Louis de Freycinet

Louis de Freycinet was born at Montelimar, Drome, into French aristocracy. Louis-Claude de Saulces de Freycinet was his full name (many calling him Louis de Freycinet). He had three brothers, Louis-Henri de Saulces de Freycinet, Andre-Charles de Saulces de Freycinet and the youngest, Frederic-Casimir de Saulces de Freycinet (father of Charles de Freycinet). Louis-Claude was the second oldest. In 1793 he entered the French navy.

After taking part in several engagements against the British, he joined in 1800, along with his brother Louis-Henri de Freycinet (1777 1840), who afterwards rose to the rank of admiral), Nicolas Baudin's expedition to explore the south and south-west coasts of Australia. Much of the ground already gone over by Matthew Flinders was revisited, and new names imposed by this expedition, which claimed credit for discoveries really made by the English navigator. In the end, Baudin (who died in 1803) and Freycinet managed to have their map of the Australian coastline published in 1811, three years before Flinders published his.

Le Casuarina - 1803

After recuperating at Port Jackson under the patronage of Governor King, Baudin was keen to continue his explorations. L'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 Louis de 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 L'Geographe, Freycinet was to complete the surveys from which many fine charts were able to be drawn. These included the Gulfs in southern Australia, the south of western Australia and the mid west.

Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania

L'Uranie - 1818-20

After the death of Baudin at Mauritius, and the return of his ships to France, responsibility for the production of the history of the voyage, fell on Peron and then on the occasion of his death, to Freycinet. The charts mentioned above were completed in this period. When the full report was completed in 1816 he newly-married Freycinet proposed another voyage and was successful in obtaining the support of the Institute of France and King Louis XVIII for it. Freycinet's plan was accepted 'very nearly in its entirety' and he was ordered to sail in the 350 ton, 34m long corvette L'Uranie with its complement of 125 men to Rio de Janiero and Cape Town and from there to south west Australia where he was to examine King George Sound. He was then to sail back west to Cape Leeuwin and to proceed north to Shark Bay to establish an observatory on a parallel of latitude as close as possible to that at Rio De Janiero. In conducting his observations and comparing results, he was thereby to help determine the shape of the earth.

For three years, Freycinet cruised about the Pacific, visiting Australia, the Mariana Islands, Hawaiian Islands, and other Pacific islands, South America, and other places, and, notwithstanding the loss of the Uranie on the Falkland Islands during the return voyage, returned to France with fine collections in all departments of natural history, and with voluminous notes and drawings of the countries visited.

L'Uranie departed Toulon on 17 September, 1817, en route for Australia. The primary aim of the expedition was more scientific than geographic, the emphasis being on studies of terrestrial magnetism and astronomical observation. The passage out took a year, as the French conducted exhaustive pendulum observations and collected specimens of flora and fauna at Rio de Janeiro, the Cape of Good Hope, and Mauritius.

Pencil drawing of a gigantic bird s nest on Dirk Hartog Island, drawn by Adrien Taunay in 1818. State Library of WA

At Dirk Hartog's Island in Shark Bay, Australia, Freycinet recovered the inscribed pewter plate that Willem Vlamingh in 1697 left by de Vlamingh to record his visit there and that of Dirk Hartog, sailing in Eendracht in 1616 (the Vlamingh plate is now in the Western Australian Maritime Museum in Perth). In recognising the importance of the site, Freycinet's chart of the region refers to the site as Cape Inscription.

As Sub Lieutentant on board Le Naturaliste during Baudin's expedition of exploration of the Australian coast in 1802, Freycinet had been sent ashore to conduct surveys of the area. When the ship's chief helmsman found de Vlamingh plate lying half buried in the sand at the top of Cape Inscription, Freycinet recognised its importance and immediately brought it back for the ship's captain, Hamelin, to examine. In objecting to the notion that the plate be removed and taken back with them to France, and in considering that to do otherwise would have been historical 'vandalism', Hamelin had Vlamingh's plate and a plate of his own re-erected on new posts, the first at the Dutch explorer's site and the second at an as yet undetermined location. Freycinet disapproved, feeling that it should have been removed for safekeeping in France, but was too junior to prevent the return of the relic to its original site on the headland. For this reason, he made sure a visit to Shark Bay was included in the L'Uranie expedition, so as to recover Vlamingh's plate and bring it back to France with him, which he subsequently did.

From Australia, L'Uranie sailed to Dutch and Portuguese Timor and the Moluccas where the crew were afflicted with dysentery and, despite the frequent stops, scurvy. On 18 March, 1819, L'Uranie arrived at the Spanish outpost on Guam, in the Mariana Islands, where the crew recuperated and the young Lieutenant Louis Duperrey (who later commanded two expeditions in L'Astrolabe) conducted surveys of the island. In May, the ship headed for Hawaii, arriving in early August to an enthusiastic welcome by the Hawaiians and the fledgling European community in Honolulu. Sailing south and southwest, L'Uranie arrived at Sydney, New South Wales, where the French spent six weeks as guests of the Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

Notwithstanding the loss of the Uranie on the Falkland Islands in 1820 during the return voyage, the expedition returned to France with fine collections in all departments of natural history, and with voluminous notes and drawings of the countries visited. The results of this voyage were published under Freycinet's supervision, with the title of Voyage autour du monde fait par ordre du Roi sur les corvettes de S. M. l'Uranie et la Physicienne, pendant les annees 1817, 1818, 1819 et 1820, in 13 quarto volumes and 4 folio volumes of plates and maps.

Rose de Freycinet

Among the ship's company was Rose de Freycinet, the captain's wife who was disguised as a midshipman until the ship reached Gibraltar. She went on board on 16 September 1817; report of her presence reached the French media soon after, leading to sensational reports in the press and "indignation in official circles." The presence of women aboard Navy vessels was illegal, and it is possible that the Navy, the Ministry of the Interior, and the press learned of Rose's presence from an officer who was removed to make way for her. At any rate, Rose initially dressed as a man, and even visited the governor of Gibraltar dressed in "a blue frock-coat with trousers to match."

By the time the Uranie had reached Gibraltar, Rose knew her passage was safe and she emerged in her finery as the commander's wife. Rose's presence on the voyage was omitted from all official reports and erased from sketches. It was a huge risk to her husband's naval career to have her on board and the less that was made of it the better.

Rose de Freycinet became the first woman to write an account of her experiences circumnavigating the world as European women did not visit this part of the world in the early 19th century. Her diary provides a unique female perspective on the Age of Sail and the early days of the Sydney colony in particular. Being not intended for publication and being both frank and personal musings about people, places and events, her writings represent an important anthropological resource.

An example of her candid views of the whole experience is her recollection of a day in September 1818 when she sat on the rocks of Shark Bay, Western Australia, glass of wine in hand, and shucking oysters. She later wrote in her journal, 'Certainly those I have eaten in Paris at table in comfort did not seem so good as those I ate seated on a rock, my glass and my plate on the sand.'

Durmond d'Urville

The Freycinet Collection: State Library of WA
Terre Napoleon; a History of French Explorations and Projects in Australia by Scott
Journeys of Enlightenment: Rose de Freycinet
Journeys of Enlightenment: Rose and Louis de Freycinet in the Uranie