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Expedition to Terra Australis

12922000Letterhead of the expedition, 1800The banner with ‘Bonaparte, First Consul’ has the words ‘Liberty’ and ‘Equality’ either side. The motif is made up of images of expedition-related objects: the two ships, the Géographe and the Naturaliste, measuring and navigational instruments, and drawing materials. The name of the expedition, Voyage of Discovery, is shown in the lower part of the composition. Citation bio p27 (Publication of the Voyage of 1807, volume 1, p. 8-9).Letterhead of the expedition, 1800The banner with ‘Bonaparte, First Consul’ has the words ‘Liberty’ and ‘Equality’ either...Zooméum du Havre
14952000Clouds, C.-A. Lesueur, 1800The annotation reads: ‘aboard the Géographe, after having passed the Equator’.Clouds, C.-A. Lesueur, 1800The annotation reads: ‘aboard the Géographe, after having passed the Equator’.Zooméum du Havre
13642000The Géographe and the Naturaliste, C.-A. Lesueur, 1800The annotation reads: ‘Calm below the Equator –the Géographe & the Naturaliste below the Equatorial line.’ citation bio p24 (Nales Archives)The Géographe and the...The annotation reads: ‘Calm below the Equator –the Géographe & the Naturaliste below the...Zooméum du Havre
1000953Pelagic gastropod [deep sea]Pelagic gastropod [deep sea], C.-A. Lesueur, 1800Pelagic gastropod [deep sea]Pelagic gastropod [deep sea], C.-A. Lesueur, 1800Zooméum du Havre

Expedition to Terra Australis (1800-1804)

In October 1800 the Géographe and the Naturaliste left the port of Le Havre with a team of two hundred, including some twenty savants. They were headed for Australia, known then as New Holland. This scientific expedition, endorsed by Napoleon Bonaparte had three objectives: to complete the charting of the coast of Australia, to create an inventory of animal and plant species and to document and draw the inhabitants they came across.

The expedition was outstanding from a scientific perspective, but over the four years, with navigational problems, unsanitary conditions and disease there was considerable loss of life amongst the crew and the savants. Even the expedition commander himself, Nicolas Baudin, died in Mauritius on 16 September 1803. However the wealth of scientific knowledge was exceptional. From then the coasts of southern Australia were charted, and more than 100,000 specimens were taken back, including live animals and plants that were housed at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and at Malmaison chateau, the residence of Josephine Bonaparte. The non-living specimens and the drawings done on the expedition are today mostly in the collections of the Natural History Museum in Paris and the Natural History Museum in Le Havre.


The end of the Voyage

The Géographe arrived at Lorient on 25 March 1804. Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire received the collections on behalf of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. These were added to the collections brought back by the Naturaliste in 1803 and by the first groups in Timor, sent back to Paris from 1800.


‘It comprises more than one hundred thousand specimens of animals, species large and small, and has already provided several important genuses; there are still a good many more to be revealed, and the number of new species, according to the report of the professers at the Natural History Museum, amounts to over two thousand five hundred. If we recall that Cook’s second voyage, which is the most splendid made so far, didn’t contribute more than two hundred and fift of them, and that the voyages of Carteret, Wallis, Furneaux, Méares, and Vancouver himself combined didn’t produce as many as this; if we observe that the same holds for all the French expeditions, this means that amongst all the naturalist voyagers of recent times, Mr Peron and Mr Lesueur alone have introduced us to the most new animals.’

(Report to the government by the French National Institute on the Voyage of Discovery to Terra Australis. Extract from the proceedings of the physical sciences and mathematics division, session of Monday 9 June 1806).


Over 100,000 specimens were recorded, which was impressive in both quantity and in quality. The collection was divided between the different branches of science, and went to different laboratories. However this impeded a proper understanding of the results of the expedition.

The official publication of the findings of the expedition, entrusted to François Peron, began in 1807. The resulting publications were added to and amended until 1824. Along with the written accounts and drawings, the publication of the atlas of maps in 1811 officially completed the charting of the south-eastern part of Australia – a significant statement in the Franco-English rivalry at the time.

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