- Grose, Kelvin
- 19th century wars, History - pre-Federation
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2005 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The French have been interested in Australia and the Pacific since the reign of Louis XIV. La Perouse’s Pacific exploration was almost completed when Louis XVI ordered him to Botany Bay to report on Britain’s infant convict colony. Had the French not been so inquisitive, La Perouse and his ships probably would have survived the hazards of exploration and returned to France.
Admiral Bruny d’Entrecasteaux was sent out to find out what happened to La Perouse. Edward Duyker and Maryse Duyker’s translation of Bruny’s journal, edited by E.P.E de Rossel, Voyage of d’Entrecasteaux in Search of La Perouse, and published in Paris in 1808, gives an account of what happened to the expedition. This work of the Duyker’s is the first English translation of de Rossel’s volumes since that voyage, nearly two hundred years ago.
La Perouse was not the first Frenchman to visit Australia, even though he arrived almost simultaneously with the First Fleet in January 1788. This honour must go to Francois de Sainte-Allouam, commander of the Gros Venire. This gentleman was the other half of the Yves de Kerguelen expedition, which left Île de France on 1 May 1771. Kerguelen discovered the island named after him (which Cook called Desolation Island), deep in the Indian Ocean (close to where the Bristol yachtsman was rescued by the Royal Australian Navy), halfway between Australia and South Africa. While Kerguelen lost the plot in the fog and ice, Louis Francois Marie Alleno de Sainte-Allouam sailed east, reached Cape Leeuwin 18 March 1772, sailed north and anchored in Dirk Hartog Island’s charming Turtle Bay, on the lee side of that island. While he waited in vain for Kerguelen to arrive, he took possession of the west coast of Australia for the King of France by burying a bottle at the foot of a tree, together with two French coins. (Cook had earlier taken possession of the east coast of Australia for George III on 21 August 1770 on Possession Island, in Torres Strait). The tree was a stone’s throw away from Inscription Point, where Dirk Hartog nailed his famous plate. In January 1998, a team led by M. Phillipe Godard of Noumea and Max Cramer of Geraldton found one of those coins on Dirk Hartog Island, and in April 1999, a Western Australian Maritime Museum team located the annexation bottle containing the document recording the act of possession.
The visit of the three-and-a-half-year long Baudin expedition to Australia, which left Le Havre on 19 October 1800, was the most thorough exploration of Australia ever undertaken by the French. Although Napoleon was highly critical of Baudin’s efforts, the achievements of this expedition were considerable. Baudin died at Île de France on 16 September 1803 but the remainder of the expedition brought back a wealth of geographical detail, maps, charts, natural history, together with an astonishing cargo of specimens, plants and animals, including two live kangaroos for the Empress Josephine and 200 trees for her garden.
The Naval Historical Society of Australia should have an excursion to La Perouse to view the magnificent collection that NPWLS have set up in their Museum there, and also to visit Pére Receveur’s grave. He was chaplain-scientist with La Perouse, and died 17 February 1788 at Botany Bay, the first Frenchman ever buried on Australian soil. Currently, there is a display on La Perouse in the Dixson Gallery.
Our Society should also visit the Mitchell Library and view the magnificent publications of the Baudin expedition kept in the Rare Book Room of the State Library. They are quite mind-boggling. We could compare them with Matthew Flinders’ Voyage to Terra Australis. The two expeditions met at Encounter Bay on 7 April 1802.
In that way we might better appreciate why Lord Nelson sacrificed his life to defeat the French and Spanish fleets, and why Matthew Flinders gave his life in a similar cause, against the efforts of France to exact revenge for their losses in the Seven Years’ War, not to mention Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt. As Napoleon put it to General Augereau, “We have ten centuries of wrongs to avenge” ((Renee Maine, Trafalgar, Thames and Hudson, London, 1957, p.59)). And to Ganteaume, never have their soldiers and sailors risked their lives in such a magnificent cause! Meaning the Invasion of England.