- Dank, Matthew, MIDN
- Biographies and personal histories, Early warships
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 2004 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The Naval Historical Society Naval History Prize for 2004 was awarded to MIDN Matthew Dank, Jervis Division. RANC students were required to write an essay on the subject of a nominated naval person. The students were required to address specific points. The following essay was judged the winner by RANC Staff.
LOUIS ANTOINE DE BOUGAINVILLE was born on 11 November 1729 in Paris. He died 31 August 1811 in Paris. He was a noted French navigator and member of the French naval force that explored and charted areas of the South Pacific.
Significant achievements and failures:
Born into a noble family, his father being a notary, Bougainville began his career as a scientist after abandoning the pursuit of a legal qualification. He was particularly interested and gifted in the field of mathematics, and accomplished his first significant achievement in life by publishing, in 1752, a treatise on the integral calculus as a supplement to de l’Hôpital’s treatise, Des Infiniment Petits. This work led to his election to the Royal Society of London in 1756 and subsequent posting as aide-de-camp to General Louis- Joseph de Montcalm in Quebec.
Having joined the army he was successful tactically in campaigns against the British in l756 (Fort Oswego) and 1757 (Fort William Henry, in North America] and was awarded the Cross of St Louise. Wounded, he travelled to France before returning to Canada and (again) performing valiantly before the general French capitulation of 1761 (ending the Seven Years’ War). His sea voyage transits and the promises of French colonial redemption in the South Pacific led to him joining the Navy and attaining a temporary tenure over part of the Falkland Islands.
His greatest accomplishment was realised with his Pacific voyage of 1766 on board Boudeuse, after having been commissioned by the French government to discover and claim new islands. In 1768 Bougainville sailed west from South America, passing French Polynesia and Tahiti before discovering a reef just to the east of the Great Barrier Reef which now bears his name. He then travelled through the West Solomon Islands discovering the (now named) Bougainville Island and Bougainville Strait. On the voyage the botanist Commerson named a shrubby, climbing deciduous plant bougainvillea in honour of Bougainville.
He technically failed in his voyage to achieve the stated objective of finding propitious new land for colonies. Whilst receiving acclaim on his return to France, he was noted more for the exotic Pacific Utopia his journey conjured, than for contributing to his nation’s academic or strategic advancement.
Several years after his return to France he took command of a naval force with mixed results. Accused of cowardice, he was court-martialled after a French defeat off Martinique in 1782, although he succeeded in rallying eight of his own ships to safety. He escaped massacre during the French Revolution, was promoted to Vice Admiral in 1791, and was subsequently made a senator, count, and member of the Legion of Honour by Napoleon. This capped a distinguished, but under- recognised career. Bougainville died in 1811 in Paris, one of the few explorers to reach old age.
Style of leadership:
Louis Antoine de Bougainville was known to employ a delegation and report-focussed method of command. Coming from a non-naval background Bougainville had relatively little experience at sea prior to his Pacific voyage. Accordingly, he acted as the expedition coordinator and director, allowing the subject matter experts – the ship’s captains – to assume control of piloting the vessels. Whilst not in direct command of aspects of seamanship, he was well-prepared to make unpopular decisions for the better interests of his voyage. In the earlier stages of his trip and before departing the Atlantic, Bougainville carefully constructed the opportunity to purge his ship of the sick and older sailors, who he held might constitute liability to the impending journey.
For an era of inescapable class divisions, Bougainville maintained a relatively egalitarian ethos in his leadership of men. In dealing with the Tahitian people he recognised the intelligence and utility of their point of view, sufficing to satisfy his requirement to treat the individuals with hospitality and respect. He was prepared to potentially forsake his own reputation in defending what he perceived as the just right of decency in his apparently inferior associates. This was evidenced by his production of Atahuru, a Tahitian native, to a French public whose temperament ranged from bemused curiosity to scepticism, and his subsequent defence of the ‘Noble Savage’s’ inability to speak French.