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Like the English expedition under the command of Matthew Flinders, the French expedition under Nicolas Baudin set out to explore and chart the coastline of the 'unknown southern land', determine whether 'New Holland' was one landmass, and make scientific observations. They were also looking for new land and trade opportunities. Napoleon sent out one of the most extensive expeditions in the nineteenth century. On 19 October 1800, Baudin and his large group of scientists left Le Havre in two ships, Le Geographe and Le Naturaliste.

En route the expedition called in to Ile de France [Mauritius] for resupply. Due to personal and political differences with Captain Baudin, many of the scientists, artists and some officers resigned at this stage.

Le Geographe neared Cape Leeuwin on 27 May 1801, but then following instructions given in France, proceeded up the western coast to the north, reaching Timor in August. Le Naturaliste was separated from Le Geographe and travelled independently to Timor, charting the western coast in more detail.

After a sojourn in Timor, the ships sailed south to Van Diemen's Land [Tasmania] by January 1802. Baudin explored the island extensively, and after surveying D'Entrecasteaux Channel, reached the mainland southern coast which he explored in a westward direction from Wilson's Promontory. The detailed surveys undertaken along the western coast and in Van Diemen's Land delayed Baudin's arrival on the 'unknown coast' where Flinders had already arrived from the west.

Baudin gave French place names to features in 'Terre Napoleon', meeting Flinders at Encounter Bay in April 1802, and then continuing on to Golfe de la Mauvaise [Gulf St Vincent] and Golfe de la Melomanie [Spencer Gulf]. At Cape Adieu the survey was abandoned and Baudin sailed for Port Jackson where Le Naturaliste had already arrived.

Winter was spent at Port Jackson, and then Baudin returned to the southern coast for a more thorough survey. Le Naturaliste was sent back to France with its scientific collections, and was replaced with Le Casuarina. In January 1803 Baudin circumnavigated Ile Borda [named Ile Decres by Peron; present day Kangaroo Island], the first European to do so. While Le Geographe anchored at Nepean Bay, Freycinet and the geographer Boullanger explored the two gulfs in Le Casuarina. Near the end of February Le Geographe and Le Casuarina rendezvoued at King George Sound, and then explored the west and northwest coasts of 'New Holland', before heading home.

Baudin's voyage suffered many misfortunes including numerous deaths and desertions, and Baudin himself died on the homeward voyage to France. Consequently, published accounts of the voyage were made by Francois Peron and Louis de Freycinet, and Baudin was unable to defend his version of events. Official reports did not refer to Baudin, partly due to the personal conflicts between Baudin and members of the expedition, and also due to the political upheaval in France in the period following the return of the expedition.

Only in more recent years have the considerable achievements of Baudin's voyage been recognised, including the charting of previously unknown coastline, and discoveries in various fields of science. French place names remain on the southern coast of South Australia, mainly in the south-east, and on the south coast of Kangaroo Island, where the French had been the first to survey.

Internet sites

The sites formerly listed here are no longer available.

Further sources

Advertiser 19 February 2002 'Encounter 2002 - Discovery of the unknown coast' Part 1: 'The explorers'

Baudin, Nicolas. The journal of post Captain Nicolas Baudin, Commander-in-Chief of the corvettes Geographe and Naturaliste, assigned by order of the government to a voyage of discovery / translated from the French by Christine Cornell ; with a foreword by Jean-Paul Faivre. Adelaide: Libraries Board of South Australia, 1974.

Baudin, Nicolas. Mon voyage aux Terres Australes: journal personnel du commandant Baudin / texte etabli par Jacqueline Bonnemains avec la collaboration de Jean-Marc Argentin et Martine Marin. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale Editions, 2000.

Brosse, Jacques. Great voyages of discovery: circumnavigators and scientists, 1764-1843 / Jacques Brosse; translated by Stanley Hochman; preface by Fernand Braudel. New York, NY: Facts on File, c1983.

Brown, Anthony J. Ill-starred captains: Flinders and Baudin. Hindmarsh, S. Aust.: Crawford House Publishing, 2000.

Cooper, H. M. French exploration in South Australia: with special reference to Encounter Bay, Kangaroo Island, the two gulfs and Murat Bay 1802-1803. Adelaide: the author, 1952 (printed by MacDougalls Pty Ltd).

Cornell, Christine. Questions relating to Nicolas Baudin's Australian expedition, 1800-1804. Adelaide: Libraries Board of South Australia, 1965.

Horner, F. B. The French reconnaissance: Baudin in Australia 1801-1803. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 1987.

Milius, Pierre Bernard. Recit du voyage aux terres australes / par Pierre Bernard Milius, second sur le "Naturaliste" dans l'expedition Baudin, (1800- 1804); transcription du texte original par Jacqueline Bonnemains, Pascale Hauguel. [Le Havre]: Societe havraise d'etudes diverses, Museum d'histoire naturelle du Havre, [1987]

Radok, R. (Rainer) Capes and captains: a comprehensive study of the Australian coast. Chipping Norton, N.S.W.: Surrey Beatty & Sons, 1990

Sydney Morning Herald. Good Weekend. 13 March 1999, pp. 45-48. Hawley, Janet. 'The French connection.'

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