Nicolas Baudin

Baudin was born at Port La Rochelle, a seaport town on an island off the west coast of France, the fifth child in his family. At age 15, Baudin went to sea as a cabin boy, and when 20, after being a Naval Cadet for 12 months he looked to the French East India Company for a career. In a troop transport en route to India he became a quartermaster, but lasted only two years before disillusionment found him back in France.

With France entering the American War of Independence, he joined up as an Officer, to serve in the Caribbean for a year, then taking command of the sloop Apollon on convoy duty in the English Channel. But once more he was frustrated, when a Nobleman outranking him, grabbed his position as commanding officer, and Baudin quickly resigned to work abroad in the merchant service. He rose to command voyages, emigrants to New Orleans, back loading timber for Nantes, at last his fortunes started to improve. He took Franz Boos, the Austrian Emperor's head gardener on board, and now made a series of botanical expeditions for the Austrians, over 5 years he undertook three voyages to the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Boos taught him about botany, and how to care for animals and plants, during one trip ostriches, zebras, plants and seedlings were all carried and nurtured.

On the day in April 1792 that France went to war against Austria, Baudin had sailed, at his first port of call he tried to rejoin the French Navy, he was not accepted, and the Imperial Ambassador at Madrid learnt about it all, Spanish authorities took over Baudin's ship, and threw him into prison. In the interim, many of his crew left the ship, even after he was released from prison many of his officers were upset by Baudin's actions and resigned. Baudin continued on to the Cape, took Scholl and his collection of Flora and fauna onboard and set sail for New Holland. Baudin and his ship, Jardiniere III were driven northwards by hurricane winds and he was forced to enter Bombay to undertake repairs. But Baudin was unaware that France was also at war with Britain, and he had more crew leave him and the ship, he took on some Indian seamen to fill the gap. Now he gave up any plans to sail to the Far East, and made for the area of the Red Sea and on to East Africa. He obviously had no qualms about the Slave Trade, taking on board slaves from African ports.

As he sailed south to enter Table Bay at the Cape of Good Hope, he again ran into storms, but this time they drove his vessel aground. This became a failed voyage, and Scholl who had been trying to leave the Cape area for some 8 years, now blamed Baudin, he thought the Captain had deliberately put his ship aground so he could dispose of the black slaves. The movements of Baudin after the stranding of his ship are not well documented, he apparently saved a collection of plants and trees from the shipwreck, because he took them to his botanist friend Labarrere at Trinidad. Baudin turned up in the United States, gained a passport from the French Ambassador and via an American ship returned to France.

He now played his experience as A Botanical Voyager card, visiting the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris to lobby Professor Antoine-Laurent Jussieu, within six months the professor and his staff had convinced the Government to charter a small ship to sail to Trinidad to recover the botanical collection left there by Baudin. The Museum chose four scientists to join with Baudin for this trip. This ship, Belle-Angelique set off from Le Havre, and Sir Joseph Banks recommended that this expedition be given safe conduct by the British, very important, recalling that the two countries were at war. After three weeks at sea, the ship ran into a howling gale blowing in from the west, it took all of Baudin's skills as a seaman to save his ship, as he put into Tenerife. Belle-Angelique would sail no more, and her Captain now got hold of a smaller vessel and made for Trinidad, but on arrival, the British would not allow him to land.

Off he went to one of the Virgin Islands, St Thomas, now a Danish colony, the four scientists went fossilling in the volcanic rich area, and Baudin acquired a larger ship, renaming her Belle-Anglique after her namesake. After a 10 week sojourn, the ship moved onto San Juan, and over 9 months Baudin and his party gathered up plants, birds, insects, samples of different species of wood, all in all, a mighty collection from the West Indies. On his way home to France, Baudin was stopped by an English warship, and interrogated on board, in case of his dentention, he prudently told the British Commodore " It would have reflected more glory on you to show favour to an expedition undertaken for the progress of science." He was released, to safely deliver the collection to Paris, which became part of a parade through that city, the crowds amazed at wagons bearing banana and coconut palms, paw paw trees, and many other exotic plants unknown in Europe. As designed, Baudin had made his name, was reinstated into the French Navy, and promoted to Post Captain.

Expedition to New South Wales

In 1800 Baudin was still trying to mount an expedition to tour the world, he wanted to go to the Americas, the Islands of the Pacific, New Holland and the southern parts of Africa, and Baudin appealed directly to General Bonaparte, the leader of the young Republic. Important men such as Jusseiu, Fleurieu and Bouganville all backed this plan, the latter had been the first European explorer to actually sight the Great Barrier Reef off the Australian coast, but his crew were weakened by both scurvy and sickness, and Bouganville had been unable to explore this marvel.

Bonaparte agreed to a less ambitious expedition, two ships under Baudin would explore the coast of New Holland and the southern part of New Guinea. The Republic had wanted for some time to make good the French claims to Southern Australia ahead of the British, from Western Port to Nuyt's Archipelago, which they called Terre Napoleon, and saw Baudin's expedition as a means of finding out whether such a action would be of benefit to France.

The two ships were the 30 gun corvette Geographe, drawing about 15 feet of water, and having the reputation of being a "Fine sailer" but perhaps not as sturdy a ship as needed for a journey across the world's oceans. Her companion ship, Naturaliste, in contrast, a large and strongly built store ship, with a draught similar to Geographe, but with much lesser sailing qualities, which would prove to become quite a problem, as the two ships were to become separated twice during the forthcoming voyage, to cast some doubts on Baudin's reputation as a competent Navigator.

Encounter Bay

Baudin wanted eight officers and 92 crew, plus eight scientists aboard each ship, but on sailing, Geographe, under Baudin, had 118, whilst Naturaliste, under Jacques-Felix-Emmanuel Hamelin (1768-1839), had 120, plus 11 extra seamen who had managed to sneak onboard. On board Naturaliste was Sub-Lt Louis De Freycinet. Overcrowding was soon a problem for the total of 251 aboard these two ships. Important families had lobbied for their sons, nephews, or proteges to join the expedition, and Bouganville had managed to get his 18 year old son a berth, who proved to be quite useless, leaving the journey along with other officers and young gentlemen. Although Baudin only wanted eight scientists for each ship, he was saddled with twenty three astronomers, landscape and portrait artists, geographers, minerologists, botanists, zoologists, gardeners, naval surgeons and a pharmacist.

Encounter Bay

By the time the ships reached Isle de France, the gilt had worn off the expedition for ten of this group, pleading ill health, they left, and Baudin was happy to see them go. He took along in their place two talented illustrators, Charles-Alexander Lesueur and Nicolas-Martin Petit. It was May 1801, before his two ships made a landfall at Cape Leeuwin on the south west corner of Australia, he now spent three months charting the coast of Western Australia and gathering scientific data, but he needed to visit Timor to replenish his ships. He now sailed to the southern parts of the continent, giving many places French names, he called this land Terre Napoleon after his Emperor and approver of his expedition. The east coast of Tasmania was explored, and in April of 1802, he made his now famous meeting with Matthew Flinders at Encounter Bay on the South Australian coast, he was sailing eastwards, whilst Baudin was making westwards, what a chance in millions that these two intrepid, but totally different Navigators, should meet up here in the wild waters south of Australia. Surely one of the most unlikely and historic meetings of all time.

Flinders and Baudin at Encounter Bay

Many of Baudin's company were very ill with scurvy, and he sailed his ships to Botany Bay, seeking the hospitality of Governor King and the English colony, the French were well received, offered medical attention, and provisions, both sorely needed. After recuperating at Port Jackson under the patronage of the beleaguered Governor King, Baudin was keen to continue his explorations. Naturaliste had proved a poor sailer, however, and it was sent home under Hamelin with the expedition's collections and works. A small locally-built schooner Casuarina was purchased in its stead and Freycinet was elevated above others, including his brother Henri, to command.

In continuing along the south coast via Tasmania and then back up the west coast with Baudin in Geographe, Freycinet was a to complete the surveys for many fine charts. These included the Gulfs in southern Australia, the south of western Australia, the mid west, notably Sharks Bay, and Dampier and the Institut Archipelagoes further north. In November 1802, Baudin sailed again, around the southern coastline, up the west coast, once more to Timor. He then he set off for Isle de France (Mauritus), arriving to be quite sick with tuberculosis, Baudin died here in September 1803, only a few weeks before the arrival of his great rival Navigator, Matthew Flinders, who was imprisoned by the French authorities.

Baudin is said to have been shunned by Napoleon because of his failure to claim South Australia for France before Matthew Flinders did. Baudin is said to have been detested and reviled by his officers and staff and also that he died in disgrace. Francois Peron, who wrote the history of the voyage, particularly hated him. He portrayed Baudin as malicious, venal and incompetent. Baudin deserves more credit and recognition than that. The Baudin led expedition had been important in unfolding mysteries about Australia, its Aboriginal people, its fauna and flora, and is remembered for his contribution to scientific knowledge, and his unrelenting quest for seeking new horizons. Their discoveries included some 1500 botanical and 3900 zoological species. That was apparently more specimens and more species new to science than all previous European voyages combined.

Despite the opposition from scientists, many of the plant and animal specimens collected on the voyage and returned to France found their way to the Empress Josephine's garden at Malmaison. There they proved an object of continual fascination as this illustration showing swans, emus and Australian flora at Malmaison on the banks of the Seine indicates. Many specimens were also beautifully illustrated, especially by Pierre Redoute, who also had earlier presented the works of the D'Entrecasteaux expedition to the world. The expedition's assistant gunners Charles-Alexandre Leseur and Nicolas-Martin Petit also stunned Europe with their illustrations of the people and the animal life. Despite publication in Europe, these works and the collections are only now become generally known in Australia, in this year 2001, the Australian Bicentennial of Baudin and Hamelin's visit.

It is fair to say that their images of the flora, fauna and of the Aboriginal people changed the perceptions that followed on from the Dutch and from William Dampier's widely disseminated and predominantly negative reactions to the land and its peoples. That they had a significant and long lasting effect in France is indicated two decades after the voyage when Rose de Freycinet's mother, in advising Rose when she too expressed negative reactions to the people encountered in New Holland that she need 'look at the drawings in Baudin's voyage & and you will have a true idea of these people'.

Thus in the wake of the Dutch and Dampier, the west coast of New Holland and the south and south west coasts were expertly mapped in expeditions led by the French explorers D'Entrecasteaux in 1792, and Baudin in the period 1801-1803. Many places on these coasts now bear French names in honour of expedition members or their supporters, and Louis de Freycinet was an integral part of it all. His Cartes General de la Nouvelle Hollande and Cartes General de la Nouvelle Hollande de la Terre Napoleon, and Carte de la Baie Des Chien-Marins, Sharks Bay de Dampier, are especially notable.

Terre Napoleon, the name given to the entire eastern south coast, did not survive colonisation by the British or the subsequent examination of Flinder's charts, however. These, like together with the unfortunate hydrographer/explorer himself remained in French hands for six years after his imprisonment at Ile De France in 1804. Despite this, Flinder's names have since prevailed over many of the French and it is also now generally accepted that it was he who, in earlier proving that the land mass was one, named the island continent Australia.

It is interesting to reflect at this juncture on the British retention of Beautemps-Beaupre's charts of the D'Entrecasteaux voyages until 1802 to the detriment of Baudin and his cartographers and on the French retention of Flinder's and his charts for a similar length of time until 1810 with the reverse effect for those Britons who followed him. Baudin also reported quite unenthusiastically on the land and for over a decade after the Baudin voyages French interest in the Great Southland waned, partly because of Napoleon's focus on Europe, and the proximity of the British on those parts of the east coast that the French desired. Mauritius (Ile de France) then became the French base in the Indian Ocean. After Trafalgar in 1805 and the British occupation of Mauritius five years later French naval power in the Indian Ocean had all but evaporated.

Other Expedition Team Members

Louis de Freycinet
Francois Peron
Charles-Alexander Lesueur
Nicolas-Martin Petit
Thomas Timothee Vasse