You will make up this collection of living animals of all kinds, insects, and especially of birds with beautiful plumage. As regards animals, I don’t need to tell you how to choose between those intended for the menageries and those for a collection of pure pleasure. You will appreciate that it must comprise flowers, shrubs, seeds, shells, precious stones, timber for fine works of marquetry, insects, butterflies, etc.
– Napoleon Bonaparte
Scientific curiosity, commercial interests and politics motivated further exploration of the South. In the Treaty of Paris, 1763, France had ceded most of her colonial possessions in India, Canada and the Caribbean as well as giving the British the dominant hand in North America.Like the English, the French sought new geographical discoveries and commercial opportunities to restore France’s place as a world power and to restore a sense of national pride.
Louis-Antoine de Bougainville (1729–1811) took up the challenge to find the great southern continent, but after reaching Tahiti and the Hebrides he stopped short of the Queensland coast.
Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne sailed from Mauritius to Tasmania in 1772, but did not find mainland Australia. He turned east, instead, to New Zealand where he and a number of his crew were killed and eaten by Maoris.
Louis François Marie Aleno de Saint Aloüarn reached the coast of western Australia at Flinders Bay on the eastern side of Cape Leeuwin in early 1772. After exploring and charting the area, he raised the French flag and claimed a section of the coast for Louis XV. Saint Alloüarn surveyed much of the western Australian coastline up to near present-day Darwin. He claimed Australia's western coastline for France in the name of Louis XV, before heading to Timor.
Race for Terra Australis
Supported by Napoleon, in 1800 an expedition was launched to discover more of the southern land mass – specifically to chart the unknown southern coast of New Holland. On hearing of this, the English launched an expedition of their own.
Matthew Flinders and Nicolas Baudin were the two captains set against each other in a race to chart the unknown south coast of New Holland and claim it for their respective countries. Despite the long history of political and military rivalry between Britain and France, the scientific communities of Europe shared a sense of solidarity and exchange at the end of the eighteenth century in their common desire to advance knowledge. The voyages took place during the time of the Revolution and Napoleon’s rise to power. In spite of the atmosphere of political and military distrust, the British issued Baudin’s expedition with a passport guaranteeing safe passage in the event of an encounter with a British vessel. The French, likewise, granted the same free passage to Flinders’ ship, the Investigator
Baudin’s ships, Géographe
, departed from Le Havre on 19 October 1800 with a large crew of scientists that included zoologist François Péron (1775–1810) and cartographer and naturalist Louis de Freycinet (1779–1842), who would play a large part in how Baudin’s voyage was to be seen by history.
Matthew Flinders departed on 18 July 1801.
Flinders, just 26 years old, had married a couple of months earlier. His attempts to smuggle his new wife on board, with the idea of leaving her in the new colony of Port Jackson while he undertook his explorations, were scuppered by Joseph Banks. On hearing of Flinders’ intentions, Banks threatened the full discipline of the Navy and removal of Flinders’ command. Flinders was forced to leave his new wife behind.
Baudin’s ships were beset with problems of order and discipline, animosity, rivalry, disunity and illness, but reached the Australian continent first in May 1801. They rounded Cape Leeuwin and made their way to Tasmania where they spent ten weeks exploring, having numerous encounters with the Indigenous population.
The drawings of artists Charles-Alexandre Lesueur and Nicolas-Martin Petit, who had begun the journey as assistant gunners, were among the first to record the appearance and practices of the Indigenous people of Australia.
crossed Bass Strait in March to Wilsons Promontory. Some of this area had been roughly charted by George Bass in 1798 and Lt. James Grant in 1800. Baudin conducted a thorough survey of the coastline. From Mt Schanck, he began to chart coastline previously unseen by Europeans.
Flinders, meanwhile, had arrived in Australia and charted the southern coast from Cape Leeuwin along the Great Australian Bight. The two parties met at what became known as Encounter Bay on 8 April 1802.
‘If we had not been kept so long picking up shells and catching butterflies in Van Diemen's Land, you would not have discovered the South Coast before us,’ Louis de Freycinet later told Flinders.
Both Flinders and Baudin continued exploration following their encounter, eventually making their way back to Port Jackson in the winter of 1802. Baudin found the crew of Naturaliste
there already, having made their way directly from Tasmania. They rested, reprovisioned and restored their ships. The captains had the opportunity to share their charts and observations and mark the extent of discoveries claimed by each party.Géographe
was to return to France with a total of seventy-two living Australian animals, including a rare dwarf emu and thousands of botanical specimens. Naturaliste
returned in 1804 with more than 100,000 specimens.