dalrymple et de l’Ile Waterhouse. Départ le 2 avril 1802 (avec Louis Freycinet) au Nord de la Tasmanie. (le nom historique du port de Launceston, au nord de la Tasmanie).

•       Géographie et plan du port Western ; Départ le 9 avril 1802 (avec Milius)

•       Géographie de l’anse Tourville (baie Murat, Terre Napoléon), départ le février 1803, (avec Ransonnet) (au NO de l’actuelle Eyre Peninsula, Denial Bay)

 

 

La méthode de travail

Dans leur pratique géographique, Boullanger et Faure intégrèrent les méthodes tout récemment mises au point par l’ingénieur-géographe Charles-François Beautemps-Beaupré[11], mais en maintenant parallèlement les méthodes de relèvement plus traditionnelles, à la boussole notamment, multipliant par là-même les mesures. À la manière de Beautemps-Beaupré, ils relevaient avec le cercle à réflexion la position et la route de l’expédition ainsi que les points remarquables des côtes. Ils faisaient leurs mesures conjointement avec l’astronome de l’expédition, Bernier[12], et certains officiers, particulièrement les frères Freycinet. Les bases trigonométriques solides qu’ils avaient acquises pendant leur formation parisienne leurs étaient précieuses pour faire des relèvements à partir de la position de la corvette et d’azimuts[13]. Les points repérés étaient ainsi placés trigonométriquement sur des croquis.

Pour calculer la longitude, Boullanger et Faure se servaient des éphémérides nautiques publiées en France sous le titre de Connaissance des temps par le nouveau Bureau des longitudes, crée en 1795. Ces tables donnaient la position des astres sur la “sphère céleste”, en utilisant le même système de coordonnées que celui que nous utilisons sur terre: la longitude et la latitude. Mais pour les astres, la longitude était appelée « angle horaire », et la latitude « déclinaison ». Ainsi, la détermination de la latitude consistait à mesurer la déclinaison du soleil à midi et celle de la longitude à mesurer à une heure bien déterminée la position de la lune ou du soleil par rapport à d’autres étoiles et à regarder sur les tables de la Connaissance des temps l’heure qu’il était à Paris lorsque ces astres occupaient cette même position. On faisait alors la différence entre l’heure de Paris et celle du lieu où l’on se trouvait et on traduisait cette différence en degrés. Par exemple, dans le registre de Boullanger lors de sa mission de reconnaissance des deux golfes en nivôse an 11, on remarque, dans les parties gauches des pages, la multiplication des mesures d’angle pour calculer la longitude, mesures qui avaient été prises parallèlement par Boullanger et Louis Freycinet[14]. Ces mesures étaient ensuite reprises pour corriger les erreurs dues à la réfraction de l’atmosphère en déduisant la « longitude conclue ». Dans la partie droite des pages, Boullanger mentionnait ses relèvements de positions et points géographiques de la côte au fur et à mesure de leur reconnaissance en les indiquant par des chiffres, accompagnés de commentaires ou d’indications sur leurs caractéristiques géographiques (par exemple : « extrémité ouest d’une lisière de sable »), qu’il reportait ensuite sur des premiers croquis. Ainsi, Boullanger et Faure faisaient de rapides croquis des lignes de côtes. Ils y plaçaient les points remarquables et amers qu’ils identifiaient et y indiquaient souvent la triangulation ; ils ajoutaient des remarques ou commentaires qui leur servaient ultérieurement à construire la carte en plaçant sur celle-ci les données physiques définissant les côtes et utiles à la navigation, ainsi que le trajet du bateau.

Les descriptions accompagnant le travail de relevé des deux géographes traduisent souvent la difficulté et l’embarras qu’ils éprouvaient à décrire ce qu’ils étaient entrain de découvrir et dont les lieux et la végétation n’avaient pas encore été répertoriés et référencés en Europe. Ils caractérisaient des côtes jusqu’alors inconnues en utilisant un vocabulaire descriptif élémentaire et en les comparant avec les paysages des Terres australes qu’ils avaient déjà vus (les falaises de Port Jackson par exemple). Dans cet extrait du registre de Boullanger sur les journées des 25 et 26 nivôse an 11, les « terres tellement basses, qu’étant par 2 ou 3 brasses d’eau, nous n’apercevions que des arbres noiés qui la bordaient» constituaient en réalité une mangrove, mais le géographe n’était pas en mesure d’identifier précisément la formation végétale qu’il avait aperçue depuis la goëlette.

Tout le fond de ce premier golphe est terminé par des terres tellement basses, qu’étant par 2 ou 3 brasses d’eau, nous n’apercevions que des arbres noiés qui la bordaient. La côte orientale du même golphe est plus élevée … Le 23, nous cotoiâmes des falaises de rochers à pics, dont l’aspect était le même que celui des environs de Port-Jackson. Seulement ces falaises étaient plus basses que celles qui sont voisines de ce port[15]

De manière générale, les rapports de missions de Boullanger et Faure étaient centrés sur l’objectif géographique de leur mission, à savoir la description des aspects naturels des côtes  explorées en vue de leur cartographie : ils décrivaient avec précision la topographie et les formes géomorphologiques des côtes (falaises, côtes basses, baies, anses, caps, isthmes, presqu’îles, îlots, plage, promontoire…), ainsi que leur nature géologique (côtes sablonneuses, calcaires, rocheuses ou granitiques…) ; ils donnaient des indications sur les sols (fertilité) et la couverture végétale (boisée, marécageuse) ; ils repéraient les bons sites portuaires afin de localiser les ancrages bien abrités où il serait possible de se ravitailler en eau et bois, mais aussi les sites éventuels d’implantation, avec de bonnes conditions naturelles ou des richesses naturelles ou minières à exploiter ; ils signalaient les endroits à éviter. Par exemple, Faure indique dans son rapport de reconnaissance de la baie de King (ventôse, an 10)

La baie de King ne me parait pas fort bonne en ce que les vents du sud y frappent presque sans obstacle et l’espace où un bâtiment peut mouiller est très petit, tout le reste n’étant qu’un vaste banc de sable qui s’étend, je crois, sur toute l’entrée sud[16]

Le travail de reconnaissance des deux géographes permit aussi d’apporter des corrections importantes aux cartes de la bibliothèque de bord mises à la disposition de l’expédition Baudin par le Dépôt des cartes et plans de la Marine pour la durée de la campagne. Ce fut singulièrement le cas lors de la mission que Faure accomplit dans la baie Frederik Hendricks en Tasmanie orientale, en pluviôse an 10, qui rectifia de façon significative la carte de l’expédition d’Entrecasteaux que Beautemps-Beaupré avait élaboré quelques années auparavant. Dès la phrase d’introduction de son rapport de mission, Faure énonça que, contrairement à ce qui figurait sur la carte de Beautemps-Beaupré, « l’île Tasman n’en est pas une, mais qu’elle est jointe à la grande terre par un isthme[17] ». Pour parvenir à ces conclusions, le géographe fit beaucoup de relèvements, de croquis et parcourut à pied quelques parties de côtes de manière à s’assurer de la justesse de ses résultats. Il traduisit sur le papier la complexité de la baie en utilisant des feuilles de construction et des calques où il reporta ses relevés, avec un système de carroyage et de petits carreaux qui correspondaient à 100 toises sur le terrain, soit 195m. Ce carroyage servait de repère au rapporteur et à la règle.

Les résultats obtenus par les deux géographes furent d’autant plus méritoires que les conditions physiques et matérielles du voyage étaient particulièrement éprouvantes. Les problèmes de santé et la coordination difficile entre les membres de l’équipage nuisaient au bon déroulement des observations, comme l’atteste la lecture de la conclusion du rapport de mission de Faure sur la reconnaissance de la pointe Nord de l’île Hartogs.

Ce rapport n’a certainement pas de quoi vous satisfaire, citoyen capitaine, sous le rapport géographique. Sans chercher à m’excuser entièrement du peu d’ouvrage que j’ai fait, je vous ferai remarquer qu’une indisposition continuelle causée par un mal de dents, qui m’a occasionné la fièvre pendant deux jours, et qui ne m’a pas encore entièrement abandonnée même actuellement m’a empêché de m’appliquer avec tout le soin qu’il était nécessaire à ce travail. J’ai négligé la route, premièrement parce que je croyais que le citoyen Hérisson en était chargée, en second lieu pour les raisons que je viens de vous exposer [18].

Les difficultés rencontrées étaient également d’ordre technique. De mauvaises conditions météorologiques (temps couvert et mer houleuse), rendaient impossibles les relèvements et provoquaient une très grande agitation de l’aiguille du compas qui ne permettait pas d’obtenir des résultats sûrs. Les variations de température faisaient avancer ou retarder les montres marines, dont il fallait vérifier constamment la marche (Boullanger notait que la montre n°38 retardait au-dessus de 15 degrés, et avançait au-dessous). Les géographes se heurtaient enfin au manque de fiabilité des éphémérides (Boullanger relevait des « fautes à la colonne des déclinaisons du soleil »), mais aussi au peu de confiance réciproque qui existait entre eux et le commandant Baudin[19].

Pour remédier aux inexactitudes des données recueillies à bord, il fallait, au retour de l’expédition, les vérifier avant de construire les cartes. Boullanger, qui, peu après son arrivée à Paris, avait été affecté au Dépôt général de la Marine que dirigeait Beautemps-Beaupré, compara avec rigueur les longitudes estimées pendant le voyage « à des observations correspondantes aux nôtres » obtenues à Greenwich, Seeberg et Paris, et réfléchit par ailleurs de manière très approfondie aux méthodes théoriques et mathématiques qui pouvaient réduire encore plus les marges d’erreurs des montres[20].

Un contexte peu porteur

Bien que Boullanger et Faure aient été des ingénieurs dotés d’une solide formation scientifique qui en faisait des hydrographes et cartographes compétents, leurs noms et leur travail n’ont pas marqué l’histoire de la reconnaissance des Terres australes. Cet apparent paradoxe s’explique par le silence général qui a pesé longtemps sur l’expédition Baudin. Le contexte politique défavorable et les fortes personnalités qui dominèrent l’expédition (François Péron et Louis Freycinet) d’une part, et les tendances de la géographie française d’autre part, y sont pour beaucoup.

Faure mit un terme à sa carrière de géographe au retour de l’expédition, lorsque Milius[21], reçut « à son bord [la corvette le Géographe] le citoyen Barois[22] en qualité d’ingénieur-géographe en remplacement du citoyen Faure…débarqué dans cette colonie selon ses propres désirs »[23]. Celle de Boullanger se trouva abrégée par la maladie : il décéda en 1813 avant que la partie Navigation et Géographie du voyage ne fut achevée[24]. C’est Freycinet qui fit figure de cartographe de l’expédition, dans la mesure où il était l’éditeur de l’atlas[25] ; il continua seul à travailler à la rédaction du volume Navigation et Géographie après la mort de Boullanger. Les contextes politique, économique et intellectuel n’étaient d’ailleurs guère favorables à la publication de ce volume en 1815 : Napoléon, qui avait commandité l’expédition, était vaincu militairement et la France traversait une grave crise politique, alors que le Voyage to Terra Australis de Matthew Flinders venait d’être publié (1814) et que l’Angleterre avait repris la maîtrise des mers. Par ailleurs, des personnalités de la géographie française purent, dans une certaine mesure, concurrencer le travail géographique de l’expédition. Par exemple, les géographes Conrad Malte-Brun et Edme Mentelle, publièrent, à partir de 1810, la première encyclopédie de géographie universelle[26] dont le volume 12, consacré à l’Océanie, s’appuyait occasionnellement sur les écrits de Péron, Freycinet ou encore Leschenault. Malte-Brun y décrivait de façon encyclopédique les Terres australes en insistant sur la variété et la singularité des milieux à la fois naturels et sociaux, de manière certes stéréotypée, mais qui emportait plus facilement l’imagination, la curiosité et les convictions du lecteur que l’ouvrage plus concret de Freycinet.

Á la même époque, deux autres savants géographes, Alexandre de Humboldt et Edme-François Jomard, publiaient des ouvrages relatifs aux périples qu’ils avaient accomplis au tournant des XVIIIe et XIXe siècles[27][28]. En 1798, Humboldt, enthousiasmé par le projet de l’expédition du capitaine Baudin, souhaitait très vivement y participer[29]. Mais le report du voyage et d’autres raisons liées aux difficultés initiales de l’expédition le conduisirent à s’orienter vers d’autres explorations. Plus spécifiquement, son voyage en Amérique latine et du Sud l’amena à concevoir au début des années 1800 une nouvelle approche géographique, plus dynamique et ouverte sur les liens de causalité unissant les différentes composantes des paysages naturels et des sociétés. Les récits de Humboldt et la logique de ses descriptions des paysages de la cordillère des Andes, montrant l’interdépendance entre l’altitude, le climat, la flore et les sols [30], séduisaient plus aisément les lecteurs en quête de savoir rationnel que l’ouvrage énumératif et spécialisé sur la Navigation et Géographie des terres australes de Freycinet.

Parallèlement au travail de Humboldt, Jomard, l’ingénieur-géographe de l’expédition d’Egypte, revenu d’Orient en 1803, préparait la publication des résultats scientifiques de l’expédition dans une atmosphère d’égyptomanie [31]. Le premier volume de La Description d’Egypte parut en 1809. Jomard y exposait méthodiquement les vestiges égyptiens en évoquant leurs splendeurs passées avec beaucoup de dessins et d’illustrations très précises au moment même où Boullanger et Freycinet travaillaient à l’atlas et au volume sur les Terres australes, un thème qui n’enthousiasmait pas autant que l’Orient l’imagination du public français.

Comparé à celles d’Humboldt et de Jomard, l’entreprise géographique de Boullanger et Faure se cantonnait essentiellement à des relèvements géographiques, ce qui correspondait  aux instructions de Fleurieu mais ne leur permettait pas de développer une approche plus intégrée des milieux côtiers du continent austral. En ce sens, ils étaient plus ingénieurs-hydrographes que géographes, à la manière de Beautemps-Beaupré, dont ils suivaient les méthodes. Mais cette délimitation de leur travail à des calculs de distances les plus précis possibles, à des opérations géométriques, à des observations astronomiques et, en dernier lieu, à un travail cartographique rigoureux, s’ancrait dans le processus de spécialisation des savoirs et de distanciation entre d’une part les sciences mathématiques ou exactes que le Consulat [32] encourageait fortement, et d’autre part les approches littéraires, encyclopédiques ou spatiales qui avaient caractérisées le XVIIIe siècle et l’esprit républicain [33]. Cette évolution permettait au Consulat en général et à Bonaparte en particulier, de se démarquer de l’idéal républicain d’une science générale de l’homme où chacune des différentes composantes naturelles et humaines des paysages était étudiée et considérée comme partie d’un ensemble. Ainsi, après le Directoire, le travail des géographes tendit à se réduire à celui d’hydrographes au service des ambitions napoléoniennes cartographiant les régions du monde encore potentiellement à conquérir. Soulignons qu’au moment du départ de l’expédition de découvertes, Faure faisait partie des correspondants de la Société des Observateurs de l’Homme [34], avec les botanistes Michaux, Riedlé et Maugé, l’astronome Bernier, l’anatomiste Péron, Bougainville (le fils du navigateur Louis-Antoine, membre résidant de la Société), et les deux commandants, Baudin et Hamelin. Á ce titre, il lui appartenait d’envoyer régulièrement des rapports aux Observateurs sur les modes de vie des sociétés de la Nouvelle-Hollande et de la Terre de Diemen, et donc de coupler son travail de cartographe à celui de l’ « observation » des sociétés australes au sein de leurs cadres de vie [35]. Mais, face à la réorganisation des savoirs et à l’essor des matières scientifiques au détriment d’une science de l’homme, le travail des Observateurs devint de plus en plus difficile, particulièrement à partir de 1802, et la Société cessa d’exister en 1804, l’année même du retour de l’expédition.

Pour conclure, en termes de résultats géographiques, et bien que le capitaine anglais Matthew Flinders accomplit, parallèlement au voyage de Baudin, une expédition de découverte du continent austral comparable à l’expédition française [36], l’objectif de reconnaissance des côtes du sud-ouest et de l’ouest  de la Nouvelle-Hollande et de la côte orientale de la Terre de Diemen fut atteint par l’expédition Baudin, du moins dans ces grandes lignes. Certes, comme le soulignait Malte-Brun, « on n’a pas non plus trouvé de grandes rivières navigables » et il restait des « lacunes » à combler[37]. Mais les expéditions de Baudin et Flinders achevèrent la cartographie d’ensemble du continent austral. Cet achèvement, un peu ignoré, résulte côté français en bonne partie du travail de Boullanger et Faure, qui se fit en collaboration avec l’astronome Bernier, les frères Freycinet et d’autres officiers comme Ransonnet. La géographie qu’ensemble ils ont pratiquée est une géographie de découverte, courageuse et souvent périlleuse, avec tout ce que cela implique de déroutant, d’inattendu et d’inquiétant, mais qui, pourtant, a posé plusieurs des dernières grandes pièces manquantes au puzzle du planisphère terrestre [38].



[1] Il était allé à Saint-Domingue en 1792.

[2] Le journal personnel de Boullanger ne se trouve plus aux Archives nationales. Il était consultable à la Société de Géographie jusqu’au début des années 1950, et a disparu depuis (voir Pierre Louis RIVIERE, « Un périple en Nouvelle-Hollande au début du XIXe siècle », Compte-rendu mensuel de l’Académie des Sciences coloniales, 1953, vol. 13, pp.571-589 [Note de l’éditeur])

[3] Isabelle LABOULAIS-LESAGE, « Combler les blancs de la carte Modalités et enjeux de la construction des savoirs géographiques (XVII-XX siècle) », Strasbourg, Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg, 2004. Dans le cas précis de l’expédition Baudin, il s’agissait de combler les blancs des cartes au sud de la Nouvelle-Hollande, en y recherchant l’embouchure éventuelle d’un grand système fluvial à l’image des longs fleuves qui traversent les autres continents.

[4] Série des microfilms de la State Library of South Australia (ARG séries 1, bobines 1-25) des manuscrits originaux des Archives Nationales (série Marine), relatifs à l’expédition Baudin, série JJ (Service hydrographique provenant du Dépôt des cartes et plans) : Marine Série 5 JJ (le voyage et les missions hydrographiques), Marine Série 6 JJ (travaux cartographiques).

[5] Il ne s’agit pas encore d’un concours : des examinateurs interrogeaient des candidats dans toute la France et recrutaient les meilleurs (Bruno BELHOSTE, «  La formation d’une technocratie.  L’Ecole polytechnique et ses élèves de la Révolution au Second Empire », Paris, Belin, 2003 [voir p.54]).

[6] Patrice BRET, 1991, « Le dépôt général de la guerre et la formation scientifique des ingénieurs géographes militaires en France (1789-1830) », Annals of science, 1991, t. 48 (2),  pp. 113-157. Malgré les efforts de Prony et le difficile concours d’entrée que fait passer le mathématicien Laplace, cette école ne parvient pas à établir sa réputation sur le long terme, face à l’institution rivale et plus ancienne que constitue le Dépôt des Cartes.

[7]Ambroise FOURCY, « Histoire de l’Ecole polytechnique ». Paris, chez l’auteur, 1828.

[8] C’est le minéralogiste Le Lièvre, membre de l’Institut et de la commission d’amélioration des programmes de l’école polytechnique, et ancien élève de l’école des mines, qui les sélectionne (Faure sera choisi en remplacement de son camarade de promotion Jacques-Joseph Caunes).

[9] Charles Pierres CLARET de FLEURIEU, «Mémoire pour servir d’instructions particulières au citoyen Baudin capitaine des Vaisseaux de la République commandant des corvettes le Géographe et le Naturaliste dans le voyage d’observations et de recherches relatives à la géographie et l’histoire naturelle dont la conduite et la direction lui sont confiées», Archives nationales, Marine 5JJ / 24 (l). Document reproduit sur microfilm à la State Library of South Australia, Adélaïde, (ARG séries 1, microfilm n°5)

Avant la Révolution, Fleurieu fut Ministre de la Marine de Louis XVI.

[10] Charles Pierres CLARET de FLEURIEU, «Mémoire pour servir d’instructions particulières au citoyen Baudin…» op.cit.

[11] Beautemps-Beaupré partit en 1791 sur la frégate la Recherche avec l’amiral d’Entrecasteaux à la recherche de Lapérouse. Au cours de cette campagne, il mit au point des procédés entièrement nouveaux de lever sous voile. S’affranchissant des relèvements à la boussole, il relevait les points remarquables de la côte au cercle à réflexion, imaginé par Borda, en mesurant les angles avec un point éloigné ou avec le soleil. Ses cartes détaillées permirent une navigation bien plus précise et sécurisée que les cartes jusqu’alors en usage. Voir en particulier Olivier CHAPUIS, « A la mer comme au ciel Beautemps-Beaupré et la naissance de l’hydrographie moderne (1700-1850) »,  Paris,  Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 1999.

[12] Bernier a été formé par Joseph-Jérôme Lefrançois de Lalande, directeur de l’Observatoire de Paris et un des fondateurs du Bureau des Longitudes, avec Lagrange et Laplace.

[13] Un azimut est l’angle de la projection horizontale d’un point avec le nord géographique.

[14] Baudin avait nommé Louis Freycinet au commandement de la goëlette Le Casuarina, à bord de laquelle Boullanger et lui-même ont accompli en janvier 1803 d’importants travaux de reconnaissance, notamment dans les îles Hunter et les deux golfes de l’actuelles Australie du Sud (golfes Spencer et St Vincent). C’est cependant Matthew Flinders qui avait le premier reconnu ces deux golfes en mars 1802.

[15] Charles Boullanger, Registre tenu par le citoyen Boullanger, Archives nationales, Paris, Marine 5JJ / 24 (p) document reproduit sur microfilm à la State Library of South Australia, Adélaïde, (ARG séries 1, microfilm n°15)

[16] Pierre Faure, rapport de mission sur la reconnaissance en détail de la baie de King Archives nationales, Paris, Marine 5JJ / 24 (p), document reproduit sur microfilm à la State Library of South Australia, Adelaide, (ARG series 1, bobine n°5)

[17] Pierre Faure, rapport sur la reconnaissance de la baie Frederik Hendricks sur la carte du voyage de M Dentrecasteaux, Archives nationales, Paris, Marine 5JJ / 24 (p), document reproduit sur microfilm à la State Library of South Australia, Adelaide, (ARG series 1, bobine n°5)

[18] Pierre Faure, rapport sur la reconnaissance de l’ile Dirk Hartogs, Archives nationales, Paris, Marine 5JJ / 41, document inclus dans les pages 273-76 du journal d’Hamelin, reproduit sur microfilm à la State Library of South Australia, Adelaide, (ARG series 1, bobine n°14)

[19] Cette tension apparaît particulièrement clairement dans le rapport que Boullanger remit au Commandant Baudin à propos de « la séparation du Casuarina au Nord de l’île des Kangourous ». Charles Boullanger séparation du Casuarina au Nord de l’île des Kangourous. Archives nationales, Paris, Marine 5JJ / 53. Copie du document à la State Library of South Australia, Adelaide, (PRG 15/99/13, papers related to Baudin’s expedition)

[20] Louis  FREYCINET,  «  Voyage de découvertes aux terres australes exécuté sur les corvettes Le Géographe, Le Naturaliste et la goélette Le Casuarina pendant les années 1800, 1801, 1802, 1803 et 1804 sous le commandement du capitaine de vaisseau N. Baudin. Navigation et Géographie », Paris, Imprimerie royale, 1815 (pp. 361-399).

[21] Milius fut désigné par le gouverneur de l’Ile de France, Decean, pour faire office de commandant en chef du Géographe et de l’expédition après la mort de Baudin

[22] Barrois était l’aide de camp de Decean et avait la mission secrète de remettre au premier Consul et au ministre de la Marine les dépêches du gouverneur.

[23] Pierre Milius, lettre du 6 germinal an 12 adressée au Ministre de la marine et des colonies, Archives nationales, Paris, Marine 5JJ / 24 (h), document reproduit sur microfilm à la State Library of South Australia, Adélaïde, (ARG séries 1, bobine n°4)

[24] Louis FREYCINET, « Voyage de découvertes aux terres australes … », 1815,  op. cit.

[25] Louis FREYCINET, « Voyage de découvertes aux terres australes – partie navigation et géographie – Atlas ». Paris, imprimerie royale, 1812.

[26] Mentelle, Edme, and Conrad Malte Brun. « Géographie mathématique, physique et politique de toutes les parties du monde …, vol. 12, Contenant la suite de l’Asie et les Terres Océaniques ou la cinquième partie du monde. » Paris: Henry Tardieu et Laporte, 1804.

 

[27] Alexandre de Humboldt rédigea le récit de son voyage en Amérique dans une édition monumentale en 30 volumes intitulée Voyage aux régions équinoxiales du Nouveau Continent fait en 1799, 1800, 1801, 1802, 1803 et 1804 par Alexandre de Humboldt et Aimé Bonpland, Paris, Schoell, Dufour, Maze et Gide, 1807

[28] Voir les contributions d’Edme Jomard dans Description de l’Egypte ou recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites en Egypte pendant l’expédition de l’Armée française, T1 Antiquités-Descriptions. Paris, Imprimerie impériale, 1809.

[29] Frank HORNER, F. « La Reconnaissance Française  L’expédition Baudin En Australie (1801-1803) » (traduit par Martine Marin, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2006 [voir p.60]).

[30] Charles MINGUET, 1980. « Alexandre de Humboldt, voyage dans l’Amérique équinoxiale. Tableau de la nature et des hommes », Paris

, Maspero, 1980.

[31] Yves LAISSUS, « Jomard le dernier Egyptien ». La Flèche, Fayard, 2004.

[32] C’est le Consulat qui donna le coup d’envoi à l’expédition Baudin, mais c’est sous le Directoire que le projet avait été initialement conçu.

[33] Jean-Luc CHAPPEY, « De la science de l’homme aux sciences humaines : enjeux politiques d’une configuration de savoir (1770-1808) », Revue d’Histoire des Sciences humaines, 2006, 15, pp. 43-68.

[34] Comme le souligne Jean Luc Chappey, la Société des Observateurs de l’Homme apparaît comme la première véritable institution anthropologique, et « constitue un témoignage essentiel sur la fameuse transition des savoirs entre les XVIIIe et XIX siècles. », dans Jean-Luc CHAPPEY, « La Société des Observateurs de l’homme (1799-1804). Des anthropologues au temps de Bonaparte ». Paris, Société des études robespierristes, 2002.

[35] A ce jour, nous n’avons pas eu connaissance de la correspondance de Faure avec la Société des Observateurs de l’Homme.

[36] Anthony BROWN, « Ill-Starred Captains: Flinders & Baudin ». Fremantle, Fremantle Press, 2004.

[37] Conrad Malte-Brun, « Précis de la géographie universelle: ou, Description de toutes les parties du monde sur un plan nouveau », Volume 2, Berthot, Ode et Wodon, 1829, p.391.

[38] Après cette reconnaissance des Terres australes, auxquelles Flinders donna le nom d’« Australia », il ne restait plus qu’à explorer et définir la forme générale du continent Antarctique pour achever la carte du monde, ce qui ne fut accompli que bien plus tardivement, au début du XXe siècle.

Le “sourire grinçant” du capitaine Baudin, par Dr West-Sooby, John

Le “sourire grinçant” du capitaine Baudin

Dr John West-Sooby

University of Adelaide

Australian J. of French Studies, Vol. XLI no. 2, May 2004, pp. 79-97

 

Malgré le grand travail de réhabilitation entrepris par Frank Horner en 1987,[1] le personnage de Nicolas Baudin reste peu connu du grand public.  Pour les Australiens, ses exploits sont loin de valoir ceux de son contemporain Matthew Flinders, bien que l’héroïsme du navigateur français et les travaux scientifiques accomplis par son expédition le placent objectivement sur le même plan que le capitaine anglais.  Le problème réside au moins partiellement dans le fait que très peu de lecteurs—australiens ou français—ont la possibilité de juger l’homme à partir de ses propres dires.  On s’en tient donc encore à l’image peu flatteuse laissée par certains membres de l’expédition qui se sont appliqués à noircir la réputation de leur capitaine—au premier rang desquels il faut compter les zoologistes Bory de Saint-Vincent, dont le Voyage dans les quatre principales îles des mers d’Afrique[2] a eu une influence considérable, et, bien évidemment, François Péron, qui, en composant le récit officiel du voyage,[3] ne s’est pas privé de critiquer sévèrement les capacités de navigateur de son commandant ainsi que sa personnalité.  Par conséquent, à l’époque du bicentenaire du voyage aux Terres Australes, les écrits destinés au grand public continuent d’évoquer l’incompétence ou le mauvais caractère du capitaine Baudin.[4]  Les mythes ont la vie dure.

Or, des travaux récents, qui tiennent compte, justement, des propres écrits de Baudin, ont entrepris de défendre sa réputation de navigateur, d’amateur de science ou d’“observateur de l’homme”.[5]  En ce qui concerne son caractère et ses valeurs, c’est également à cette source qu’il importe de puiser les éléments qui permettraient de brosser un portrait plus complet de cet homme souvent perçu comme grincheux et bourru—sinon le bourreau de ses jeunes et brillants officiers.  En effet, la lecture de son Journal de mer et de sa correspondance révèle que, contrairement à la légende, Baudin était un homme de cœur et surtout d’esprit.  On est particulièrement frappé par l’humour dont il fait souvent preuve, et qui constitue l’un des traits essentiels de son caractère.  Qui plus est, l’humour de Baudin a valeur d’affirmation:  il ne le manie pas uniquement comme une arme pour se défendre de ses ennemis;  ses observations, qu’elles soient ironiques, satiriques ou aigres-douces, lui permettent aussi de réaffirmer ses propres valeurs et de garder sa foi en l’importance de sa mission.  C’est donc en examinant de plus près les traits d’humour et les remarques ironiques du capitaine que nous nous proposons de jeter quelques lumières nouvelles sur son caractère ainsi que sur ses valeurs morales et idéologiques.

Tout d’abord, il importe de distinguer les réflexions personnelles que Baudin consigne dans son Journal et ses interactions directes avec les officiers et les savants de l’expédition.  Ses observations personnelles, qui ont un statut strictement confidentiel, nous donnent des aperçus précieux sur les valeurs qui lui sont chères—nous y reviendrons.  Quant à ses interactions avec les autres—interactions qui sont rapportées tantôt dans son Journal, tantôt dans sa correspondance, mais qui trouvent également des échos dans les écrits des différents membres de l’expédition—, elles en disent long sur la psychologie du capitaine, et plus spécifiquement sur les tensions qui peuvent exister chez lui entre les impératifs de l’autorité et de la discipline d’un côté, et le désir d’éviter les situations conflictuelles de l’autre.  Face à des savants qui n’ont aucune expérience de la mer ou à de jeunes officiers qui le considèrent à bien des égards comme un intrus, Baudin, qui ne craint pas d’imposer son autorité quand il le faut, préfère néanmoins ménager les susceptibilités des uns et des autres en adoptant un ton conciliant ou détaché si la situation s’y prête.  Et c’est précisément par l’emploi de l’humour ou de l’ironie qu’il cherche bien souvent à calmer les esprits et à naviguer entre tous les écueils qui se présentent à lui.

Les commentateurs, en examinant la question des rapports entre le capitaine et ses hommes, n’ont pas manqué d’évoquer l’humour de Baudin, et en particulier sa tendance à s’amuser aux dépens de son état-major et de ses naturalistes.[6]  Cependant, on considère en général que ses plaisanteries sont déplacées et qu’il choisit mal ses cibles—argument qui conforterait la thèse selon laquelle Baudin aurait été doté d’un caractère bizarre, pour ne pas dire farouche.[7]  De telles critiques sont pourtant basées sur des incidents isolés et se révèlent ainsi partielles, pour ne pas dire partiales.  Elles sous-estiment, en tout cas, les intentions bienveillantes qui motivent souvent les plaisanteries du capitaine—plaisanteries qui reflètent son désir de partager un moment de détente ou par lesquelles il cherche parfois à apaiser les tensions.  La légende semble précéder les faits.  Frank Horner lui-même, qu’on aurait pourtant du mal à taxer d’apriorisme, tombe parfois dans le piège dans la mesure où il ne donne pas une vue équilibrée de l’emploi de l’humour par Baudin.  Horner cite en exemple l’entretien, au cours du voyage de Ténérife à l’Ile-de-France, entre Baudin et Milbert, un des peintres officiels de l’expédition.[8]  Lors de l’escale dans les îles Canaries, Baudin avait envoyé au ministre de la Marine, Forfait, une lettre dans laquelle il avait inséré une remarque sur les naturalistes qui rappelait aux autorités—non sans espièglerie—qu’on lui avait obligé d’en embarquer plus qu’il n’en avait voulu:  “Les savants, dont la science ne paraît pas aussi étendue que le nombre le comporte, ont été, comme on devait s’y attendre, malades de mal de mer, mais tous sont rétablis.”[9]  Les officiers et les naturalistes à bord du Géographe en avaient eu vent et s’en étaient offusqués.  Milbert en avait même conçu des craintes pour sa pension, et donc pour la situation de sa famille, si le gouvernement devait en conclure qu’il ne faisait pas son travail.  Sa femme lui manquait d’ailleurs terriblement.  Pour le consoler, et pour lui montrer qu’il n’était pas seul dans sa souffrance, Baudin lui aurait lancé:  “Et moi, vous pensez que je n’ai pas laissé de maîtresse à terre?”[10]  Ce n’était peut-être pas la meilleure réponse à donner à un homme qui avait de toute évidence le sens de la famille.  Mais on peut également considérer que Baudin avait tout simplement sous-estimé la profondeur de l’état de mélancolie de son interlocuteur.

En revanche, un autre incident, encore une fois cité par Frank Horner,[11] semble révéler chez Baudin un certain penchant pour la provocation.  Afin de communiquer à son état-major les instructions concernant la discipline à bord, Baudin a décidé de réunir tout le monde et de lire à haute voix la lettre de Forfait où ces consignes étaient détaillées.  Après avoir fini sa lecture, le commandant a cru bon d’ajouter:  “Au nom du Père, du Fils et du Saint-Esprit, amen.”  Les officiers, abasourdis, y ont vu une marque d’irrévérence envers leur ministre et s’en sont scandalisés.  Même s’il est permis de ne pas croire totalement à la sincérité de leur réaction, il faut convenir que la plaisanterie de Baudin, si tant est qu’il s’agissait d’une plaisanterie, s’accordait mal avec une situation où il cherchait à promouvoir la cause de la discipline.

A la décharge de Baudin, il faut noter que, contrairement à son expérience lors de ses expéditions précédentes, il avait affaire cette fois-ci à un complément d’officiers et de naturalistes particulièrement sensibles et imbus d’eux-mêmes.  S’il n’a pas toujours résisté à la tentation de les taquiner ou de se moquer d’eux, c’est donc tout à fait compréhensible, sinon pardonnable.  Et toutefois, contrairement à l’image que peuvent créer les deux incidents mentionnés par Horner, Baudin n’était pas insensible aux susceptibilités des hommes qu’il commandait.  A bien d’autres occasions, et surtout dans les premiers temps de l’expédition; les plaisanteries de Baudin paraissent loin d’être méchantes ou déplacées;  elles sont destinées au contraire à mettre les choses en perspective et elles traduisent chez lui un enjouement qui semble tout à fait justifié et convenable.  Face au comportement parfois enfantin des naturalistes, Baudin fait preuve dans ses interventions d’une certaine indulgence paternelle—mêlée, certes, d’une bonne dose d’ironie.  La prise d’un requin, par exemple, provoque une dispute à laquelle Baudin met fin, comme tout parent qui se respecte, en promettant réparation au parti qui s’estime lésé:

Sur les onze heures nous prîmes un requin assez gros et ce fut un grand objet de distraction, surtout pour les savants, qui en voyaient un de vivant pour la première fois.  Peu accoutumés à un semblable spectacle, tous voulurent être au près.  Mais quand il eut donné deux ou trois coups de queue à droite et à gauche, on fut d’autant moins empressés de s’en approcher que quelques-uns manquèrent d’en être la victime, quoiqu’on eût eu soin de les prévenir auparavant de ce qui leur arriverait s’ils n’y allaient pas avec prudence.

Cependant, le citoyen Péron et le chirurgien Lharidon furent plus tenaces que les autres, et quand les matelots l’eurent bien saisi ils se mirent l’un et l’autre à le travailler.  J’étais bien loin de prévoir que ce pauvre requin devait devenir la cause d’une dispute très sérieuse entre les deux anatomistes, qui voulurent se donner la gloire de le travailler.  Mais enfin, comme j’étais à me promener sur le gaillard d’arrière, je vis venir le citoyen Péron tout dégouttant de sang se plaindre que M. Lharidon lui avait enlevé le cœur du requin et qu’il ne voulait, d’après un enlèvement de cette nature, y travailler.  Je fis mon possible pour ne pas rire du sujet de la plainte que le docteur Péron rendait très grave, mais, pour le consoler, je lui promis que le premier que nous prendrions serait pour lui seul et qu’il pouvait compter que personne n’y toucherait qu’avec sa permission.  Le docteur Péron fut consolé par cette promesse et le chirurgien Lharidon resta paisible possesseur du cœur du requin. (6 frimaire an IX—27 novembre 1800)

 

Peu de temps après, la capture d’un marsouin provoque de nouveaux conflits.  Pour Baudin, qui doit faire une nouvelle intervention quasi-parentale, la solution la plus efficace est de soustraire à tout le monde la cause de l’agitation générale:

Tous les naturalistes et autres savants l’entourèrent et chacun voulut dès ce moment en tirer parti.  Les uns demandaient des fanaux, les autres du papier, plusieurs des instruments, de sorte que pour mettre tout le monde d’accord je m’emparai du poisson que je fis suspendre par la queue au grand étau en priant ces messieurs de modérer leur ardeur pour le moment et [en leur assurant] qu’ils auraient du temps de reste dans la journée du lendemain. (10 frimaire an IX—1er décembre 1800)

 

C’est à peine si, dans la description de cette scène, on détecte une pointe d’irritation;  le ton reste essentiellement celui de l’observateur légèrement amusé par le spectacle qui se présente à ses yeux et par les travers humains qui sont ainsi exposés au grand jour.  Malheureusement, la trêve imposée par Baudin s’avère de courte durée:  dès le lendemain matin, tous s’empressent de nouveau pour étudier le poisson suspendu.

Au lever du soleil, les peintres, les naturalistes et les anatomistes ne manquèrent pas de venir faire une visite au marsouin pris la veille, et l’inconvénient qui en résulta fut que tous voulurent le travailler au même moment, de sorte que les dessinateurs, qui le voulaient placer sur le ventre et dans une position propre à en prendre les formes, ne pouvaient s’accorder avec les anatomistes, qui le voulaient sur le dos pour l’ouvrir.  De ce peu d’accord entre tous il en résulta une plainte des uns contre les autres et je me trouvai fort embarrassé pour décider qui avait raison.  Mais les anatomistes terminèrent la dispute car, tandis que les dessinateurs me faisaient leurs plaintes, ils ouvrirent le pauvre poisson et quand les peintres furent de retour à la besogne qu’ils voulaient faire ils ne trouvèrent plus à cet animal aucune des formes dont ils avaient besoin.  Je n’eus d’autre moyen de satisfaire les derniers que de leur promettre, comme je l’avais fait pour le requin, que le premier pris serait entièrement à leur disposition. (11 frimaire an IX—2 décembre 1800)

 

Dans de pareilles situations, on comprendrait si Baudin se laissait aller à montrer sa désapprobation et à faire des remarques acerbes;  mais, malgré son embarras, il maintient dans ses interactions avec les naturalistes une attitude calme et raisonnable.

A d’autres moments, Baudin s’abstient d’agir, jugeant que l’expérience sera plus utile à l’instruction de ses naturalistes qu’une intervention directe de sa part.  A Ténérife, le commandant doit arranger une navette pour satisfaire le désir d’aller à terre des naturalistes, inconscients du travail que cela représente:  “comme messieurs les savants ne connaissent pas encore assez les inconvénients d’avoir continuellement des embarcations à aller et venir, j’ai voulu attendre que l’expérience les eût convaincus des résultats qui seront bientôt la suite de leurs courses inutiles.”[12] (14 brumaire an IX—5 novembre 1800)  La patience de Baudin est souvent mise à rude épreuve, mais son sens de l’ironie l’aide dans bien des cas à surmonter son agacement et à éviter la confrontation.

La légende veut que l’atmosphère à bord du Géographe ait été empoisonnée par la mauvaise humeur de son capitaine, qui n’aurait pas su maintenir de bonnes relations avec ses officiers et naturalistes.  Mais il paraît d’autant plus injuste d’en attribuer la responsabilité à Baudin que, dans son comportement du moins, il a fait preuve d’une très grande tolérance à l’égard des erreurs et insuffisances de ses hommes.  Le ton qu’il adopte en leur faisant des remarques est parfois un peu sec ou cassant, mais Baudin garde généralement son calme, se contentant de signaler, non sans ironie ou espièglerie, l’absence de logique dans leurs arguments ou l’inconséquence de leurs actes.  Pendant le séjour en Tasmanie, par exemple, certains à bord du Géographe s’inquiètent du fait que leurs compagnons ont été envoyés à terre sans armes.  Baudin tente en vain de calmer les esprits en avançant des arguments rationnels, mais rien n’y fait.  En s’amusant de leur déconvenue, Baudin saisit l’occasion pour rappeler à ses hommes qu’ils ont gaspillé des munitions au cours de leurs parties de chasse:

Plusieurs personnes de bord, toujours ingénieuses pour se tourmenter ou pour importuner les autres, vinrent me faire part de leurs craintes sur le sort de ceux qui étaient à terre, en ce qu’ils étaient mal armés.  Ils ne voulurent pas se donner la peine de réfléchir qu’il y avait plus de quarante personnes dans le même endroit et que par le nombre seul ils n’avaient pas besoin d’armes.  Une observation si naturelle ne put cependant pas les tranquilliser, et leurs craintes en voyant venir les chaloupes dont nous eûmes connaissance sur les sept heures et demie ne cessèrent [que] quand elles furent à bord et qu’ils en eurent examiné et compté tout le monde.  Je ne pus m’empêcher de rire d’une faiblesse aussi ridicule dans ceux qui s’étaient mis en avant pour leurs représentations, et je me servis de cette occasion pour leur annoncer tout le danger auquel ils s’exposèrent en consommant en parties de chasse les munitions que je leur donnai pour leur propre défense et que leur dissipation m’avait fait supprimer. (11 pluviôse an X—31 janvier 1802)

 

On sent dans de telles circonstances que l’irritation n’est jamais loin de la surface.  Et toutefois, pendant la première “campagne” du moins—c’est-à-dire jusqu’à la relâche au Port Jackson (juin-novembre 1802)—, Baudin garde ses distances par rapport aux événements et reste au-dessus de la mêlée.  Le capitaine, c’est lui, et le ton pince-sans-rire qu’il adopte souvent en s’adressant à son personnel est un moyen d’affirmer sa propre autorité.  Nombreuses sont les occasions où le calme que lui donne son expérience de la mer et des hommes lui permet de sourire face aux inquiétudes et insuffisances qu’il constate chez ceux qu’il commande.  Quand les vigies annoncent des récifs à l’horizon dans la Baie du Géographe, par exemple, Baudin, dubitatif, décide d’aller voir ce qu’il en est.  Il comprend au bout d’un certain temps qu’il ne s’agit que d’un mirage, mais il n’arrive pas à en convaincre les nombreux “incrédules” à bord.  Pour les détromper, Baudin maintient le cap et se dirige directement vers l’obstacle imaginaire:  “Sur quatre heures du soir”, écrit-il, imperturbable, “nous passâmes toutes voiles dehors au milieu des récifs annoncés et sur lesquels nous avions vingt-huit brasses d’eau, fond d’un très beau sable gris et fin.” (12 prairial an IX—1er juin 1801)  Dans cette circonstance, un seul acte est plus éloquent que mille paroles.

Là où Baudin se montre moins tolérant, c’est lorsqu’il constate chez ses hommes un manque d’assuidité.  Le travail mal fait, ou pas fait du tout, suscite de sa part des observations tantôt ironiques, tantôt franchement sarcastiques, selon que la “faute” est jugée vénielle ou grave.  Quand il apprend que François Péron, qui est pourtant loin d’être le plus paresseux des naturalistes à bord, a négligé de noter les changements d’humidité, sa première réaction est de le taquiner.  Mais la réponse risible de Péron pousse Baudin à faire des réflexions bien moins enjouées:

Comme nous étions tous sur le gaillard entre cinq et six heures du soir à faire la conversation, elle tomba sur la grande humidité qu’il y avait la nuit.  Je demandai alors au citoyen Péron, qui était chargé de cette partie de nos observations, s’il continuait à les faire dans son lit parce qu’il en parlait, [ou] s’il l’eût observée sur le pont ou dans quelque autre partie du bâtiment.  Ce savant, dès notre arrivée à Timor, avait donné dans les coquilles à tête basse et même avec fureur, quoiqu’il n’eût aucune connaissance en ce genre.  Un limaçon, une nérite etc était un trésor pour lui, en sorte que, pour en ramasser avec profusion, il y employa tout son temps et négligea par ce moyen d’autres travaux qu’il aurait beaucoup mieux remplis que celui qu’il vient d’embrasser […].  Quoi qu’il en soit de l’avenir, comme il ne s’agit ici que de ce qui se passa hier, il vient bien que je voulais le plaisanter.  Mais pour se tirer d’affaire, il me dit que, comme sa mère ne faisait plus d’enfants et qu’il était tout l’espoir de [la] famille, […] il ne voulait pas se tuer à faire des observations la nuit […].  Ses réponses décousues et peu convenables pour un savant m’étonnèrent et, afin que la conversation n’eût pas de suites, je me bornai à lui dire:  “vous êtes bien le maître de travailler ou non, mais au moins ne trouverez-vous pas mauvais que je fasse suivre par d’autres le travail que vous n’auriez voulu autrefois leur laisser faire.” (11 frimaire an IX—2 décembre 1801)

 

De même, Baudin, dont les mœurs sont plus ascétiques, voit d’un mauvais œil le penchant pour le plaisir qu’il constate chez certains.  Dans ces cas-là, son ironie se fait bien autrement mordante.  Il s’irrite, par exemple, de l’habitude prise pendant les relâches de faire la grasse matinée—en partie parce que cela lui cause de nombreux inconvénients, mais également, on le devine, parce qu’il désapprouve le laisser-aller que cette pratique implique.  Pendant le séjour en Tasmanie, son agacement perce dans sa réponse à la demande que lui font Péron et Henri Freycinet:

A neuf heures, M. Freycinet voulut aller à terre au même lieu avec le citoyen Péron.  Je leur observai qu’en se levant plus de bonne heure que de coutume pour les jours de plaisirs, ils auraient pu profiter de l’embarcation qui [était] partie entre sept ou huit heures, ce qui eût beaucoup mieux convenu. (13 pluviôse an X—2 février 1802)

 

Baudin marque le point, mais il n’en arrange pas moins leur transport à terre.  Ainsi, même dans les cas où l’humour cède la place au sarcasme ou aux observations sardoniques, il est clair que Baudin se retient et qu’il continue de ravaler son mécontentement autant que faire se peut.

         Il ne s’agit pas de brosser du capitaine un portrait idéalisé:  ses traits d’esprit lui ont permis aussi de donner expression à son agacement et à sa désapprobation.  Mais Baudin n’était pas non plus un ours, et, dans ses interactions avec les autres, son emploi de l’humour lui permet d’éviter d’intervenir d’une manière plus sévère et autoritaire—quand il ne traduit pas tout simplement une attitude amusée et indulgente.  Les quelques exemples cités ci-dessus apportent un contrepoids aux accusations de ceux qui ont voulu présenter Baudin comme un homme grincheux et bourru.

Pour en venir maintenant aux réflexions que Baudin notait dans son Journal et qu’il ne rendait pas publiques, elles correspondent à un certain nombre de thèmes qui reflètent les valeurs morales et idéologiques du capitaine.  Et que son sourire soit franc ou grinçant, c’est encore une fois à travers ses différents traits d’esprit que Baudin se dévoile.  Le manque d’expérience des naturalistes est un thème récurrent dans les observations de notre vieux loup de mer, dont l’attitude oscille entre l’irritation et le rire franc.  Il y a certes de l’ironie, mais aucune trace d’amertume, dans sa description de l’excitation des naturalistes à la vue de quelques poissons volants:

Les savants, qui en voyaient sans doute pour la première fois, en furent si émerveillés qu’à chaque fois que le sillage du bâtiment en faisait sortir un de l’eau, celui de la compagnie qui l’avait aperçu le premier devenait un objet de considération pour les autres, et la direction ou l’étendue du saut qu’il faisait donnait lieu à une discussion scientifique qui se terminait sans avoir rien décidé mais par l’attention qu’on donnait à un autre qui se faisait voir. (26 brumaire an IX—17 novembre 1800)

 

La naïveté des réactions des naturalistes, et même de certains membres de l’état-major, produit parfois des scènes comiques qui amènent le sourire aux lèvres du commandant de l’expédition.  La première vue de Ténérife, après à peine deux semaines en mer, suscite le tohu-bohu général à bord du Géographe:

Au moment où nous eûmes connaissance de la terre, tous les savants et même la plupart des officiers furent si transportés de joie que tous ressemblaient à des fous.  Chacun appelait son camarade ou son voisin en sorte qu’il régnait à bord une confusion extrême.  Si un étranger eût été témoin de ce qui s’y passait et qu’il n’eût pas eu connaissance de notre départ d’Europe, il lui eût été impossible de ne pas croire que nous venions de faire une traversée au moins de six mois ou que nous manquions de tout ce qui est nécessaire.  Sur le soir, où la curiosité de tous fut un peu plus satisfaite, chacun fut chercher son porte-feuille et ses crayons et, de l’avant à l’arrière du bâtiment, on ne rencontrait que des dessinateurs. (10 brumaire an IX—1er novembre 1800)

 

Pour les naturalistes, dont la plupart se trouvaient en mer pour la première fois, tout était nouveau, tout était source d’émerveillement.  Baudin trouve plaisante leur ingénuité.  Après avoir souffert du mal de mer, par exemple, ils s’estiment heureux d’avoir récupéré si vite:  “Nos savants commencèrent à se bien porter et la plupart d’entre eux se félicitèrent d’en avoir été quittes à bon marché.”  Mais Baudin d’ajouter, en celui qui sait que des expériences bien autrement éprouvantes les attendent:  “Il est vrai aussi que nous n’avions pas eu ce qu’on appelle du mauvais temps ni la mer grosse.” (5 brumaire an IX—27 octobre 1800)  Rassurés par le retour du soleil et du beau temps, les savants affichent pour la suite du voyage un optimisme que leur capitaine sait être mal fondé:

Les naturalistes embarqués à bord, qui à cette époque se portaient tous bien, trouvaient cette manière de naviguer fort agréable, et il leur semblait que le beau temps ne devait plus finir parce que nous commencions à nous trouver dans les parages où le soleil commence à faire sentir une agréable chaleur. (8 brumaire an IX—30 octobre 1800)

 

C’est sans grande méchanceté que Baudin s’amuse ainsi de la naïveté de ses “savants”.  Mais on sent aussi qu’en notant leurs méprises, il affirme implicitement la valeur de sa propre expérience, ce qui lui permet par la même occasion d’affermir son autorité, ne serait-ce que pour lui-même.

C’est également grâce à sa grande expérience des hommes et de la mer que Baudin peut saisir le côté ridicule de certaines situations.  Comme tous les autres, il rit franchement et apparemment sans méchanceté d’une mésaventure dont François Péron se trouve la victime:

tout désagréable qu’il fut pour le citoyen Péron, [ce moment de distraction] ne laissa pas que de réjouir infiniment tous ses camarades de science et la plupart des officiers qui en furent témoins.  Sur les midi, le citoyen Péron, se trouvant dans la bouteille de bâbord à faire quelques observations avec le thermomètre, fut inondé par une lame qui le couvrit de la tête aux pieds […].  Cet accident, occasionné par la mer qui était fort houleuse, ne lui fit aucun mal apparent;  mais il se crut noyé sans ressource, et quand l’eau qui était entrée dans la bouteille se fut retirée, il trouva fort extraordinaire non seulement de se trouver vivant, mais même de n’avoir pas changé de place, car il lui avait semblé avoir été emporté au milieu de la mer. (26 brumaire an IX—17 novembre 1800)

 

Tout aussi ridicules pour Baudin, mais dans un autre registre, sont les craintes des habitants de l’Ile-de-France qui, en voyant approcher le Géographe et le Naturaliste, se croient menacés par l’ennemi.  N’ayant pas eu de réponse à ses signaux, Baudin se décide enfin à gagner l’entrée du port lorsqu’il aperçoit un canot qu’il juge être celui du pilote.  Interrogé sur le délai, l’officier qui le commande s’excuse auprès de Baudin en disant

que la vigie nous avait signalés pour bâtiments ennemis, et il nous ajouta que notre apparition avait jeté l’alarme dans l’île, à un tel point que toutes les troupes et [les] gardes nationaux avaient eu ordre de se rendre à leurs postes respectifs où ils avaient passé la nuit afin de s’opposer à la descente que l’on supposait que nous avions dessein d’effectuer.  Je ne pus m’empêcher de rire de la frayeur que des bâtiments aussi pacifiques que les nôtres avaient occasionnée et j’observai seulement à cet officier que notre manœuvre devait nous rendre d’autant moins suspects que nous avions eu toute la nuit, au mouillage que nous occupâmes, des feux à tous nos mâts, ce que ne font pas ordinairement des bâtiments qui, voulant commettre des hostilités, doivent au moins cacher leur position pour n’être pas incommodés par l’artillerie des forts sous lesquels ils se trouvent. (25 ventôse an IX—16 mars 1801)

 

Ce n’est pas la peur en tant que telle qui amuse Baudin mais le manque de logique et de bon sens.  Le sens du ridicule permet à Baudin de garder ses distances par rapport aux événements, même lorsque les conséquences sont des plus graves.  En Tasmanie, il note avec un apparent détachement que son géographe, qu’il avait envoyé relever des terres dans le grand canot, s’est perdu de vue parce qu’il souffre d’un handicap assez insolite chez quelqu’un qui exerce ce métier spécialisé:

le citoyen Boullanger, qui a malheureusement la vue très courte, ne pouvant faire des relèvements et prendre des angles que quand il a le nez sur la terre, s’embarqua [dans le grand canot] pour s’approcher plus près de la côte qu’on ne peut le faire avec un grand bâtiment.  Je lui recommandai bien expressément avant son départ de retourner à bord avant la nuit et de se placer de façon, relativement à nous, à ne le pas perdre de vue.  Toutes ces précautions furent inutiles.  A midi, on ne le voyait plus.  Il aura sans doute tellement couru à terre qu’il ne se sera arrêté que quand il n’aura plus eu le moyen de s’en approcher davantage. (15 ventôse an X—6 mars 1802)

 

C’est également sans émotion apparente, mais le sourire en coin, qu’il relate la crise vécue par un des naturalistes:  “Un de nos savants, et que je ne nomme pas, fut attaqué d’une maladie toute particulière.  La crainte de mourir le prit, et il se persuada que sa carrière était terminée.” (16 floréal an X—6 mai 1802)  Mais que l’on ne s’y trompe pas:  le ton pince-sans-rire que Baudin adopte en relatant ces incidents ne signifie pas qu’il soit insensible à tout ce que peuvent éprouver ses hommes—son angoisse lorsque leur vie est réellement en danger en témoigne.  Seulement, sa capacité à voir le côté risible de certaines situations lui donne du recul et le protège ainsi de tous les contretemps qui surviennent au quotidien et qui risqueraient de le distraire de sa mission.

C’est ce même souci du devoir à accomplir qui anime tous les jugements de valeur que Baudin porte sur ses officiers et ses naturalistes.  Le manque de zèle provoque des commentaires d’un caractère particulièrement mordant chez Baudin, surtout quand la sécurité du navire et de l’équipage s’en trouve compromise.  Comme nous l’avons vu, il supporte mal l’habitude prise pendant les relâches de faire la grasse matinée.  A la mer, la question du sommeil devient bien autrement grave.  Et pourtant, pendant les tempêtes, et alors que leur capitaine s’occupe des manœuvres, les officiers restent souvent couchés dans leurs lits.  Au cours de la première reconnaissance de la côte d’Australie occidentale, par exemple, l’équipage doit lutter sans l’aide de l’état-major contre une tempête qui dure toute la nuit:  “Tout le monde fut de quart”, note Baudin d’un ton acéré, “excepté les naturalistes, les aspirants et les officiers de la marine qui passèrent une très bonne nuit dans leurs chambres, et ne paraissaient que quand leur quart les appelait sur le pont, où ils étaient assez inutiles.” (14 messidor an IX—3 juillet 1801)  Dix jours plus tard, dans la Baie des Chiens Marins, le mauvais temps revient et Baudin se trouve obligé d’y faire face encore une fois sans le concours de ses officiers:

Alors [la tempête s’étant calmée], je fus prendre du repos, car il y avait vingt-six heures que j’étais sur le pont sans m’être reposé une seule fois.  J’observerai encore à cette époque qu’aucun des officiers excepté celui qui était de quart ne monta sur le pont, et les fréquentes bordées que nous fîmes ne les empêchèrent pas plus de dormir profondément que [si] nous eussions été dans la position la plus agréable. (24 messidor an IX—13 juillet 1801)

 

Le sommeil, dans ces circonstances, est un luxe dont Baudin se prive volontiers pour veiller sur les manœuvres de son bâtiment.  Mais pour son état-major, ce superflu-là semble être indispensable.

La question du sommeil n’est, bien entendu, qu’une illustration particulière d’un problème plus général:  le conflit entre l’indolence et le travail, entre le plaisir et le devoir.  C’est lorsque les membres de l’expédition lui paraissent négliger leur devoir que le commandant perd sa bonne humeur et que sa plume se fait plus acerbe.  Cette attitude moraliste envers le travail est sans doute le fruit d’un sens aigu du devoir chez Baudin.  Afin de mieux le comprendre, il est utile de rappeler ici ce que nous savons de sa vie et de sa carrière.  Né dans une famille de marchands de l’Ile-de-Ré, Baudin s’engagea dans la Marine nationale après avoir fait son apprentissage sur des navires de commerce.  Devenu officier en 1778, il obtint le commandemant de son premier navire en 1780, mais se vit aussitôt remplacer par un officier de naissance noble qui avait de toute évidence de meilleures relations.  Dégoûté par l’injustice dont il croyait avoir été victime, Baudin présenta sa démission et entama une carrière dans la marine marchande.  Au cours de ses nombreux voyages entre l’Europe et l’Amérique, il fit connaissance avec le jardinier de Joseph II, Franz Boos—rencontre décisive qui éveilla chez Baudin un intérêt particulier pour les voyages scientifiques.  Celui qu’il entreprit aux Antilles dans la Belle Angélique en 1796, sous les auspices du Muséum d’histoire naturelle et de son directeur, Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu, eut un succès retentissant et inspira chez Baudin l’idée d’une nouvelle expédition scientifique autour du monde—projet ambitieux qui finit par devenir l’expédition aux Terres Australes que nous connaissons.  Ce qui émerge de ces quelques détails biographiques, c’est l’image d’un self-made-man qui a dû batailler pour faire carrière et pour établir sa réputation de voyageur scientifique.  Et quand on considère son parcours, il n’est pas difficile d’imaginer que cet homme d’origine modeste ait gardé une dent contre l’establishment et contre ceux qui, comme la plupart de ses jeunes officiers, jouissaient de privilèges qu’ils devaient non pas à leur mérite mais à leur naissance.  Dans ce contexte, son respect pour le travail prend tout son sens;  il va de pair avec une certaine méfiance à l’égard de l’oisiveté et de la poursuite du plaisir.

En ce qui concerne le voyage aux Terres Australes, le sens du devoir chez Baudin est aiguisé par le fait qu’il commandait une expédition dont il avait lui-même été l’instigateur.  Il se sentait donc doublement responsable.  On comprend alors le ton sardonique que Baudin adopte quand il constate un manque de zèle chez les hommes sous ses ordres, surtout quand des tâches essentielles sont négligées au profit de passe-temps qu’il juge improductifs ou hédonistes.  A chaque relâche, par exemple, il est de la première importance de s’approvisionner en eau et en bois, mais les hommes de Baudin préfèrent souvent des activités plus divertissantes.  En Tasmanie, ils gaspillent leur temps et leurs munitions à faire la chasse:

[Notre chaloupe] avait […] été expédiée dès le matin pour porter nos barriques à terre et les remplir, et en partant à huit heures de bord dans mon petit canot je m’attendais à les trouver chacun à l’ouvrage lorsque j’arriverais.  Mais en cela je me trompais beaucoup car, ayant doublé une pointe qui m’en dérobait la vue, je la reconnus [la chaloupe] occupée à la poursuite des cygnes au lieu d’être dans l’endroit où elle avait eu ordre de se rendre. (3 pluviôse an X—23 janvier 1801)

 

Le lendemain, Baudin renouvelle l’expérience:

 

Notre chaloupe, que j’attendais à la marée du soir, ne vint point, par la négligence sans doute de l’officier qui la commande, qui se sera peut-être trouvé à la chasse au moment où il fallait partir, comme il s’y trouva à celui où il fallait arriver. (4 pluviôse an X—24 janvier 1801)

 

Exaspéré, Baudin prend des mesures pour mettre fin à ces mauvaises habitudes:

 

En allant comme en revenant à bord, nous ne vîmes aucun cygne ni pélican, ce que j’attribuai à la grande quantité de coups de fusil qu’on avait tirés depuis trois jours.  Les personnes qui étaient destinées à protéger la chaloupe au cas de besoin, imitant la conduite de l’officier qui la commandait, se répandaient dans les bois aussitôt arrivées à terre et n’en revenaient plus que pressées par la faim ou n’ayant plus de munition.  Comme je fus témoin de ce qui se passa au second voyage de la chaloupe, je me décidai à ne plus donner aux gens qui s’y trouveront pour l’avenir d’armes à feu et bornerai leur défense à celle d’un sabre… (5 pluviôse an X—25 janvier 1801)

 

Que les hommes aient parfois envie de se détendre, au cours d’un long voyage, et que leur attitude envers le travail ne soit pas toujours des plus enthousiastes, voilà qui n’est guère surprenant.  Baudin était d’ailleurs tout à fait conscient de la nécessité de ménager des moments de détente pour son équipage.  Il avait pris le plaisir suffisamment au sérieux pour organiser un bal tous les soirs pendant la longue traversée de Ténérife à l’Ile-de-France, suivant les recommandations de Bernardin de Saint-Pierre concernant le moral et la santé à bord.[13]  Mais lorsque le travail est pressant et que l’on évite de faire son devoir Baudin se montre peu compréhensif.  D’où son exaspération, dans la Baie des Chiens Marins, quand ceux qui se disaient malades se guérissent comme par miracle à la perspective d’un peu de plaisir:

Dans le premier canot qui nous arriva se trouvèrent nombre de chasseurs et plusieurs personnes malades quand il s’agit de faire le service à bord, mais qui trouvèrent des forces pour courir toute la journée à la chasse par la plus grande ardeur du soleil. […] Je pensai que [le grand canot] pourrait faire deux voyages dans le courant de la journée, mais comme au second il fallut embarquer tous les inutiles qui nous avaient été envoyés et qui comptaient rester la nuit à terre, cela l’empêcha de faire le service auquel je le destinais. (21 messidor an IX—10 juillet 1801)

 

La gourmandise est une autre forme d’indulgence qui, pour Baudin, est incompatible avec les rigueurs d’un long voyage en mer au service du gouvernement et de la science.  Mais après tout, qu’y a-t-il de mieux à faire, quand on a fini de chasser, que de boire et de mijoter quelques bons petits plats?  Quand Baudin décide d’aller inspecter l’observatoire qui a été établi dans une petite île en Tasmanie pour permettre à l’astronome de vérifier les montres, il est scandalisé par ce qu’il découvre:

Je vis avec regret et même avec déplaisir que ce lieu allait devenir le cabaret des deux bâtiments et une communication continuelle avec les bâtiments, car cinq embarcations s’y rendirent pendant que j’y étais, ou du moins les personnes qu’elles transportaient comme celles qui les conduisaient.  Dans une île qui n’a pas plus de 25 à 30 pieds de long sur 15 dans sa plus grande largeur, il y avait sept ou huit cuisines différentes et je fus informé que la veille on avait manqué d’y être tous brûlés avec la tente et les instruments, parce que, les différents feux d’une cuisine à l’autre s’étant communiqués, il avait pris aux herbes.  Heureusement, les vents étaient de terre, car autrement tout était perdu. (5 pluviôse an X—25 janvier 1802)

 

Pendant le deuxième séjour en Tasmanie, en mai 1802, la gourmandise est à l’origine d’un incident tragi-comique que Baudin note avec un ton typiquement pince-sans-rire.  Après la reconnaissance prolongée et difficile de la côte sud de la Nouvelle Hollande, plusieurs membres de l’équipage souffrent de maladies diverses, et surtout de la dysenterie.  La relâche en Tasmanie offre la possibilité de se reposer et de manger à sa faim.  Une bonne prise de poissons produit, cependant, des effets inattendus:

Je fus prévenu pendant la journée par le médecin que plusieurs de nos malades étaient plus mal que de coutume, malgré que le temps fût doux et peu humide.  J’en fus d’autant plus surpris qu’il m’avait semblé que les circonstances devaient accélérer leur guérison plutôt que d’augmenter leur mal.  D’après l’avis que je venais de recevoir, je cherchai à en savoir la cause et je parvins à en découvrir la raison, qui est qu’à l’exemple des gourmands, ils avaient tant mangé de poissons que la plupart en avaient eu des indigestions.  Ceux qui n’avaient point été attaqués avant de la dysenterie en furent quittes pour souffrir un peu des maux de ventre qu’ils eurent.  Mais ceux qui l’avaient déjà eue et qui n’en étaient pas guéris furent attaqués de nouveau, et il est fort douteux qu’ils en reviennent.

Mon cuisinier, sans être dans ce dernier cas, mais qui était malade depuis trois mois et conséquemment au régime, s’en donna tant qu’il eut une indigestion qui lui fit terminer sa carrière le jour même de notre départ. (3 prairial an X—23 mai 1802)

 

S’il y a des jours de faste, au cours du voyage, il y a aussi, et bien plus souvent, des jours de famine.  Quand la reconnaissance des côtes se prolonge et que les provisions viennent à manquer, le capitaine doit distribuer celles-ci plus parcimonieusement.  De telles mesures ne sont pas pour plaire aux officiers, qui sont prompts à s’en plaindre auprès du commandant.  Baudin, on ne s’en étonnera pas, n’a pas la moindre sympathie pour ceux qui souffrent de ces prétendues privations:

Comme il nous restait encore beaucoup de choses à faire sur la côte de la Nouvelle Hollande et qu’il ne nous restait pas plus de deux mois d’eau, je jugeai convenable de commencer de bonne heure à la retrancher.  C’est-à-dire qu’au lieu de donner deux bouteilles et demie par homme on n’en donna plus que deux.  Ce n’était pas sans doute un retranchement bien considérable puisqu’on en donnait encore plus que ne le prescrit l’ordonnance dans les voyages de long cours.  Cependant, cela fit des mécontents, non pas parmi les matelots mais dans une autre partie.  Quoi qu’il en soit, cela ne changera rien à la détermination que j’ai prise à ce sujet, étant persuadé qu’on peut bien se passer de prendre du thé et du café deux fois par jour. (27 germinal an X—17 avril 1802)

 

Même lorsque les rations sont conformes aux ordonnances, les officiers trouvent que ce n’est pas suffisant.[14]  Baudin, qui est toujours le premier à faire des sacrifices quand la situation l’exige, ne tolère pas une telle attitude, et d’autant moins qu’il estime le travail effectué par l’état-major peu exténuant:

M. Freycinet, chef de la gamelle de l’état-major, vint me dire qu’il était impossible qu’ils pussent vivre avec la ration ordinaire et telle que les ordonnances l’accordent à tout le monde.  D’après le compte qu’il me montra, on avait consommé dans la décade tout ce qui leur revenait pour un mois.  J’observai à M. Freycinet combien il nous mettrait dans l’embarras si l’on continuait sur ce pied en lui disant que dans six mois la table de l’état-major aurait à elle seule consommé tous les vivres qui étaient à bord, et que mon devoir me prescrivait impérativement d’avoir autant de soin pour les matelots, qui étaient des gens de peine et de fatigue, que pour les officiers, qui ne paraissaient sur le pont que quatre heures par jour. (10 nivôse an X—31 décembre 1801)

 

Un voyage de découvertes n’est pas une partie de plaisance, mais telle n’est pas, selon Baudin, l’attitude de ses officiers.[15]  Que les naturalistes, eux aussi, aient du mal à se plier aux rigueurs de la vie en mer, voilà qui est sans doute un peu plus compréhensible.  Mais le fait qu’ils ne modifient pas leur comportement au cours du voyage exaspère Baudin, dont les commentaires se font de plus en plus sarcastiques.  A l’ancre dans la Baie des Eléphants à l’Ile King, le capitaine ironise sur le spectacle peu édifiant de leurs préparatifs pour aller à terre:

Le grand canot partit aussi pour transporter les savants, leur science et leurs bagages, car ces messieurs ne marchent qu’avec pompe et magnificence.  Les cuisiniers et leurs ustensiles, les pots, les casseroles et les marmites, encombrèrent tellement le canot que tous ne purent y songer et qu’il fallut en mettre une partie dans la chaloupe. (18 [19] frimaire an XI—10 décembre 1802)

 

Pour le capitaine, l’attirail des “savants” est devenu tout aussi futile et encombrant que leur science.  Le dépit de Baudin s’explique par le contraste entre le caractère frivole, dans les circonstances, de cette préoccupation avec le confort matériel et les objectifs si nobles et si altruistes qui avaient donné à l’expédition son souffle initial.

Ce dont Baudin se méfie surtout, c’est du bel esprit et des belles paroles, surtout de la part de ceux qui n’ont aucun goût pour le travail sérieux et assidu.  Le chirurgien major, dont c’est pourtant la responsabilité, se montre peu enclin à surveiller le changement des habillements et des lits de l’équipage.  Le capitaine doit donc s’en occuper à sa place, ce qui suscite des commentaires d’un sarcasme évident:  “Comme c’est un faiseur de phrases et de brochures, il prépare sans doute quelque nouvelle production qu’il ne manquera pas d’envoyer à l’imprimerie par la première occasion.” (11 nivôse an IX—1er janvier 1801)  L’attitude de Baudin est parfaitement bien résumée par le contraste qu’il établit entre le travail consciencieux de son jardinier Guichenot et la tendance à la spéculation oisive qu’il attribue au zoologiste Péron et au botaniste Leschenault, lors du séjour dans le Port du Roi George:

D’après le rapport du jardinier, il avait ramassé pendant son séjour à terre plus de cent cinquante espèces différentes de plantes et compilé soixante et huit pots de vivantes.  C’était de l’ouvrage et non pas de l’esprit.  J’espère que les citoyens Péron et Leschenault auront composé soixante pages d’écriture qui, par une raison contraire, seront de l’esprit et point d’ouvrage.[16] (6 ventôse an XI—25 février 1803)

 

Or, si l’on n’a pas de mal à déceler dès le départ de l’expédition une moue de scepticisme chez le commandant à l’égard de son équipe de savants, il n’en est pas moins vrai que son attitude évolue au cours du voyage.  Les observations qu’il fait sur ses naturalistes pendant la première moitié de l’expédition sont caractérisées par une ironie qui est parfois moqueuse, certes, mais qui s’accompagne souvent d’un sourire franc et peu amer;  pendant la deuxième “campagne”, en revanche, c’est-à-dire après le séjour au Port Jackson, son sourire fait place à un rictus moqueur et Baudin verse de plus en plus dans le sarcasme et la dérision.  Toutefois, et contrairement à ce que l’on pourrait penser, cette évolution n’est pas le signe d’une réalité quotidienne faite d’affrontements continuels entre Baudin et ses naturalistes.  Bien au contraire, l’attitude de plus en plus sarcastique que l’on note dans son Journal reflète une certaine résignation de la part du capitaine, ou tout au moins un sentiment grandissant de détachement par rapport à sa cohorte de savants—le fruit, sans aucun doute, des exaspérations et frustrations accumulées au cours de l’expédition en ce qui concerne leur manière d’aborder leur travail.  Et s’il donne libre cours à son agacement dans son Journal, c’est justement pour éviter les confrontations directes, que de toute façon il juge futiles désormais.

Baudin, qui incarne les valeurs de l’expédition et qui s’applique à sa tâche avec un dévouement exemplaire, a tôt fait de comprendre que tous ne partagent pas au même point son sens du devoir.  S’il se montre critique dans son appréciation du travail des naturalistes, son jugement des officiers est encore plus sévère, puisque ceux-ci sont des professionnels de la mer.  En Tasmanie, par exemple, Baudin a lieu de reprocher à l’aspirant Brue non seulement d’avoir mis deux jours à remplir les barriques, mais en outre de les avoir remplies avec de l’eau d’un si mauvais goût, puisqu’il n’a pas voulu attendre la marée basse, que tout doit être jeté à la mer.  Brue explique à son capitaine qu’il a réglé sa conduite sur celle d’un officier du Naturaliste, qui en avait fait autant.  Exaspéré, Baudin note sèchement dans son Journal:  “Je pense d’après cela qui si cet officier eût eu la fantaisie de mettre le feu dans sa chaloupe, il en eût fait autant pour l’imiter.” (11 pluviôse an X—31 janvier 1802)  L’absence de zèle de Brue fait contraste avec la diligence d’un Bonnefoi qui, trois jours auparavant, avait été chargé de la même corvée et qui, note Baudin, “fit dans quatre heures de calme ce que les autres n’avaient pas pu faire dans quarante-huit heures de beau temps.” (8 pluviôse an X—28 janvier 1802)  Un des rares officiers sur lesquels Baudin peut compter, et dont la conduite zélée tranche avec celle de ses compagnons, c’est l’ingénieur Ronsard.  Lui aussi réussit là où d’autres, par manque d’application, ont échoué:

[Ronsard] avait enfin trouvé le ruisseau d’eau douce que les autres avaient longtemps et inutilement cherché. […] Cette nouvelle me fut infiniment agréable sous ce rapport, mais elle ne servit qu’à me prouver combien on doit peu compter sur la vigilance et l’exactitude d’une recherche confiée souvent à un officier qui ne voit que son prompt retour à bord quand il est chargé d’une mission qui ne lui est pas agréable. (1er pluviôse an X—21 janvier 1802)

 

Baudin, comme nous l’avons vu, a souvent lieu de se plaindre du comportement de ses officiers, et ce, dès les premiers mois de l’expédition.  Mais les volumes de son Journal de mer qui correspondent à la deuxième campagne constituent un véritable catalogue de réflexions désobligeantes à leur endroit.  Ce que Baudin trouve particulièrement agaçant, ce sont les airs de supériorité qu’ils affichent et qui jurent, selon lui, avec leur ignorance.  Peu après le départ du Port Jackson, le Naturaliste fait une mauvaise manœuvre et manque d’entrer en collision avec le Géographe.  Baudin ne cache pas son mécontentement:  “Je fus prévenu que c’était le citoyen Heirisson et n’en fus conséquemment pas surpris car, quoiqu’il se croie très savant comme marin, il sait à peine orienter ses voiles et nullement se sortir d’un mauvais pas quand il s’y est engagé.” (9 frimaire an XI—30 novembre 1802)  Baudin réserve quelques-unes de ses épigrammes les plus caustiques pour le capitaine du Casuraina, Louis Freycinet.  Lorsque celui-ci, envoyé reconnaître les deux golfes au nord de l’Ile aux Kangourous, tarde à rentrer, malgré le temps favorable, Baudin note avec un certain cynisme:  “le Casuarina ayant été constamment favorisé par les vents, je m’attendais à le voir arriver incessament, si toutefois il s’est conformé à l’instruction que je lui ai donnée, ce qui dans mon opinion est fort douteux en ce que les officiers se croient toujours plus savants que ceux sous les ordres desquels ils servent.” (29 [28] nivôse an XI—18 janvier 1803)  C’est surtout à travers son choix d’épithètes que Baudin montre son sarcasme et son mépris:  ses “savants officiers”, comme les naturalistes, ne sont que des “amateurs du plaisir” et des “mangeants à table” qui ne méritent pas le respect auquel leur rang et leur fonction devraient leur donner droit.

Ceux qui ont critiqué Baudin, à commencer par François Péron lui-même, ont prétendu qu’il était l’ennemi de la science, que ses attitudes étaient foncièrement anti-intellectuelles.  Ennemi de la science, il ne l’était certes pas.  En témoigne l’assiduité avec laquelle il surveillait la collection des spécimens et leur préservation—sans parler de son rôle dans la conception même de l’expédition.  Anti-intellectuel, il ne l’était que dans la mesure où il ne supportait pas ceux qui se livraient à des théories purement spéculatives.  Autant il se méfiait des belles paroles quand elles n’avaient d’autre fondement qu’elles-mêmes, autant il appréciait et admirait le savoir qui était le fruit du labeur et de la réflexion.  Dans son Journal de mer, il distingue clairement entre les deux, réservant ses traits les plus acérés pour ceux qui ne s’appliquent pas à leur tâche de manière sérieuse et soutenue.  L’ironie de Baudin est ainsi le signe de son attachement aux valeurs d’une expédition dont il a été le premier à comprendre toute l’importance.  Mais aussi, le ton pince-sans-rire ou ironique qu’il adopte dans son journal, ses observations sardoniques et parfois même franchement sarcastiques, jouent pour lui le rôle de garde-fou.  Son humour, qui lui sert d’exutoire, l’aide à vider sa bile et à maintenir un peu de distance par rapport aux frustrations et irritations, petites et grandes, qui émaillent son quotidien.  Enfin, le sourire grinçant de Baudin, tout en lui permettant de (ré)affirmer son autorité de capitaine, rend le capitaine français plus proche qu’on ne le penserait des habitants modernes du pays qu’il a exploré et qu’il a contribué à faire connaître.  Après tout, exception faite de sa tendance à se plaindre des autres, cet humour laconique et tout empreint d’ironie, ce ton moqueur, ce sens du ridicule, cette méfiance à l’égard du bel esprit, ce souci égalitaire pour le bien-être des matelots et ce mépris pour les privilèges dont jouissent les officiers, ne sont-ce pas là des traits qui pour beaucoup définissent le caractère national des Australiens?  Dans l’histoire de l’expédition Baudin, ce ne serait pas la dernière des ironies.



[1] Frank Horner, The French Reconnaissance. Baudin in Australia 1801-1803 (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1987).

 

[2] J.B.G.M. Bory de Saint-Vincent, Voyage dans les quatre principales îles des mers d’Afrique, fait par ordre du gouvernement, pendant les années neuf et dix de la République (1801 et 1802), avec l’histoire de la traversée du capitaine Baudin jusqu’au Port-Louis de l’île Maurice (Paris: F. Buisson, an XIII [1804]).

 

[3] François Péron et Louis Freycinet, Voyage de découvertes aux Terres Australes (Paris: 1807-1816 [3 vols + 3 atlas]).

 

[4] Voir à ce sujet Jean Fornasiero & John West-Sooby, “Baudin’s Books”, Australian Journal of French Studies, XXXIX, 2 (2002), p. 216, note 3.

 

[5] Pour les questions de navigation, voir F. Horner, pp. 93-96.  J. Fornasiero, P. Monteath & J. West-Sooby défendent la réputation de Baudin sur le plan scientifique dans Encountering Terra Australis. The Australian Voyages of Nicolas Baudin and Matthew Flinders, 1800-1803 (Kent Town: Wakefield Press, 2004), ch. 17.  Le rôle joué par Baudin dans le domaine de l’anthropologie est examiné par Miranda Hughes, “Philosophical travellers at the ends of the earth:  Baudin, Péron and the Tasmanians”, in R.W. Home (ed.), Australian Science in the Making (Cambridge: CUP, 1988), pp. 23-44.  O.H.K. Spate avait brièvement évoqué la question de la navigation ainsi que l’intérêt de Baudin pour la science en général et pour l’anthropologie en particulier dans son article:  “Ames Damnées:  Baudin and Péron”, Overland, 58 (1974), pp. 52-57 (voir surtout p. 54).

 

[6] Voir, par exemple, Horner, pp. 104-106.

 

[7] O.H.K. Spate, qui parle des “unpleasant pleasantries” de Baudin (art. cit., p. 55), est un de ceux qui ne semblent pas avoir compris le côté enjoué de l’ironie et de l’humour noir de Baudin.

 

[8] Horner, pp. 103-104.

 

[9] Lettre reproduite dans son Journal de mer (entrée datée du 14 brumaire an IX—5 novembre 1800).  Le manuscrit du Journal de mer de Baudin se trouve dans les Archives Nationales sous la cote:  Marine 5JJ 36-40 (5 vols).  La State Library of South Australia détient sur microfilm une copie du journal (série ARG 1).  Pour faciliter la lecture tout en respectant les besoins de la recherche, chaque extrait du Journal de mer sera suivi de deux dates—celle du calendrier républicain et son équivalent dans le calendrier grégorien.  Signalons enfin que l’orthographe et la ponctuation du texte de Baudin ont été standardisées et modernisées.

 

[10] Incident rapporté par le lieutenant Gicquel dans son journal (12-13 janvier 1801—22-23 nivôse an IX).

 

[11] Horner, pp. 111-112.

 

[12] Voir aussi le commentaire suivant:  “J’ai eu beau représenter à la plupart de mes officiers et aux savants qui sont à bord les inconvénients qui ne manqueraient pas de résulter de leur demande d’être conduits à terre deux et plus souvent trois fois par jour.  Bien loin d’avoir égard à ce que je leur disais, ils semblaient au contraire vouloir y aller plus souvent et, sous prétexte de s’instruire dans un pays très connu pour qu’il n’y ait rien de nouveau à y apprendre, ils allaient et venaient comme on va et vient d’une foire.” (23 brumaire an IX—14 novembre 1800)

 

[13] Le mémoire de Bernardin de Saint-Pierre est reproduit dans Jacqueline Bonnemains (éd.) Mon voyage aux Terres Australes. Journal personnel du commandant Baudin (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 2000), pp. 50-52.

 

[14] Sur la difficile question de la nourriture au cours de l’expédition, voir Jean Fornasiero & John West-Sooby, “An appetite for discovery:  the culinary adventures of Nicolas Baudin and Matthew Flinders in Terra Australis, 1800-1804”, in A.L. Martin and B. Santich (eds), Gastronomic Encounters (Brompton: Eastside Publications, 2004), pp. 21-34.

 

[15] Il faut cependant reconnaître que l’attente des officiers en matière de nourriture était basée sur les arrangements beaucoup plus généreux dont avaient bénéficié leurs prédécesseurs au cours des expéditions les plus récentes (par exemple, celle de La Pérouse).  Pour une discussion plus détaillée de ce point, voir l’article précité de Jean Fornasiero et John West-Sooby:  “An appetite for discovery”, p. 27.

 

[16] Cf. “Le jardinier, qui n’est pas un des savants, sut néanmoins trouver quatre plantes nouvelles que nous n’avions pas rencontrées ailleurs.” (30 floréal an X—20 mai 1802).

 

Napoleon, the Empress & the Artist: The Story of Napoleon, Josephine’s Garden at Malmaison, Redouté & the Australian Plants by Jill Duchess of Hamilton (1999) – review by Dr Duyker, Ed

Napoleon, the Empress & the Artist: The Story of Napoleon, Josephine’s Garden at Malmaison, Redouté & the Australian Plants

by Jill Duchess of Hamilton

Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1999, pp 244, illustrations, appendix, bibliography, index, ISBN 0 7318 9834 7.

Reviewed by Dr Edward Duyker

*An earlier version of this review was published in Explorations in December 1999.

 

This is an endearing account of the imperial couple, their residence, and the exotic (including Australian) fauna and flora established in the grounds of Malmaison and illustrated by the great botanical artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840).  Unfortunately, endearing accounts are not always accurate or balanced accounts.  I share Hamilton’s admiration for Napoleon’s achievements as a general, modernizer, law maker and patron of the arts and sciences.  I share her respect for Napoleon’s extraordinary mind and her repugnance for the reactionary Bourbon regime which followed him.   And I share her delight in the history of Malmaison and the botanical treasury Josephine created there.  However, one has only to shift one’s gaze from the botanical paintings of Redouté to that of David, and more appropriately Goya, to be reminded of the ‘other’ Napoleon who stifled the democratic republican aspirations of the Revolution and bathed Europe in blood.

General Bonaparte may have rescued France from disorder and invading foreign armies, and he may have picked the crown up from the gutter with his sword, but to keep it on his head he was prepared to gamble with the lives of millions of others.   He also invaded, subjugated and plundered his neighbours.  And in his orders to kidnap and execute the young Duc d’Enghien, in the fossé at Vincennes in 1804, he revealed the same ruthlessness to his perceived political opponents as did Robespierre in his execution of Danton and Desmoulins (and all the other victims of the Terror). I do not wish to suggest that Napoleon, the Empress & the Artist is devoid of critical comment; nevertheless, this book is essentially panegyric in tone and its author makes no mention of Napoleon’s brutal repression in Spain. Even in discussing the imperial divorce, she never calls a cad a cad! Hamilton may have an excuse in focusing on Bonaparte, Beauharnais and botany, rather than battle and blood, but these days I am surprised to see any serious work on any aspect of the Premier Empire which does not take note of Pieter Geyl’s (1887-1966) landmark critical study Napoleon For and Against (1949).

Although Napoleon may have taken to gardening at various times in his life and owned a number of multi-volume natural history titles, I remain unconvinced that he had a very serious interest in the natural sciences.  His memoirs do not suggest such a passion.  Yes, he surrounded himself with savants, but they tended to be mathematicians and chemists, rather than botanists and zoologists.  I was also amazed at Hamilton’s attribution of humility to the Emperor; she writes, for example: ‘Although Napoleon was reluctant to have his name glorified, he made an exception with art and science’!  The author has no trouble convincing the reader of Joséphine’s serious interest in plants and gardening, however, her botanical artist Redouté remains a spiritually elusive character (probably because of the limited historical sources available). Although scholarly titles and other authorities are mentioned in the text, there are no footnotes.  Thus it is often difficult to determine the basis of some of the author’s assertions.

As I am working on a biography of the French naturalist Labillardière (the author of the first published flora of New Holland [Australia]), I would dearly love to know the source of Hamilton’s statement that ‘Labillardière personally planted Eucalyptus globulus at Malmaison in 1805 (page 20)’. Similarly, Hamilton mentions the various editions of the translation of Labillardière’s Relation (1800).  It is a pity, however, that she does not give details of the Russian edition she alludes to.  In his Bibliography of Australia, John Ferguson listed three English editions and two German language editions (one published in Hanover, the other in Vienna).  Hamilton, however, refers to only one German edition.

Furthermore, I was very surprised to read Hamilton’s declaration that Labillardière ‘came from a noble Normandy family’, that his ‘parents had a large estate’, and that he was related to Talleyrand’s mistress Madame de Flahaut Comtesse de la Billardière (page 77).  As a result of archival research in Labillardière’s birthplace Alençon, I can write with conviction that Labillardière was the ninth of fourteen children born to Michel Jacques Houtou, sieur de La Billardière, a lace merchant (and town clerk), and his wife Madeleine, a lacemaker.  The location of the family landholding, ‘La Billardière’, remains uncertain.  In the département of Orne, of which Alençon is capital, there are seven other known communes in which one can find the locative name ‘La Billardière’. The name also appears in other parts of Normandy.  The bourgeois Houtou family had no connection with the noble Flahaut family, even though both owned properties with similar name, and the naturalist Labillardière was no aristocrat as is suggested in the caption to his portrait on page 81.

The author of Napoleon, the Empress & the Artist also has a tendency to elevate the status of Félix Delahaye (1767-1829) gardener on d’Entrecasteaux’s expedition and, from 1805, chief gardener at Malmaison.  She often writes of Labillardière and Delahaye as if they were an equal twosome and of the Abbé Louis Ventenat’s (1765-1794), as simply their chaplain (see for example page 21).  The fact is, Delahaye, for all his talents was very much subordinate to Labillardière.  On an annual salary of 1000 livres plus 400 livres for equipment, Delahaye was not accommodated as one of the savants and did not dine with the officers of d’Entrecasteaux’s expedition.  Nevertheless, aside from collecting seeds, he did make a personal collection of 2,699 dried and numbered plant specimens under Labillardière’s guidance. It would seem that the Abbé Ventenat (according to his final letter to his brother, Pierre-Etienne, later conservateur at Malmaison), assisted Labillardière during his scientific excursions and made a joint natural history collection with him. Louis Ventenat died in Port Louis hospital, Mauritius, in August 1794, before he could produce any published work. Labillardière is known to have sent Pierre-Etienne Ventenat specimens of Australian plants collected during his voyage with d’Entrecasteaux.  They formed part of the ‘Herbier Malmaison’ and thus the ‘Herbier Ventenat’ now preserved in Geneva.

Having examined a specimen of Chorizema ilicifolia in the ‘Herbier Ventenat’ in Geneva and having searched successfully for it in its natural habitat in Esperance, I was immediately interested in Hamilton’s arguments regarding the etymology of the generic name of this beautiful Western Australian plant.   On page 156 she writes: ‘So great had been his [Labillardière’s] joy when he stumbled across a spring that he celebrated the occasion by naming a plant he found growing there Chorizema ilicifolia – in Greek, choros meaning “dance” and zema, “drink”’.  This same etymological argument was aired by Thomas Hart in an article in the Victorian Naturalist in January 1954. Hart, however, offered an alternative and far more convincing explanation which was also proposed by the great Dutch botanical historian Frans Stafleu (1921-1997) in the introductory essay to the facsimile edition of Labillardière’s flora. Hart and Stafleu suggested that Labillardière, using unconventional ellipsis, created a short euphonious name reminiscent of an outstanding characteristic of the plant (rather than an incident associated with its discovery).  Since Chorizema has a pea flower bearing separate stamens, they argued that its generic name was derived from chorizo (I separate) and nema (filament).  Hamilton, however, is entitled to her opinion.

In Napoleon, the Empress & the Artist it is also asserted that Labillardière’s Novae Hollandiae plantarum specimen  ‘is the first book published after settlement in which the continent is referred to as Australia . . . Matthew Flinders, who is usually acknowledged as the first person to coin the name Australia, used the word in correspondence but did not actually publish it until ten years later, in 1814’ (page 24).  It seems to me that the question of who first used the name ‘Australia’ after settlement is immaterial.  Who used it first would seem to me to be a more important question.  Although the Alexandrian geographer Claudius Ptolemy (c. 90-168 A.D.) referred to the unknown southern land as ‘Terra Australis Incognita’ nearly two thousand years ago and many after him employed the Latin adjective australis (southern, from auster the south wind) to describe the continent, it seems that the Portuguese-born Spanish explorer Pedro Fernandez de Quiros (1565-1615) was the first to employ a noun ‘Austrialia’, derived from this adjective, when he discovered Espiritu Santo (Vanuatu) in 1606 and thought it part of the great southland.  Yet, Quiros’ spelling with its extra ‘I’ is still not as strikingly familiar to the modern reader as the ‘Australia’ of the account of Jacob Le Maire’s and Willem Schouten’s voyage Spieghel der Australische Navigatie (Amsterdam, 1622) which has just been republished in a facsimile edition by the Australian National Maritime Museum.  I have said as much in the introductory essay.

I was a little frustrated by the manner in which the narrative in this book has been broken up with report-like subheadings.  These are often all the more obvious because of the double columns of text so characteristic of Kangaroo Press books. Napoleon, the Empress & the Artist contains many interesting illustration captions, but a good many of them end with the unexplained (contributor’s?) initials ‘D.R.’  Furthermore, the title page carries Hamilton’s name, but also the names of the author of the preface (Bernard Chevallier), the foreword (Bernard Smith) and the editor (Anne Savage). It is not unusual, these days, for the name of a publisher’s desk editor to appear on a colophon, but the appearance of Savage’s name on the title page and among the cataloguing-in-publication details, is unusual.

Be that as it may, this book contains a number of editorial lapses.  All historians have their oversights, indeed Hamilton has been kind enough to point out errors in my own work.  She may care to note that on page 37 she implies the French republic was declared on September 1791.  On page 84 we are told it was in August 1792 and on page 233 we are finally given the correct month and year (September 1792) but not the date: the 21st.  On page 94 we are given the very interesting list of European nations which have ruling families descended from Joséphine.  However, Portugal, one of the countries listed, has not had a ‘sovereign’ since it was declared a republic in 1910.  It should also be mentioned that Alexandre de Beauharnais, Josephine’s first husband (the sole father of her children and thus also the ancestor of many present day European monarchs), was the secretary, rather than the president of the National Assembly at the time of Louis XVI’s flight to Varennes (page 56).

In his foreword, Bernard Smith writes that this book is ‘packed with surprises.  How many of us knew that the young Napoleon when a cadet at military college applied to join the La Pérouse expedition to the Pacific?’  The fact is, claims about Napoléon’s attempt to join La Pérouse’s expedition are not new.  I first read of it in John Dunmore’s biography Pacific Explorer (p. 203-204).  The basis for the assertion is the memoirs of Alexandre-Jean des Mazis (c. 1768-1841), Bonaparte’s fellow student at the Ecole militaire in Paris.  However, the veracity of des Mazis’ 8-page Cahier  (written between 1821 and 1841) has been seriously questioned by Robert Laulan, historian of the Ecole militaire; see his article ‘Que valent les “cahiers” d’Alexandre des Mazis?’ published in the Revue de l’Institut Napoléon, in April 1956. Bonaparte is known to have had some interest in the navy while still at the Ecole militaire de Brienne, but this was mainly with a view to a Mediterranean posting and proximity to his native Corsica.  When he left Brienne in late October 1784, having gained admission to the elite Ecole militaire de Paris, it was with the intention of becoming an artillery officer.

I had other differences of opinion with Hamilton with regard to the course of the Revolution and the campaign in Egypt, the so-called imprisonment of Rossel in England and Labillardière’s return from Italy (before Napoleon), which would take too long to discuss in this review.  However, I feel I must address her sweeping statement that ‘Neither Captain Cook, a farm labourer’s son, nor Matthew Flinders, the son of a doctor, would have got a post in the old French navy (page 181)’.  Undoubtedly commoners had no prospect of reaching senior naval ranks, in the ‘Royale’, however, they could become officiers bleus i.e. naval officers, largely recruited from the merchant marine, who held intermediate grades and wore a uniform of garny bleu to distinguish them from noble officiers rouges (red officers).  Despite the contempt of the rest of the officer corps, which had hitherto been the exclusive preserve of the aristocracy, the officiers bleus, sometimes exercised independent command.  This was usually in unglamorous convoy escorts during wartime, as happened to Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne who later led the first French expedition to any part of Australia.  Other officiers bleus participated in major French voyages, as junior officers, such as Josselin Le Corre who served under Bougainville and then Marion (see my article in Explorations, No. 13, December 1992). For a more detailed examination of this subject, see Jacques Aman’s Les officiers bleus dans la marine française au XVIIIe siècle, Geneva, 1976.

In summary, Napoleon, the Empress & the Artist  is likely to have enduring value as an accessible source of reproductions of Redouté’s superb coloured illustrations of Australian plants and as a useful account of how many of these plants came to be grown and studied in France. Hamilton does not pretend to offer the most recent taxonomic revisions associated with the plants illustrated. This is always a difficult task. Hopefully some of the errors in the text can be addressed in any future edition.

Nature’s Argonaut — Daniel Solander 1733-1782, by Dr Duyker, Edward (1998)

Nature’s Argonaut — Daniel Solander 1733-1782

by Dr Edward Duyker

The Minguyah Press, Melbourne University Press, 1998

This is the first full biography of an important eighteenth-century naturalist, a colleague of Banks on the Endeavour.

 ‘. . . the great voyage you undertook for the promotion of natural history . . . will be the most scientific and industrious event that has ever happened to that useful & enchanting study[.] It may justly be call’d the Argonautic Expedition for the study of nature. (Emanuel Mendes Da Costa, State Rowe King’s Bench Prison, to Daniel Solander, 23 September 1771)

 ‘Dr Duyker’s thoroughly-researched study of Solander’s life reveals a well-liked but many-faceted man who, among other things, enjoyed celebrity status in England while leading a double life as a Swedish spy.’ (Noel Shaw, The Examiner)

Publisher’s presentation:

 Nature’s Argonaut is the first full biography of this important eighteenth-century naturalist who not only circled the globe under sail but ranged as far north as the Arctic and as far south as Tierra del Fuego.

 Edward Duyker pays particular attention to Solander’s role as a naturalist on the Endeavour during the ship’s voyage along the east coast of Australia and to his pioneering contribution to the scientific study of the new continent. The author has also provided a comprehensive account of Solander’s life and his contribution to the foundations of modern plant and animal taxonomy.

 The life of Daniel Solander, stamped with the enquiring spirit of the Enlightenment, is one of the grand adventures of the eighteenth century. Aside from the historic Endeavour voyage, Solander’s Arctic travels, his involvement in industrial espionage in England on behalf of Sweden, his thwarted love for the daughter of his mentor Linnaeus and his friendships with such men as Joseph Banks, James Cook, Samuel Johnson, Matthew Boulton and Benjamin Franklin make Solander a fascinating biographical subject.

 About the Author

 Dr Edward Duyker is an independent historian based in Sydney and the author of eleven books. He was co-editor with Per Tingbrand of Daniel Solander: Collected Correspondence 1733-1782. Dr Duyker was awarded a Category A Fellowship by the Literature Board of the Australia Council to write this biography of Daniel Solander. In the course of his research, he followed Solander’s trail in North Queensland, Indonesia, New Zealand, Tahiti, the British Isles, Sweden, Lapland and Iceland. His work is characterised by direct encounter with flora, fauna, people and place.

Louis de Saint-Aloüarn, Lieutenant des vaisseaux du Roy: Un marin breton à la conquête des Terres Australes, par Godard et de Kerros (2002), review by Dr Duyker, Ed

Louis de Saint-Aloüarn, Lieutenant des vaisseaux du Roy:

Un marin breton à la conquête des Terres Australes

par Philippe Godard & Tugdual de Kerros

Les Portes du Large, Saint-Jacques-de-la-Lande, 2002, pp. 362, ISBN 2-914612-08-7, Euros 60.

Review by Dr Edward Duyker

Department of French Studies, University of Sydney.

 

 

Louis François Marie Aleno de Saint-Aloüarn (1738-1772) commanded the 16-gun Gros Ventre, as part of Kerguelen’s expedition in search of the Southland.  Kerguelen commanded the 24 gun Fortune.  Both vessels set sail from the Ile-de-France (now Mauritius) on 16 January 1772.  Not long after discovering the island that still bears Kerguelen’s name, the Fortune became separated from the Gros Ventre.  Kerguelen decided to return to Ile-de-France on 16 February, expecting Saint-Aloüarn on the Gros Ventre would do the same. Saint-Aloüarn, however, continued to sail eastward until he reached what we now call Flinders Bay, near Cape Leeuwin, on the south of the Western Australian coast on 17 March.  The expedition then travelled north without sighting land for another seven hundred nautical miles.  On the afternoon of 28 March 1772, Shark Bay was sighted.  The following day the Gros Ventre anchored at Turtle Bay and on the morning of 30 March Ensign Mingault was despatched in a longboat to survey the north of Dirk Hartog Island.  This same officer took possession of Western Australia in the name of the King of France – a form of political pantomime that was fashionable at the time.

Saint-Aloüarn then sailed back to Ile-de-France via Melville Island and Timor.  The expedition arrived in Port Louis on 5 September 1772 in a deplorable state.  Most of the men were suffering from scurvy.  Saint-Aloüarn, himself, died on 27 October 1772.  He was only thirty-five years old.  The documentary record for the voyage is very limited like the manor house of the explorer’s family near Quimper, not a great deal remains.  Although a number of shipboard journals have survived, they contain little ethnography or natural history.  It is on the basis of this sparse canvas that I must judge his book.  I am impressed that the authors have discovered a portrait of the explorer, hitherto unknown, and also an important letter written a week before Saint-Aloüarn died.  One of the most engaging parts of this book is the account of the 1998 expedition to Dirk Hartog Island led by Philippe Godard which discovered a silver Louis XV coin, dated 1766, in a lead capsule on top of a French wine bottle.  Two months later, Myra Stanbury of the Western Australian Museum discovered a second bottle containing yet another coin dated 1767.  As a tangible link to the past, the discovery of the coins captured the public imagination.  President Jacques Chirac sent a personal message of congratulation to Godard and he has since been made a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honeur.*  As an historian, however, I consider Saint-Alloüarn’s final letter, far more significant than the coins.  To be fair, the coins give veracity to the letter and confirm a landing place, but they do not tell us much more.  If one ignores indigenous rights and accepts the very questionable logic of such acts of possession, 130 years before, the Dutch – in the wake of Tasman’s voyage – had already pre-empted Saint-Aloüarn’s claim by naming the entire continent ‘Nova Hollandia‘!

This book is richly illustrated, beautifully produced and very similar in style to Godard’s earlier book on the Batavia. It contains a useful geopolitical and historical orientation for the French navy in the eighteenth century and tells us a great deal about the history of the explorer’s family.  Louis’s father, for example, was killed in the Battle of Quiberon Bay (Combat des Cardinaux).  Although the book contains substantial narrative sections about the voyage, it is in great part made up of vignettes which are sometimes quite superfluous in character.  Do we really need so much heraldic content (regardless of how beautiful such coats-of-arms are) and extraneous detail such as the ‘Brief History of the House of Orange-Nassau’ on pages 286-7?  While there will be many readers who will enjoy some of these tangents, others may be disappointed that the book is not more coherently integrated.  It is, however, the result of a great deal of meticulous research – both documentary and pictorial – and remains a welcome contribution to the history of the French in Australia and the Indian Ocean.

 

* Mr Godard was also honoured as a former engineering corps officer, physics teacher, author of twenty titles and a technical expert who has given fifteen years service to the Tribunal and Court of Appeal in New Caledonia.

 

Aux Terres Australes – Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne and the First French Voyage to Australia, by Dr Duyker, Edward

Aux Terres Australes

Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne and the First French Voyage to Australia

Conference Paper, Department of French Studies

Tuesday, 1 October 2002

by

Edward Duyker

 

Few Australians are aware that on 6 March 1772 two French ships, the Mascarin and the Marquis de Castries, anchored off Cape Frederick Hendrick on the east coast of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in search of fresh water and timber for repairs. The commander of the expedition was Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne, one of the most colourful mariners in French history.  Who was he and how did he come to reach Van Diemen’s Land even before the British?

Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne was born in Saint-Malo, in 1724, the son of a wealthy ship-owner and merchant.  (Although his home was destroyed during the bombardment of 1944, the magnificent baroque joinery of its ‘grand salon’ has survived because sometime after 1931, it was sold to an American buyer who removed it and exhibited it at the New York World Fair.  After the war it was returned to Saint-Malo and installed in the mayor’s chambers in the Hôtel de Ville.)

Marion first went to sea at the age of eleven on a voyage which took Mahé de Labourdonais to the Isle de France as governor. His early career was spent as a daring privateer in vessels such as the Du Teillay, owned by the emigré Irish Jacobite Antoine Walsh.  He also had the distinction of commanding one of the two French vessels which rescued ‘Bonnie’ Prince Charlie from Scotland after the disaster of Culloden.  Later he served as an officier bleu in the French Royal Navy and as an East India Company skipper.

After taking the astronomer Alexandre-Gui Pingré to the Indian Ocean to observe the transit of Venus in 1761 and organizing an important expedition to the Seychelles (which discovered the source of the fabled coco-de-mer and brought back a tortoise which lived until 1917!), he settled on the Isle de France (Mauritius) as a trader and planter.

In 1770, the Polynesian Ahu-turu (who had journeyed to France with Louis-Antoine de Bougainville), arrived at the Isle de France with orders that an eastern passage to his native Tahiti should be organized for him.  Marion seized this opportunity to propose a journey to Tahiti, which could convey Ahu-turu home, but also enable exploration of southern waters on the way.[i]

In recent years there have been a number of explanations of Marion’s motives.  John Dunmore has argued that Marion was ‘looking forward to visiting the earthly paradise, the example of Rousseauist society which Commerson was daily extolling’.[ii]  This is too romantic an interpretation.  Although Marion met Commerson on at least one occasion, Marion, who was actively engaged in the slave trade and who brought slaves on his expedition, is unlikely to have been a disciple of Rousseau.

Several scholars, including John Dunmore,[iii] Leslie Marchant[iv] and Anne Salmond[v] have also suggested that Marion was in search of Gonneville’s lost continent.[vi] Presumably this is founded on Julien Crozet’s (1728 – 1782) comment that, in the light of Bouvet de Lozier’s discoveries in the southern Indian Ocean, Marion Dufresne needed to search for Gonneville’s lands ‘to the east of the meridian, which passes through Madagascar’.[vii]  While Marion may have believed that Gonneville’s lost continent was identifiable with Terra Australis (rather than New Holland), he certainly did not indicate this in any of his letters or submissions.  Nevertheless he did propose ‘exploring the southern lands from 45 to 55 degrees latitude south‘.[viii]  This statement in itself is evidence of his belief in a Southern Continent in the region his friend d’Après de Mannevillette[ix] believed one was located. Since the days of Aristotle, Europeans had held mythical notions of symmetry in Creation — that a great continent had to exist in the southern hemisphere to counterbalance the continents of the northern hemisphere.[x]  As one of Marion’s officers, Lieutenant Le Dez, remarked, the existence of a third continent ‘appears sufficiently demonstrated by the very form of the globe, which obliges us to attribute to this [other] hemisphere almost the same configuration, the same quantity and quality of matter as ours.[xi]

Marion Dufresne also declared his desire to ‘continue to New Zealand’ after repatriating his Tahitian charge and ‘exploring the whole archipelago, going as far as Saint Esprit,[xii] located on the East of New Holland, which promises the greatest advantages least distant from the Isle de France.’[xiii]  Rather than pursue the vague and perhaps imaginary claims of Gonneville, this suggests a desire to follow up the known discoveries of Bouvet de Lozier in the Indian Ocean, and those of Quirós, Tasman, Roggeveen and Bougainville in the Pacific. There is ample evidence that Marion also intended to retrace the route of Luis Vaez de Torres, through the strait which now bears Torres’s name.  Torres’s long forgotten report had come to light only after the British occupied Manila in 1762, and Alexander Dalrymple[xiv] incorporated details in his book An Account of the Discoveries made in the The South Pacifick Ocean, previous to 1764, printed in London in 1767.[xv] The implication that New Guinea and New Holland were not one landmass is obvious in Bougainville’s sailing directions to Marion for his return voyage from Tahiti.

Geographical discovery, however, was not the only motivation for a passage through Torres Strait to Timor.  Pierre Poivre, commissaire-général of the Isle de France, had already dispatched a number of expeditions to the East Indies in the hope of securing clove and nutmeg plants.  Although he achieved a measure of success when Simon Provost returned to the Isle de France with seedlings from the island of Geby in June 1770,[xvi] they did not fare well.  To ensure the success of his nursery, Poivre was determined that Provost should secure additional stocks of seeds and seedlings.[xvii]  Since Marion departed before Poivre had any idea of the success of Provost’s renewed efforts in the Moluccas, his expedition should in some respects be seen as a back-up.  In his book Voyages aux Indes orientales, Alexis Rochon, who was then at the Isle de France, states quite explicitly that Marion received secret orders to search for and procure nutmeg and clove seedlings in New Guinea and ‘adjacent islands’.[xviii]  Poivre also held out hope that Tahiti might prove a source of spices.[xix]

In addition to the support of Poivre and Governor Desroches of the Isle de France, Marion was fortunate to have the support of his cousin, the former Governor René Magon.  On 22 February 1771, Magon had co-signed Marion’s formal proposal, having become his local partner in the venture.[xx] Magon retained a strong interest in naval matters and it should also be remembered that his uncle, the celebrated mathematician and astronomer Pierre-Louis de Maupertuis (1698 – 1759),[xxi] had specifically urged further exploration of southern waters. In the joint proposal Magon signed with Marion, there is an astute understanding that the climate of the possible southern lands from 30 to 45 degrees south did ‘not appear promising’. Nevertheless, to a nation still smarting from the loss of Canada, Marion and Magon held out the tantalizing proposition that in these regions ‘fishing may be as plentiful as on the Banks of Newfoundland’.[xxii]

To finance his voyage, Marion Dufresne sold a number of parcels of land and mortgaged all his remaining property at the Isle de France.  He purchased one of the vessels for the voyage himself: the Marquis de Castries, originally named Bruny.  Although the Crown gave him the use of the 450 ton flûte Mascarin for three years, he was expected to reimburse all the wages and provisions of the crew and the expedition’s cargo of trade goods.  With insufficient assets to cover the costs of the entire expedition, on 10 October 1771, his cousin René Magon appended his guarantee to the agreement Marion Dufresne had already signed with the colony’s administrators four months before.[xxiii]  Magon generous support would ultimately lead to bankruptcy.

Placed in command of the Marquis de Castries was a young aristocrat named Ambroise Bernard Le Jar du Clesmeur, not yet twenty years of age.  This was an extraordinary command since Du Cleumeur was a mere garde de la marine, a rank which approximated that of a British naval cadet and midshipman combined.[xxiv]  But Du Clesmeur was Desroches’ nephew and the Governor regarded him as ‘a lad of the greatest promise for the Service’.[xxv]  It seems likely that in return for the Governor’s enthusiastic support, Marion may have had to accept du Clesmeur’s appointment. Such was the nature of aristocratic privilege and the pervasive nepotism of the time.  Effective command of the vessel, however, was probably in the hands of Jean Josselin Le Corre (1727 – 1785), an experienced East India Company officer and veteran of Bougainville’s circumnavigation.[xxvi]

The expedition left the Isle de France on 18 October 1771.  Initially Marion intended to obtain further provisions at the island of Bourbon (now La Réunion), but when smallpox broke out on board he was forced to make for Port Dauphin on the coast of Madagascar.  There Ahu-turu died.  Undeterred, Marion sailed on to the Cape of Good Hope for provisions before sailing south then east. On 13 January 1772, the expedition sighted islands which are now known as the Prince Edward group.  The following day the two vessels collided; one man was killed and the Marquis de Castries, under the command of the inexperienced Le Jar Du Clesmeur was left with a splintered bowsprit and no foremast.  Despite the damage, the two ships maintained their easterly course and on 21 January the Crozet Islands were discovered.  In need of fresh water and timber to remast the Marquis de Castries, Marion decided to set a course for Van Diemen’s Land. On March 3, 1772, the sailors of the Mascarin and the Castries first caught sight of the Tasmanian coast and anchored off Cape Frederick Hendrick on 6 March — in the waters embraced by Frederick Henry Bay (now Marion Bay) and North Bay.

Marion Dufresne and his men landed from a longboat and yawl on 7 March 1772 and were the first Europeans to meet the Tasmanian Aborigines. (It will be remembered that Tasman had not met the locals when he visited.)  At first relations between the French and the indigenous Tasmanians were cordial, but fear, misunderstanding and violence soon followed.  Regretably there were Aboriginal casualties.  What is striking about these first European descriptions of the Tasmanians is the African and Malagasy analogies employed in the journals of the officers — obviously a result of their colonial experiences. Le Dez, who was one of the more learned of the officers, and Du Clesmeur, were the only observers on the expedition to make the more accurate comparison between the Tasmanians and the Aborigines of New Holland.[xxvii]

Le Dez‘s cautious testimony contains a valuable primary-contact description which may yet offer new insights to ethnographers and historians.

I think they are seafood eaters because we found many places in the woods where they had stopped.  One notices easily the place where they had slept around a mound of ash and one sees, nearby, fishbones (my italics) and many burnt shells.[xxviii]

This latter observation is particularly interesting because a number of archaeologists have argued that the Tasmanian Aborigines stopped eating fish about four thousand years ago.[xxix] Le Dez’s record reinforces the view that at least some fish may have been eaten by the Tasmanian Aborigines.

It would seem that the individuals Marion and his men encountered at North Bay were probably members of what has been conveniently called the Oyster Bay tribe. According to historian Lyndall Ryan, the ten ‘bands’ of this tribe (the largest in Tasmania) totalled a mere 700 to 800 individuals. [xxx] Although historians must be cautious in extrapolating population figures from accounts of brief landfalls, there may be grounds for at least doubling the hitherto presumed size of the Oyster Bay tribe. Marion’s officer, Jean Roux, for example, asserted that he saw some three hundred Aborigines during his visit.  If this was just one band, our notions of the population of the whole island and their seasonal migrations at the time of European contact deserve reassessment.[xxxi]

The references to widespread Aboriginal burning in all the officers’ accounts lend support to the ideas of a number of scholars of fire and the Tasmanian biota — particularly those who have studied the preservation of sclerophyll forests, the creation of highland ‘button-grass plains’ and Aboriginal symbiosis with the grasslands.[xxxii] Although Le Dez gives the impression that the burning he saw was essentially indiscriminate, the journals of Du Clesmeur, Crozet and Chevillard de Montesson suggest that the Aboriginal fires in the south-east were in fact selective and that the Oyster Bay pine (Callitris rhomboidea) may have been protected by them.[xxxiii] While it may have been one of the most common trees in the North/Marion Bay area in 1772, eucalypts now dominate the area and the Oyster Bay pine only exists in isolated stands.  Although it is a fire-sensitive species, the vulnerability of these stands is reduced because leaf litter is densely packed and not well aerated.[xxxiv] Thus, while particular Aboriginal use of Callitris rhomboidea remains uncertain, the records of Marion’s expedition undoubtedly suggest major ecological change in south-eastern Tasmania over the past two centuries.

It is also possible that Crozet, Roux, Le Dez and Chevillard de Montesson were the first Europeans to see the thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) of Tasmanian tiger: all reported sighting a ‘tiger’ or ‘tiger cat’ during their visit, while du Clesmeur mentioned quadrupeds which resembled dogs.

On 9 March 1772, Marion and his men were the first Europeans to land on nearby Maria Island.  The expedition accounts, however, contain a number of interesting, though fragmentary, observations on the material culture of the Aborigines.  Nevertheless, given the rapid disintegration of traditional Tasmanian Aborginal culture in the first few decades of the 19th century and the lack of systematic ethnographic observation during the years of British rule, the accounts of Marion’s officers (some of which have only recently become known)[xxxv] provide an important source of information for scholars.[xxxvi]

Not having a professional naturalist with them, Marion and his merchant seamen did not record any detailed natural history observations.  Just as they searched for comfortable ethnological analogies, so too the ‘pines’ and other flora and fauna they encountered were described with familiar names. Later French voyages to the region, however, would make far more impressive contributions to Tasmanian botany and zoology.[xxxvii] For example, during d’Entrecasteaux’s two sojourns in Van Diemen’s Land his naturalist, Labillardière laid the foundations for his magnificent Novae Hollandiae plantarum specimen (1804-1806) — justly recognized as the ‘first general flora of Australia’.[xxxviii]

So what happened to Marion Dufresne?  He decided to set sail for New Zealand on 10 March. He might have discovered Bass Strait on the way, had he not been frustrated by northerly winds.  Three months later, on 12 June 1772, his life came to a tragic end at Te Hue cove in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands: after unwittingly breaching Maori etiquette and taboos, Marion and two of his longboat crews were massacred and eaten.  Regrettably, his personal account of his voyage has not survived, although significant sections may have found their way into Julien Crozet’s book.

Twelve days after Marion Dufresne’s landing in Van Diemens’ Land, Alleno de Saint-Alouarn (who had become separated from Kerguelen’s rival expedition in search of the South Land) made his first landing in Western Australia.  These two French voyages would ultimately be followed by the more sophisticated expeditions of La Pérouse (1785-1788) and Bruny d’Entrecasteaux (1791-1793) which bore professional hydrographers, astronomers and naturalists to Australia’s shores. Nevertheless in d’Entrecasteaux’s journal there are numerous references to Marion Dufresne’s voyage, as there are in François Péron’s account of Baudin’s expedition. Indeed all these voyages should be seen in the context of a continuity of French scientific endeavours and sustained interest in the Great Southland. Before the close of the eighteenth century, French explorers would make profound contributions to the foundations of the natural, physical and social sciences in Australia and precipitate pre-emptive British settlement of Van Diemen’s Land.


Notes

[i] In addition to a number of new studies and sources, this paper is largely based on my biography of the explorer; see: E. Duyker, An Officer of the Blue: Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne 1724-1772, South Sea Explorer, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1994.  It is hoped that a French language edition will appear in the not too distant future.

[ii] Prof. Dunmore has further asserted: ‘We cannot doubt that Marion du Fresne knew something of the ideas of Rousseau, that Commerson extolled Tahiti to him, home of the Noble Savage’; see J. Dunmore, ‘L’imaginaire et le réel: Le mythe du Bon Sauvage de Bougainville à Marion du Fresne’, in Mollat, M. et Taillemite, E. (eds), L’importance de l’exploration maritime au siècle des lumières (a propos du voyage de Bougainville), Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, 1982, pp. 161—68.

[iii] J. Dunmore, French Explorers in the Pacific, Oxford University Press, 1965, vol 1, p. 167.

[iv] L. Marchant, France Australe, Artlook, Perth, 1982, p. 47.

[v] A. Salmond, Two Worlds: First Meetings Between Maori and Europeans 1642-1772, Viking, Auckland, 1991. p. 363.

[vi] Binot Paulmier de Gonneville is said to have sailed to the southern hemisphere between 1503-1506, but scholars are divided as to whether his voyage was imaginary[vi] or whether he landed in South America, Madagascar or even Australia. For a recent survey see M. Sankey, ‘L’Abbé Paulmier méconnu: le mythe et l’histoire des Terres australes en France aux dix-septième et dix huitième siècles’, Australian Journal of French Studies, vol. xxxviii, no. 1, 2001, pp. 54-68.

[vii] J. Crozet, Nouveau voyage à la mer du sud (edited by A. Rochon), Barrois, Paris, 1783, p. 7. For an English translation see: H. L. Roth (trans.), Crozet’s Voyage to Tasmania, New Zealand, the Ladrone Islands, and the Philippines in the Years 1771-1772, Truslove & Shirley, London, 1891, pp. 8-9.  Crozet is probably referring to 45° east of the Paris Meridian i.e. 47° 20′ east of Greenwich.

[viii] Archives Nationales, Marine B4 317, pièce 17.

[ix] For an account of Marion Dufresne’s voyage to China with d’Après de Mannevillette, see E. Duyker, A French Trading Expedition to the Orient: The Voyage of the Montaran 1753-1756, Stockholm University Center for Pacific Asia Studies Working Paper, No.30, August 1992, pp. 20.

[x] E. van den Boogaart, ‘The Mythical Symmetry in God’s Creation: The Dutch and the Southern Continent, 1569-1756’, in Eisler, W. & Smith, B. Terra Australis: The Furthest Shore, Art Gallery of New South Wales/International Cultural Corporation of Australia, Sydney, 1988, pp. 43-49.

[xi] Le Dez, ‘Extrait d’un nouveau voyage en australazie en 1772‘, Archives Nationales, Archives Privées, Fond Bougainville 155 AP 3, pièce 4.

[xii] The island of Espíritu Santo, Vanuatu (formerly the New Hebrides) discovered by Quirós.

[xiii] Archives Nationales, Marine B4 317, pièce 17.

[xiv] See E. Duyker, ‘Propagandist, Pamphleteer & Cartographer: The Alexander Dalrymple Holdings’, National Library of Australia News, vol. VIII, No. 4, January 1998, pp. 7-9.

[xv] Marion may have read this book or been aware of its contents through his friend d’Après de Mannevillette, who regularly exchanged information with Dalrymple.

[xvi] Marion Dufresne attended the celebratory reception in honour of Provost and (with Commerson) was one of the certifiers of the plants he brought back.

[xvii] M. Ly-Tio-Fane, The Triumph of Jean Nicolas Céré and his Isle Bourbon Collaborators, Mouton & Co., Paris, 1970, pp. 26—8.

[xviii] A. Rochon, Voyages aux Indes orientales, op. cit., p. 319.

[xix] Archives Nationales, Marine C7 197, pièce 38.

[xx] Archives Nationales, Marine B4 317, pièce 16.

[xxi] ‘. . . dans l’hémisphère méridonal il y a un espace inconnu, où pourrait être placée une nouvelle partie du monde, plus grande qu’aucune autre’, cited from Maupertuis, Lettre sur le progrès des sciences, ch. 7, by R. Lacour-Gayet, Histoire de L’Australie, Fayard, Paris, 1973, p. 69.

[xxii] Archives Nationales, Marine B4 317, pièce 16.

[xxiii] ‘Agreement with M. Marion Dufresne, Capitaine de Brulôt, relating to the assignment for which the King has given the flûte Mascarin, for the voyage to Cythere ordered by the Court’, Archives Nationales, Marine B4 317, pièce 20.

[xxiv] For a biographical summary, see E. Duyker, ‘Du Clesmeur, Ambroise Bernard Le Jar (1751-c.1810)’, Dictionnaire de Biographie Mauricienne, no. 47, janvier 1992, pp. 1447-1448.

[xxv]  Desroches to the Minister of Marine, April 27 1771, Archives Nationales, Marine C4 28, cited in Kelly, L. G. Marion Dufresne at the Bay of Islands, A. H. & A. W. Reed, Wellington, 1951, p. 18.

[xxvi] Jean Josselin Le Corre (1727-1785) accompanied Bougainville as an officier bleu on the Boudeuse and so impressed his commander that he was nominated for the rank of capitaine de flûte.  The Intendant of Brest, however, had recommended against the appointment on the grounds of insufficient naval experience.  The unfortunate Le Corre had served on four naval vessels and had been a prisoner of war in 1758.  He had also made eleven voyages in merchant vessels, but the Intendant felt that ‘the pecuniary advantages of this type of shipping was compensation for the preference received by those who are only employed in the service of the King’. See J. Aman, Les officiers bleus dans la marine Française au XVIIIe siècle, pp. 36-37, 83, 104, 109, 188.  Le Corre’s wife, Augustine Duclos-Guyot, appears to have been related to Bougainville’s second-in-command, Nicolas-Pierre Duclos-Guyot (1722-1794).  Although Le Corre was born in Pléhérel (near Cape Frehel), his son Alexandre was born in Saint Malo and this explains the reference to that port as his home in the muster roll of the Marquis de Castries.  Alexandre Le Corre (1766-1802) would lead the Isle de France’s first trading expedition to Australia.  He and five of his crew members perished when their ship, the Entreprise, was wrecked off the Three Sisters in Bass Strait on 15 October 1802; see E. Duyker, Of the Star and the Key: Mauritius, Mauritians and Australia, Australian Mauritian Research Group, Sylvania, 1988, pp. 12—13 and E. Duyker, ‘Le Corre, Josselin (1727-1785)’, Dictionnaire de Biographie Mauricienne, no. 48, janvier 1993,  pp. 1490—91.

[xxvii] Le Dez, in E. Duyker (ed.), Discovery of Tasmania, op. cit., pp. 33-35.

[xxviii] Ibid.

[xxix] See R. Jones, ‘Fire-Stick Farming‘, Australian Natural History, vol. 16,  1969, pp. 224-228; H. Allen, ‘Left Out in the Cold: Why the Tasmanians Stopped Eating Fish‘, The Artefact, Vol. 4, 1979, pp. 1-10.

[xxx] Ryan, The Aboriginal Tasmanians, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1981, pp. 16-19.

[xxxi] Unfortunately, the seasonal migrations Ryan alludes to, do not sit comfortably with the facts of Marion Dufresne’s visit late in the southern summer.  Had the Aborigines just arrived to commence their winter regime of shellfish, or had they been living off other game by the large, but unusually dry, lagoon behind the sand dunes of North Bay?  Perhaps, like the Aborigines on the west coast of the island, the Pydairrerme may have had no need to wander very far from the coast at all.  The author has visited Swan Lagoon in May and found it teeming with swans, ducks and other water birds; see: Ryan, op. cit., pp. 16-19.

[xxxii] See J. M. Gilbert, ‘Forest Succession in the Florentine Valley, Tasmania’, Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania, vol. 93, 1951, pp. 129-151; R. Jones, ‘The Geographical Background to the Arrival of Man in Australia and Tasmania’, Archaeology and Physical Anthropology in Oceania, vol. 3, 1968, pp. 186-215.

[xxxiii] See Chevillard de Montesson, Du Clesmeur and Crozet, in E. Duyker (ed.), Discovery of Tasmania, op. cit., pp. 47, 22, 26.

[xxxiv] Personal communication with botanist Dr Stephen Harris, Department of Lands, Parks and Wildlife, Hobart, Tasmania, 12 October 1990.

[xxxv] Chevillard’s summary had been part of the estate of the New Zealand bibliophile Dr Charles Fox and was acquired by the State Library of Tasmania in 1973.  And Le Dez‘s journal was discovered only in the late 1970s by the New Zealand scholar, Isabel Ollivier, among the papers of the Bougainville family archives (held as a private collection by the Archives Nationales in Paris). As recently as July 1988, in a paper entitled ‘The French and the Tasmanian Aborigines’, presented at a symposium at the University of New South Wales, Plomley made no mention of the accounts of Le Dez or Chevillard de Montesson.

[xxxvi] Marion’s officers recorded a meagre handful of Tasmanian words (and no meanings for them). William Anderson–surgeon on Cook’s second and third voyages–listed just nine Tasmanian Aboriginal words during his visit in January 1777. However, Jacques-Julien Houtou de Labillardière, naturalist on d’Entrecasteaux’s expedition, recorded eighty-four Tasmanian Aboriginal words in his ‘Vocabulaire de la langue des sauvages du Cap de Diemen’ which appeared as an appendix to his Relation.  Since none of the few Aborigines who became literate in English recorded anything of their language and few English speakers gained any significant grasp of the Tasmanian language, this vocabulary is a precious linguistic vestige.

[xxxvii] See, for example, Maiden, J. H. ‘Records of the Earlier French Botanists as regards Australian Plants’, Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, vol. 44, 1910, pp. 123—54..

[xxxviii] See E. Duyker, Citizen Labillardière: A Naturalist’s Life in Revolution and Exploration, Melbourne University Press/Miegunyah, Melbourne, 2003.

Voyage to Australia and the Pacific 1791-1793, by Bruni d’Entrecasteaux – Edited and translated by Edward & Maryse Duyker

Voyage to Australia and the Pacific 1791-1793

by Bruni d’Entrecasteaux

 Edited and translated by Edward & Maryse Duyker

First English translation of de Rossel‘s transcription of d’Entrecasteaux’s journal, with introductory essay and explanatory notes.

 In 1791 Admiral Bruny d’Entrecasteaux sailed with two ships from France to search for his compatriot, the explorer La Pérouse, who was missing in the Pacific.

 Although d’Entrecasteaux failed to discover the fate of La Pérouse, and perished in the attempt, his voyage was more than a mere rescue mission. Between 1791 and 1793 the expedition made a number of significant geographical discoveries, including the Derwent estuary and the D’Entrecasteaux Channel between Bruny Island and mainland Tasmania, and Esperance Bay and the Archipelago of the Recherche in Western Australia.

 D’Entrecasteaux’s voyage also yielded significant natural history collections and ethnographic observations, including some of the earliest recorded observations of the Aboriginal people of Tasmania and south-western Australia, and detailed accounts of the islands and peoples of the Pacific, including New Zealand, Tonga, New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands and New Guinea.

 D’Entrecasteaux died off the coast of New Guinea in July 1793. His papers were taken back to France by E. P. E. de Rossel, who transcribed d’Entrecasteaux’s journal, and incorporated it into the official account of the voyage which was published in 1808.

 De Rossel’s transcription of the journal has never been previously translated into English, though it remains an important historical source of early European contact with Australia and the Pacific, and its subject continues to attract the interest of readers. This first translation incorporates a substantial introductory essay and explanatory notes by Dr Edward Duyker, whose reputation as a scholar in this area has been established with other works, including his biography of Marion Dufresne, An Officer of the Blue (1994).

 Table of Contents

 Acknowledgements

 Introduction

 I The Atlantic

 II Cape of Good Hope

 III Traversing the Indian Ocean

 IV Van Diemen’s Land

 V The Coral Labyrinths

 VI Disappointment in the Admiralties

 VII Amboina

 VIII Moluccas to Western Australia

 IX Espérance Bay

 X Coasting Terre de Nuyts

 XI Return to Van Diemen’s Land

 XII To New Zealand and the Friendly Islands

 XIII Sojurn in Tongatabou

 XIV Observations on Tongatabou

 XV To New Caledonia

 XVI Observations on New Caledonia

 XVII From Balade to Santa Cruz

 XVIII The Solomon Islands

 XIX The Final Surveys

 Afterword

 Glossary of French Terms, Titles and Ranks

 Glossary of Nautical Terms

 Appendix I: Decree of the National Assembly Relating to the Expedition in

 Search of M. de La Pérouse, 9 February 1971

 Appendix II: King’s Memorandum

 Appendix III: Letter from M. Fleurieu, Minister of Marine, to Sieur d’Entrecasteaux

 Endnotes

 Bibliography

 Index

About the Authors:

Dr Edward Duyker is the author of twelve books, including Nature’s Argonaut (1998), his biography of the Swedish naturalist Daniel Solander which was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s General History Prize in 1999. He was made a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques by the French government in 2000.

Maryse Duyker has worked as a French translator and has published three books.

 ‘Exquisitely produced and expertly introduced and translated, this is a fascinating and insightful account of early European contact with Australia’. (National Trust (Tasmania) Newsletter, June 2001)

 ‘As usual, Miegunyah Press has delivered a high quality production.” (James Griffin, The Weekend Australian, July 2001)

Citizen Labillardière: A Naturalist’s Life in Revolution and Exploration (1755-1834), by Edward Duyker – review by Paul Bailey

Citizen Labillardière: A Naturalist’s Life in Revolution and Exploration (1755-1834), by Edward Duyker, MUP/The Miegunyah Press, 2003, $59.95

BOOKS: CITIZEN LABILLARDIÈRE

Little known among the naturalists and explorers of Terra Australis, Jacques Labillardière embarked on a voyage of breathtaking discovery and tragedy. Paul Bailey reviews his life story.

[21.1.1793] It was about 10.30 on a cool Paris morning when Louis XVI was marched across the cobblestones of the Place de la Revolution towards the guillotine. On his way through the roaring mob, he is reported to have asked: “What news of Monsieur de La Pérouse?

As his royal blood dribbled on to that famous square, the same day, half a world away, another Frenchman was marching up the shore of what we know as Tasmania. His name, Labillardière, is hardly recognised outside scientific circles, but it ought to be as familiar as that of Banks and Solander.

Citizen Labillardière – he was an avowed republican – was a botanist, one of that rash of 18th-century naturalists who went with great explorers to distant lands. These men were creatures of Enlightenment ideas which elevated the notion of inquiry and criticism, the secular belief that man was the architect of his own fortune. They believed that man could stand over nature, be its master and possessor, rather than stand back in awe of its divine design.

Yet Labillardière’s voyage to the southern oceans was not principally a scientific exercise. It was a search and rescue mission. Mounted by the National Assembly, it was charged with solving one of France’s great mysteries: the disappearance of hero-explorer Jean-François de Galaup comte de La Pérouse.

La Pérouse had sailed from Brest in 1785.8.1 through the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Alaska on to China and Japan, then further south, reaching the sandy shores of Botany Bay [24/26.1.1788] just eight days after Captain Arthur Phillip‘s First Fleet. Six weeks later, he left. When he failed to reach Mauritius, the French became concerned.

The rescue mission was led by Antoine-Raymond-Joseph Bruny D’Entrecasteaux commanding the vessel La Recherche and Jean-Michel Huon de Kermadec on L’Espérance, together with a handful of naturalist freeloaders, among them Jacques-Julien Houtou de Labillardière. These were names which were to leave a lasting mark on the Australian landscape – the Huon river and pine, the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Bruny Island with its Labillardiere peninsula.

They were risk-takers too: exploration was then an extreme sport.

Yes, they had some idea as they left Revolutionary France that, more than once, they might glance death in the face. But what they encountered was wholly unimaginable – huge, treacherous seas that threatened to smash their ships in half; the jagged dangerous reefs of the Pacific. They would face starvation and deprivation; confront cannibals; they would be imprisoned.

They were not to know that, before the expedition was complete, more than 40% of their number would perish, both ships’ commanders among the dead. They were not to know, as they sailed from France in September 1791, that La Pérouse had already met a gruesome end.

It is Labillardière’s life that forms the subject of Edward Duyker’s latest book, Citizen Labillardière, finely produced by Melbourne University Publishing imprint Miegunyah Press (Duyker has previously written a life of Swedish naturalist Daniel Solander, who accompanied Cook on his voyage to Australia.)

Aged 36 when the rescue mission sailed, Labillardière had thrown in a career as a medical doctor to follow the natural sciences. His curiosity had taken him to England where he met the famed Sir Joseph Banks, a naturalist on Cook‘s Endeavour. Banks had assembled a vast herbarium of 110 genera previously unknown to man, and 1300 new species. With the nearby British Museum just 25 years old, private individuals, scientists and naturalists held extraordinary collections, often in their own homes.

As part of D’Entrecasteaux’s expedition, Labillardière was a difficult crew member whose sometimes unpleasant personality and attendant republican instincts put him at odds with his aristocratic commanders. In short, he was a bit of a troublemaker. But of his work as a naturalist, there could be no argument.

The Tasmania Labillardière saw was a vast, largely unspoilt natural storehouse, undisturbed but for the touch of its Aborigines. He wrote of its ancient forests, huge trees, myrtles more than 50m high, the “luxuriant vigour of vegetation”, a place “in which the sound of the axe had never been heard”.

In just 37 days, some 5000 specimens were collected, among them 30 new genera and 100 new species. The plants he would describe include the floral emblems of Tasmania and Victoria, eucalypt species, acacias, banksia and orchids. His was a career of firsts:more than 100 plant names today incorporate his name.

After gathering fresh Tasmanian water, they set a course for New Caledonia, then north to New Ireland and Ambon, following fruitless leads in search of La Pérouse before returning to Australia in the summer of 1792. D’Entrecasteaux was determined to carry out orders to survey the south-west coast of the continent. But a lack of water forced them back to Tasmania and it was left to another explorer to discover the strait between the island and the mainland.

This second visit lasted two months while supplies were taken and the ships repaired. Labillardière continued to discover, to collect and describe the island’s flora and fauna. When they sailed again, it was to an uncertain fate.

They reached Java, then under Dutch control, to learn that Louis XVI had been executed and a republic declared. France was at war with Holland, England, Prussia, Austria and Spain. Their ships were seized; Labillardière’s collection, all 36 crates of it, taken; and they were imprisoned.

Eventually allowed to leave, the homeland to which Labillardière returned in 1796 had seen tremendous change – this was the France après the Reign of Terror, the France remade by Danton and Robespierre. His specimens had been seized by the English and he had to engage the assistance of Banks to retrieve them.

In the meantime, Labillardière wrote his memoirs. Hugely popular, they introduced the great southern land, its mysterious plants and animals, and its indigenes, to the European mind. But the crowning achievement was his two-volume account of the plant species he collected, acknowledged as the first general flora of Australia (although some might argue that William Dampier beat him to it) [GB: amateur scientist and captain of HMS Roebuck, who landed in Shark Bay (WA) in 1699; his are the first published writings providing for a naturalist’s impression of the Australian flora, fauna and inhabitants, but nothing compared to Labillardière’s systematic opus]. What’s not in doubt is that Labillardière and his fellow crew members were privileged in that they were to be enlargers of life. Their discoveries would make the world bigger, expand human knowledge, enlarge men’s minds.

There is a prodigious amount of work in Duyker’s book: 246 pages of text, an additional 137 pages of notes, a huge bibliography, glossaries and indexes. But he wrestles with Labillardière’s character, never able to offer a psychological portrait of the man. You never feel you get to know the man himself; you never hear his voice in your head. In addition, the chronological treatment makes for a dull beginning since not a lot is known about the naturalist’s early days.

And yet his later life was filled with fascinating discovery, drama on the high seas, life-and-death incidents – exploits that would make a Hornblower blush. If only it could have been better told.

Labillardière died in 1834, the same year Charles Darwin was fossicking around the coast of Patagonia. He left his estate to his nephew, who sold the library and natural history collection to pay death duties. The collections went to British collector Philip Barker Webb, who was amassing a huge private herbarium and who, in 1854, bequeathed everything to the Grand Duke of Tuscany’s natural history museum.

And so, on the second floor of a building on the Via G. La Pira in Florence, stored in long narrow drawers, there is a little piece of Australia and a large piece of our history.

Citizen Labillardière — A Naturalist’s Life in Revolution and Exploration (1755-1834), by Dr Duyker, Edward

Citizen Labillardière — A Naturalist’s Life in Revolution and Exploration (1755-1834)

by Dr Edward Duyker

The Mienguyah Press, Melbourne University Publishing, 2003

The first comprehensive study of eighteenth-century naturalist
Jacques-Julien Houtou de Labillardière — a story of science, survival and a grand adventure.

Duyker’s own research is extensive and meticulous . . . We should be glad to have [Duyker’s vigorous sketch] added to our national story in this attractive edition.‘ (Peter Fuller, The Canberra Times, 26/7/2003)

This exciting and elegantly written biography is the first comprehensive study of Labillardière, revealing a remarkable individual . . . This is a story of science, survival and a grand adventure.‘ (Le Courier Australien, April 2003)

Publisher’s presentation:

Jacques-Julien Houtou de Labillardière was one of the great traveller-naturalists of the eighteenth century. He is most famous for his account of his voyage to the South Seas with Bruny d’Entrecasteaux in search of La Pérouse in 1791-93.

Labillardière’s Relation was an international bestseller in its day, helping to usher the southern continent into the European imagination. During his visit to the south-western coast of New Holland and his two sojourns in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), Labillardière also laid the foundations for his magnificent Novae Hollandiae plantarum specimen (1804-06), which is justly recognised as the ‘first general flora of Australia’. He was also the author of the first published flora of New Caledonia.

In researching this exciting and elegantly written biography, Edward Duyker revisited many of the naturalist’s landfalls around the world. He also examined a wide range of archival and museum collections to piece together Labillardière’s correspondence and observations. The result is the first comprehensive study of the naturalist, revealing a committed republican who was shaped by the turbulent years of revolutionary and Napoleonic France.

Dr Duyker ranges widely: from the tranquil cloisters of Normandy to the pillaged libraries and museums of Italy, from the Cedars of Lebanon to the verdant islands of the Pacific, from the frozen passes of the Alps to the parched shores of New Holland. This is a story of science, survival and a grand adventure.

Table of Contents

Illustrations
Acknowledgements
Textual Notes

Introduction
1 Alençon
2 Medical Student
3 Albion and the Alps
4 To the Cedars of Lebanon
5 Universal Ferment
6 The Genesis of a Rescue
7 To Tenerife and the Cape
8 Van Diemen’s Land
9 On to Amboina
10 New Holland
11 Back to Van Diemen’s Land
12 The Friendly Islands
13 New Caledonia
14 The Disintegration of the Expedition
15 Hear, O Heavens of France!
16 Italy
17 Savant Célèbre
18 Epilogue

Glossary of Scientific Terms
Glossary of French Terms and Institutions
Appendix: Labillardière’s Library
Notes
Bibliography
Botanical Index
Zoological Index
General Index

About the Author

Dr Edward Duyker is an independent historian, based in Sydney, and the author of fourteen books. Nature’s Argonaut, his biography of the Swedish naturalist Daniel Solander, was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s General History Prize in 1999. He is a fellow of the Linnean Society of London, the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Historical Society, and an Honorary Associate of the Department of French Studies, University of Sydney. In 2000 he was made a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques by the French government.

French books in Australian history, by Dr Duyker, Edward

The Word in French

Dr Edward Duyker reflects on French books in Australian history

This is an edited version of an address given by Dr Edward Duyker during the ‘Semaine du Livre Français’, University of Sydney, 27 September 1999.

It will come as a surprise to many to learn that eight French soldiers were among those shipwrecked on Morning Reef, off Geraldton Western Australia, when the Dutch East Indiaman Batavia foundered in 1629. Emigré Huguenots or perhaps just mercenaries, they were the first Frenchmen to come to Australia. Their desperate struggle with the company loyalists against the mutineers who sadistically butchered 125 of the Batavia’s men, women and children, is told in Jan Jansz’s Ongeluckige Voyagie van’t Schip Batavia. This book, published in Amsterdam in 1647, is the earliest printed work to recount events on Australian soil. Although in Dutch, it was also the first of many books to recount the exploits of Frenchmen in Australia. Very likely at least some of the French soldiers on the Batavia were literate and perhaps carried French books with them. I have sometimes wondered whether they huddled behind the rough stone walls of the fort they built with the stalwart Wiebe Haijes on West Wallabi Island (Australia’s oldest European building) and drew succour from the Bible in French and dreamt that they would yet ‘deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines’. Or could it be that they sat reading Les derniers vers of Pierre de Ronsard?

‘Il faut laisser maisons et vergers et jardin
Vaisselles et vaisseaux . . . ‘

In the case of the Batavia, I may be swinging the lamp a little too far, but there is no doubt that books in French have an identifiable place in later Australian history.

Two hundred and thirty years ago, when Lt. James Cook’s Endeavour sailed into Botany Bay, there were French books aboard. We know, for example, that the naturalist Joseph Banks carried accounts of voyages written by Président de Brosses, Thévenot and Frézier and astronomical and navigational works by Lalande and the Abbé Pingré, in addition to the fifteen volumes of Buffon’s Histoire naturelle, Brisson’s Ornithologie and Biron’s Curiositez de la nature et de l’art. However, the French books on the Endeavour were not confined to scientific works. The expedition’s artist, Sydney Parkinson, carried copies of Marmontel’s Les contes moraux, La Fontaine’s Fables, and Alain-Réné Lesage’s Le diable boiteux and Gil Blas.

The French themselves were not inactive in the exploration of New Holland in this period, yet few Australians are aware that on 5 March 1772 — less than two years after Cook landed at Botany Bay — two French ships, the Mascarin and the Marquis de Castries, anchored off Cape Frederick Hendrick on the east coast of Tasmania in search of fresh water and timber for repairs. Theirs was the first French expedition to reach any part of Australia. Indeed they were the first Europeans to visit Tasmania since 1642. Despite arriving in Tasmania before the British, the remarkable commander of the expedition, Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne (who helped rescue Bonnie Prince Charlie after the disaster of Culloden), is curiously absent from the pages of the Australian Dictionary of Biography and the Australian Encyclopedia. This is despite the fact that an account of Marion’s expedition was published as early as 1783. The journal of Marion’s second-in-command, Julien Crozet, published under the title Nouveau voyage à la mer du sud, is an important ethnographic document because it contains the first published account of the Tasmanian Aborigines and a great deal of information about the Maoris of the Bay of Islands.

There were other French expeditions to southern waters in the eighteenth century including those of Saint-Allouarn, La Pérouse and d’Entrecasteaux. In many respects, French vessels were floating libraries. We know, for example, that when La Pérouse set sail from Brest in 1785, one of his officers, Jean-Guillaume Law de Lauriston, the twenty year old son of the Governor of Pondicherry, was farewelled by his father with a substantial stock of books. There were wordsmiths aboard too, the Abbé Jean-André Monge, who served as a naturalist and chaplain, had been editor of the Journal de Physique. The other naturalist, the Franciscan Claude-François-Joseph Receveur (whose grave can still be found in the Sydney suburb of La Perouse), was the author of a number of papers presented to the Académie des sciences. La Pérouse’s own account, dispatched overland to France from Petropavlovsk with the young Russian-speaking Barthélémy de Lesseps, was eventually edited by Milet-Mureau and published in 1797 by the Imprimerie de la République as Voyage de La Pérouse autour du monde. It can be found in the National Library’s collection.

D’Entrecasteaux’s expedition (the rescue mission which followed in search of La Pérouse and made significant discoveries in Tasmania and Western Australia), was also rich in the printed word. We know the naturalists (including Labillardière the author of the first published floras of New Holland and New Caledonia [in 1804-6]) carried the works by Adanson, Linné, Brisson, Juisseau, Gouan, Fabricius and — like Banks on the Endeavour — the complete works of Buffon. The expedition’s Benedictine astronomer, Dom Pierson, had some forty books with him. They included scientific works by Lalande, La Caille, Cassini, Duséjour, Euler and Bezout, together with authors on mathematics, physics, optics and mineralogy. But Dom Pierson also carried the works of La Fontaine, Mirabeau, Voltaire, Rousseau, La Bruyère, d’Alembert and Bossuet. I am currently working with my Mauritian-born mother on the first English translation of d’Entrecasteaux’s journal and can often feel the place of books in the daily life of the expedition. For example, when d’Entrecasteaux’s second-in-command, Huon de Kermadec, died off New Caledonia he left instructions that his rich shipboard library should be shared among his fellow officers.

The prize for French shipboard bibliophilia, however, must go to Nicolas Baudin whose expedition visited Port Jackson during the Peace of Amiens [25.3.1802 to 16.5.1803] and charted significant stretches of the western and southern Australian coast (including Van Diemen’s Land). Baudin was a cultured man with a passion for books and botany. His personal library of 1200 volumes on the Géographe (exclusive of official geographical and scientific tomes supplied by the government) included 392 historical works, 139 biographies and memoirs, 175 dictionaries and encyclopaedias and 177 works by miscellaneous authors including French, Greek and English classics.

Baudin’s expedition, like its precursors, also generated books of its own. Works such as François Péron’s and Louis Freycinet’s Voyage de découvertes aux terres australes (3 vols. and 3 atlases, Paris, 1807—1816) are a precious part of the National Library’s Rex Nan Kivell collection. Later in Australia’s history, many other French men and women visited these shores and recorded their travels. Rose de Freycinet, for example, stowed away on the Uranie, commanded by her husband Louis-Claude Desaules de Freycinet on his scientific expedition of 1817—20, the first major voyage under the Bourbon restoration. Her engaging account was not published in France until 1927; and it was the National Library of Australia which published the first English translation in 1996. This was by the Mauritian-born scholar Serge Rivière — now Professor of French at the University of Limerick.

Perhaps the most intriguing of nineteenth century French writers to visit Australia was Céleste de Chabrillan (née Vénard): the prostitute who became a countess when she married Count Lionel de Moreton de Chabrillan, the new French consul in Melbourne. Her experiences (see my earlier article ‘Precious as Gold’, National Library of Australia News, October 1999) would form the basis for a memoir Un Deuil au bout du monde [A Death at the End of the World] (1877) and the novel Les voleurs d’or [The Gold Robbers] (1857).

Arguably the most important French writer to live and work in Australia was Paul Wenz (1869—1939). Born into a family of wool merchants in Reims and educated in Paris, Wenz settled on a pastoral property between Forbes and Cowra in the 1890s and began writing stories set in Australia and the Pacific. These were later published in the collections A l’autre bout du monde (1905) and Sous la croix du sud (1910). These were followed by the novella Diary of a new chum (1908) his only book in English, and the novels Le pays de leurs pères (1919), Le jardin des coraux (1929) and L’écharde (1931). This remarkable man who was a friend of Miles Franklin and Dorothea Mackellar, but also André Gide (with whom he went to school) and Jack London, lies buried in Forbes, New South Wales, where he died in 1939. His most fitting memorial, thanks to the efforts of Jean-Paul Delamotte’s ‘Editions La Petite Maison’, is the fact that virtually all of his books remain in print in French.

French literature has long had a reputation for questioning established social and political norms. Molière, Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau have a broad international significance. In our democratic aspirations in Australia, we too are their heirs, just as we are the heirs to the ethical sensibilities of Honoré de Balzac, Victor Hugo and Emile Zola. Similarly, Proust, Rimbaud and Baudelaire have inspired us to use words and reveal the inner self in provocative new ways. While philosopher novelists such as Sartre, Camus and de Beauvoir have challenged our view of the individual in broader existential contexts.

Today French language books (including Swiss, Canadian, Belgian, New Caledonian and Mauritian publications), can be found in the National Library in Canberra, in every state and university library and in many municipal libraries in Australia. The Alliance Française, in most capital cities, also maintains commendable French language libraries. Furthermore, Le Courrier Australien remains the oldest non-English language newspaper in this country. Despite the increasing popularity of Asian languages in Australian schools, French is still the first choice for many secondary students and continues to be one of Australia living community languages.

An Officer of the Blue — Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne, South Sea Explorer 1724-1772, by Dr Duyker, Ed, Introduction and Ch. 1

An Officer of the Blue — Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne, South Sea Explorer 1724-1772

by Dr Edward Duyker

Melbourne University Press, 1994

Introduction and Chapter 1

 

INTRODUCTION

On the afternoon of 12 June 1772 a French officer in his late forties wearing a coat of scarlet and blue English velvet landed at Te Hue cove in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands. He was accompanied by a number of his fellow officers, a longboat crew and a black slave. They had landed at Te Hue many times in the previous weeks and had enjoyed good relations with the local Maoris. That afternoon they planned to fish with a seine. They were never to return to their ship. Everyone of them was surprised and killed and their bodies devoured according to Maori rite. The officer’s name was Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne and the wounds to his side and to his head or neck brought to an end one of the most colourful careers in the annals of French maritime history.

I first heard of Marion Dufresne while researching the role of Mauritius (then the Isle de France) as a base for French exploration of Australia. My interest in his life became keener when I learned that he had actually settled on my mother’s native island. In fact the land he acquired in 1769 became part of the sugar estate where my mother spent her early childhood and where my grandfather was mortally wounded by an assassin’s knife. In my preliminary research of his family, I also discovered a number of surprising connections with my own ancestors in Saint Malo, Lorient and Brest. But this biography is not the product of a genealogical adventure; more than anything it was the enigmatic circumstances of Marion’s death and his omission from published Australian history which spurred me to begin more serious scholarship. Marion deserves better than to be ignored by the Australian Dictionary of Biography and the Australian Encyclopaedia. I could be cynical and suggest that had he been English he might have fared better. Yet he is often absent from the pages of French reference works. This is despite the fact that in 1772 he discovered the most westerly islands in the Indian Ocean, was the first explorer after Tasman to visit Tasmania (then Van Diemen’s Land) and was one of the earliest European visitors to New Zealand.

Although Marion will always remain in the shadow of his contemporary, James Cook, both men share striking parallels in their lives. Both were brilliant mariners who proved their skills in merchant shipping before joining tbe Royal Navy of their respective nations. Both were involved in scientific efforts to observe the transit of Venus. Both sought the whereabouts of the South Land and both eliminated its possibility in various latitudes. Finally, both died tragically at the hands of Polynesians.

Greater knowledge of Marion’s life offers numerous insights for Australian and New Zealand historians, but also elucidates aspects of 18th century Anglo-French rivalry and the course of exploration and colonization in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. While Marion’s early success as a privateer, his part in the daring rescue of Bonnie Prince Charlie, his numerous voyages to the East and his entrepreneurial boldness beg biographical description, they also help explain the making of an explorer. As a number of anthropologists and historians have pointed out, explorers themselves are ‘an ethnographic problem’. To understand the early interaction between European visitors and the indigenous peoples of Australia and the Pacific, biography can provide crucial interpretative clues.

Despite the dramatic breadth of Marion’s life, the few scholars who have written about him, or his exploits, have mainly dealt with his final voyage. The first published account of this expedition of 1771-1772 was undertaken by the astronomer and voyager Alexis Marie de Rochon (1741 – 1817) sometimes referred to as the Abbé Rochon although he was never ordained and eventually married. Rochon edited the journal of Julien Crozet (1728-1782), Marion’s second-in-command on the Mascarin. Rochon’s effort appeared in Paris, in 1783, under the title Nouveau voyage a la mer du sud. It is an important source because Crozet’s original ship-board account has disappeared; only a summary has survived in manuscript form. This 18th century text was the only readily accessible account for more than a century and was most certainly known to later French explorers who followed in Marion’s tracks such as d’Entrecasteaux, La Pérouse, Baudin and d’Urville. It also provided the raw material for Alexandre DumasCapitaine Marion and for Jules Verne‘s account of Marion’s demise in Les enfants du capitaine Grant (1868).

Despite the significance of Crozet/Rochon’s book, it was not translated into English until 1891. The translation, Crozet’s Voyage to Tasmania, New Zealand, the Lidrone Islands and the Philippines in the Years 1771-1772, was the work of the remarkable Austrian anthropologist and author Henry Ling Roth (1855-1925). Roth probably came across Rochon’s version of Crozet’s journal while undertaking research for his pioneering book The Aborigines of Tasmania (1890). The historical significance of Crozet’s description of the Tasmanian Aborigines would have been immediately obvious to him. Unfortunately, Roth was responsible for perpetuating a misapprehension of the identity of Crozet’s commander which had already crept into French biographical dictionaries. The explorer Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne was confused with one Nicolas-Thomas Marion five years his junior but also a native of Saint Malo. In his introduction, Roth even cited an extract of Nicolas-Thomas’s baptismal registration provided by a British Vice-Consul. This mistake still appears in many French reference works and library catalogues, despite the fact that it was a French scholar, Janine Lemay, who settled the question of the identity of the explorer in 1948.

Twenty-three years after Henry Ling Roth published Crozet’s Voyage, the second volume of the Historical Records of New Zealand was published under the editorial hand of Robert McNab. Included in this second volume were translations of extracts from the journals of Marion’s subordinates Roux and du Clesmeur. These translations (which only referred to New Zealand) were undertaken by Charles Wilson (1857-1932) of the General Assembly Library. Born in Harrogate Yorkshire, he had become fluent in French while working in the wool trade in Paris and Lille, before emigrating to New Zealand in 1879. Wilson’s and Roth’s translations remained the two major published sources available to English-speaking scholars until 1985 when the Alexander Tumbull Library, Wellington, published Isabel Ollivier‘s skilful transcriptions and translations of extracts from the journals of Crozet, du Clesmeur, Roux and Le Dez, together with Chevillard de Montesson‘s summary (held by the State Library of Tasmania) and observations by the hydrographer d’Aprés de Mannevillette. Once again, these more recent translations emphasized Marion’s visit to New Zealand. It was not until 1992 that the observations on Tasmania of all these officers appeared in translation in one volume under my own editorial hand.

While the journals associated with Marion Dufresne’s final voyage became more accessible as translated extracts, details of the explorer’s life prior to his voyage into southern waters were still fragmentary. In May 1883 one Joseph Marion, a municipal councillor in Lancrans in the Department of Ain, wrote to Paris requesting a copy of Marion Dufresne’ 5 service record. The Lancrans councillor’s motivation was probably to establish a genealogical connection with a celebrated explorer and thereby enhance his local prestige; fortunately for posterity, his request stimulated the Archives Nationales to consolidate many of Marion’s documents in dossiers. They were ultimately employed by the great Breton scholar Henri-Francois Buffet (1907-1974) for his biographical article published in the Memoires de la societé d’histoire et d’archéologie de Bretagne in 1958. I have used Buffet’s seven-page survey like a map for buried treasure. Not only does it contain the fruits of research in the Archives Nationales, it also contains the product of research in the port archives of Lorient, Brest and Saint Malo.

On the other side of the world, in 1951, Leslie Kelly (1906-1959) published a detailed study entitled Marion Dufresne at the Bay of Islands which dealt with the explorer’s sojourn and death in New Zealand. Kelly was a remarkable individual who earned his daily bread as an engine driver but, before his tragic death in a railway accident, wrote a number of pioneering New Zealand historical works. The grandson of Kenehuru, chief of the Ngati Mahutu, his book on Marion Dufresne has the mark of insight drawn from close links to the Maoris. Unfortunately, Kelly had access to the accounts of only three of Marion’s officers translated by Henry Ling Roth and Charles Wilson.

Other contributions to our knowledge of Marion’s life and family have come from Kelly’s compatriot Professor John Dunmore in his French Explorers in the Pacific (1965); the French naval historian Admiral de Brossard in his book Moana ocean cruel (1966); and the Malouin historian Patrick Delon in the Annales de Ia societé d’histoire et d’archéologie de Saint Malo (1972). More recently, Anne Salmond, another New Zealander with deep cultural sensitivity, has undertaken a significant reassessment of the events leading up to Marion’s death in her work Two Worlds: First Meetings Between Maori and Europeans 1642-1772 (1991).

Despite the good fortune of having a number of path-finders, I have been disappointed several times while researching Marion Dufresne’s life. In particular, I was frustrated by my inability to find Marion’s personal account of his final voyage. Although this journal may be lost forever, my feeling is that Julien Crozet appropriated parts of it to enrich his own account. Crozet almost certainly had access to Marion’s journal after his commander’s death and there are passages in his published account which seem drawn from sources other than those of his editor Rochon. I have also been frustrated in my attempts to discover the fate of Marion’s wife, Julie, after she requested permission to join her husband at the Isle de France in May 1771. Finally, I have been disappointed by my inability to uncover any contemporary portrait of the explorer. Had he a sea-weathered Breton face crowned with a shock of red Celtic hair or were his features beguilingly Latin? The only information I could glean from documentary sources is that at the age of 48 years, Marion had hair thick enough for Maori chiefs to plant four feathers on the top of his head! I have had to content myself with the image of the explorer by the celebrated French etcher Charles Meryon (1821-1868). This is a crayon, pencil and chalk sketch depicting Marion’s death according to the dictates of 19th century historical painting. Meryon visited New Zealand in the 1840s with the French navy and executed his sketch in Paris about 1850 probably as a preliminary study for a more substantial work. It was later acquired by the Commonwealth of Australia and presented as a gift to the people of New Zealand by Prime Minister Harold Holt. Despite its romanticism, the ethnographic and botanical accuracy of many aspects of the sketch leads one to wonder whether Meryon’s portrait of Marion with powdered wig, heavy brow, strong straight nose and squarish jaw was also based on accurate but now missing contemporary information. Most probably, the explorer’s face is a product of the artist’s imagination, but the thought that it may have deeper historical origins is tantalizing! The curious, however, will have to forgo the strokes of the artist’s brush for the chapters which follow.

 

Chapter 1  MALOUIN

The explorer Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne was born in Saint Malo, Brittany, the son of a wealthy shipowner and merchant Julien Marion Dufresne (1681-1739) and his wife Marie Seraphique Le Fer de la Lande. Although he was christened ‘Marc-Joseph’ on 22 May 1724 and always signed ‘Marc’ in church documents, he was often referred to as ‘Macé‘, probably in honour of his maternal grandfather: Macé Le Fer sieur de la Lande (1640-l7l0).

Saint Malo is a proud town. A fortress-port, it stands on a granite islet on the right bank of the Rance estuary where the spring tides can be more than thirteen metres. And what the sea does not envelop, the mist that rolls along the Breton coast can swallow in seconds. It is a port which nurtured sailors who could deal with the unexpected and the unknown. By the 13th century the mariners and merchants of Saint Malo had already made a major entrepot of their town. In the 15th century, when Brittany was still an independent Duchy, the Malouins had established trading connections not only along the coast of France from Normandy to the Pays Basque, but also with Spain, Portugal, England, Scotland, Ireland and the Low Countries. It was trade supported and expanded by merchants in the inland towns of Lower Normandy and Upper Brittany-members of whose families came and settled behind Saint Malo’s granite walls.3

In the next two centuries, Saint Malo would establish links with africa and the Americas; and her merchants and shipowners would grow even wealthier. Dubuisson-Aubenay gave us some idea of their prosperity when he painted a sumptuous portrait of the Malouin table in his itineraire de Bretagne (1636). He wrote that ‘the Malouins live splendidly and deliciously; fish is cheap and oysters cost nothing there; and water-fowl is at a very good price. There are French wines which come by the river Seine and the coast of Normandy. Most particularly, they drink the wine of Gascony and Spain, red and white.’4

In 1665, Louis XV’s Chief Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683) observed: ‘Houses and considerable property are today owned by the bourgeoisie of Saint Malo. They have bought them from gentlemen who have been obliged to sell owing to financial difficulty. They even purchase estates in the heart of Brittany and they have money in abundance.’5

Among those whose prosperity was intimately linked to the rise of Saint Malo were the weavers and merchants of Vitré. (The admiralty registers of Saint Malo contain hundreds of letters addressed to Vitré.) In many instances they became Malouin themselves. Not far from Vitré is the village of Saint Jean-sur-Vilaine. On the outskirts of the village are two parcels of land: La Fontaine and Le Fresne. The ‘s’ is silent in ‘Fresne’ (from Latin fraxinus, an ash tree) and thus it appears as La Frene on modern maps. In the late 16th century La Fontaine was the property of one Sebastien Marion. Sebastien and his wife Jeanne Croizé had three sons. Mathurin, who died in 1676, inherited La Fontaine from his father. His brother Gilles became a gentleman-landholder at nearby La Bretoisiere.6 The youngest of the brothers, Jean, established himself a few hundred metres uphill from La Fontaine at Le Fresne. Among the cluster of oaks which spring from the surrounding wheat-fields, there are still a few ancient buildings which date from the time of Jean Marion ‘Sieur’ du Fresne.7 They are dark, airless cottages of split stone with sagging wooden lintels. If any grander structures once stood beside them, they have long since disappeared. There is no folk memory of the Marions at La Frene or La Fontaine.8

But, like the small farm of La Pérouse (near Albi in south-west France) which gave a young sailor named Galaup an expanded and now immortal patronym9, Fresne has been immortalized by its association with a family which, by the early 18th century, had tenuous connections with the land.

Jean Marion married in June 1619. He and his wife Jeanne Collet had two sons that we know of. The eldest, Jean, died in his twenty-eighth year, but André (1633-1693) considerably expanded his family’s fortunes and prestige when, in August 1673, in the chapel of the Recollets Convent, he married a member of the powerful Magon family Then merchant shipowners, in the generations to come the Magons would contribute to France’s list of illustrious admirals and statesmen. Chateaubriand, himself a Malouin, mentioned them in his Mémoires d’outre-tombe. According to several Malouin historians, Hélène Séraphique Magon de la Ville Poulet’s dowry was a fabulous six hundred thousand livres!11

Her father Jean (1619-1699) was a nobleman and a conseiller and secrétaire du roi. It seems likely that André Marion du Fresne was already influential within the mercantile community rooted in the Vitré -Saint Malo nexus when he met his future wife. Like the Marion family, the Magons had had connections with the region around Vitré, having settled there from Spain about 1300 before moving to Saint Malo in the 16th century.

Two years after his marriage to Helene, André Marion du Fresne built a magnificent house in the style of the Malouin shipowners in Saint Malo’s rue Saint Francois. André and Helene had seven children. Two died as infants. Two entered the religious life. Their fourth child, Julien, who inherited the family home, was the explorer’s father.

Julien married in 17T5 and he and his wife Marie-Séraphique had eight children. Marc was the youngest of the brood. He did not know either of his grandfathers or his maternal grandmother. They were all dead before his birth. His paternal grandmother, from the house of Magon de la Ville Poulet, died in the Benedictine convent at Dol when Marc was just nine months old.’0 Her family home, ‘Ville Poulet’ an elegant country house in malouinere style, still stands near Saint Coulomb on the road to Parame’.’4

Although the future explorer may have known the rural tranquillity of ‘Ville Poulet’, he most probably grew up in the Hotel Marion Dufresne among the crowded bustling streets intra muros. The building was destroyed during the Second World War (along with 80 per cent of the old walled city), but it is possible to offer some description of its plan and decoration. A pre-war postcard reveals that the main entrance was a stone-arched doorway with five beautifully carved wooden panels.10

The historian Etienne Dupont, who mistakenly suggested that the Compagnie des Indes, the French East India Company, had its offices in the Hôtel Marion Dufresne, described it in the 1930s as having ‘a wonderful doorway, an exceedingly elegant staircase, and a magnificent hall with superb wood carving’.

From other documents, we know that the house had a ground floor divided into two panelled apartments over cellars and then another three storeys and attic rooms. On entering the main sculptured oak doorway on rue Saint Francois, one faced an impressive staircase with a handrail and balustrade also of carved oak. As one climbed the stairs, each storey was illuminated by a large window overlooking the rue Saint Francois. There was a southern courtyard containing a well and an annex that served as stables opening into the rue des Vieux Remparts. The kitchen also opened on to the interior courtyard and the street.’7 The house’s grand salon contained a monumental chimney. Just over the hearth were the carved arms of the house of Marion: a palm between two hatched crosses. Next to them were the arms of the Magon family: a crowned lion beneath a chevron and two stars. Well above, a bold oaken eagle stood sentinel over a central circular panel. Rich carved wooden friezes of acanthus and oak leaves, and of fruit and flowers, decorated the exposed joists and the panels of both the walls and ceiling. On some panels the artist had woven serpents in has relief. It was restrained baroque splendour which barked from the maritime decorative tradition, but spoke of wealth, power, and the aspiration of a bourgeois family for the prestige of the landed nobility.

Although the Hôtel Marion Dufresne was destroyed in 1944, the historian can write with conviction about the magnificence of its sculptured panels, because they can still be seen. Sometime after 1931, the internal joinery of the ‘grand salon’ was sold to an American buyer who removed it and exhibited it at the New York World Fair. After the Second World War it was purchased by Jansens-the Paris-based antique dealers-and returned to the city of Saint Malo. There the carved oak was installed in the Mayor’s chambers after some changes to the Hotel de Ville’s fenestration. It is ironic that the initial despoilment of the Marion family home was the cause of its partial preservation!

Marc grew up metres from the sea. The gulls can still drown out conversation within the walls. From the ramparts, as a child, he must have scoured the horizons for sight of his father’s ships. Not much is known of Julien’s career at sea, but he seems to have been an exceptional mariner who was highly respected by his peers. According to a fellow Malouin, Bernard de la Harpe, Julien was ‘a sensible intelligent officer, and a man of veracity; consequently not liable to be deceived or capable of deceiving any person. During the War of the Spanish Succession, the Malouin corsairs were spectacularly successful preying on British shipping. More than 600 prizes were taken between 1702 and 1712.

Julien commanded the Marie Magdeleine, a corsair of 230 tons, 26 cannons and a crew of 170.20 In the latter part of the conflict, however, France’s opponents increased patrolling of the Channel and the losses experienced by the shipowners of Saint Malo became unacceptable. Despite daring raids such as that led by Duguay-Trouin, which held Rio de Janeiro to ransom in 1711, the Malouin shipowners looked elsewhere for profit. They took the bold decision to establish a direct maritime trade with Spain’s colonies on the Pacific coast of South America. The French, like the English and the Dutch, had traded in Spanish contraband from their bases in the Caribbean since the mid-17th century. Spain attempted to maintain her trading monopoly, but it became increasingly difficult to exclude the French when a grandson of Louis XV acceded to the Spanish throne.

One of the brave Malouin sailors who pioneered this highly lucrative South Sea trade was Julien Marion Dufresne. On 5 September 1711 he departed Saint Malo in the 350 ton Marquis de Vibray which was owned by Francois Le Fer sieur de Beauvais. (Le Fer was a relative of Julien’s future wife and also one of the shipowners who equipped Duguay-Trouin’s bold raid on Rio.) It was a forty thousand kilometres voyage full of perils via furious Cape Horn. But the long dangerous haul to the Peruvian port of Callao, and back, brought rich rewards. (Between 1703 and 1718 almost two hundred million livres of silver made its way to France on ships like the Marquis de Vibray.) It took Julien twenty-seven months to sail to Peru. He remained there over five months and set sail for France on 15 May 1714-returning to Saint Malo via Valparaiso and Conception on 10 June 1715.

Julien married five weeks after his return. It seems likely that his great adventure inspired all but one of his surviving sons to make a career of the sea. In the three years prior to Marc’s birth, Julien commanded the Notre Dame du Rosaire and then the Phenix (in which he sailed to Cadiz). The first of his father’s ships that Marc would come to know was the Fran~ise. She was small-between 130 and 150 tons -and, unlike the corsairs which required large numbers of men to board and overcome enemy prizes, she had a crew of only 38 men. Of these, eleven would die in the course of a sinister voyage which took the Fran~ise to the coast of west Africa to buy 348 slaves and then across the Atlantic to Martinique to sell them to labour hungry planters. From the Caribbean she returned, no doubt laden with sugar and rum, via Nantes to Saint Malo on 25 April 1731. It took only 15 months for Julien to reap yet another rich reward. He had not sailed with the Eranise for he was now wealthy enough to employ others to command his vessels.25 Julien purchased another ship in 1730, the 350 ton Sage; but she does not appear to have been engaged in the slave trade.26

As early as 1716 the French Crown had issued letters patent which gave official sanction to the slave trade. The King even enacted special slave taxes. Some who suffered pangs of conscience about this horrendous trade, rationalized their guilt away with the perverse logic that the majority of the slaves embarked for America were already condemned to death or slavery as prisoners of war in local African conflicts and would face a far worse fate without their ‘humane’ intervention!27 They seemed oblivious to their promotion of such local conflicts. It is hard to judge the moral impact of the voyage of the francoise on an impressionable child of Marc’s age. He was later employed by men who, like his father, grew wealthy on the trade; after settling in Mauritius, he himself became a slave-owner and sought to expand this appalling trade in the Indian Ocean.

Not much is known about the manner in which Marc was educated. Saint Malo had a high literacy rate by the end of the 17th century. The numerous religious orders established in the town assumed a significant responsibility for educating the poor.28 Marc, however, was probably educated by a private tutor. In a city of families of absent sailors, women had a strong matriarchal role. But Marc’s early childhood, more than that of any of his siblings, coincided with his father’s retirement from an active life at sea. One wonders whether Julien assumed a personal role in the education of his two youngest sons, perhaps giving them lessons in navigation and mathematics. Marc was to demonstrate his practical competence as a navigator at an early age. From his letters and journals we know he was literate – though much of his writing is marred by grammatical and spelling errors.

Aside from the influence of the sea, what is perhaps most obvious when one looks at the Marion household, is the strong influence of religion. His eldest brother Nicolas (1717-1795) entered the priesthood and became Canon of Saint Malo in 1745, 29 then, like his illustrious uncle Jean-André, he rose to become Canon of the Bishopric of Dol in 1765.30 He also served as a deputy to the Provincial Assembly in Tours. And Marc’s sister Marie-Séraphique (1721-1791) entered the Ursuline order whose convent once stood close to the centre of the old town.

 

The family of Marion Dufresne, therefore, belonged to a unique class of bourgeois merchants and shipowners: pillars of the Church and State, but at the same time competitors with the nobility for important ecclesiastical and secular rank and privilege. And ultimately they were aspirants for acceptance within the aristocracy through ‘ennoblement’. Unlike several of his Magon cousins, this formal recognition by the King was something Marc never attained-although he was made a Chevalier of the Order of Saint Louis. In 1893 the historian Frain de la Gaulayrie (whose wife was a Marion descendant), wrote of the social mobility of the Malouin and Vitréen ‘sellers of cloth and sheets’, and observed that they were ennobled by their ‘charges or the will of Princes and by their alliances’ but ‘above all by the dignity of their life, the boldness of their enterprise [and the generous employment of their fortunes’.31 It is commonly assumed that the nobility and the clergy were the only privileged groups in France under the Ancien Régime, but privilege took many shapes and forms. While merchant shipowners such as the Marion Dufresnes chafed under feudal restrictions, they themselves enlisted the support of the Crown to establish their own prerogatives. As they expanded their trade abroad, they were able to enjoy a standard of living which far outshone that of the petty nobility-members of which were often unable to afford a carriage or simple lodgings should they venture beyond their estates.32

Despite the fortunate circumstances of his birth, Marc, like his cleric brother Nicolas, would betray both a potent ambition and concomitant insecurity and desire for acceptance. As we shall see, he was a man capable of bold individual action, yet one who constantly sought approval for his actions-especially when they were outside the confines of the merchant-bourgeois world of the the Compagnie des Indes. It was these ‘extra-mercantile’ adventures which were his greatest achievements and gave his life historical significance.

In February 1734 Marc’s brother Francois died on board the Amphitrite as an honorary enseigne in the service of the Compagnie des Indes which held the monopoly on French trade with the East. He was only fifteen years old. 33 Undeterred by the misfortune of his brother, the following year Marc went to sea in another of the Company’s ships with the same honorary rank. He was only eleven. It was the beginning of a brilliant career.

Marion Dufresne and the First French Visit to Van Diemen’s Land, by Dr Duyker, Ed

Marion Dufresne and the First French Visit to Van Diemen’s Land

by

Dr Edward Duyker

Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies

Tasmanian Bicentennial Conference

Saturday, 20 September 2003

Hobart, Tasmania

 

Few Australians are aware that on 6 March 1772 two French ships, the Mascarin and the Marquis de Castries, anchored off Cape Frederick Hendrick on the east coast of Van Diemen’s Land in search of fresh water and timber for repairs. The commander of the expedition was Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne, one of the most colourful mariners in French history.  Who was he and how did he come to reach Van Diemen’s Land even before the British?  Furthermore, what is the significance of his visit?

 

Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne was born in Saint-Malo, in Brittany, in 1724, the son of a wealthy ship-owner and merchant.  (Although his home was destroyed during the bombardment of 1944, the magnificent baroque joinery of its ‘grand salon’ has survived because sometime after 1931, it was sold to an American buyer who removed it and exhibited it at the New York World Fair.  After the war it was returned to Saint-Malo and installed in the mayor’s chambers in the Hôtel de Ville.)  Marion first went to sea at the age of eleven on a voyage which took Mahé de Labourdonais to the Isle de France (present day Mauritius) as governor. His early career was spent as a daring privateer in vessels such as the Du Teillay, owned by the emigré Irish Jacobite Antoine Walsh.  He also had the distinction of commanding the Prince de Conty, one of the two French vessels which rescued ‘Bonnie’ Prince Charlie from Scotland after the disaster of Culloden.  Later he served as an officier bleu in the French Royal Navy and as an East India Company skipper.  After taking the astronomer Alexandre-Gui Pingré to the Indian Ocean to observe the transit of Venus in 1761 and organizing an important expedition to the Seychelles — which discovered the source of the fabled coco-de-mer (Lodoicea maldivica) and brought back a tortoise which lived until 1917!—he settled on the Isle de France as a trader and planter.  In 1770, the Polynesian Ahu-turu (who had journeyed to France with Louis-Antoine de Bougainville), arrived at the Isle de France with orders that an eastern passage to his native Tahiti should be organized for him.  Marion seized this opportunity to propose a journey to Tahiti, which could convey Ahu-turu home, but also enable exploration of southern waters on the way.[i]

In recent years there have been a number of explanations of Marion’s motives.  John Dunmore, has argued that Marion was ‘looking forward to visiting the earthly paradise, the example of Rousseauist society which Commerson was daily extolling’.[ii]  I believe this is too romantic an interpretation.  Although Marion met Philibert Commerson on at least one occasion, it should be remembered that Marion was actively engaged in the slave trade and even brought slaves with him on his expedition.  Such a man is unlikely to have been a disciple of Rousseau.

Several scholars, including John Dunmore,[iii] Leslie Marchant[iv] and Anne Salmond[v] have also suggested that Marion was in search of Binot Paulmier de Gonneville‘s lost continent.[vi] Presumably this is founded on Julien Crozet‘s (1728—1782) comment that, in the light of Bouvet de Lozier’s discoveries in the southern Indian Ocean, Marion Dufresne needed to search for Gonneville’s lands ‘to the east of the meridian, which passes through Madagascar’.[vii]  While Marion may have believed that Gonneville’s lost continent was identifiable with Terra Australis (rather than New Holland), he certainly did not indicate this in any of his letters or submissions.  Nevertheless he did propose ‘exploring the southern lands from 45 to 55 degrees latitude south’.[viii]  This statement in itself is evidence of his belief in a Southern Continent in the region his friend d’Après de Mannevillette[ix] believed one was located. Since the days of Aristotle, Europeans had held mythical notions of symmetry in Creation — that a great continent had to exist in the southern hemisphere to counterbalance the continents of the northern hemisphere.[x]  As one of Marion’s officers, Lieutenant Le Dez, remarked, the existence of a third continent ‘appears sufficiently demonstrated by the very form of the globe, which obliges us to attribute to this [other] hemisphere almost the same configuration, the same quantity and quality of matter as ours.’[xi]

Marion Dufresne also declared his desire to ‘continue to New Zealand’ after repatriating his Tahitian charge and ‘exploring the whole archipelago, going as far as Saint Esprit,[xii] located on the East of New Holland, which promises the greatest advantages least distant from the Isle de France.’[xiii]  Rather than pursue the vague and perhaps imaginary claims of Gonneville, this suggests a desire to follow up the known discoveries of Bouvet de Lozier in the Indian Ocean, and those of Quirós, Tasman, Roggeveen and Bougainville in the Pacific. There is ample evidence that Marion also intended to retrace the route of Luis Vaez de Torres, through the strait which now bears Torres’s name.  Torres’s long forgotten report had come to light only after the British occupied Manila in 1762, and Alexander Dalrymple[xiv] incorporated details in his book An Account of the Discoveries made in the The South Pacifick Ocean, previous to 1764, printed in London in 1767.[xv] Marion must have read this book or been aware of its contents through his friend d’Après de Mannevillette, who regularly exchanged information with Dalrymple.  The implication that New Guinea and New Holland were not one landmass is obvious in Bougainville‘s sailing directions to Marion for his return voyage from Tahiti.  On 27 August 1771, Pierre Poivre, Commissaire-général of the Isle de France, reported to the new Navy Minister Pierre-Etienne Bourgeois, marquis de Boynes: ‘The return trip must be done to sight the lands of Carpentaria and the island of Saint Esprit and find the island of Timor.’[xvi]  This must surely have meant that Marion was to pass through Torres Strait and enter the Gulf of Carpentaria.  (It should also be remembered that in mid-1768 Bougainville had already proved that Espíritu Santo and New Holland were not connected when he sailed into the Coral Sea and reached the fringes of the Barrier Reef.)  As Alexis Rochon put it: ‘The discoveries of Bougainville in the South Sea opened a vast field to Marion’s research’.[xvii]  Marion, therefore, must have felt he had an historic opportunity — to survey the eastern coast of Cape York (known by the French as ‘Carpentaire’) to the continent’s most northerly point and pass through the strait which Willem Jansz thought he had seen in 1606, which had eluded Jan Carstensz in 1623, Gerrit Pool and Pieter Pietersz in 1636 and Tasman in 1644.[xviii]  Ironically, by the time Marion had penned his proposal, James Cook, sailing west from Tahiti, had already determined the eastern limits of New Holland, affirmed the existence of Torres Strait and disproved Dalrymple’s suggested location of a South Land (beyond New Holland) in the Pacific. In planning his voyage, Marion probably also made use of A. F. Prévost d’ExilesHistoire général des voyages (Paris, 1753), which contained a summary of Tasman‘s journal, and a book by his old shipmate, the Abbé Pingré, which carefully reviewed the history of exploration in the search for the best station to observe the 1769 transit of Venus.

Geographical discovery, however, was not the only motivation for a passage through Torres Strait to Timor.  Pierre Poivre, commissaire-général of the Isle de France, had already dispatched a number of expeditions to the East Indies in the hope of securing clove and nutmeg plants.  Although he achieved a measure of success when Simon Provost returned to the Isle de France with seedlings from the island of Geby in June 1770,[xix] they did not fare well.  To ensure the success of his nursery, Poivre was determined that Provost should secure additional stocks of seeds and seedlings.[xx]  Since Marion departed before Poivre had any idea of the success of Provost’s renewed efforts in the Moluccas, his expedition should in some respects be seen as a back-up.  In his book Voyages aux Indes orientales, Alexis Rochon, who was then at the Isle de France, states quite explicitly that Marion received secret orders to search for and procure nutmeg and clove seedlings in New Guinea and ‘adjacent islands’.[xxi]  Poivre also held out hope that Tahiti might prove a source of spices.[xxii]

In addition to the support of Poivre and Governor Desroches of the Isle de France, Marion was fortunate to have the support of his cousin, the former Governor René Magon.  On 22 February 1771, Magon had co-signed Marion’s formal proposal, having become his local partner in the venture.[xxiii] Magon retained a strong interest in naval matters and it should also be remembered that his uncle, the celebrated mathematician and astronomer Pierre-Louis de Maupertuis (1698—1759), had specifically urged further exploration of southern waters. [xxiv]  In the joint proposal Magon signed with Marion, there is an astute understanding that the climate of the possible southern lands from 30 to 45 degrees south did ‘not appear promising’. Nevertheless, to a nation still smarting from the loss of Canada, Marion and Magon held out the tantalizing proposition that in these regions ‘fishing may be as plentiful as on the Banks of Newfoundland’.[xxv]

To finance his voyage, Marion Dufresne sold a number of parcels of land and mortgaged all his remaining property at the Isle de France.  He purchased one of the vessels for the voyage himself: the Marquis de Castries, originally named Bruny.  Although the Crown gave him the use of the 450 ton flûte Mascarin for three years, he was expected to reimburse all the wages and provisions of the crew and the expedition’s cargo of trade goods.  With insufficient assets to cover the costs of the entire expedition, on 10 October 1771, his cousin René Magon appended his guarantee to the agreement Marion Dufresne had already signed with the colony’s administrators four months before.[xxvi]  Magon generous support would ultimately lead to bankruptcy.

Placed in command of the Marquis de Castries was a young aristocrat named Ambroise Bernard Le Jar du Clesmeur, not yet twenty years of age.  This was an extraordinary command since Du Cleumeur was a mere garde de la marine, a rank which approximated that of a British naval cadet and midshipman combined.[xxvii]  But Du Clesmeur was Desroches’ nephew and the Governor regarded him as ‘a lad of the greatest promise for the Service’.[xxviii]  It seems likely that in return for the Governor’s enthusiastic support, Marion may have had to accept du Clesmeur’s appointment. Such was the nature of aristocratic privilege and the pervasive nepotism of the time. In fairness, it should be stated that du Clesmeur had a firm supporter in the Tasmanian scholar Alfred Mault (1829—1909) who praised the accuracy of his charts and believed him to be the victim of Crozet‘s jealousy.[xxix]  Effective command of the Marquis de Castries, however, was probably in the hands of Jean Josselin Le Corre (1727—85), an experienced East India Company officer and veteran of Bougainville’s circumnavigation.[xxx]  (Le Corre has another connection with Tasmania.  His son Alexandre Le Corre (1766—1802) would lead the first Mauritian trading expedition to Australia; he and five of his crew members perished when their ship, the Entreprise, was wrecked off the Three Sisters in Bass Strait on 15 October 1802.)[xxxi]

The expedition left the Isle de France on 18 October 1771.  Initially Marion intended to obtain further provisions at the island of Bourbon (now La Réunion), but when smallpox broke out on board he was forced to make for Port Dauphin on the coast of Madagascar.  There Ahu-turu died.  Undeterred, Marion sailed on to the Cape of Good Hope for provisions before sailing south then east. On 13 January 1772, the expedition sighted islands which are now known by the name James Cook gave them: the Prince Edward group.  (Julien Crozet met James Cook at the Cape of Good Hope in 1775 and in generous recognition of the fact that he had been pre-empted, Cook renamed the largest of the Prince Edward Group in Marion Dufresne’s honour.) The following day the two vessels collided; one man was killed and the Marquis de Castries, under the command of the inexperienced Le Jar Du Clesmeur was left with a splintered bowsprit and no foremast.  Despite the damage, the two ships maintained their easterly course and on 21 January the Crozet Islands were discovered.  In need of fresh water and timber to remast the Marquis de Castries, Marion decided to set a course for Van Diemen’s Land. On March 3, 1772, the sailors of the Mascarin and the Castries first caught sight of the Tasmanian coast and anchored off Cape Frederick Hendrick on 6 March — in the waters embraced by Frederick Henry Bay (now Marion Bay) and North Bay.

Marion Dufresne and his men landed from a longboat and yawl on 7 March 1772 and were the first Europeans to meet the Tasmanian Aborigines. (It will be remembered that Tasman had not met the locals when he visited [in 1642].)  At first relations between the French and the indigenous Tasmanians were cordial, but fear, misunderstanding and violence soon followed.  Regretably there were Aboriginal casualties.  What is striking about these first European descriptions of the Tasmanians is the African and Malagasy analogies employed in the journals of the officers — obviously a result of their colonial experiences. Le Dez, who was one of the more learned of the officers, and Du Clesmeur, were the only observers on the expedition to make the more accurate comparison between the Tasmanians and the Aborigines of New Holland.[xxxii]

Le Dez’s cautious testimony contains a valuable primary-contact description which may yet offer new insights to ethnographers and historians.

I think they are seafood eaters because we found many places in the woods where they had stopped.  One notices easily the place where they had slept around a mound of ash and one sees, nearby, fishbones (my italics) and many burnt shells.[xxxiii]

This latter observation is particularly interesting because a number of archaeologists have argued that the Tasmanian Aborigines stopped eating fish about four thousand years ago.[xxxiv] The testimony of later French visitors to Van Diemen’s Land is inconclusive.  In 1793, during his second sojourn on the island, Bruny d’Entrecasteaux, observed that the Tasmanian Aborigines ‘seem to feed only on shell-fish . . . No fish bones, or fishing or hunting material have been found.’[xxxv] Yet his naturalist, Jacques-Julien Houtou de Labillardière, noted that the indigenous inhabitants ‘acquainted us that they lived upon fish’.  When he first sighted the Aborigines near Southport Lagoon, Labillardière wrote that most ‘appeared to be fishing on the borders of the lake’.[xxxvi]

The large middens of shell and ash are still visible in the vicinity of Marion Dufresne’s landing place, particularly on the Spit which marks the northern entrance to the Marion Narrows and the entrance to Blackman Bay.  But as Brian Plomley has observed, ‘the remains of very few species of vertebrate fish are likely to have been preserved in midden deposits, their skeletons being either cartilaginous, as in the Elasmobranch fishes, or their bones delicate and easily destroyed, as in most bony fishes Pisces’.[xxxvii]  Le Dez’s record reinforces the view that at least some fish may have been eaten by the Tasmanian Aborigines.

It would seem that the individuals Marion and his men encountered at North Bay were probably members of what has been conveniently called the Oyster Bay tribe. According to historian Lyndall Ryan, the ten ‘bands’ of this tribe (the largest in Tasmania) totaled a mere 700 to 800 individuals. [xxxviii] Although historians must be cautious in extrapolating population figures from accounts of brief landfalls, there may be grounds for at least doubling the hitherto presumed size of the Oyster Bay tribe. Marion’s officer, Jean Roux, for example, asserted that he saw some three hundred Aborigines during his visit.  If this was just one band, our notions of the population of the whole island and their seasonal migrations at the time of European contact deserve reassessment.[xxxix]

The references to widespread Aboriginal burning in all the officers’ accounts lend support to the ideas of a number of scholars of fire and the Tasmanian biota — particularly those who have studied the preservation of sclerophyll forests, the creation of highland ‘button-grass plains’ and Aboriginal symbiosis with the grasslands.[xl] Although Le Dez gives the impression that the burning he saw was essentially indiscriminate, the journals of Du Clesmeur, Crozet and Chevillard de Montesson suggest that the Aboriginal fires in the south-east were in fact selective and that the Oyster Bay pine (Callitris rhomboidea) may have been protected by them.[xli] While it may have been one of the most common trees in the North/Marion Bay area in 1772, eucalypts now dominate the area and the Oyster Bay pine only exists in isolated stands.  Although it is a fire-sensitive species, the vulnerability of these stands is reduced because leaf litter is densely packed and not well aerated.[xlii] Thus, while particular Aboriginal use of Callitris rhomboidea remains uncertain, the records of Marion’s expedition undoubtedly suggest major ecological change in south-eastern Tasmania over the past two centuries.  It is also possible that Crozet, Roux, Le Dez and Chevillard de Montesson were the first Europeans to see the thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) of Tasmanian tiger: all reported sighting a ‘tiger’ or ‘tiger cat’ during their visit, while du Clesmeur mentioned quadrupeds which resembled dogs.

On 9 March 1772, Marion and his men were the first Europeans to land on nearby Maria Island.  The expedition accounts, however, contain a number of interesting, though fragmentary, observations on the material culture of the Aborigines.  Nevertheless, given the rapid disintegration of traditional Tasmanian Aboriginal culture in the first few decades of the 19th century and the lack of systematic ethnographic observation during the years of British rule, the accounts of Marion’s officers (some of which have only recently become known)[xliii] provide an important source of information for scholars.[xliv]

Not having a professional naturalist with them, Marion and his merchant seamen did not record any detailed natural history observations.  Just as they searched for comfortable ethnological analogies, so too the ‘pines’ and other flora and fauna they encountered were described with familiar names. Later French voyages to the region, however, would make far more impressive contributions to Tasmanian botany and zoology.[xlv] For example, during d’Entrecasteaux’s two sojourns in Van Diemen’s Land his naturalist, Labillardière laid the foundations for his magnificent Novae Hollandiae plantarum specimen (1804—06) — justly recognized as the ‘first general flora of Australia’.[xlvi]

So what happened to Marion Dufresne?  He decided to set sail for New Zealand on 10 March. He might have discovered Bass Strait on the way, had he not been frustrated by northerly winds.  Three months later, on 12 June 1772, his life came to a tragic end at Te Hue cove in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands: after unwittingly breaching Maori etiquette and taboos (with regard to the treatment of chiefs, the cutting of timber and the places where he fished), Marion and two of his longboat crews were massacred and eaten.  Regrettably, his personal account of his voyage has not survived, although significant sections may have found their way into Julien Crozet’s book Nouveau voyage à la mer du sud.

Twelve days after Marion Dufresne’s landing in Van Diemens’ Land [7.3.1772], Alleno de Saint-Allouarn (who had become separated from Kerguelen’s rival expedition in search of the South Land) made his first landing in Western Australia [19.3.1772].  These two French voyages would ultimately be followed by the more sophisticated expeditions of La Pérouse (1785-88) and Bruny d’Entrecasteaux (1791—93) which bore professional hydrographers, astronomers and naturalists to Australia’s shores. Indeed all these voyages should be seen in the context of a continuity of French scientific endeavours and sustained interest in the Great Southland.  Before the close of the eighteenth century, French explorers would make profound contributions to the foundations of the natural, physical and social sciences in Australia.  France would renew her interest in Van Diemen’s Land with Nicolas Baudin’s expedition of (1801—3)[xlvii] and the trading voyages of Alexandre Le Corre (1802) and Louis Coutance (1804)[xlviii] from the Ile-de-France.  This renewed attention, and perhaps even the publication of Labillardière’s Relation in 1800, with his comments on the broader commercial and strategic significance of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel,[xlix] convinced the British that the French had colonial ambitions in the region.  As a pre-emptive measure, a brutal penal colony was established on the island with dire consequences for the indigenous inhabitants.


Notes

[i] In addition to a number of new studies and sources, this paper is largely based on my biography of the explorer; see: E. Duyker, An Officer of the Blue: Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne 1724-1772, South Sea Explorer, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1994.  It is hoped that a French language edition will appear in the not too distant future.

[ii] Prof. Dunmore has further asserted: ‘We cannot doubt that Marion du Fresne knew something of the ideas of Rousseau, that Commerson extolled Tahiti to him, home of the Noble Savage’; see J. Dunmore, ‘L’imaginaire et le réel: Le mythe du Bon Sauvage de Bougainville à Marion du Fresne’, in Mollat, M. et Taillemite, E. (eds), L’importance de l’exploration maritime au siècle des lumières (a propos du voyage de Bougainville), Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, 1982, pp. 161—68.

[iii] J. Dunmore, French Explorers in the Pacific, Oxford University Press, 1965, vol 1, p. 167.

[iv] L. Marchant, France Australe, Artlook, Perth, 1982, p. 47.

[v] A. Salmond, Two Worlds: First Meetings Between Maori and Europeans 1642—1772, Viking, Auckland, 1991. p. 363.

[vi] Binot Paulmier de Gonneville is said to have sailed to the southern hemisphere between 1503—06, but scholars are divided as to whether his voyage was imaginary[vi] or whether he landed in South America, Madagascar or even Australia. For a recent survey see M. Sankey, ‘L’Abbé Paulmier méconnu: le mythe et l’histoire des Terres australes en France aux dix-septième et dix huitième siècles’, Australian Journal of French Studies, vol. xxxviii, no. 1, 2001, pp. 54—68.

[vii] J. Crozet, Nouveau voyage à la mer du sud (edited by A. Rochon), Barrois, Paris, 1783, p. 7. For an English translation see: H. L. Roth (trans.), Crozet’s Voyage to Tasmania, New Zealand, the Ladrone Islands, and the Philippines in the Years 1771—1772, Truslove & Shirley, London, 1891, pp. 8-9.  Crozet is probably referring to 45° east of the Paris Meridian i.e. 47° 20′ east of Greenwich.

[viii] Archives Nationales, Marine B4 317, pièce 17.

[ix] For an account of Marion Dufresne’s voyage to China with d’Après de Mannevillette, see E. Duyker, A French Trading Expedition to the Orient: The Voyage of the Montaran 1753-1756, Stockholm University Center for Pacific Asia Studies Working Paper, No.30, August 1992, pp. 20.

[x] E. van den Boogaart, ‘The Mythical Symmetry in God’s Creation: The Dutch and the Southern Continent, 1569—1756’, in Eisler, W. & Smith, B. Terra Australis: The Furthest Shore, Art Gallery of New South Wales/International Cultural Corporation of Australia, Sydney, 1988, pp. 43—49.

[xi] Le Dez, ‘Extrait d’un nouveau voyage en australazie en 1772’, Archives Nationales, Archives Privées, Fond Bougainville 155 AP 3, pièce 4.

[xii] The island of Espíritu Santo, Vanuatu (formerly the New Hebrides) discovered by Quirós.

[xiii] Archives Nationales, Marine B4 317, pièce 17.

[xiv] See E. Duyker, ‘Propagandist, Pamphleteer & Cartographer: The Alexander Dalrymple Holdings’, National Library of Australia News, vol. VIII, No. 4, January 1998, pp. 7—9.

[xv] Marion may have read this book or been aware of its contents through his friend d’Après de Mannevillette, who regularly exchanged information with Dalrymple.

[xvi] Archives Nationales, Marine C7 197, pièce 38.

[xvii] A. Rochon, Voyages aux Indes orientales et en Afrique pour l’observation des longitudes en mer avec une dissertation, nouvelle edition, L’Huillier, Paris, 1807, p. 316.

[xviii] See J. P. Sigmond, & L. H. Zuiderbaan, Dutch Discoveries of Australia: Shipwrecks, Treasures and Early Voyages off the West Coast, Rigby, Adelaide, 1979, pp. 22, 46, 71, 81—2; E. Duyker, The Dutch in Australia, AE Press, Melbourne, 1987, p. 18, 21.

[xix] Marion Dufresne attended the celebratory reception in honour of Provost and (with Commerson) was one of the certifiers of the plants he brought back.

[xx] M. Ly-Tio-Fane, The Triumph of Jean Nicolas Céré and his Isle Bourbon Collaborators, Mouton & Co., Paris, 1970, pp. 26—8.

[xxi] A. Rochon, Voyages aux Indes orientales, op. cit., p. 319.

[xxii] Archives Nationales, Marine C7 197, pièce 38.

[xxiii] Archives Nationales, Marine B4 317, pièce 16.

[xxiv] ‘. . . dans l’hémisphère méridonal il y a un espace inconnu, où pourrait être placée une nouvelle partie du monde, plus grande qu’aucune autre’, cited from Maupertuis, Lettre sur le progrès des sciences, ch. 7, by R. Lacour-Gayet, Histoire de L’Australie, Fayard, Paris, 1973, p. 69.

[xxv] Archives Nationales, Marine B4 317, pièce 16.

[xxvi] ‘Agreement with M. Marion Dufresne, Capitaine de Brulôt, relating to the assignment for which the King has given the flûte Mascarin, for the voyage to Cythere ordered by the Court’, Archives Nationales, Marine B4 317, pièce 20.

[xxvii] For a biographical summary, see E. Duyker, ‘Du Clesmeur, Ambroise Bernard Le Jar (1751-c.1810)’, Dictionnaire de Biographie Mauricienne, no. 47, janvier 1992, pp. 1447-1448.

[xxviii]  Desroches to the Minister of Marine, April 27 1771, Archives Nationales, Marine C4 28, cited in Kelly, L. G. Marion Dufresne at the Bay of Islands, A. H. & A. W. Reed, Wellington, 1951, p. 18.

[xxix] See A. Mault, ‘Notes on charts of the coast of Tasmania, Obtained from the Hydrographical Department, Paris, and copied by permission of the French Government’, Royal Society of Tasmania, Papers and Proceedings, vol. 12, 1889, pp. 107—20.

[xxx] Jean Josselin Le Corre (1727—1785) accompanied Bougainville as an officier bleu on the Boudeuse and so impressed his commander that he was nominated for the rank of capitaine de flûte.  The Intendant of Brest, however, had recommended against the appointment on the grounds of insufficient naval experience.  The unfortunate Le Corre had served on four naval vessels and had been a prisoner of war in 1758.  He had also made eleven voyages in merchant vessels, but the Intendant felt that ‘the pecuniary advantages of this type of shipping was compensation for the preference received by those who are only employed in the service of the King’. See J. Aman, Les officiers bleus dans la marine Française au XVIIIe siècle, pp. 36—7, 83, 104, 109, 188.  Le Corre’s wife, Augustine Duclos-Guyot, appears to have been related to Bougainville’s second-in-command, Nicolas-Pierre Duclos-Guyot (1722—1794).  Although Le Corre was born in Pléhérel (near Cape Frehel), his son Alexandre was born in Saint Malo and this explains the reference to that port as his home in the muster roll of the Marquis de Castries.  See E. Duyker, ‘Le Corre, Josselin (1727-1785)’, Dictionnaire de Biographie Mauricienne, no. 48, janvier 1993,  pp. 1490—91.

[xxxi]  See E. Duyker, Of the Star and the Key: Mauritius, Mauritians and Australia, Australian Mauritian Research Group, Sylvania, 1988, pp. 12—13.

[xxxii] Le Dez, in E. Duyker (ed.), Discovery of Tasmania, op. cit., pp. 33—5.

[xxxiii] Ibid.

[xxxiv] See R. Jones, ‘Fire-Stick Farming’, Australian Natural History, vol. 16,  1969, pp. 224—8; H. Allen, ‘Left Out in the Cold: Why the Tasmanians Stopped Eating Fish’, The Artefact, Vol. 4, 1979, pp. 1—10.

[xxxv] E. Duyker and M. Duyker (eds. and trans.), Bruny d’Entrecasteaux: Voyage to Australia and the Pacific, Miegunyah/Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2001, p. 34.

[xxxvi] Labillardière, Relation du voyage à la recherche de La Pérouse fait par ordre de l’assemblée constituante, pendant les années 1791, 1792, et pendant la 1ère. et la 2e. année de la République Françoise, H. J. Jansen, Paris, An VIII [1800], tome ii, p. 28 (Stockdale trans., p. 295).

[xxxvii] N. J. B. Plomley, The Baudin Expedition and the Tasmanian Aborigines 1802, Blubber Head Press, Hobart, 1983, p. 205.

[xxxviii] Ryan, The Aboriginal Tasmanians, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1981, pp. 16-19.

[xxxix] Unfortunately, the seasonal migrations Ryan alludes to, do not sit comfortably with the facts of Marion Dufresne’s visit late in the southern summer.  Had the Aborigines just arrived to commence their winter regime of shellfish, or had they been living off other game by the large, but unusually dry, lagoon behind the sand dunes of North Bay?  Perhaps, like the Aborigines on the west coast of the island, the Pydairrerme may have had no need to wander very far from the coast at all.  The author has visited Swan Lagoon in May and found it teeming with swans, ducks and other water birds; see: Ryan, op. cit., pp. 16—19.

[xl] See J. M. Gilbert, ‘Forest Succession in the Florentine Valley, Tasmania’, Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania, vol. 93, 1951, pp. 129—51; R. Jones, ‘The Geographical Background to the Arrival of Man in Australia and Tasmania’, Archaeology and Physical Anthropology in Oceania, vol. 3, 1968, pp. 186—215.

[xli] See Chevillard de Montesson, Du Clesmeur and Crozet, in E. Duyker (ed.), Discovery of Tasmania, op. cit., pp. 47, 22, 26.

[xlii] Personal communication with botanist Dr Stephen Harris, Department of Lands, Parks and Wildlife, Hobart, Tasmania, 12 October 1990.

[xliii] Chevillard’s summary had been part of the estate of the New Zealand bibliophile Dr Charles Fox and was acquired by the State Library of Tasmania in 1973.  And Le Dez’s journal was discovered only in the late 1970s by the New Zealand scholar, Isabel Ollivier, among the papers of the Bougainville family archives (held as a private collection by the Archives Nationales in Paris). As recently as July 1988, in a paper entitled ‘The French and the Tasmanian Aborigines’, presented at a symposium at the University of New South Wales, Plomley made no mention of the accounts of Le Dez or Chevillard de Montesson.

[xliv] Marion’s officers recorded a meagre handful of Tasmanian words (and no meanings for them). William Anderson–surgeon on Cook’s second and third voyages–listed just nine Tasmanian Aboriginal words during his visit in January 1777. However, Jacques-Julien Houtou de Labillardière, naturalist on d’Entrecasteaux’s expedition, recorded eighty-four Tasmanian Aboriginal words in his ‘Vocabulaire de la langue des sauvages du Cap de Diemen’ which appeared as an appendix to his Relation.  Since none of the few Aborigines who became literate in English recorded anything of their language and few English speakers gained any significant grasp of the Tasmanian language, this vocabulary is a precious linguistic vestige.

[xlv] See, for example, J. H. Maiden, ‘Records of the Earlier French Botanists as regards Australian Plants’, Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, vol. 44, 1910, pp. 123—54..

[xlvi] See E. Duyker, Citizen Labillardière: A Naturalist’s Life in Revolution and Exploration, 1755-1834, Melbourne University Press/Miegunyah, Melbourne, 2003.

[xlvii] See F. Horner, The French Reconnaissance: Baudin in Australia 1801—1803, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1987.

[xlviii] See E. Duyker, Of the Star and the Key, pp. 12—14; see also E. Duyker, ‘Coutance and the Voyage of the Adèle, Explorations, no. 4, March 1987, pp. 21—5.

[xlix] J. J. H. de Labillardière, Relation, tome i, p. 192 (Stockdale trans., pp. 136—137).

An Officer of the Blue — Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne, South Sea Explorer 1724-1772, Foreword by Dr Horner, Frank

An Officer of the Blue — Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne, South Sea Explorer 1724-1772

by Dr Edward Duyker, Melbourne University Press, 1994

FOREWORD by Dr Frank Horner

Thirty-two years separated the major exploring voyages of Cook and Flinders on the coasts of Australia. During that time five French expeditions visited these shores. In March 1772, two years after Cook had examined the east coast, two Frenchmen were ashore at opposite ends of the island continent, on territory not seen by Cook. Their voyages, both begun at the French colony of Mauritius, had been planned without knowledge of Cook’s discovery. Saint-Allouarn, at Shark Bay, had buried a parchment claiming possession of Australia’s western coast. On the east coast of Tasmania, Marion-Dufresne was making the first European contact with the Aborigines of that island, at Marion Bay. The countrymen who were to succeed these explorers were La Pérouse (1788), d’Entrecasteaux (1792 and 1793), and Baudin (1801-1803).

Marion’s ten-week sojourn in New Zealand occurred only two-and-a-half years after the visits of Cook and Marion’s countryman de Surville. The expedition’s records are a rich source of information on Maori lore prior to European settlement, and of clues about a historical tragedy that has led to continuing speculation.

To Australian readers, and no doubt to New Zealand readers too, Edward Duyker‘s biography of Marion Dufresne will be a reminder, or a revelation, of the international context in which the English explorations of their homelands took place. In this it builds on the foundation laid by John Dunmore‘s French Explorers in the Pacific and Oscar Spate‘s trilogy The Pacific Since Magellan. To all readers it will, like every good historical biography, illuminate the times through which its subject lived-in this case the maritime world of eighteenth century France.

Marion’s seagoing career began when he was eleven and continued for thirty-seven years, spanning two major wars and equipping him with the skills, experience and interests that fitted him for his last great maritime enterprise. At various times in command of corsairs, naval vessels and merchant ships, he took part not only in convoys, naval engagements, trading voyages and raids on enemy merchantmen but also in a number of special assignments and personal enterprises well out of the usual line of duty. One of the most remarkable was his command, at twenty-two, of the ship that rescued the Young Pretender from Scotland in 1746. The reputation he acquired, during his long career, as a most reliable and resourceful mariner no doubt made him one of the examples that were to encourage the gradual relaxation of the frustrating class barriers faced by ‘officers of the blue’ in the navy of eighteenth-century France.

One wonders, had he survived his voyage to Australia and the Pacific, what he might have achieved in the great age of French maritime exploration that lay ahead, planned and overseen by Fleurieu, de Castries and Louis XVI, and opening up when the next war, the War of American Independence, was over.

The achievement of Edward Duyker goes well beyond writing an absorbing narrative, though his success in that respect is obvious. He has had to assemble a mass of information, both primary and secondary, from many countries and very diverse sources. Unlike most French exploring captains, Marion served only intermittently in the navy, whose archives therefore record only part of his career; and no personal account of his final voyage has been found. In filling the gaps Dr Duyker has brought to light a remarkable amount of fascinating detail, and little of the subject’s career seems left to be surmised. This biography is a notable addition to the maritime history of France, New Zealand and Australia.

Frank Horner

Encountering Terra Australis: The Australian Voyages of Nicolas Baudin and Matthew Flinders (2004), reviewed by Dr Duyker, Ed

Fornasiero, J., Monteath, P. and West-Sooby, J. Encountering Terra Australis: The Australian Voyages of Nicolas Baudin and Matthew Flinders, Wakefield Press, Kent Town, South Australia, 2004, pp. 411, maps, illustrations, select bibliography, index, ISBN 1 86254 625 8, $49.95.

Reviewed by Dr Edward Duyker

This book, by three South Australian colleagues, examines two major voyages of exploration of the Australian coast at the begining of the nineteenth century—that of the British explorer Matthew Flinders and his French counterpart Nicolas-Thomas Baudin. The first half of Encountering Terra Australis is largely made up of lengthy extracts from the journals of the two explorers with additional commentary.  The Baudin extracts are fresh translations.  Some may question the need for these given that Christine Cornell’s elegant pioneering English translation of Baudin’s journal is neither stale nor inaccurate.[i] However, it is a scholar’s right to ‘take possession’ of his or her own sources.  On the other hand, there are certainly valid grounds for distrusting the 1809 Phillips translation of volume one of François Péron’s Voyage de découvertes aux Terres australes.[ii]

 

Although Flinders’ cartographic achievements were undoubtedly greater, Baudin made important contributions on the south-eastern coast of Van Diemen’s Land and on parts of the southern and western Australian mainland coast. Both expeditions made priceless natural history collections, and significant ethnographic observations. They met twice, the first time at Encounter Bay on the South Australian coast in April 1802 and the second time at Port Jackson later in the same year.   Baudin died a painful death on the island of Mauritius in September 1803.  He was on the homeward leg of his voyage. While others might have gained posthumous glory, Baudin gained ignominy.  His great misfortune was to die before he had an opportunity to do battle with his detractors.  The zoologist François Péron, who chronicled the achievements of the expedition, despised its leader.  As is so often the case, distortions and lies found their way into later biographies and studies. Flinders, in turn, would also suffer in Mauritius: detained there for some six and a half year after the collapse of the Peace of Amiens. It is easy to sympathize with him: in French hands, separated from his family and delayed in publishing the results of his discoveries.  Nevertheless, he had an easier time than Péron had as a prisoner of the Prussians in the citadel of Magdeburg[iii] or French prisoners on stinking hulks in the Thames estuary.[iv]

 

There is no doubt that the authors belong to the camp which has ‘rehabillitated’ Baudin, although this rehabilitation was begun by others long ago. The discursive chapters in the second half of Encountering Terra Australis are engaging and stimulating.  Nevertheless, the authors offer no footnotes and despite a degree of internal referencing and a select bibliography, I was surprised at the sparse acknowledgement of the path-breaking and meticulous scholarship of the late Frank Horner.  All who toil in this field are indebted to Horner’s magisterial and award-winning work, The French Reconnaissance (1987).[v] I was also surprised to see no mention in the bibliography of the important articles published by Jean-Paul Faivre between 1938 and 1965.[vi] Flinders, too, has been the subject of numerous studies.  While every scholar consolidates to some degree the work of his or her precursors, a select bibliography can only have a limited role in informing a reader of the originality or otherwise of historical statements and judgments.  Essentially, therefore, this is a work of popular history which recounts and to some degree compares the Flinders and Baudin expeditions and their respective cartographic and scientific achievements.

 

Fornasiero, Monteath and West-Sooby certainly do justice to Baudin, but I would argue that they have not done justice to Péron — despite his obvious sins.  This is in great part a result of an unqualified acceptance of the work of the American anthropologist George W. Stocking Jr.  Among Péron’s many significant observations was the recognition of strong physical and cultural differences between the inhabitants of Van Diemen’s Land and New Holland (on the basis of which he designated two separate races). These differences, and the absence of the dingo in Van Diemen’s Land, led Péron to conclude, in an article he published on his return to France, that the separation of the two regions must date from ‘an époque very much more ancient than one could suspect at first’.[vii]  Unfortunately, this statement was mistranslated or mistakenly represented in an article published by Stocking in 1964 as ‘before the epoch of the population of these countries’.  Stocking also seized on Péron’s questions about existing theories on ‘the communications of peoples, on their transmigrations and on the influence of climates on man’, to suggest that he believed in polygenism or separate human creations![viii]

 

Unlike the polygenists, Péron placed great stress on the influence of environmental forces.  And like Montesquieu — and before him John Arbuthnot[ix] — he expended a great deal of effort proposing cultural differences as a result of climate.  Nowhere did he divide humanity into separate species or propose separate ‘Adams’, although he did see plant and animal species largely confined to ‘distinct’ areas.  Unfortunately, forty years later, Stocking’s ill-founded speculations about Péron’s beliefs have emboldened Jean Fornasiero, Peter Monteath and John West-Sooby to damn the naturalist as a racist. Initially we are told that Péron ‘seemed to support the notion of racial difference’, but this cautious restraint soon gives way to unequivocal accusations of racism; see pp. 356, 370, 380.  Yet nowhere did Péron propose an immutable intellectual inferiority simply on the basis of race, even if he considered the people of New Holland to be technologically superior to those of Van Diemen’s Land.

 

There is, of course, much more to Encountering Terra Australis than a critique of that convenient whipping boy François Péron. Jean Fornasiero, Peter Monteath and John West-Sooby do offer an accessible account of two important voyages in the history of Australian exploration.  Unfortunately there are some problems with their interpretation of the scientific results of the Baudin voyage and the scientific dogmas of the time.  On page 351, for example, we are told that ‘Depuch the mineralogist had worked hard and well, as his various reports revealed — in Geographe Bay, for example, he was able to confirm Saussure’s theory on the existence of stratified granite’.  Alas, Horace-Bénédict de Saussure (1740—1799), for all his important work on Alpine granite, was a Neptunist.  In other words he believed that water was the fundamental agent of geological change and like Abraham Gottlob Werner (1750–1817) maintained that the entire globe was originally covered by a turbid universal ocean, from which so-called ‘primitive’ rocks (among which he included granite and other crystalline rocks) were precipitated.[x] These ideas were opposed by the Vulcanists, who advocated the primacy of heat and volcanic action, and later the Plutonists, associated with the brilliant Scottish geologist James Hutton (1726—1797), who drew attention to intrusive igneous formations.  This said, are Jean Fornasiero, Peter Monteath and John West-Sooby really suggesting that Depuch proved Saussure correct?  Cape Naturaliste where Depuch first landed, is largely made up of granitic gneiss and other ancient metamorphic rocks more than 600 million years old.  In the Alps Saussure may have made pioneering observations on folding, but he certainly failed to understand metamorphic processes involving granite (let alone its very origins) and so too did Depuch.

 

Three-part collaboration and a comparative study of two different voyages with a heavy emphasis on journal extracts is not easy.  Fornasiero, Monteath and West-Sooby have brought a variety of linguistic and other skills to their cooperative task. This book is handsomely produced with many beautiful illustrations and a good index.

 

Notes

 



[i] Cornell, C. (trans.), The Journal of post Captain Nicolas Baudin, Commander-in-Chief of the Corvettes Geographe and Naturaliste, Assigned by order of the Government to a voyage of Discovery, translated from the French by Christine Cornell, Libraries Board of South Australia, Adelaide, 1974.

[ii] Cleland, J. B. ‘Remarkable mistranslations in the English version (1809) of Peron’s Voyage of Discovery’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol 29, part 4, 1943, pp. 215—16.

[iii] Flinders spent much of his period as a prisoner-of-war on parole on the estate of Madame d’Arifat at Plaines Wilhelms.  Péron was taken prisoner at Hochspeyer near Kaiserslautern on 23 May 1794 and closely confined in the citadel of Magdeburg.  Péron’s confinement, however, was relatively short.  Considered unfit for further military service because of the loss of sight in his right eye, he was included in a prisoner-of-war exchange and repatriated to Thionville, in Lorraine, at the end of 1794.

[iv] See Abell, F. Prisoners of War in Britain 1756 to 1815: A Record of Their Lives, Their Romance and their Sufferings, Oxford University Press, London, 1914.

[v] The debt owed to Frank Horner was acknowledged in the prefatory note of the Proceedings of the international conference on the Baudin expedition held in Sydney in 2002; see Australian Journal of French Studies, vol xli, no. 2, 2004.  Horner’s profoundly important book is currently being translated into French by Martine Marin.

[vi] Faivre, J.-P. ‘Une expédition botanique sous le Directoire: le capitaine Baudin aux “Isles d’Amerique”’, La Revue maritime, March 1938, pp. 334—56; Faivre, J.-P. ‘La France découvre l’Australie: l’expédition du Géographe et du Naturaliste (1801—1803), Australian Journal of French Studies, vol. ii, 1965,  pp. 45—58; Faivre, J.-P. ‘Les idéologues de l’an VIII et le voyage de Nicolas Baudin en Australie’, Australian Journal of French Studies, vol. iii, no. 1, 1966, pp. 3—15.

[vii] Péron, F. ‘Mémoire sur quelques faits zoologiques applicables à la théorie du globe, lu à la Classe des Sciences physiques et mathématiques de l’Institut national (Séance du 30 vendémiaire an XIII)’, Journal de physique, de chimie, d’histoire naturelle et des arts, vol. 59, 1804, pp. 463—80, planches i and ii; see, in particular, p. 478.  Péron’s exact words are: ‘De la différence absolue des deux races de la Nouvelle-Hollande et de la terre de Diémen, ainsi que de l’absence du chien sur cette dernière, j’ai cru pouvoir tirer la conséquence, que la séparation de ces deux régions doit remonter à une époque beaucoup plus ancienne qu’on ne pourroit le soupçonner d’abord’.

[viii] Stocking, G. W. ‘French Anthropology in 1800’, Isis, vol. 55, part. 2, no. 180, 1964, pp. 134—50.

[ix] Arbuthnot was the author of An Essay Concerning the Effects of Air on Human Bodies, 1731, which was translated into French by Boyer de Pebrandié (Essai des effets de l’air sur le corps-humain, Jacques Barois fils, Paris, 1742) and profoundly influenced Montesquieu (and Péron if not directly, then indirectly); see Dedieu, J. Montesquieu et la tradition politique anglaise en France: Les Sources anglaises de l’Esprit des lois, J. Galbada, Paris, 1909.

[x] For a survey of Abraham Gottlob Werner and his ideas, see Adams, F. D. The Birth and Development of the Geological Sciences, Dover Publications, New York, 1954, pp. 209—27; for Saussure see pp. 387—93.

In search of Madame Kerivel and Baudin’s last resting place, by Dr Duyker, Edward

In Search of Madame Kerivel

and

Baudin’s Last Resting Place

by Dr Edward Duyker

[Dr Edward Duyker is the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Mauritius in New South Wales.  This is a revised version of an article first published in the National Library of Australia News in September 1999.]

His lungs eaten away by what was almost certainly tuberculosis, the great French explorer Nicolas-Thomas Baudin died a painful death in Mauritius in September 1803.  He was on the homeward leg of his remarkable voyage into Australian waters – which saw significant stretches of the continent’s coast charted for the first time.  The ships under his command were brimming with collections of botanical, zoological, geological and ethnographic riches.  While others might have gained posthumous glory, Baudin gained ignominy.  His great misfortune was to die before his expedition returned to France and thus before he had an opportunity to do battle with his detractors.  Georges Bory de St Vincent and the zoologist François Péron, who chronicled the achievements of the expedition soon after its return, despised its leader and vented outright calumny against him.  As is so often the case, these distortions and lies found their way into later biographies and studies.  Although he has received powerful vindication through the work of the Australian historian Frank Horner (The French Reconnaissance: Baudin in Australia 1801-1803, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1987), mystery still surrounds his private life and even his last resting place.

I have long had an interest in Baudin’s time in Mauritius and when the Australian novelist Victor Barker (see National Library of Australia News,  August 1999) sought my assistance in fleshing-out details of the explorer’s visits to and death on my mother’s native island, I was more than happy to help.  Indeed his approach spurred me to write an entry for the Dictionnaire de Biographie Mauricienne (of which the National Library has fragmented holdings) on the mysterious Madame Kerivel, in whose home the explorer died.  In the detective quest which followed, the National Library’s collections on Mauritius would yield surprising clues.

My first step, in pursuit of Madame Kerivel, was to consult the notes of a Mauritian notary named Gaston Sarré (1866—1944) which deal with some 3000 Mauritian families.  In his will, Sarré left the original manuscript, ‘Recueil de renseignements généalogique sur les families de l’île Maurice’, to the Bibliothèque National in Paris, but his his executor René Lincoln was induced to allow five or six typescript copies to be made in Mauritius in the final year of World War II.  During a visit to Mauritius in 1984, I acquired one of these precious copies, bound in a set of seven volumes.   Some years later I loaned them to another Mauritian friend, who, without my knowledge, unbound and photocopied every page before suddenly dropping dead of a heart attack!  His widow rang me and asked me what I wanted done with the photocopies.  Not wishing to add recriminations to her grief, I feined no surprise and decided then and there to donate them to the National Library.  They are now held in alphabetical folders among my own papers in the Manuscript Collection and are a valuable resource for Australian family historians of Mauritian descent.

In Sarré’s notes I found that Madame Kerivel was born Alexandrine Marie Charlotte Genève de St Jean, in the parish of St Germain, Paris.  She was the daughter of Jean Gaspard Genève (de St Jean), merchant, and his wife Jeanne Charlotte Gabrielle Coste.  Although it seems likely she was born sometime in the 1760s, the Paris Archives have informed me that the records for this parish, prior to 1792, no longer exist. However, I learned more of her family in an entry by the Mauritian historian Raymond d’Unienville on her brother, Antoine Augustin Genève (1764—1845), in the Dictionnaire de Biographie Mauricienne.  It appears Alexandrine arrived in Mauritius with another brother Jacques Marie Genève in 1785.  Antoine arrived four years later and helped establish the business house of Genève frères (which is credited with introducing frogs to the island in 1792).  Gaston Sarré’s notes also indicate that in Port Louis, on 29 October 1787, Alexandrine married Pierre François Kerivel, a notary, born in Quimper (Brittany), the son of Claude Kerivel.  In another work by Dr d’Unienville, Histoire politique de l’Isle de France (1795-1803), published by the Mauritius Archives in 1989 and held in the National Library in Canberra, I would discover that, in the wake of the Revolution, Alexandrine’s husband was appointed a commissaire of the Directory.  As a result, he made numerous enemies in the colony and, as the political tide changed, was declared one of those ‘dangerous to security and public tranquility’ and was deported with some fifty others on 1 October 1799 on a ship named the Brûle-Gueule.  Kérivel perished when this vessel was shipwrecked.  Among the Jacobin survivors was the musician Antoine Guth who had a wife and children in Mauritius and returned clandestinely to the island as a stowaway on Baudin’s Géographe in March 1801.   Although confined on the Géographe, while plans were made to send him to the Seychelles, Guth was visited by his family.  It was perhaps through them that Baudin met the widow Kerivel. Alternatively, he may have met her through one of her merchant brothers during an earlier voyage to the island.  Indeed Alexandrine’s gracious brother Antoine was described in his obituary as a ‘friend of all the voyagers who stopped at his beautiful estate’.

Did Baudin and the recently widowed Alexandrine become lovers?  We may never know.  But Alexandrine appears to have been a woman drawn to reflective individualists with republican persuasions and the fact remains that the largely self-made Baudin ended his days with her.  Despite the calumnies of his detractors, Baudin was a cultured man with a passion for botany.  His personal library on the Géographe (exclusive of official geographical and scientific tomes supplied by the government) amounted to some 1200 volumes.

There is no doubt that Baudin’s sojourn in Mauritius was fateful in other respects.  Christine Cornell, who translated Baudin’s journal, declared that ‘It may be said that directly or indirectly most of the significant events on the voyage were rooted in the difficulties encountered at and before the Ile de France [Mauritius].  The entire course of the voyage was altered by them.’ There were many defections from Baudin’s expedition in Mauritius. Because the island was isolated from sources of supply in the middle of the Indian Ocean and its men were waging a corsair war against British shipping to sustain themselves, Baudin had to compete for meagre victuals and limited manpower.  His delay in Mauritius meant that he eventually reached the coast of Australia in winter – when heavy seas made effective hydrographic and scientific work difficult.  Baudin decided to postpone further surveying of the Tasmanian and south coast, and sail north.  If he had not done so, he would have pre-empted Matthew Flinders.

Baudin died in Madame Kerivel’s house ‘near the powder magazine’ on 29 fructidor year 11 of the French republican calendar (16 September 1803).  In his final days he had shown visitors pieces of his lungs coughed-up and preserved in a jar of alcohol — observing with black humour that lungs were not necessary for life for he had none, yet still existed!  Another Mauritian historian, the late Auguste Toussaint, whom I met in 1986, asserted that the Kérivel property was situated near the present Saint James Cathedral in Port Louis.  It was through Toussaint that I was led to the work of the painter Jacques Gérard Milbert (1766—1840) in the National Library in Canberra.  Milbert left Baudin’s expedition in Mauritius and published two sketches of the house and environs of Madame ‘Querivel’ (sic) as plates 33 & 34 of the magnificent atlas of his Voyage pittoresque à l’Ile de France, au Cap de Bonne Espérance et à l’Ile de Téneriffe (Paris, 1812).  He wrote: ‘It is in this house that our commander, M. Baudin, ended his career shortly after his return from the South Lands’.

Auguste Toussaint believed Baudin was interred in the Kerivel family vault. Perhaps the Genève family vault is a better bet.  Alexandrine Kerivel died in Port Louis on 15 February 1823.   (The year before her daughter Lucile married Colonel Edward Draper (1776-1841) founder of the Mauritius Turf Club.) Although the location of her final resting place is also uncertain, like Auguste Toussaint, I think it likely Baudin lies with her in Port Louis’ Cimitière de l’Ouest just a few hundred metres from the explorer’s certain love: the sea.

Mary Beckwith – Another Story — Encore une chronique, by Brown, Anthony J.

Mary Beckwith – Another Story

(Mary Beckwith – encore une chronique)

An Essay in Alternative History

by Anthony Brown

Jan. 2011

History is story-telling.  One thing that is disappearing in history is this pretence that the author is telling you a scientific fact.  History has its limitations and the full story will never be told – the storyteller always influences the tale. (Prof. Norman Davies, 1998)

Some 15 years ago I uncovered the little-known story of Mary Beckwith, a 17 year old English convict girl who, as Nicolas Baudin’s ‘companion’, was almost certainly the first European woman to set foot in South Australia, at Kangaroo Island in January 1803.  Baudin had met her in Sydney, in the household of Richard Atkins, the colony’s judge advocate, and taken her aboard the Géographe with the unwritten consent of Governor King.  (S.A. Geographical Journal, vol. 97, pp. 20-32, 1998).

My article traced what little was known of Mary’s life, from her trial for theft at London’s Old Bailey in June 1800, her sentencing to trans-portation, her arrival at Sydney in December 1801, her association with Baudin, and her journey with him to Mauritius.  Her (step)mother, Mary Beckwith snr., transported with her in 1801, became Atkins’ housekeeper and eventually his wife.

Later historians have since incorporated these basic facts into their studies of Baudin’s (and even Flinders’) expedition.  During Encounter 1802, the State major event celebrating the bicentenary of the meeting of Baudin and Flinders at Encounter Bay in April 1802, the Kangaroo Islanders erected a memorial to Mary at what is now known as Baudin Beach.  It seemed a fitting conclusion to her story.

A year or so later, while browsing through the memoirs of Captain R. W. Eastwick, an English merchant captain of the early 19th century (A Master Mariner: Being the Life and Adventures of Captain Robert William Eastwick, ed. by H. Compton, pp 183-7. London 1891), I came upon his account of a chance meeting with a pretty young woman in Simeon Lord’s store in Sydney in 1803.  ‘She was dressed extremely neat, though in the fashion of a servant, but she appeared both from her manner and speech to be of gentle birth and good education’.  Aged about twenty four, she approached Eastwick without diffidence, and said she ‘was maid to the judge’s lady’, before asking him whether he had come from India.

The young woman grew increasingly agitated as he replied to her questions − he had just arrived from India, he knew ‘a gentleman named M−’, and, finally, he had met the latter ‘no longer back than last year’.  At this answer she drew closer and clasped her hands:

‘Tell me all about him.  Is he well? Is he happy?’

‘He was both well and happy when I saw him’, Eastwick assured her, ‘but why do you ask?’

‘Because I am his sister!  Because I would give twenty years of my life to see him once again!’, she answered to my great surprise, since the gentleman she alluded to was of considerable position, whilst she from her condition could only be a convict.  ‘Oh, sir’, she added, with tears in her eyes, ‘you have made me so happy to hear that he is alive and well. He is my dear brother, though I am no longer worthy to claim relationship with him’.

Then of her own accord she explained to me that, although of good family, she had fallen into the crime of theft in London, and had been unhappily, although, as she allowed, properly punished by transportation.  Her offence was that of shoplifting, being urged thereto by some species of madness which she could not explain, since she had never wanted for anything, being a lady of good family.  Having been caught in the act of secreting some article in a silk-mercer’s shop, she was  apprehended on the spot, and had given a false name, under which she was convicted and sentenced, so that none of her friends knew of her disgrace or where she was. 

She assured me I was the first person living to whom she had confessed  her secret, being surprised into doing so upon my mentioning my acquaintance with her brother.  She begged me if ever I met him to  inform him of her condition, so that he might know she was alive and  well, and to tell him that though she could never hope to see him again,  she retained in her heart an affectionate memory of him.

Eastwick adds that fifteen years later he met the brother in England, and passed on his sister’s message.  Though ‘astonished beyond words’, once he accepted it as true the brother set to work to procure her return to England – only to find that she had since married in the colony, risen to ‘a very respectable station’, and declined to leave it.

His account rang true.  Might the ‘pretty young woman’ in fact be the elder Mary Beckwith – the details of her arrest for theft and conviction coincided; in 1803 Richard Atkins was the sole judge in the colony; Mrs Atkins had arrived unexpectedly in Sydney in July 1802, found her husband living with a convict woman as his housekeeper and mistress, and retained her in service as her maid.  How else to explain the two conflicting stories – the stepmother and step-daughter narrative which I had first accepted as factual, versus this fresh story in which the younger Mary seemingly played no part?

Each has a single source – the former, Mary’s remarks recorded at the Beckwiths’ trial for theft, and the latter, the young woman’s confession to Eastwick of her disgrace and transportation for a similar crime.  Believing as I now do that Mary senior and the young woman are probably the same person, which of these appears more credible?

For readers today, the court papers provide a confusing summary of the proceedings.  The operative judicial principle seems to be that the accused were guilty unless proven innocent. There was no defence counsel, and the court questioned the accused.  The two Mary Beckwiths, the elder claiming to be the wife of John Beckwith, and the girl his daughter not hers, were ‘indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 10th of June, in the parish of St. Martin’s in the Fields, 46 yards of printed calico [linen], value £5, the goods of Thomas Ball, privately in his shop’.  The amount of £5 entailed the death sentence in the event of a guilty verdict.

The shop assistant asserted that while the elder Mary was purchasing a yard of calico and a handkerchief, the girl removed 46 yards (!) of the material from the counter and concealed it under her gown.  Suspecting she had taken something, he jumped over the counter and ‘took from her three quantities of printed calico’.   Meanwhile Mary senior left the shop, but was quickly apprehended; saying she had gone to look for her husband, she added ‘it was the fault of the father, the child was not hers’.  The constable (a local employee, there was no organised police force) took both into custody and searched them, but found nothing.

The elder Beckwith protested she knew nothing of it; the younger that the calico had fallen off the counter, and before she could pick it up the assistant jumped the counter and seized her. The jury did not question how the girl had concealed 46 yards of material under her gown without his knowledge while standing within a yard or so of him.  No search was made for the elusive John Beckwith; the only personal details recorded were that the defendants were aged 34 and 14.  Each was sentenced to death, the jury recommending mercy for the girl; both sentences were later commuted to transportation for life (a common practice, to meet the shortage of women in the convict colony of New South Wales).

Shoplifting from a draper’s or silk-mercer’s shop was common enough at the time; nor was it confined to the criminal classes.  One of Jane Austen’s aunts was indicted for this offence, and held in a furnished room in the jailer’s residence (not a cell) for months before relatives secured her release, perhaps in return for a generous payout.  There is little doubt that sometimes the owner and his assistants conspired to accuse a wealthy customer of theft in order to blackmail her family.

[NB.  The judge in the Beckwith trial was Sir Soulder Lawrence.  I can’t confirm this, but I think a Justice Lawrence presided at JA’s aunt’s case at the Old Bailey]

Eastwick’s account implies that the young lady visited the silk-mercer’s shop alone.  In fact the likelihood of a gentlewoman shopping at Charing Cross at night without a companion was slight – she would have been accompanied, at least by a personal maid.   The younger Mary thus has a credible role in either scenario – whether as an accomplice to her ‘mother’, or as a maidservant to her mistress.  Of more concern is the elder Mary’s age – given as 34 in the court record, and estimated as ‘about 24’ by Eastwick three years later.  However, the discrepancy is not conclusive; the detail may be incorrect (provided by the prisoner), and Eastwick (years later, in hindsight) was perhaps mistaken in his guess.

The two Mary Beckwiths arrived in Sydney Harbour on the transport Nile on 14th December 1801.  A new ship, she carried close to 100 female convicts, and on arrival was inspected by Governor Philip Gidley King and his officials.  The colony’s senior officers routinely selected the women ‘most agreeable in their person’ for domestic work in their households.  Records of convict assignments for this period are not available, but either then or within months the judge advocate, the 56-year-old Richard Atkins, chose Mary senior as his house-keeper (and mistress); I believe it’s likely that the girl joined her in the judge’s house.

Atkins has been called Australia’s first ‘remittance man’ – sent to the colonies by his family to escape his creditors at home (leaving his wife Elizabeth behind in Dublin).  Arriving in February 1792, he made much of his connections to the powerful Cecil family, and was appointed a magistrate and registrar of the Vice-Admiralty Court.  In 1796 John Macarthur declared Atkins ‘a public cheater living in the most boundless dissipation’, but successive governors, impressed by his social background, continued to appoint him to high civil positions.  In 1800, on the death of the then judge advocate, Governor King recommended Atkins for the position, despite his lack of legal training, as no one else in the colony was ‘at all equal to that office’.  He moved into the judge’s residence – ‘a small house, in the Cottage Style, near to Governor King’s’.

A contemporary, the gentleman convict John Grant, describes Atkins as ‘a little Gentleman about 50, and most agreeable in his manners’; he also describes him as ‘the perfect delicate gentleman when himself’ – a euphemism for his addiction to the bottle.  He also appears to have had a penchant for convict housekeepers who in turn became his mistress. The first we know of was Ann Bockerah (or Buckrill), a widow with a young daughter Sarah; she died giving birth to another, Penelope (perhaps by Atkins), in February 1793.  In his Diary he noted ‘a great domestic loss’; the girls apparently remained in his care.

Next was Catherine Haggarty, a young Irish convict from Dublin, who may have joined Atkins late in 1793 as Penelope’s wet nurse [acknowl-edgements to Prof. Alan Atkinson for details re Ann and Catherine].  She had given birth to a son, Henry, whose seaman father had returned to England, in November 1793; in July 1795 she had a daughter, Theresa, by Atkins.  She stayed with him until 6th February 1800, on which day she received an absolute pardon from Governor Hunter and sailed the same day for England, with her son Henry, in HMS Reliance (in which ship Lieutenant Matthew Flinders also returned home, with his plan to circumnavigate and chart the continent.).  Atkins recorded: ‘Kitty left me, went on board the Relliance (sic) with her son for England’; she also left the three young girls in his care – Sarah, Penelope, and Theresa.

Catherine’s pardon, and her departure for England with her son on a naval ship, is surprising; it can only have occurred at Atkins’ urging.  Prof. Atkinson suggests that very likely she ‘passed her child off, even in Downing Street, as Atkins’ son’- thus explaining the boy’s return to the colony at government expense in November 1803 to rejoin his ‘father’.  Catherine also returned, but whether as a convict or free is not clear – I have not found any record.

The next mention is in the Sydney Gazette of July 13 1806, reporting the mutinous seizure of the brig Venus by her mate, Benjamin Kelly, some of the crew, and a few convicts being transported from Sydney to Van Diemens Land – including two women, Catherine Hagarty and Charlotte Badger, now celebrated on the web as Australia’s first female pirates!

I suspect, but have no proof, that Catherine (also from Dublin) may have found her way there, with Henry, to confront Mrs Atkins – perhaps for blackmail, perhaps to assure Henry’s future.  Their meeting would help explain Mrs Atkins’ decision to rejoin her husband in 1802 (after a decade’s separation!), Henry’s voyage the next year to rejoin his ‘father’, and Catherine’s own mysterious return (perhaps with the boy).  It may also be a possible motive for her later deportation from Sydney to Hobart.

Richard Atkins, meanwhile, was left with three young girls on his hands (two of them his own daughters); despite his short-comings, nothing suggests he abandoned them.  What temporary arrangements he made for their care after Kitty (Catherine) left in 1800 remain unknown, but we can presume he planned to resume ‘normal’ family relations with a live-in housekeeper without delay.  ‘Mary Beckwith’ senior must have seemed ideal for the position –  very presentable, if Eastwick is to be believed, of good family (according to both Baudin and Eastwick), and the presence of her ‘daughter’ would have been a bonus – a young female to help care for the three girls, now aged 6, 8 and ca. 10.

Normality was disrupted by the surprise arrival of Mrs Elizabeth Atkins on board the Atlas in July 1802.  Nothing is known of the reasons for her voyage, but as I suggest above it may have been prompted by Catherine’s return to England with Henry in late 1800.  If, as seems the case, the authorities accepted her claim that Henry was Atkins’ son, they would most likely have been in touch with her and the family (one brother was an admiral and another a general).  Given Atkins’ high position in the colony (ranking immediately below the Governor and his deputy), informal talks between government and family may well have decided that she, Catherine and Henry should all be sent out to Sydney (whether Catherine returned voluntarily or otherwise is not known).

Mrs Atkins’ behaviour after her arrival in Sydney is curious. John Grant, who made their acquaintance in 1804, has left a description (in a letter dated July 1804):

Mrs Atkins came out to him [in 1802] after an 11 Year separation; he lived then with a Woman (as is customary with all the Gentlemen here …) by whom he has 2 Girls whom Mrs Atkins adopts as her own.  She has never been introduced however into Polite circles here, which is singular as the Judge Advocate’s Lawful Wife; but the truth is, Her Pride prevents it, the Origin of the first Woman in the Colony is so obscure.

(Yvonne Cramer, ed. This Beauteous Wicked Place – Letters and Journals of John Grant. NLA, 2000. p.52)

Grant adds, that ‘from the failings of Mr Atkins, and her abilities, she wears the Breeches completely’.  Unfortunately, Grant fell out of favour with them both; he says nothing about the housekeeper, and his comments about the two girls being the judge’s daughters by her may be set aside − his main interest was in seeking a post as the judge’s clerk.  In Samuel Marsden’s ‘Female Muster’ of 1806 Elizabeth Atkins is recorded as having four ‘Natural’ (or illegitimate) children, a boy and three girls, in her care – the boy was probably Henry, now back with his ‘father’.

* * * *

Meanwhile the ships of the French expedition led by Captain Nicolas Baudin had arrived in Port Jackson – the Naturaliste in April 1802 and Baudin himself in the Géographe in June.  Despite two bouts of serious illness on the voyage – including a near-fatal attack of fever at Timor – it seems Baudin was in relatively good health at the time.  He took lodgings ashore, and soon built a close friendship with Governor King, a fluent French speaker.  A frequent visitor at Government House, Baudin no doubt met the Governor’s close associates – among them Richard Atkins, who also read and spoke French and owned a sizeable library.

Baudin, occupied with the business of the expedition, lived ashore throughout the five months of his stay.  He visited Parramatta, and made a short trip into the interior, with the Danish adventurer Jorgen Jorgensen (alias John Johnson, second mate of Flinders’ tender the Lady Nelson) as his guide.  Strangely, his place of residence in Sydney is not known – surely it was within easy reach of Government House, for Baudin notes he met the Governor ‘daily’; on at least one occasion he stayed overnight with the Kings.  (Later, his officers recognise the young Mary Beckwith as the girl – dismissed as a fille de joie − he had lived with in the town).

Lacking evidence, let us fall back on conjecture.  I presume his residence would have accommodated Baudin’s own quarters (suiting the commandant en chef of a national expedition of discovery), a servant and/or clerk, an office/reception room to receive his officers and other visitors and to deal with his correspondence, and perhaps a maid-servant (?).  (Whether he kept a journal during his stay will be discussed below).

Baudin very likely met Atkins early in his visit, perhaps before the arrival of the latter’s wife on 7th July.  The judge – cultured, fluent in French and a ‘perfect gentleman’ when not in his cups – may well have invited the Frenchman (an avid reader) to join him for talks over drinks in his library.  Likewise Mrs Atkins’ hauteur may not have extended to Baudin – an urbane Frenchman who had mixed with high officials in the Austrian court at Vienna, as well as in Paris, and the same age as Richard – and she too may have welcomed him to their home.

More significant by far is Elizabeth Atkins’ reaction to the situation she found in her husband’s household upon her arrival.  She may have had little option but to accept his adultery; yet she also ‘adopted’ his illegitimate children, and retained his mistress as her personal servant.  At the official and family levels this might well be viewed as the preferred solution for all concerned – a classic cover-up, with minimal impact on the social status quo!  Another explanation, though, may be explored at the personal level, based in part on Elizabeth’s personality, but also on the presumption that ‘Mary Beckwith’ was indeed ‘a lady of quality’ and not a common thief.

The initial impact of the confrontation on each of the protagonists must have been devastating – perhaps less so on the judge, who one imagines resorted to the bottle as usual.  For both Elizabeth and Mary one would expect it to be far worse, posing a direct challenge to their immediate and longer term futures.  Yet between them, within a year at most (judging from Grant’s account) it seems they were able to develop a modus vivendi which suited both and continued until Elizabeth’s death in 1809 (see below); in fact, they could almost be described as friends.

In February 1810, in a submission to Governor Macquarie soliciting a free pardon on Mary senior’s behalf, Atkins wrote that she had ‘lived with Mrs Atkins a considerable length of time, and behaved herself in all respects becoming her station, honest, prudent, and industrious’.  He added that during his wife’s final illness, lasting for several months, ‘her care and attention to her was most exemplary’.  Their collusion, I suggest, appears more plausible if during their altercation Mary let slip the same information to Elizabeth that she gave Eastwick the following year – understandable in such a tense situation.  Given their aristocratic background, both women may well have chosen to keep the knowledge to themselves − and from Richard − and to maintain the fiction of Mary’s statement to the Old Bailey (remember, this is conjecture); this also helps to explain Elizabeth’s reluctance to mix in colonial circles – she as well as Mary viewed herself as an exile from polite society.

The accommodation between the two women, however, did not extend to the younger Mary – the sole person in the colony aware of the truth of her ‘mother’s trial and conviction.  As such (again this is speculation), she endangered their future security, which needed to be addressed.   Here the courteous and cordial Captain Baudin must have come to mind as a potential solution – first, it seems, he was offered and accepted young Mary’s services as a maidservant, and then it was suggested she might accompany surgeon Thomson and his wife (who were returning to Europe with Captain Hamelin in the Naturaliste) as their maid.

Perhaps Thomson had no need for a maid, but in any case the Governor    lacked the power to pardon a convict in such circumstances.  A new stratagem was then devised, as described by Baudin in his Journal:

At about 11 at night [on 17th November 1802] an English girl named  Mary Bickaith [sic] appeared on board in men’s clothing.  I had known her during my stay at Port Jackson, and she had more than once asked me to obtain Governor King’s permission for her to return to England as Mr Thomson’s assistant.  I had promised to interest myself in her case and indeed spoke of it to the Governor.  He would not have refused me this request had it not been contrary to the general instructions concerning deported persons, but he told me that if she wanted to leave, no inquiry would be made about her.  She was, therefore, taken aboard the Naturaliste on the day before departure; but as she is unable to re-enter England without authentic permission from the Governor, I have embarked her to set her down somewhere in the Moluccas. Her youth will soon be noticed there and will find her some happy fate.

(N. Baudin: Journal, 1800-1803; transl. by C. Cornell. Friends SLSA, 2004. p. 425)

He added that the girl was 17 years old and came from a good family in England, had voluntarily joined her mother, transported to Port Jackson for stealing a length of muslin, rather than be sent to a convent, and was ‘interesting more on account of her behaviour than for her prettiness’.  Readers may make what they will of this last comment.

Re-reading this passage, it seems Baudin is repeating information he has been given by the girl – it is straightforward, and gives us little reason to doubt his belief in its accuracy.  Today, however, with the benefit of hindsight, we can query several of the statements made – namely that she wished to return home as the surgeon’s assistant, she came from a good family, she came to the colony with her mother voluntarily, and she had preferred to do so rather than be sent to a convent.

This was a girl who had spent a year in prison before transportation, then six months or so on a convict transport, before assignment as a felon in the colony; we do not know whether or not she was literate, nor whether she had any contact with surgeon Thomson.  More surprising is the claim she would have been sent to a convent if she had not accompanied her mother; this was not the case in England, but may have applied in Ireland.

Lacking facts, there seems a whiff of conspiracy about these claims – a feeling that the girl may have been tutored in the details she was to relay to Baudin by the two women.  No one else need be involved – young Mary could be induced to believe it was a means to return home, the judge that her departure would ease the tension in his household, and Baudin and King that they were acting in the best interests of their friends the Atkins and also of the colony.  The latter two seem to have agreed that Mary might be put ashore in the East Indies on the homeward voyage.

* * * *

Young Mary Beckwith boarded the Géographe late at night on the 17th November 1802, escorted by capitaine de frégate Emmanuel Hamelin, deputy commander of the expedition.  Midshipman Breton, officer of the watch on the Naturaliste, records in his journal that, on the 16th, Captain Hamelin spent the day with Baudin, returning to the ship at dusk with a foreign woman wearing a hooded cloak.  She spent the night in his cabin, then next day remained hidden in the gunroom to avoid being seen by the English passengers, surgeon Thomson and his wife; after nightfall Hamelin himself escorted her across to the Géographe.

Breton’s testimony is highly significant.  It is almost inconceivable, in my view, that a senior officer of Hamelin’s stature would have deigned to compromise himself by personally smuggling aboard une fille publique (a prostitute, as his officers assumed), for his commander – or for that matter that Baudin would have risked his own reputation or discussed taking the girl aboard his ship with the Governor (who in turn would surely have spoken with Atkins) − unless he believed there were substantial grounds for doing so.  The initial impetus, I suspect, came from Mrs Atkins and Mary Beckwith, was then perhaps channelled through the girl, and accepted as valid by Baudin, Hamelin and King.

It is no coincidence, I feel, that before his departure Baudin generously donated £50 sterling to the colony’s Female Orphanage, chaired by Mrs King – ‘bestowed’, she acknowledged, ‘in a Manner that does Equal Honor to your Philanthropy and Humanity’; the same amount was often levied on visiting captains for breaching colonial regulations, such as taking convicts on board without permission.  Was this perhaps a quid pro quo suggested by Governor King to Baudin?

Although Mary sailed with the Governor’s connivance, without a formal pardon her status became that of an escaped convict, for which death was the punishment in any British territory; Baudin understood this, but it seems unlikely that Mary herself did.  For the next nine months she shared the captain’s cabin, until the Géographe’s arrival at Ile de France (Mauritius) in August 1803.  In January 1803 she became the first European woman to land in South Australia, while the ship lay at anchor in Nepean Bay, Kangaroo Island, for almost a month. A memorial erected in April 2002 marks the probable landing place, at Baudin Beach.

With one exception, no record survives of Mary’s presence on board during this voyage, and François Péron and Louis de Freycinet do not mention her in their history, Voyage de découvertes aux terres australes, 3 vols. Paris, 1807-1816.  The sole reference is by Péron’s friend and colleague, Charles Alexandre Lesueur, the expedition’s natural history artist, in a journal entry (unpublished) dating from their call at Koepang, Timor, in May and June of 1803:

Our commandant’s health having improved slightly, he had, as was known, secretly embarked a young woman at Port Jackson; it was also known the sort of girl she was.  During the voyage she had affairs with several members of the crew, and she also caused the commandant’s health to worsen again.  He wished to leave her at Timor, and made this quite clear to her.  In no way would she agree to this, but rushed off headlong like a fury; she ran towards the bridge crossing the little river in Koepang, and threatened she would throw herself from it. Reassured by two blacks sent after her by the commandant, she allowed herself to be brought back to him, and it was agreed between them that she could continue on the voyage.  The same evening she was embarked, but in the meantime she had drowned her sorrows in drink, and had to be carried to the boat.  She was in a truly horrible state; distraught, her hair dishevelled, her clothing in disorder, out of her mind, disgusting in the extreme.  They had to haul her up [over the side], and she was carried to the commandant’s cabin in front of all the crew …

[C A Lesueur: Journal. Museum d’Histoire Naturelle, Le Havre. Collection Lesueur 17 076 – 1, p. 62.  transl. by author]

Mary’s reaction is palpable; from Lesueur’s account it is clear she had no inkling that she might be put ashore at the small Dutch settlement, while Koepang itself was no place for a white woman.  The Dutch governor and a handful of senior aides were the only Europeans, few survived the fever-ridden climate for any length of time, and the majority Malays were Muslims.  British troops had stormed the tiny port a few years before, and left much of it in ruins.  This was no place for her to find a ‘happy fate’.

Lesueur’s reference to his captain’s ill-health is also of interest; we can be virtually certain that it was due to tuberculosis, a major threat to mariners of the period.  Symptoms were probably apparent earlier in the voyage, and grew steadily worse on the homeward passage; as the expedition approached Timor Baudin was confined to his cabin for days at a time.  The terminal stage developed in the Arafura Sea in early July, when weather conditions (rather than illness) at last forced him to call off his mission and return to Ile de France.   Mary had no option but to tend the dying man, now wasting away, often bedridden, and continually coughing blood, but still in command.

After his arrival at Ile de France Baudin wrote to his friend Governor King, informing him that the Naturaliste had left for France with Surgeon Thomson and his wife on board; both were in good health.  He made no mention of Mary – not surprising in view of her questionable departure from the British colony. He died within a month, and was buried on 17th September 1803 with the honours due to his rank in the Navy – although one of his midshipmen described it decades later as ‘a dismal event’.  Commander Milius, his successor, acknowledged Baudin’s unswerving dedication to his task: ‘The commandant was so determined that he resolved … to sacrifice all the time necessary and even his life to fulfil entirely the object of his mission’.

Young Mary probably was not allowed to attend the funeral.  She was not abandoned, however, and perhaps went into service with one of Baudin’s friends or relatives on the island.  Curiously, Matthew Flinders provides the last known reference to the shards of her life story.  Arrested by the island’s Governor, General Decaen, when calling in for repairs at Port North-West in December 1803, and detained for 6½ years, Flinders kept a Private Journal throughout his enforced stay, making entries almost daily.

He writes that in August 1804 he was twice visited by Captain Augustin Baudin, Nicolas’ brother, the master of a Danish vessel trading between Ile de France and Tranquebar, a Danish possession on India’s east coast.  ‘Deprecating very much’ the great contrast between Flinders’ treatment by the general and the warm reception the French officers had received at Port Jackson, Captain Baudin sought his advice ‘concerning the propriety of taking a young woman to India whom his brother had brought hither from Port Jackson’.

Flinders does not mention what advice, if any, he gave his visitor.  A letter to the Chief Archivist of Mauritius elicited the reply that ‘despite searches made in our records and archives, no information has been found on this woman’.   It is likely, then, that young Mary journeyed with Augustin Baudin to Tranquebar – what ‘fate’ she found there is unknow-able, but is not likely to have been a happy one.

Mary senior’s fate, in contrast, is both documented and relatively secure.  Following Elizabeth Atkins’ death from a lengthy and painful illness in October 1809, she remained in the judge’s service (as housekeeper, carer of the three girls, now in their upper teens, and de facto wife).  In January 1810 Richard Atkins was at last replaced as Judge Advocate by Ellis Bent, an English lawyer sent to take up the post as part of Governor Macquarie’s mandate to reorganise the colonial government.

Paying a courtesy call on his predecessor, and familiar with the social comforts of a lawyer’s life in London, Bent found him living in ‘a perfect pig-stye’ with his housekeeper and illegitimate children.  Despite the squalid conditions and his frequent intoxication, Atkins, he wrote, was ‘a fine-looking man, very prepossessing … and a gentleman in his deportment’; he ‘plainly showed he was in a situation beneath him … and accustomed to polished and higher classes of life’.

Macquarie brought with him orders recalling some of the colony’s senior officials, Atkins among them, to give evidence at the court-martial of Lieutenant Colonel George Johnston, for alleged mutiny against former Governor William Bligh (the ‘Rum Rebellion’).  In April 1810 Atkins and Mary Beckwith, now a free woman, left the girls in Sydney and sailed for London in the Hindostan, along with Bligh and his former colleagues.  Macquarie reportedly thought it unlikely that he would survive the passage, but he reached England safely and duly testified at Johnston’s court martial.

After a short spell in a debtor’s prison, Atkins retired with Mary to the village of High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, close to his childhood home at Denham.  Chronically insolvent, his financial problems again came to a head in 1817, forcing him to reach a settlement with his numerous creditors.  He must also have settled matters with his family, for about this time he married his ‘sincere friend and companion’ of many years; it is inconceivable he could have taken this step without their consent.  Lacking the record of their marriage, it remains unknown whether she took her vows as Mary Beckwith or Miss M- .

Richard Atkins died on 21st November 1820, aged 75, leaving his widow his ‘household goods plate linen china books ready money and other effects’ – plus the responsibility of settling his remaining debts; he was buried in the family vault at Denham.  Mary joined him nine months later, in August 1821 – requesting in her own will the right of burial with ‘my late dear Husband’.   It had been an amazing life passage, from hearing the death sentence at the Old Bailey, to transportation for life to the penal colony at Botany Bay, and a final resting place at the side of a descendant of Queen Elizabth I’s trusted Chancellor, Sir William Cecil.

Did she, I wonder, in these final years give any thought to the possible fate of the young girl (step-daughter or personal maid?) who had shared with her the horrors of the calamitous years from 1800 to 1802?

* * * *

The naturalist François Péron, Commander Pierre Bernard Milius, and other officers and scientists of the expedition left records of their visit to Sydney in 1802, but not  Captain Baudin.  His Journal de Mer ceases on 17th June, outside the Heads at Port Jackson, and resumes on 17th November, the day before departure.  It was standard practice for captains to maintain official records of their voyage, the property of the Navy, at sea, and personal journals while in port.  Baudin records his stay at Ile de France on the outward voyage, and at Kupang, in West Timor, in his Journal, but apart from his correspondence we have no record relating to his five months stay in the colony.

 

Given his clear intention to write a detailed account of the voyage, for which full and clear records of all aspects – navigational, geographic, scientific, and administrative – were essential, I believe that Baudin very likely kept at least a personal record of the expedition’s visit to the British colony.  Since after 200 years the narrative has not come to light, the question needs to be asked – was it indeed written, and if so, what happened to it?  Does it still exist, or has it been destroyed – perhaps by Baudin’s own wish, or by someone else’s hand?

[N.B.  These paras. to be re-drafted and extended as a Postscript to the essay]

 

 

Baudin’s anchorages, landings & visits – 1802.04.06 – 1803.02.11, by Brown, Anthony J.

Baudin’s anchorages, landings & visits – 1802.04.06 – 1803.02.11

Anthony J. Brown, compiler

(Crossing Bass Strait, Baudin sighted Wilson ‘s Promontory on 28 March 1802, and began a running survey of the south coast. He remained in S.A. waters from 2 April to 8 May 1802. No landings were made on this visit.
Sources: N. Baudin, Journal, 1974; F. Péron, Voyage of Discovery, 1809).

RIVOLI BAY 6 April 1802.

‘During the morning we coasted a very large bay, forming, in its North-East section, a fairly deep indentation. … the whole coast is shielded by a reef and a line of large rocks that prevent any landing there’. (BJ)

CAPE RABELAIS 6 April 1802.

‘The cape is a projecting point that rises sheer out of the sea’. (BJ)

BAUDIN ROCKS 7 April 1802.

‘In bearing away to head further out to sea, we were quite amazed to see a rock at water level …This rock is surrounded by reefs and appears to be joined to the mainland by a chain of rocks’. (BJ)

LACEPEDE BAY 7 April 1802.

‘The human race seemed numerous on this coast, if we might judge from the numberless fires which we saw at the farther end of Lacepede Bay’. (PV).

ENCOUNTER 8 & 9 April 1802.

8 April. ‘Towards three o’clock we began to see some high terrain … Shortly after, we sighted a ship … at five o’clock, when we were both able to see each other clearly, this ship made a signal which we did not understand and so did not answer. She then ran up the English flag and shortened sail. We for our part hoisted the national flag, and I braced sharp up to draw alongside her. As they spoke us first, they asked what the ship was. I replied that she was French. Then they asked if Captain Baudin was her commander.

When I said yes, the English ship brought to. Seeing her make ready to send a boat across, I likewise brought to to wait for it. The English captain. Mr. Flinders … came aboard, expressed great satisfaction at this agreeable meeting, but was extremely reserved on all other matters. … I informed him of all that we had done up till then in the way of geographical work. As it was already late, Mr. Flinders said that if I were willing to stand off and on till dawn, he would return the following day … I was very gratified by his proposal and we agreed to remain together during the night’. (BJ)

9 April. ‘[Mr. Flinders] arrived at half past six, accompanied by the same person [Robert Brown] as on the earlier occasion. As he was much less reserved on this second visit, he told me that his ship was the Investigator and that he had left Europe about eight months after I had. He also told me that he had begun his exploration of the coast of New Holland at Cape Leeuwin. He had visited the Isles of St. Peter and St. Francis, as well as all the coast of New Holland up to the point of our meeting. In addition, he informed me of the lay-out of a port that he had discovered [which] he had named Kanguroo Island because of the great numbers of that animal that he had found there.

Before we separated, Mr. Flinders gave me several charts published by Arrowsmith since our departure. As I told him of the accident that had befallen my dinghy and asked him to give it all the help he could if he should chance to meet it, he told me of a similar misfortune that had happened to him, for he had lost eight men and a boat on his Kangaroo Island [sic]…. Upon leaving, Mr. Flinders said that he was going to make for [Bass] strait and try to find some land which was said to exist between the Hunter Group and the place they have named Western Port. We parted at eight o’clock, each wishing the other a safe voyage’. (BJ)

FLEURIEU PENiNSULA 9 April 1802.

‘Beyond a bay about ten miles in width at the mouth … we discovered the peninsula Fleurieu, which is 15 or 16 leagues in length, formed of very high lands and elevations of mountains …‘ (PV)

KANGAROO ISLAND 10 & 11 April, 15 April 1802.

11 April. ‘We sailed along a fairly considerable stretch of the eastern coast of Kangaroo Island … The hinterland looks rather pleasant, and although most of the trees had lost their leaves, there remained enough greenery for the view to be attractive’. (BJ)

15 April. ‘I did not expect to find so long an island off the mainland coast … The entire coast that we examined … was high and rose steeply from the shore. This island presents an agreeable and very varied aspect [and gave us] more pleasure than all the coast that we had seen so far“. (BJ)

GULF ST. VINCENT (Golfe de Ia Mauvaise (BJ), Golfe Josephine (PV)) 12-14 April 1802.

‘I gave this gulf the name of Golfe de la Mauvaise because of the fatigue it caused the whole crew’ (133). ‘The 13th of April was marked by extreme danger; attacked by dreadful squalls of wind, we were obliged, through the whole night, to beat to windward in the east gulf, having several times not more than a few feet water …‘ (PV)

SPENCER GULF (Golfe de la Melomanie (BT), Golfe Bonaparte (PV))

18-24 April 1802.

19 April. ‘At seven [a.m.] land was sighted from the mastheads. It stretched from East-North-East to North-North-West, proving only too plainly that we were in a gulf, judging from the general shallowness of the water and the progressive decrease in its depth as we headed either East or West towards one coast or the other’. (BJ)

‘This vast gulf appears at the mouth like a large river, and insensibly becomes narrower towards the end. On the western shore … and near the entrance is the port Champagny [Port Lincoln], one of the finest and safest harbours of all New Holland’. (PV)

SLEAFORD BAY (Baie Lavoisier) 27 April 1802.

‘As the bay lies between a range of mountains, I expected to find good shelter there overnight, but the winds did not allow us to reach its furthest part. … The shores are merely barren sand, and the mountains forming each end of it are nothing but enormous piles of rocks’. (BJ)

ST. FRANCIS & ST. PETER ISLANDS 1-5 May 1802.

CAPE ADIEU 8 May 1802.

‘We headed north, bearing slightly West, to stand in for the mainland [and] to rejoin the coast at the point at which General d’Entrecasteaux seems to have left it …Serious reflections upon the position I was in, the weakness of my crew, … our pressing need for firewood, the shortness of the days, all decided me to abandon the coast … and proceed to Port Jackson. As the change of course was soon known, everyone expressed satisfaction at it, and truly, we were all very much in need of a little rest’. (BJ)

(Baudin remained at Port Jackson from mid-June to mid-November 1802. He returned to S.A. waters in January 1803, accompanied by Lieut. Louis de Freycinet in the schooner Casuarina. On this second voyage landings were made on Kangaroo Island the St. Francis and St. Peter Islands, and at Murat Bay.)

KANGAROO ISLAND (named île Borda by Baudin, île Decrès by Freycinet) 2 January – 1 February 1803.

2 January. ‘I decided to [survey] the southern portion of this island with the ship [and] ordered Mr. Freycinet to follow us, coasting the land as closely as he could and examining all inlets which seemed likely to offer anything of interest’. (BJ)

3 January ‘we continued the geographic work on the southern portion of Kangaroo Island …From the observed latitude on this day and from the [known] latitude of the northern part of this island, it was easy for us to judge that it was not very broad from North to South, and …extremely narrow in relation to its length’. (BJ)

4 January. ‘The whole southern portion of this island is nothing but sand dunes and rocky plateaux We did not find a single place where landing appears possible, so heavily does the sea break all along the shore’. (BJ)

5 January. ‘In the morning …we sighted part of the land forming the West coast of the first gulf [Gulf St. Vincent]’. (BJ)

6 January. (Baudin anchored in Flinders’ Nepean Bay, and sent boat parties to examine the eastern and western shores). ‘This bay …is the largest of all bays around the coast. It is also the most important; its situation shields it from the south-westerly winds, and its size makes it suitable for harbouring numerous fleets’. (PV2)

7 January – 1 February. (Baudin remained at anchorage in Nepean Bay until 1 February. During his stay the Bay and nearby coasts were charted, a long-boat was rebuilt with native timber, Bernier the astronomer set up an observatory ashore, the naturalists made many excursions collecting specimens, and nearly 20 kangaroos and two emus were captured alive for transportation to France. On 10 January Freycinet and Boullanger, the geographer, were despatched in Casuarina to survey the two Gulfs).

GULF ST. VINCENT AND SPENCER GULF (Golfes Joséphine and Bonaparte) 10 – 31 January. [No landings]

11-18 January. (Freycinet completed survey of Gulf St. Vincent). ‘As our companions proceeded up the gulf, they could see the two sides coming together and forming what looked like the bed of a big river. They were hoping to make some important discovery when, arriving at the head of this vast bay, they found it to end in low, sunken land, without any appearance of an opening or a connection with the hinterland’. (PV2)

19 January. ‘[Our companions] doubled Cape Elisa [Troubridge Point] at 7 in the morning and soon ran aground on a fairly extensive sandbank’. (PV2)

20-29 January. (Freycinet rounded Cape Spencer on 20 January, and reached the head of the gulf – ‘low-lying land that appeared to be connected to the east and west shores, without any sort of opening between them’ (PV2) – on 22 January). 22-24 January. ‘Obliged by contrary winds to tack about for almost 60 hours in these dangerous waters, Messrs. Freycinet and Boullanger had only too much time to determine accurately the position and extent of these shoals’ (PV2). 28-29 January. ‘Port Champagny [Port Lincoln] consists of three basins, … all of them … capable of harbouring all the navies of Europe’ (PV2). (Delayed by calms, Casuarina returned to Kangaroo Island 1 February).

(Baudin had ordered Freycinet to rendezvous with him at Kangaroo Island no later than 31 January. Géographe was under sail off the north coast of the island when Casuarina was sighted at 2 p.m. ‘I expected that as soon as she saw us, she would go on the same tack as us and follow us, [but] she continued running East, and so rapidly, that by 3.30 she was out of sight’ (BJ). Baudin shortened sail for overnight, but Freycinet passed unseen in the night. Both ships made for the next rendezvous at St. Peter and St. Francis Islands).

ST. PETER ISLANDS AND MURAT BAY 5- 11 February 1803.

(Baudin sighted islands 5 February, anchored in Murat Bay on 7th. Boat parties landed on islands and mainland to examine shores. Géographe sailed on 11 February for next rendezvous at King George Sound).

ST. FRANCIS ISLANDS 5 -7 February 1803.

(Casuarina reached St. Francis Islands – 25 miles south of St. Peter group – 5 February.

Freycinet remained for two days searching for Baudin, then sailed for King George Sound).

 

NOTES

Quotations are from (1) The Journal of Post Captain Nicolas Baudin (BJ), translated by Christine Cornell (Adelaide, Libraries Board of SA, 1974); (2) Francois Péron: A Voyage of Discovery to the Southern Hemisphere … (PV), translated from the French (London, R. Phillips, 1809; repr. Melbourne, Marsh Walsh Publ., 1975); and (3) an unpublished translation of Vol. II of Péron and Freycinet’s Voyage de découvertes aux terres australes (Paris, 1816) by C. Cornell (PV2) undated).

 

glossy-black cockatoo eating Allocasuarina nuts

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Video by Christian Roy, 11.2010

A glossy-black cockatoo from Kangaroo Island (Calyptorhynchus lathami) is eating Allocasuarina nuts. You can hear their typical wailing and a black crow.

echidna video

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Video by Patrice Haldemann 09.2009

Try our quiz, by Dr Gabriel Bittar

Try our quiz

by Dr Gabriel Bittar

On the 4th of January 1803, a French expedition under the command of Nicolas Baudin, sent by Napoleon Bonaparte on the last year of the 18th century, achieved the first circumnavigation of Kangaroo Island – as a matter of fact, the first circumnavigation of a land part of what will become Australia.

It was a full-fledged scientific expedition, the most important one ever sent to Terra Australis. A fascinating scientific report on Kangaroo Island, by the chief scientist on the French expedition, François Péron, can be found in the book “Natural history of Kangaroo Island”.

Do you know your history, geography and basic science? Test it with this 34-questions quiz. Warning: you might sometimes be surprised…

1. The antipode to Kangaroo Island is:
a. in the southern Pacific
b. in the Sargasso Sea, North Atlantic
c. Saragossa, Spain
d. Kyôto, Japa
2. In the Northern hemisphere, these islands are approximately at the same latitude as Kangaroo Island:
a. Cyprus, Crete, Malta, and Santa-Maria in the Azores
b. Tenerife, Great Bahama, Midway and Okinawa
c. Newfoundland (Terre-Neuve), Vancouver Island and Sakhaline
3. At the time of its discovery by Europeans, on Kangaroo Island:
a. there were no aborigines, and it seems they had never settled there in the past
b. there were no aborigines, but they had been there in the past
c. there were not many aborigines, and they were exterminated by settlers and disease brought by them, as in Tasmania
4. The size of Kangaroo Island is such that there is approximately:
a. 0.5 km² / inhabitant
b. 1 km² / inhabitant
c. 10 hectares / inhabitant
d. 100 km² / inhabitant
e. 100’000 m² / inhabitant
5. Only one of these three descriptions of the first circumnavigation of Kangaroo Island is correct:
a. on the 2nd January 1803, Le Géographe, under the command of Nicolas Baudin, and Le Casuarina, captained by Louis-Claude de Freycinet, began the first circumnavigation of Kanguroo Island, beginning from its south-east and passing south of Prospect Hill this very day. On the 3rd, they passed Cape Gantheaume, then Cape du Couëdic and the two Casuarina islets. On the 4th the circumnavigation was accomplished. On the 5th, Le Géographe looked for Le Casuarina, which had been lost sight of on the 4th.
b. on the 2nd January 1803, Le Géographe, under the command of Nicolas Baudin, and Le Casuarina, captained by Louis-Claude de Freycinet, began the first circumnavigation of Kanguroo Island, beginning from its south-east and passing south of Prospect Hill this very day. On the 3rd and the 4th, they passed Cape Linois and Cape Gantheaume, and then successively Cape Borda, Cape Forbin, Cape Bedout, Cape du Couëdic, Cape Bouguer, Cape Kersaint, Cape d’Estaing and Cape Cassini. On the 5th, Le Géographe looked for Le Casuarina, which had been lost sight of on the 4th.
c. on the 2nd January 1803, Le Géographe, under the command of Nicolas Baudin, and Le Naturaliste, captained by Jacques Hamelin, began the first circumnavigation of Kanguroo Island, beginning from its south-east and passing south of Prospect Hill this very day. On the 3rd, they successively passed Vivonne Bay, D’Estrées Bay and Maupertuis Bay, and then passed the Casuarina islet. On the 4th, the circumnavigation was accomplished. On the 5th, Le Naturaliste departed for France.
6. Where is Cape Bouguer?
a. on the northern coast of Kangaroo Island
b. on the western coast of Kangaroo Island
c. on the eastern coast of Kangaroo Island
d. on the southern coast of Kangaroo Island
e. on the eastern coast of Fleurieu Peninsula
7. Cape Bouguer derives its name from:
a. Kap Burger, after the name of the boat of the Dutch navigator Nicholas van Rijn who first passed it in 1758.
b. Pierre Bouguer, deceased 1758, the French astronomer who founded the science of photometry.
c. Cap du Bougre, bouguer being old French for bougre (bugger), because while passing it a sailor on Le Casuarina was found trying to commit an act of bestiality on a poor emu taken on board.
8. Where is Cape Cassini?
a. on the southern coast of Kangaroo Island
b. on the western coast of Kangaroo Island
c. on the northern coast of Kangaroo Island
d. on the eastern coast of Kangaroo Island
e. on the eastern coast of Fleurieu Peninsula
9. Cape Cassini derives its name from:
a. he Italo-French Cassini family, prestigious astronomers who directed in the 17th and 18th centuries the Observatory of Paris.
b. the Swiss Cassini family, rich bankers who financed Napoleon and the Baudin expedition.
c. the Corsican Cassini family, to whom belonged Napoleon’s beloved mother.
10. Where is Cape Rouge?
a. on the north-east of the Bay of Shoals, opposite Kingscote
b. on the south-east of the Bay of Shoals, opposite Kingscote
c. on the Red Banks, Western Cove of Nepean Bay
d. on the Red Banks, Eastern Cove of Nepean Bay
11. Cape Rouge derives its name from:
a. From Eric Rougé, admiral of Napoleon, now known mostly for his incompetence in the Trafalgar naval battle.
b. A shortening of Cap (de la Révolution) Rouge, Cape of the Red (Revolution), affectionately so-called because of the extensive use of the guillotine.
c. Cap Rouge (Cape Red), from the reddish granite on that part of the coast.
12. Where is Maupertuis Bay?
a. on the north-western coast of Kangaroo Island
b. on the south-western coast of Kangaroo Island
c. on the northern coast of Kangaroo Island
d. on the south-eastern coast of Kangaroo Island
e. on the southern coast of Western Australia
13. Maupertuis Bay derives its name from:
a. “Mau(vais) pertuis”, litterally “bad narrow(ing) hole” – from the dangerous detroit that the French expedition of Baudin went through while circumnavigating Kangaroo Island.
b. Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis, deceased 1759, mathematician, astronomer, geodesist, physicist and biologist, who ardently propagated Newtonian science; he refined it and demonstrated in 1738 that the Earth was not a perfect sphere but was slightly flattened at the poles, which brought him to be derisively referred as “le grand aplatisseur” (“the great flattener”); in 1744-1751, he formulated and developed the physical principle of least action; interested in the formation of species, his precursor transformist theory of 1751-4 anticipated the concept of mutation.
c. Pierre-Louis Marin-Malo de Maupertuis, deceased 1799, sailor in his youth, revolutionary activist and amateur scientist, who ardently propagated revolutionary science; he surmised in 1788 that the Earth was not a perfect sphere but was potato shaped, and being himself thus shaped in his latter years, this brought him to be derisively referred as “la patate ultime” (“the ultimate potato”); in 1789-92, he indefatigably formulated and developed the revolutionary principle of minimal effort; interested in the sociological formation of politicians and in favour of their necessary pruning through guillotination, he was a precursor of modern political science, but has been unjustifiably sidelined since.
14. The Ravine des Casoars, south of Cape Borda (Kangaroo Island), has been thus called by the Baudin expedition because:
a. when they accompanied Mary Beckwith down for a small walk, the French officers accompanying her put on their “casque d’apparat” (parade helmet) with a casoar plume.
b. they mistook the dwarf emus for cassowaries (casoars).
c. they found in this place more dwarf cassowaries than dwarf emus.
d. the Island “dwarf emu” is a misnomer, in fact it is a dwarf cassowary.
15. Baudin’s expedition was able to bring back alive to France some Kangaroo Island “dwarf emus”, of which part of a stuffed one can be found in the natural history museum of Geneva, Switzerland.
a. The “emus” brought back were only mainland ones.
b. The stuffed sample can be found in the natural history museum of Paris.
c. The “dwarf emus” brought back were dead and stuffed.
d. The above statement is entirely true.
16. The emus belong to the same bird order as:
a. the cassowaries, moas, kiwis, ostriches,aepyornises and rheas
b. the cassowaries, moas, kiwis and penguins
c. the cassowaries, moas, kiwis, ostriches and dodo
17. After their circumnavigation of Kangaroo Island, from 6 to 31 January 1803 Nicolas Baudin and the crew of Le Géographe studied the island. On their departure on 1st February 1803, Baudin renamed in his Journal Kanguroo Island:
a. île Borda, like the north-western cape, because he had heard a British sailor of his crew call it with his thick accent the “borde’ isl’” (meaning it was the southern-most border of this part of Terra Australis).
b. île Borda, like the north-western cape, because he had heard a French sailor of his crew call it with his thick accent the “île bordel” (bordello, brothel), in derision of the total absence of humans and thus badly needed women, and in raillery to the lonely feminine presence of Mary Beckwith aboard.
c. île Borda, like the north-western cape, in honour of the mariner and mathematician Jean-Charles de Borda, deceased in 1799.
d. île Decrès, a misspelling of île des craies, i.e. island of the chalks, because of the often limestone cliffs and the chalks that were used on board to draw its first complete contour.
e. île Decrès, after admiral Denis Decrès, Napoleon’s minister of Marine.
18. In his Journal, Nicolas Baudin named what is now called the American River:
a. the Port des Pélicans (Port of the Pelicans), thus called on the 13 and 23 January 1803.
b. Port Dache, thus called on the 13 and 23 January 1809.
c. the American River, thus called on the 13 and 23 January 1803.
d. the Australian River, thus called on the 13 and 23 December 1803.
19. Only one of these four statements is correct in relation with the nomination of Nicolas Baudin as captain of the French scientific expedition to the southern coasts of Terres Australes:
a. Baudin was renown in the French Navy, having proved himself in a naval battle against the English.
b. Baudin was renown for having a great deal of experience in botany and zoology, and for knowing how to keep plants and animals alive at sea, having already made for the Austrian Empire four natural history voyages to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.
c. Baudin was a good personal friend of Napoleon Bonaparte, which helped him in his nomination.
d. Baudin was a good friend of Joséphine Bonaparte, who pleaded with Napoléon to send him on this mission.
20. Apart from some of his shipmates, Nicolas Baudin developed a strong friendship with:
a. Robert Brown, chief scientist on HMS Investigator, who could speak French.
b. Governor Philip King, at Port Jackson (Sydney Cove).
c. Governor Arthur Phillip, at Port Jackson (Sydney Cove).
21. One of the main scientists on the Baudin expedition was:
a. the botanist François Péron, who developed during the voyage a keen interest for what was by these times mostly considered as “inferior” and worthless “plants” (algae, mosses, lichen, fungi…).
b. he botanist Robert Brun, who developed during the voyage a keen interest for what was by these times mostly considered as “inferior” and worthless “plants” (algae, mosses, lichen, fungi…).
c. the zoologist François Péron, who developed during the voyage a keen interest for what was by these times mostly considered as “inferior” and worthless animals (invertebrates such as molluscs…).
d. the zoologist Robert Brun, who developed during the voyage a keen interest for what was by these times mostly considered as “inferior” and worthless animals (invertebrates such as molluscs…).
22. Apart from his contributions in zoology, botany and anthropology, François Péron scientific contribution during the Baudin expedition was also:
a. Observations on ground temperatures which were of considerable importance in the emerging science of geology.
b. Observations on marine temperatures which were of considerable importance in the emerging science of oceanography.
c. Observations on stellar temperatures which were of considerable importance in the emerging science of asterography.
23. Which one of the following statements is correct in relation to the two artists on Baudin’s expedition:
a. Charles-Alexandre Lesueur and Nicolas-Martin Petit were considered and recruited as first-rate artists, and they proved it to be true even in the most difficult conditions of work.
b. Charles-Alexandre Lesueur and Nicolas-Martin Petit were considered (except by Baudin) and recruited as second-rate artists, but their natural talent allowed them to become outstanding artists even in the most difficult conditions of work.
c. Nicolas-Martin Petit and Jean-Baptiste Leschenault de la Tour were considered (except by Baudin) and recruited as second-rate artists, but their natural talent allowed them to become outstanding artists even in the most difficult conditions of work.
d. Charles-Alexandre Lesueur and Jean-Baptiste Leschenault de la Tour were considered and recruited as first-rate artists, and they proved it to be true even in the most difficult conditions of work.
24. The European 18th century has been called the Enlightenment Century. It demonstrated an enormous interest and respect for science and knowledge, and this showed in the attitude of many of its illustrious non-scientific children. Who said “(…) true victories, the only ones which leave no regret are those made over ignorance.”:
a. French King Louis XVI
b. Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte
c. UK Prime Minister William Pitt
d. UK admiral Horatio Nelson
25. The British scientific (as opposed to commercial, military or colonial) expeditions to Terra Australis are generally well known, less are those of the French. During the last 35 years of the 18th century, France launched major scientific expeditions to the southern seas and Australia; how many were there ?
a. two (de Bougainville and Baudin)
b. four (de Bougainville, La Pérouse, Bruny d’Entrecasteaux, and Baudin)
c. six (de Bougainville, Marion-Dufresne, de Saint-Allouarn, La Pérouse, Bruny d’Entrecasteaux, and Baudin).
26. The first scientific expedition specifically dedicated to the study of Australia’s flora, fauna and indigenous population was:
a. Bougainville’s expedition with L’Étoile and La Boudeuse
b. Cook’s expedition HMS Endeavour
c. Baudin’s expedition with Le Géographe and Le Naturaliste
d. Flinders’ expedition with HMS Investigator
27. Eastward, at the time of the Flinders and Baudin voyages, Terra Incognita (the Unknown Coast) began from
a. Cape Arid
b. Cape Adieu
c. Cape Nuyts
d. Streaky Bay
e. Cape Carnot
28. Charles-Pierre Claret de Fleurieu was a French navigator and statesman who had a strong interest for the Terra Incognita centred around what constitutes now South Australia. He gave instructions to French navigators, alas for France to no avail, to give priority to its exploration:
a. Two times (La Pérouse in 1785, Baudin in 1800).
b. Two times (Bruny d’Entrecasteaux in 1791, Baudin in 1800).
c. Three times (La Pérouse in 1785, Bruny d’Entrecasteaux in 1791, Baudin in 1800).
d. Four times (de Bougainville in 1766, La Pérouse in 1785, Bruny d’Entrecasteaux in 1791, Baudin in 1800).
29. The first Frenchmen to set foot in Australia were:
a. Marc-Joseph Marion-Dufresne and his crews on Le Mascarin and Le Marquis de Castries, on 3 March 1772, in Blackman’s Bay, Tasmania
b. Louis-François Alleno de Saint-Allouarn and his crew of Le Gros Ventre, on 29 March 1772, in Shark Bay, WA
c. Antoine-Joseph Bruny d’Entrecasteaux and his crews on La Recherche and L’Espérance, on December 1792, in Nuytsland, south-east WA
d. Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, commanding the first French circumnavigation of the globe (5.12.1766-16.3.1769), on La Boudeuse and L’Étoile, in 1768 June 10th
30. The first Frenchmen to set foot on the Australian mainland were:
a. Marc-Joseph Marion-Dufresne and his crews on Le Mascarin and Le Marquis de Castries, on 17 March 1772, in Flinders Bay, south WA
b. Louis-François Alleno de Saint-Allouarn and his crew of Le Gros Ventre, on 17 March 1772, in Flinders Bay, south WA
c. Jean-François Galaup de La Pérouse and his crews of La Boussole and L’Astrolabe, in 1788 January 26, in Botany Bay, N.S.W.
d. Nicolas Baudin and his crews on Le Géographe and Le Naturaliste, on 30 May 1801, in Géographe Bay, south WA
31. Baudin’s expedition first landed in Australia:
a. coming from Timor, on 30th May 1801, at Géographe Bay, near Cape Naturaliste.
b. coming from Timor, on 30th May 1801, in the Kimberley region.
c. coming from Isle de France (Mauritius), on 30th May 1801, at Géographe Bay, near Cape Naturaliste.
d. coming from Isle de France (Mauritius), on 30th December 1801, at Géographe Bay, near Cape Naturaliste.
32. Baudin having sent it back to France from King Island at the end of 1802, Le Naturaliste, crammed with scientific collections, including live animals and plants, returned to Le Havre on 7.6.1803, under the command of Jacques Hamelin; Le Géographe returned France in Lorient, Brittany (Bretagne), on 23.3.1804, under the command of Pierre-Bernard Milius.
a. This statement is entirely true.
b. Correct, except it was from Kangaroo Island.
c. Partially correct. Both Le Naturaliste and le Géographe returned to Le Havre on 7.6.1803, under the command of Jacques Hamelin and Pierre-Bernard Milius.
d. Partially correct. Both Le Naturaliste and le Géographe returned to Le Havre on 23.3.1804, under the command of Jacques Hamelin and Pierre-Bernard Milius.
e. Partially correct. Both Le Naturaliste and le Géographe returned to Le Havre on 7.6.1803, under the command of Nicolas Baudin.
33. Nicolas Baudin “ceased to exist”:
a. on île de France (Mauritius) the 16 September 1803, from pulmonary tuberculosis (consumption), assisted in his last painful month of life by Alexandrine Kerivel, born Genève de Saint-Jean, and possibly also by Mary Beckwith;
b. in Timor the 16 September 1802, from syphilis, assisted in his last painful month of life by Mary Beckwith;
c. in his home-town of Saint-Jean, near Genève (Geneva), from malaria, the 23 March 1804, assisted in his last painful month of life by Mary Beckwith.
34. When was published the first more or less complete map of Australia ?
a. In 1805, in London, it was a rough chart of Terra Australis sent from Mauritius Island by Matthew Flinders.
b. In 1810, in London, it was the General Chart of Terra Australis, by Matthew Flinders.
c. In 1811, in Paris, it was a chart of New Holland, by Louis-Claude de Saulses de Freycinet’s, commander of Le Casuarina during the Baudin expedition.
d. In 1814, in London, it was the General Chart of Terra Australis, by Matthew Flinders.

You will find the answers here

The works of art and science at the lodge, by Dr Gabriel Bittar

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The works of art and science

Les œuvres d’art et de science

Kunst und Wissenschaft Werke

The Lodge displays the works of nature artists with “an exquisite eye”, artists from the Baudin and Flinders expeditions and also more recent ones – with a choice of reproductions centred on animals and plants that can be seen on Kangaroo Island.


 

To the left of the bathroom door
À gauche de la porte de la salle de bains
Links von der Badezimmer Tür
Bauer:

Brunonia australis

(blue flower, water-colour 52.8 x 35.2 cm, Port Clinton, Queensland, 22.8.1802 – fleur bleue, Goodeniaceae)

Calothamnus gracilis

(red fl. – fl. rouge)

Cymbidium suave

(yellow orchid, collected in NSW, water-colour 52.6 x 35.7 cm – orchidée jaune, Orchidaceae)

Alyogyne hakeifolia

(violet fl., water-colour 52.6 x 35.6 cm, Middle Island, La Recherche Archipelago, Western Australia, 18.5.1803 – fl. violette, Malvaceae; this genus is restricted to Australia)

Grevillea banksii

(red fl., water-colour 52.4 x 35.7 cm, Keppel Bay, Queensland – fl. rouge, Proteaceae)

Eucalyptus pruinosa

(yellow fl., islands of the Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland, 11.1802 – fl. jaune, Myrtaceae)


 

To the right of the bathroom door
À droite de la porte de la salle de bains
Rechts von der Badezimmer Tür
Lesueur:

Lamellibranchae

eight species – huit espèces, left to right and top to bottom – de gauche à droite et de haut en bas: Anomalodiscus squamosus, Gafrarium pectinatum, Corculum unedo, Tridacna crocea, and three unidentified specimens – et trois spécimens non identifiés (tater-colour, ink and pencil 41 x 27 cm)


 

Over the bed, from left to right
Au-dessus du lit, de gauche à droite
Über dem bed, von links nach rechts
Bauer:

Dryandra formosa

(yellow fl. – fl. jaune)

Banksia coccinea

(red fl. – fl. rouge)

Banksia speciosa

(yellow fl., water-colour 52.5 x 35.6 cm, Lucky Bay, Western Australia, 1.1802 – fl. jaune)


 

Kitchen
Cuisine
Küche
Bauer:

Egernia kingii

(King’s skink lizard, Scincidae, Seal Island, King George Sound, Western Australia, 22.12.1801, water-colour 34 x 50 cm – lézard)

Trichoglossus haematodus (moluccanus)

(couple of rainbow lorikeets, Psittacidae, Port Phillip, Victoria, 30.4.1802, water-colour 34 x 51 cm)


 

Bathroom, from left to right
Salle de bains, de gauche à droite
Badzimmer, von links nach rechts
Bauer
:

Phyllopteryx taeniolatus

weedy seadragons (yellow sea-horses, King george Sound, Western Australia, 12.1801, water-colour 33.7 x 50.5 cm) – 2 hippocampes (poissons jaunes), Syngnathidae – this fish is restricted to southern Australian waters, from Rottnest Island (Western Australia) to Newcastle (NSW), including Bass Strait and Tasmania. It occurs in both shallow waters and on offshore reefs, preferring rocky reef habitats with kelp and algal beds, and feeds on small crustaceans. Males brood the eggs externally on a patch of skin beneath the tail

Lesueur:

Nectria ocellifera

red starfish – étoile de mer rouge (collected at Kangaroo Island; water-colour 23.5 x 37.5 cm)

Cassiopea andromeda

blue jellyfish – méduse bleue (water-colour and pencil on vellum, 25.5 x 40.5 cm)


 

Moreover, you can see, near and above the sliding door, five reproductions of 1970 watercolours of psittaciforms by Williams Thomas Cooper [1934 -], reproduced from “Parrots of the World” by Joseph Forshaw (1973); from left to right:

Platycercidæ family:

three species of Platycercus rosellas, clockwise from left: pale-headed white-cheeked rosella, Platycercus adscitus adscitus, from eastern Queensland ; South-Western or yellow-cheeked rosella, Platycercus icterotis, male and female, smallest of the rosellas; Adelaide rosella, Platycercus elegans adelaidae , found in south-east SA from the north of Fleurieu Peninsula to Quorn; the crimson rosella, Pl. el. elegans, not represented here, is native to KI (it’s the western-most tip of the range of this subspecies)

Loriidæ family:

the three species of Glossopsitta lorikeets, clockwise from left: musk lorikeet, G. concinna, native to KI; little lorikeet, G. pusilla; purple-crowned lorikeet, G. porphyrocephala, native to KI (it’s the one commonly seen around this place; with the little lorikeet, it’s the smallest of the lorikeets); the rainbow lorikeet, Trichoglossus haematodus haematodus, not represented here, is also native to KI

Cacatuidæ family:

two sulphur-crested white cockatoos, Cacatua sulphurea (galerita), native to KI; pink (Leadbeater’s, Major Mitchell’s) cockatoo, Cacatua leadbeateri

female and male of glossy-black red-tailed cockatoo, Calyptorhynchus lathami, the smallest of the black cockatoos; notice the yellow blotches on head and neck of the adult female, and the all-red tail of the adult male; the voice is a soft, wailing trumpetting; C. l. halmaturinus is native to KI; the yellow-tailed black cockatoo, Calyptorhynchus  funereus, not represented here, is also native to KI

four red-eyering galahs, Eolophus roseicapillus albiceps (Cacatua roseicapilla albiceps ), native to KI


 

Text © by:
Dr Gabriel Bittar
bittar@kin.net.au

Péron and the birth of the science of invertebrates, by Dr Gabriel Bittar

In memoriam François Péron [Cérilly 1775.08.22 – Cérilly 1810.12.14]

Péron and the birth of the science of invertebrates

By Dr Gabriel Bittar
President, International Foundation Jîvasattha and Jîvarakkhî

Part I – Passion, struggle, success, oblivion

1. Introduction — The beaches of “Kanguroo Island
2. François Péron, a man of modest origins with a passion for knowledge
3. 1800: Bonaparte orders a new scientific expedition to Terra australis
4. Lamarck and the invertebrates
5. Transformism vs fixism – the great polemos
6. Péron, the molluscs and transformism
7. A very successful expedition for zoology
8. From amazing success to oblivion – what happened ?

Part II – Crushing chaos, again, and again

9. Scientists in competition: the main roles in the Péronian tragedy
10. After Péron’s death – the efforts of Lesueur
11. Politics and the fate of Péron
12. Chaos in action
13. The bicentenary of a death, yet a lively matter of prejudice
14. Péron, Lesueur and Lamarck: connectedness and non-connectedness
15. In conclusion – Heureux qui, comme Ulysse…

Part I – Passion, struggle, success, oblivion

1. Introduction — The beaches of “Kanguroo Island

While strolling along the stirring seashore of Kangaroo Island, this large island off South Australia, marvelling at its natural wonders, my mind often drifts back to January 1803. During the whole of this austral summer month, an enthusiastic and energetic young French scientist, endowed with the mind of an intrepid explorer, François Péron, was looking for invertebrates and collecting shells for his friend Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, another gifted man who would then carefully draw and paint them, usually from living specimens. Péron was in quest of any unknown invertebrate, which he collected and described for the scientific expedition led by commander Nicolas Baudin.

A most interesting captain this Nicolas Baudin, unusually attracted to natural sciences – alas, he would not live to see the fruits of his rather successful expedition: on the 16th of September 1803, he would die of tuberculosis, on Mauritius Island, while on his way back to France; dying under the tender attention of Alexandrine Kerivel, born Miss Alexandrine Genève.

Ah, Genève… At this point my mind drifts by association to Geneva the international city, where, in my youth, while wandering about its magnificent Muséum d’Histoire naturelle, I had come across the last remains of a now extinguished dwarf species of emu bird from a far-away island, Kangaroo Island. A ratite bird brought back to Napoleonic France by an incredible scientific expedition, that no one in France seemed aware of. The Kangaroo Island emu, Dromaius baudinianus, named after captain Baudin.

A museum where I had also discovered, to my astonishment, that the great Lamarck’s most extraordinary collection of shells, the personal collection of a scientist who had been among the very first pioneers of the evolutionary paradigm… had ended donated to the city of Geneva, in 1869. The Muséum d’histoire naturelle of Paris, where Lamarck had worked for decades… had refused the gift !

Lamarck — a magical name for any phylogenetist with a passion for evolution. And Baudin, and Péron, and Lesueur, and Leschenault the botanist… Stirring names, fascinating destinies. While wandering along these Kangaroo Island shores, wondering about the billions of years of evolution of life on this magnificent planet, I cannot but think of these brave people, so far from home, poignant particles of dust in the wind, these brave, courageous people who, two centuries ago, were strolling eagerly or peacefully on the very same shores, watching the very same sea, rich in so many life forms — a sea so powerful, so beautiful, so indifferent.

Captain Baudin, having from the 2nd to the 4th of January 1803, and for the first time for Europeans, circumnavigated Kangaroo Island with the two vessels under his command (Le Géographe and Le Casuarina), landed with his scientists on the 6th. They would explore with high interest the island of the kanguroos (as spelt then) with high interest, until their departure for the mainland on the 1st of February. They provided a thorough description of the flora and fauna of an island that was devoid of any human beings. Eden on Earth.

Péron, having de facto become chief zoologist of the expedition at this point of the long voyage, as usually performed his job thoroughly. Inter alia, he observed and documented the Australian sea lions, for which he created the genus Otaria (the “small-eared ones”). But Péron did not only observe large-sized animals. In fact, most of his time was spent on animals that were generally considered in those days as insignificant lowlies: the invertebrates.

These include obvious animals like spiders, scorpions, crustaceans and insects, the cephalopods (squids, cuttlefishes and octopuses), diverse forms of worms, myriads of shelled animals, urchins, sea cucumbers, ophiuroids, sea stars, but also even stranger animals which were in those days hardly recognised as such: sea lilies, bryozoans, hydroids and medusas, sea fans, anemones and corals, and those oddest, the sponges, which are hardly animal-like.

2. François Péron, a man of modest origins with a passion for knowledge

Through his writings, Péron often demonstrates that he was deeply touched by the unending beauties provided by nature, despite its often harsh aspects. But if nature’s beauty always inspired him, he was first moved by knowledge; it was to its furtherance that he had decided, early on, to dedicate his life. Deep inside, the young Péron believed that understanding would spring out of knowledge, and social goodness out of understanding, and that his own destiny was to participate in this most sacred endeavour: increasing knowledge of the natural world to progress humankind.

He came from a poor family, born in the small town of Cérilly, at the very heart of France. He grew up fatherless. After volunteering in the revolutionary army, he fought bravely on foreign soils, at the same time showing an unquenchable thirst for reading anything educative. Taken prisoner, having lost the sight of one eye, Péron finally came back to his home town, knowing a bit more of life but diminished physically. There, he was noticed by the local notary who, in July 1797, generously provided the funds necessary for this promising young chap “to go up to Paris” and study medicine. After a few years Péron was trained as a physician, and Georges Cuvier was one of his professors. Obviously, he was a good student and the great anatomist noticed him.

At this point, destiny pierced the heart of the young man. The benefactor notary, father of the Sophie he loved, would not allow him to marry her; he considered that a doctor in medicine was not good enough. This crushing of Péron’s dreams as a romantic and impetuous amoureux determined him to do whatever was necessary to become someone, socially speaking. Medicine was not good enough for this higher ambition: so he had to become exceptional. But politics, war and business were not this man’s cup of tea. Instead, he had a passion for science.

3. 1800: Bonaparte orders a new scientific expedition to Terra australis

Good luck: captain Nicolas Baudin and minister Charles-Pierre Claret de Fleurieu were organising the most ambitious scientific expedition ever to Terra australis. An endeavour that would dwarf the two previous scientific expeditions to the terra incognita of the antipodes that Fleurieu had already organised, with La Pérouse in 1785, then Bruny d’Entrecasteaux in 1791. Two expeditions which had been tragic histories of bad luck, heroism and suffering. One expedition had been organised by tenacious Fleurieu under the engrossed care of King Louis XVI, the second one under a revolutionary regime, and now this third expedition, which was to depart on the very last year of the Enlightenment century, was being organised under a republic sliding into despotic rule !

Nicolas Baudin, born in 1754, was the perfect choice for commanding this expedition: he had already proved himself not only as a seasoned captain, but also as an experienced naturalist, who could miraculously bring back alive all sorts of plants and animals from expeditions to the most distant places. He was also a man of immense culture, travelling with a vast and diverse personal library, someone who could both understand the importance of science on the expedition and the necessity of bringing back to France the people under his responsibility and care. Without tragedy this time, hopefully…

Péron applied as an anthropologist, but finally, with the support inter alia of Cuvier and Lamarck, embarked as anatomist and student in zoology. His two mentors had particularly recommended to him to keep his eye open for soft-bodied animals (“mollusques“) that he would come across during the expedition. Of course, the taxonomy of these animals was at that time far from being established, and what these two zoologists had in mind were more or less the invertebrates.

4. Lamarck and the invertebrates

Lamarck, who, since his nomination in 1793 as head of the chair of “Animaux sans vertèbres” at the Muséum d’Histoire naturelle of Paris, had progressively become a famous expert in invertebrates, had been spending a lot of time and putting a lot of thought into the matter of their systematics and taxonomy, of their place in life and in the great scheme of things. Two papers by him, dating from 1799, on the year preceding Baudin’s expedition, testify to his interest in the matter, and his conviction that the systematics of this branch of life wasn’t yet clear enough.

In these days, invertebrates were not clearly recognised as animals, in the usual sense of the noun. Neither did scientists mistake them any more for plants. Even corals, since the famous pioneering study by Jean-André Peyssonnel, in 1726, were, like the other cnidarians, recognised by the educated as belonging to the animal kingdom, despite their integration of photosynthetic micro-algae. Nevertheless, for the curious investigator, invertebrates remained an enigma. For many philosophers and intellectuals, they were deeply troubling. What should honest, God-fearing taxonomists, do with “flower animals” (anthozoans), such as those mysterious corals and those sea “anemones” ? With “moss animals” (bryozoans), with “lily-like” creatures from the sea (crinoids), with sea “cucumbers” (holothurids), or with “leathery baggy” things (tunicate ascidians) ? These little critters were blurring all boundaries, natural boundaries, mental boundaries, and consequently: God’s boundaries !

The problem was even worse regarding “lamp shells”, clams, mussels and other oysters: a further enigma within an enigma. Though clearly associated, as living beings, with seashores, they could also be found, as fossils, at high altitudes in many places far away from any existing sea ! This was most troubling, enough to drive an informed man trying to figure out the meaning of all this into illness and madness, à la Maître Mussard. Lamarck, having studied with an all-consuming passion the shells he had amassed in a vast collection, would, for his part, become blind and estranged from the academic world in his last ten years.

Other than Lamarck, Georges Cuvier also was interested in the invertebrates, but for different reasons. For the former, they were valued pointers to a higher, fundamental truth; for the latter, their taxonomic place simply needed to be precisely defined. It was G. Cuvier who, in 1800, created a new adjective by prefixing an existing one: “in-vertébré“. He had started studying them as early as 1792, but most of his memoirs on this branch of life were published between 1802 and 1815, and were subsequently collected as Mémoires pour servir de l’histoire et à l’anatomie des mollusques (1817). Even if Cuvier’s interest was genuine, it also appears that this valuable work was done in a spirit of confrontation with Lamarck.

Lamarck who, in 1809, made an important conceptual leap: by creating a substantive out of the adjective created by Cuvier, he brought the three branches of “animaux sans vertèbres” (the Mollusca, Articulata and Radiata) together in a new phylum, the “invertébrés” (Invertebrata), of which the vertebrates radiated in a particularly derived branch.

As a scientist with a taste for the bigger picture, Lamarck had been interested in trying to develop a natural method of classification (a taxinomy) even from the time of his earliest work in botany. Well before 1800, he had thought of series of taxonomic classes, which future research would inter-connect. In the theory of evolution that he developed, the natural taxonomic method was close to the path nature itself had followed in producing the different groups of organisms.

For Lamarck, the best way to understand life as a whole was by first studying its simplest forms. There, basic organisation and life functions could be observed more easily, as they were not masked with more complex and more specialised faculties and organs. He was philosophically and scientifically of the opinion that all forms of life formed an integrated development, deriving from one another and transforming into one another, with fossil forms proving that this process had always been ongoing, and was a progressive one. This urge to understand philosophically what life is, and to see life science as an integrated whole (the science of biology, a word which Lamarck coined in 1802, at the same time as German scientist Treviranus), and his conviction that the investigation of invertebrates would contribute to this understanding, explain old Lamarck’s extraordinary later-life dedication to the study of invertebrates, and particularly fossil shells.

5. Transformism vs fixism – the great polemos

It should be noticed that Lamarck’s philosophical perception of life, as a progressively transforming whole, extended to geology, with landscapes changing slowly and being formed progressively, through mineral but also biological processes ! A most modern and unusual concept in those days.

This transformist approach was the exact opposite to that of Georges Cuvier, who was a proponent of the fixist, Platonic-Aristotelian view of life: a series of non-connected, parallel lineages, with existing life forms being either the well preserved, or the degenerate form, of early and perfect prototypes. Cuvier was well aware of the extinction of many life forms in the past, so he theorised of a process, called “catastrophism”, whereby some appropriate catastrophes, like a plurality of deluges, had pruned the wild and untidy diversity of the original lineages and allowed the “best” ones to become dominant. This made him very popular with Christian circles, still endowed with money and power despite the Revolution, who were conscious that their traditional narrative needed some tinkering with, the main ideas being preserved.

This major polemos, this great fight between fixism and transformism, would illuminate the stormy skies of science and philosophy during the whole first half of the 19th century. And following Darwin’s enormous effort of integration and interpretation, fixism would only be promoted by ignorant people, or by the thickest ideologues.

On the whole, it was Lamarck vs Georges Cuvier. But to make things more interesting, one should not forget the presence of another great pioneer of transformism at the Muséum: the second person, chronologically, to be nominated as head of a zoological department, Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. He had been nominated in 1794 as chair of the department for mammals and birds. During Bonaparte’s expedition to Egypt in 1798, he had made important contributions to the study of fishes and reptiles. He specialised in experimental teratology (the study of monster mutants) and shared with Lamarck the notion of structural unity across the animal kingdom, implying a common origin for all animals. Thus, like Lamarck, he found himself ideologically opposing Cuvier. There was some conceptual difference between the two transformists, though. Unlike Lamarck, rather than progressive transformations occurring because of animals changing their habits and attitudes, he surmised that these transformations occurred mainly because of environmental pressures on organisms in the course of their development, particularly in the course of their epigenesis (embryonic phase).

Though philosophically Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire was closer to Lamarck, he and Georges Cuvier were rather good friends (at least in the earlier years)… This academic trio being set, one can easily foresee in it the potential for a major progress in scientific ideas, albeit chaotic and illogical in its processes… We shall come back later to this intricate epistemological problem and to the unknown role of Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire in Péron’s life – or rather lack of a role !

6. Péron, the molluscs and transformism

The devilish irony of history can be found in its details. Péron had collected, in Tasmania, Kangaroo Island and King Island, shells from a very significant mollusc species: Trigonia margaritacea (Lamarck 1804). This bivalve would prove to be a most significant discovery, the taxonomic group to which it belonged being then known only from fossils. This was evidence that some groups of species could disappear from somewhere on the planet, possibly simply transforming themselves into other species, while surviving and continuing their existence unchanged elsewhere !

Species and groups of species were thus not necessarily meant to completely disappear in global catastrophic events, in a providential process marked by some immanency, as G. Cuvier would have it. On the contrary, here was proof, with the discovery of a so-called “living fossil“, that the whole story of life on the planet was more of a continuous and accidental process, with some elements of contingency in it. This major discovery would help Lamarck to formulate more confidently the first elements of his truly revolutionary interpretation of life: what would be called transformism, a major paradigm shift that would, six decades later, be decisively improved on by Charles Darwin and become known as evolution through natural selection.

To get an idea of the huge impact of this discovery: 30 years after its description by Lamarck, scientists Quoy and Gaimard would write, in their report on the voyage of discovery of L’Astrolabe, under the command of J. Dumont d’Urville during the years 1826-1829, that they did not fail to look for an alive specimen of this all-important Trigonia, of which only the shell was known; that they were so enthralled in finding one living individual of this species that, when L’Astrolabe was at risk of foundering on the reefs of Tongatabu, it was this all-important specimen that they wanted to save at any cost and which they kept with them (thankfully their ship did not finally sink and their collection was not lost).

Why then the irony ? Well, because of the very success of the expedition… Péron felt cheated by Lamarck having described this species without associating him properly in the process. This shell was part of the rich load that Le Naturaliste, the second ship under the command of Baudin on its departure from Le Havre in 1800, had brought back to the same harbour on the 6th of June 1803. Absolutely everyone was mesmerised by the enormous diversity and quantity of well-preserved specimens that had managed to be transported, and there was huge excitement. Quite naturally everyone was impatient to immediately start studying this rich bounty, and by the return of Le Géographe, on the 25th of March 1804, Lamarck already had had three notes published describing six new invertebrate species brought back on Le Naturaliste, G. Cuvier had had two “mémoires” published, and Lacépède one.

Having come back to France with illustrators Lesueur and Petit aboard the master ship Le Géographe, Péron did not react specially well at not having been more seriously associated with these scientific results which were using his samples…

7. A very successful expedition for zoology

On his return, Péron found a France where things hadn’t changed much: France was still at war with most of Europe. Some things had altered: citizen Bonaparte, having produced his “Code civil“, a tour de force in law-making which would have more lasting effect on continental Europe than any of his military ventures, was morphing into Napoleon, the Emperor.

It is in this context of war and tyranny that Péron had to struggle to get the glory he so deserved after all his efforts and sufferings. First things first: Péron needed money to survive, and he wanted to secure his preeminent position into anything in relation to what he had come to see as his own expedition, particularly anything zoological. So, with pugnacity, Péron managed to obtain from the authorities some money (though just enough to survive), and an official monopoly over the exploitation of zoological data from the expedition… but, unfortunately, no position of responsibility in any institute. His partial victory would thus prove to be a Pyrrhic one; from now on, Péron would not get much practical support from the Muséum d’histoire naturelle. And Lamarck would not collaborate with Péron under these conditions, preferring instead, until 1806, to concentrate on reporting his own discoveries of invertebrate fossils in the region of Paris: “Mémoires sur les fossiles des environs de Paris, comprenant la détermination des espèces qui appartiennent aux animaux marins sans vertèbres” (1802-1806).

Péron had cleverly managed to secure for himself supervision over the production of zoological results. Alas, it would soon appear that Péron could not do much with so limited financial and human resources. All the more so that Petit would die shortly following his return to France, with the result that Péron’s team would only consist of brave and loyal Lesueur… Moreover, François himself was sick with tuberculosis, which was tearing him down all too quickly considering his ambitious projects — he would be the next hapless casualty of an expedition to the Southern lands.

That the third major scientific expedition of the French towards Terra Australis, though afflicted once more with a high human cost (still better than the two preceding ones !), was a very successful expedition from a zoological point of view, and this mainly through the efforts of Baudin, Péron and Lesueur, has been reestablished through the investigations of Belgian zoologist Michel Jangoux, and in France of curator Jacqueline Bonnemains, as well as of scientists Jacqueline Goy, Christian Jouanin and Bernard Métivier. They have shed a lot of light on the zoological aspects of Péron’s and Lesueur’s contributions to science, during and after Baudin’s expedition. Their verdict: this had been great work.

To get an idea of the accomplishment in zoology from the Baudin expedition, here are some comments and numbers on just two parts of the zoological treasure trove that was brought back, and the shameful waste that would be made of it by those who should have known better.

In 1810, Péron had had his extraordinarily competent description and classification of medusas published, unfortunately without Lesueur’s magnificently precise illustrations — there was no money in an exhausted France which had been at war for two decades and where, since early 1810, printers had to give priority to… propaganda ! Impact on the world of science of this pioneering work: practically nil, which was to be expected without the illustrations ever being published — G. Cuvier and to a lesser extent Lamarck wouldn’t have it.

Yet the big boss of French zoology, Georges Cuvier himself, had recognised, in a report to the government, on the 9th of June 1806, that the expedition had brought back more than 100’000 specimens of animals, many alive, representing nearly 70’000 different zoological species, of which 2’500 were new to science ! This was more than the cumulated results of all preceding expeditions made during the last hundred years, including Cook’s ! G. Cuvier was then full of praise for Péron’s thoroughness and scientific methodology.

Let’s look in detail at just one zoological class of invertebrates, that of the asterids or sea stars. In 1800, at the time of departure, only a dozen asterid species were known. Half a hundred new species were brought back by Péron ! Regrettably, he did not find the time or the resources to properly describe them and have the results published, and neither could Lesueur following his death in 1810. Only 14 of these new species would be (laconically!) described by Lamarck, the remainder being rediscovered and properly described during the following two centuries, mainly by German scientists Müller and Troschel, in 1842-3. What a shame. Schade !

8. From amazing success to oblivion – what happened ?

What happened ? Is this a rather common instance of things going wrong, because if they can go wrong they will ? Or is there some sort of evil spirit in action here ? Actually, was there a truly evil-doing person in this story ? And firstly, was it Péron himself, with his sad fate simply being divine retribution for some uncommendable deeds ?

Firstly, he’s been accused, particularly in Anglo-Saxon circles, of the sin of openly despising his captain. But this is pretty much an inappropriate appreciation of the socio-psychology of the French in general: for people with an English mind-frame, not standing up for the captain is contemptible, to despise him openly is beyond contempt. This is not true for French people, and was even less for a child of the Revolution !

Otherwise, and more seriously, Péron has been caught red-handed by historians, rewriting facts to make the original chief zoologist René Maugé’s contributions look like his own, or flatly pretending them to be so, or that of his friend and ally Lesueur.

However that wasn’t done out of spite or nastiness, or because Maugé, whom Péron greatly respected, was a friend of Nicolas Baudin — it was simply a matter of money and survival in a France which was at war and where resources for science were becoming rare. Péron, with the support of the hierarchy of the Muséum, had obtained the privilege of receiving a backdated salary compensation as chief zoologist of the expedition, and Lesueur as chief illustrator, starting on the expedition’s departure from Mauritius, in April 1801… while Maugé was still alive ! So Maugé’s contributions had to be non-existent ! Péron obviously thought his situation was not that stable, relations with the Muséum were not that good and, despite the nice official reports made on his behalf, any privilege could be reversed… Glory was not easy to obtain… and he would not sabotage this hard-won vital privilege through his own publications ! Tant pis pour la vérité historique ! Too bad for historical truth…

Contrary to his prickly relation with Baudin, there was nothing personal here, just some tampering with truth, common enough among the great majority of human beings. That does not make him a particularly criminal character, immanently bringing some imminent retribution upon himself… If it’s not Péron himself who’s really responsible for his own demise in destiny – one cannot accuse him of sloth, this little guy never stopped fighting, to his last breath ! — then who is it ? Is there a smoking gun, somewhere ?

Could it be the vengeful ghost of Baudin ? Rather unlikely, considering the magnanimous character of the commander… Of course, there was a deep temperamental chasm between the felid-like Baudin and the canid-like Péron. In the cramped conditions of a ship they were incessantly getting under their respective noses and could stand each other less and less.

However, in the main, there was no blood feud between these two gentlemen, very different in temper but gentlemen nevertheless. Baudin, with the exception of his older friends and his original staff from his previous expeditions, obviously had difficulties dealing with both the rotten sailors he had taken on in Mauritius and all these children of the Revolution. Péron was the most brazen and the most overbearing of the lot, but he was not an exception in Baudin’s inter-personal difficulties during what was to become his last expedition. It wasn’t just a matter of the rotten sailors, or of the young scientists, who seemed to think of the commander as some sort of majordome (butler) to their own high duties… His undrilled officers themselves, often disrespectful, even impertinent, weren’t any more helpful… Poor Baudin, late son of an age of politeness and refined manners, was surrounded with insolent, impudent “mal-élevés“, as far as his eyes could see. Baudin tried his dry sense of humour to cheer up things – to no avail. Quite simply, this was a clear case of a tense situation due to a generational gap.

So… non, it cannot be Baudin, who “ceased to exist” in Mauritius on the 16th of September 1803. It cannot be him, the captain who had died of tuberculosis, who could, in any fateful way, be considered responsible for Péron’s own unhappy fate. Péron would die in his turn of tuberculosis, on the 14th of December 1810, in his home town of Cérilly but without having achieved a tenth of what he wanted to do. The disease that he got during his voyage was a bad omen, but on the whole Péron’s bad luck was mainly shaped after his return to France, not during the expedition which, on the contrary, was really an extraordinary opportunity for getting scientific fame.

Part II – Crushing chaos, again, and again

9. Scientists in competition: the main roles in the Péronian tragedy

Let’s have a cursory glance at the main protagonists of the Péronian tragedy during the 6 years and 9 months separating the arrival of Le Géographe, back to France in Lorient on the 25th of March 1804, and the passing, on the 14th of December 1810, of this fight-to-the-death character.

First, the two nail-and-tooth adversaries at the Muséum, Jean-Baptiste de Monet de Lamarck and Georges Cuvier.

As we have seen, the discovery of one mollusc shell by Péron, brought back with Le Naturaliste on the 7th of June 1803, helped to comfort Lamarck in his transformist views. To the displeasure of fixedly fixist G. Cuvier. Apart from his talent as on-site discoverer, Péron proved himself a pioneer of a phylogenetic approach to zoology, as well as a pioneer of zooclimatology (domains that would both be furthered decades later by a great German scientist, Ernst Haeckel). Again, nothing that could particularly please G. Cuvier…

In addition, hyperactive Péron had not only been acting as a zoologist on the expedition: he also dealt with oceanography, painstakingly making deep-sea measurements of temperature during the voyage, at record-breaking depths. These oceanographic observations too helped to confirm Lamarck’s scepticism about both creationism and G. Cuvier’s adaptation of it: catastrophism (cf. ch. 5).

None of this could bring François Péron to be seen favourably by a rather belligerent Georges Cuvier. Péron was not stupid, he knew that G. Cuvier was the stronger part of the Lamarck-Cuvier pair, a pair in perpetual dispute, so he tried his best, despite his results, to display his allegiance to Cuvier and his ideas. But Cuvier was no fool either: though the little bastard was making the right sounds of allegiance towards the sole and unique grand master of anything living – himself, the great Georges Cuvier -, he nevertheless could see that Péron was, in reality, undermining, through his scientific results and contributions, his own catastrophist ideology. Thus, inevitably in the eyes of a socially ambitious ideologue, Péron appeared to him as a threat to his academic position as well as to his social standing.

To get a better idea of the personality that Péron, unwillingly, had irritated, one needs to know that G. Cuvier could be so cantankerous and ruthless that, in 1829, at old Lamarck’s funerals, he would drop without any qualm a bimillenarian precept of sociality: De mortuis nil nisi bonumOf the dead say nothing but good“. His so-called eulogy was so nastily contemptuous of his long-standing opponent, who had spent his last 10 years as a blind recluse, that all those attending it, including Cuvier’s sycophants, were deeply shocked. For such a man, ready to combat by any means Lamarck’s transformist ideas, the blockade, then the suppression of Péron’s results, made perfect sense. For him, there was not much use in supporting any development in the science of invertebrates if he was not in control of it. Lamarck was enough of a burden and so, apart from some early lip service to Péron’s good works, he would not offer thereafter any practical help to this annoying young scientist.

Georges Cuvier could not bring down Lamarck, he knew that, but he could create a human and intellectual void around his declared adversary. And indeed he did. On the 6th of January 1808, in a 395 page-long “Historical report on the progress of natural sciences since 1789 and their present state“, addressed to the Emperor (and published in 1810), G. Cuvier would barely mention the Baudin expedition or Péron’s and Lesueur’s contributions.

In this report, G. Cuvier was perfectly conscious of being neither fair nor honest. As we have seen, just one year and a half earlier, in June 1806, he had praised Péron’s thoroughness and the impressive results of the latest voyage of discovery to the Austral Lands. It is also worth noticing that, in September 1810, his younger brother, Frédéric Cuvier (there was no small amount of nepotism at the Muséum…), would mention the extraordinary contribution to zoology, and particularly marine zoology, of the scientists on Baudin’s expedition… Obviously, Georges Cuvier’s right hand and left hand could do quite contradictory things without the central nervous system of the grand master being distressed, in any manner, by the cognitive dissonance.

From an ethical point of view, G. Cuvier’s actions may be considered as criminal. His crime was against science, because he went too far in the political and academic means he selfishly used and abused to further his own position and promote his personal ideology. Through his actions, he abolished any French advancement in evolutionary biology. While France had started so promisingly, it would be an Englishman, Charles Darwin, who would revive the field. One would have some ground in comparing Georges Cuvier to Trofim Lyssenko, who, under the lead-laden years of Stalin’s rule of terror, would destroy, almost single-handedly, much promising Soviet biology. That being said, while Lyssenko was a mediocre scientist, one cannot deny that Cuvier had real capacities, and if it is undeniable that he had a large and obvious responsibility for leading French biology into a dead-end, is he really the obvious culprit in the unfortunate scientific fate of François Péron ?

Well, all things being considered, no, not really. G. Cuvier was the perennial apparatchik, gifted at that, but that’s it, he wasn’t yet operating in a Stalinist regime, nor in the context of the Middle Ages. He could not have anyone killed or imprisoned on his whims, neither in Napoleonic nor in Restoration days. Péron was simply a casualty in a larger ideological struggle, a pawn worth of putting down to one side’s advantage, and as we will see now, worth sacrificing to the other side — the other side being Lamarck.

So what about the latter ? Why wasn’t he of more practical support to Péron, to put it mildly ? Well, simply because, between Lamarck and Péron, one can plausibly guess that there was no love lost. Firstly, because of incompatibility of temperament. Lamarck and Péron were two perfectly antagonistic characters, just as much as Baudin and Péron had been. Secondly, because Péron was probably perceived by Lamarck as a threat to his own academic position. This impetuous chap in his thirties was endangering the quiet guy in his sixties, by specialising with talent in the very domain that Lamarck had had to develop practically from scratch while he was already in his fifties. Because, though he had spent so much time documenting “La flore française” (the flora of France), the position of chief botanist of the nation was the de facto property of the Jussieu family, and what was left to him, Lamarck, was the less prestigious of the departments in biology, that of the invertebrates !

The courageous but quiet Lamarck would not endanger his own, hard-won position recklessly, Cuvier was enough of a threat. So, not supporting Péron while the chap was still alive, from 1804 to 1810, makes sense in a way… but why then wouldn’t Lamarck support the latter’s scientific works after 1810 ? The potential competition had passed away, and Péron’s results confirmed his own ! This matter would merit a full research, but it can be conjectured that old Lamarck’s eyes were giving him more and more trouble. It was getting harder and harder for him to complete his final magnum opus, the “Natural history of invertebrate animals” (“Histoire naturelle des animaux sans vertèbres“), using his own discoveries in the field, so why would he spend time on an ex competitor’s discoveries ? And, by 1819, Lamarck was blind.

10. After Péron’s death – the efforts of Lesueur

All in all, in the convoluted history of sciences, there are scores of researchers who share Péron’s hapless fate. There’s a vast amount of valuable scientific works that have simply not found their way into becoming useable material, not to mention being used. They lay dormant and decaying in private dwellings, in the vaults of libraries, in the drawers of museums, in the storage cellars of laboratories — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg compared to all those materials that have just disappeared irretrievably !

If Péron’s case is not exceptional, it is noticeable nevertheless, because it can be reconstructed quite well by historians, it offers material to dwell into, and it has a Greek tragedy quality to it. It also catches the imagination because there are not many scientists who, like Péron, were lucky enough to be associated with a Lesueur: the exquisite and precise art of the drawer and painter catches the eye, moves the heart, titillates the intellect and inflames the imagination, instilling admirers with a strong urge to know more, and to restore justice — posthumously for sure, but still better than none at all.

Faithful friend Lesueur did his best following Péron’s death to have their common works published. But writing and knocking on doors was not his forte — he was an illustrator at heart. He managed to have a paper published in 1813 on the marine animals that he and Péron had observed in the Mediterranean Sea, while in Nice, but again unillustrated for lack of funds; and that’s it. Lesueur had to make a living, and since he had not, despite his extraordinary talent, been accepted for a position at the Muséum, in 1815 he accepted a job in the USA, where he would work as an appreciated illustrator in the natural sciences, until his return to France in 1837.

In a further and fatal twist in the story, all samples from the expedition remaining with Péron at his death had been returned to the Muséum – but, for what appeared then to be fair and reasonable reasons, not Lesueur’s drawings made during Baudin’s expedition… nor Péron’s notes on these samples. What use were samples without their corresponding notes ?! This was chaos at work, in the ancient Greek sense of khaos: the abysmal, widening gap, in which order and sense get lost, irretrievably. All Péron’s notes having been left in the care of absent-from-France Lesueur, one can imagine that any interest for these had vanished during this 22 years parenthesis. This seems bad enough, but one can wonder at a further twist in this appallingly absurd story.

On Lesueur’s return to France in 1837, Georges Cuvier was no more (he had died in 1832) and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, a proponent of transformism who had survived the ideological wrath of G. Cuvier, was the most influential zoologist at the Muséum. So, in principle, circumstances were favourable for a revival of the zoological works of Péron and Lesueur. Alas, Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire would soon go blind (like Lamarck), in 1840, then die in 1844. His last important scientific contributions were thus made in 1838. He nevertheless still had one year to approach Lesueur, now rather well known, and could have offered him, at last, a position at the Muséum, where the illustrator could have finalised, with some help, Péron’s scientific reports. Particularly his pioneering works on invertebrates, at the very least.

Why, for goodness sake, did this not happen ? Well, the simplest explanation can be conjectured: Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, more than 65 years old at the time of Lesueur’s return, was chair of the department of mammals and birds, and probably couldn’t care less for these little critters of invertebrates that Lesueur had concentrated on during the Baudin expedition — remember: under Cuvier and Lamarck’s instructions to Péron, not Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire’s… And most likely the condition of his eyes was already not very good, as we have seen.

Et voilà. Another opportunity missed. A major contribution to the progress of systematics and evolutionary biology had been stopped in its tracks. It would take decades for the science of invertebrates to get to a level which it could have already reached in the days of Napoleon.

An unforgivable shambles on the side of the Muséum. But what about Lesueur himself ? After all, Péron’s notes were in his hands, his friend having entrusted him with them. Let it be clearly stated, that had been asking too much psychologically of Lesueur, not out of any kind of laziness on his part, but, as we have seen, simply because it was beyond his mental capacities, beyond his effective power. It cannot be argued that Lesueur did not put as much energy in this task as he could’a, as he should’a. Not reasonably, for four reasons. Firstly, let us restate that Lesueur was not a man of the antechamber nor of the writing pen – even composing a simple letter to potential editors or benefactors was a hard chore for him. Secondly, it is psychologically very hard, for most people, to revive an old project, to get one’s mind and enthusiasm back to it — it’s something that seems to run contrary to human instinct. Thirdly, money was not that readily available in post-Napoleonic France, which had been bled by the hybris of the imperial dream. Fourthly, the France of king Louis-Philippe, the “roi bourgeois“, whose prime minister Guizot’s motto was “Enrichissez-vous par le travail et l’épargne” (“Get rich through work and saving“), was not particularly interested in matters of science that had no immediate return prospects.

Finally, at the end of this rather sad story (but again, a story which is so typical of most brave destinies), on the 12th of December 1846, it was Lesueur’s turn to die. Like his dear friend Péron, he had been a friend of the sun, the radiant source that allows one to contemplate the glories of nature in full light, yet he died in the gloom and doom of the short days which precede the December solstice. He had not found the energy nor the money, in his last years, to publish his common work with Péron, particularly their pioneering, nearly completed works on medusas.

So in summary, from the viewpoint of the history of biology, it was an unfortunate case of dysfunctional psychological dynamics, for two of these three oh so logically necessary pairs:

Péron – Lesueur: a friendship that was, and a close one at that — a source of a most fruitful scientific collaboration;

Péron – Lamarck: a scientific collaboration that was not, even from a distance;

Lesueur – Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire: a second opportunity for a scientific collaboration, that was not, again.

Both the friendship and at least one of these two collaborations with professors of the Muséum were needed for the sake of harmony and logic in the order of things, and for the sake of scientific and philosophical progress. Only the friendship between Péron and Lesueur occurred. That was not enough. That’s it. C’est comme ça.

In the final analysis, as far as the history of sciences goes, it’s the usual story of slackness, missed opportunities, overblown egos and bad faith, but one cannot state, in a search of a culprit, that any one of the scientists or explorers in the social environment of François Péron (nor the victim himself…) were directly responsible for his unfortunate fate.

11. Politics and the fate of Péron

Lastly, there’s the matter of the libel that some members of the original team on Baudin’s expedition, having deserted in Mauritius, in March-April 1801, had since been pouring on its commander. What else could be expected of them ? For two years they had been covering themselves (to put it politely) by blaming the captain, in a pre-emptive offensive. They obviously contributed very negatively to how the expedition was perceived by the public and officials, while its brave crews were still exploring the shores of Australia. However, when Le Naturaliste returned to France in 1803 with its extraordinary natural sciences cargo, any negative feelings about the expedition couldn’t last. Any remaining bad feelings left were then to be heaped on the deceased captain, not on anyone else… Very convenient: les morts ont toujours tort — the dead are always wrong. The situation was to the point that when Le Géographe returned to France in 1804, with the news that the captain had died en route, there were rumours that Bonaparte would have stated: “Baudin a bien fait de mourir, je l’eusse fait pendre” (“Baudin did well to die, I would have had him hanged” — according to Audiat’s biography of Péron in 1855).

It is quite unlikely that Bonaparte’s wrath could have had anything to do with the scientific aspects of the expedition; hypothetically, but more likely, it would have been about Baudin not having entirely followed Fleurieu’s instructions and not having given priority to exploring the unknown southern coast of Terra australis.

Captain Baudin was a civilian, his first priority was the survival of the expedition, second came science, and only then instructions and higher politics… So he did what seemed fit when, sailing from Mauritius where he had had endless troubles with local authorities, he arrived late in the season on the south-west coast of Australia (1801.05.27): he decided to sail north, rather than, as per his instructions, eastward along the southern coast of Australia, towards the terra incognita of present-day South Australia. The irony of it all is that Flinders, a military man, whom the British had hastily sent on Baudin’s heels, arriving six months later on the west coast of Australia (1801.12.06)… also decided not to follow his Admiralty’s orders… and boldly ran straight to this terra incognita ! On this matter at least, the hare did partially beat the tortoise on the finish line, taking precedence in the charting of the larger part of the South Australian coastline.

However, Baudin’s unfair bad press did not have much impact on Péron’s own scientific course. Of course, there was the matter of spite and envy on the part of some scientific colleagues such as Bory de Saint-Vincent, who in 1801 had abandoned the expedition in Mauritius, yet again this cannot have had so much impact on Péron’s fate, in fine. Facts spoke for themselves, and these facts in favour of Péron, duly recognized, were the impressive natural sciences cargoes on both returning vessels of the voyage to the Austral lands.

Other than the scientists and explorers in this drama, there were also political characters. Did they have a direct role ? Other than Fleurieu and Bonaparte, the first protagonist who comes to mind was the wife of the latter, Joséphine. A great friend of edenic gardens with all sorts of plants and animals, she had strongly supported Baudin’s expedition and then Péron on his return. But even this most attractive and interesting lady, whose unusual destiny had made her “L’Impératrice“, could not get much attention from her hyperactive husband, who himself wasn’t so much interested in biology as in making her happy in her paradise of Château de Malmaison, where she was collecting, with feminine passion, plants and animals from all over the world. And once Joséphine had been repudiated by Napoléon, in 1809, there really was not much that Péron could obtain from the Emperor, who had other priorities on his mind.

In addition, unfortunately for Péron and Lesueur, old Fleurieu, the great organiser and supporter of French maritime expeditions overseas, also died in 1810, on the 18th of August. Péron would die in his turn four months later, and Lesueur would find himself left quite lonely with his magnificent illustrations of the voyage.

So… was it Napoléon, or any one of his ministers, or someone lower down the hierarchy, who could be considered as responsible for Péron’s fate ? No, not really… These people were interested in politics, in running wars, winning them preferably… or simply profiting from them. They were interested in their own careers, they had their own pet projects, and Péron and his works weren’t really part of their preoccupations. In fact, when you look into the details of Péron’s relationship with the powerful, he was not that badly treated. What he was seriously lacking was an academic position — to be precise, a position at the Muséum — and a bit more money please for the works… But well, these are, most of the time and almost everywhere, rare things.

12. Chaos in action

So, no smoking gun ? No red-handed criminal in this story ? Probably not. So… quid ? Well, bad luck. And, as the French say with fatalism: C’est la vie. This is the reality of life, and the usual canvas of human societies. It is not often easy for two people to get along, for all sorts of reasons. In this particular case, it would have depended on four people for things to work properly, making it all too predictable that chaos would ensue, in its literal, original connotation, and also, as we shall see, in its modern, scientific meaning.

A little reminder of the human situation, the scientific quartet. There was the magnificent Péron – Lesueur pair: two human beings forming a perfect, synergetic match, with impetuosity, tenacity and passion for science on the one hand, peaceful strength, dedication and capacity for visual representation on the other hand. Add Georges Cuvier, a gifted, ruthless, authoritarian ideologist with no patience for their contributions – trouble starts… Add Lamarck to this trio: a prescient, fundamentally brave, but a rather lonely and low-key lab rat, in principle allied to Péron and Lesueur but in actuality worried for his own position – definite chaos.

How on earth could there have been a harmonious and logical process from such a combination of diverse and contradictory interests ? Well… not on Earth… Down here, chaos predominates. Chaos in the ancient meaning of the Greeks: this frightening, abysmal gap, in which sense and order can get engulfed, forever. And also chaos in the modern, scientific sense, the result of iterative processes so complexly inter-related that no prediction can be made, even approximately and probabilistically, even by gods.

Epistemology and the history of sciences have demonstrated long since that the progress of science itself is a highly chaotic process, in both the ancient and modern meanings. “La science va sans cesse se raturant elle-même.” – “Science goes on ceaselessly scraping out itself.” (Victor Hugo, in his 1864 essay, “William Shakespeare“). This fully chaotic characteristic is inevitable considering that the subject of science – nature in all its forms and manifestations – is utterly complex: multi-correlated, highly polymorphic and very fluid. With limited material and intellectual means, human beings struggle to unveil a structure within an elusive reality buried in highly random noise. Something is there deep within, not only more complex than humans surmise, but more complex than they can surmise. This doesn’t facilitate the work of epistemologists and historians of sciences, who have to explain chaotic research striving to give sense to a reality itself largely chaotic. They, even more than scientists, can only make their elaboration meaningful by erasing incongruent data. They perpetually have to reinvent the foundations of their work, to then realise, at a certain point, that their built-up scenarios and explanations, which have been painstakingly developed, prove to be inappropriate and have again to be deconstructed.

13. The bicentenary of a death, yet a lively matter of prejudice

There are so many factors and responsibilities that have contributed to this tragic and interesting story of Péron’s life — too often considered an embodiment of bad deeds, ridicule and failure.

Bad deeds ? We have seen that there were some indeed, and even carried out by Péron’s own hand. But nothing really outside human norm. Ridicule ? Well, yes, considering that Péron’s personality does not get along too well with either the Parisian psyche nor the Anglo-Saxon one (there is something like a psychologie des peuples…). They are not sympathetic to Péron’s way of expressing his dreams and his sufferings, which, whatever the present-day perceptions in Paris or in English-speaking countries, were genuine and intense. Because he was so productive in his writings and ready to share his feelings, he provided ammunition to future detractors who made him an ideal scapegoat in their erroneous way of overinterpreting the negative manner in which Baudin’s expedition had been perceived ! Really, this is all beside the point, à côté de la plaque, as the French say.

Péron is the butt of easy jokes with some people, a convenient object of derision, still fun to play with though he died more than two centuries ago. A whole thesis could be written on the matter of mental appropriation and skewing of Péron’s personality by scholars of different disciplines. It’s about time a short-sighted and prejudiced attitude makes way for a more unbiased and mature analysis. Some researchers, like Edward Duyker, have managed to dig deeper into the facts and do provide a fairer and more objective biography of Péron, reconstructing with respect “an impetuous life“, as the author so concisely summarised it.  (See: “François Péron, Naturalist and Voyager An Impetuous Life”, by Dr Edward Duyker, Melbourne University Publishing, 2006)

What about failure ? Well, as we have seen, there was no notion of such a thing with Péron’s informed contemporaries. Nor, decades later, in 1848, with marine zoologist Edward Forbes, while he was publishing on the medusas. Nor according to the father of the triumphant evolutionary paradigm, Charles Darwin, who was very impressed with Péron’s deeds and reports. Nor with the father of phylogenetics, who had depicted, in 1866, a common origin to all living organisms (in a stunning first drawing of a well researched tree of life) — the German scientist Ernst Haeckel, who expressed his high opinion of Péron’s work on the medusas, in his System der Medusen, in 1879.

Those who still think of Péron in terms of failure can now find their prejudice countered by magnificent books recently produced by scientists and historians, those of Jacqueline Goy, of Gabrielle Baglione & Cédric Crémière, and Edward Duyker as already mentioned. They can even access the English translations of books one to five of Péron’s “Voyage of discovery to the southern lands“, translated by Christine Cornell. These recent contributions are expressions of a love for justice. Because real historians, those neither lazy nor prejudiced (nor vicious, of course…), as a rule, are dedicated to establishing the truth… with all its subtle variations… and interpretations… But, also, and probably as importantly, they are devoted to justice, even if post hoc. They are scribes with a mission, trying to restore some harmony to an otherwise very indifferent and very crushing historical process. Because everything in this world proceeds with total indifference to casualties — natural processes of course, but human processes too. Nevertheless, here and there, you have small miracles, or anomalies… you have some animals and persons who dream of something different, where goodness reigns. And real historians aim to contribute to goodness, in their own way, though across time and longitudinally rather than across space and transversally.

14. Péron, Lesueur and Lamarck: connectedness and non-connectedness

Lesueur and Péron are two interconnected lives which are a testimony to the power of friendship, against all hardships, and of a shared vision of a world of beauty and truth. They both had it hard, one having it much longer than the other, and both dying during the darkest and gloomiest days, just before the December solstice and the renaissance of light.

Lamarck and Péron are two lives which should have been more connected around the study of the amazing world of invertebrates, and were not. However, there were moving similarities in their ill-starred trajectory: both lacked the necessary sense of humour to make life lighter, both took science very seriously. Both had major eye problems. Both were born in August, in the light of a warm sun, but dying in the dimness and coldness of December.

Lamarck’s stone tomb is beautiful, in a prestigious place (the Jardin des plantes of Paris, the public park where the Muséum is situated), showing him as a blind old man seated, one of his two devoted daughters standing beside him and laying a hand of consolation on his shoulder, uttering the prophetic words: “La postérité vous admirera, elle vous vengera mon père” — “Posterity will admire you, you will be avenged, father“.

For Péron, at his death, only his name on a black cross, in the cemetery of a small, inconspicuous French town. Lesueur tried in 1811 to have a commemorative inscription put on the tomb of his dear friend, but could not find funds for this and could only honour him by reprinting a few hundred copies of the two eulogies written by Péron’s friends. At least Péron, who had made so many friends in a short and stormy life, wasn’t insulted when he was carried to earth, in 1810… not like Lamarck, who had not made many friends in his longer and organised life, and who, as we have seen, would be slighted by G. Cuvier, in 1829.

In 1842, Péron’s loyal friends, including old Lesueur, managed to have a decent tomb made in Cérilly for such an exceptional character, bearing a forlorn but most appropriate epitaph: “F. Péron s’est desséché comme un jeune arbre qui a succombé sous le poids de ses propres fruits.” — “F. Péron withered like a young tree succumbing under the weight of its own fruits.

15. In conclusion – Heureux qui, comme Ulysse…

The personalities of Péron and Lamarck are two magnificent illustrations of the devious tragedy and ironic contingency of history. History put them both in a long purgatory, unfairly. Destiny was not kind to them, but neither was contingency which played demanding and sometimes cruel tricks on them.

None of the objectives of Péron came to fruition – the gods played with the enthusiasm and tenacity of an impetuous young man generous of his time and energy. Before he died, did the nostalgic verses of French poet Joachim du Bellay come to Péron’s mind, these verses of another young man, dying exhausted 250 years before him ?

Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage…” — “Happy who, like Ulysses, has made a beautiful voyage…

With his physical weaknesses, Péron was pushing forward as if inextinguishable.

With his moral weaknesses, Péron was yearning for goodness.

With his shortcomings, Péron was craving for truth.

With his poor taste, Péron was longing for beauty.

The dreams of Péron were too much for his frail body, limited social connections and… an intellect of high quality, but not one of a genius. So what else could he be, with his impetuous character, but always ready for a shift ? So he shifted, yet always faithful to his commitment to science and the progress of humanity, from medicine to anthropology to oceanography to zoology… to political strategy. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he had to surf with the largest and most crushing waves of life to go forward on his dreamt path.

He wanted scientific glory – he didn’t get it. But… not many can claim, two centuries after their death, the attention of dozens of people in two different continents. Not too bad for the epitome of what is supposed to be an anti-hero. For this writer, he was a heroic human being, living by choice and sheer will a heroic adventure in heroic times.

Hats off.

END

Dr Gabriel Bittar
Buddhâyatana, Kangaroo Island

A warm ‘merci’ to editor Anne Findlay, Melbourne, for patiently and thoroughly correcting the author’s English with her keen eye.

Péron et la naissance de la science des invertébrés, par le Dr. Gabriel Bittar

In memoriam François Péron [Cérilly 1775.08.22 – Cérilly 1810.12.14]

Péron et la naissance de la science des invertébrés

Dr Gabriel Bittar
Président, Fondation internationale Jîvasattha et Jîvarakkhî
contact courriel: jivasatthaATbuddhayatanaDOTorg

 

Ière partie – Une passion, un combat, un succès, puis la maladie et l’oubli…

1. Introduction — Les plages de l’île des kangourous
2. François Péron, un homme d’origine modeste, passionné de science
3. 1800: Bonaparte envoie une nouvelle expédition scientifique vers Terra australis
4. Lamarck et les invertébrés
5. Transformisme contre fixisme – le grand polemos
6. Péron, les mollusques et le transformisme
7. Une expédition particulièrement riche en découvertes zoologiques
8. Un succès indiscutable, puis l’oubli – que s’est-il passé ?

IIème partie – Le chaos destructeur, encore et toujours

9. Un conflit entre scientifiques: les principaux rôles dans la tragédie Péronienne
10. Après le décès de Péron – les efforts de Lesueur
11. La politique et le sort de Péron
12. Le chaos en pleine action
13. Le bicentenaire d’une mort, mais un objet de préjugés encore vivace
14. Péron, Lesueur et Lamarck: connectivité et non connectivité
15. En conclusion – Heureux qui, comme Ulysse…

 

Ière partie – Une passion, un combat, un succès, puis la maladie et l’oubli…

1. Introduction — Les plages de l’île des kangourous

Me promenant sur les splendides plages de Kangaroo Island, cette grande île au large de l’Australie du sud, m’émerveillant à chaque pas entre ciel, terre et eau, souvent mon esprit dérive vers un mois de janvier 1803. Sur toute la durée de ce mois d’été austral, un jeune scientifique français, enthousiaste et énergique, François Péron, mû par la curiosité et l’intrépidité de l’explorateur, cherchait alentour des invertébrés. Il collectionnait des coquillages nouveaux pour son ami Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, un autre homme talentueux, qui s’astreignait à les dessiner et les peindre avec la précision d’un naturaliste. Membre de l’équipage scientifique d’une expédition de recherche commandée par Nicolas Baudin, Péron était à la recherche de tout invertébré inconnu à la science de son temps: il les recueillait, les conservait et les décrivait avec soin.

Un capitaine à la personnalité intrigante, ce Nicolas Baudin qui s’intéressait fort aux sciences naturelles. Hélas, il ne vivrait pas pour recueillir les fruits de son expédition: le 16 septembre 1803, il mourra de tuberculose à l’île Maurice (nommée alors l’île de France), lors du chemin de retour vers la France; sous les tendres soins d’Alexandrine Kerivel, née Mademoiselle Alexandrine Genève.

Ah, Genève… Par association l’esprit dérive un peu plus, vers Genève l’internationale et son magnifique Muséum d’Histoire naturelle où, lors des déambulations rêveuses et studieuses de mon adolescence, j’avais découvert les derniers restes d’une espèce d’ému nain maintenant éteinte, provenant d’une île lointaine au nom sympathique: Kangaroo Island. Un oiseau ratite ramené en France napoléonienne par une expédition scientifique incroyable, dont nul en France ne semblait connaître l’existence: l’ému de Kangaroo Island, Dromaius baudinianus, nommé d’après le commandant Baudin.

Un muséum où j’avais également appris, à mon étonnement, que l’extraordinaire collection de coquillages du grand Lamarck, toute la collection personnelle d’un scientifique qui avait fait partie des tous premiers pionniers du paradigme évolutif… avait in fine été donnée à la cité de Genève, en 1869. Le Muséum d’histoire naturelle de Paris, où Lamarck avait pourtant enseigné pendant des décennies… ayant refusé la donation !

Lamarck — un nom à consonance magique pour tout phylogéniste passionné d’évolution. Et Baudin, et Péron, et Lesueur, et Leschenault le botaniste… Des noms exaltants, des destinées émouvantes. Marchant le long des côtes de Kangaroo Island, méditant sur les milliards d’années d’évolution de la vie sur cette formidable planète, je pense aussi à ces hommes courageux, si loin de chez eux, grains de poussière dans le vent, à ces hommes braves qui, il y a deux siècles, arpentaient eux-mêmes ces lieux, observant le même océan, riche de tant de formes de vie — un océan puissant, splendide, indifférent.

Nicolas Baudin, après avoir mené les deux vaisseaux sous son commandement, Le Géographe et Le Casuarina, à compléter du 2 au 4 janvier 1803 la circumnavigation complète de Kangaroo Island (une première pour des Européens), jeta l’ancre et entreprit d’explorer plus avant l’île le 6 du mois. Ses scientifiques étudièrent avec le plus grand intérêt la bien nommée île des kangourous, jusqu’à leur départ pour le continent le 1er février. Péron fournit à cette occasion une description minutieuse et passionnante de la flore et de la faune d’une île inhabitée. Eden sur Terre.

Péron, qui de facto était devenu zoologiste en chef de l’expédition, comme d’habitude mena son travail avec application et sans faiblesse. Il observa et documenta, entre autres, les lions de mer australiens, pour lesquels il créa le genre Otaria (“ceux à petites oreilles”, afin de les distinguer des phoques qui n’ont pas d’oreilles apparentes). Cependant, il n’observa pas que les animaux de grande taille. De fait, la plus grande partie de son temps fut consacrée à des animaux que l’on tendait à l’époque à considérer comme de peu d’intérêt: les invertébrés.

Ce taxon inclut des êtres que l’on peut aisément qualifier d’animaux, tels les scorpions, les araignées, les crustacés et les insectes, les céphalopodes (calamars, seiches et pieuvres), toutes sortes de formes de vers, des myriades d’animaux à coquille, les oursins, les holothuries, les ophiures, les astéries, mais aussi des êtres encore plus étranges, à peine reconnus à l’époque comme étant des animaux: les crinoïdes, les bryozoaires, les hydrozoaires et les méduses, les gorgones, anémones et coraux, et les plus insolites de tous, à peine animaux, les éponges.

2. François Péron, un homme d’origine modeste passionné de science

Au long de ses écrits, Péron dévoile sa sensibilité aux beautés de la nature, malgré souvent la dureté de celle-ci. Cependant si les beautés naturelles l’inspirent, c’est d’abord la soif de connaissance qui l’anime: c’est au progrès de la connaissance que très jeune il décide de consacrer sa vite. Le jeune François croyait profondément que la compréhension jaillirait de la connaissance, et le bien social de la compréhension. Et que sa propre destinée était de participer de cette entreprise sacrée: accroître la connaissance du monde naturel afin que l’humanité puisse progresser.

Orphelin de père, il venait d’une famille pauvre, originaire du bourg de Cérilly, en plein coeur de la France. Volontaire dans les armées révolutionnaires, il combattit courageusement en terres étrangères, dévorant tous les livres éducatifs sur lesquels il mettait la main. Fait prisonnier, ayant perdu l’usage d’un oeil, Péron revint dans sa ville natale diminué physiquement mais plus averti de la vie. Il fut remarqué par le notaire local qui, en juillet 1797, avança généreusement à ce jeune homme prometteur les fonds nécessaires pour “monter à Paris” et y entreprendre des études de médecine. Il fut un bon étudiant et le grand anatomiste Georges Cuvier, qui était un de ses professeurs, le remarqua.

C’est alors que le destin perça le coeur du jeune homme. Le notaire bienfaiteur, père de la Sophie que François aimait, ne permit pas le mariage; il considérait que Péron, même médecin, n’était pas assez bien pour celle-ci. Ses rêves d’amoureux épris et impétueux ruinés, Péron décida alors de faire ce qu’il fallait pour devenir un homme d’exception. La pratique libérale de la médecine n’était pas suffisante pour cela, mais la politique, la guerre ou les affaires n’étaient pas non plus sa tasse de thé; non, sa passion, c’était la science.

3. 1800: Bonaparte envoie une nouvelle expédition scientifique vers Terra australis

Coup de chance pour Péron: le capitaine Baudin et le ministre Charles-Pierre Claret de Fleurieu organisent la plus ambitieuse expédition scientifique jamais expédiée vers la Terra australis. Une entreprise encore plus élaborée que les deux expéditions de recherche précédentes que Fleurieu avait déjà organisées vers la terra incognita des antipodes, avec La Pérouse en 1785, puis Bruny d’Entrecasteaux en 1791. Deux expéditions qui s’étaient avérées de tragiques entreprises marquées par la malchance, la souffrance et l’héroïsme. La première expédition avait été organisée par Fleurieu sous le regard attentif de Louis XVI, la seconde sous le régime révolutionnaire, et maintenant il organisait celle-ci, destinée à prendre le départ pour la dernière année du siècle des lumières, sous un gouvernement républicain glissant rapidement vers un régime despotique !

Nicolas Baudin, né en 1754, était un commandant parfait pour cette nouvelle expédition: il avait prouvé non seulement ses talents de capitaine chevronné, mais aussi, et de surcroît, il était un naturaliste expérimenté, capable de ramener vivants toutes sortes de plantes et d’animaux recueillis en pays lointains. Enfant du peuple, il s’avérait néanmoins homme de grande culture, voyageant avec une vaste bibliothèque personnelle. Bref, on avait là la perle rare, capable à la fois de saisir tout l’intérêt scientifique d’une telle expédition, mais également de ramener en France les échantillons récoltés et l’équipage en entier… si possible.

Péron avait fait acte de candidature en tant qu’anthropologue, mais en définitive, avec le soutien inter alia de Cuvier et Lamarck, il embarqua comme anatomiste et étudiant en zoologie. Ses deux mentors lui avaient particulièrement recommandé de garder l’oeil (et le bon) sur les animaux à corps mous (“mollusques“) qu’il pourrait croiser sur sa route. Bien entendu, la taxonomie de ces animaux était loin d’être établie à l’époque, et ce que les deux zoologues avaient à l’esprit étaient bien les invertébrés.

4. Lamarck et les invertébrés

Lamarck, qui était devenu un expert des invertébrés depuis sa nomination, en 1793, à la tête du département des “Animaux sans vertèbres” au Muséum d’Histoire naturelle de Paris, avait consacré beaucoup de temps et de réflexion à leur systématique et leur taxonomie, à leur place dans l’histoire naturelle et l’ordre des choses.

Deux écrits de Lamarck, datant de 1799, l’année précédant le départ de l’expédition Baudin, témoignent de son intérêt pour ces êtres peu étudiés, et sa conviction que leur systématique était loin d’être établie. Dans son “Prodrome d’une nouvelle classification des coquilles” (in Mémoires de la Société d’histoire naturelle, I, 63-91, Paris) il écrit: “les mollusques incluent les testacés , les insectes, les oursins, les madrépores etc.“.
Son deuxième écrit est un rapport qu’il constitua sur les invertébrés rapportés par Baudin suite à sa dernière expédition, sur les lointains rivages de l’Atlantique: “Collection d’histoire naturelle du C. Baudin. Partie zoologique relative aux animaux sans vertèbres, c’est-à-dire aux coquillages, aux insectes, aux oursins, aux madrépores, etc.” (Paris, ANF, fonds Muséum, AJ/15/569, dossier Belle Angélique, 14 ventôse an VII – 24 mars 1799 -).

À l’époque, les invertébrés n’apparaissaient pas clairement comme des animaux, au sens où l’on comprenait ce terme usuellement. On ne les prenait plus pour des plantes pour autant. Même les coraux, depuis la fameuse étude pionnière de Jean-André Peyssonnel, en 1726 (censurée initialement par Réaumur, qui tenait à ce qu’on les classât comme végétaux parmi les “orties de mer”, finalement publiée en 1742 grâce au soutien de Bernard de Jussieu), étaient reconnus, malgré leur intégration de micro-algues photosynthétiques, pour appartenir au règne animal, à l’instar de tous les cnidaires d’ailleurs. Pour l’investigateur curieux, les invertébrés demeuraient toutefois une énigme. Pour bien des penseurs et philosophes, ils restaient très troublants. Qu’est-ce qu’un honnête taxonomiste, respectant Dieu et ses oeuvres, pouvait bien faire de ces “animaux fleur” (les anthozoaires), tels que ces mystérieux coraux ou encore ces “anémones” de mer ? De ces “animaux mousse” (les bryozoaires), de ces “lis” de mer (les crinoïdes), de ces “concombres” de mer (les holothuries), ou encore de ces “sacs de cuir” (les tuniciers ascidiens) ?

Ces petites choses effaçaient les frontières les mieux établies, les frontières naturelles, les frontières mentales, par là même les frontières divines ! Le problème empirait avec certains animaux à coquille, brachiopodes tels que la lingule, mollusques tels que chitons, moules et autres huîtres: une énigme supplémentaire au sein de l’énigme. Car bien que clairement associés aux littorals de toutes les mers, ne retrouvait-on pas également leurs fossiles à de hautes altitudes, en de très nombreux lieux bien éloignés de tout rivage ?!

C’était très troublant, de quoi rendre malade voire fou tout savant dans ce domaine… Tel l’étrange personnage d’une nouvelle de Patrick Süskind, Maître Mussard, que l’on peut voir, à travers ses écrits, sombrer progressivement, et au début de façon subtile, dans une effroyable variante du syndrome de Cotard (“Das Vermächtnis des Maître Mussard” — “Le Testament de Maître Mussard“). Lamarck lui-même, ayant étudié d’une passion dévorante les coquillages qu’il avait amassé dans sa vaste collection, deviendra aveugle et coupé du monde académique dans sa dernière décennie de vie.

Outre Lamarck, Georges Cuvier également s’intéressait aux invertébrés, mais pour des raisons différentes de son collègue: pour le premier, ils étaient précieux indicateurs d’une vérité plus fondamentale, pour le deuxième leur place taxonomique demandait simplement à être précisée. C’est G. Cuvier qui, le premier, créa un nouvel adjectif en en préfixant un: “in-vertébré“. Il avait commencé à s’intéresser à ces formes de vie dès 1792, mais la plupart de ses écrits à leur sujet furent publiés entre 1802 et 1815, et furent rassemblés en 1817 dans ses “Mémoires pour servir de l’histoire et à l’anatomie des mollusques“. Même si ses motivations de chercheur étaient sincères, il n’en apparaît pas moins qu’elles étaient également animées par un esprit de confrontation féroce avec Lamarck.

Lamarck qui, en 1809, fera un saut conceptuel important: en substantivant l’adjectif créé par Cuvier, il rassemblera les trois embranchements composant à l’époque les “animaux sans vertèbres” (les mollusques, les articulés et les radiaires) en un nouveau phylum, les “invertébrés“, dont les vertébrés émanaient en un embranchement particulièrement dérivé (évolué).

En tant que savant séduit par les grandes explications d’ordre philosophique, Lamarck avait tenté de développer, depuis le temps de ses travaux pionniers en botanique, une méthode naturelle de classification des êtres vivants (une taxinomie). Bien avant 1800, il avait imaginé des classes taxonomiques sous forme de séries que des recherches approfondies permettraient d’inter-connecter. Dans la théorie de l’évolution dont il fut un pionnier, la méthode taxonomique naturelle était le chemin même que la nature avait suivi en produisant les différents groupes d’organismes.

Pour Lamarck, la meilleure façon d’appréhender la vie dans son ensemble consistait à l’étudier d’abord dans ses formes les plus simples. Là, l’organisation de base et les fonctions vitals se prêtaient plus facilement à l’observation, n’étant pas masquées par des facultés et des organes plus complexes et plus spécialisés. Sa vision scientifique et philosophique était que toutes les formes de vie formaient un seul développement intégré, par dérivations et transformations, les formes fossiles prouvant que ce processus se déroulait depuis longtemps, et s’avérait progressif. Son aspiration à comprendre la vie dans toutes ses manifestations et comme un tout, comme une “biologie” (un mot qu’il produisit en 1802, en même temps que l’Allemand Treviranus dans sa “Biologie oder die Philosophie der lebenden Natur” – “Biologie ou la philosophie de la nature vivante“), et sa conviction que l’étude des invertébrés contribuerait à cette compréhension, expliquent l’extraordinaire dévotion du Lamarck vieillissant à cette recherche, plus particulièrement à l’étude des coquillages fossiles.

5. Transformisme contre fixisme – le grand polemos

L’intuition philosophique de Lamarck, de la vie formant un ensemble se transformant progressivement, s’étendait, au-delà de la biologie, à la géologie: les paysages se formaient progressivement, par de lents changements, à travers des processus minéraux certes, mais aussi biologiques ! Une conception tout à fait remarquable pour son temps, et encore très moderne.

Ces conceptions transformistes étaient à l’opposé de celles de G. Cuvier, qui adhérait à une conception fixiste, platonicienne-aristotélicienne: la vie s’exprimait dans une série de lignées parallèles, les formes existantes étant soit une forme dégénérée, soit la forme parfaitement préservée, des prototypes originels et parfaits. Avec, ici et là, des catastrophes ayant permis l’élagage de la diversité sauvage et quelque peu désordonnée des origines, et la prédominance des “meilleures” formes. Cette vision de Cuvier en faisait un scientifique très populaire auprès de certains milieux chrétiens, encore puissants et bien dotés financièrement malgré la révolution, et qui réalisaient que le discours traditionnaliste nécessitait quelques adaptations, les idées principales demeurant inchangées.

Ce polémos majeur, ce grand orage idéologique où s’affrontèrent fixisme et transformisme, illumina de ses éclairs les cieux turbulents de la science et de la philosophie durant toute la première moitié du 19ème siècle. Et après l’énorme effort intégrateur et interprétatif de Darwin, le fixisme ne sera plus l’apanage que des ignorants, ou des idéologues les plus obtus.

Ce fut Lamarck versus Cuvier, certes, mais il ne faudrait pas oublier une tierce personne, qui rend ce chapitre majeur de l’histoire de la pensée encore plus intéressante sur le plan humain: le deuxième, chronologiquement, à être nommé à la tête d’un département de zoologie du Muséum d’histoire naturelle, soit Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. Il avait été nommé en 1794 à la tête du département de la zoologie des mammifères et des oiseaux, puis, lors de l’expédition de Bonaparte en Egypte, en 1798, il avait fait d’importantes contributions à l’étude des poissons et des reptiles. S’étant spécialisé en tératologie expérimentale (l’étude des monstres mutants), il était, à l’instar de Lamarck, un grand pionnier du transformisme, partageant avec ce dernier cette notion d’une unité structurale à travers l’ensemble du monde animal. Il se retrouvait donc, comme Lamarck, en opposition idéologique avec Cuvier. Il convient toutefois de noter une différence conceptuelle entre les deux transformistes: alors que Lamarck envisageait des transformations progressives, suite principalement à des changements d’habitudes ou d’attitudes, au sens le plus large, pour Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire celles-ci se faisaient principalement suite à des pressions de l’environnement sur les organismes au cours de leur développement, surtout au cours de leur épigénèse (phase embryonnaire).

Quoique Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire fût philosophiquement plus proche de Lamarck, lui et G. Cuvier étaient plutôt bons amis, du moins au départ. Le trio du Muséum étant présenté, on peut sans difficulté imaginer qu’il y avait là un potentiel pour un essor majeur des idées scientifiques, mais chaotique dans son essor et même illogique dans son processus. Nous reviendrons plus tard sur cet imbroglio humain et épistémologique, et sur le rôle peu connu de Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire sur la vie de Péron… ou plus précisément, sur son absence de rôle, alors qu’il aurait dû (logiquement) en avoir un !

6. Péron, les mollusques et le transformisme

La diabolique ironie de l’histoire se signale dans le détail de son déroulement. Péron avait découvert, en Tasmanie, à King Island et à Kangaroo Island, des coquillages très significatifs, ceux du mollusque Trigonia margaritacea (Lamarck 1804). Ce bivalve s’avérera particulièrement remarquable dans l’histoire des sciences, car son groupe taxonomique n’était jusqu’alors connu que sous la forme de fossiles. Il témoignait que certains groupes d’espèces pouvaient complètement disparaître de certaines zones de la planète, peut-être simplement après avoir évolué en d’autres espèces, tout en continuant inchangés leur existence ailleurs !

Des espèces et groupes d’espèces n’étaient donc pas nécessairement destinées à complètement disparaître lors d’événements cataclysmiques globaux, en un processus providentiel marqué d’une sorte d’immanence, comme G. Cuvier l’imaginait. Au contraire, il y avait là preuve, avec la découverte de ce que l’on pouvait appeller un “fossile vivant”, que toute l’histoire de la vie sur la planète était en réalité un processus marqué par la contingence, largement fortuit et en définitive plutôt continu. Cette découverte capitale allait aider Lamarck à formuler avec plus de confiance les premiers éléments de son interprétation réellement révolutionnaire de la vie: ce que l’on appellera le transformisme. Un changement fondamental de paradigme qui, six décennies plus tard, sera amélioré de façon décisive par Charles Darwin, pour devenir l’évolution par la sélection naturelle.

On peut se faire une idée de l’énorme impact de cette petite découverte par un Péron à l’oeil averti en notant que, trente ans après la description par Lamarck de ce mollusque remarquable, deux savants du voyage de découvertes du vaisseau L’Astrolabe, commandée par J. Dumont d’Urville en 1826-1829, Quoy et Gaimard, rapportèrent qu’ils ne manquèrent pas de rechercher un spécimen vivant de cette Trigonia, dont seule la coquille était alors connue. Qu’ils furent si heureux d’en découvrir un spécimen vivant que, lorsque L’Astrolabe courut le risque de s’échouer sur les récifs de Tongatabou, ils avaient décidé que si un spécimen devait à tout prix être sauvé du naufrage, ce serait celui-ci (par chance leur navire ne sombra pas en définitive et leur précieuse collection ne fut pas perdue.)

Où se situe l’ironie de l’histoire ? Eh bien, dans son succès même… Péron ne prit pas bien que Lamarck eut décrit l’espèce sans l’avoir convenablement associé au processus taxonomique. Le coquillage de Trigonia margaritacea faisait partie de la riche cargaison que Le Naturaliste, second navire sous le commandement de Baudin à avoir apareillé du Havre en 1800, avait ramenée au même port le 6 juin 1803. Tout le monde était impressionné par l’énorme quantité et la fabuleuse diversité de spécimens rapportés au Havre, nombre d’entre eux en excellent état de surcroît ! L’excitation était à son comble, particulièrement chez les savants. Bien naturellement, ils étaient impatients d’étudier immédiatement ce riche trésor et, quand Le Géographe jeta finalement l’ancre dans le port de Lorient, le 25 mars 1804, Lamarck avait déjà publié trois notes décrivant six nouvelles espèces d’invertébrés ramenées par Le Naturaliste, G. Cuvier avait pour sa part publié deux mémoires, et Lacépède un.

Lorsqu’il revint en France sur le navire amiral Le Géographe avec les illustrateurs Lesueur et Petit, Péron n’apprécia pas spécialement de ne pas avoir été plus étroitement associé à la publication de ces résultats scientifiques basés sur ses échantillons…

7. Une expédition particulièrement riche en découvertes zoologiques

À son retour, Péron retrouva une France où dans l’ensemble pas grand chose n’avait changé depuis son départ quatre ans plus tôt: son pays était toujours en état de guerre avec la plus grande partie de l’Europe. Certaines choses avaient un peu changé toutefois: le citoyen Bonaparte, après avoir produit le Code civil, un tour de force en matière d’écriture de lois qui aura bien plus d’impact sur l’Europe continentale que toutes ses aventures militaires, se convertissait rapidement en Napoléon, l’Empereur.

C’est dans ce contexte de guerre et de tyrannie que Péron se devait de lutter pour obtenir la gloire qu’il avait tant méritée, après tous ses efforts et toutes les souffrances qu’il avait endurées. D’abord, assurer l’essentiel: d’une part il lui fallait de l’argent pour survivre, d’autre part il devait établir sa primauté pour toute publication (zoologique en particulier) en relation avec ce qu’il considérait être son expédition. Aussi, avec pugnacité, Péron s’assura-t-il d’un peu d’argent des autorités (juste de quoi survivre hélas), et de son monopole officiel sur l’exploitation des données zoologiques de l’expédition. Sans pour autant, malheureusement, obtenir de position officielle dans un institut, et en tout cas pas au Muséum. Aussi sa victoire partielle s’avérerait-elle une victoire à la Pyrrhus, Péron n’obtenant guère, dès lors, d’appui pratique de la part du Muséum. Et Lamarck ne collaborerait pas avec Péron dans ces conditions, se concentrant plutôt sur ses propres découvertes de fossiles d’invertébrés dans la région parisienne: “Mémoires sur les fossiles des environs de Paris, comprenant la détermination des espèces qui appartiennent aux animaux marins sans vertèbres” (1802-1806).

Péron avait su manoeuvrer habilement pour assurer sa supervision obligatoire de toute production de résultats zoologiques. Hélas, la suite démontrera que Péron ne pourrait pas faire grand chose avec ses financières et humaines limitées. D’autant que Petit décédera peu après son retour en France, et l’équipe de Péron se limitera dorénavant au brave et loyal Lesueur. De plus, François était malade de la tuberculose, qui le consumait bien trop rapidement pour ses ambitieux projets — il allait bientôt se retrouver la prochaine victime d’une expédition aux terres australes.

Que cette troisième grande expédition française d’exploration vers la Terra Australis, quoiqu’affligée d’un taux de mortalité humaine élevé (c’était néanmoins bien mieux que les deux précédentes !), fût marquée du sceau du succès d’un point de vue zoologique, et cela principalement grâce aux efforts de Baudin, Péron et Lesueur, a été redémontré par les investigations du zoologiste belge Michel Jangoux, et en France par les travaux de Jacqueline Goy, Christian Jouanin et Bernard Métivier. Ils ont particulièrement éclairé les contributions de Péron et de Lesueur à la science, pendant l’expédition Baudin et durant les années qui ont suivi; leur verdict: ç’avait été du très bon travail.

Afin de se faire une meilleure idée de ce qui fut ainsi accompli par l’expédition Baudin, voici quelques données chiffrées sur deux portions zoologiques du trésor rapporté par celle-ci, et quelques commentaires sur le gaspillage éhonté qui en fut fait, par des personnes qui n’avaient pas l’excuse de l’ignorance.

En 1810, l’extraordinairement compétente description et classification par Péron des méduses observées lors de son voyage austral fut publiée, hélas sans les magnifiquement précises illustrations de Lesueur — il n’y avait pas d’argent pour cela dans une France épuisée par deux décennies de guerres, et d’ailleurs, depuis début 1810, les imprimeurs étaient chargés de donner priorité aux besoins de la propagande ! Les illustrations accompagnant cette oeuvre pionnière ne seront jamais publiées, suite à l’indifférence ou aux obstructions sournoises de G. Cuvier et Lamarck. Inévitablement, l’impact de ce travail sur le monde scientifique en sera pratiquement nul.

Pourtant, le grand patron de la zoologie française, Georges Cuvier lui-même, avait établi, le 8 juin 1806, dans un rapport au gouvernement, que l’expédition avait ramené plus de 100’000 spécimens d’animaux (dont un grand nombre vivants), représentant près de 70’000 espèces zoologiques, sont 2’500 étaient nouvelles pour la science ! C’était plus que les résultats cumulés de toutes les expéditions de ce genre faites en 100 ans, y inclus les expéditions du capitaine Cook ! Cuvier était alors plein d’éloge pour la méticulosité de Péron et ses méthodes scientifiques.

Regardons de plus près juste une classe d’invertébrés, celle des astérides ou étoiles de mer. En 1800, au départ de l’expédition Baudin, seule une douzaine d’espèces d’astérides était connue. Une cinquantaine de nouvelles espèces sera collectée par Péron ! Hélas, rongé par la tuberculose, handicapé par le manque de moyens, il ne trouvera jamais le temps de les décrire formellement et de publier ses résultats, et Lesueur non plus ne sut pas le faire après sa mort en 1810. Seules 14 de ces nouvelles espèces seront (laconiquement !) décrites par Lamarck, le reste sera redécouvert et convenablement décrit durant les deux siècles qui suivront, pour la plupart en 1842-3 par les scientifiques allemands Müller et Troschel. Dommage. Schade !

8. Un succès indiscutable, puis l’oubli – que s’est-il passé ?

Que c’est-il donc passé pour que l’entreprise tournât si mal après un début si prometteur ? Quel est l’ingrédient qui a si cruellement manqué ? Ou bien s’agit-il, tout simplement, d’encore une illustration de la loi des événements qui veut que si quelque chose doit mal tourner, cela tournera mal ? Ou bien encore, y eut-il une sorte d’esprit du mal dans cette lamentable affaire ? De fait, serait-ce Péron lui-même, son triste sort s’avérant tout naturellement une rétribution divine pour ses mauvaises actions ?

Tout d’abord, il a été accusé, en particulier dans les milieux anglo-saxons, du péché d’avoir ouvertement dit du mal de son commandant. Toutefois, il faut réaliser qu’on est là en présence d’une mauvaise appréciation de la psycho-sociologie des Français, de manière générale: pour des mentalités anglaises, ne pas se tenir aux côtés du capitaine était vil, en dire du mal ouvertement était inqualifiable. Cela n’était pas vrai pour des mentalités françaises, encore moins pour des enfants de la Révolution !

Autrement, et plus gravement, Péron a été pris la main dans le sac par les historiens des sciences: il a réécrit l’histoire afin de faire accroire siennes les contributions du zoologiste en chef de l’expédition, René Maugé, ou en prétendant qu’elles l’étaient, ou à défaut qu’elles appartenaient à son ami et allié Lesueur.

Toutefois, cette action condamnable de la part de Péron ne fut pas faite parce que Maugé, que par ailleurs Péron respectait grandement, était un vieil ami de Baudin. Elle ne fut pas faite dans un esprit de malice ou de malfaisance, mais simplement dans un esprit de survie financière et dans un contexte de manoeuvre dans une France en guerre où les ressources dévolues à la science devenaient bien maigres. Péron, appuyé en cela par la hiérarchie du Muséum, avait obtenu le privilège de voir son salaire réévalué au niveau de celui de zoologiste en chef de l’expédition, et ceci depuis le départ de celle-ci depuis l’île Maurice, en avril 1801… alors que Maugé, le chef en titre, était encore vivant ! Aussi les contributions de Maugé se devaient-elles d’être inexistentes ! Péron se rendait bien compte que sa situation n’était pas stabilisée, que ses relations avec le Muséum n’étaient pas si bonnes que cela et que, malgré les rapports officiels élogieux à son égard, tout privilège qui lui avait été accordé pouvait tout aussi bien lui être retiré. Non, décidément, la gloire n’était pas fruit facile à cueillir… Péron ne saboterait pas son privilège salarial, obtenu non sans difficultés, par ses propres publications ! Et tant pis pour la vérité historique !

Répétons-le: si Péron avait connu bien des frictions avec Baudin, ce n’avait pas été le cas avec Maugé. Il ne s’agissait donc pas en l’occurrence d’un règlement de compte personnel, mais de nécessaires petits arrangements avec la vérité, si communs chez la plupart des êtres humains. Cette faiblesse n’a donc pas fait de Péron un acteur si criminel qu’il faille nécessairement évoquer la justice immanente pour expliquer son destin affligeant… Si ce n’est pas Péron lui-même qui est réellement responsable de l’affaissement final de sa destinée — on ne peut l’accuser de torpeur, cet homme n’a jamais cessé de lutter, jusqu’à son dernier souffle — alors qui ? De fait, y a-t-il vraiment un suspect ?

Cela pourrait-il être le fantôme mécontent de Baudin ? Peu probable, considérant le caractère magnanime du commandant. Bien sûr, il y avait un gouffre entre les deux tempéraments, plutôt félin dans le cas de Baudin, plutôt canin dans le cas de Péron. Dans les conditions de promiscuité d’un navire ils ne cessaient de s’énerver l’un l’autre et se supportaient de moins en moins. Dans l’ensemble toutefois il n’y avait pas de haine entre ces deux gentilhommes de l’esprit. Péron était le plus insistant, par là le plus fatigant des jeunes savants, mais il n’était pas le seul avec qui Baudin avait des difficultés relationnelles au cours de ce qui s’avérerait sa dernière expédition. À l’exception des marins expérimentés qu’il avait hérités de ses expéditions précédentes, et de ses vieux amis parmi les scientifiques, le commandant avait des difficultés avec les mauvais marins qu’il avait dû embarquer à l’île Maurice, mais aussi, de façon générale, avec tous ces enfants de la Révolution qui se retrouvaient à bord. Les tracas de Baudin ne se limitaient pas d’ailleurs aux mauvais marins et aux seuls jeunes savants de l’expédition, qui semblaient s’imaginer que le commandant était une sorte de majordome au service de leurs hautes fonctions intellectuelles… Ses officiers mal dégrossis eux-mêmes, souvent impertinents, ne l’aidaient pas particulièrement… Le pauvre Baudin, fils tardif d’une époque aux manières polies et raffinées, se retrouvait environné de jeunes insolents, mal élevés et irrespectueux. Baudin tenta bien d’alléger l’atmosphère avec son sens de la dérision… sans résultat. La jeune génération révolutionnaire ou bonapartiste embarquée n’avait pas le sens de l’humour, appréciait encore moins l’humour noir. Le conflit de générations, particulièrement aigü dans le contexte historique et social de l’époque, empoisonna toute l’expédition.

Non, décidément cela ne peut être le pauvre Baudin, qui “cessa d’exister” le 16 septembre 1803, à l’ile Maurice. Lui, le commandant qui s’était lentement consumé dans les souffrances d’une tuberculose pulmonaire terminale, ne peut être considéré, en aucune manière, comme ayant eu une part de responsabilité dans le mauvais sort qui s’acharnera sur Péron. Sept ans plus tard ce dernier mourra également de tuberculose, mais s’il eut la consolation de pouvoir terminer ses jours dans sa ville natale, il ne pouvait que se désoler à l’idée de n’avoir pas pu achever le dixième de ce qu’il voulait faire. Certes, la maladie que Péron avait contacté au cours de son voyage ne lui porta pas chance, mais, dans l’ensemble, le destin malheureux de ce caractère pugnace que fut François Péron fut forgé après son retour en France, pas durant l’expédition qui, au contraire, fut réellement pour lui une chance extraordinaire d’atteindre à la gloire scientifique.

IIème partie – Le chaos destructeur, encore et toujours

9. Un conflit entre scientifiques: les principaux rôles dans la tragédie Péronienne

Envisageons tout à tour quels furent les rôles des principaux protagonistes dans la tragédie péronienne durant les 6 années et 9 mois qui séparent son retour en France, le 25 mars 1804, et son décès, le 14 décembre 1810.

En premier lieu, ces deux personnalités du Muséum qui s’opposèrent jusqu’au bout, Jean-Baptiste de Monet de Lamarck et Georges Cuvier.

Comme nous l’avons vu, la découverte par Péron de la coquille d’un mollusque clé, ramenée en France par Le Naturaliste le 7 juin 1803, contribua à confirmer Lamarck dans ses vues transformistes. Au grand déplaisir du fixement fixiste G. Cuvier. Ce n’est pas tout. Outre ses talents de chercheur sur le terrain, on peut aussi mettre à l’actif de Péron qu’il fut un pionnier d’une approche phylogénétique de la zoologie, ainsi qu’un défricheur en zooclimatologie (deux domaines qui seraient développés plus tard par un grand scientifique allemand, Ernst Haeckel). Encore une fois, rien qui ne fît particulièrement plaisir à G. Cuvier…

De surcroît, au sein de l’expédition Baudin, Péron ne s’était pas activé uniquement en tant que zoologue: avec son ardeur habituelle, il s’était également occupé d’océanographie, mesurant très consciencieusement les températures à plusieurs niveaux de profondeur à divers points de l’océan, et cela à des profondeurs jamais atteintes alors. Ces observations contribuèrent, elles aussi, à confirmer Lamarck dans son scepticisme à l’égard du créationnisme et de l’adaptation cuvierienne de celui-ci: le catastrophisme.

Rien de tout cela ne serait vu d’un très bon oeil par un Georges Cuvier plutôt belliqueux. Péron n’était pas stupide, il réalisait sûrement que G. Cuvier portait le pantalon dans le couple en perpétuelle dispute que formaient Lamarck et Cuvier… Aussi tenta-il, tant bien que mal, malgré ses propres résultats clairement en faveur des idées du premier, d’afficher son allégeance à ce dernier. Mais Cuvier n’était pas naïf non plus: quoique le petit salaud fît les courbettes d’usage à l’égard du seul, du vrai maître de la zoologie – lui, le grand Georges Cuvier -, il n’était pas dupe pour autant. Il ne pouvait que réaliser que Péron, par ses contributions scientifiques, minait en réalité son grand édifice catastrophiste. Par là, inévitablement (à ses yeux d’idéologue socialement ambitieux), Péron lui apparaissait comme une menace à son prestige social et à sa position académique.

Pour se faire une meilleure idée du personnage que Péron, sans le vouloir, avait irrité, il faut savoir que G. Cuvier pouvait être si querelleur et hargneux qu’en 1829, aux funérailles du vieux Lamarck, il négligerait l’adage bimillénaire de convenance sociale: “De mortuis nil nisi bonum” (“Des morts ne rien dire que du bien“), pour se lancer dans un soi-disant éloge si perfide et si méprisant de son vieil adversaire, que tous les assistants, y compris ses sycophantes, en seraient choqués. Pour un homme tel que lui, prêt à combattre par tous les moyens les idées transformistes de Lamarck, le blocus, puis la suppression des résultats de Péron, s’imposaient donc parfaitement. Pour Cuvier, aucun développement dans la science des invertébrés n’était acceptable s’il ne le contrôlait pas – Lamarck était assez gênant comme cela, il ne fallait pas qu’on puisse en rajouter de ce côté. Aussi bien, à part, au début, des éloges convenus à l’égard des qualités scientifiques de Péron, n’offrira-t-il par la suite aucun soutien réel à ce jeune scientifique bien fâcheux.

Car si Georges Cuvier savait parfaitement qu’il ne pouvait faire chuter Lamarck de sa chaire au Muséum, il pouvait par contre créer le vide humain et intellectuel autour de son adversaire déclaré. C’est ce qu’il fit, au grand dam de Péron. Le 6 janvier 1808, dans un rapport de 395 pages adressé à l’Empereur (rapport qui sera publié en 1810), intitulé “Rapport historique sur les progrès des sciences naturelles depuis 1789 et sur leur état actuel“, mentionnera-t-il à peine l’expédition de Baudin ou les contributions scientifiques de Péron et Lesueur.

Dans ce rapport, G. Cuvier était parfaitement conscient de ne satisfaire ni à l’esprit de justice ni à l’esprit d’honnêteté. Car comme nous l’avons vu, une année et demie auparavant, en juin 1806, il avait loué la méticulosité de Péron et les résultats impressionnants du dernier voyage de découvertes aux terres australes ! On pourrait également noter qu’en septembre 1810, son jeune frère, Frédéric Cuvier (le népotisme n’était pas rare au Muséum…), mentionnera l’extraordinaire contribution à la zoologie, particulièrement à la zoologie marine, des scientifiques de l’expédition Baudin… Il semble donc bien que la main droite et la main gauche de Georges Cuvier pouvaient faire des choses contradictoires sans que le système nerveux central du grand maître n’en souffrît. Une dissonance cognitive ne le gênait guère !

Du point de vue éthique, on peut légitimement estimer que le comportement de Georges Cuvier fut criminel en définitive. Il a commis un crime contre la science, car il est allé trop loin dans les moyens politiques et académiques dont il usa et abusa pour la promotion de ses intérêts, soit sa position sociale et son idéologie personnelle. Du fait de ses actions étroitement égoïstes, il a compromis dans son pays tout progrès en matière de biologie évolutionnaire. Alors que la France avait si bien débuté en ce domaine, ce sera un Anglais, Charles Darwin, qui la fera revivre un demi-siècle plus tard. On a donc pu à raison comparer G. Cuvier à Trofim Lyssenko, qui, sous les années de plomb de la terreur stalinienne, anéantira une biologie soviétique pourtant si prometteuse. Ceci étant, si Lyssenko fut un scientifique de la main gauche, les capacités scientifiques de G. Cuvier furent indéniables. Pourtant, de son vivant, la biologie française, qui avait si bien débuté le 19ème siècle, fut menée dans une impasse durable, et Cuvier eut une lourde responsabité personnelle dans ce crime contre la science. Fut-il pour autant criminellement coupable du sort malheureux de Péron en matière scientifique ?

Eh bien… pas vraiment. G. Cuvier était un bon apparatchik, mais il n’opérait pas sous un régime stalinien, pas plus d’ailleurs que dans un contexte moyenâgeux. Il ne pouvait faire exécuter ni emprisonner qui que ce soit, que ce fût sous Napoléon ou sous la Restauration. Péron fut une victime dans un conflit idéologique qui le dépassait, un pion à supprimer pour un côté, et comme nous allons le voir, à sacrifier pour l’autre. L’autre côté étant personnifié par Lamarck.

Justement, Lamarck: pourquoi, pour le dire gentiment, ne fut-il pas d’une plus grande aide pour Péron, qui apportait pourtant bien de l’eau à son moulin ? Eh bien, on peut raisonnablement soupçonner qu’entre les deux hommes ce n’était pas le grand amour. Lamarck et Péron étaient deux personnalités parfaitement antagonistes, sans doute autant que Baudin et Péron l’avaient été. De plus, Lamarck percevait sans doute Péron comme un danger pour son statut académique. Cet impétueux gaillard dans la trentaine menaçait le vieillard plus tranquille dans la soixantaine qu’il était, par le simple fait que Péron se spécialisait avec talent dans le domaine même que lui, Lamarck, avait dû développer à partir de pratiquement rien lorsqu’il était dans sa cinquantaine, alors qu’il avait passé les décennies précédentes à plutôt documenter “La flore française“. Tout cela parce que la position de botaniste en chef de la nation était de facto propriété de la famille Jussieu, et qu’on ne lui attribuait, à lui Lamarck, que la chaire la moins prestigieuse, celle des animaux sans vertèbres !

Courageux mais pas téméraire, et plutôt solitaire, Lamarck ne se mettrait pas en danger lui-même pour rien, il avait déjà fort à faire avec Cuvier. On peut donc comprendre qu’il n’appuya pas Péron après le retour en France de celui-ci en 1804. Mais pourquoi donc n’appuya-t-il pas les résultats scientifiques de ce dernier après 1810 ? Le concurrent potentiel était décédé, et les résultats de Péron allaient dans le sens de ses propres idées ! Ce sujet mériterait une recherche circonstanciée, mais on peut conjecturer que les yeux du vieux Lamarck lui donnaient de plus en plus de difficultés. Il lui était de plus en plus pénible de compléter son magnum opus final, son “Histoire naturelle des animaux sans vertèbres“, usant de ses propres découvertes dans le domaine, aussi pourquoi passerait-il du temps sur celles de son ex concurrent ? Et en 1819, Lamarck était aveugle.

10. Après le décès de Péron – les efforts de Lesueur

Au bilan, dans l’histoire plutôt complexe de la science, quantité de chercheurs partagent le sort peu enviable de Péron. Ils sont nombreux, les travaux scientifiques valables, qui n’ont jamais pu devenir matière première utilisable par d’autres, encore moins utilisée. Nombre d’entre eux gisent et pourrissent dans des appartements privés, des compactus de bibliothèques, des tiroirs de musées, des caves de laboratoires — et ceux-là ne représentent que la pointe de l’iceberg comparés à tous les matériaux qui ont déjà disparu pour toujours.

Si le cas de Péron n’est pas exceptionnel, il marque néanmoins les esprits, parce qu’il offre du matériel d’analyse permettant d’assez bonnes reconstitutions aux historiens des sciences, et qu’il porte en lui des aspects de tragédie grecque. Au contact des travaux de Péron, l’imagination peut s’envoler, car peu de chercheurs de son calibre ont eu la chance d’être associés à un illustrateur aussi talentueux que Lesueur. L’art exquis et précis du dessinateur et peintre capte l’oeil, émeut les sens, titille la curiosité et enflamme l’imagination, faisant naître chez ses admirateurs le désir d’en savoir plus: on creuse le sujet, on découvre une aventure insoupçonnée, et l’on se met à vouloir que justice soit rendue aux valeureux pionniers de la connaissance — à titre posthume certes, mais c’est mieux que rien.

Le fidèle Lesueur fit de son mieux, après la mort de son ami Péron, pour que leurs travaux communs fussent publiés. Mais écrire et frapper aux portes n’étaient pas son fort… il était illustrateur, d’abord et avant tout. Il réussit à faire publier en 1813 un article sur les animaux méditerranéens que lui-même et Péron avaient observés dans les eaux niçoises, mais là encore non illustré, par manque de fonds — et puis c’est tout. Lesueur devait bien vivre, et comme, malgré son extraordinaire talent, le Muséum ne l’avait pas engagé dans un poste, il accepta en 1815 un job aux USA, où il travailla comme un illustrateur apprécié en sciences naturelles, jusqu’à son retour en France en 1837.

Pour mieux comprendre combien dans cette histoire le destin s’est complu dans des cheminements aberrants, il faut savoir que tous les échantillons de l’expédition Baudin, qui se trouvaient en possession de Péron au moment de sa mort, furent logiquement récupérés par le Muséum — mais pas, pour des raisons paraissant alors justes et raisonnables, les notes de Péron et les illustrations de Lesueur les accompagnant. Que sont des échantillons biologiques sans leurs notes correspondantes ?! C’est le règne du chaos, au sens grec antique de khaos: le gouffre abyssal, s’élargissant, dans lesquels se perdent tout sens et tout ordre, irréversiblement. Toutes les notes de Péron étant demeurées aux bons soins de Lesueur, parti de France pour 22 années, on peut sans difficulté imaginer que tout intérêt pour celles-ci eussent disparu au bout d’une si longue absence. Ce gaspillage est déplorable, mais un dernier aspect de cette affligeante histoire rend celle-ci encore plus lamentable.

Au retour en France de Lesueur, en 1837, G. Cuvier n’était plus (il avait décédé en 1832) et Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, l’un des rares transformistes à avoir survécu à l’animosité idéologique de G. Cuvier, était le zoologue le plus influent du Muséum. En principe donc, les circonstances étaient favorables à une reviviscence des travaux de Péron et Lesueur. Hélas, comme Lamarck, Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire souffrait des yeux et deviendrait à son tour aveugle, en 1840, avant de décéder peu après, en 1844, et ses derniers travaux scientifiques importants datent de 1838. On peut néanmoins penser qu’il disposa d’une bonne année pour reprendre contact avec Lesueur, devenu plutôt célèbre suite à ses travaux aux USA, et aurait enfin pu lui offrir une position au Muséum; position que l’illustrateur, assisté comme il se doit par les ressources humaines et techniques de l’institution, aurait pu mettre à profit pour finaliser les travaux de Péron. En particulier ceux sur les invertébrés, à tout le moins.

Pourquoi donc ce déroulement logique ne s’est-il pas fait ? On peut conjecturer l’explication la plus simple: Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, âgé de plus de 65 ans au retour de Lesueur, était à la tête du département des mammifères et oiseaux, et ne devait pas ressentir beaucoup d’intérêt pour les invertébrés, ces êtres, probablement insignifiants à ses yeux, sur lesquels Lesueur s’était concentré lors de l’expédition Baudin — pour rappel: selon les instructions de G. Cuvier et Lamarck fournies à Péron, pas les instructions de Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire… De plus, comme nous l’avons vu, les yeux du grand savant transformiste n’étaient vraisemblablement déjà plus très bons

Et voilà. Une autre occasion manquée, un apport majeur au progrès de la systématique et de l’évolution biologique se retrouvant mort-né. Il faudra plusieurs décennies encore pour que la science des invertébrés se retrouvât au niveau qui aurait pu être le sien au temps de Napoléon.

Un impardonnable cafouillage donc du côté du Muséum. Mais qu’en est-il de Lesueur lui-même ? Après tout, il avait entre ses mains les notes de Péron, qui les lui avait confiées. Mais cela, ç’avait été trop en demander de Lesueur, non que ce dernier s’avérât indolent, mais qu’il n’était pas dans ses capacités d’accomplir une telle tâche. Il n’est pas raisonnable d’arguer que Lesueur aurait pu, aurait dû consacrer plus d’efforts à finaliser ses travaux communs avec Péron, pour les quatre raisons suivantes. Premièrement, Lesueur n’était pas homme de démarches ou de la plume — même l’écriture d’une simple lettre à de possibles bienfaiteurs ou éditeurs lui était tâche pénible. Deuxièmement, c’est psychologiquement très difficile, pour la plupart, de faire renaître un vieux projet, de retrouver l’état d’esprit et l’enthousiasme nécessaires — cela semble contraire à l’instinct humain. Troisièmement, l’argent n’était pas aisément disponible dans la France post-napoléonienne, rendue exangue par l’impossible rêve impérial. Quatrièmement, dans la France du roi Louis-Philippe, le “roi bourgeois”, dont l’adage du premier ministre Guizot était “Enrichissez-vous par le travail et l’épargne“, on n’était plus guère intéressé à des sujets de science qui ne promettaient pas un rendement financier immédiat.

Finalement, achevant cette histoire, navrante, si typique toutefois de tant de destinées, ce fut au tour de Lesueur de décéder, le 12 décembre 1846. Comme son cher François, il avait été un ami du soleil, cette source irradiante permettant de contempler dans la lumière les splendeurs de la nature, mais il mourut dans les jours tristes et sombres précédant le solstice d’hiver. Au cours de ses dernières années, il n’avait pu trouver ni l’argent ni l’énergie nécessaires à l’achèvement de ses travaux communs avec Péron, en particulier leurs travaux pionniers sur les méduses, si près d’être achevés.

En résumé, ce désolant chapitre de l’histoire de la biologie fut d’abord un malheureux cas de dynamique psychologique dysfonctionnelle, au sein de deux de ces trois paires si nécessaires et logiques :
Péron – Lesueur: une amitié réelle, source d’une collaboration scientifique particulièrement fructueuse;
Péron – Lamarck: une collaboration scientifique qui ne fut pas, même de loin;
Lesueur – Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire: une deuxième opportunité de collaboration scientifique, mais qui elle non plus ne fut pas.

L’amitié et au moins une de ces deux collaborations avec des professeurs du Muséum étaient nécessaires à l’harmonie et à la logique dans l’ordre des choses, pour qu’il y eût réalisation d’un progrès scientifique et philosophique. Seule l’amitié fut. Malgré sa force, ce n’était pas suffisant. C’est comme ça.

En dernière analyse, le destin de Péron est encore une histoire de laisser-aller, d’occasions manquées, d’égocentrismes exagérés et de mauvaise foi, mais on n’en peut pour autant pointer du doigt, dans une recherche objective de parts de responsabilité, ni la victime, ni aucun des explorateurs et scientifiques qui évoluèrent dans l’environnement social de celle-ci.

11. La politique et le sort de Péron

Il reste encore à évoquer, dans l’environnement scientifique de Péron, le problème de la médisance semée par certains des membres de l’expédition Baudin, qui l’avaient abandonnée lors de son escale à l’île Maurice, en mars-avril 1801. Ils avaient déversé des torrents de purin sur leur capitaine absent, mais que pouvait-on attendre d’autre de leur part ? Ils ne devaient pas avoir la conscience bien tranquille, et pendant deux années ils s’étaient couverts par une attaque préemptive. Évidemment, ils contribuèrent à créer une perception très négative de l’expédition en cours, par le public et les officiels, alors même que les braves équipages exploraient les côtes si lointaines de l’Australie. Toutefois, quand Le Naturaliste revint en France en 1803 avec son extraordinaire cargaison scientifique, de tels sentiments hostiles ne purent que s’évaporer. S’il en demeurait, ils seront désormais réservés au seul commandant. Péron le comprendra sans doute très vite, à son propre retour, en 1804, sur Le Géographe. C’était pratique, en somme, car si les absents ont toujours tort, c’est encore plus vrai des morts… La rumeur circula même que Bonaparte aurait déclaré: “Baudin a bien fait de mourir, je l’eusse fait pendre” (selon Audiat, premier biographe de Péron en 1855).

On peut douter toutefois que l’ire de Bonaparte eût un lien quelconque avec les aspects biologiques de l’expédition. Cela reste hypothétique, mais on peut conjecturer qu’elle avait plutôt pour cause le non respect par Baudin des instructions (pourtant précises) de Fleurieu, alors qu’il touchait à la côte sud-ouest de l’Australie, le 27 mai 1801. Selon ces instructions, Baudin aurait dû immédiatement longer cette côte vers l’est, jusqu’à la terra incognita de l’Australie du sud actuelle. Mais, à cause de ses interminables difficultés avec les autorités de l’île Maurice, Baudin était arrivé tard dans la saison sur ces côtes. Il était un civil, pas un militaire, pour lui la survie de son expédition avait priorité, ensuite venaient les besoins de la science, en dernier seulement la haute politique et les instructions semi militaires reçues. En conséquence de quoi, il avait décidé de remonter la côte ouest de l’Australie vers le nord, afin de faire escale dans le comptoir hollandais de Timor. Mal lui en prit, mais ceci est une autre histoire…

L’ironie de l’histoire veut que le capitaine Matthew Flinders, un militaire que les Anglais avaient envoyé dans une expédition préparée à la hâte sur les traces de Baudin, arrivant six mois après ce dernier sur la côte ouest de l’Australie, le 6 décembre 1801, décidera à son tour de ne pas obéir à ce qui, pour lui par contre, étaient carrément des ordres, pas des instructions: audacieusement, la saison s’y prêtant, il naviguera droit sur les côtes de la terra incognita ! Dans ce cas au moins, le lièvre battra la tortue sur la ligne finale, inscrivant dans l’histoire sa priorité en matière de cartographie de cette région d’Australie du sud encore inexplorée.

Quoi qu’il en soit, l’injuste mauvaise presse qu’avait Baudin n’eut pas vraiment d’impact sur la trajectoire scientifique de Péron. Bien sûr, l’envie et la jalousie de quelques collègues, tel Bory de Saint-Vincent (qui avait abandonné l’expédition à Maurice, en 1801), n’aidèrent pas, mais elles ne durent pas avoir tellement d’impact, in fine, sur le sort de Péron. Les faits parlaient d’eux-mêmes, et ceux-ci, particulièrement les deux fabuleuses cargaisons scientifiques des deux vaisseaux partis pour les terres australes, plaidaient éloquemment en faveur de Péron.

Outre les acteurs du monde scientifique, il y avait aussi, bien sûr, des acteurs du monde politique. Outre Fleurieu et Bonaparte, le premier protagoniste venant à l’esprit était l’épouse de ce dernier, Joséphine. Grande amatrice de jardins d’Eden peuplés de toutes sortes de plantes et d’animaux, elle avait accordé tout son soutien à l’expédition de Baudin, puis à Péron à son retour. Toutefois, même la première dame de France, au caractère fondamentalement simple mais si charmante, dont le destin extraordinaire ferait d’elle “L’Impératrice“, ne pouvait capter beaucoup de l’attention de son hyper-actif de mari; qui n’était lui-même pas tant intéressé par les sciences naturelles qu’à la rendre heureuse dans son paradis de Château Malmaison, où elle rassemblait, avec une passion toute féminine, plantes et animaux ramenés du monde entier. Et quand Napoléon eut répudié Joséphine en 1809, il n’y aurait plus grand chose qu’elle pût obtenir de l’Empereur, qui avait d’autres priorités.

De plus, malheureusement pour Péron et Lesueur, le vieux Fleurieu, le visionnaire et grand organisateur qui avait agencé tant d’expéditions maritimes françaises, vers les rivages les plus lointains, décéda le 18 août 1810. Péron le suivit quatre mois plus tard, et dès lors Lesueur se retrouva bien seul avec ses magnifiques illustrations.

Peut-on accuser Napoléon lui-même, ou un de ses ministres, ou quelqu’un de plus bas dans la hiérarchie, d’être responsable du mauvais destin de Péron ? Eh bien… non, pas vraiment. Toutes ces gens s’investissaient en politique, faisaient la guerre, ou y collaboraient, dans tous les cas y cherchant leur profit. Ils s’intéressaient d’abord à la poursuite de leur propre carrière, ils avaient leurs propres projets privilégiés, Péron et ses travaux n’y avaient pas de place. C’est tout. De fait, si l’on inspecte de plus près les liens de Péron avec les puissants, il ne fut pas si mal traité que cela. Ce dont il manquait cruellement, c’était d’une position académique, pour être précis d’une position au Muséum, et un peu plus d’argent svp pour les oeuvres… Mais voilà, ce sont choses rares, partout et de tout temps.

12. Le chaos en pleine action

Ainsi donc, pas de coupable aux mains rouges ? Probablement pas. Mais alors, quid ? Eh bien, la malchance, simplement. C’est ainsi. C’est la vie… La vie dans sa réalité, qui ne fait guère de cadeaux — et aussi le canevas habituel des sociétés humaines. Il n’est guère facile à deux êtres humains d’interagir avec harmonie, pour toutes sortes de raisons propres à l’espèce. Aussi, lorsque quatre d’entre eux entrent en jeu, et le résultat de la course à la nouvelle science des invertébrés dépendait d’au moins quatre personnes, comme nous l’avons vu, on peut aisément prédire une haute probabilité de chaos, dans son sens littéral, originel, mais aussi, comme nous allons le voir, dans son sens moderne, scientifique.

Petit rappel de la situation humaine, le quatuor scientifique. Il y avait la magnifique paire Péron – Lesueur : deux êtres humains formant une combinaison parfaite, synergétique, avec d’un côté l’impétuosité, la ténacité et la passion de la connaissance, de l’autre la force tranquille, le dévouement et une capacité exceptionnelle pour la représentation visuelle. On ajoute Georges Cuvier, un idéologue autoritaire doué et plutôt dénué de scrupules, peu soucieux de voir son point de vue contesté — les ennuis commencent. On complète de Lamarck, un visionnaire fondamentalement brave mais plutôt solitaire, profil rat de laboratoire, en principe allié des deux premiers, en réalité inquiet pour sa position… le chaos, sans conteste.

Comment aurait-il pu y avoir un processus de création harmonieux et logique découlant d’une telle combinaison discordante ? Pas sur cette terre… Ici-bas, le chaos prédomine. Le khaos au sens classique des Grecs antiques, c’est-à-dire l’abîme effrayant dans lesquels le sens et l’ordre peuvent s’engloutir, pour toujours. Mais aussi le chaos au sens moderne, scientifique, résultat de l’intrication complexe de tant de processus itératifs qu’aucune prédiction ne peut être faite, même de façon approximative et probabiliste, même par des dieux.

L’épistémologie et l’histoire des sciences ont démontré depuis longtemps que le progrès de la science lui-même est un processus nettement chaotique, dans les deux sens, ancien et moderne. “La science va sans cesse se raturant elle-même.” (Victor Hugo, dans son essai de 1864, “William Shakespeare“). Cette caractéristique est obligatoire, compte tenu que l’objet même de la science, soit la nature dans toutes ses formes et ses manifestations, est hautement complexe: multi-corrélée, hautement polymorphique et très fluide. Disposant de moyens matériels et intellectuels limités, les hommes tentent de découvrir, dans une réalité fuyante, une structure masquée par un bruit hautement aléatoire. Il y a quelque chose dans ces profondeurs, mais plus complexe que ce que les êtres humains imaginent, de fait plus complexe que ce qu’ils peuvent imaginer. Tout cela ne facilite guère la tâche des historiens des sciences et des épistémologues, qui doivent donner du sens à une recherche scientifique tentant elle-même, chaotiquement… de donner du sens à une réalité encore plus chaotique. Aussi, plus même que les scientifiques , ne peuvent-ils donner un sens à leur élaboration de sens qu’en effaçant de temps en temps les données non congruentes. Ils ne peuvent que réinventer sans cesse les fondations de leur profession pour réaliser, à un certain point, que les histoires et architectures établies avec peine doivent être débâties, voire abattues, pour cause d’inadéquation.

13. Le bicentenaire d’une mort, mais un objet de préjugés encore vivace

Il y a tant de facteurs et de responsabilités diverses qui ont contribué à cette passionnante tragédie que fut la vie de François Péron — une vie par trop considérée comme une incarnation de mauvaises actions, de ridicule et d’échec.

Des mauvaises actions ? Nous avons vu qu’il y en avait eu de la part de Péron, de sa propre main d’ailleurs… Mais rien de très particulier relativement aux normes humaines. Du ridicule ? Oui, considérant que la personnalité de Péron ne passe pas trop bien auprès de psychismes typiquement parisiens ou anglo-saxons (quoi qu’on puisse en penser, il y a bien une psychologie des peuples…). De tels psychismes n’entrent guère en résonance avec la façon simple et expressive de Péron pour évoquer ses rêves et ses souffrances qui, quelle que soit leur perception à Paris ou dans les pays anglophones, étaient authentiques et intenses.

Parce qu’il fut si productif dans ses écrits et prêt à partager ses sentiments, il a fourni des munitions à ses détracteurs futurs, qui en feront souvent leur bouc émissaire idéal dans leur façon abusive d’interpréter la façon négative dont l’expédition Baudin aurait été perçue en son temps ! Comme nous l’avons vu, cela est franchement à côté de la plaque et en dit plus sur eux-mêmes que sur leur objet d’étude.

Péron est ainsi une tête de Turc pour certains, l’objet de plaisanteries faciles pour d’autres: un sujet de dérision bien commode, dont certains s’amusent encore bien qu’il fût mort depuis deux siècles. Une thèse entière pourrait être écrite sur l’appropriation de la personnalité de Péron et sa déformation par des analystes de différentes disciplines. Il est temps que cette attitude, par trop investie de préjugés, laisse la place à une approche plus mûre et moins biaisée. Quelques chercheurs ont su creuser plus avant dans les faits et fournir une biographie de Péron plus objective et plus équilibrée: ainsi Edward Duyker a su reconstruire avec respect “une vie impétueuse”, comme l’auteur l’a résumée de façon lapidaire.

Qu’en est-il de cette notion, que la vie de Péron aurait été un échec ? Eh bien, comme nous l’avons vu, elle n’eut pas cours chez les contemporains informés de Péron. Ni, des décennies plus tard, en 1848, chez le spécialiste anglais de zoologie maritime Edward Forbes, alors qu’il publiait sur les méduses. Ni chez le père du paradigme évolutionnaire triomphant, Charles Darwin, qui exprimera sa haute estime pour les oeuvres de Péron. Ni chez le père de la phylogénétique, auteur, en 1866, du premier arbre de la vie sérieux (retraçant à une origine commune tous les êtres vivants), le scientifique allemand Ernst Haeckel — qui manifestera son respect pour les travaux de Péron sur les méduses, dans son System der Medusen, en 1879.

Ceux qui approchent encore Péron et ses oeuvres en termes d’échec peuvent voir leurs préjugés contrés en compulsant de magnifiques livres récemment publiés par des scientifiques et des historiens, ceux de Jacqueline Goy, Edward Duyker, ainsi que Gabrielle Baglione et Cédric Crémière. Ces contributions récentes sont des expressions d’amour de la justice. Car les vrais historiens, ceux qui ne sont ni paresseux, ni pleins d’idées préconçues (ni pernicieux, bien entendu…), sont dédiés à la vérité, avec toutes ses subtiles variations, toutes ses interprétations possibles. Mais aussi, et cela est probablement une motivation tout aussi forte, sont-ils dévoués à la justice, fût-elle post hoc. Ils sont scribes animés d’une mission, tentant de restaurer un peu d’harmonie à un processus historique écrasant et parfaitement indifférent. Car tout dans ce monde se déroule avec une indifférence totale pour les victimes – les processus naturels bien sûr, mais les processus humains également. Ceci étant, ici et là, il y a de petits miracles, des anomalies… quelques êtres vivants rêvent de quelque chose de différent, où règnerait le bon, le vrai et le beau. Quelques historiens souhaitent contribuer à ce règne, à leur propre façon, dans le temps et longitudinalement plutôt que dans l’espace et transversalement.

14. Péron, Lesueur et Lamarck: connectivité et non connectivité

Les vies de Péron et Lesueur, en leur emmêlement, témoignent du pouvoir de l’amitié face aux difficultés, témoignent aussi d’une vision partagée d’un monde de beauté et de vérité. Pour tous deux la vie fut dure, plus longue pour le second, mais toutes deux s’achevant lors des jours les plus sombres de l’année, un peu avant la renaissance de la lumière au cours du solstice de décembre.

Lamarck et Péron forment deux vies qui auraient dû se joindre autour de l’étonnant monde des invertébrés. Cela ne se fit pas, néanmoins on peut noter d’émouvantes similarités dans leurs trajectoires malheureuses: tous deux se dévouèrent entièrement à la science, la traitant avec un sérieux absolu, manquant de l’humour qui rend la vie plus légère, et tous deux eurent de graves problèmes oculaires. Tous deux sont nés en août, dans la lumière d’un soleil réchauffant, et morts en décembre, dans l’obscurité de jours sombres et froids.

La tombe de Lamarck est superbe, nichée en un lieu prestigieux, le Jardin des plantes de Paris, grand parc public où le Muséum est situé. Sa stèle en pierre gravée le dépeint aveugle, assis, l’air pitoyable, une de ses deux fidèles filles étendant sur son épaule une main consolatrice, exprimant cette parole prophétique: “La postérité vous admirera, elle vous vengera mon père”.

Péron pour sa part fut enterré dans le petit cimetière d’une petite ville de province, avec une petite croix noire marquée de son nom. Lesueur tenta bien, en 1811, de trouver des fonds pour une inscription commémorative plus digne de son cher compagnon, mais ne put que faire publier quelques centaines de copies des deux éloges funèbres écrites par des amis de Péron. Du moins celui-ci, qui s’était fait tant d’amis en une vie courte mais impétueuse, ne fut-il pas insulté lors de sa mise en tombe, en 1810; contrairement à Lamarck, qui ne s’était pas fait beaucoup d’amis dans sa vie longue et bien organisée, et qui le sera par G. Cuvier, en 1829.

Au final toutefois, les amis toujours loyaux de Péron, incluant le vieux Lesueur, réussirent à financer en 1842 une tombe plus digne d’un personnage exceptionnel, marquée d’une épitaphe assez accablée mais plutôt appropriée: “F. Péron s’est desséché comme un jeune arbre qui a succombé sous le poids de ses propres fruits.

15. En conclusion – Heureux qui, comme Ulysse…

Les personnages de Péron et de Lamarck sont deux splendides illustrations des tragédies tortueuses et des contingences sarcastiques dont l’histoire semble friande. Elle les a tous deux placés dans un long purgatoire, sans souci de justice. Le destin ne leur fut pas tendre, pas plus d’ailleurs que le hasard, qui se jouèrent souvent d’eux, cruellement.

Péron ne put atteindre aucun de ses objectifs – les dieux semblent s’être diverti de l’enthousiasme et de la ténacité du jeune homme impétueux, si généreux de son temps et de son énergie. Lorsqu’il mourut, les vers nostalgiques d’un autre jeune homme qui s’était éteint 250 ans avant lui, le poète et voyageur Joachim du Bellay, lui revinrent-ils à l’esprit ?

Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage…

Avec ses faiblesses physiques, Péron l’inextinguible allait sans cesse de l’avant.
Avec ses faiblesses morales, Péron avait faim de bonté.
Avec ses faiblesses intellectuelles, Péron avait faim de vérité.
Avec ses goûts étroits, Péron avait soif de beauté.

Ses rêves étaient trop lourds pour son corps fragile, ses connections sociales limitées… et son intellect, quoique de haute qualité, loin d’être celui d’un génie. Que pouvait-il être d’autre que ce qu’il fut, avec son caractère impétueux, mais toujours prêt à changer avec ardeur sa piste de vie ? Aussi changea-t-il allègrement, quoique toujours dans le dévouement au progrès de l’humanité et à son vecteur principal, la science, de la médecine à l’anthropologie à l’océanographie à la zoologie… et à la géostratégie ! Il n’était pas né une cuiller d’argent dans la bouche, aussi dut-il naviguer entre les grandes vagues de sa vie, souvent écrasantes, pour aller de l’avant toujours, sur une trajectoire rêvée.

Il désirait la gloire scientifique – il ne l’a pas obtenue, du moins de son vivant. Mais… peu nombreux sont ceux qui reçoivent, deux siècles après leur mort, l’attention de douzaines de chercheurs répartis sur deux continents. Pas mal pour celui dont certains se sont complu à faire un anti-héros…

Pour cet auteur, il fut un être humain courageux, vivant par choix et pure volonté une aventure singulière, en des temps héroïques.

Chapeaux bas.

FIN

Dr Gabriel Bittar
Kangaroo Island

The Matthew Flinders – Nicolas Baudin Legacy, by Dr David C. Paton

The Matthew Flinders – Nicolas Baudin Legacy

The coastline of South Australia was explored independently by French and British voyages [from 1801 to 1803]. Captain Nicolas Baudin and Captain Matthew Flinders led the expeditions respectively, naming many geographical features of the State. Flinders, in particular was an outstanding navigator, cartographer and hydrographer and Baudin was an outstanding seaman and collector.

Both expeditions returned with thousands of specimens and/or drawings of plants, animals and aborigines and the achievements of these two expeditions in the fields of anthropology, oceanography, botany and zoology were no less significant than their achievements in providing accurate charts of the Australian coastline. Despite rivalry and warring between England and France, Flinders and Baudin met peacefully in Encounter Bay in April 1802, exchanging as best they could information on their respective discoveries. Both men were also compassionate towards the indigenous people of the continent and went out of their way to avoid confrontations with them. Geographic and scientific discovery as we know it today commenced in South Australia with these two voyages (…).

The significance of the voyages of Flinders and Baudin in Australian history is largely forgotten. Until these voyages, the Australian coastline had not been fully charted, and the Australian mainland was not known as a single large island. In fact, few Australians would know that Matthew Flinders named this country Australia with his publication “A Voyage to Terra Australis” and was the first European to refer to the country’s Aborigines as Australians. Furthermore, settlement of South Australia by the South Australia Company could not even be conceived until after these voyages.

Many of the geographic place names around the southern coast of Australia, and particularly South Australia, were named by either Flinders or Baudin. Since Flinders charted most of the southern coastline prior to Baudin his names have taken precedence. Flinders, for example, named Spencer Gulf, Gulf St Vincent, Kangaroo Island, Port Lincoln, Boston Bay and Encounter Bay, where Flinders and Baudin met in April 1802. Baudin’s expedition provided the names for the Fleurieu Peninsula and a host of names for places around Kangaroo Island: Cape du Couëdic, Ravine des Casoars, D’Estrées Bay [Baie d’Estrée], Cape Gantheaume, etc.

These two expeditions, however, were far more significant than this. Both were voyages of scientific as well as geographic discovery. Both expeditions included scientists and artists. Baudin’s expedition, for example, boasting no fewer than 22, the most prominent being Péron whose observations on Aborigines, ably supported by the paintings of Lesueur, were so profound that they are now regarded as marking the beginning of the study of anthropology.

Robert Brown’s botanical work on Flinders’s voyage was no less profound, collecting specimens of almost 4,000 plant species and his 1810 publication “Prodromus Florae Novae Hollandiae” helped to transform botanical classification. Ferdinand Bauer was Brown’s assistant and his sketches of almost 2,000 plants and animals were of such quality that he is now considered the outstanding natural history artist of the 19th century. In all, the expeditions returned with thousands of specimens and drawings of plants, animals and Aborigines and the achievements of these two expeditions in the fields of anthropology, oceanography, botany and zoology were no less significant than their achievements in providing charts of the Australian coastline. They were the first scientific expeditions to this country and this should be formally acknowledged and remembered.

The achievements of Flinders and Baudin and their associated crews were remarkable. They sailed half-way round the world across treacherous seas in boats that were barely seaworthy to areas of the world that were literally unknown, without the safety net that modern navigational aids and communication systems now provide. Despite many mishaps and disasters, both voyages made enormous contributions and strived for excellence.

Flinders’s skills as a navigator and cartographer were exceptional – so good were his maps that they were still being used into the 1940s! Baudin was no lesser seaman. If ever there were two icons to act as inspiration for young environmental scientists in Australia, then Flinders and Baudin must surely be those icons. Despite the warring between their countries, they met amicably and exchanged information, as scientists should always do. What is more, both Flinders and Baudin were compassionate towards the indigenous people of the continent and went out of their way to avoid confrontation. Baudin’s own views on native rights were extraordinary for the time. In a letter written to his friend Governor King of New South Wales, Baudin wrote on his departure from the colony:

“To my way of thinking, I have never been able to conceive that there was justice or even fairness on the part of Europeans in seizing, in the name of their governments a land seen for the first time, when it was inhabited by men who have not always deserved the title of savages, or cannibals, that has been freely given them;… it would be infinitely more glorious for your nation, as for mine, to mould for society the inhabitants of its own country, over whom it has rights, rather than wishing to occupy itself with the improvements of those who are far removed from it, by beginning with seizing the soil which belongs to them and which saw their birth”.
(Taken from a paper by Anthony J. Brown 1998 ‘Flinders, Baudin and the Unknown Coast’).

Text © by:
Dr David C. Paton
Ecologist
Adelaide University

Flinders-Baudin chronology 4.1801-4.1802, by Geyer, Meredith

Flinders-Baudin chronology 4.1801-4.1802

by Meredith Geyer

April 1801, England – BANKS APPALLED

Prominent patron on the sciences, Sir Joseph Banks, has described as preposterous the suggestion that Captain Matthew Flinders should be permitted to take his wife with him on his voyage of discovery to New South Wales. Flinders, who married Ann Chappelle on April 17th, is expected to leave Spithead for New Holland within the next two months. He has been appointed Captain of HMS Investigator with a commission to chart the entire, and largely unknown, coastline of New Holland. He expects to be away from England for at least two years.

May 1801, England – FLINDERS READY TO GO

Captain Matthew Flinders, who is currently loading H.M.S. Investigator with provisions, denies that he is putting the lives of his men at risk. ‘By replacing ten of the long guns with lighter canons I will be able to carry an extra 10 tons of water which will bring the total water load to 60 tons’ he explained. ‘And I stress that my expedition is a scientific one. My cabin library will include the Encyclopaedia Britannica, presented to me by Sir Joseph Banks.’

Captain Flinders hopes to reach the continent he has named Terra Australis in time for the southern summer. ‘I am sure that the passport issued to me by the French government will protect me from hostilities while in French waters’ Flinders said.

His voyage of discovery is seen by some observers as a response to current French exploration in the South Seas. Two French ships, Le Géographe and Le Naturaliste, are reported to be somewhere between Mauritius and Timor at present. Their Captains, Baudin and Hamelin, lead a scientific expedition to collect specimens and explore the unknown coastline of the great south land.

May 1801, Indian Ocean – BAUDIN IN TROUBLE

‘It was the voyage from hell’ said a sailor on board the Géographe, ‘the officers and gentlemen bitching and fighting among themselves, being stuck for weeks in the Doldrums really got them going. The last straw was that almighty storm out of the Cape that nearly sent us all to the bottom’.

The French expedition to New Holland, led by Captain Baudin, sailed from Port North-West, Isle de France (Mauritius) on April 25th. He hopes to reach the west coast of New Holland in June, although his progress has been hampered by the inability of the Naturaliste to keep pace with him. More than half of the scientists that left France with the expedition have decided to remain in the relative safety and comfort offered by the French colony.

Several ships officers have also declined to travel any further with Baudin, citing lack of confidence in his ability to lead the voyage. However, Baudin has managed, despite obstruction by local French officials, to repair his ships and provision the Géographe and Naturaliste with fresh food, crucial to his hopes for keeping his men free of scurvy during months at sea. He cannot rely upon finding suitable foods along the shores of the unknown South Land.

30th May 1801, Cape Leeuwin (New Holland) – BAUDIN ARRIVES AT NEW HOLLAND

Eight months after leaving Le Havre, France Captain Nicolas Baudin has sighted Cape Leeuwin, South West New Holland. Commenting on what has been a difficult voyage Captain Baudin said “I would not undertake such an expedition again. The scientists! Mon Dieu! They have no idea about ship discipline. The Captain’s word must be obeyed at all times.”

He described an incident when a dolphin was caught by his crew and hauled on board Le Géographe. Everyone wanted a piece of the action – the artists wanted to draw it, the surgeons wanted to dissect it, the naturalists wanted it for their own studies. Baudin was forced to intervene in the dispute. He ordered the animal slung from the mainsail until tempers had cooled. “You will all get your chance at it tomorrow” he promised. But the surgeons got to it while backs were turned and it was in pieces before anyone could stop them. To pacify the artists the Captain promised them exclusive access to the next dolphin caught.

Unfavourable winds have forced Baudin to anchor off-shore in deep water but within sight of camp fires along the wooded coastline. The scientists can hardly contain their impatience to explore the new continent.

June 1801, England – FLINDERS STILL IN TALKS

The Investigator still lies at berth, Spithead, waiting orders to sail from Portsmouth for Botany Bay. Captain Flinders reports that his crew is growing restless. The men had recently been paid and a couple of cashed-up seamen had tried to desert. Flinders had them flogged and cancelled all shore leave.

Although only 27 years old Matthew Flinders shows a good understanding of naval discipline. He has assembled the entire crew of the Investigator to witness the ‘flogging round the fleet’ of four seamen convicted by court martial of serious crimes at sea. Each sentenced man is tied upright on grating mounted in the bow of a ship’s boat. The boat is rowed alongside each ship in port and the prisoner given 12 lashes with cat-o-nine-tails by the bosun’s mate. The mates tend to compete with each other. A naval surgeon makes sure the prisoner is fit for the next round of flogging – but pity help the prisoner in busy ports such as Portsmouth. He could get more than 1000 lashes from ‘the cat’.

Captain Flinders has been called to London for more talks with the Admiralty. He has been accompanied by his wife, Anne.

July 1801 – FIRST FOOTPRINTS

The two French ships have anchored in Géographe Bay, Western Australia.

“I was concerned that a freshening northerly wind could see us wrecked on the beach off Wonnerup Inlet, but I agreed to a trip ashore.” explained Captain Baudin “after all, that’s what we’re here for!”. He and Captain Hamelin each took a ships boat with sailors and scientists to explore the coast. Before they even reached the beach they met their first Aborigine busily fishing with a spear in waist-deep water. He was not at all pleased at their interruption, and after giving them a piece of his mind he gathered up his impressive collection of spears and disappeared into the Sandhill’s. Once ashore the Frenchmen found footprints in the muddy banks of a brackish lake and a well dug just beyond it which contained clear, sweet water. Undeterred by their first encounter with the locals they hurried toward a man and woman camped on the lake’s edge. This couple were so alarmed by the appearance of the French that the man ran into the tee-tree swamp and the woman hid her face in fear, unable to move.

The explorers split into two groups. The scientists spent the day recording the abundant waterfowl in the area and marvelling at the majesty of the black swan. Captain Baudin was disappointed, however at their failure to find a large source of fresh water. “I cannot imagine there ever being a European settlement in this barren place” he said. “Without water, what can you do?”

July 1801 – MEN STRANDED

Captain Baudin, encouraged by the scientists to believe that they may yet find a large river that emptied into Géographe Bay, sent a long boat and two ship’s boats ashore under the command of Captain Hamelin to have another look around. During the day, while the men were busy exploring inland, freshening winds drove the longboat up onto the beach where it could not be re-floated.

Captain Hamelin spent 24 hours in one of the ship’s boats battling rough seas that broke continuously over him and his crew before eventually reaching his ship, the Naturalist. He signalled the news to Captain Baudin that the rest of the party of sailors and scientists were still on the beach. The stranded men later described how they spent several cold and miserable days and nights, with only a few ships biscuits soaked in sea water, some rice, 3 bottles of rum and 15 pints of water between them.

They struggled to keep their camp fire going, spending sleepless nights worrying about attacks from the local tribes. Foraging parties brought back a seagull and some wild celery which they boiled into a soup. “It gave most of us a terrible guts ache” one of the sailors said, “which just made us all the more miserable”. They could see no sign of the Géographe or the Naturaliste beyond the roaring surf that broke on the beach. “We wondered if we would ever see our mates again, let alone see la France.” They were eventually rescued, but it cost the life of one of the strongest and best of men. His name was Timothy Vasse.

July 1801 – FLINDERS SAILS AT LAST

Captain Flinders sailed from Spithead on July 18th 1801, 10 months after the French expedition which is currently exploring the west coast of Australia. Flinders knew before he left England that his ship, the Investigator, was in doubtful condition for such a long journey. “The dockyard officers at Sheerness told me she was not seaworthy but I could not risk complaint about it. This voyage is so important to me, I could not bear to put it at risk.” he explained.

Just how weak the ship was became apparent as they cleared the English Channel. The crew reported that as they reached the open ocean the ship began leaking at the rate of 3″ per hour. Some of the rigging beams were so rotten that they crumbled when a sailor lent upon them. Captain Flinders did the only thing he could. He anchored at Madeira for extensive repairs to his ship. While there he visited the local markets and paid dearly for fresh water, meat and wine. “At least the fruit and vegetables were cheap” he laughed, “and they are of far greater value for my men’s health”.

A couple of weeks later, off the African coast heavy swells hammered the ship and all the careful repair work was undone. The oakum that had been worked into the ships seams broke lose and once again the Investigator was taking water. Flinders rearranged the cargo, moving the spare rudder, two cannons and some stores to below decks. In this way he made the vessel less top heavy which kept it from rolling so badly and helped mitigate the leaking. Flinders was happy, after such a stressful start, to allow his crew to celebrate the crossing of the equator with plenty of rum ration and the traditional dunking in the ocean.

July 1801 – FRENCH HEAD NORTH

With winter upon him, Captain Baudin has decided to make for Timor. He will continue his exploration of the south coasts of New Holland during the summer. June storms in Géographe Bay had separated the two French ships and they both headed for Rottnest Island, the agreed first rendezvous point. Baudin found the weather there just as bad and set sail for Shark Bay, the second meeting place. He was not to know that Captain Hamelin, in the Naturaliste, waited for him at Rottnest for 10 anxious days before making for Shark Bay himself. “I could not understand why we missed the Géographe” Hamelin stated, “in the end, my officers convinced me that Captain Baudin had gone straight to Shark Bay. The wait has cost us valuable time and resources”.

Great numbers of whales escorted the Géographe into Shark Bay “So close it would have been an easy matter to shoot them” commented one of his men, “but what would be the good, they are too big to kill with gunshot”.

Captain Baudin made a short survey of the Bay, then established a camp on Bernier Island at it northern entrance. There was plenty to discover. The scientists revelled in the many magnificent shells, birds and insects. The officers hunted the beautiful banded kangaroos that lived in tunnels made through the dense shrubbery on the island. Everyone appreciated the fresh meat which tasted very much like wild rabbit.

The two captains had not seen each other for six weeks and neither knew where the other was. On 13th July 1801, just 3 days before the Naturalise would arrive, Captain Baudin sailed the Géographe out of Shark Bay and north to Timor.

July/August 1801 – SHARK BAY TO NORTH-WEST CAPE

Captain Hamelin found no evidence that the Géographe had ever been into Shark Bay. A camp was established on Péron Peninsular with fresh water supplied to its 30 men using a salt water still. The Naturaliste spent 49 days at Shark Bay, repairing equipment and surveying the coast, as they waited for Captain Baudin to turn up. It was not hard to put up with, warm dry weather made a welcome change. The French marvelled as great pods of whales leapt in synchronised pairs around the ship. They were not so keen on the hundreds of sharks that escorted their ships boat to shore. “I tell you, mon ami, we did not even think about going for a swim!” laughed one of the sailors.

Meanwhile, two thousand kilometres to the north, Captain Baudin was battling with 30 foot tides, uncharted reefs, shoals and islands off The Bonaparte Archipelago. The Géographe, with a draught of 16 feet, was unable to sail the shallow coastal shelf. “I am afraid the scientists are unhappy with me, but I cannot risk running aground” said Captain Baudin. “In any case, I would not let them go ashore. Too many times they have flouted my orders and not come back to the ship on time”. The waters provided plenty of specimens anyway. They netted giant jelly fish that weighed 50 lbs, and two new species of sea snake more than 10 ft long. Around the ship sharks, whales, and turtles were easy to observe.

After 3 weeks all this started to wear a bit thin however. Firewood and water on board was running low, and with no fresh food for over a month there were several scurvy cases. Everyone was longing for Timor and on the 19th August Captain Baudin ordered the Géographe to make for what all the men believed would be a tropical paradise.

August/September 1801 – TIMOR TREATS

The Géographe sailed into Kupang Bay, Timor on 21st August 1801. Assistant zoologist, Francois Péron was most impressed. “It is lush, beautiful, so fertile and such a contrast to the barren and dry coastline that we have seen of New Holland. Timorese and officials of the Dutch East India Company welcomed the French explorers. A procession of 100 beautifully turned out slaves escorted the French to the home of an aristocratic Timorese widow. “Mon Dieu! The food! Fruits, pastries, sweetmeats and preserves, all served on silver platters by the most beautiful young women” raved one of the Frenchmen. “Surely, heaven could not be better!”

A large house was made available to Baudin and his officers, and another for the scientific contingent. Hospital space in a local warehouse soon had scurvy cases recovering with fresh fruit, vegetables and fish. The scientists were free to wander at will. They asked a village man to fetch them some coconut milk, considering it safer than water to drink. The athletic young man quickly climbed a palm, picked four coconuts and descended the palm holding two of the coconuts in his teeth and the other two in one hand.

It only took a week for signs of trouble ahead. Two men were in hospital, one with dysentery and one with high fever. Three weeks later there were 18 men, all with dysentery, and Baudin himself caught malaria. His men feared that he would not live. Disease was not the only danger. One of the expedition artists, while chasing monkeys in the forest, was bitten on the heel by a snake. His leg became stiff and swollen and he barely made it back to the town. A dose of ammoniac brought on a severe sweating and after several days rest he fully recovered.

The fate of the Naturaliste is of constant concern to the men of the Géographe. Every day a lookout is kept for their companion ship which has not been seen since their separation at Rottness Island in June.

September 1801 – NATURALISTE REACHES TIMOR

The French vessel, Naturaliste sailed into Kupang Bay, Timor on 21st September. All on board were reported to be in good health with only two mild cases of scurvy. “I believe that the time we spent on shore during our voyage up the western coast of New Holland was the main reason for this” explained Captain Hamelin, “and I have a very capable ships surgeon”.

Captain Baudin however is still gravely ill with malaria and has asked Captain Hamelin to take command of the expedition in the event of his death.

While the Naturaliste underwent extensive refitting, her officers and scientists moved to shore based accommodation. They traded iron pots, saws and hacksaws for poultry and pigs from the Timorese people. The zoologist on the Géographe, Francois Péron, noted sadly that there were men in Timor who were happy to trade the sexual favours of their womenfolk for highly prized French knives and other ironware. “Our sailors thought they were getting the cheaper part of the bargain, but I tell you, they paid for it later – eh bien! maladie vénérienne!” he commented.

Péron, who during the voyage has been a strong critic of Captain Baudin, has been able to save the life of Baudin by sharing with him a small supply of quinine bark. Péron was not of a strong constitution but found that he was not at all affected by the diseases that had struck so many of his shipmates. On 12th October a Géographe gunner died of dysentery. Another died on the 18th, the much loved gardener, Anselm Riedlé, died next and was buried next to a gardener who had died on Bligh’s ship the Bounty 10 years before. Captain Baudin was deeply saddened at the death of Riedlé, “He was so eager to come on this voyage, he worked so hard until his illness made it impossible for him” Captain Baudin said “The last ten days of his life were extremely horrible. We must leave Timor as soon as possible before we all lose our lives here”.

October/November 1801 – FRENCH HEAD SOUTH FOR TASMANIA

English frigates sighted in the Semau Strait have interrupted Captain Baudin’s preparations for leaving Timor. The Dutch garrison in Timor was prepared to defend their French guests however Baudin sent one of his midshipmen out to show the English captain their expedition passports. The English were most concerned to hear of Captain Baudin’s recent illness and offered a case of wine to help him recover. The midshipman however felt he was not authorised to accept such a gift. “We are at war with the English, let us not forget” he explained.

The English sailed on but they unknowingly left behind another kind of gift. One of their sailors deserted his ship and swam four and a half mile to shore. He was recruited by the French expedition, now short on crew because of recent death and sickness.

On 12th November, with all the livestock and the carefully maintained plants gathered by Riedlé on board, the Géographe and Naturaliste sailed out of Kupang Bay together. Although Captain Baudin was still feverish he could not wait to leave. “We must leave this pestilential place and find the fresher and healthier air of the southern latitudes” he said. “We have left seven dead in Timor already”.

Within the next ten days at sea 12 more men died – all from dysentery. Captain Baudin conducted a sea funeral for each man that died. Their body was sewn into their hammock and they were cast into the sea. “It seems as if we have strewn the oceans with our dead” mourned Francois Péron.
The French expedition expects to reach Van Diemen’s Land by January and will take advantage of summer weather conditions to thoroughly explore that coastline.

November 1801 – FLINDERS CRUISING

Captain Flinders, using his experience of three previous voyages from Cape Town to S-W New Holland, sailed the Investigator along the 37th parallel. “This way I can avoid the roaring forties and those nasty big, long swells” he explained. “We have had favourable weather so far with only seven hours becalmed. I expect to see Cape Leeuwin early December.” The pumps have been used periodically, but the leakage reported earlier seems to have been corrected, with less than 2″ per hour taken in.

Flinders is concerned to keep his crew in as good a health as possible. During fine weather the men bring all their clothes and bedding out on deck to dry and air them and below decks is opened up to allow plenty of ventilation. “When it rains we are wet and uncomfortable, but when it is dry, well mate, there is no place I would rather be” said one of the older sailors. “and we always get our grog ration, bang on half an hour after tea, every night”.

Perhaps of equal importance was the brew that Flinders ordered for every man on board. A pint of wort was made by pouring boiling water over essence of malt, and this, with half a ships biscuit was the midday meal. Antiseptics of sour kraut and vinegar were also issued on demand. Flinders was adopting the most up to date methods known to keep scurvy at bay. This disease, a result of insufficient vitamin C, is painful and fatal if untreated.

At Flinders sailed toward southern Australia, with orders to chart its coastline, Captains Baudin and Hamelin were sailing south, a lot further off western Australia, making a beeline for Van Diemen’s Land, with their own orders for charting and making scientific observations.

December 1801 – FLINDERS REACHES AUSTRALIA

On December 8th 1801 Matthew Flinders anchored the Investigator in King George’s Sound, sandy bottom of 8 fathoms.

“My first priority is the complete refurbishment of the ship” he said, “and then the true purpose of my expedition can begin”. Captain Flinders explained that although he had orders to begin his survey at 130 longitude, just about at the head of The Great Australian Bight, he thought it worthwhile to go over coast previously chartered by Vancouver and la Pérouse. “Just to verify their readings, you know. Our instruments can be subject to error”.

The crew of the Investigator worked on stripping the masts and repairing sails and rigging at safe anchorage in Princess Royal Harbour. Captain Flinders and his ship’s Master, Mr Thistle established a shore camp with easy communication to the ship. A marine guard was set and observatory established. At this stage there had been no sighting of aboriginal people.

“There has been someone here though, we found trees that have been cut with an axe” said Mr Thistle “and the Captain came across an old vegie garden”. The men also found a copper plaque engraved ‘ August 27 1800, Chr. Dixon, ship Elligood’.

The English made the most of their first landfall in Australia. The crew were allowed ashore on Sundays. “Bit of larking about, it is good for them” laughed Mr Thistle. During a long trek along the coast Mr Brown, the botanist and Mr Westall, the artist noticed smoke at a distance. They walked along the beach some way and met with an aboriginal man who was hostile toward them. He fired the bush behind him to prevent their following him while women and children were seen running inland. The following day a delegation of tall, slender aboriginal men, dressed in kangaroo cloaks and armed with spears met the English at their shore camp. Mr Purdie, the surgeon approached them unarmed and by sign language was able to win their trust. They exchanged gifts of red nightcaps and other personal belongings for spears and stone hatchets.

Captain Flinders was pleased that their first contact with the native people of Australia had gone so well. “We met with the men every day, there was always something of mutual interest for us all” he said, “but at no time were we allowed to see their wives and children. This is understandable I suppose, after all, we must have seemed most strange to these people, I doubt they have ever seen a man with white skin”.

December 1801 – FOCUS ON FLINDERS

Captain Flinders plans to spend a month at King George’s Sound putting his ship in order for the coming months of exploration. “All I need is for my wife Anne to be with me and I would be the happiest of men” he said. “Ever since I read Robinson Crusoe as a boy I have wanted to explore unknown coastlines. My father was not at all keen on my going to sea but I would not be deterred at any price.”

Matthew Flinders joined the navy at 15, and at 17 sailed with Captain Bligh on one of his post-Bounty voyages. He found Captain Bligh to be a bad-tempered man, not particularly popular with the ship’s officers but a skilled navigator. During this time Flinders gained valuable experience using the new nautical timepieces so essential for accurate navigation. His father hoped that Matthew would publish a journal of this voyage and make some money with its sale, “I was not ready for a literary career though,” explained Flinders, “my next trip was to the new colony of NSW, that was in 1794. I was 20 years old by then, and I took my young brother Samuel with me – he was only 12, and classed as a volunteer.” This voyage took Governor Hunter as replacement for Governor Phillip and it established Flinders reputation as a navigator of distinction.

It was also where Flinders met George Bass, travelling as the ship’s surgeon. Both young men were from Lincolnshire and both loved discovery.

For the next three years Flinders was engaged in running supplies to Norfolk Island and made a trip to Cape Town to bring back desperately needed livestock. One hundred and nine head of cattle and more than 100 sheep made the return trip a very difficult one.

In between their official duties Bass and Flinders found time to do some exploring. “We fitted an 8 ft dinghy with mast and sail, called it the Tom Thumb!” laughed Flinders, “and took it out the Heads and down to Botany Bay, sailed up the George’s River 20 miles past the previous survey. Gov. Hunter set up a depot there on our recommendation. He called it Bankstown.” A slightly bigger boat, Tom Thumb II, took them adventuring south of Botany Bay. “We ran into some huge surf on this trip. Bass held onto the sail, I was on the tiller and young William was baling for his life. We only survived because we found a sheltered cove. Providence Cove, we named it.”

George Bass established almost beyond doubt the existence of a strait between Van Diemen’s Land and the continent of Australia. When he and Flinders sailed through it and back to Sydney via the southern tip of the island it was named, on Flinders recommendation, Bass Strait. “Recalling those exciting times gives me great satisfaction” said Flinders, “and the prospect of the unknown coast ahead of me now is more thrilling than I can say.”

December 1801 – FLINDERS STILL AT KING GEORGE SOUND

After 5 months at sea Flinders and his men have enjoyed the chance to explore on land. With 13 other men, including naturalists, their servants and sailors, Flinders set out, fully armed and provisioned for an excursion to the west of Princess Royal Harbour. “I believe there a some lagoons in the area, and with a bit of luck they will hold fresh water” he said.

Soon after starting out the party was met by an old aboriginal man they had come to know at their tent site on the beach. He was most insistent that they did not enter a wooded area ahead and Flinders obliged him by taking a detour around it. Shortly after they had reason to be grateful to the old man. One of the sailors had picked up a snake by the tail, “The old fella knocked it out of my hand, quick as a flash! Turns out it was deadly poisonous!” the sailor explained. Flinders and his men spent the day wading through swamps and struggling to push through thick brush scrub. By evening they had reached some higher ground with fresh water and camped the night.

The following morning they turned back “I could see no purpose in pushing on, that swamp seemed to be taking us nowhere” said Flinders, “mind you the return journey was no better, in a different sort of way. We followed a sandy ridge and it was stinking hot with no water at all”. By sunset on the second day they were still several miles from their beach camp. Mr Bauer, a wildlife artist, collapsed from exhaustion, heat and thirst. He was cared for by Mr Brown and a sailor who followed behind the main party, finally reaching the beach at midnight.

A very sound night’s sleep restored the weary men and they all returned to the ship. It was only a Friday, but it was Christmas day. After the crew had mustered on deck, Flinders gave them all shore leave to enjoy the day. “We have spent Christmas in some queer places,” said one of the older sailors, “but this place would have to be the furtherest away from anywhere that I have ever been. Most of me mates put the day in fairly quiet, but a couple of them really got stuck into the grog”. Captain Flinders hosted a Christmas dinner in his cabin for the officers and scientists.

The next day was business as usual, with repairs to the ship well underway. Captain Flinders expects to leave the Sound by the new year.

December 1801 – FLINDERS PUTS ON A SHOW

After a month of work the Investigator was in good shape for the trip east. Firewood and water was stowed on board, the ropes and blocks refitted and sails repaired and shaped. Flinders gave orders for the marines to assemble on shore in full dress uniform and prepare for parade. “During our stay here, we have made friends of the local tribe, I had the feeling that a bit of ceremony might be something they would enjoy” he explained.

The marines were indeed an impressive sight with red coats, white chest sashes and flashing muskets. Their aboriginal audience shouted with delight. ” I believe they liked the marine uniform so much because it quite resembles the way they themselves decorate their bodies with ochre” said Flinders, “but what really amazed them was the fife and drums, I did not know how I was going to get a bit of order so that the drill could begin, but once the men presented arms and began formation manoeuvers the aborigines fell silent and watched most earnestly. The best part was when our friendly old man of deadly snake fame took up a staff and matched to perfection the movements of my men”. It was customary for drill to end with a volley from the muskets. Flinders took the precaution of warning the aborigines beforehand so that they would not be alarmed at the sudden burst of gunfire.

After the parade the ships surgeon, Mr Bell, with the co-operation of the aborigines, took their body measurements. They happily gave him the name, in their own language, of various body parts, and Mr Bell had them recorded. For example the name for head was caat, the mouth was taa, the thigh was davaal.

Flinders had every reason to be happy with his first camp on the unknown coast.
On board ship however there was a discipline matter to attend to. A seaman was brought before the captain on charges of repeated drunkenness and fighting for which he was given 36 lashes.

Later that day the shore camp was dismantled, the observatory closed and the tents and instruments taken to the ship. On New Years Day the Investigator weighed anchor but unfavourable winds prevented leaving King George’s Sound for a few days more. On the 4th of January 1802 Captain Flinders, with first lieutenant Fowler and Mr Brown the botanist went ashore for the last time, leaving a bottle on top of Seal Island. It contained a parchment with the dates of their stay at the Sound. They were not to know that at that moment Captain Baudin was sailing 200 miles due south on his way to Van Diemen’s Land.

January 1802 – BAUDIN IN VAN DIEMEN’S LAND

Captain Baudin first saw the south west coast of Van Diemen’s Land through driving rain and low clouds on 13th January 1802. His crew shivered as hail beat down on them and frost hardened on the deck. Great flocks of boobies, gulls and swallows followed the ship as it bellied and rolled in rough seas, while dolphins and whales served as escorts. “Nature seemed to mark our arrival as auspicious” remarked Captain Baudin, “and indeed is was. I hoped to build on the success of my trip to the West Indies, when I astonished all of France with the specimens I brought back safely”. Baudin, who was the fifth child of a merchant family had suffered prejudice during his seafaring career because he was not of noble birth. Now 46 years old he had spent his life on merchant vessels, taking every opportunity for private trading to boost his earnings as a merchant ship captain.

The Géographe and Naturaliste found safe anchor in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and several boats were launched for the shore. Baudin instructed Lieutenant Freycinet to take the longboat up the Huon River, while he and Captain Hamlin took dinghies to Partridge Island. Although the rain had stopped, strong winds and currents pushed against the rowers so that it took and hour and a half to make the 3 kilometres to shore. The French were greeted by a group of aboriginal men who were unarmed, and apart from one of the men who wore an animal skin across his back, quite naked. Baudin noted their physical characteristics. “They were more pale skinned than the African slaves I had transported and although well proportioned had rather thin legs. I was most taken with the heavy tattoos across their chest. All the men seemed genuinely friendly and their wide smiles displayed beautiful white teeth”. Baudin had given strict instructions that the local tribesmen were not to be harmed in any way. “Our officers gave them greeting in the French way”, explained a sailor, “vous savez, hugs and kisses on both cheeks, alors les sauvges, they made a great speech which, of course, we could not understand”.

Baudin’s men offered to share their lunch of bread and biscuit but the aborigines showed no interest. They found the French uniform much more attractive and were pleased to accept gifts of clothing and implements. With such a friendly start to relations with the local inhabitants, Captain Baudin was optimistic that much new knowledge would be gained by his scientists. He ordered the men back to the ship for the evening meal and wondered how Freycinet was spending the night, away in the darkness of the dense, dark rainforest.

January 1802 – FLINDERS MAKES PROGRESS EASTWARDS

Matthew Flinders had yet to begin charting completely unknown coastline as he sailed east from King George Sound. “We know that about three other expeditions have seen the Archipelago of the Recherche” he said, “the French were the last here in 1792. They were looking for Captain la Pérouse who had sailed these parts. They never found out what happened to him. The Archipelago and Espérance Bay were named after the French ships of the search party.”

Weaving his way amongst the 200 islands, rocks and shoals that made up the Archipelago, Flinders was concerned to find that he had left it rather late in the day to find safe anchorage for the night. Rather then head out to sea, he trusted his instincts and sailed directly toward the mainland. The gamble paid off when a wide sandy bay of 7 fathoms was found. The Investigator anchored there for the next 5 days and Flinders named the place Lucky Bay. While Mr Brown the botanist went ashore to collect plants the ships crew set fishing lines. “We were doing alright too, but then three huge sharks came by and scared all the fish away,” explained one of the sailors. “We harpooned one of them and hauled it on board, no easy job, I can tell you, bit like bringing up the longboat.” The shark was 12 feet long and more than 8 feet in girth. A smelly specimen to have on deck, especially when its stomach was opened up. Amongst the contents the men found two halves of a seal which still had an aboriginal spear through it.

Mr Brown was delighted with the abundance of beautiful plants and flowers found in the Lucky Bay area but could not report any sign of pasture grass or arable land. On the 14th January the Investigator left Lucky Bay but spent several more days amongst the islands. Mr Thistle, the ships Master explored possible eastward passages while more plant specimens were taken from the islands. Several dozen geese where shot and found to be good eating and some seal hunting also gave fresh meat.

Although Flinders gave every consideration to the scientists on board, he devoted most of his energy to his charts. “I sailed the Investigator close enough to the shore to be able to see waves breaking and took down all readings as they were made,” he earnestly explained. “Of course we anchored out at sea for the night, but I took care that we resumed the following day at the exact spot where we had previously left off. I had the men take lead soundings of the bottom every half hour and the thermometer and barometer were read 3 times daily. The winding of the two timepieces I entrusted to my brother Samuel and midshipman John Franklin.” Flinders kept these arrangements strictly adhered to and a routine was well established by the time he reached the completely unknown coastline along that part of the continent he named The Great Australian Bight.

January 1802 – SIZZLING SUMMER FOR INVESTIGATOR

Flinders sailed the Investigator for more than 800 kilometres along the coast of the Great Australian Bight, never more than 8 kilometres from the shore and saw nothing but towering cliffs. He sent sailors to the top of the ship’s mast which was 30 metres high but even this did not give a better view of the interior. “It was like sailing around massive castle walls” said the sailors, “the Captain found it very frustrating. Landing a boat would have been very dodgy, the seas were treacherous and even our best men would have trouble getting up those massive cliffs. So what lay beyond them was a mystery”.

Fowlers Bay, named after the first lieutenant, was wide and sheltered and came as a relief, but no fresh water or suitable fire wood was found there. The ship sailed on with Flinders naming landmarks along the way after his officers and scientists. For 10 days they explored the islands of the Nuyts Archipelago, fishing and shooting seals and birds for fresh meat. Denial Bay, so named partly for its association with St Peter’s island, disappointed Flinders expectations of a chance to sail inland and launch a land expedition. “Our entry was denied, so to speak” he explained. Shade temperatures on the islands reached 100 degrees, more than 130 degrees in the sun. Such conditions dried out the Investigator’s planking and Flinders once again re-arranged 4 tons of iron ballast to keep the leaky seams above the water line.

While Flinders was sweltering in southern Australia the French ships were enjoying the mild conditions of Van Diemen’s Land. Captain Baudin anchored the Géographe and Naturaliste at the mouth of the Derwent River and established a hospital tent and observatory on shore. While his crew prepared to take fresh water and fire wood on board, Baudin discussed with Captain Hamelin plans to send out two boating parties the following day. One to explore the upper reaches of the Derwent, the other to survey Frederick Henry Bay. Péron, who was to go with Freycinet up the Derwent River was once again struck with the grandeur of the mountains, “but most remarkable of all were the many fires we saw burning across the mountains, great columns of smoke rose on all sides.” Péron said, “we did not understand why the native people wanted to burn their forest. Peut-être it was a warning to us”.

February 1802 – TRAGEDY FOR INVESTIGATOR

Midshipman Taylor spoke for all on board the Investigator when he said “We began to think this whole trip was waste of time, nothing but empty, dry coastline, but then our helmsman reported a tide running from the north east. First time since we sailed past Cape Leuwin way back in December”. The ship’s company wondered what lay ahead – was there a great river, or a deep inlet, or even a passage through to the Gulf of Carpentaria?

Flinders wanted no mistaking of their bearings at this important point. He anchored the ship in a narrow passage between the mainland and a large island. He and Master Thistle landed on the island to take readings. While there they saw the usual abundant wildlife, including an unusual spotted snake. “I held its head down with the butt of my musket” explained Flinders “while Mr Thistle stitched up its mouth with sail needle and twine – always goes prepared, does Thistle” Flinders laughed. “We took the snake quite safely back to our zoologist” The two men also saw a pair of sea eagles take a grazing kangaroo.

Back on board the Investigator Flinders found that he and his brother Samuel differed on the longitude of the island. Dusk was falling and a safe anchorage was essential. The captain sent Mr Thistle with Midshipman Taylor and six sailors in the red cutter to look for a place to spend the night that would also give them much needed fresh water. None of the men were ever seen again.
Peter Good, the gardener reported that while taking a walk around the decks he watched as the red cutter left the mainland. He noticed that they were making heavy going against wind and tide and when next he looked he could see no sign of them. Flinders ordered the blue cutter launched at once. Lieutenant Fowler spent two hours searching the dark waters for his comrades. “The noise of the breaking waves made it impossible for us to hear cries for help. The tide was running out to sea, they must have been swept clean away” he said. Captain Flinders fired the canon to recall the search party to the ship.

The following day they found the red cutter, floating upside down, its hull smashed by rock or reef. The only trace of its crew were their footprints on the sandy beach, left there during their search for water. Flinders named the place Memory Cove and erected a copper plaque in memory of the men who had died. He named the island where they had caught the snake Thistle Island and smaller islands after the other seven men. In paying tribute to those lost, Flinders spoke of his friend of 8 years, “Mr Thistle was the best ship’s master ever born, and a fine man, as they were all, fine men”.

On February 26th 1802 Flinders anchored the Investigator in a great natural harbour that he named Port Lincoln, after his home county of Lincolnshire.

February 1802 – BAUDIN IN OYSTER BAY

A week of hot, humid weather delayed Captain Baudin from leaving North-West Bay for more than a week. The oppressive heat was particularly hard on René Maugé, a zoologist on the expedition who had been ill since leaving Timor. At last on 17th February 1802,the French ships were able to sail under light easterly winds up the east coast of Van Diemen’s Land. They rounded Capes Raoul and Pillar and anchored in Oyster Bay on the west coast of Maria Island.

Two boats with the Freycinet brothers were sent to survey the mainland, while two other boats would explore Maria and Schouten’s Islands. Monsieur Péron, always eager to make new discoveries, went with the group to Maria Island. Péron’s boat sailed past towering granite cliffs until able to land in Riedlé Bay on the island’s east coast. While the rest of the crew got on with routine survey tasks Péron set off for the interior. He followed a well worn path through dense scrub until he came to a grassy clearing, shaded by Casuarina trees. Within the clearing were domed huts made of poles and bark. Inside the huts were wooden hoops held in place with slabs of granite. Under the hoops were mounds of fine grass. “Of course, I was most curious about the purpose of such construction” Péron explained. “I went inside the hut and found ashes and human bones. It was plain that the island people had cremated their dead. As we had seen, fire was most important to them, so it is logical, n’est-ce pas?”

While Péron was making his discoveries, the ships doctor reported to Captain Baudin that René Maugé had died. Maugé, who was highly regarded by Baudin for his meticulous scientific work, had joined the French expedition against the advice of his Paris friends. He was buried between two gum trees on the southern point of Oyster Bay.

While mourning the loss of yet another of his men, Baudin was cheered at Péron’s discoveries. “The tombs were the most skilfully and carefully-made things that we have seen, infinitely superior to anything else we know of belonging to the natives”.

Ships artist Nicolas Petit was sent with Péron and crew to sketch the burial huts. They were accompanied by a large group of young aboriginal men who greeted them on the beach. While Petit sat down to draw, Péron used the time to learn some more of the native language. He found that the men had no words for kissing or caressing. “The concept was quite foreign to them, what delights they are missing!” Péron chuckled. As the day wore on the French began to feel less welcome. When the aboriginal men picked up their spears Péron and Petit decided it would be a good time to leave. With only a faulty musket to defend themselves they backed away from the aborigines who were growing distinctly unfriendly. “We were most relieved to get back to our boat, even then they followed us along the shore” explained Petit. The hostile islanders disappeared into the forest when Péron and his companions joined the other French boats dragging for oysters in the bay.

February 1802 – FLINDERS EXPLORES PORT LINCOLN

Although Flinders was grieving for the eight men drowned near Thistle Island, he was mindful of the urgent need to find fresh water. His men dug a pit on the shores of Port Lincoln harbour but it filled with salty, undrinkable water. The presence of many aboriginal huts encouraged Flinders to direct a search at Proper Bay. This second attempt yielded water that was clouded with clay but sweet tasting. Over the next six days the ships water reserves of 60 tons were fully stocked.

While brother Samuel took daily observations at the shore camp Flinders explored the surrounding country. He climbed 500 foot Stamford Hill, “What a magnificent harbour lay before me,” he said, “enough to safely hold a whole fleet of ships. It is the finest since King George Sound”. The scientists were not so impressed with the area. They found very few new plants and neither saw nor heard from the owners of the huts. Mr Brown ventured to the distant ocean shore that they had so recently sailed past. He described it as “large, open and exposed with a dreadful surf all round”. He found the mainsail of the red cutter washed up on this wild coast.

Samuel Flinders always seemed to be stuck with the tedious business of winding the clocks and recording the movement of the sun. But on March 4th he was given a real treat. “It was an almost total eclipse of the sun!” he enthused, “only the very rim escaped obliteration by the moon. Of course, Matthew had his 200 power telescope, but even by the naked eye it was impressive.”

After spending nine days in the harbour, Flinders and his men packed up the tents and prepared to sail. “If we had stayed another day I think we could have met with the local people” Flinders explained, “they called out to one of my boat crew just as we were leaving. I would have liked to know how they felt about the solar eclipse.”

Many features in this area were named by Flinders, who never named a single place after himself. Boston Island was named in honour of the birthplace of his friend George Bass and the Joseph Banks Group of islands for his patron. On the 5th March 1802 the Investigator proceeded north into unknown waters. At the same time Captain Baudin sailed from Maria Island toward Bass Strait. He believed he was to be the first European to chart the southern coast of New Holland and had no idea that Flinders was already there.

March 1802 – A DEAD END FOR FLINDERS

When Matthew Flinders sailed north of Port Lincoln he had hoped for a passage to the Gulf of Carpentaria but mud flats and shoals made it obvious that the water way was headed nowhere, “no sign that we were in the mouth of a big river either,” said Flinders gloomily, “but a large mountain range to our east looked promising”. He anchored his ship in 5 fathoms after almost running aground ahead of a strong gale blowing up from the south. The port and starboard shores were no more than 4 miles apart.

At dawn on 10th March Robert Brown, botanist, Bauer & Westall, artists, Peter Good, gardener, John Allen, miner and 2 servants set off to climb the highest peak that could be seen in the ranges. “We thought it looked about 5 miles away, just a bit of a stroll,” explained Mr Brown, “all we had to do was get through half a mile of mud and mangroves first!”.

The men followed creek beds and tramped across grassy plains to the base of the mountain. They had walked 15 miles, still had to climb the peak and it was 2pm. Their two servants, loaded down with baggage, were too exhausted to go on and set up camp to wait for the scientists. “That mountain was very deceptive,” Mr Brown said “thought we would never get there, it was sunset before we reached the top. We had to camp on the summit for the night. Not a nice experience. No water at all, too dark to find fire wood and the servants had our swags down at the bottom.” At first light they made their way down the slopes, “But blow me down,” laughed Peter Good, “Will Westall made us wait while he sketched the scenery, and us perishing for a drink of water!”

While Mr Brown and his party were away Flinders, with Surgeon Bell and crew rowed the red cutter up the gulf, climbed a bluff on the western shore, took bearings and spent the night in the cutter amongst the mangroves. Next morning they tried to bag a few black swans for fresh meat, “We found out that these birds were very good at dodging musket balls, spent all day chasing them and lost our way in the salt creeks” recalled Flinders “it was after 10pm before we got back to ship and heard all about Mr Brown’s chilly night on the mountain.”

Investigator sailed south, keeping well away from the shallow eastern side of the gulf. On 19th March the coast trended sharply to the west. Flinders dropped anchor at Corny Point, well sheltered from the southerly winds. Bearings on the islands to the west confirmed that Flinders had completed the survey of the gulf, which he called Spencer, after an earl at the Admiralty. He named the 3,000 ft mountain Mount Brown, much to the delight of the botanist.

March 21st – FLINDERS SHELTERS AT KANGAROO ISLAND

Investigator battled against a fierce south west gale to reach calm waters in the lee of a high heavily wooded coastline to the south of Corny Point. The following morning Flinders sailed east for 70 miles, “I wanted to know if we were looking at the mainland” he explained, “but we saw no sign of camp fires or people.” Strong winds drove Investigator past a wide sheltered bay toward its eastern headland where Flinders anchored for the night, half a mile off a small sandy beach.

All on board were eager to explore once again. “Some of the young gentlemen tried to tell us they could see moving rocks on the beach!” laughed a sailor, “very vivid imaginations, these young fellas!” Once on shore the rocks turned out to be large dark brown kangaroos who had no fear of men. Flinders shot ten with his double barrel shotgun, altogether 29 kangaroos were killed. They ranged in weight from 69 to 125 pounds. “And what a feast did we have, heads and forequarters for soup and enough steak for even us ordinary seamen to get a share,” a sailor commented. Flinders named this southern land Kangaroo Island [in fact: Kanguroo Island], all aboard agreed it was most appropriate.

While repairs to the rigging were in progress Flinders attempted to reach high ground to see the lay of the land but dense undergrowth and tall trees prevented him from seeing much. “I noted many fallen and rotten trees, seems as if there had been a great fire through the forest some time ago – lightening perhaps was the cause” he reported later. Peter Good and Robert Brown walked east and were pleased to find some new plants, and a spring of water amongst shoreline rocks.

Fire wood for the ships oven, and fresh water was loaded. The now shy kangaroos were less easy to shoot but some were taken for more fresh meat. “I have noted,” said Flinders “that from our first arrival the seals who live under bushes quite some way from the shore have been quite sure that we are not kanguroos but I think the kanguroos thought at first that we were seals!”

Flinders spent 3 days sounding the strait between Kangaroo Island and the mainland. He found it to be deepest nearer the island but safe for ships generally and named it Investigator Strait. On March 27th his ship sailed up a large inlet on the mainland taking soundings until midnight. The following morning Investigator was becalmed within sight of a fine mountain range rising above the coastal plain. The country was well timbered and fertile. Numerous camp fires sent smoke into the morning air. It was Sunday so Flinders ordered the ships company to scrub the ship, wash themselves and prepare for inspection.

April 1802 – FLINDERS RETURNS TO KANGAROO ISLAND

Matthew Flinders spent the last 5 days of March mapping the Gulf he named St Vincent. Shallow mudflats that teemed with rays prevented further progress north. He and Robert Brown aborted an attempt to reach hummock hills 8 miles inland at the head of the gulf. “With winter on the way I couldn’t risk a rough trip to Sydney,” explained Flinders, “besides, I needed to return to Kanguroo Island for more fresh meat”.

Investigator ran before a light breeze and anchored 2 miles west of their former anchorage at 11 pm 1st April. Shore parties the following day gathered more fire wood and shot a few kangaroos while the naturalists explored the beach. Departure was delayed when it came to the captain’s notice that the clocks had been allowed to run down, either by his brother Samuel or Mr John Franklin, senior midshipman. “It meant we had to establish ourselves on the beach and make our observations all over again so that we could reset the clocks. Correct time was essential to accurate readings of our position,” Flinders explained, clearly annoyed at the delay.

Leaving Samuel busy making amends with the instruments, Flinders and Brown took the cutter through a narrow opening that revealed a large lagoon in the southwest corner of Nepean Bay. The men climbed a high Sandhill that gave them views in all directions. They were able to see the low rugged cliffs of the south coast and Flinders spied distant Mt Lofty with his telescope. He named the Sandhill Prospect Hill for the vistas that rewarded their climb.

They explored the eastern branch of the lagoon which was dotted with four islands, one high and wooded, the others grassy and low. “There were great numbers of pelicans in the lagoon” said Robert Brown, “we saw their nestlings on the islands and immense flocks sitting on the shores.” The explorers also noted a quantity of pelican skeletons. They camped for the night at the entrance to Pelican Lagoon, eating oysters around their campfire. Flinders could not forget the sights they had seen that day. “Those birds had chosen a hidden lagoon on an uninhabited island, off the unknown coast of a continent on the far side of the globe,” he mused “It seemed to me to be pelican paradise. Those majestic birds could hatch, live and die amongst their own kin, who could ask for more? Alas, for the pelicans! Their golden age is past (…)”.

On board the Investigator surgeon Bell had to deal with seaman Richard Daley who had been badly bitten by a seal he had been taunting with a stick. “The man will be crippled for life, a severe wound” Bell reported later to Captain Flinders.

On 6th April Flinders set the Investigator on a course east of Cape Jervis, confident that the timekeepers had not lost accuracy.

Text © by:
Mrs Meredith Geyer

Flinders’ anchorages, landings & visits – 1802, Jan. 28th to April 13th, by Brown, Anthony J.

FLINDERS’ ANCHORAGES, LANDINGS & VISITS – 1802, Jan. 28th to April 13th

Anthony J Brown, compiler

(Flinders passed the head of the Great Australian Bight on 27 January 1802, and reached the present S.A./Victorian border on 19 April 1802. Sources. M Flinders, Voyage to Terra Australis, 1814; H. M. Cooper, The Unknown Coast, 1953).

FOWLERS BAY 28 & 29 January 1802.
‘The bay in which we anchored on the evening of January 28 at the extremity of the before known South Coast of Terra Australis, was named Fowler’s Bay, after my First Lieutenant’ (VTA). 29 January: ‘Boats employed landing the botanists to examine the country, and by the Commander in surveying’. (FL). (Many traces of natives were found).

ST. FRANCIS ISLAND, Petrel Bay 3 & 4 February 1802.
‘Sent the Master [Mr. Thistle] to sound about the Bay, and the other boats were employed landing the naturalists to examine the island, and the Commander to survey and observe the situations of the neighbouring islands’ (FL). (Enough birds (stormy petrels) were caught to give 4 to each man on the ship. Further landings 4/2/02 – no fresh water found).

STREAKY BAY 5/2/1802. SMOKY BAY 6/2/02.
[Visits only – no landing].

ST. PETER ISLANDS 7 February 1802.
‘Sent a boat away early to collect birds and kill seals … Other boats landing the naturalist and the Commander, to survey and examine the country’ (FL). (Shore temperature estimated 120.F.).

ST. FRANCIS ISLAND, Petrel Bay 8 & 9 February 1802.
(Return visit to fish and catch birds (sooty petrels) to supplement crew’s salt meat diet. 865 birds killed and brought aboard).

WALDEGRAVE ISLANDS 11 February 1802.
the naturalist and his party landed to examine the island, and soon after I landed also for the purpose of taking observations …’ ‘A single rat was the sole quadruped seen, but a few hair seals were killed upon the shore’. (FL).

INVESTIGATOR GROUP OF ISLANDS 12 & 13 February 1802.
‘Sent a boat away to sound, kill seals, etc. The other cutter employed landing the scientific gentlemen to examine the island, and the Commander to survey and take astronomical observations’. (No fresh water found). ‘The boats’ crews killed several [hair] seals … found upon the beaches. Families of these animals were usually lying asleep every two or three hundred yards, each consisting of a male – four or five females – and as many young ones … I approached several of them very closely, unobserved and without disturbing their domestic tranquillity…’ (FL).

COFFIN BAY 16 February 1802.
[Visit only – no landing]
‘… saw natives on the west side of the bay, and others upon the east side. Lime juice and sugar served daily as usual, and sour krout and vinegar three times a week’. (FL).

THISTLE ISLAND 21 February 1802.
‘Boats employed landing the scientific gentlemen to examine this uncertain land [Thistle Island] and the Commander to survey and inspect the neighbouring parts from the hills (FL). ‘Sent the Master, Mr. Thistle, over to the main land to search for water. At 7 p.m. the boat was seen returning but suddenly missed, upon which Lieut. Fowler was sent in another boat, to look for her. At 9 1/2 hours fired a gun, and soon after the last boat returned without any intelligence of the other boat, but had near been swamped herself amongst the strong ripplings of tide’ (FL).

CAPE CATASTROPHE/MEMORY COVE 22-25 February 1802.
22 February. ‘Sent the cutter away in search of the lost boat and people, and two parties went to walk along the shores upon the same pursuit. The cutter soon returned towing the wreck of the other boat bottom upwards; she was stove all to pieces, having to appearance been dashed against the rocks … Nothing was seen of the bodies of the unfortunate people’ (FL).

23 February. ‘The Commander took the cutter to search for the unfortunate people lost in the boat or for pieces of the wreck … About 4 p.m. [he] returned, having found nothing more than a small keg which belonged to Mr. Thistle, and two broken remnants of the boat’ (FL).

24 February. ‘I though it would avail nothing to remain longer [at the Cove], for there was only a small chance of obtaining their bodies when they might rise to the surface, from the number of sharks that we have constantly seen about. I caused a stout post to be erected in the Cove, and to it was nailed a sheet of copper upon which was engraven [an inscription to their memory]’ (FL).

PORT LINCOLN 26 February – 6 March 1802.
26 February. ‘Boats employed landing the naturalists to examine the country, and the Commander to inspect into the bay from [Stamford Hill] and to take bearings’ (FL).

27 February. ‘Sent a party of people on shore with spades to dig a large hole at which to water the ship; also sent the time-keepers, astronomical instruments and two tents on shore under the charge of Lieut. [Samuel] Flinders. Moored ship a cable each way, hoisted out the launch, and sent a raft of empty casks on shore’ (FL).

28 February. ‘A cutter employed by the Commander in surveying the bay. Received 17 puncheons of water from the tents. Employed putting provisions into the after hold and stowing water in the main hold, all the empty casks being now out of the ship’ (FL).

1 March. ‘Received another raft of water from the tents and stowed it away in the holds. At such times as the pits require to be left to replenish themselves, a part of the people on shore are employed cutting fire wood … Mr. Brown and a party visited the large lake [Sleaford Mere] today … which runs to within a hundred yards of the sea … They saw a boat’s sail and yard floating near the shore in that bight, belonging no doubt to our wrecked cutter; no other fragments were seen’ (FL).

2 March. ‘A cutter employed by the Commander in surveying the bay. Employed as before in watering the ship’. 3 March. ‘Sent Lieut. Fowler in the cutter out of the Bay and round to Memory Cove and the neighbouring islands in search of the bodies of our unfortunate shipmates, the boat being armed and provisioned for two days …’ (FL).

4 March. ‘Cloudy weather with spitting rain at times until a little before noon, when it cleared up and enabled me to observe an eclipse of the sun at the tents with an achromatic telescope of 46 inches focus and a power of about 200 … Immediately after the eclipse, brought on board the tents, astronomical instruments etc. from the shore … and prepared every thing ready for going down to the entrance of the bay in the morning. .This morning some natives were heard calling, as we supposed to a boat which had just then landed at the tents, and two of them were seen at about half a mile from us’ (FL).

5 March. ‘We ran down the harbour and anchored under Cape Donington … In the evening Lieutenant Fowler returned from his search. He had rowed and walked along the shore as far as Memory Cove, revisited Thistle’s Island, and examined the shores of the isles in Thorny Passage, but could find neither any traces of our lost people nor fragments of the wreck’ (VTA).

6 March. ‘I landed at Cape Donington to take some further bearings … The boat was afterwards hoisted up; and our operations in Port Lincoln being completed, we prepared to follow the unknown coast to the northward, as it might be found to trend’ (VTA).

SIR JOSEPH BANKS GROUP OF ISLANDS 6 & 7 March 1802.
6 March. ‘Hoisted out the cutter; sounded about the ship and landed to inspect the neighbouring islands’.

7 March. ‘The naturalist and other gentlemen landed to examine the production of the island, and the Commander to take bearings, which, from the number of small islands was rather perplexing … Sold the effects of Mr. Thistle and prepared to get under weigh’ (FL).

HUMMOCK HILL (Whyalla) & POINT LOWLY 9 March 1802.
[No landing]
‘At noon, the furthest hummock seen from the anchorage was distant four or five miles; it stands on a projection of low sandy land, and beyond it was another similar projection to which I gave the name of Point Lowly’ (VTA).

HEAD OF SPENCER GULF 10-13 March 1802.
10 March. ‘The opening in the head of the gulph we entered … seems to be from six to ten miles wide, and it contracts upwards, rapidly. The scientific gentlemen landed on the east side in order to ascend the mountains which lie a little distance back, and run parallel to the shore; and the Commander took the cutter upon a surveying expedition upwards’ (FL).

11 March. ‘Party of scientific gentlemen who visited the eastern hills returned this afternoon; and at 10 hrs p.m. the Commander returned from his expedition up the inlet. … No fresh water was found’ (FL). ‘Additional remarks: the excursion of [the scientists] to the highest top of the ridge of hills … proved to be a most laborious one, [it] proving to be about 15 miles distant … They set off in the morning, and did not reach its top until 5 in the evening, and were then obliged to pass the night without water, nor did they find any until the following day on their way down’ (FL).

3 March. ‘At 6 hrs weighed and made sail down the inlet, at 7 hrs 45 the ship took upon a shoal of soft mud covered with grass. … the ship still sticking, hoisted out the cutter and dropped a kedge astern, with which we hove her off into deep water’ (FL).

POINT RILEY 15 March 1802.
[Visit only – no landing]

POINT PEARCE 18 March 1802.
[Visit only – no landing]

CORNY POINT 19 March 1802.
[Anchorage only – no landing]

‘The situation where we anchored late in the evening is well sheltered from the southerly winds … The fire seen on the land and the howling of the dogs confirm us in the opinion of its being the main’ (FL).

KANGAROO ISLAND 21 -24 March 1802.
21 March. ‘Fresh gales with a heavy sea from the S.W. Saw the looming of the southern land, high and very near us. … continued our course to the eastward along the high cliffy shore … No smoke or other mark has yet appeared by which we can ascertain whether or no this land is a part of the main’ (FL). (The ship anchored off the eastern tip of Nepean Bay at 6 p.m.).

22 March. ‘The Commander and scientific gentlemen landed to survey and examine the country, which they find great reason to believe to be an island notwithstanding its magnitude’ (FL). ‘It would be difficult to guess how many kanguroos [sic] were seen; but I killed ten, and the rest of the party made up the number to thirty-one, taken on board in the course of the day; … The whole ship’s company was employed this afternoon in skinning and cleaning the kanguroos; and a delightful regale they afforded, after four months privation from almost any fresh provisions. In gratitude for so seasonable a supply, I named this southern land Kanguroo Island” (VIA).

23 March. ‘The scientific gentlemen landed again to examine the natural productions of the island, and in the evening eleven more kanguroos were brought on board’ (VTA).

24 March. ‘In the morning we got under way from Kanguroo Island, in order to take up the examination of the main coast at Cape Spencer, where it had been quitted in the evening of the 20th …’ (VTA).

INVESTIGATOR STRAIT 25-27 March 1802.
‘Many tacks were made … from the northern land across to Kanguroo Island, and gave opportunities of sounding the intermediate strait … It was named Investigator’s Strait, after the ship’ (WA).

GULF OF ST. VINCENT 27 March -1 April 1802.
27 March. ‘… steered towards the unexplored part of the main. 6 hrs p.m. fresh breezes with threatening weather. 8 hrs saw a fire upon the land ahead. 12 midnight saw land ahead … and several fires upon it’ (FL).

28 March. ‘From noon to six o’clock we ran thirty miles to the northward, skirting a sandy shore at the distance of five, and thence to eight miles’ (VIA). (The ship would have passed the present site of Adelaide about 3.30 p.m.).

29 March. ‘The low eastern shore along which we have run this day is generally sandy, but is mostly covered with small trees…. We noticed much smoke on the low land …, and at noon also great smokes were rising from the hills further up’ (FL).

30 March. ‘The cutter taken by the Commander, accompanied by the Naturalist, [to examine the head of St. Vincent Gulf]’ (FL). (Flinders and Brown set out to climb Hummock Mount, but ‘finding it could not be reached in time to admit of returning on board the same evening’ they turned back after ascending a nearer hill).

31 March. ‘…made sail down the inlet, with light winds’ (FL).

1 April. ‘The land … has a pleasant appearance, being grassy hills of a gentle ascent with clumps of trees interspersed … Lower down near the entrance on the west side the shore is very low, being a sandy beach from which extends a sandy spit to some miles distant [Troubridge Shoals]. … 6 hrs p.m…. steering to the southwd. for Kanguroo Island, the former anchorage being in sight, and bearing south” (FL).

KANGAROO ISLAND 2-6 April 1802.
2 April. ‘The objects I had in mind in coming to Kanguroo Island a second time were -first to get a known place of shelter for the night – 2nd to get a few more fresh meals for the ships company, and 3rd to ascertain generally whether our time keepers were still keeping the rates found for them in No. 10 Bay [Port Lincoln]. The kanguroos were not now found in anything like the numbers that they were at the first anchorage; and besides, we now find them much shyer than before‘ (FL).

3 April. ‘Hoisted out the launch and sent an officer in her to the eastern part of the island to kill seals and kanguroos … The launch returned in the evening with several seal skins for the service of the rigging; she left a party of gentlemen to examine that part of the island’ (FL).

4 April. ‘The Commander went away in the cutter accompanied by the Naturalist, to examine the head of the large bight in which the ship lies. Carpenters with some hands on shore cuffing fire wood’ (FL). ‘The object of my excursion in the cutter was both to examine the head of the great bay or bight, and also to ascend a bill towards the centre of the island …’ (FL). (On this excursion Flinders and Brown climbed Prospect Hill, discovered the island was ‘separated into two parts of very unequal size, connected by an isthmus whose breadth is about two miles’, and explored Pelican Lagoon).

5 April. ‘Sent the launch to the eastward to fish, and to bring on board a party that went to shoot kanguroo. At 11 hrs a.m. the Commander and Naturalist returned on board. At dusk the launch returned with the shooting and fishing parties, who had but little success; one of the boat’s crew returned very lame, having been bitt en by a seal. Hoisted in the launch and prepared to go to sea in the morning’ (FL).

6 April. At 2 pm. ‘the rising of a breeze made it advisable to get under way from Kanguroo Head [and] we proceeded for the eastern outlet of the Investigator’s Strait, in order to prosecute the discovery beyond Cape Jervis’ (VIA).

ENCOUNTER 8 & 9 April 1802.
[No landing].
8 April. Interview with Le Géographe. ‘The French expedition on discovery to New Holland, under Captain Baudin, had frequently furnished us with a topic of conversation, but when we first ascertained that it was a ship seen ahead, it was much doubted whether it was one of the French ships, or whether it was an English merchant ship examining along this coast for seals or whales. On going on board I requested to see their passport which was shewn to me and I offered mine for inspection, but Captain Baudin put it back without looking at it. He informed me that after exploring the south and east parts of Van Diemen’s Land, he had come through Bass Strait, and had explored the whole of the coast from thence to the place of our meeting … He had parted with the Naturaliste, his consort, in a gale of wind in the strait and had not since seen her. Captain Baudin was sufficiently communicative of his discoveries about Van Diemen’s Land and of his remarks upon my chart of Bass Strait, many parts of which he condemned, but I was gratified to hear him say that the north side of Van Diemen’s Land was well laid down …’ (FL).

9 April. ‘Captain Baudin was much more inquisitive this morning concerning the Investigator and her destination than before, having learned from the boat’s crew that our business was discovery; and finding that we had examined the south coast of New Holland thus far, I thought he appeared to be somewhat mortified. … I offered to convey any information he might wish to the Naturaliste, in case of meeting with him; but he only requested me to say, that he should go to Port Jackson so soon as the bad weather set in’ (FL). (The two ships parted company at 8 a.m., Flinders sailing south-east for Western Port and Bass Strait, and Baudin heading west for Kangaroo Island and the two Gulfs).

BAUDIN’S ROCKS (near ROBE) 13 April 1802.
[No landing]
‘Saw a broad patch of rocks above water to which we drew near at 11 o’clock
Additional Remarks: … the rocks from whence we tacked at 11 hrs 30 am. I judge to be those of which M. Baudin gave me information’ (FL). (In his Log Book Flinders gave these rocks the name Le Géographe’s Rocks, but changed it to Baudin’ Rocks in his published Voyage).

NOTES

Quotations are from extracts of Investigator’s Fair Log (FL) published in H. M. Cooper’s The Unknown Coast: being the explorations of Captain Matthew Flinders RN along the shores of South Australia 1802 (Adelaide, 1953), and M. Flinders’ Voyage to Terra Australis (VIA) Vol. I (London, 1814; facsimile edn. published by The Libraries Board of South Australia, 1966).

In his Logs Flinders used both Log (naval) Time (which ran from noon to noon). and Civil Time (from midnight to midnight) when anchored for any considerable period. Where necessary dates given in Log lime have been adjusted to Civil Time to ensure uniformity.

[“Historical Records of New South Wales “, Vol. 5,1803-5, p. 826]

Science was not at war, by Brown, Anthony J.

SCIENCE WAS NOT AT WAR
(the scientific origins and objectives of the voyages of Nicolas Baudin and Matthew Flinders)

(abstracts from FRIENDS OF HUMANITY: the scientific origins, objectives and outcomes of the voyages of Nicolas Baudin and Matthew Flinders

By Mr Anthony J. Brown

[notes added within the text in square brackets are by Dr Gabriel Bittar]

Britain and France had been at war for 7 years and a half [since the Alien Bill against the French of 31.12.1792] when, in June 1800, the French Republic’s resident commissioner in London, Citizen Louis-Guillaume Otto, lodged his government’s application for a safe-conduct for a French voyage of discovery. It sought passports for two ships under the command of Captain Nicolas Baudin ‘to continue the useful discoveries which your navigators made in their voyages round the world’. Though Otto’s official duty was to arrange the exchange of prisoners of war, his office also provided a useful channel for informal contacts between the two governments on other matters. Through tact and diplomacy he had earned the esteem of Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society, and other men of influence.

Prime Minister William Pitt referred the request to the First Lord of the Admiralty, Earl Spencer, for a decision; Spencer in turn called on his close friend Sir Joseph for advice. Banks had already received through Otto’s office a letter from his opposite number in Paris, Professor Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu and his colleagues of the Institut National of France:

“The Institut National is desirous that several distant voyages useful to the progress of human knowledge should begin without delay. Its wishes have been endorsed by our Government which has just issued orders for the preparation as soon as possible of expeditions led by skilful navigators as well as enlightened men of science, and will approach the Government of your country for the necessary passports or safe-conducts for our vessels.

The Institut National considers that it is precisely at the moment when war still burdens the world that the friends of humanity should work for it, by advancing the limits of science and of useful arts by means of enterprises similar to those which have immortalised the great navigators of our two nations and the illustrious men of science who have scoured sea and land to study nature, where they could do so with the greatest success.

We hasten to beg you, as one of the most distinguished members of the commonwealth of learning, to use your good offices with your Government with that zeal which has always inspired you to work in the interests of humanity, to renew those marks of respect for science which our two nations have more than once given, and therefore to secure the prompt despatch of the passports which will be requested…” (de Beer, 1960).

The British government could not tolerate the thought of a French settlement in New Holland, least of all in wartime. Providentially, Lieutenant Matthew Flinders RN provided the Admiralty with the opportunity to counter any possible French duplicity with a genuinely scientific voyage of its own. Flinders had returned home in September 1800, after five years on the Port Jackson station, with a detailed proposal to circumnavigate the continent, complete the survey of its coasts (including the unknown southern coast – an estimated 950 – 1000 miles), and at the same time undertake a range of scientific investigations. Flinders, like Baudin, did not present his proposal to the naval authorities but to the country’s most influential scientist – Sir Joseph Banks. He did not get to meet Banks until mid-November, but from then on events moved with incredible speed. Within 3-4 weeks the voyage had been approved, and a ship – the former collier Xenophon, renamed Investigator – had been selected and slipped at Sheerness for a refit. Flinders was formally named her commander on 19 January 1801, and sailed from Portsmouth on 18 July – nine months after Baudin’s ships had left Le Havre [on 19.10.1800].

I have covered the meeting of the two expeditions at Encounter Bay on 8 April 1802 elsewhere (Brown 1998; Brown 2000), and will not go into details here. Before their meeting Baudin had surveyed the west and north-west coasts, charting long stretches for the first time, while numerous botanical and zoological specimens were collected for the Paris Museum. He wintered at the Dutch settlement at Koepang, West Timor, and sailed south for Van Diemen’s Land in November. Unknown to him, Flinders was in King George Sound when he passed far out to sea in early January. In Van Diemen’s Land Baudin charted Storm Bay, the Tasman Peninsula and the east coast in greater detail than any previous navigator, and his scientists gathered unique records of the way of life of the Tasmanian aborigines – in the process laying the foundations for an Australian anthropology (Plomley 1983).

Meanwhile Flinders had surveyed the south coast from the Sound as far as Encounter Bay – from the Bight eastward it was all land seen for the first time by Europeans. The encounter passed off peacefully, although with other commanders it might conceivably have been otherwise. The Investigator carried two 18-pound carronades, six 12-pound carronades, two 6-pound long guns, and two swivels (lngleton 1986). The Géographe, according to her passport, was more lightly armed, with eight 4-pound carriage guns and eight swivels. The armaments were sufficient to repel a small privateer or pirates, but not for a serious sea fight.

Flinders fared [in his lifetime] little better [than maligned Baudin] (…) Neglected in death as in life by his countrymen, his grave was destroyed in a churchyard ‘redevelopment’ and the contents ‘carted away as rubbish’ (his daughter’s words) about 1850 (Retter & Sinclair 1999). It seemed probable that his achievements too would soon be forgotten.

History’s judgement, though, is always multi-faceted. It was left to Australians to give the historical kaleidoscope a shake and a different picture formed. Flinders’ resurrection began early, in the mid-nineteenth century, with the colonial governments of New South Wales and Victoria each voting a pension of £100 a year for his widow and her daughter (Scott 1914); Baudin remained all but forgotten until the latter part of the twentieth. Today, two centuries after their voyages, the two captains can be honoured for their wide-ranging contributions to the development of the sciences in Australia.

By his circumnavigation Flinders confirmed the existence of the sixth continent. He planned to call it Australia, writing to Banks from Mauritius:

“the propriety of the name Australia or Terra Australis which I have applied to the whole body of what has generally been called New Holland must be submitted to the Admiralty and the learned in geography”. (Ingleton 1986).

Banks did not agree, preferring Terra Australis, and Australia did not come into general use until the 1820’s. Flinders’ rough chart of Terra Australis was completed on Mauritius in 1804, and was received in England the following year; however, it was filed in the Admiralty awaiting the compiler’s return in 1810 from his detention, and his corrected General Chart was not published until 1814 [the year of his death].

A lesser navigator than Flinders, Baudin nonetheless kept his ships at sea off strange coasts for more than two years without major mishap or damage – an achievement in itself. He explored the west and north-west coasts which Flinders did not visit, and was the first European captain to circumnavigate Kangaroo Island. Louis de Freycinet’s charts of the voyage appeared [three years] before Flinders’, and thus the French were first to give the world a more or less ‘complete’ map of the continent, with a few blanks remaining on the northwest coast (Freycinet 1812).

In addition to geographic discovery and hydro graphic surveying, the two expeditions shared similar scientific objectivesBaudin ‘to study the (country’s] inhabitants, animals, and natural products … and to [procure specimens of] its useful animals and plants’ for introduction into France’ (Cornell 1974); and Flinders to examine the continent’s botany, zoology and mineralogy.

Today, as the bicentenary of the two voyages approaches, we can honour Baudin and Flinders for their contributions to the development of the sciences in Australia. Together, their discoveries contributed to significant advances in such varied disciplines as anthropology and ethnography, botany, cartography, geography, hydrography and oceanography, marine biology, naval medicine, and zoology – not to mention the memorable fusion of art and science in the drawings and paintings of Bauer, Lesueur and Petit. These came at great cost, however – in any scientific commemoration of their achievements, those who gave their lives to the endeavour should not be forgotten:

FRENCH:

Pierre Francois Bernier, astronomer
Anselm Riedlé and Antoine Sautier, gardeners
Louis Depuch, mineralogist
René Maugé and Stanislas Levillain, zoologists

ENGLISH:

Peter Good, gardener

Ironically, all seven died from the effects of dysentery and fever contracted on the island of Timor, where the ships had called for ‘R & R’ (rest and recuperation) for the crews.

Postscript: Science or Espionage?

This paper would not be complete without some discussion of the vexed question of espionage by the two expeditions. In the event, although both Britain and France issued safe-conducts guaranteeing the safety of the other’s ships in the name of science, the avowed scientific objectives of both voyages were compromised by the strategic imperatives of the war.

No evidence has come to light implicating Baudin himself in spying on the British settlement at Port Jackson, as later alleged by the Admiralty (Quart. Review 1810) – indeed, his sailing instructions excluded the east coast of New Holland from his itinerary, since it was already well known from the work of English navigators. On the other hand he was specifically directed to ‘sail the full length of [D’Entrecasteaux] channel [in Van Diemen’s Land] to ascertain whether or not the English have established a settlement there’ (Cornell 1974).

[As to Flinders:] To Decaen, busily engaged in placing the island on a war footing following the renewal of hostilities, the Englishman’s fortuitous arrival seemed doubly suspicious – not only was his ship, the 29 ton schooner Cumberland, a highly unlikely vessel for the commander of a voyage on discovery, but his passport was for the 334 ton sloop Investigator. Moreover, the Cumberland had spied on the Géographe during her voyage through Bass Strait just 12 months before. Placing Flinders under temporary arrest as a suspected spy, the General ordered the seizure and inspection of his logbooks and papers. On examination these appeared to provide the proof he needed.

In contravention of his passport Flinders was carrying despatches from Governor King to the home government, requesting inter alia additional troops and armaments for the British colony – for defence against any possible attack from lle-de-France and to ‘annoy the trade’ of the Spanish settlements in South America. Flinders denied all knowledge of the contents, but for Decaen they bore out Péron’s claims that his voyage had a military and strategic purpose. No less damaging was the statement in his logbook that at Ile-de-France he intended to ‘acquire a knowledge of the winds and weather [and] the actual state of the French colony, and of what utility it and its dependencies might be to Port Jackson’ – no more than the French had done at Sydney during the Peace of Amiens [25.3.1802-16.5.1803], but military intelligence in wartime.

Mrs Ly-Tio-Fane Pineo (1988) has argued, convincingly in my view, that Decaen used Flinders’ release as a bargaining chip to secure his own return to France after an inevitable British invasion of the island; she writes ‘what is most probable is that the Captain-General, an excellent strategist, must have demanded, in exchange for the immediate liberation of the navigator, assurances for his own freedom, should he … be reduced to capitulate to an invading force’. Certainly her thesis goes far to explain the events which followed his release on parole in June 1810.

Flinders sailed for Cape Town, where he expected to take immediate passage to England. Instead he was ordered to report to Vice-Admiral Bertie, the Commander-in-Chief, who was planning the invasion of Ile-de-France and required information on the island’s topography, military strength, defences, civilian morale, and other intelligence. Flinders demurred, pointing out that this was contrary to his parole, but gave in when Bertie insisted, ‘conceiving with me[!] that I was under no obligation to refuse any information that might be required of me relative to that colony’ (Flinders 1986).

[At the end of November 1810, the English successfully invaded Isle-de-France, renamed Mauritius Island again since then].

Terra Australis or Terre Napoléon?, by Brown, Anthony J

TERRA AUSTRALIS OR TERRE NAPOLÉON?

by Mr Anthony J Brown

[highlighting and notes added within the text in square brackets are by Dr Gabriel Bittar]

8 April 1802. HM Sloop Investigator exploring the Unknown South Coast of New Holland:

‘The French expedition on discovery to New Holland, under Captain Baudin, had frequently furnished us with a topic of conversation, but when we first ascertained that it was a ship seen ahead, it was much doubted whether it was one of the French ships, or whether it was an English merchant ship examining along the coast for seals or whales.’
[Extract from Fair Log of Investigator. Additional remarks, 9/4/1802]

In April [8th] 2002 South Australians will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the meeting between Matthew Flinders and Nicolas Baudin in the waters of Encounter Bay. It is a significant event in the State’s history – not only did their voyages lead to the first complete maps of Australia, but their explorations on the continent’s south coast foreshadowed the settlement of the colony little more than 30 years later.

Prior to 1800, the whole of the south coast, from the eastern limit of the Bight to Western Port, was unknown. Many believed that New Holland was in fact two great islands, separated by a vast strait running from the Gulf of Carpentaria to the southern ocean. In a fascinating example of synchronicity, the two captains independently presented their respective governments with proposals for a national voyage of discovery to establish the continent’s true shape and to investigate its natural resources. Although France and Britain had been at war since [1.2.]1793 (and would remain so for another 15 years [until 20.11.1815], with two short breaks in [25.3.]1802-[16.5.]1803 [Treaty of Amiens] and [30.5.]1814-[20.3.]1815 [1st Treaty of Paris]), the enemy governments approved the proposals, each granting safe-conducts to its rival’s expedition.

Baudin sailed with two ships – the Géographe and Naturaliste – in October [19th] 1800, arriving off Cape Leeuwin [the SW tip of Western Australia] at the end of May 1801 [in fact: their first sighting of Australia was near Cape Hamelin on the 27th, and, after passing Cape Naturaliste, their first landing was at Géographe Bay on the 30th]. Heading north, the French surveyed many of the little-known areas of the west and north-west coasts, including Géographe Bay, Swan River, Shark Bay and the Bonaparte Archipelago, then called at the Dutch colony of Kupang, West Timor, for rest and repairs. Resuming their voyage in November, they rounded Cape Leeuwin in early January 1802; unaware that Flinders was then anchored in King George Sound some 260km. to the east, they set their course for Van Diemen’s Land [Tasmania].

Here, around D’Entrecasteaux Channel and on Maria Island, Baudin and his scientists had numerous contacts with the Tasmanian aborigines, in the process laying the foundations for Australian anthropology. Baudin’s was the first expedition to leave Europe with specific instructions for the observation of native peoples in their natural state. Both he and Flinders went out of their way to avoid violence in their dealings with the aborigines, and the English-man was deeply distressed when, in his absence, a native was killed in an attack on one of his boat parties off the continent’s north coast. Baudin was more fortunate, and no aboriginal blood was shed in the course of his voyage.

In London the Admiralty had observed Baudin’s departure with concern, suspecting that the motives for his voyage were strategic rather than scientific – that his actual task was to spy on the British colony of New South Wales, and reconnoitre sites for a future French settlement elsewhere in New Holland; at the time Britain only laid claim to the eastern half of the continent. Providentially, Lieutenant Matthew Flinders, just returned from Port Jackson, chose this moment to submit his plan ‘for completing the investigation of the coasts of Terra Australis’ to Sir Joseph Banks, influential President of the Royal Society. Banks and his friend Earl Spencer, First Lord of the Admiralty, seized the opportunity to mount a rival British expedition, and within three weeks HM Sloop Xenophon (renamed Investigator) had been selected for the voyage. Flinders was named her commander in January 1801; he sailed on 18 July, nine months after Baudin.

After brief stop-overs at Madeira and Cape Town Flinders made landfall at Cape Leeuwin on 6 December [1801], and began his survey of the south coast. On 27 January 1802 he reached the Head of the Bight, and a day later passed the eastern limit of Dutch discovery. The far west coast of South Australia and the coastline of the present Eyre Peninsula bear witness to his discoveries: Fowler’s Bay, named after his First Lieutenant; Denial Bay, so called because of ‘the deceptive hope we had formed of penetrating by it into the interior’; Smoky Bay from the numerous fires seen on shore; and Streaky Bay because its waters were discoloured in streaks.

On 20 February Investigator rounded a headland and met a tide running strongly from the north-east, suggesting they were at the mouth of a large river or inland sea, perhaps even the hoped-for strait leading to the Gulf of Carpentaria; that evening, ‘the prospect of making an interesting discovery seemed to have infused new life and vigour into every man in the ship’. Next day Flinders anchored in the lee of an offshore island and sent the ship’s master, John Thistle, and a boat’s crew to the mainland in search of fresh water. On the return voyage their boat was capsized in breakers and disappeared; their bodies were never found. Cape Catastrophe, Memory Cove, Thistle Island, and seven smaller islands nearby bearing the names of the lost men are a lasting memorial to the disaster.

On the 25th the ship entered a splendid harbour ‘capable of sheltering a fleet of ships’. Later Flinders named it Port Lincoln, after his home county; a new Lincolnshire blossomed on the map, some 25 names in all being given to geographical features in the region. He made no contact with the natives of the area, but heard several of these ‘Australians‘ calling in the bush – the first recorded use of the term.

Leaving Boston Bay on 6 March, Flinders resumed his course north-east. His dreams of finding a continental strait were soon dashed – the shores on each side closed in, ending at last in mudflats at the head of Spencer Gulf. The naturalist, Robert Brown, led a small party of men to climb the highest peak of a range of mountains to the east – subsequently named Mount Brown by Flinders to commemorate the event.

Kangaroo Island was the next major discovery. After leaving Spencer Gulf Flinders sailed along the north coast, anchoring near Kangaroo Head on 22 March [1802]. A shore party found large numbers of kangaroos feeding on the grass, so tame that ‘they suffered themselves to be shot in the eyes with small shot, and … knocked on the head with sticks’. He named the island in gratitude for so seasonable a supply of food. From 27 March to 1 April he made a running survey of St. Vincent Gulf, passing the present site of Adelaide about 3.30pm. on the 28th. Returning to Kangaroo Island he remained there until 6 April. Two days later [8.3.1802] he met Baudin at Encounter Bay.

The French ships meanwhile had become separated in a gale off the east coast of Van Diemen’s Land, meeting three months later at Port Jackson. After searching vainly for his consort, Baudin crossed Bass Strait to Wilson’s Promontory and began surveying the coast to the west. In early April the Géographe passed Cape Northumberland, and from here to Encounter Bay the S.A. coast is dotted with French names: Rivoli Bay, Guichen Bay, Capes Dombey and Jaffa, Lacepede Bay. One name that (perhaps unfortunately for tourism) has not survived is Terre Napoléon, for the entire territory stretching from Western Port in Victoria to Murat Bay on the west coast of SA.

About 4 p.m. on 8 April [1802] a sail was seen ahead. All on board thought at first it must be the Naturaliste, but as the ship approached the British flag could be seen at the masthead. Baudin hoisted a French ensign in return, and a flag of truce. The two captains met on board the Géographe that evening, and again over breakfast next morning. Despite language difficulties the meeting was friendly, both men volunteering information on their discoveries. Before parting company, Flinders invited the Frenchman to winter at Port Jackson, where he could be sure of a warm welcome. He then set sail for the British settlement, which he reached on 9 May.

Baudin pressed on to the west, retracing the coast charted by Flinders. Short of food and fresh water, his crew weakened by scurvy, he reached Cape Adieu beyond Fowler’s Bay before turning back. After a nightmare voyage around Van Diemen’s Land he arrived at Port Jackson on 20 June, to find the Naturaliste had preceded him. Investigator was also in port, and there was renewed co-operation between the two expeditions at Sydney before Flinders sailed in July on his circumnavigation of the continent.

The French remained for five months, enjoying the hospitality of Governor King and the colonists. Before setting out on their homeward voyage in mid-November, Baudin purchased the schooner Casuarina, 30 tons, to replace the Naturaliste; his consort was to sail directly for France [under the command of Hamelin], carrying the rich scientific collections made on the west coast and Van Diemen’s Land, and around Sydney.

Together the Géographe and Casuarina, [the latter] commanded by Lieutenant Louis de Freycinet, arrived off the east coast of Kangaroo Island on 2 January 1803, and made the first circumnavigation of the island – hence the predominance of French names on the south and west coasts, which Flinders had not seen: D’Estrées Bay, Capes Linois and Gantheaume, Vivonne Bay, Ravine des Casoars, Cape Borda, and many more. Baudin remained at anchor in Baie Bougainville [Nepean Bay], for the rest of January, while Freycinet made a running survey of Golfes Bonaparte and Joséphine [Spencer and St. Vincent Gulfs], but made no landings. Missing a rendezvous with Freycinet, Baudin dropped anchor in Denial Bay and sent landing parties ashore – Murat and Tourville Bays and Capes Thevenard and Vivonne are reminders of his visit.

Baudin and Flinders both died young – the Frenchman at 49, Flinders at 40 – fretted out by disease and failure, their achievements largely unrecognised by their countrymen. They had sailed in wartime, and each fell victim to the rivalries and passions roused by the global conflict between the two powers. Baudin died at Mauritius [île de France] in 1803 [Sept. 16th], posthumously accused by his enemies on board of misappropriating funds; later he became a ‘non-person’, his name erased from the history of his voyage written by the naturalist Francois Péron.

Flinders fared little better. Detained for more than six years on Mauritius by the French governor General Decaen – first as a prisoner, later as a hostage – he returned home in ill-health in 1810, then retired on half-pay to write his Voyage virtually at his own expense. He died in [19th] July 1814, the day after his book was published. Within 40 years, his daughter wrote bitterly, his grave was destroyed in a churchyard redevelopment ‘and the contents carted away as rubbish’. It seemed probable that his achievements too would soon be forgotten.

It was left to Australians to restore the reputations of the two ill-starred captains. Flinders’ resurrection began early, in the 1850’s, with the colonial governments of New South Wales and Victoria each voting a pension of £100 a year for his widow and daughter. Baudin remained all but forgotten until the latter part of the twentieth century. Today, two centuries after their voyages, both men can be honoured for their wide-ranging contributions to the development of the sciences in Australia – and for their exploration of the Unknown Coast which led three decades later to the European settlement of South Australia.

Anthony Brown’s new book Ill-Starred Captains : Flinders and Baudin (Crawford House, Adelaide) was published in October 2000. The narrative is based on contemporary sources – the journals, reports, letters and published works of the participants – and interweaves the stories of the two expeditions as they explore the Australian coast.

Flinders, Baudin, and the unknown coast, by Brown, Anthony J.

FLINDERS, BAUDIN, AND THE UNKNOWN COAST

by Mr Anthony J Brown

[notes added within the text in square brackets and highlighting are by Dr Gabriel Bittar]

In 2002 South Australians will celebrate the bicentenary of Matthew Flinders’ meeting with Nicolas Baudin in the waters of Encounter Bay on the 8th April 1802. More importantly, Encounter 2002 will also provide the focal point for commemorating two voyages of discovery which between them produced the first maps of Australia as we know it today. Their discoveries opened the way to the future settlement of Hobart, Perth and Melbourne, as well as Adelaide. The voyages also made a major contribution to the growth of Australian science in the 19th century.

Prior to 1800 the south coast of the continent (named by Flinders, the first time the name Australia was used for a geographical feature), from the Head of the Great Australian Bight to Westernport Bay, was unknown – many believed a huge strait ran south from the Gulf of Carpentaria, dividing New Holland into two large islands. Indeed, a London paper reported an American captain had sailed through it without sighting land on either side. Bass Strait had only been discovered by George Bass in December 1797 – a discovery confirmed by Flinders and Bass a year later in their circumnavigation of Van Diemen’s Land in the sloop Norfolk.

Flinders returned to England in 1800, a junior lieutenant with just two years seniority. He submitted a proposal to Sir Joseph Banks, the influential President of the Royal Society, “for completing the investigation of the coasts of Terra Australis“. With Banks’ support the plan was approved, and on the strength of his earlier explorations in New South Wales, and his charts of the new discoveries, Flinders was given command of the expedition. He sailed from Portsmouth in HM Sloop Investigator in [18th] July 1801.

Some three weeks elapsed between Banks’ first meeting with Flinders to discuss his plan, and the Admiralty’s selection of Investigator for the voyage. Such speed would be extraordinary today – in 1800 it was phenomenal. The most likely explanation would seem to be the deep-seated suspicions within the Admiralty and the government as to the motives behind the French voyage of discovery which had sailed from Le Havre in October [19th] 1800 under the command of Captain Nicolas Baudin. Remember that the two countries had been at war since 1792 [31.12.1792: Alien Bill against the French], and would remain so until [20.11.]1815, with only two short breaks [Treaty of Amiens, 25.3.1802-16.5.1803, and 1st Treaty of Paris, 30.5.1814-20.3.1815]. It was in effect the first World War, but no one thought to call it that at the time. Many in the Admiralty believed that Baudin’s real task was to spy on the colony of New South Wales – “to find out what was left for the French to do on this great continent, in the event of a peace, [and] to rear the standard of Bonaparte… on the first convenient spot”.

Flinders’ orders were to make “a complete examination and survey of the coasts of New Holland” – although his mission might also be taken as a thinly disguised warning to the French not to encroach on HM territories in the south. In the event, however, both commanders kept to the terms of the passports issued by the opposing governments, and confined themselves to their agreed geographical and scientific objectives.

From May 1801, when Baudin made his landfall at Cape Leeuwin [in fact, slightly to the north, near cape Hamelin], the SW tip of Western Australia, to November 1803, when Flinders left Timor on his ill-fated homeward voyage, the two expeditions filled in virtually all the significant blanks on the existing maps of New Holland. Baudin surveyed many of the sketchily-known areas of the west and north-west coasts, including Geographe Bay, the Swan River, Shark Bay, the Bonaparte Archipelago and Joseph Bonaparte Gulf; in Van Diemen’s Land his men charted D’Entrecasteaux Channel, Bruny and Maria Islands, and the Forestier Peninsula.

Flinders followed Cook’s path up the east coast, then closely examined Tones Strait and the Gulf of Carpentaria. In eleven months, between July 1802 and June 1803, he completed the first close circumnavigation of the continent [not altogether “close”: from the Northumberland Isles – off Queensland – to Cape York, and from Croker Island – northernmost tip of Australia – to Cape Leeuwin, he sailed hundreds of kilometres off the coast]. Fittingly, though, the longest and most intriguing gap of all, the Unknown Coast stretching from Cape Adieu to Cape Northumberland, had been closed with the meeting of the British and French captains in Encounter Bay. Neither of them knew at the time that the coast to the eastward, as far as Westernport, had been discovered by Lieutenant Grant in the Lady Nelson in December 1800, or that John Murray in the same vessel had entered and explored Port Philip Bay in January 1802. Flinders in fact sailed into the Bay only ten weeks after Murray left.

South Australians have a particular reason to commemorate the bicentenary of the Encounter. Colonisation could not be contemplated, let alone begin, until the Unknown Coast had been charted, its shores explored, its resources examined and evaluated, and sites identified for possible settlement. Information from Flinders’ explorations was crucial when plans for a new colony were drawn up in London in the 1830’s.

Flinders reached the head of the Bight on 27th January 1802, and the next day passed the limit of Dutch exploration at Cape Nuyts. From here onward the Unknown Coast began. The far west coast of S.A. and the coastline of what is now Eyre Peninsula bear witness to his voyage eastward: Fowler’s Bay, named after his First Lieutenant; Denial Bay, so called because of “the deceptive hope we had formed of penetrating by it into the interior”; Smoky Bay from the fires seen on shore, and Streaky Bay because its water was discoloured in streaks. Few names were given at the time of discovery, but were bestowed when he was preparing his charts for publication. For example, Fowler’s Bay was identified as Bay no. 3, and Boston Bay as no. 10.

On 20th February Investigator rounded a headland and unexpectedly met a tide running from the north-east. The discovery caused great excitement, as it seemed to indicate a large river, perhaps an inland sea, or even the hoped-for strait leading to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Flinders anchored in the shelter of an offshore island and sent the ship’s master, John Thistle, with a midshipman and six seamen, to the mainland to look for water. On the return voyage their boat capsized in breakers and disappeared; their bodies were never found. The tragic accident is commemorated by Cape Catastrophe and Memory Cove; Thistle Island and seven smaller islands nearby bear the names of the lost men. A sheet of copper with an inscription recording their deaths was erected in the Cove; the remnants of the original sheet are displayed in the Maritime Museum at Port Adelaide.

On the 25th February 1802 the ship entered a splendid natural harbour “capable of sheltering a fleet of ships”. On his charts it appears as Port Lincoln. In fact a new Lincolnshire, his home county, blossomed on the map, including Boston Bay, home of his friend Bass; Cape Donington after his native village; Stamford Hill, Spalding Cove, and Grantham Island after the county’s market towns. He made no contact with the natives of the region, but heard [on 4.3.1802] some of these ‘Australians‘ calling in the bush – the first recorded use of the term.

Flinders sailed from Boston Bay on 6th March and resumed his course NE. His dreams of finding a continental strait were soon dashed; the shores on each side closed in, ending at last in mudflats. It was the head of Spencer Gulf. (Again the place-names date from his return to England: Earl Spencer was First Lord of the Admiralty when the voyage was planned; Earl St. Vincent the First Lord when he sailed; and the Right. Hon. Charles Philip Yorke held the position when he returned in 1810. Patronage was an inescapable fact of life in Regency England!).

Robert Brown, the naturalist, and six companions set off to climb a mountain range to the east. Reaching the summit just before sunset, they were rewarded with the most extensive and boundless views they had yet had in New Holland. Night caught them on the descent, and they made camp in a gully, cold, hungry, and with almost no water. Flinders later named the peak Mount Brown. The name Flinders Range (later Ranges) was bestowed by Governor Gawler in 1839.

The next important discovery was Kangaroo Island, first seen as high land to the south “stretching East and West as far as we could see”. After sailing along the north coast Flinders anchored near Kangaroo Head on 22nd March 1802. Next day the landing party found large numbers of dark-brown kangaroos feeding on the grass; clearly the animals had never met humans before: “they suffered themselves to be shot in the eyes with small shot, and in some cases to be knocked on the head with sticks”. More than 30 were killed, and their meat, served as steaks, stew, and soup, provided a “delightful regale” for the crew after four months’ privation. “In gratitude for so seasonable a supply”, Flinders gave the island the name it bears today. [actually he called it Kanguroo Island, which was the correct spelling in these days]

A quick running survey was made of Gulf St. Vincent from 27th March to 1st April. The present site of Adelaide was passed about 3.30 p.m. on the 28th. Flinders landed with Robert Brown at the head of the gulf, intending to walk to Hummock Mount, but turned back before reaching it. After completing the survey he returned again to Kangaroo Island and remained for several days. During this second stay he explored Nepean Bay, climbed Prospect Hill, and at the head of the inlet found large flocks of pelicans nesting in “a hidden lagoon of an uninhabited island, situate upon an unknown coast near the antipodes of Europe” (Pelican Lagoon).

Two days after leaving Kangaroo Island Flinders met Baudin in Encounter Bay. For him the meeting was not unexpected, but Baudin had no means of knowing a rival expedition was at sea. His two ships – Géographe and Naturaliste – arrived off Cape Leeuwin at the end of May 1801, but, short of supplies and with winter approaching, he then sailed north for the Dutch colony of Timor. The French remained for three months (a costly stay, leading to more than a dozen deaths from dysentery and fever) and it was mid-November before they sailed south again. They rounded Cape Leeuwin just after New Year’s Day 1802, unaware that Investigator was anchored in King George Sound 260 kilometres to the east, and held their course for Van Diemen’s Land.

Baudin‘s orders instructed him to examine D’Entrecasteaux Channel, and he remained there for 34 days, exploring. Most importantly, throughout that time he and his scientists made numerous contacts with the Tasmanian aborigines living along the Channel shores. His expedition was the first sent from Europe with specified objectives in the nascent fields of social anthropology and ethnography; their observations, together with the portraits and illustrations of the talented artists Charles-Alexandre Lesueur and Nicolas-Martin Petit, provide a unique record of the customs and way of life of the native Tasmanians before white settlement led to their destruction.

Both Baudin and Flinders were humane men, and went out of their way to avoid violent confrontations in their contacts with indigenous peoples; the emphasis at all times was on establishing and maintaining friendly relations. Flinderscompassion and consideration for “the poor Indians” comes through time and again. He carried an aboriginal ‘interpreter’, Bungaree, on his circumnavigation of the continent in 1802-1803, and he was deeply distressed when, in his absence, a native was killed during an attack on one of his boat parties in the Gulf of Carpentaria [late January 1803].

Baudin was more fortunate. Thanks in large part to strict orders from himself and his second-in-command, Captain Emmanuel Hamelin, that his men must not fire except in the case of immediate danger, no aboriginal blood was shed during the entire voyage. His own views on native rights, extraordinary for the time, come across in a private letter he wrote to his friend Governor King of New South Wales on his departure from the colony:

“To my way of thinking, I have never been able to conceive that there was justice or even fairness on the part of Europeans in seizing, in the name of their governments, a land seen for the first time, when it was inhabited by men who have not always deserved the title of savages, or cannibals, that has been freely given them; … it would be infinitely more glorious for your nation, as for mine, to mould for society the inhabitants of its own country, over whom it has rights, rather than wishing to occupy itself with the improvement of those who are far removed from it, by beginning with seizing the soil which belongs to them and which saw their birth.” [HRNSW, vol. V].

From D’Entrecasteaux Channel the French followed the east coast of Van Diemen’s Land, spending nine days at Maria Island where further contacts were made with the native Tasmanians. The two ships became separated in a gale, and did not meet again for three months, at Port Jackson.

After making a vain search for the Naturaliste, Baudin crossed Bass Strait to Wilson’s Promontory and began surveying the coast to the west. Prudently, he kept a safe distance from the shore, and so missed the entrance to Port Philip Bay. On the 5th April 1802 the Géographe passed Cape Northumberland and so entered unexplored territory. From here to Encounter Bay French place-names appear on the coast – Rivoli Bay, Guichen Bay, Capes Dombey and Jaffa, Lacepede Bay. One name that has not survived is Terre Napoléon for the whole territory stretching from Westernport Bay to western Eyre Peninsula.

At about 4 p.m. on 8th April 1802 the look-out called down from the mast-head that a sail was ahead. All on board thought it must be the Naturaliste, but as the ship approached she was seen to fly the English flag. Baudin hoisted a French ensign in return, and afterwards raised an English flag forward. The two captains met for an hour that evening and again over breakfast next morning. Flinders knew no French, Robert Brown who accompanied him could speak it though not fluently. Baudin however insisted that they use English, which he spoke “so as to be understood” (which in practice often means ‘so as to be misunderstood’). It is hardly surprising their recollections of what was said differ considerably.

The meeting was friendly, the two captains exchanging information on their explorations. After parting company Flinders sailed south-east along the S.A. and Victorian coasts, spending a week in Port Philip Bay before heading for Port Jackson, which he reached on 9th May.

Baudin pressed on to the west, retracing a coast already charted by Flinders. He was running short of food and drinking water, and his crew was weakened by scurvy. On 8th May, off Cape Adieu (the extent of D’Entrecasteaux’s discoveries nine years before), he at last turned back. After a nightmare passage round Tasmania, in which there were more deaths, he dropped anchor at Port Jackson on 20th June. Investigator had preceded him. Hamelin in the Naturaliste had also been in the port, but had since left in hopes of finding the Géographe in Bass Strait; he returned a week after Baudin’s arrival.

The French wintered at the British settlement, enjoying a warm welcome from Governor King and the colonists. After a five months’ stay they sailed in mid November, calling first at King Island. Here Baudin sent the Naturaliste back to France, her hold crammed with the scientific collections made to date. In her place he had purchased a colonial-built schooner, the Casuarina, for survey work in-shore, and given the command to Lieut. Louis de Freycinet.

Together the Géographe and Casuarina arrived off the eastern tip of Kangaroo Island on 2nd January 1803, and made the first recorded circumnavigation. Hence the predominance of French place-names on the south and west coasts, which Flinders had not seen – D’Estrées and Destaing Bays, Cape Linois, Vivonne Bay, Casuarina Island, Cape Borda and many more.

Baudin remained at anchorage in Flinders’ Nepean Bay for the remainder of January. Kangaroos and emus provided plentiful fresh food, while live specimens, captured with the aid of a hunting dog (named Spot) obtained from Bass Strait sealers, were taken aboard for the long voyage home. The survivors ended their days in the gardens of the Empress Joséphine’s château at Malmaison, near Paris.

The naturalist Francois Péron and his companions studied the island’s flora and fauna, while the crew busied themselves with repairs, building a ship’s boat to replace one lost at King Island, and, as always, collecting firewood and searching for fresh water. One man found time to carve a record of their visit on a large rock beside the beach (Frenchman’s Rock). Mary Beckwith, a young convict girl Baudin had taken on board at Port Jackson, became the first European woman to visit the island.

Freycinet meanwhile had been despatched in the Casuarina to make a running survey of the two Gulfs, Port Lincoln, and lower Eyre Peninsula, but he made no landings. Baudin left Kangaroo Island on the 1st February 1803, made his landfall on the west coast at Streaky Bay, and moved on to Denial Bay, where he remained for three days and sent exploring parties ashore. Capes Vivonne and Thevenard, Murat Bay and Tourville Bay are a reminder of his visit. He met up with Freycinet in King George Sound.

The numerous French place-names (ca. 35) on the state’s south-east coast, around Kangaroo Island, and on the west coast are usually said to have been bestowed by Baudin. This is not the case. The captain made the irretrievable mistake of dying on the homeward voyage, at Mauritius. The maps and charts of the voyage were drawn by Louis de Freycinet after his return to Paris, and the place-names are his responsibility. The prominence these maps give to the Imperial family, generals and Marshals of the Empire, victorious battles, and ministers and statesmen suggests that his selections may have been influenced by his superiors; they would have done nothing to harm his future career in the Navy. The maps also immortalise the officers and scientists of the expedition; only one name is missing – Baudin’s!

None of the South Australian place-names is more merited than Fleurieu Peninsula, honouring Charles Claret de Fleurieu, navigator, hydrographer and statesman. As Louis XVI’s Minister of Marine, Fleurieu had written the sailing instructions for La Pérouse, including a direction to explore the Unknown South Coast. After La Pérouse disappeared, he wrote similar instructions for Admiral Bruny D’Entrecasteaux, also without result. Imprisoned during the Terror, he narrowly escaped the guillotine; later he served as a Councillor of State and adviser to Napoleon. Called on to write Baudin’ s instructions, he again specified the South Coast; again his directions were not followed, and the discovery was made by an Englishman and not a Frenchman. Nonetheless, when he learned of Flinders detention on Mauritius by General Decaen, Fleurieu openly declared that “the indignities imposed on Captain Flinders were without example in the maritime history of civilised nations”.

The British and French voyages each made important contributions to the maritime exploration of the continent, and produced detailed charts of its coastline. Flinders planned to call it Australia, writing to Banks from Mauritius: “the propriety of the name Australia or Terra Australis which I have applied to the whole body of what has generally been called New Holland must be submitted to the Admiralty and the learned in geography“. Banks preferred Terra Australis, and ‘Australia’ did not come into general use until the 1820’s. Flinders’ General Chart of Terra Australis appeared in 1814, three years after Freycinet’s Chart of New Holland; thus the French were first to give the world a more or less ‘complete’ map of the continent, with a few blanks remaining on the north-west coast.

In addition to geographic discovery and hydro graphic surveys, the two expeditions shared similar wide-ranging scientific objectivesBaudin “to study the [country’s] inhabitants, animals, and natural products … and to [procure specimens of] the useful animals and plants” for introduction into France; Flinders to examine the continent’s botany, zoology, and mineralogy. Both carried scientific staff and artists recruited for the purpose. Both can lay claim to significant scientific achievements.

First, the British. Flinders excelled as an hydrographer and cartographer; some of his charts remained in use until World War II. His discovery of the causal relationship between magnetism and compass deviation was of lasting value in navigation. Robert Brown, the naturalist, later became Keeper of Botany at the British Museum. In Australia he collected almost 4000 plant species, and his “Prodromus Florae Novae HoIlandiae” (publ. 1810) helped to transform botanical classification and launched the new science of plant geography. Ferdinand Bauer, Brown’s assistant and a superb botanical artist, came home with a huge portfolio of some 2000 sketches of plants and animals. Now considered the outstanding natural history artist of the 19th century, an exhibition of his animal sketches is on display at the State Library.

Second, the French. Although commonly relegated to a footnote in our history Baudin was an experienced collector-voyager, and his strict regimen ensured the survival of many living animals and plants on the long voyage back to France. A lesser navigator than Flinders, he nonetheless kept his ships at sea off strange coasts for more than two years without significant damage – quite an achievement in itself. The French observations on the Tasmanian aborigines in time were seen as the precursors of Australian anthropology. According to Francois Péron, naturalist and novice anthropologist, the achievements in botany and zoology were no less fundamental – more than 200,000 specimens (seeds, shells, insects, minerals, native artefacts, etc.) were sent home. The Paris Museum reported almost 3,900 species in zoology, and 1500 in botany, had been received, half of them new to science (which seems an extravagant claim [but is not]). Péron’s own observations on marine temperatures were of considerable importance in the emerging science of oceanography.

The work of the artists Lesueur and Petit has already been mentioned. The former returned with about 1500 drawings and sketches, covering natural history subjects, coastal profiles, views of Sydney Cove, and aboriginal scenes – many of these are held today in the Lesueur Collection at the Museum of Natural History at Le Havre. He also provided some beautiful cartouches and vignettes for Louis de Freycinet’s impressive folio maps.

These achievements went largely unrecognised in London and Paris at the time. The war resumed with still greater ferocity in 1803 [15th of May], and science took second place to the struggle for survival. Calling at Mauritius in December 1803 for repairs to his leaky schooner Cumberland (replacing Investigator which was no longer seaworthy), Flinders was detained by the French Governor, General Decaen, first as a suspected spy and later as a prisoner of state, a pawn in the General’s strategic ambitions in the Indian Ocean. He was not released until 1810, shortly before British forces invaded the island – an invasion aided by his sketches of its defences. He died in 1814, aged 40, the day following publication of “A Voyage to Terra Australis“, his own account of his expedition and its discoveries. The Admiralty refused to grant his widow a special pension.

Baudin died in September 1803, aged 49, on Mauritius. He had been ill for some months with TB, and towards the end of the voyage could barely keep the deck. Recent research reveals him as independent-minded, intelligent, and resourceful, a skilled seaman though a stubborn and uncompromising captain. In the 19th century, by contrast, he was generally held to be tyrannical, malicious, uncaring for his crew, and incompetent at sea – the result of a sustained campaign of vilification by François Péron. Given the task of writing the history of the voyage, Péron seized the chance to settle past scores; he mentioned his captain by name once only, when recording his death: “M. Baudin ceased to exist“. Elsewhere he appears simply as ‘our chief’, ‘our commander’, and is variously described as a fool, unbalanced, a poor seaman, a worthless man, etc. A later French explorer, Dumont d’Urville, spoke from experience when he wrote:

“if he had lived, things might have turned out differently; on his return Baudin might have got the advancement and credit due to him, and those who made such a clamour against him would have been silenced, and might even have hurried to ingratiate themselves with him …”

Nearly two centuries later we can observe, though not condone, the personal jealousies and national rivalries of the time, which saw both captains deprived of their due recognition. Flinders at least has been compensated by posterity – not so Baudin. Encounter 2002 gives us the opportunity to acknowledge the very real geographical and scientific achievements of the two expeditions, and to salute their place in our state’s history. We can celebrate the spirit of co-operation which motivated the two captains, and honour their courage and dedication and the endurance of their crews in appalling shipboard conditions. It is almost impossible to imagine what life was like on those leaky, stinking, overcrowded ships, in total isolation from the rest of mankind. Once they left port, Flinders’ and Baudin’s men “vanished trackless into blue immensity”, their whole world the 100 or so feet from stem to stern. In commemorating the Encounter we celebrate them.

Sources Consulted

M. Flinders. A Voyage to Terra Australis undertaken for the purpose of completing the discovery of that vast country, and prosecuted in the years 1801, 1802, and 1803 London, 1814. [Facsimile edn. publ. by Libraries Board of South Australia, Adelaide,1974]

N. Baudin. The Journal of Post Captain Nicolas Baudin … Transl. from the French by Christine Cornell. Adelaide, Libraries Board of South Australia, 1974.

J. Bonnemains et al. eds Baudin in Australian Waters: the Artwork of the French Voyage of Discovery to the Southern Lands 1800-1804. Melbourne, OUP, 1988.

H. M. Cooper. The Unknown Coast: being the explorations of Captain Matthew Flinders, RN~ along the shores of South Australia, 1802. Adelaide, 1953.

F. B. Homer. The French Reconnaissance: Baudin in Australia, 1801-1803. Melbourne U.P., 1987.

G. C. Ingleton. Matthew Flinders: Navigator and Chartmaker. Genesis Publns., 1986.

1802-1803 Explorers, scientists and artists – a peaceful encounter in Australian waters, by Dr Gabriel Bittar

1802-1803 Explorers, scientists and artists – a peaceful encounter in Australian waters

by Dr Gabriel Bittar

À bientôt Seayu Lodge, Kangaroo Island

honours the memory of the brave and dedicated men who, at the very beginning of the 19th century, went on exploration expeditions to a harsh land surrounded by dangerous seas, Terra Australis.

On the 8th of April 1802, two able and courageous sailors, the French Nicolas Baudin and the English Matthew Flinders, met at Encounter Bay. Both were commanding the very first scientific expeditions to Australia, a continent so named by Flinders, an outstanding cartographer. Though their two countries had been at war for a long time (it was a time of revolutionary and imperialistic fervour), they met peacefully, helping each other and exchanging information.

These two expeditions were exemplary not only in putting knowledge above nationalism, but also in their compassionate respect for the local natural environment and its human inhabitants. Baudin displayed an extraordinary respect for the aborigines, and it is this French expedition which launched the new science of anthropology. Despite amazing difficulties, the teams on the French ships (Le Géographe and Le Naturaliste, then later on Le Casuarina) and on H.M.S. Investigator were very successful in their quest for the progress of science, particularly botany and zoology, and they defined the modern standards for natural arts.

 

Exploration in a time of war

On the last year of the 18th century, Napoleon Bonaparte [1769 – 1821], First Consul of France, decided to send to Western and Southern Australia the largest scientific expedition that Europeans had ever made. On 19.10.1800, well-endowed with scientists and under the overall command of the seasoned merchant captain Nicolas(-Thomas) Baudin [StMartin, île de Ré 17.2.1754 – île de France (Mauritius Island) 16.9.1803], the corvettes Le Géographe and Le Naturaliste (the latter captained by Jacques-(Félix‑)Emmanuel Hamelin [1768-1839]), sailed from Le Havre to the far-away shores of Australia.

Both corvettes sighted the coast of Australia near Cape Hamelin on 27.5.1801, and, after passing Cape Naturaliste, landed at Géographe Bay on 30.5.1801.

The corvette Le Naturaliste, was to return to Le Havre on 7.6.1803, under the command of Hamelin, and the corvette Le Géographe was to return France in Lorient, Brittany (Bretagne), on 23.3.1804, under the command of Pierre-Bernard Milius.

When nominated as captain of the scientific expedition, Baudin was renown for having a great deal of experience in botany and zoology, and for knowing how to keep plants and animals alive at sea, having already made for the Austrian Empire four natural history voyages to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

Revolutionary France and Great Britain had been at war for nearly eight years (officially since 1.2.1793) at the time of departure of the two French corvettes. Not unexpectedly, the British followed suit albeit with a smaller expedition, and on 18.7.1801 H.M.Sloop-collier Investigator sailed from Portsmouth under the command of an experienced sailor with first-hand knowledge of Australia, Royal Navy officer Matthew Flinders [16.3.1774 Donington, Lincolnshire – 19.7.1814 London] – who shall decease on the day of the publication of his memoir, “A voyage to Terra Australis”. The botanical genus Flindersia (Rutaceae) has been named in his honour.

Flinders sighted the coast of Australia near Cape Leeuwin on 6.12.1801, and landed 8.12.1801. On 21.3.1802, Flinders was in all likelihood the first European to sight Kanguroo Island, which he named so on his first landing (22.3.1802).

The nearly rotting Investigator was to return back to England in Liverpool on 13.10.1805, but without Flinders, put under house arrest on île de France – war had once again resumed between England and France, after a short lull (treaty of Amiens) from 25.3.1802 to 16.5.1803. He was to return to England only on 24.10.1810.

It is worth noting that during their peaceful encounter on 8-9.4.1802 (in Encounter Bay, to the east of Kangaroo Island), Flinders and Baudin did not know that there was peace at that time between their respective countries. Though ignoring the good news, they nevertheless decided to help each other and to exchange scientific and geographic information.

 

Two scientific expeditions

The main scientific patron of the French expedition was the plant taxonomist Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu [Lyon 12.4.1748 – Paris 17.9.1836], whose family classification of plants is still mostly retained. The navigator and explorer Charles-Pierre Claret de Fleurieu [Lyon 1738 – 1810], who had much expertise of Australia, helped to define the plans for the voyage — the peninsula south of Adelaide has been named after him. The anatomist, zoologist and paleontologist George Cuvier [Montbéliard, Doubs, 23.8.1769 – Paris 13.5.1832], and to a lesser degree the anthropologist and philosopher Joseph-Marie Degérando, also helped to define the scientific program.

The scientific patron of the English expedition was Joseph Banks [London 22.2.1743 – London 19.6.1820], the botanist who had sailed with James Cook [1728-1779] on H.M.Sloop-collier Endeavour in 1768-71. As a matter of fact, he was the scientific driving force behind the commissionning of the Investigator‘s expedition. The Australian genus Banksia (Proteaceae) has been named in his honour.

Both Banks and Jussieu (and Cuvier) were well-known heavy weights in natural history, without them there would have been no scientific expeditions.

One of the main scientists on the French expedition was the zoologist and anthropologist François Péron [Cérilly, Allier (Bourbonnais), 1775 – Cérilly 14.12.1810], who developed during the voyage a keen interest for what was by these times mostly considered as “inferior” and worthless animals (medusas, molluscs, etc.). Actually, the two french scientists, Lamarck and Péron, are the launchers of the modern science of Invertebrates. Péron was an enthusiastic and indefatigable scientist: he had an impact on natural sciences that has been largely overlooked.

The chief scientist on the British expedition was a Scottish army surgeon with a keen interest in botany, Robert Brown [Montrose, Scotland, 21.12.1773 – London 10.6.1858].

Robert Brown returned back to England (13.10.1805) on the Investigator with thousands of samples of organisms, mainly plants. On his return, he became Banks’ curator and librarian. He patiently classified the enormous amount of material he had brought back with him, doing much to further the adoption of A.-L. de Jussieu‘s natural system of plant classification and thus making a great impact on botany. Brown recognised the fundamental division between coniferous plants (Gymnosperms) and flowering plants (Angiosperms), and in 1831-3 he established the existence of a cellular nucleus in vegetal cells as well as in animal cells. All in all, Robert Brown fully deserved the title that the German explorer and natural historian Alexander von Humboldt [1769 – 1859] bestowed on him, “botanicorum facile princeps“.

Last but not least, Brown also contributed to a fundamental observation in science. From the 5th to the 3rd century BCE, the atomist and epicurian philosophers of Ancient Greece (Leucippus, Democritus and Epicurus) had deduced, through logical thinking and simple observation (such as the movement of dust particles which can be seen in a ray of light), that nature was constituted of elementary particles obeying to deterministic laws but also endowed with an unceasing random movement. In the 18th century, the Enlightenment century, this idea was toyed again with, and in 1811 the italian physicist Amedeo Avogadro [1776 – 1856] had proposed a molecular model of nature, but it was not accepted by many scientists.

Enter Brown, who, appointed in 1827 first Keeper of the new Botanical department of the British Museum, observed in the same year the random movement of pollen and other small particles in fluid suspension, and rightly concluded that this movement did not originate from the fluid as such but from the particles themselves. Later on, this interpretation was developed and the continuous random motion of microscopic particles immersed in a fluid was demonstrated as resulting from their bombardment by molecules of the fluid. And from this, it was demonstrated that these molecules themselves, or simple atoms, forming a gas or liquid, were themselves continuously on a random move.

The importance of Brown’s observations was recognised and the random movement of particles in space became known as Brownian movement. Its statistical and thermodynamic study by a stream of enlightened scientists, the German Rudolf Clausius [1822 – 1888], the Scottish James C. Maxwell [1831 – 1879], the Austrian Ludwig Boltzmann [1844 – 1906] and the French Jean Perrin [1870 – 1942], firmly confirmed as indisputable the atomist view of the world that the Antiquity philosophers, from Leucippus to Lucretius (1st century BCE), had so remarkably compounded. At a fundamental level, Brown’s studies firmly confirmed that random processes do happen in nature, thus conceptually paving the way not only to  statistical thermodynamics and quantum mechanics, but also to the Darwinian view of life as a partially random evolutionary process.

 

Natural arts blossomed on both expeditions

Both Péron and Brown were to get along very well with their natural arts companions, respectively Charles-Alexandre Lesueur [Le Havre 1.1778 – Le Havre 12.1846] and Ferdinand(-Lucas) Bauer [20.1.1760 Feldsberg, Österreich (now Valtice in the Czech Republic) – 17.3.1826 Hietzing, Wien].

Ferdinand Bauer had been the illustrator of the Flora Græca, published in 1806 after his Greek expedition of 1786-7 with the botanist John Sibthorp [1758-1796]. On his return to England on the Investigator with Robert Brown (13.10.1805), Bauer brought back his extraordinary collection of more than 2000 sketches plants and animals. The Australian plant Bauera rubioides has been named in honour of this artist with “an exquisite eye”.

After his Australian adventure, brave Lesueur went to America, where his talents again created works of art and science.

 

You will find in the Lodge some reproductions of the magnificent and detailed works of art and science that were done by Bauer and Lesueur.