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A French Perspective: Curious Stories from the Expedition

Baudin and Maugé – a story of friendship

On an expedition in which most of the sailors, scientists and artists were in their 20s, the zoologist René Maugé and Baudin, both in their 40s, formed a close friendship and high regard for each other.

On 21 February 1802, Maugé died when the expedition was in passage near Maria Island, after taking ill in Timor. Baudin was devastated.

Naval protocol at the time was for bodies to be wrapped and buried at sea. In the face of this, Baudin ordered the crew to dress in their best uniform and went onto Maria Island, where a full funeral was conducted with all the honours and a memento left to commemorate his friend.

To date no evidence of the memento has been neither found, nor official record of why this happened. What it does mean to us today was that the first European to be buried in Tasmania was a Frenchman.


Le Cape Des Tombeaux – the Cape of Graves   

This had momentous significance as it turned the ‘scientific truth’ of the time on its head in regard to the Indigenous peoples of Australia as now they had to be considered human, with full and equal emotional and intelligence as the explorers themselves.

When exploring Maria Island, a small group of scientists, including naturalist Francois Peron, stumbled upon burial sites of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people.

Up to the point of Baudin’s expedition, the scientific/historical world did not consider the Indigenous peoples of Australia as ‘human’. They were formally classified as ‘animals’ without capacity to think and feel; as evidenced by the belief that they did not bury their dead. Previous expeditions had not found any sign of burial sites/graves up to this point.

The expedition named this part of Maria Island and was the site of a hugely significant event in history.


Fact or Fiction? An unusual story

On a lighter note, this is an unusual story; where exactly it happened is not known – either Maria or Bruny Island, but definitely in Tasmania.

On expedition ships at the time there was no privacy and space was an issue. Sailors shared bunks, hammocks and there were no bathrooms or washrooms – everyone got to know everyone very well indeed. There was no room for modesty.

Louis Claude de Saulces de Freycinet was second-in-command on the Naturaliste. It was well known by the crew and scientists that he was extremely well-endowed.

When coming into contact with Tasmanian aboriginal people, the crew and scientists on the expedition were ordered to demonstrate a very strict code of behaviour. They had to show no aggression, smile and display non- threatening behaviour in the hope that this would encourage the first peoples to approach them.

This they did: they would look into their faces, into their ears, look at their hands and clothes. It was inevitable that the expedition crew/scientists were also gestured to remove their clothes. It was told that the crew waited with amused curiosity as to what reaction would be when Freycinet did so.

Legend has it that on the sight of Freycinet’s ‘gifts’ they ran away in fright, but not so the women!


Councillor Bertrand Cadart of Glamorgan/Spring Bay

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