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Louis Claude de Saulces de Freycinet

1779 – 1841

Louis-Claude Desaulses de Freycinet (1779–1842), hydrographer and cartographer, sailed with Nicolas Baudin on the Expédition aux terres australes, a journey of discovery, commissioned by Napoléon, to the unknown southern coast of New Holland. Comprising the Géographe and Naturaliste, at sea from October 1800 to March 1804, and carrying 22 scientists, the expedition – a follow-up to previous ventures by La Pérouse and d’Entrecasteaux – reached the Australian continent in May 1801. Baudin was on the Géographe; Freycinet was on the Naturaliste, commanded by Jacques Hamelin. From December 1801 the Englishman Matthew Flinders was also nosing along the ‘unknown coast’ on the Investigator. Baudin and Flinders met on 8 April 1802 at Encounter Bay (south of the current Adelaide) and Flinders told Baudin about food and water available on Kangaroo Island. Later, the men met at Port Jackson. There, Baudin bought a shallow-bottomed schooner called Casuarina and put Freycinet in charge of it. Freycinet set off again in November, and sailed west of King Island (where the English, knowing Baudin was coming, had hoisted a flag in a tree), charting the southern coast. In February 1803 he met up again with Baudin and sailed with him from King George Sound, at the very bottom of Western Australia, up the west coast and on to Timor. Flinders completed his circumnavigation of the continent in Port Jackson in June 1803. Baudin died in Mauritius in September 1803. Leaving the Casuarina in Mauritius, Freycinet reached France on the Géographe in March 1804, with a cargo of live animals and birds for the Empress Josephine and thousands of specimens of plants, seeds and insects. From December 1803 to June 1810 Flinders was detained by the French on Mauritius; he was not able to publish his Voyage to Terra Australis until 14 July 1814, the day before his death in England.

While Flinders was on Mauritius, the first volume of the account of Baudin’s voyage, assembled by the zoologist Francois Péron, was published in 1807. This volume contained portraits of people of the Cadigal, Dharawal, Gweagal, Kurringai and Darug language groups of the Sydney Harbour region by Nicolas-Martin Petit (acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 2009). Funds were insufficient to publish maps in the first volume. Péron died in 1810. Freycinet was responsible for the second volume of the Atlas of Baudin’s voyage, published in 1811, which was full of maps, beautifully illustrated with Australian flora and fauna by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur. Freycinet’s Carte Genérale de la Nouvelle Hollande named the area between Western Port, Victoria to the islands off Ceduna, South Australia ‘Terre Napoléon’, assigned French names to locations along the way and made no mention of Flinders’s prior discoveries, with the result that it appeared that the French voyage predated the Englishman’s. (In fact, Freycinet barely mentioned Baudin, either.) By the time the second edition of Freycinet’s Atlas was published in 1824 – ten years after the publication of Flinders’s account, and nine years after Napoléon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo – he had replaced many of the French names along Australia’s southern coast with English ones: for example Golfe Bonaparte was re-named Spencer Gulf, and Isle Decres was renamed Kangaroo Island.

Freycinet was to return to Shark Bay and make a thorough survey of the area in September 1818, while commander of the Uranie (on which he famously smuggled his wife, Rose). After sailing to Timor, New Guinea and Hawaii, at the end of 1818 the Uranie stopped for a month in Port Jackson. During this period, his scientists ventured inland to the Blue Mountains. He survived Uranie’s wreckage on the Falkland Islands, negotiating the purchase of another ship and returning to France in November 1820. There, he supervised the publication of the stupendous Voyage autour du monde fait par ordre du Roi sur les corvettes de S. M. l'Uranie et la Physicienne, pendant les années 1817, 1818, 1819 et 1820; co-founded the Paris Geographical Society; and became a member of the French Academy of Sciences. Working on accounts of his voyages for much of the rest of his life, he died at his family’s Château de Freycinet, Drôme at the age of 63. The Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania is named in his honour, as is Cape Freycinet between Cape Leeuwin and Cape Naturaliste.

Updated 2019
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