Australian Journal of French Studies

The Baudin Expedition in Review: Old Quarrels and New Approaches

Australian Journal of French Studies (2004), 41, (2), 4–14.


The Baudin Expedition in Review: Old Quarrels and New Approaches MARGARET SANKEY, PETER COWLEY AND JEAN FORNASIERO The Baudin expedition (1800–1804) was the third French scientific voyage to New Holland, after those of La Pérouse and d’Entrecasteaux. It was led by Nicolas Baudin, a seasoned botanical voyager, who set out in command of the Géographe; its second-in-command was Captain Emmanuel Hamelin in the Naturaliste. Commissioned by Napoléon, the expedition was organized on a grand scale and consequently generated a wealth of written material in the form of sea journals, letters written to and from members of the expedition, reports and official documents, but also left an important iconographic record, in the form of charts, maps and drawings. While the expedition’s return, and its reputation, were obscured by its internal dissensions, as by the events of the Napoleonic wars, the voyage nonetheless yielded rich results: its naturalists brought large numbers of zoological and botanical specimens to the collections of the Muséum d’histoire naturelle in Paris, as well as providing live plants and animals for the gardens and menageries of the Muséum and of Malmaison.1 In spite of this impressive bounty, it is only in recent years that the voyage has begun to receive the attention it deserves for the long-term contribution it made to science and to the history of early Australian exploration, too long dominated by the English conquest story, and particularly by the competing claims for superiority made on behalf of the contemporaneous Australian voyage of Matthew Flinders. Indeed, establishing an accurate record of events has been a long and difficult process, and not only because of the accusations made by the English that the French explorers had plagiarized Flinders’s charts or claimed his cartographic achievements on the south coast as their own. The French authorities were also anxious to forget about an expedition that had brought them neither glory nor diplomatic advantage. In these conditions, the surviving expeditioners were hard pressed to protect their interests and their careers, not to mention the expedition’s 1 The expedition’s live specimens were not simply propagated within the gardens and menagerie of the Paris Muséum, but also in the grounds of the Empress Josephine’s property at Malmaison. For the history of Josephine’s acquisitions, see the article by Christian Jouanin within this number, and for details of the Malmaison collections, see C. Jouanin, Les Cygnes noirs. Catalogue de l’exposition L’Impératrice Joséphine et les sciences naturelles, Musée national du château de Malmaison, 29 mai–6 octobre 1997 (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1997).

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Author details

Sankey, Margaret

Cowley, Peter

Fornasiero, Jean