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|1789 – the year of the French Revolution. 1792 – concern for the long overdue explorer, La Pérouse, has reached such a pitch that the revolutionary government despatches two ships under Admiral Bruni D’Entrecasteaux to locate the missing hero and carry out extensive scientific investigations. D’Entrecasteaux doesn’t find La Pérouse, and the expedition dissolves in the Dutch East Indies as it prepares to sail for home, but its scientific work is of incalculable value, and its chief botanist, Labillardière, will produce the first published study of Tasmanian flora.
One of the expedition’s most significant achievements is ‘proving’ that the presumed ‘long bay’ north of the Huon estuary is, in fact, a channel – and that the much-frequented anchorage at Adventure Bay is, then, on an island. The discovery is made by a boat party under Alexandre François de la Fresnaye, later to be Marquis de Saint-Aignan, along with the brilliant hydrographer, Charles-François Beautemps-Beaupré, and eleven seamen. Fresnaye is handsome and robust, but regarded by many shipmates as lazy and unreliable. He does well on this occasion, though. He contends with relentless headwinds, and sticks at it, though only carrying provisions for four days. Somewhere near the northern extremity of the channel an astronomical survey fixes the positions of the channel’s outlet and what will be known as Kelly’s Point. (Baudin would also set up an astronomical station at this end of the channel, probably on this very point.)
D’Entrecasteaux now sails his ships north through the channel, charting the coast as he goes. Like Baudin ten years later, he is cursed with constant headwinds, and it takes four days to arrive at our present position. He struggles to exit the channel that now bears his name until finally, on 28 May 1792, he battles past Cap de la Sortie and into open water.
D’Entrecasteaux’s expedition is the first to experience a rich interaction with the native peoples. There is evidence that Fresnaye may have camped here on Jetty Beach. He describes long bark canoes and a party of six natives to whom he gave two neckerchiefs – which the recipient Aborigines wore on their heads.
Further reading and image sources
Edward Duyker, Citizen Labillardiere, A naturalist’s Life in Revolution and Exploration (1755-1834), The Miegunya Press, 2003.
Bertrand Daugeron, A la Recherche de l’Esperance, rivisiter la rencontre des Aborigenes tasmaniens avec les Francais 1772-1802 (Ars apodemica, 2014). *In French. Two of the images on this page were sourced from Daugeron’s book:
Horner, F. , Looking for La Perouse: D’Entrecasteaux in Australia and the South Pacific 1792-1793 (Melbourne University Press, Carlton [Vic.],1995).
Plomley, N.J.B. and J. Piard-Bernier, The General: The Visits of the Expedition Led by Bruny D’Entrecasteaux to Tasmanian Waters in 1792 and 1793 (Queen Victoria Museum, Launceston, 1993).
The portrait of D’Entrecasteaux is from the National Libary, Trove.
Labilladière’s Atlas: Relation du voyage à la recherche de La Pérouse can be browsed online from the Bibliotéque Nationale de France. *Site in French.
Freycinet’s map of south east Van Diemen’s Land can be found in the National Library Trove collection. It was originally published in France in Lesueur and Petit’s Voyage of Discovery to the Southern Lands, An historical record; Atlas (Artus Bertrand, Paris: 1824). A facsimile edition of this was published by The Friends of the State Library of South Australia in 2008 (translations by Peter Hambly and Introduction by Sarah Thomas).
The French memorial fountain at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, in Hobart has a collection of plants collected by Labillardière and other French expeditioners. An informative page about the exhibit can be found here.
For those really interested in Labilladière, there is a street named after him in his hometown in Normandy. Here it is (Google Maps link).
(Click to enlarge images)