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Nicolas Baudin & Emanuel Hamelin

A third major voyage of scientific exploration expedition was now planned under the direction of the Institut de France (Institut National) and Directory (five Directors that held executive power in France from 1795 to 1795). This was to be the grandest and most lavishly equipped of all the European Enlightenment voyages of scientific exploration. Napoleon, keen to associate himself with Enlightenment ideals, supported the expedition and Nicolas Baudin was chosen as its commander. A scientific emphasis had also been placed on his earlier campaign in Egypt in 1798.

Nicolas Baudin (1754-1803), Franz Boos & Georg Scholl –
Plants for the imperial garden of Schönbrunn Palace

Nicolas Baudin was a commoner who served in the mercantile marine, joining the navy as a 20-year-old cadet in 1774 and in 1786 promoted sub-lieutenant. Lacking aristocratic connections (an ‘officier rouge‘) he was therefore an ‘officier bleu‘ and could not be promoted above this rank. He was to make his reputation as a cartographic surveyor and naturalist. As a merchant mariner and captain of the corvette La Pepita on a run from the Cape of Good Hope to the Ile de France, Baudin had the fortune to pick up Franz Boos (1753–1832) the under-gardener at the imperial Schönbrunn Palace garden of Austrian Emperor Joseph II in Vienna. Boos was loaded up with natural history specimens, including live plants and animals destined for the Emperor’s menagerie, cabinet, and gardens, the prize specimens being ostriches and zebras but there was also tropical plants from the Jardin du Roi on Pamplemousses, Ile de France (Mauritius), plants for the famed glasshouse collection at the palace. Baudin befriended Boos, learning some botany but, more importantly, discovering how to manage live animals and plants on board ship.

Nicolas Baudin

Nicolas Baudin (1754-1803)
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Further botanical expeditions had been planned by the Austrian Emperor and Baudin was to be their leader. In the next five years Baudin made three trips to the Indian Ocean and Pacific for both government and commercial ventures, his vessels appropriately named Jardinière (plant container), although all three voyages were to end in shipwreck with no collections returned to the Emperor.

Jardiniere 1 was purchased by Baudin in 1788. After loading up in China the ship had foundered on Asuncion Island in the Marianas on the way back to Europe while Baudin himself was doing business in Canton; Jardiniere 2 was built for Baudin for a botanical voyage requested by Nicolas Céré, Director of the Jardin du Roi, Pamplemousses (now the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden) on the Ile de France returning the Cape collections of Boos’s gardening assistant Georg Scholl (another gardener from Schönbrunn Palace) to Europe along with many plants from the Pamplemousses garden, but the ship was lost in the island harbour during a cyclone in December 1789; Jardiniere 3 was bought in 1792 and sent to collect Georg Scholl himself from the Cape of Good Hope but was hit by a storm in the Cape’s Table Bay.[1][2] Scholl had been trying to leave the Cape area for about 8 years now and thought Baudin had deliberately run his ship aground so he could dispose of the cargo of black slaves. Baudin apparently managed to save some plant collections from the shipwreck because he took them to his botanist friend Labarrere in Trinidad, returning to France on an American ship.

Back in Paris he spoke to Professor Antoine-Laurent Jussieu from the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle who lobbied the government to charter a small vessel to recover the botanical collection left in Trinidad and from 1796 to 1798 Baudin was to collect plants and specimens for the Paris museums from the Antilles in the Caribbean.

The Museum selected four scientists to join with Baudin for this trip. His ship, Belle-Angelique set off from Le Havre with Joseph Banks aware of the matter and recommending that the expedition be given safe conduct by the British during this time of war. After three weeks at sea the ship encountered a howling gale, limping into Tenerife. With the Belle-Angelique no longer seaworthy Baudin obtained a smaller vessel and headed for Trinidad where the British would not allow him to land. Sailing to one of the Virgin Islands, St Thomas, a Danish colony, the four scientists spent time collecting fossils in the volcanic rich area while Baudin acquired a larger ship, renaming it Belle-Angelique after the former vessel. It was to be a successful scientific expedition. After a 10 week sojourn, the ship moved onto San Juan, and over 9 months Baudin and his party’s collections included 70 birds, 4,000 butterflies and other insects, shells, fish, two hippopotamus skeletons, wood samples and thousands of plants – a grand collection from the West Indian biota.

On his way home to France Baudin was stopped by an English warship but as his business was scientific he was released, returning his specimens to Paris where, on the 28th July 1798, he was honoured when his Caribbean collection was included in a parade through the streets of Paris commemorating the anniversary of Robespierre’s execution.

At its head the cheering crowds see some curious trophies – wagons carrying banana and coconut palms, pawpaw trees, and other exotic plants. Word spreads that they have been landed by a French mariner, Citizen Baudin, after a voyage to the West Indies.’[3]

Baudin was now a maritime hero and was given a respectable position in the French navy.

Scientific voyage to the South Seas – 1800-1804

With his scientific credentials secure Baudin was now placed in charge of two elegant corvettes Le Géographe, his flagship, and Le Naturaliste which was commanded by Emanuel Hamelin, the vessels like floating laboratories with a combined crew of 251 men leaving Le Havre at the mouth of the Seine on 19 October 1800 to a grand farewell which included a military fanfare and artillery salvos. On board were 22 scientists (known as savants – these were the scientific ‘experts’: three botanists, five zoologists, two mineralogists, three artists, five gardeners, two geographers, and two astronomers) including four botanists headed by Louis Leschenault de la Tour and five gardeners headed by Anselme Riedlé who had assisted Baudin in the Caribbean.[4] Artists Charles-Alexandre Lesueur and Nicholas-Martin Petit would leave us with an invaluable record of the expedition through their watercolours and drawings while the official voyage artists Milbert (landscape painter), Lebrun (architectural draughtsman) and Garnier (genre-painter) all abandoned ship at Mauritius on the voyage out.[30] It would be nine months before Flinders with botanist Robert Brown would leave Portsmouth on a similar mission.

The brief

The prime objective of the voyage was cartographic, to complete a coastal chart of New Holland starting with the south coast then sailing north along the west coast the along the northern coast; he was also to collect specimens and study the natural history, and see whether there was a waterbody bisecting New South Wales and New Holland. Surveying in fact followed three phases: a reconnaissance of the western and north-western coasts of Nouvelle Hollande; a survey of the Van Diemen Island coast uncharted by D’Entrecasteaux and a running survey of the mainland southern coast from Westernport to Cape Leeuwin; surveys of Spencer Gulf and King George Sound. Ironically the surveying was done without the excellent charts already prepared by Charles Beautemps-Beaupré on the d’Entrecasteaux expedition. These had been captured and copied by the British who had handed them over to Flinders who was using them to assist his coastal charting, being done at the same time as Baudin. The charts were returned to France in 1802 but, unfortunately for Baudin, too late for his venture which had left France on 19 October 1800. Passes had been obtained from the British government to give the expedition protection from any acts of aggression by the British Navy.

Ostensibly there was no political motive for the French expedition but a close watch was undoubtedly being kept on the progress of British settlement and the strategic location of Van Diemen’s Land had not gone unnoticed, Baudin writing from Port Jackson late in the expedition that British occupation of the island would “… truly be a loss to France, since a base on Van Diemen’s Land cannot but be greatly advantageous”.[5] As the Baudin and Flinders missions were so similar in intent there was surely also scientific rivalry between the two nations which in hindsight was admirably amicable.

Lesueur’s drawings of Sydney,[31] combined with some rare Péron manuscripts give a vivid impression of Sydney 12 years after British settlement. The possible political motives for the expedition have never been clear. It seems that Péron, at least, had no doubt as in his Mémoire sur les Établissements Anglais à la Nouvelle Hollande he insists that ‘the conquest of New Holland is indispensable for our political relations‘, suggesting the visit to Sydney was a reconnaissance to assist Napoleon with surveillance documents and strategic topographies that could be used in any plan for invasion.[30]

Leschenault de la Tour

Difficulties emerged on board from the start, not least of these being the tensions between republican and royalist sympathizers, but there was also dissatisfaction with Baudin’s authoritarian manner. As often happened the scientists were having trouble with shipboard discipline.[6] After five months arrival at the Ile de France (Mauritius) was greeted by an exodus of 46 sailors and 10 savants. Collecting at the first landfall, Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canaries, was very productive but patience was running out and nearly five months later at the next landfall, Port Louis, capital of Ile de France (Mauritius)[13] was an attractive island and, with food contaminated and inadequate stores taken aboard, ten of the savants defected including botanists André Michaux (known for the importation of American plants to France and the establishment of botanic gardens in Carolina and New Jersey) and Jacques Delisse, along with gardeners Francois Cagnet and Merlot, all aboard La Naturaliste. Michaux had objected to his collections becoming property of the government.[14]

On Le Géographe Leschenault de la Tour was now the only botanist assisted by three of the original five gardeners, Anselme Riedlé, Antoine Sautier and Antoine Guichenot.[7] Leschenault would complete later collections in New Holland, spending a day botanising at Port Jackson on 11 May 1802 with Robert Brown and Brown’s gardener-botanist Peter Good before falling ill and leaving the ship in Timor in 1803.

Lechenault’s collections included 55 plants from King Island and 200 from Van Diemen’s Land but these are only listed in his unpublished journals.[33]

New Holland collections and cartography

Coastal surveying in New Holland began at Cape Leeuwin in May 1801 and there was some dredging for marine specimens. With winter closing in he decided to go orth. Gardeners Riedlé and Sautier were among a few of the crew chosen to assess the land at Géographe Bay on 30 May. During the week’s stay all the naturalists were allowed ashore and Riedlé planted a garden of European fruits, cereal and vegetables as compensation to the local inhabitants for the rich haul of organisms taken from the site by the naturalists.[8] Shortly after setting off the ships became separated in strong winds, regrouping in Timor three months later.

Le Géographe sailed north to survey northern Shark Bay and, for one week, collecting on Bernier Island collecting 70 plant species before the ship sailed to Bonaparte Archipelago to do a month’s surveying and then, with water and food running low, it was time to head for Timor.[9] Head Gardener Anselme Reidlé was regarded by Baudin as a ‘better botanist than the gentleman at the head of this department’ (Leschenault). Reidlé had pleased Baudin on an earlier collecting trip to the West Indies.

Meanwhile Le Naturaliste had put ashore at Rottnest, Carnac and Garden Islands also at the adjacent Swan River mainland, although no plant collections were made, then sailed to Shark Bay spending a brief period charting in the Bonaparte Archipelago where on Dirk Hartog Island the pewter plate left by Vlamingh over 100 years before which marked Dirk Hartog’s visit 80 years before that, was attached to a new strong post.[15] Hamelin then set off to meet up with Le Géographe at Kupang, Timor. Here, with both crews suffering from scurvy, the scourge of dysentery was added to their woes and several sailors and savants succumbed, including Reidlé who had selflessly continued his collecting even in Kupang. A close friend of Baudin he was given a grand funeral and was buried next to David Nelson, gardener on Captain Bligh’s Bounty, who had died of fever in Kupang less than two years before.

In Timor plants and seed were loaded on a ship destined for France and the two vessels headed south west on a run to Van Diemens Land with sick crews seeking respite and recuperation as the death toll rose. Riedlé’s death was quickly followed by that of his gardener assistant Antoine Sautier (a nurseryman) buried at sea a month after leaving Timor.

Arriving at Van Diemen’s Land the ship sailed into D’Entrecasteaux Channel on 13 Jan 1802 and here they were able to spend a month surveying around the Derwent, collecting and recuperating while collecting widely – admiring the giant eucalypts, banksias, the strange-leaved casuarinas, and the breathtaking landscape.

Baudin then returned to the main task of charting the southern coast heading west from Wilson’s Promontory although he had, once again, become separated from Le Naturaliste. There was a chance friendly meeting with Flinders (see Flinders), on a similar charting mission, at Encounter Bay. Then, just beyond Fowlers Bay in South Australia, and with provisions and water extremely low, Baudin decided to overwinter in Port Jackson, returning first to Adventure Bay in Van Diemen’s Land.

Meanwhile Le Naturaliste had investigated Port Dalrymple and Westernport, refitted at Port Jackson and had set off for France only to return to Port Jackson in bad weather finding that Baudin had arrived in the meantime. Baudin directed Hamelin to go ahead with the voyage records and collections and he set off again, arriving back in France at Lorient in June 1803.

Purchase of the Casuarina

At Port Jackson news of the Treaty of Amiens[11] had found its way to the settlement, the French being treated hospitably during their 5 month stay.

At Port Jackson the French again met Flinders, and Leschenault took advantage of the encounter by joining Brown and Good on a collecting trip.[10] Lesuer also met up with Ferdinand Bauer. Baudin purchased a locally-built schooner, the Casuarina, which had a shallow draught suited to coastal exploration and Louis Freycinet was placed in command, the two ships sailing to chart the west coast, landing briefly at King Island and Kangaroo Island before re-uniting at King George Sound where they did some further collecting.

Regrouping again at Rottnest Island the two ships sailed north to Shark Bay, then Timor and Ile de France where Baudin died, probably from tuberculosis.

Freycinet now abandoned the Casuarina and sailed with Le Naturaliste to arrive back at Lorient France on 25 March 1804. There were many cases to unload packed with minerals, shells, dried plants, 600 bags of different seeds, 70 cases of growing plants and about 100 living animals including many kangaroos, a panther and black swans. Two black emus from King Island went straight to the menagerie at Malmaison, the last surviving until 1822 by which time it had also become extinct in its native habitat.[12]

Botanist Leschenault de la Tour had changed ship on the first visit to Timor in 1801 transferring from the Géographe to the Naturaliste (artist or botanist – did he join Baudin here – check number of collections etc.?) and it seems he drew more than 600 plant species on the voyage, and with the gardener Antoine Guichenot,[16] made substantial collections on the south coast but especially from Flinders Island and in western Australia. Many of these were described by French botanist Réné Desfontaines, a long-term friend of Labillardière.[17] Guichenot was the only member of the crew’s botanical complement that returned to France in 1804 with seed and tubs of living plants. As ‘gardener’s boy’ it seems he had little education, poor writing skills and a limited knowledge of plants – but he was a hard worker, collecting more plant specimens that were better annotated than those of the official botanist, Leschenault. It is likely that Guichenot returned to Australia in L’Uranie on the Freycinet voyage of 1817-1820.

The head gardener (premier garçon) of the expedition Anselme Riedlé at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris), and who had been with Baudin on his earlier voyage to the Americas, died of dysentery and fever in Kupang, Timor. Later Labillardiere, when describing the collections from this trip, would honour Head Gardener Riedlés work in the name of a cycad Macrozamia riedlei.

Baudin himself died, aged 49, of tuberculosis on the island of Mauritius on the home trip in 1803. A day after the Géographe left Mauritius the Flinders landed on the island in HMS Cumberland to be emprisoned by Governor Decaen, Géographe limping into Le Havre in March 1804.

Péron’s Voyages de Découvertes aux Terres Australes (1807) has served as the main account of the voyage although his reliability and prejudices have been questioned (he never names his captain): in 1810, like Baudin, he died of tuberculosis.

Scientific collections

Scientifically the voyage was by far the most successful of all the French voyages of scientific exploration with a rich botanical haul as well as other collections and observations from temperate and tropical regions. About 4,000 herbarium specimens were returned to France of which about 500 were species new to science. At the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle Péron took weeks to unpack the 70 large cases of minerals, plants, fish, reptiles, shells, quadrupeds, and birds. About 200 living plants were returned along with 600 different kinds of seed collected and stored in several thousand bags, and to all this can be added 72 live animals and birds from Australia including live kangaroos from Kangaroo Island.[30] Unfortunately these gains were at a high human cost as many of the men were lost through sickness and desertion, mostly before the collecting in Australia. Only half of the sixty officers and scientists survived.[18]

Altogether the two vessels had collected more than ten times the new species that were collected by the Endeavour including a staggering 200 species of living plants, and 66 different kinds of seed collected by Leschenault, the results of which would enhance Empress Josephine’s garden.[19] The documentation and illustration of these plants was, however, poor – some possibly included in Labillardières work on the first collections that had returned with Le Naturaliste[21] and some in Brown’s. Other plants from the Baudin expedition were described much later by Swiss botanist Augustus P. De Candolle, Professor of Botany in the Medical Faculty of the University of Montpellier, in his world flora, Prodromus systematis naturalis regni vegetabilis (1824-1873).[22] This monumental work, intended to embrace all flowering plants, eventually covered only dicotyledons. The principles of nomenclature for this work laid the foundation for the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature which was first published in 1906.

Distribution of collections – Aimé Bonpland

Thouin was in charge of transporting the first major collections to Paris and there then followed the delicate business of negotiating between the interests of Josephine and the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle concerning the distribution of the plants … Josephine was given first choice.

Further negotiations took place with the arrival of the Géographe seven months later. On the return journey it had put in to Timor then Ile de France before arriving back in France in March 1804. Baudin himself had succumbed to tuberculosis a few weeks before.

While in Sydney Péron had bought a large collection of ethnographic objects from George Bass and it included boomerangs and a toy canoe. Sent to Josephine’s Malmaison the collection was dispersed after Josephine’s death in 1814.[32]

The botanist who raised much of the seed was the renowned Aimé Bonpland employed at Malmaison in 1808, steward of Empress Josephine’s gardens, and famous for accompanying Alexander von Humboldt on his expeditions through the South American mountains. Bonpland published descriptions of many of the Baudin Australian plants in his Descriptions de Plantes Rares et Cultivées â Malmaison et Navarre. These were two experimental gardens the lesser known Château de Navarre in the Eure also enjoying Josephine’s interest. Other plants of horticultural interest were described from garden plants grown in M. Cels garden in Paris[23] (see Nurseries & networks) and seed of eucalypts was planted in the botanical garden at Toulon.

Timeline & Key points

1786 – Baudin assists and befriends Franz Boos, under-gardener at the imperial Schönbrunn Palace garden of Austrian Emperor Joseph II in Vienna. Boos has natural history specimens including live plants and animals destined for the Emperor’s menagerie, cabinet, and gardens including tropical plants from the Jardin du Roi on Pamplemousses, Ile de France (Mauritius) that were destined for the famed glasshouse collections at Schönbrunn. Baudin discovers how to manage live animals and plants on board ship
1796-1798 Baudin collects plants and specimens in the Antilles and Caribbean for the museums in Paris
1800-1804 – Scientific voyage of exploration to the South Seas with Le Géographe his flagship, and Le Naturaliste support ship commanded by Emanuel Hamelin
1801 – Begin surveying at Cape Leeuwin in early May
1801 – 11 May Leschenault joins Brown and Good for a day’s botanising in Port Jackson
1801 – Land at Geographe Bay 30 May staying for one week, Riedlé planted a garden of European fruits, cereal and vegetables
1802Casuarina purchased and Freycinet placed in charge on 23 November, the schooner to accompany Geographe
1807 – Publication of Péron’s Voyages de Découvertes aux Terres Australes but incomplete and finalised by Freycinet from 1811 to 1816.
1811 – Publication of the first complete chart of Australia in Paris, the southern coast named Terre Napoleon (Land of Napoleon) and the South Australian gulfs named Golfe Bonaparte and Golfe Josephine to honour France’s First Consul and his wife.

Plant commentary

French botanists played a large part in the description of New Holland’s plant discoveries. French commitment to natural history measured in naturalists on ships was greater than that of the British: Flinders took six, Baudin twenty-two.
Even though eucalypts had been collected at Botany Bay by Banks and Solander, the genus Eucalyptus was not established until 1792 when Charles L’Héritier, a close friend of Labillardière,[24] described the genus and type species E. obliqua, Messmate Stringybark. He had described this plant when visiting Kew in 1786-7, his description of both genus and species being based on a specimen collected by David Nelson. Nelson had been a gardener at Kew and on the voyage was supervised by William Anderson the surgeon on the Resolution (support ship to Cook’s third expedition of 1777-79) when the specimen was collected in Adventure Bay, Bruny Island, Tasmania in January 1777. The aristocratic L’Héritier was assassinated in the eighth year of the French Revolution, killed with a sabre at his front door, his murderer never being determined. His private collection of botanical books was second only to that of Banks.[25]

The French also played a major role in the early collection and description of marine macroalgae (seaweeds).[26] The first marine alga collected in New Holland was by William Dampier in August 1699 in the vicinity of Shark Bay and later described by him with the assistance of eminent English botanist John Ray (currently named Cystoseira trinodis). Cooks voyages made no known algal collections and the next collection was by Archibald Menzies at Point D’Entrecasteaux, King George Sound, between September and October 1791.[27] Robert Brown collected 38 algal taxa and also recorded the first freshwater alga, Batrachospermum atrum, probably collected near Sydney.[28] The Menzies and Brown collections are at the natural History Museum in London. Apart from these early English collections the foundations of phycology in New Holland were essentially laid by the French.[29]

Ironically by the 1860s popular plantings of eucalypts had escaped into the wild in the Côte d’Azur, Corsica and Algeria.[20]

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