The fact that an expedition sent out for discovery purposes, and which named a considerable extent of the coast-line traversed after the Emperor who had enabled it to be despatched, had to depend upon a manuscript accidentally obtained from a captured British merchant ship for a chart of the principal port in the territory so flauntingly denominated, hardly calls for comment. But even when we are in possession of this information, we are still left in some doubt as to whether the French had not some sort of a drawing of Port Phillip before they left Sydney. Otherwise the course pursued by their commodore after quitting that port is quite unaccountable. The following reasons induce that belief.
When Baudin bade an affectionate and grateful farewell to Governor King at Sydney on November 18, he sailed direct to King Island, which is situated in Bass Strait, on the 40th parallel of south latitude, about midway between the south-east of Cape Otway and the north-west corner of Tasmania. Le Geographe was accompanied by Le Naturaliste and the little Casuarina. A camp was established on the island, which was fully charted. Baudin had missed it on his former voyage, though he had sailed within a few miles of it. It will be remembered that when Flinders conversed with him in Encounter Bay, and "inquired concerning a large island said to lie in the western entrance of Bass Strait," Baudin said he had not seen it, "and seemed to doubt much of its existence."* (*Flinders, Voyage 1 188.) But Flinders found it easily enough, and spent a little time there before entering Port Phillip. It was doubtless this inquiry of Flinders that induced Baudin to mark down on his chart a purely fictitious island far westward of the actual one, and to inscribe against it the words, "it is believed that an island exists in this latitude."* (* "On croit qu'il existe une ile par cette latitude." See the chart, a little west of Cape Bridgewater (Cap Duquesne).)
As Baudin afterwards found the real island, it is curious that the imaginary one should have been kept upon his chart; but there is a reason for that also. While the French lay at King Island, most of the work done up to date—geographical, zoological, and other—was collected and sent back to France on Le Naturaliste; Le Geographe and the Casuarina remaining to finish the exploratory voyage. Le Naturaliste sailed for Europe on December 16, and entered the port of Havre on June 6, 1803. Had Baudin lived to return to France, and to supervise the completion of the charts, it is most probable that he would have erased the island which was merely supposed, as he had since charted the real one; but Freycinet, not having been present at the meeting with Flinders, and knowing nothing of the reason which induced Baudin to set it down, left it there—a quaint little fragment of corroboration of the truth of Flinders' narrative of the Encounter Bay incident.
Now, when at the end of December Le Geographe and the Casuarina sailed from King Island—the naturalists having in the interval profitably enjoyed themselves in collecting plants, insects, and marine specimens—they made direct for Kangaroo Island, four hundred miles away, to resume the work which had been commenced in the gulfs in the previous April and May. The whole of the movements of the ships up to this time are to be read in the printed logs appended to volume 3 of the Voyage de Decouvertes. Baudin made no call at Port Phillip, nor did one of his three vessels visit the harbour either before or after reaching King Island. But by this time Baudin knew all about the port, and it is surely difficult to suppose that he would have sailed straight past it in December unless at length he had it marked on his rough charts. His officers knew about it too, though none of them had seen it; for Captain Hamelin of Le Naturaliste reported when he reached Paris, that, as he left King Island, he met and spoke to "an English goelette on her way to Port Philips [sic], south-east coast."* (* Moniteur, 27 Thermidor.) It was the Cumberland, Lieutenant Charles Robbins, bound on a mission to be explained later.
It seems reasonable to assume that when Le Naturaliste sailed for France on December 16, and the two other ships for Kangaroo Island later in the same month, Baudin was quite satisfied that he had in his possession as complete a representation of the whole of the Terre Napoleon coasts westward to the gulfs, as would justify him in resuming the work from that situation. Clearly, then, he obtained a Port Phillip drawing of some kind before he left Sydney.
From what source could Baudin have obtained such a chart, however rough and partial?
Up to the time when he lay at Port Jackson, only two ships had ever entered Port Phillip. These were the Lady Nelson, under Murray's command, in February 1802—the harbour having been discovered in the previous month—and the Investigator, under Flinders, in April and May. No other keels had, from the moment of the discovery until Baudin's vessels finally left these coasts, breasted the broad expanse of waters at the head of which the great city of Melbourne now stands. The next ship to pass the heads was the Cumberland, which, early in 1803, entered with Surveyor Grimes on board, to make the first complete survey of the port. But by that time Baudin was far away. From one or other of the two available sources, therefore, Baudin must have obtained a drawing, assuming that he did obtain one in Sydney; and if he did not, his sailing past the port, when he had an opportunity of entering it in December, was surely as extraordinary a piece of wilful negligence as is to be found in the annals of exploration.
It is possible that Baudin or one of his officers saw some drawing made on the Lady Nelson. If they saw one made by Murray himself, it is not likely to have been a very good one. Murray was not a skilled cartographer. Governor King, who liked him, and wished to secure promotion for him, had to confess in writing to the Duke of Portland, that he did not "possess the qualities of an astronomer and surveyor," which was putting the matter in a very friendly fashion. If a chart or crude drawing by Murray had been obtained, Freycinet might still be glad to get the Fame chart which he used.
Both in his book and his correspondence Flinders mentions having shown charts to Baudin; and though the French commodore did not reciprocate by showing any of his work to Flinders, we may fairly regard that as due to reluctance to challenge comparisons. Flinders was without a rival in his generation for the beauty, completeness, and accuracy of his hydrographical work, and Captain Baudin's excuses probably sprang from pride. The reason he gave was that his charts were to be finished in Paris. But there was nothing to prevent his showing the preliminary drawings to Flinders, and as a fact he had shown them to King. If Flinders had had a sight of them he would have detected at a glance the absence of any indication of Port Phillip. But we learn from the Moniteur of 27 Thermidor, Revolutionary Year 11 (August 15, 1803), which published a progress report of the expedition, that the charts sent home by Baudin were very rough. Part of the coast was described as being "figuree assez grossierement et sans details."
Flinders, it should be explained, did not publish the chart which he made when he entered Port Phillip with the Investigator, because by the time when he was preparing his work for publication, a copy of the complete survey chart made by Grimes had been supplied to him by the Admiralty. He used Grimes's drawing in preference to his own—acknowledging the authorship, of course—because when he found Port Phillip he was not in a position to examine it thoroughly. His supplies, after his long voyage, had become depleted, and he could not delay.
It is most likely that the French learnt of the existence of Port Phillip from Flinders, though not at all likely that they were able to obtain a copy of his drawing. If Baudin got one at all, it must have been Murray's.
Freycinet did not acknowledge on any of his charts the source whence he obtained his Port Phillip drawing. Obviously, it would have been honest to do so. All he did was to insert two lines at the bottom of the page in that part of volume 3 dealing with navigation details, where very few readers would observe the reference.
There remains the question: Why did General Decaen keep Flinders' third log-book when restoring to him all his other papers? The reason suggested by Flinders himself is probably the right one: that the governor retained it in order that he might be better able to justify himself to Napoleon in case he was blamed for disregarding the passport. He "did not choose to have his accusations disproved by the production either of the original or of an authenticated copy." It is difficult to see what other motive Decaen can have had. The sheer cantankerous desire to annoy and injure a man who had angered him can hardly have been so strong within him as even to cause a disregard of the common proprietary rights of his prisoner. The book could have been of no use to Decaen for any other purpose. Its contents had no bearing on the Terre Napoleon coasts, as they related to a period subsequent to Flinders' voyage there. Doubtless the book showed why the Cumberland called at Mauritius, but the reason for that was palpable. The idea that a leaky twenty-nine ton schooner, with her pumps out of gear, could have put into Port Louis with any aggressive intent against the great French nation, which had a powerful squadron under Admiral Linois in the Indian Ocean, was too absurd for consideration. But Decaen was plainly hunting for reasons for detaining Flinders, and it is possible that he found a shred of justification in the despatches which the Cumberland was carrying from Governor King to the British Government; though the protracted character of the imprisonment, after every other member of the ship's company had been set free, cannot have been due to that motive.
It is most probable that representations made to Decaen by Peron, before Le Geographe sailed, had an effect upon the mind of the governor which induced him to regard any ship flying the British flag as an enemy to French policy. Peron, from what he had seen of the growth of Port Jackson, and from the prompt audacity and pugnacious assertiveness of an incident which occurred at King Island—to be described in the ninth chapter—had conceived an inflated idea of the enormity of British pretensions in the southern hemisphere. He was convinced that, using the Sydney settlement as a base of operations, the British intended to dominate the whole Pacific Ocean, even to the degree of menacing the Spanish colonies of South America. On 20th Frimaire, Revolutionary Year 12 (December 11, 1803), four days before Le Geographe sailed from the island, Peron set his views on paper in a report to Decaen, stating that his interviews with officers, magistrates, clergymen, and other classes of people in Sydney, had convinced him that his anticipations were well founded. He pointed out that already the English were extending their operations to the Sandwich, Friendly, Society, Navigator, and other islands of the South Pacific; that at Norfolk Island they had a colony of between fifteen hundred and sixteen hundred people, and found its timber to be of great value for shipbuilding; and that gradually the British Government, by extending their military posts and trading stations across the ocean, would sooner or later establish themselves within striking distance of Chili and Peru.* (* Peron's report to General Decaen is given in M. Henri Prentout's valuable treatise, L'Ile de France sous Decaen, 1803 to 1810; essai sur la politique coloniale du premier empire, Paris 1901 page 380. M. Prentout's book is extremely fair, and, based as it is mainly upon the voluminous papers of General Decaen, preserved in his native town of Caen, is authoritative.) Peron pointed to the political insecurity of the Spanish-American colonies, and predicted that the outbreak of revolution in them, possibly with the connivance of the English, would further the deep designs of that absorbent and dominating nation.* (* A French author of later date, Prevost-Paradol (La France Nouvelle, published in 1868), predicted that some day "a new Monroe doctrine would forbid old Europe, in the name of the United States of Australia, to put foot upon an isle of the Pacific.")
Decaen was pondering over Peron's inflammatory memorandum when the lame little Cumberland staggered into Port Louis. Here, a victim ready to hand, was one of the instruments of the extension of British dominion, the foremost explorer in the service of the British Crown. True, Flinders had a passport from the French Government, but it was made out, not for the Cumberland but for the Investigator. To take advantage of such a point, when the Investigator had had to be abandoned as unseaworthy, was manifestly to seize the flimsiest pretext for imprisoning the man whom the winds and waves had brought within his power.* (* "C'etait une chicane," says M. Henri Prentout, page 382.) But Decaen was in the temper for regarding the English navigator as a spy, and he imprisoned him first and looked for evidence to justify himself afterwards. He had just read Peron's report; and "it was not unnatural," says a learned French historian somewhat naively, "that the Captain-General should attribute to the English savant the intention of playing at Port Louis the role that our naturalist had played at Port Jackson."* (* Ibid.) The imputation is unjust to Peron, who had not "spied" in Port Jackson, because the English there had manifested no disposition to conceal. Nothing that he reported was what the Government had wished him not to see; they had helped him to see all that he desired; and his preposterous political inferences, though devoid of foundation, hardly amounted to a positive breach of hospitality. Besides, had Decaen feared that the release of Flinders would be dangerous because he might report the weak state of the defences of the island, the same would have applied to the liberation of the junior officers and men of the Cumberland. They, however, were permitted to return to England after a brief period of detention.
Decaen also alleged that Flinders was personally rude to him in presenting himself before him "le chapeau sur la tete." Flinders was undoubtedly smarting under a sense of wrong at the time, but discourtesy was by no means a feature of his character; and to imprison a man for six and a half years for not taking his hat off would have been queer conduct from a son of the Revolution!
But Decaen's reasons for his treatment of his captive were not consistent with themselves. He gave quite another set in a report to his Government, alleging that the detention of Flinders was justified as a measure of reprisals on account of the action of the English at Pondicherry and the Cape; and, entirely in the manner of a man looking for a shred of justification for doing the unjustifiable, he alleged that vigorous aggressive action on his part was necessary, because it was evident to him that the English meant to absorb the whole commerce of the Indian Ocean, the Pacific, and the China Sea, basing his statements on the report of Peron, of which he sent a copy to Paris. Not only did he represent that the British intended to annihilate French power in India, and supplant Spanish authority in South America, but he regarded their repeated visits to Timor, their action in regard to Java in 1798, and their establishment at Penang, off the Malay Peninsula, as clear evidence that the "greedy and devouring jaws" of the English lion were ready to swallow the Dutch East Indies likewise. How these nefarious designs afforded a reason for imprisoning Matthew Flinders is not apparent; but Decaen was pleading for the despatch of troops to enable him to make an effective attack upon the English in India,* (* Prentout, page 383.) and he seemed to suppose that the holding up of the explorer would give satisfaction in Paris, and further the accomplishment of his plans.
In October 1810, only three months after the liberation of Flinders, the Isle of France was closely blockaded by a British squadron under Vice-Admiral Bertie. In December, General Decaen agreed to capitulate, and Major-General Abercromby took possession of the island, which has ever since been a British dependency. It is unfortunate that the British officers did not at this time remember that Decaen had kept Flinders' third log-book. He had written to Vice-Admiral Bertie from the Cape of Good Hope, in July 1810, requesting that "if any occurrences should put General Decaen within his power," he would demand the volume from him. But the request was overlooked, "in the tumult of events," when the capitulation took place.* (* Flinders, letter to the Admiralty, in Historical Records of New South Wales 7 529.) It is, however, significant of the honour in which naval men held the intrepid navigator, that after the capitulation the British officers refused to dine with Decaen, on account of his treatment of Flinders.* (* Souvenirs d'un vieux colon, quoted by Prentout, page 660.) It was not the first time that gentlemen wearing the naval uniform of England had refused to eat at his table.
On January 6, 1811, a French schooner was captured bearing despatches from France. Amongst them was a despatch informing Decaen that Napoleon had superseded him in the governorship.* (* Naval Chronicle volume 25 337.) Before he could obey the summons to France, the British had captured the island and sent him home. It is scarcely likely that the Emperor's order of recall was due to disapproval of Decaen's conduct in continuing Flinders' imprisonment after the French Government had ordered his release, although there is in existence a decree signed by Napoleon, dated March 11, 1806, "authorising the Minister of Marine to restore his ship to Captain Flinders of the English schooner Cumberland."* (* The document is in the Archives Nationales, Paris (AP. 4 pl. 1260, n. 47). The author is indebted for this fact to Dr. Charles Schmidt, the archivist at the Archives Nationales, through the courtesy of Mr. F.M. Bladen, of the Public Library, Sydney. Dr. Schmidt has also supplied the information that this is "the only document concerning Captain Flinders in our possession." "Concerning the voyages of Peron and Freycinet, I have found nothing in the Archives," he adds.) As Flinders was not released till July 1810, Decaen certainly did disregard the Emperor's command for three years—from July 1807, when the decree was received by him, though it is to be remembered that he restored the trunk of papers in the very next month (August). But Napoleon had signified to Decaen's aide-de-camp, Barois—who was sent to France in 1804 with special instructions to mention the Flinders affair to the Emperor—that he approved of what the general had done;* (* Prentout, page 393. "Napoleon parut approuver les raisons que Barois invoquait pour justifier la conduite de Decaen.") and Napoleon was scarcely likely to be gravely concerned about the calamities of an English sea captain at that particular time. It is true that between 1804 and the release, Sir Joseph Banks and other influential men in the world of learning had been active in urging the liberation of the navigator. The venerable Bougainville was one of these. It is also true that Napoleon prided himself on his interest in scientific work. But Decaen had been a good servant, placed in a difficult situation, where there was much responsibility and little glory to be won; and even if the Emperor had felt annoyed at the disregard of orders, the matter did not affect his major lines of policy, and Decaen was safe in reckoning that the Imperial displeasure would not be severely displayed. But why he risked giving offence to Napoleon at all by the disregard of orders, there is, it would seem, nothing in Decaen's papers to show. M. Prentout, who has studied them carefully, is driven back on the suggestion that the prolongation of the captivity was due to "entetement"—stubbornness. But it cost the administration four hundred and fifty francs per month to maintain Flinders,* (* Prentout, page 382.) and it seems improbable, when the finances of the island were difficult to adjust and severe economies were enforced, that Decaen, an economical man, would have kept up this expense year after year, disregarding alike the protests of the prisoner, the demands of Lord Wellesley and Admiral Pellew, and later, the direct orders of the French Government, unless some influence were at work and some practical interest furnished a motive. The obstinacy of Decaen is not a sufficient reason. We know, however, that it suited Freycinet very well to have Flinders detained till he could get his own charts ready, and that his atlas was precipitately published in the first instance. The connection between these occurrences and Decaen's cruel perversity must, in the absence of clear proof, be bridged by inference, if at all.
Napoleon was, however, a soldier after all—much else as well, but a soldier first and foremost; and so was Decaen. When the general returned to France, his Imperial master had urgent need for stern, stubborn, fighting men of his type. He submitted to a court-martial* (* "Un conseil d'enquete." Biographie Universelle 10 248.) in reference to the surrender of Mauritius, but was exonerated. The discretion that he had exercised in not obeying the decree for the liberation of Flinders was evidently not made the ground of serious complaint against him, for in 1813 we find him commanding the army of Catalonia, participating gallantly in the campaign of the Pyrenees, and distinguishing himself at Barcelona under Marshal Suchet. For this service he was made a Comte of the Empire. When Napoleon was banished to Elba the Comte Decaen donned the white cockade, and took service under Louis XVIII, but on the return of his old master he, like Ney and some other of the tough warriors of the First Empire, forswore his fidelity to the Bourbons. He was one of the generals left to guard the southern frontiers of France while Napoleon played his last stake for dominion in the terrific war game that ended with the cataclysm of Waterloo. That event terminated Decaen's military course. For a while he was imprisoned, but his life was not taken, as was that of the gallant Ney; and in a few months he was liberated at the instance of the Duchesse d'Angouleme. Thenceforth he lived a colourless, quiet, penurious life in the vicinity of his native Caen, regretting not at all, one fancies, the ruin of the useful career of the enterprising English navigator. His poverty was honourable, for he had handled large funds during the Consulate and Empire; and there is probably as much sincerity as pathos in what he said to Soult and Gouvion-Saint-Cyr in his declining days, that nothing remained to him after thirty years of honourable service and the occupancy of high offices, except the satisfaction of having at all times done his duty. He died in 1832. His official papers fill no fewer than one hundred and forty-nine volumes and are preserved in the library of the ancient Norman city whose name he bore as his own.
CHAPTER 6. THE MOTIVES OF BONAPARTE.
Did Bonaparte desire to establish French colonial dominions in Australia? The case stated.
We will now turn to quite another aspect of the Terre Napoleon story, and one which to many readers will be more fruitful in interest. An investigation of the work of Baudin's expedition on the particular stretch of coast to which was applied the name of the most potent personage in modern history has necessarily demanded close application to geographical details, and a minute scrutiny of claims and occurrences. We enter into a wider historical realm when we begin to consider the motives which led Bonaparte to despatch the expedition of 1800 to 1804. Here we are no longer confined to shores which, at the time when we are concerned with them, were the abode of desolation and the nursery of a solitude uninterrupted for untallied ages, save by the screams of innumerable sea-birds, or, occasionally, here and there, by the corroboree cries of naked savages, whose kitchen-middens, feet thick with shells, still betray the places where they feasted.
We wish to know why Bonaparte, who had overturned the Directory by the audacity of Brumaire and hoisted himself into the dominating position of First Consul in the year before Le Geographe and Le Naturaliste were sent to the South Seas, authorised the undertaking of that enterprise. Was it what it purported to be, an expedition of exploration, or was it a move in a cunning game of state-craft by a player whose board, as some would have us believe, was the whole planet? Had Bonaparte, so soon after ascending to supremacy in the Government of France, already conceived the dazzling dream of a vast world-empire acknowledging his sway, and was this a step towards the achievement of it? If not that, was he desirous by this means of striking a blow at the prestige of Great Britain, whose hero Nelson had smashed his fleet at the Nile two years before? Or had he ideals in the direction of establishing French colonial dominions in southern latitudes, and did he desire to obtain accurate information as to where the tricolour might most advantageously be planted? It ought to be possible, out of the copious store of available material relative to Napoleon's era, to form a sound opinion on this fascinating subject. But we had better resolve to have the material before we do formulate a conclusion, and not jump to one regardless of evidence, or the lack of it.
In this inquiry very little assistance is given to the student by those classical historians of the period to whose voluminous writings reference might naturally be made. There is not, for example, the slightest allusion to Baudin's expedition or the Terre Napoleon incidents in Thiers' twenty-tomed Histoire du Consulat et de l'Empire; nor can the reader get much assistance from consulting many British works on the same epoch. An endeavour has, however, been made to set the facts in their right perspective, by a brilliant contemporary English historian, Dr. John Holland Rose, somewhat curtly in his Revolutionary and Napoleonic Era, but more fully in his Life of Napoleon.* (* Life of Napoleon 1 379 to 383. Still later, in his lecture on "England's Commercial Struggle with Napoleon," included in the Lectures on the Nineteenth Century, edited by F.A. Kirkpatrick (1908), Dr. Holland Rose pursues the same theme.) The present writer, after an independent study of the facts, is unable to share Dr. Holland Rose's view, as will presently appear, but the desire being less to urge an opinion than to present the case in its true relations, it will be convenient to state Dr. Rose's presentment of it before proceeding to look at it from other aspects.
"The unknown continent of Australia," says the historian, "appealed to Napoleon's imagination, which pictured its solitudes transformed by French energy into a second fatherland." Bonaparte had "early turned his eyes to that land." He took a copy of Cook's voyages with him to Egypt, and no sooner was he firmly installed as First Consul, than he "planned with the Institute of France a great French expedition to New Holland." It is represented that the Terre Napoleon maps show that "under the guise of being an emissary of civilisation, Commodore Baudin was prepared to claim half the continent for France."* (* Ibid page 381. The Terre Napoleon region is far from being half the continent of Australia, if that be what Dr. Holland Rose's words mean. One observes, by the way, a tendency on the part of English writers to use very small maps when speaking of the size of things in Australia.) Indeed, his inquiry "about the extent of British claims on the Pacific coast was so significant as to elicit from Governor King the reply that the whole of Van Diemen's Land and of the coast from Cape Howe on the south of the mainland to Cape York on the north, was British territory." The facts relative to the awakening of suspicion in Governor King's mind—to be discussed hereafter—are likewise stated; together with those affecting the settlements of Hobart and Port Phillip; and it is concluded that "the plans of Napoleon for the acquisition of Van Diemen's Land and the middle of Australia, had an effect like that which the ambition of Montcalm, Dupleix, Lally, and Peron has exerted on the ultimate destiny of many a vast and fertile territory."* (* Ibid page 382. One or two errors of fact may as well be indicated. Murray's discovery of Port Phillip was made in 1802, not in 1801, as stated on page 380 of the Life of Napoleon; the title of Flinders' book was not "A Voyage of Discovery to the Australian Isles" (page 381), but A Voyage to Terra Australis; Bass, the discoverer of the Strait bearing his name, was not a lieutenant (page 380), but a surgeon on H.M.S. Reliance. The Freycinet Peninsula, the French name of which is mentioned as being "still retained" (page 381), is not, it should be understood, on the Terre Napoleon coast at all, but in Eastern Tasmania. Dr. Rose's error as to the retention of other French names has been dealt with in Chapter 4.)
These passages submit with definiteness the view that Bonaparte, in 1800, despatched Baudin's ships from motives of political policy. He had "plans" for the requisition of territory in Australia; he wished to found a "second fatherland" for the French; Baudin was "prepared to claim half the continent for France." Now, the reader who turns to Dr. Holland Rose's book * (* He who turns to it without reading it through will miss an opulent source of profit and pleasure.) for references to proofs of these statements, will be disappointed. The learned author, who is usually liberal in his citation of authorities, here confines himself to the Voyage de Decouvertes of Peron and Freycinet, the Voyage of Flinders, and the collection of documents in the seven volumes of the Historical Records of New South Wales—all works of first-class importance, but none of them bearing out the broad general statements as to the First Consul's plans and intentions. Not a scrap of evidence is adduced from memoirs, letters, or state papers. To represent Napoleon as obsessed with magnificent ideas of universal dominion, scanning, like Milton's Satan from the mountain height, the immensity of many realms, and aspiring to rule them all—to do this is to present an enthralling picture, inflaming the imagination of the reader; and, perhaps, of the writer too. But we must beware of drawing an inference and painting it to look like a fact; we must regard historical data through the clear white glass of criticism, not through the coloured window of a gorgeous generalisation.
The remainder of our task, then, shall be devoted to examining the origins of Baudin's expedition. We will inquire into the instructions given to the commander; we will follow his vessels with a careful eye to any incidents that may point to ulterior political purposes; we will have regard to the suspicions engendered at the time, how far they were justifiable, and what consequences followed from them; we will search for motives; and we will look at what the expedition did, in case there should by any chance thereby be disclosed any hint of an aspiration towards territorial acquisition. We will try to regard the evidence as a whole, the object being—as the object of all honest historical inquiry must be—to ascertain the truth about it, freed from those jealousies and prejudices which, so freely deposited at the time, tend to consolidate and petrify until, as with the guano massed hard on islets in Australasian seas, it is difficult to get at the solid rock beneath for the accretions upon it, and sometimes not easy to discriminate rock from accretion.
CHAPTER 7. GENESIS OF BAUDIN'S EXPEDITION.
Baudin's one of a series of French expeditions. The building up of the map of Australia. Early map-makers. Terra Australis. Dutch navigators. Emmerie Mollineux's map. Tasman and Dampier. The Petites Lettres of Maupertuis. De Brosses and his Histoire des Navigations aux Terres Australes. French voyages that originated from it. Bougainville; Marion-Dufresne; La Perouse; Bruni Dentrecasteaux. Voyages subsequent to Baudin's. The object of the voyages scientific and exploratory. The Institute of France and its proposition. Received by Bonaparte with interest. Bonaparte's interest in geography and travel. His authorisation of the expedition. The Committee of the Institute and their instructions. Fitting out of the expedition. Le Geographe and Le Naturaliste. The staff. Francois Peron. Captain Nicolas Baudin.
French interest in southern exploration did not commence nor did it cease with the expedition of 1800 to 1804. We fall into a radical error if we regard that as an isolated endeavour. It was, in truth, a link in a chain: one of a series of efforts made by the French to solve what was, during the eighteenth century, a problem with which the scientific intellect of Europe was much concerned.
The tardy and piecemeal fashion in which definiteness was given to southern latitudes on the map of the world makes a curious chapter in the history of geographical research. After the ships of Magellan and Drake had circumnavigated the globe, and a very large part of America had been mapped, there still lay, south of the tracks of those adventurers who rounded the Horn and breasted the Pacific, a region that remained unknown—a Terra Australis, Great Southern Continent, or Terra Incognita as it was vaguely and variously termed. Map-makers, having no certain data concerning this vast uncharted area, commonly sprawled across the extremity of the southern hemisphere a purely fanciful outline of imaginary land. Terra Australis was the playground of the cartographers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They seemed to abhor blank spaces. Some of the most beautiful of the old maps make the oceans busy with spouting whales, sportive dolphins, and galleons with bellying sails; but what to do with the great staring expanse of vacancy at the bottom their authors did not know. So they drew a crooked line across the map to represent land, and stuck upon it the label Terra Australis, or one of the other designations just mentioned. The configuration of the territory on different maps did not agree, and not one of them signified a coast with anything like the form of the real Great Southern Continent.
To the period of fancy succeeded that of patchwork. Came the Dutch, often blown out of their true course from the Cape of Good Hope to the Spice Islands, and stumbling upon the shores of Western Australia. To some such accident we probably owe the piece of improved cartography shown upon Emmerie Mollineux's map, which Hakluyt inserted in some copies of the second edition of his Principal Navigations, and which Shakespeare is supposed to have had in mind when, in a merry scene in Twelfth Night, he made Maria say of Malvolio (3 2 85): "He does smile his face into more lines than is in the new map with the AUGMENTATION OF THE INDIES."* (* See Mr. Charles Coote's paper in Transactions of New Shakespeare Society, 1877 to 1879. He read the phrase "augmentation of the Indies," as referring to this and some other additions to the map of the world, now for the first time shown. In those days, of course, "the Indies" meant pretty well everything out of Europe, including America. It is curious that Flinders called the aboriginals whom he saw in Port Phillip "Indians." Probably all coloured peoples were "Indians" to seamen even so late as his day. There is a fine copy of the map referred to in volume 1 of the 1903 edition of Hakluyt, edited by Professor Walter Raleigh.) This map marks an improvement, in the sense that an approach to the truth, probably founded on actual observation, is an improvement on a large, comprehensive piece of guess work. Emmerie Mollineux expunged the imaginary region, and substituted a small tongue of land, shaped like a thimble. It was doubtless copied from some Dutch chart; and though we must not look for precision of outline at so early a date, it is sufficient to show that some navigator had seen, hereabouts, a real piece of Australia, and had made a note of what it looked like. It is not much, but, rightly regarded, it is like the first gleam of light on the dark sky where the dawn is to paint its radiance.
English Dampier (1686 to 1688, and 1699 to 1701) and Dutch Tasman (1642 to 1644) made the most substantial contributions to the world's knowledge of the true form of Australia to be credited to any individual navigators before the coming of Cook, the greatest of all.
It is very strange that so long a period as a century and a half should have been allowed to lapse between Tasman's very remarkable voyage and Flinders' completion of the outline of Australia, and that three-quarters of a century should have separated the explorations of Dampier and Cook. Here, crooned over by her great gum forests, baring her broad breast of plains to the sun and moon, lay a land holding within her immense solitudes unimaginable wealth; genial in climate, rich in soil, abounding in mineral treasures, fit to be a home for happy, industrious millions. Yet, while avarice and enterprise schemed and fought for the west and the east, this treasury of the south remained unsolicited. It is not for us to regret that Australia was left for a race that knew how to woo her with affection and to conquer her with their science and their will, yet we can but wonder that fortune should have been so tardy and so reticent in disclosing a fifth division of the globe.
While this piecing together of the outline of the continent was proceeding, speculation was naturally rife among men of science as to what countries southern latitudes contained, and what their capabilities were. It was essentially a scientific problem awaiting solution; and it is not surprising that the French, quick-brained, inquisitive, eager in pursuit of ideas, should have been active in this field.
Their intellectual concern with South Sea discovery may be said to date from the publication of the Petites Lettres of Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis. He was, like some of whom Browning has written, a "person of some importance in his day," and his writings on physics are still mentioned with respect in works devoted to the history of science. But he is perhaps chiefly remembered as the savant whom Frederick the Great attracted to his court during a period of aloofness from the scintillating Voltaire, and who consequently became a writhing target for the jealous ridicule of that waspish wit. Poor Maupertuis, unhappy in his exit from life, would appear to have been restless after it, for his ghost is averred to have stalked in the hall of the Academy of Berlin, and to have been seen by a brother professor there, the remarkable phenomenon being solemnly recorded in the Transactions of that learned body.* (* See Sir Walter Scott's Demonology and Witchcraft, Letter 1.) But of far more practical importance than the appearance of his perturbed shade, was the effect of his Petites Lettres, which suggested twelve projects for the advancement of knowledge, one of which was the promotion of discovery in the southern hemisphere.
Shortly after its publication, Maupertuis' proposition was discussed by a society of accomplished students meeting at Dijon, the ancient capital of Burgundy. A member of the Society to whom much deference was paid, was Charles de Brosses, lawyer, scholar, and President of the Parlement of the Province.* (* The local parliaments were abolished in the reign of Louis XV, reinstated by Louis XVI, and finally swept away in the stormy demolition of ancient institutions to make ground for the constitution of 1791.) De Brosses was an industrious student and writer, the translator of Sallust into French, and author of several valuable historical and philological works, including a number of learned papers which may be read—or not—in the stout calf-bound quartos enshrining the records of the Academy of Inscriptions.* (* His papers in that regiment of tomes range over a period of fifty years, from 1746 to 1796. They deal chiefly with Roman history, and especially with points suggested by the author's profound study of Sallust. Gibbon pays De Brosses the compliment of quoting two of his works, and commends his "SINGULAR diligence," with emphasis on the adjective. (See Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Bury's edition 4 37 and 7 168.) He was also Voltaire's landlord at Tournay, and had a quarrel with him about a matter of firewood; but De Brosses was a lawyer, whilst Voltaire was only a philosopher and a poet, so that of course the result was "qu'il enrage d'avoir enfin a payer."* (* Lanson's Voltaire page 139.)
The discussion at Dijon was more fruitful in results than such colloquies usually are. De Brosses was especially struck with the utility of exploration in southern seas, and considered that the French nation should take the lead in such an endeavour. He spoke for a full hour in support of this particular suggestion of Maupertuis, and when he had finished his fellow-members assured him that what he had advanced was so novel and interesting that he would do well to expand his ideas into an essay, to be read at the next meeting. De Brosses did more: for he wrote two solid quarto volumes, published at Paris in 1756—"avec approbation et privilege du Roy," as the title page says—in which he related all that he could learn about previous voyages to the south, and pointed out, with generous amplitude, in limpid, fluent French, the desirableness of pursuing further discoveries there. Incidentally he coined a useful word: to Monsieur le President Charles de Brosses we owe the name "Australasia."* (* De Brosses, Histoire des Navigations aux Terres Australes 1 426 and 2 367. Max Muller, in his Lectures on the Origin of Religion page 59, stated that De Brosses coined three valuable words, "fetishism," "Polynesia," and "Australia." He certainly did not originate the word Australia, which does not occur anywhere in his book. Quiros, in 1606, named one of the islands of the New Hebrides group Austrialia del Espiritu Santo, though he seems to have done so in compliment to Philip III, who ruled Austria as well as Spain. See Markham, Voyages of Quiros volume 1 page 30 Hakluyt Society. "Australasia" was De Brosses' new name for a broad division of the globe. He derived it from the Latin australis = southern + Asia.)
A work written over one hundred and fifty years ago, recommending a project long since completed, can hardly be expected to be full of living interest. Yet this book of De Brosses, apart from the research which it evinced, was infused with a large, humane spirit that lifted it high above the level of a prospectus. The author had a sense of patriotism that looked beyond the aggrandisement that might accrue from extensive acquisitions, to the ideal of spreading French civilisation as a beneficent force. He wished his country to share in a great work of discovery that would redound to its glory as well as to its influence. Glory, he wrote, in a fine piece of French prose, is the dominant passion of kings; but their common and inveterate error is to search for it in war—that is to say, in the reciprocal misfortunes of their subjects and their neighbours. But there never is any true glory for them unless the happiness of nations is the object of their enterprises. In the task which he recommended, the grandeur of the object was joined to utility. To augment the lands known to civilised mankind by a new world, and to enrich the old world with the natural products of the new—this would be the effect of the fresh discoveries that he anticipated. What comparison could there be between such a project and the conquest—it might be the unjust conquest—of some ravaged piece of territory, of two or three fortresses battered by cannon and acquired by the massacre, the ruin, the desolation, and the regrets of the vanquished people; bought, too, at a price a hundred times greater than would suffice for the entire voyage of discovery proposed. He pointed out that the task could only be taken in hand by a government; it was too large for individuals. But the result was certain. In truth, to succeed in the complete discovery of the Terres Australes, it was not necessary to have any other end in view than success: it was simply necessary to employ proper means and sufficient forces.
De Brosses discussed the probably most advantageous situation for settlement in the South Seas, though in doing so he was hampered by insufficient knowledge. Relying upon the reports of Tasman, he considered New Zealand and "la terre de Diemen"—that is, Tasmania—too distant and too little known for an experiment; whilst the narratives of Dampier did not make those parts of New Holland that he had visited—the west and north of Australia—appear attractive. On the whole, he favoured the island to the east of Papua-New Guinea—known as New Britain (now New Pomerania), and the Austrialia del Espiritu Santo of the Spanish navigator Quiros as very suitable. It is interesting to note that the present French settlements in the New Hebrides embrace the latter island, whilst their possessions in the New Caledonia group are quite close; so that ultimately they have planted themselves on the very spot which a century and a half ago the savant of Dijon considered best fitted for them. De Brosses admitted that the establishment of such settlements as he recommended would not be the work of a day. Great enterprises require great efforts. It is for individuals to measure years, he loftily said; nations calculate by centuries. Powerful peoples must take extended views of things; and kings, as their chiefs, animated by the desire of glory and the love of country and of humanity, ought to consider themselves as personalities persisting always, and working for eternity.* (* The passages summarised are to be found in De Brosses, 1: 4, 8, 11, 19; and 2: 368, 380, 383.)
The elevated tone of De Brosses' book was calculated to make a telling appeal to the French nation, with their love of eclat and their ready receptivity. It was made, too, in the age of Voltaire, when the great man was living at Lausanne; and when, too, another of equally enduring fame, Edward Gibbon, was, in the same neighbourhood, polishing those balanced periods in which he has related the degeneracy of the successors of the Caesars. It was an age of intellectual ferment. Rousseau was writing his Contrat Social (1760), the Encyclopedie was leavening Gallic thought. There was a particular proneness to accept fresh ideas; a new sense of national consciousness was awakening.
The effect of the President's work was almost immediate. De Brosses published it in 1756; and in 1766 Louis de Bougainville sailed from France in command of La Boudeuse and L'Etoile on a voyage around the world.* (* See the Voyage du Monde par la frigate du Roi La Boudeuse et la flute L'Etoile en 1766, 1767, 1768, 1769, by Louis de Bougainville, Paris, 1771.) A eulogy pronounced on De Brosses before the Academy of Inscriptions by Dupuy* (* Memoirs of the Academy of Inscriptions 42 177.) hardly put the case too strongly when it was said that before he died he had the satisfaction to see in Europe men animated by his spirit, who had gone forth, braving the risks of a long voyage, to make discoveries; though the prophecy that centuries to come would doubtless count to his glory the achievements of navigators has not been verified. The world is perhaps too little inclined to accord to him who promulgates an idea the praise readily bestowed upon those who realise it.
Bougainville discovered the Navigator Islands, re-discovered the Solomon group, and was only just forestalled by the Englishman, Wallis, in the discovery of Tahiti. He produced a book of travel which may be read with scarcely less interest than the wonderful work of his contemporary, Cook.
The voyage of Nicholas Marion-Dufresne (1771) differed from the other French expeditions of the series in that one of the ships belonged to the commander, and part of the cost was sustained by him. He was fired by a passion for exploration, which led him to propose that he should take out his vessel, Le Mascurin, in company with a ship of the navy, and that a grant should be made to him from the public funds. The French Government acquiesced, and gave him Le Marquis de Castries. He did some exploring in southern Tasmania, but his career was cut short in New Zealand, where, in the Bay of Islands, he was killed and eaten by Maories in 1772.* (* Rochon, Nouveau Voyage a la Mar du Sud, Paris 1783.) One of the objects of the voyage was to take back to Tahiti a native woman, Aontouron, who had been brought to Paris by Bougainville to be shown at the court of Louis XV; but she died of smallpox en route.
Again, in 1785, the expedition commanded by the ill-fated La Perouse sailed from France on a discovery voyage.* (* See the Voyage de la Perouse, redige par M. L.A. Milet-Mureau, volume 1 Paris 1797.) The appearance of his two ships, La Boussole and l'Astrolabe, in Port Jackson only a fortnight after Governor Phillip had landed in Botany Bay to establish the first British settlement in Australia, was an event not less surprising to the governor than to La Perouse, who had left France before colonisation was intended by the English Government, though he heard of it in the course of the voyage. The French navigator remained in the harbour from February 23 to March 10 (1788), on excellent terms with Phillip; and then, sailing away to pursue his discoveries, "vanished trackless into blue immensity, and only some mournful mysterious shadow of him hovered long in all heads and hearts." His remark to Captain King, "Mr. Cook has done so much that he has left me nothing to do but admire his work," indicated the generous candour of his disposition. His fate after he sailed from Sydney remained a mystery for forty years, Flinders, on his voyage inside the Barrier Reef in 1802, kept a lookout for wreckage that might afford a key to the problem. He wrote: "The French navigator La Perouse, whose unfortunate situation, if in existence, was always present to my mind, had been wrecked, as it was thought, somewhere in the neighbourhood of New Caledonia; and if so the remnants of his ships were likely to be brought upon this coast by the trade winds, and might indicate the situation of the reef or island which had proved so fatal to him. With such an indication, I was led to believe in the possibility of finding the place; and though the hope of restoring La Perouse or any of his companions to their country and friends could not, after so many years, be rationally entertained, yet to gain some knowledge of their fate would do away with the pain of suspense, and it might not be too late to retrieve some documents of their discoveries.* (* Flinders, Voyage 2 48.) The vigilance of Flinders to this end indicates the fascination which the mysterious fate of the French mariner had for seamen, until doubts were finally set at rest in 1827, when one of the East India Company's ships, under Captain Dillon, found at Manicolo, in the New Hebrides, traces of the wreckage of the vessels of La Perouse. Native tradition enabled the history of the end of the expedition to be ascertained. The French ships, on a dark and stormy night, were both driven on the reef, and soon pounded to match-wood. A few of the sailors got ashore, but most were drowned; and the bulk of the remainder were lost in an unsuccessful attempt to make for civilised regions from the coral isolation of Manicolo. A monument to the memory of the gallant La Perouse, on the coast a few miles from Sydney, now fronts the Pacific whose winds wafted him to his doom, and beneath whose waters he found his grave.
The next link in the chain was furnished by the expedition commanded by Bruni Dentrecasteaux, who, while the hurricane of the Revolution was raging, was despatched (1791) to search for La Perouse. He made important discoveries on his own account,* (* Voyage de Dentrecasteaux, redige par M. de Rossel, Paris 1808; Labillardiere, Relation du Voyage a la Recherche de la Perouse, Paris 1800.) both on the mainland of Australia and in Tasmania; and though he found no trace of his predecessor, his own name is honourably remembered among the eminent navigators who did original work in Australasia. It was Dentrecasteaux's hydrographer, Beautemps Beaupre, whose charting of part of the southern coast of Australia was so highly praised by Flinders.
The expeditions thus enumerated were all despatched before the era of Napoleon, and appreciation of their objects cannot therefore be complicated by doubts as to his Machiavellian designs. Bougainville's voyage, and that of Marion-Dufresne, were promoted under Louis XV, that of La Perouse under Louis XVI, and Dentrecasteaux's under the Revolutionary Assembly. Each was an expedition of discovery.
Next came the expedition commanded by Nicolas Baudin, with which we are mainly concerned, and which was despatched under the Consulate. It will presently be demonstrated that it did not differ in purpose from its predecessors, and that there is nothing to show that in authorising it Bonaparte had any other object than that professed. But before pursuing that subject, let it be made clear that French exploring expeditions to the South Seas were continued after the final overthrow of the Empire.
In 1817, while Napoleon was mewed up in St. Helena, and a Bourbon once more occupied the throne of France as Louis XVIII, the ships Uranie and Physicienne were sent out under the command of Captain Louis de Freycinet, the cartographer of Baudin's expedition.* (* Voyage autour du Monde, entrepris par ordre du Roi, par Louis de Freycinet, Paris 1827.) They visited some of the scenes of former French exploits, and Freycinet took advantage of his position on the west coast to pull down and appropriate for the French Academy of Inscriptions the oldest memorial of European presence in Australia. That is to say, he took the plate put up by the Dutchman Vlaming in 1697, in place of that erected in 1616 by Dirk Haticks on the island bearing the name of "Dirk Hartog," to commemorate his visit in the ship Eendraght of Amsterdam.* (* Ibid 1 449.) Freycinet had desired to take the plate when he was an officer on Le Naturaliste in July 1801, but Captain Hamelin, the commander, would not permit it to be disturbed. On the contrary, he set up a new post with the plate affixed to it, and expressed the opinion that to remove an interesting memorial that for over a century had been spared by nature and by man, would be to commit a kind of sacrilege.* (* "Il eut pense commettre un sacrilege en gardant a son bord cette plaque respectee pendant pres de deux siecles par la nature et par les hommes qui pouvoient avant nous l'avoir observee." Peron, Voyage de Decouvertes 1 195.) Freycinet was not so scrupulous.
Again, in 1824, the Baron de Bougainville, a son of the older navigator, and who as a junior officer had sailed with Baudin, took out the ships Thetis and Esperance on a voyage to the South Seas, for purely geographical purposes;* (* Journal de la Navigation autour du monde de la fregate La Thetis et de la corvette L'Esperance, pendant les annees 1824-1826; publie par ordre du Roi. Par M. le Baron de Bougainville.) and still later, in 1826 to 1828, during the reign of Charles X, Dumont d'Urville, in the Astrolabe, did valuable exploratory work, especially in the Western Pacific.* (* Voyage de la corvette L'Astrolabe, execute par ordre du Roi, pendant les annees 1826-1829, sous le commandement de M. J. Dumont D'Urville, Paris 1830.)
The whole of these expeditions, with the partial exception of that of Marion-Dufresne, were conducted in ships of the French navy, commanded by French officers, supported by French funds, and their official records were published at the expense of the French Government. A certain unity of purpose characterised them; and that purpose was as purely and truly directed to extend man's knowledge of the habitable earth as was that of any expedition that ever sailed under any flag.
To attempt, therefore, to isolate Baudin's expedition from the series to which it rightly belongs, simply because it was undertaken while Bonaparte was at the head of the State, is to convey a false idea of it. If there were any evidence to show that it differed from the others in its aims, it would be quite proper to make it stand alone. But there is not.
Nor must it be supposed that this particular enterprise originated with the First Consul. It was not a scheme generated in his teeming brain, like the strategy of a campaign, or a masterstroke of diplomacy. It was placed before him for approval in the shape of a proposition from the Institute of France, a scientific body, concerned not with political machinations, but with the advancement of knowledge. The Institute considered that there was useful work to be done by a new expedition of discovery, and believed it to be its duty to submit a plan to the Government. We are so informed by Peron, and there is the best of reasons for believing him.* (* "L'honneur national et le progres des sciences parmi nous se reunissoient donc pour reclamer une expedition de decouvertes aux Terres Australes, et l'Institut de France crut devoir la proposer au gouvernement." Peron, Voyage de Decouvertes 1 4.) The history of the voyage was published after Napoleon had become Emperor, under his sanction, at the Imperial Press. If his had been the originating mind, it is quite certain that credit for the idea would not have been claimed for others. On the contrary, we should probably have had an adulatory paragraph from Peron's pen about the beneficence of the Imperial will as exercised in the cause of science.
Quite apart from Peron's statement, however, there are three official declarations to the like effect. First there is the announcement in the Moniteur* (* 23rd Floreal, Revolutionary Year 8; "L'Institut national a demande au premier consul, et a obtenu.) that it was the Institute which requested Bonaparte to sanction the expedition. Secondly, when Vice-Admiral Rosily reported to the Minister of Marine on Freycinet's charts in 1813,* (* Moniteur, January 15, 1813.) he commenced by observing that the expedition "had for its object the completion of the knowledge of the coasts of New Holland which were not hitherto entirely known." Thirdly, Henri de Freycinet, writing in 1808,* (* Ibid July 2, 1808.) said that it was the high interest stimulated by the voyages of La Perouse and Dentrecasteaux that made the Institute eagerly desirous of a new enterprise devoted to the reconnaissance of Australia. The last two statements were, it will be observed, published by Napoleon's official organ when the Empire was at its height.
There is no positive evidence as to what members of the Institute were chiefly instrumental in formulating the proposal for Napoleon's consideration. We do not know whether leading members explained their scheme to him orally, or laid before him a written statement. If there was a plan in manuscript, the text of it has never been published.* (* "Probably it was suppressed or destroyed," says Dr. Holland Rose (Life of Napoleon 1 379). But why should it have been? There is no reason to suppose that it contained anything which it was to anybody's interest to destroy or suppress. Indeed, it is by no means clear that there was such a document. It is quite likely that the scheme of the Institute was explained verbally to the First Consul. Why manufacture mysteries?) There is only one document relating to the expedition in the collected correspondence of Napoleon;* (* Edition of 1861.) and that concerned an incident to which reference will be made in the next chapter. The reason for the absence of letters concerning the matter among Napoleon's papers is presumably that he left the carrying out of the project to the Institute; for he was not wont to restrain his directing hand in affairs in which he was personally concerned.
But there were two leading members of the Institute who had already concerned themselves with Australasian discovery, and who may safely be assumed to have taken the initiative in this matter. They were Bougainville the explorer, who had commanded the expedition of 1766 to 1771, and Charles Pierre Claret de Fleurieu, who had been Minister of Marine in 1790, and had written a book on the Decouvertes des Francais dans le sud-est de la Nouvelle Guinee (Paris, 1790), in which he maintained the prior claims of the French navigators Bougainville and Surville to discoveries to which later English explorers had in ignorance given fresh names. Fleurieu had also intended to write the history of the voyages of La Perouse, but was prevented by pressure of official and other occupations, and handed the work over to Milet-Mureau.* (* Voyage de la Perouse, Preface 1 page 3.) He stood high in the esteem of Napoleon, was a counsellor of State during the Consulate, became intendant-general of the Emperor's household, governor of the palace of Versailles, senator, and comte. Both Fleurieu and Bougainville had abundant opportunities for explaining the utility of a fresh voyage of exploration to Napoleon.
It was, too, quite natural that these men should desire to promote a new French voyage of discovery. None knew better what might be hoped to be achieved. We are fairly safe in assuming that they moved the Institute to submit a proposition to the First Consul; and it is not improbable that they personally interviewed him on the subject.
Bonaparte, at any rate, received the proposal "with interest," and we learn from Peron* (* Voyage de Decouvertes 1 4.) that he definitely authorised the expedition at the very time when his army of reserve was about to move from Geneva to cross the Alps in that astonishing campaign which conduced, by swift, toilsome, and surprising manoeuvres, to the crushing victory of Marengo. The plan of the Institute was therefore ratified in May 1800. The Austrians at that time were holding French arms severely in check in Savoy and northern Italy. Suchet, Massena, Oudinot, and Soult were, with fluctuating fortunes but always with stubborn valour, clinging desperately to their positions or yielding ground to superior strength, awaiting with confidence the hour when the supreme master would strike the shattering blow that, while relieving the pressure on them, would completely change the aspect of the war. It was while pondering his masterstroke, and deliberating on the choice of the path across the Alps that was to lead to it, that Bonaparte gave his approval; while elaborating a scheme to overwhelm the armies of Austria in an abyss of carnage, that he expressed the wish that, as the expedition would come in contact with ignorant savages, care should be taken to make it appear that the French met them as "friends and benefactors."
It may here be parenthetically remarked that it does not make us think more favourably of Freycinet that when, in 1824, he issued a new edition of the Voyage de Decouvertes, he omitted all Peron's references to Napoleon's interest in the expedition, and his direction that when savages were met the French should appear among them "comme des amis et des bienfaiteurs."* (* Peron, 1 10.) While Peron tells us that this laudable wish was personally expressed by the First Consul, Freycinet* (* 1 74, in the 1824 edition.) altered the phrase to "le gouvernement voulut," etc. He had absolutely no justification for doing so. The reader of the second edition of the book had a right to expect that he was in possession of the original text, save for the correction of incidental errors. But in 1824 Napoleon was dead, a Bourbon reigned in France, and Freycinet was the servant of the monarchy to which he owed the command of the expedition of 1817. The suppression of Napoleon's name and the record of his actions from Peron's text, was a puerile piece of servility.
There is nothing surprising in Bonaparte's cordial approval of the enterprise. One has only to study the volumes in which M. Frederic Masson has collected the papers and memoranda relating to Napoleon's youth and early manhood to realise how intensely keen was his interest in geography and travel. In one of those interesting works is a document occupying eight printed pages, in which Napoleon had summarised a geographical textbook, with a view to the more perfect mastery of its contents.* (* See Masson's Napoleon Inconnu; Papiers Inedits; Paris 1895 volume 2 page 44. The text-book was that of Lacroix.) It is curious to note how little the young scholar was able to ascertain about Australasia from the volume from which he learnt the elements of that science for which, with his genius for strategy and tactics, he must have had an instinctive taste. "La Nouvelle Guinee, la Carpentarie, la Nouvelle Hollande," etc., figure in his notes as the countries forming the principal part of the southern hemisphere now grouped under the denomination of Australasia; "la Carpentarie" thus signalised as a separated land being simply the northern region of Australia proper, the farthest limit of which is Cape York.* (* Mallet's Description de l'Univers (Frankfort 1686) mentions "Carpenterie" as being near the "Terre des Papous," and as discovered by the Dutch captain, Carpenter.)
It is not a little interesting, that when, in April 1800, twenty sculptors were commissioned to execute as many busts of great men to adorn the Galerie des Consuls, the only Englishmen among the honoured score were Marlborough and Dampier.* (* Aulard, Paris sous le Consulat 1 267.) It is curious to find the adventurous ex-buccaneer in such noble company as that of Cicero, Cato, Caesar, Demosthenes, Frederick the Great, and George Washington, but the fact that he was among the selected heroes may be taken as another evidence of Bonaparte's interest in the men who helped to find out what the world was like. Perhaps if somebody had seen him reading Dampier's Voyages, as he read Cook's on the way to Egypt, that fact would have been instanced as another proof, not of his fondness for extremely fascinating literature, but of the nourishment of a secret passion to seize the coasts which Dampier explored.
Napoleon had been a good and a diligent student. The fascinating but hateful characteristics of his later career, when he was the Emperor with a heart petrified and corroded by ambition, the conqueror ever greedy of fresh conquest, the scourge of nations and the tyrant of kings, too often make one overlook the liberal instincts of his earlier years. His passion for knowledge was profound, and he was the pronounced friend of every genuine man of science, of every movement having for its object the acquisition and diffusion of fresh enlightenment. It is an English writer* (* Merz, History of European Thought in the Nineteenth Century 1 152 to 154.) who says of him that he was, "amongst the great heroes and statesmen of his age, the first and foremost if not the only one, who seemed thoroughly to realise the part which science was destined to play in the immediate future"; and the same author adds that "some of the glory of Laplace and Cuvier falls upon Napoleon." He took pleasure in the company and conversation of men of science; and never more so than during the period of the Consulate. Thibaudeau's memoirs show him dining one night with Laplace, Monge, and Berthollet; and the English translator of that delightful book* (* Dr. Fortescue, page 273. Compare also Lord Rosebery, Napoleon, the Last Phase page 234: "In the first period of his Consulate he was an almost ideal ruler. He was firm, sagacious, far-seeing, energetic, just.") emphasises the contrast between the "just and noble sanity of the First Consul of 1802 and the delirium of the Emperor of 1812." The failure to keep that difference in mind—to recognise that the Bonaparte of the early Consulate was capable of exalted ideals for the general well-being that were foreign to the Napoleon of ten years later—is fruitful of mistakes in interpreting his activities. On April 8 he attended a seance of the Institute, and was there instrumental in reconciling several persons who had become estranged through events which occurred during the Revolution.* (* Aulard, Paris sous le Consulat, 1 252.) He was therefore on good terms with this learned body, and was himself a member of that division of it which was devoted to the physical and mathematical sciences.* (* Thibaudeau (English edition) page 112.)
It was quite natural, then, that when the national representatives of scientific thought in France approached him with a proposition that was calculated to make his era illustrious by a grand voyage of exploration which should complete man's knowledge of the great continents, the First Consul gave a ready consent.
The task of preparing instructions for the voyage was entrusted to a Committee of the Institute, consisting of Fleurieu, Bougainville, Laplace, Lacepede, Cuvier, Jussieu, Lelievre, Langles, and Camus; whilst Degerando wrote a special memorandum upon the methods to be followed in the observation of savage peoples—the latter probably in consequence of the First Consul's particular direction on this subject. It was an admirably chosen body for formulating a programme of scientific research. A great astronomer, two eminent biologists, a famous botanist, a practical navigator, a geographer, all men of distinction among European savants, and two of them, Laplace and Cuvier, among the greatest men of science of modern times, were scholars who knew what might be expected to be gained for knowledge, and where and how the most fruitful results might be obtained.
In their instructions, the committee directed attention to the south coast of Tasmania—by that time known to be an island, since the discoveries of Bass and Flinders, and their circumnavigation, had been the subject of much comment in Europe—as offering a good field for geographical research. They indicated the advisableness of exploring the eastern coast of the island, of traversing Bass Strait with a view to a more complete examination than appeared to the Institute to have been made up to that time, and of pursuing the southern coasts of Australia as far as the western point of Dentrecasteaux's investigations, especially with the object of searching that part of the land "where there is supposed to be a strait communicating with the Gulf of Carpentaria, and which, consequently, would divide New Holland into two large and almost equal islands." So much accomplished, the expedition was to pay particular attention to the coasts westward of the Swan River, since the old navigators who had determined their contour had necessarily had to work with imperfect instruments. The vessels were then to make a fuller exploration of the western and northern shores than had hitherto been achieved, to attack the south-west of Papua (New Guinea), and to investigate the Gulf of Carpentaria. No instructions seem to have been given relative to a further examination of the eastern coasts of the continent. Cook's work there was evidently thought to be sufficient, though Flinders found several fresh and important harbours. The programme, as Peron pointed out, involved the exploration in detail of several thousands of miles of coasts hitherto quite unknown or imperfectly known, and its proper performance was calculated to accomplish highly important work in perfecting a knowledge of the geography of the southern hemisphere.
The French Government fitted out the expedition in a lavish and elaborate fashion.* (* "Les savans ont vu avec le plus grand interet les soins que le gouvernement a pris pour rendre ce voyage utile a l'histoire naturelle et a la connaissance des moeurs des sauvages." Moniteur, 22nd Fructidor.) Funds were not stinted, and the commander was given unlimited credit to obtain anything that he required at any port of call. The best scientific instruments were procured, and the stores of the great naval depot of Havre were thrown open for the equipment of the ships with every necessity and comfort for a long voyage. Luxuries were not spared; "in a word," says Peron, "the Government had ordered that nothing whatever should be omitted that could assure the preservation of health, promote the work of the staff, and guarantee the independence of the expedition."
Two vessels lying in the port of Havre were selected. The principal one, which was named Le Geographe, was a corvette of 30 guns, 450 tons, drawing fifteen or sixteen feet of water, a fast sailer, but, in Peron's opinion, not so good a boat for the purpose as her consort. Flinders described her as a "heavy-looking ship." The second vessel, named Le Naturaliste, was a strong, lumbering store-ship, very slow, but solid. She was a "grosse gabare," as one French writer described her.* (* Dr. Holland Rose (Revolutionary and Napoleonic Era page 139) heightens the effect of his argument by stating that Bonaparte "sent out men-of-war to survey the south coast of Australia for a settlement." It may be true that, strictly speaking, the ships were "men-of-war," inasmuch as they were ships of the navy. But the reader would hardly derive the impression, from the words quoted, that they were vessels utterly unwarlike in equipment, manning, and command. As will presently be seen, they were very soon loaded up with scientific specimens. Nor is there any warrant for the statement that the expedition was instructed to "survey the south coast of Australia for a settlement." There was nothing about settlement in the instructions, which were not, as the passage would lead the reader to infer, confined to the south coast.)
The staff was selected with great care, special examinations being prescribed for the younger naval officers. A large company of artists, men of science, and gardeners accompanied the expedition for the collection of specimens, the making of charts and drawings, and the systematic observation of phenomena. There were two astronomers, two hydrographers, three botanists, five zoologists, two mineralogists, five artists, and five gardeners. Probably no exploring expedition to the South Seas before this time had set out with such a large equipment of selected, talented men for scientific and artistic work. The whole staff—nautical, scientific, and artistic—on the two ships consisted of sixty-one persons, of whom only twenty-nine returned to France after sharing the fatigues and distress of the whole voyage. Seven died, twenty had to be put ashore on account of serious illness, and five left the expedition for other causes.
The great German traveller and savant, Alexander von Humboldt, was in Paris while preparations were being made for the despatch of the expedition; and, being at that time desirous of pursuing scientific investigations in distant regions, he obtained permission to embark, with the instruments he had collected, in one of Baudin's vessels. He confessed, however, that he had "but little confidence in the personal character of Captain Baudin," chiefly on account of the dissatisfaction he had given to the Court of Vienna in regard to a previous voyage.* (* Humboldt's Personal Narrative of Travels, translated by H.M. Williams, London 1814 volume 1 pages 6 to 8.) Humboldt's testimony is interesting, inasmuch as, if it be reliable—and, as he was in close touch with leading French men of science, there is no reason to disbelieve him—the original intention was to make the voyage more extensive in scope, and different in the route followed, than was afterwards determined. "The first plan," he wrote, "was great, bold, and worthy of being executed by a more enlightened commander. The purpose of the expedition was to visit the Spanish possessions of South America, from the mouth of the River Plata to the kingdom of Quito and the isthmus of Panama. After traversing the archipelago of the great ocean, and exploring the coasts of New Holland from Van Diemen's Land to that of Nuyts, both vessels were to stop at Madagascar, and return by the Cape of Good Hope." Concerning the reasons why he was not ultimately taken, Humboldt was not accurately informed. "The war which broke out in Germany and Italy," he wrote, "determined the French Government to withdraw the funds granted for their voyage of discovery, and adjourn it to an indefinite period." Such was not the case. The funds were not withdrawn; the expedition was not adjourned. But Humboldt was a German, and the Institute very naturally desired that French savants should do the work which was to be sustained by French funds. There would probably be the less inclination to employ Humboldt, as he reserved to himself "the liberty of leaving Captain Baudin whenever I thought proper." He believed himself to be "cruelly deceived in my hopes, seeing the plans which I had been forming during many years of my life overthrown in a single day." But in view of his confessed dislike of the commander, it does not seem that, on this ground alone, it would have been good policy to enrol him as a member of the staff, when there were French men of science eager for appointment.
The chief naturalist and future historian of the expedition, Francois Peron, was twenty-five years of age when he was commissioned to join Le Geographe. Born at Cerilly (Allier) in 1775, he was left fatherless at an early age; but he was a bright, promising scholar, and the cure of his native place took him into his house with the object of educating him for the priesthood. But "seduced by the principles of liberty which served as pretext for the Revolution, inflamed by patriotism, his spirit exalted by his reading of ancient history," as a biographer, Deleuze, wrote, he left the peaceful home of the village priest, and shouldered a musket under the tricolour. He fought in the army of the Rhine, and in an engagement against the Prussians at Kaiserslautern, was wounded and taken prisoner. Always a student, he spent the little money that he had on the purchase of books, which he devoted all his time to reading. He was exchanged in 1794, and returned to France.
His short soldiering career had cost him his right eye; but this deprivation really determined the vocation for which his genius especially fitted him. The Minister of the Interior gave him admission to the school of medicine at Paris, where, in addition to pursuing the prescribed course, he applied himself with enthusiasm to the study of biology* (* The word "biology" was not used till Lamarck employed it in 1801 to cover all the sciences concerned with living matter; but we are so accustomed to it nowadays, that it is the most convenient word to use to describe the group of studies to which Peron applied himself.) and comparative anatomy at the Museum. He was industrious, keen, methodical, and, above all, possessed of that valuable quality of imagination which, discreetly harnessed to the use of the scientific intellect, enables a student to see through his facts, and to read their vital meaning. The expedition to the South Seas had already been fitted out, and Baudin's ships were lying at Havre awaiting sailing orders from the Minister of Marine, when Peron sought employment as an additional biologist. The staff was by that time complete; but Peron addressed himself to Jussieu, pressing his request with such ardour, and explaining his well-considered plans with such clearness, that the eminent botanist was unable to listen to him "sans etonnement et sans emotion."
Peron was very anxious to travel, not only for the sake of the scientific work which he might do, but also to find relief for his feelings, depressed by the disappointment of a love affair. Mademoiselle was unkind—because the lover was poor, his biographer says; but we must not forget that he was also one-eyed. Many ladies prefer a man with two.
Jussieu conferred with Lacepede the biologist, and the two agreed that it would be advantageous to permit this enthusiastic young student to make the voyage. Peron was encouraged to write a paper to be read before the Institute, expounding his views. He did so, taking as his principal theme the desirableness of having with the expedition a naturalist especially charged with researches in anthropology. The Institute was convinced; the Minister of Marine was moved; Peron was appointed. He consulted with Cuvier, Lacepede, and Degerando as to a programme of work, procured the necessary apparatus, went to Cerilly to embrace his sisters and receive his mother's benediction, and joined Le Geographe just before she sailed.* (* The facts concerning Peron's early career are taken from Deleuze's memoir, 1811, and that of Maurice Girard, 1857.)
The command of the expedition was entrusted to Captain Nicolas Baudin. He was fifty years of age when he received this commission, on the nomination of the Institute. In his youth he had been engaged in the French mercantile marine. In later years he had commanded two expeditions, despatched under the Austrian flag, for botanical purposes. From the last of these he returned in 1797, when, his country being at war with Austria, he presented the complete collection of animals and plants obtained to the French nation.* (* The Moniteur, 25th Prairial (June 13), 1797.) This timely act won him the friendship of Jussieu, and it was largely through his influence that "Citoyen" Baudin was chosen to command the expedition to the Terres Australes.* (* The Moniteur, 23rd Floreal (May 13), 1800.) He had had no training in the Navy, though if, as some suppose, the expedition had a secret aggressive mission, we may reasonably conjecture that it would have been placed under the command of a naval officer with some amount of fighting experience.