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Pacific Explorers Library
Louis-Antoine Bougainville
The French Sailor, Soldier, Statesman and Mathematician, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, was one of the most interesting characters of the Eighteenth Century. Born in Paris in 1729, he started the first settlement in the Iles Malouines (Falkland Islands); he led a voyage around the world in the 1760s; he fought in the American War of Independence; he wrote mathematical treatises and was elected to scientific academies; and he survived a duel and the French Revoloution to become a friend of Napoleon and grow roses. After his death in 1811 he had islands, mountains and plants named after him. He was a Renaissance man in the Enlightenment.

1766-1769 Round the World Voyage
Bougainville was greatly disappointed that the French gave up the Iles Malouines but he soon had an idea for another project, an expedition around the world. The Ducs de Choiseul and Paslin both supported the new venture and Bougainville was given two ships and Government backing. The plans for the expedition were prepared with the assistance of Charles de Brosses. The storeship, the Etoile, had only just returned from the Malouines and was still being refitted and stocked so only one ship was ready at the beginning of November 1766. Bougainville set sail on 5 November from Nantes on the frigate, the Boudeuse, on a voyage that would last 28 months. The second vessel, the Etoile, would leave when it was ready and rendezvous with the Boudeuse at the Malouines. Many of the crew, including several of the officers, had sailed with Bougainville or on his ships to the South Atlantic.

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Fig 5: Bougainville's ships and crews on the round the world voyage

  Boudeuse Etoile
Ship type Frigate Flute / Storeship
Length 40 metres 33.8 metres
Width 10.5 metres 9.1 metres
Weight 550 tons 480 tons
Expedition leader Louis-Antoine de Bougainville  
Captain Nicolas Pierre Duclos-Guyot Francois Chenard de la Giraudais
First Lieutenant Alexandre de Lamotte-Barace, Chevalier de Bournand Jean-Louis Caro, l'aine
Other Officers / Ensigns Henri de Fulque, Chevalier d'Oraison
Jean-Jacques-Pierre de Gratet, Chevalier de Bouchage
Joseph Donat
Pierre Landais
Pierre-Marie Lavarye-Leroy
Engineer / Cartographer   Charles Routier de Romainville
Captain of Artillery Jean-Baptiste-Francois de Suzannet  
Naturalist / Doctor   Philibert Commerson
Astronomer   Pierre-Antoine Veron
Writer / Historian Louis-Antoine Starot de Saint-Germain Michau
Surgeon Louis-Claude Laporte Francois Vives
Passenger   Prince de Nassau-Siegen
Master Denis Couture Francois Blanchard
Persons on board 214 116

The Boudeuse was a 550 ton frigate 40 metres long with a complement of 11 officers and 203 crew. It had been launched in 1766 but was already not in good condition. Bougainville had as his second-in-command Nicolas-Pierre Duclos-Guyot, with whom he had sailed to the Malouines. Bougainville was still relatively inexperienced at sailing a ship and so Duclos-Guyot was, in effect, still "in charge" in the early part of the voyage. The Etoile was a 480 ton storeship, 33.8 metres long with a complement of 8 officers and 108 men. The command of this vessel was given to Francois Chenard de la Giraudais, another Malouines veteran, and he had Jean-Louis Caro, l'aine as his number two. The voyage can claim to be one of the first scientific expeditions through some of the people on board the storeship. Philibert Commerson, a botanist, was taken as the ship's naturalist, while Pierre-Antoine Veron was the astronomer (he later transferred to the Boudeuse). Charts of the voyage were drawn by Charles Routier de Romainville. The Prince de Nassau-Siegen sailed on the Boudeuse as a passenger.

November 1766 - February 1767 France to Iles Malouines
The Boudeuse had been overhauled and stocked at Nantes, in readiness for the voyage. In early November 1766 it sailed out of the River Loire into the Bay of Biscay but on the 17th it encountered a storm in which two masts were broken, necessatating a return to land. Bougainville made for Brest and anchored in the Rade du Brest on 21 November. All repairs being completed, the ship sailed from Brest on 5 December, heading for the South Atlantic. On 17 December they approached the small islands, the Islas Selvagens, north of the Canary Islands, which were themselves sighted and passed the next day. Bougainville did not stop and pressed on to pass the Cape Verde Islands on the 21st and cross the Equator on 8 January 1767.

The first part of the voyage involved the handing over of the Iles Malouines to the Spanish so Bougainville was making for Montevideo to meet up with the Spanish representatives. Buenos Aires, the residence of the Governor, Don Francisco Buccarelli, did not have a suitable harbour so Montevideo served as the main port for the colony. On 30 January they rounded Cabo Santa Maria to enter the Rio Plata and the next day they passed Isla Lobos to anchor in Montevideo harbour. Bougainville waited a few days then accompanied Spanish officials across the Rio Plata to carry out the formalities with the Governor in Buenos Aires. He stayed there from the 7th to the 12th of February then crossed back to the north shore near Isla Martin Garcia and completed the journey back to Montevideo overland. The formal handing over of the Malouines was to take place at the islands but the Spanish ships, the Esmeralda and the Liebre, that would accompany the Boudeuse were not ready and Bougainville had to wait. Don Philip Ruis Puente, the new Governor of the Islas Malvinas, as the islands would be known, was commander of the Esmeralda. Finally on 28 February the three ships set sail.

February 1767 - July 1767 Iles Malouines to Rio de Janeiro
The Iles Sebaldes (Jason Islands) to the northwest of the Malouines were sighted on 21 March and the ships sailed along the north coast, past La Conchee and Baye Accaron, to anchor near Port Louis on the 24th. The islands were handed over on 1 April 1767. The Acadians, who had been brought here by Bougainville, were given the option of staying on under Spanish rule or being shipped by the Spanish back to France. The majority chose to return to France, while ten volunteered to sail with Bougainville as replacements for sick and deserters (three men had absconded at Montevideo). The Spanish ships sailed on 27 April. There was no sign of the Etoile and Bougainville settled down to wait its arrival. In mid-May he made a short trip to l'Anse a l'Yvrogne and Beauport. However, by the end of May the Etoile still had not appeared and Bougainville determined to leave at the beginning of June. The Boudeuse sailed north on 2 June to the second nominated rendezvous, Rio de Janeiro.

On 21 June Bougainville anchored in the harbour of Rio de Janeiro where he found the Etoile and La Giraudais waiting for him. The Etoile, which had left Rochefort on 2 January 1767, had sailed to Montevideo. Here they had learned of Bougainville's movements and decided to return north to meet at Rio de Janeiro where they arrived six days before Bougainville. Francis Nicolas Buet de Kemper, the Etoile's chaplain had been murdered ashore on 17 June. Commerson, the botanist, had spent his time more profitably collecting specimens of the local flora. Among the new plants found and described in Brazil was a violet flowered climber that Commerson later named "Bougainvillea" after the expedition's leader. At first, Antonio Alvares da Cunha, the Portuguese Viceroy, received the French cordially but after a few days relations soured dramatically. Fights broke out between the French sailors on shore leave and local Portuguese. Bougainville thought it prudent to leave straight away and transfer to the Spanish port of Montevideo where he knew he would receive a more friendly reception.

July 1767 - November 1767 Rio de Janeiro to Montevideo
The two ships left Rio de Jameiro on 15 July and sailed down to Montevideo. The Etoile was taking on water and was much slower than the frigate, which often had to wait for the storeship to catch up. En route, the astronomer, Veron, who had transferred on to the Boudeuse, predicted a solar eclipse and this was observed on 25 July. Five days later the ships anchored in Montevideo, where Bougainville learned that Spain and its colonies were expelling Jesuits. He also found that the ships that were to take the Acadian settlers back to Europe had been appropriated to transport the Jesuits, so the Acadians were still in the River Plate area. On 9 August, Bougainville crossed to Buenos Aires in a schooner to meet the Governor. He was in Buenos Aires from the 11th to the 19th before returning to Montevideo. Arriving back on the 23rd, he was informed that a Spanish ship, the San Fernando, had dragged its anchors in a storm and smashed into the neighbouring Etoile causing severe damage. The bowsprit was broken and there was a hole in the bow through which it was taking on water.

On 27 August Bougainville took the Etoile out into the estuary to confirm the damage. He had realised that Montevideo did not have the facilities to repair his storeship and wanted to know if it could reach Encenada de Baragan, near Buenos Aires, where there was a refitting yard. He needed permission to go there but this was slow in being granted so on 7 September Bougainville himself sailed the Etoile across without the aid of a pilot. It anchored at Encenada on the 10th but could not enter the anchorage for repairs until 8 October. A schooner was brought from Buenos Aires so that cargo could be offloaded and the lighter storeship could enter the dock. The repairs were then carried out and the Etoile sailed out to anchor off Punta Lara, where the cargo was reloaded. Bougainville was able to take the ship back on the 31 October, skirting the Ortiz Bank to reach Montevideo on 3 November.

November 1767 - December 1767 Montevideo to Strait of Magellan
Finally, on 14 November the two ships were able to leave Montevideo and the Rio Plata. It was virtually a year to the day since Bougainville had sailed from Nantes and yet he was still only in the South Atlantic. On the passage south past Patagonia a storm caused damage to the Etoile but, at last, in early December, they sighted the northern entrance to the Strait of Magellan, Cabo Virgenes. The ships entered the Strait two days later on 5 December. Bougainville and Duclos-Guyot were now in familiar territory, having visited the Strait three years earlier on a wood collecting trip from the Iles Malouines. They began a slow passage through the Strait and would take seven weeks to reach the Pacific Ocean. The ships anchored on the 7th by the north shore in Baie de Possession (Bahia Posesion). Sailing on, they passed through the Premier Goulet (Primera Angostura) to anchor, on the 8th, close to Cabo San Gregorio at the western end of Baie Boucault (Bahia Santiago). They met local Patagonian people.

They next negotiated the Segunda Angostura on the 11th, to anchor for two days on the north side of Ile St. Elizabeth (Isla Isabel). Bougainville sent men ashore using the small boats. The ships departed on the 13th and sailed south, keeping close to the coast of the Peninsula de Brunswick. They stopped for two days at a bay named Baie Duclos by Bougainville after his number two. Moving on, on the 16th they passed Point Sainte Anne (Punta Carreras) and Cape Round (Cabo San Isidro) to be off Cabo Froward, the southernmost point of the South American mainland. They returned northeast to anchor in Baie Francaise. Bougainville was unhappy with the anchorage and transferred the next day to a neighbouring bay, which he had visited in 1764 and was named after him, Baie Bougainville.

A camp was set up ashore and repairs began on the Etoile, which was still leaking. Veron, the astronomer, set up his instruments on a small offshore island, causing it to be called Observatory Island. A small boat was dispatched to inspect the coast between Capes Froward and Holland but bad weather forced its return. Bougainville then took the two longboats, on the 27th, across the Strait to the Tierra del Fuego shore. He first landed on Isla Dawson before crossing the entrance to a great inlet (Canal Magdalena) to reach a small bay, which he named Baie Beaubassin. This is situated at the northeastern corner of Isla Capitan Aracena, and the party spent the night here. The next day they rowed on to the west, circling Isla Peak before reaching the Baie de la Cormorandiere, where they passed the second night. The next night was spent at Bahia Cascada (Baie de la Cascade) after rowing past Les Deux Soeurs. On 30 December 1767, they crossed back to the north shore near Cabo Froward and on to reach the ships. Bougainville was pleased with the trip, having identified three suitable anchorages. The next day the ships set sail and rounded Cabo Froward to reach Baie Fortescue and Port Galant, where they anchored.

January 1768 Strait of Magellan
1768 began badly for Bougainville. The first few days were relatively fine and allowed some exploration to take place. On 1 January he sent one longboat out to investigate ahead along the north shore, hoping to reach Baie Elizabeth (Bahia Isabel), and another to examine the Isles Royales (Islas Carlos) in the middle of the Strait. Meanwhile, inspection of Port Galant revealed felled tree trunks, inscriptions on tree trunks and other signs of recent European visitors, probably most recently the British expedition of Wallis and Carteret. Bougainville dispatched another boat to the southern shore of the Strait, where he expected the entrance of the Canal Barbara to be located. On the 4th, some men climbed the mountain behind Port Galant, which afforded a good panorama of the Strait.

However, on 4 January the weather deteriorated and for the next two weeks Bougainville and his crew were stuck in Port Galant experiencing gale-force winds, much rain, below freezing temperatures and much snow. Local Patagonians visited the ships. Eventually, on the 16th, the ships were able to sail and headed for the channel on the northeast side of Isle Louis-le-Grande (Isla Carlos III) but while the Etoile was able to reach Baie Dauphine on that island, the conditions prevented the Boudeuse passing Isle Rupert (Isla Ruperto) and forced it even to return to Port Galant. Another nine miserable days were spent there before Bougainville sailed on 25 January.

Suddenly the conditions were favourable and the ships sailed quickly up Paso Ingles, past Isla Carlos III and the entrances to Riviere Batchelor and Baie St. Jerome (Canal Geronimo). Later that day they rounded Cap Quad to enter Long Reach, the final part of the Strait of Magellan. Conditions remained favourable and the two ships rounded Cap des Pilers (Cabo Pilar) and the 12 Apostles rocks to enter the Pacific Ocean on 26 January 1768. The final stretch from Port Galant to the Pacific had been negotiated without stopping.

January 1768 - April 1768 Strait of Magellan to Tahiti
Entering the Pacific, the ships sailed northwest. Bougainville instructed La Giraudais to sail the Etoile just behind and to the south of the Boudeuse but always keeping in sight so that they would cover as much ocean as possible. A British sailor, Davis, had reported land in the southeast Pacific and Bougainville attempted to verify the sighting but with no success. In fact, no land was sighted until late March. During March a water distillation machine was used successfully to supplement the water ration.

On 21 March small islands were sighted, which proved to be part of the Tuamotu Archipelago. Over the next week the ships threaded their way past the small reefs and atolls that Bougainville termed the Dangerous Archipelago. The first islands seen were a cluster that make up Vahitahi (Bougainville's Les Quatres Facardins). Bougainville, passing to the north, immediately saw another island just to the west and sailed on to inspect it. This was Akiaki (Ile de Lanciers) and while people could be seen ashore there was no apparent landing place. Sailing on, the ships next passed to the south of a much larger island, Hao (Bougainville's Ile de la Harpe), which could be seen to hold a large lagoon with canoes. Several more small islands, including Marokau, Ravahere and Hikueru, were seen over the next few days before they entered open seas again on 27 March. Without landing, Bougainville took possession of the islands he had just sailed past.

Soon another island loomed ahead, the tiny island of Mehetia, which was reached on 2 April. Bougainville gave it two names, Le Boudoir and the Pic de la Boudeuse, but did not attempt to land because he had already sighted a much larger landmass just beyond, to the west. Water, wood and other resources were in short supply aboard and the second island looked more likely to be able to replenish these supplies. For two days, the French ships tacked off the northeast coast of this island, often surrounded by canoes that had come out to meet the strangers. The greeting was very friendly and trading began immediately. Bougainville was able to observe that the land was effectively two islands joined by a low isthmus. While off the north coast he could also see another island (Moorea) further to the west. Finally, on the 6th, the two ships found a gap in the reef and managed to get through to anchor on the east coast of the northern part of the island.

April 1768 Tahiti
The French called the island Nouvelle-Cythere and the group of islands, Archipel de Bourbon. Its local name was Tahiti and the anchorage was at Hitiaa on Tahiti-Nui. On 7 April Bougainville met Ereti, the Chief of the district, and received assent to set up a camp ashore. A building close to a stream was allocated to the French where they could take their sick ashore. They were also given permission to draw water from the stream. Bougainville used soldiers to guard the camp, especially against thieving, which seemed endemic among the Tahitians. The continued thieving would prove a problem between the two peoples. The French entertained the Tahitians with music and a fireworks display.

Some Tahitians were unhappy about the French presence but after Bougainville assured them that he would leave within 18 days good relations were restored. Ereti took the French around and indicated which trees could be felled. Commerson quickly collected many botanical specimens including some plants that were good antiscorbutics. It was while he was ashore with his valet that local men saw through the valet's disguise and "he" was revealed to be a woman, Jeanne Baret. On 10 April Toutaa, the Chief of the neighbouring district of Pare, visited Bougainville while that night a Tahitian was shot dead.

On the 12th strong winds began, which created problems for the anchored ships over the next few days. Cables and hawsers gave and anchors were lost. Fortunately for the French, the ships were not driven onto the surrounding coral. A problem of a different sort arose on the 13th when three Tahitians were killed or wounded but Bougainville avoided a situation by putting four soldiers in irons and giving peace offerings to the Tahitians. The time had come to leave and the French started loading the ships.

Bougainville took possession of the island for the French nation, erecting a sign on a tree near the beach and burying a bottle with a message asserting the action. The Etoile sailed out of the anchorage by a more-northerly passage on the 14th. The Boudeuse managed to raise its anchors and leave the next day. Just before the departure, Chief Ereti went on board to say farewell, good relations having been restored. He also persuaded the French to take one of his people (possibly his brother), Ahu-toru (Aotourou), away with them.

The French had only been on the island for nine days but it had a profound effect on all on board the two ships. In their writings and observations that they took home with them a picture of an earthly paradise was created. Coming closely after writers such as Rousseau had put forward the concept of the "Noble Savage" living outside the influence of Europe, the Tahitian people were depicted as proof of this state. Bougainville (who was reluctant himself to promote the Noble Savage theory) and others wrote descriptions of the climate, the vegetation, the ready supply of good food, the lack of a need to do much work, all of which combined to convey the sense that Tahiti was a Utopia.

April 1768 - May 1768 Tahiti to Vanuatu
The ships sailed north at first skirting the atoll of Tetiaroa before striking westward once more. Ahu-toru was soon able to demonstrate his knowledge of neighbouring islands and his ability to navigate using the stars and other natural phenomena. He told Bougainville which islands were friendly with Tahiti and he was keen for the ships to visit them. Bougainville, who was sick at the time, preferred to sail on. In doing so he missed the islands in the Leeward Group of what would be later known as the Society Islands.

They continued west for over two weeks until, early on 3 May 1768, they sighted a small but high, steep-sided island to their north. This was Ta'u, a member of the Samoan Group of islands (at first Bougainville called them Les Petits Cyclades but changed this name to the Archipel des Navigateurs). Bougainville had the ships stand off to the northeast and canoes came from the shore to inspect them. The French made no attempt to land and sailed along the northern side of the island. More canoes approached and sailed round the ships but Aho-toru was not able to understand their language. Beyond Ta'u were two smaller islands, Olosega and Ofu, which with Ta'u make up the Manua Group.

On 5 May another island was sighted off to the west and Bougainville steered the ships toward it. However, he kept a distance away from land as he ranged along the south coast of this island, Tutuila. It was on the north coast of Tutuila that crew from Laperouse's expedition had a violent fight with Samoans 18 years later that resulted in 40 deaths. Later that day, yet another island, Upolu, could be seen to the northwest but the weather worsened so that clouds obscured it the next day and Bougainville was not prepared to risk the ships to investigate. The Boudeuse and the Etoile sailed on leaving Samoa.

A few days later they approached land but Bougainville was not certain whether it was one or two islands. He decided it was one and called it La Solitaire but soon changed this to L'Enfant Perdu. Bougainville was incorrect as there are two islands separated by a very narrow passage, the Sain Channel. They are now known as Futuna and Alofi, the Hoorn Islands, a name given to them by the Dutch explorers Schouten and LeMaire who had visited early in the Seventeenth century. The peak on Alofi, Mt. Kolofau, has also been known as Mt. Bougainville. Bougainville, sailing past to the south without stopping, took possession of the Archipel des Navigateurs and L'Enfant Perdu.

Bougainville himself was recovered from his illness but both ships now had cases of scurvy and venereal disease. The source of the venereal disease would be the subject of much writing over the next years with both the French and British accusing the other of introducing it to the region. Some suggested the disease could have been endemic while others noted the similarity between the syphilis virus and that of yaws, a disease known in the Pacific. Whatever the origin of the disease, the sexual relations between European men and Pacific women ensured that it spread far and wide.

In 1605 the Spanish explorer Quiros had led an expedition to the area Bougainville was now entering. Quiros had located some islands to which he had given the name Austrialia del Espiritu Santo but their exact position was still in doubt. Bougainville hoped to find them and on 22 May his hopes were raised when two islands separated by a small strait were sighted. The ships headed for the strait but were forced north along the east coast of the northern island. He named this island Aurora (also known now as Aurore and Maewo) and its southern partner Pentecost (Raga). Rounding the northern point of Aurora, from where he saw a tiny island to the north (he called it Pic de L'Etoile though it is now called Mera Lava), Bougainville brought the ships south to anchor off Aoba. It was now 23 May and the ships were in need of water, wood and fresh vegetables so Bougainville sent two boats ashore to obtain supplies. Landing on the northern side of the island the French encountered people unlike any they had seen before. These people were Melanesian unlike the Polynesians who inhabited the other islands the French had visited in the Pacific. The Aoba people allowed the French, somewhat reluctantly, to land but stood, fully armed, observing all what the French did. A small exchange of goods took place.

From the ship, Bougainville could see no signs of houses though he could see smoke from fires in the forest. He also saw canoes but of a different type to those of Tahiti and Samoa. The canoes here were simpler and without sails. In the afternoon Bougainville went ashore himself. The people of the island had a skin disease, which caused Bougainville to call it L'Isle des Lepreux (Lepers Island). He also took possession for France. As the French left the Aobans threw stones and fired arrows and the French fired their guns.

The ships sailed but the winds dropped and they were becalmed. Land could be seen in most directions. By now Bougainville suspected that he had reached the islands described by Quiros but he did not realise that a much larger island that he now neared west of Aoba was in fact Quiros's Espiritu Santo. Had he sailed north he would have found the large bay of St. Phillip and St. James with the Jordan River flowing into it. Instead on 25 May the Boudeuse and Etoile veered south and entered a strait that separates Espiritu Santo from another island, Malekula, to the south. Several smaller islands were seen off the south coast of Espiritu Santo and Bougainville dispatched the small boats to search for good anchorages.

Afterwards the strait received the name, Bougainville Strait. Bougainville did not use Quiros's name for the islands but instead called them the Archipel des Grandes Cyclades. They would be later known as the New Hebrides before achieving their local name Vanuatu. On 29 May 1768 the French left land and sailed on to the west. Bougainville hoped to sail close to latitude 15°S and reach New Holand.

June-July 1768 Australia to Solomon Islands
Late on 4 June crew on the Boudeuse heard the sound of breakers and cannons were fired to warn the Etoile. The next morning a low sandy island could be seen on which Bougainville bestowed the name, Le Bature de Diane (Diane Bank). The next day the ships arrived at a reef, which was the cause of concern to the French. Given the state of the ships Bougainville decided to turn and head northeast away from potential disaster. The reef, later called Bougainville Reef, was an outlier of the Great Barrier Reef that fringes the eastern coast of New Holland (later called Australia) and the sailors' concern was well founded. Some of the crew believed they had been able to see land from the mastheads away to the southwest.

In 1606 during the expedition of Quiros one the ships under the command of Torres had left the main party and sailed west, successfully finding a passage between New Holland and New Guinea that still bears his name. Bougainville, though, did not want to follow this route and was aiming to sail to the east and north of New Guinea. On 10 June the mountains of New Guinea loomed ahead to the north. The ships entered a bay, Cul-de-Sac de l'Orangerie, but did not land, deeming it unsafe. Instead they returned to deeper water and sailed east though the currents tried to take them west. The mainland of New Guinea soon finished but a string of small islands and fringing reefs would prevent Bougainville sailing north.

On 17 June a small island reminded Bougainville of Ouessant (Ushant) near Brest and he named the island accordingly. They passed Tagula Island before, on 22 June, reaching Rossel, the end of the island chain. With great relief they named the eastern point of the island Cap de la Deliverance. King Louis XV was honoured when the sea they had just sailed through was named Golfe de la Louisiade and the island chain was named Archipel de la Louisiade. Not all was well or harmonious aboard the ships. Supplies were in very short supply and Bougainville had to reduce rations further. The last goat and dog were killed to be eaten while several members of the crew were acquiring a taste for cooked rat. Saint-Germain, who kept a journal wrote of his suspicions that Bougainville had extra and better food than everyone else aboard. He also questioned the reasons for and success of the voyage. Bougainville, in his journal, recorded that he had the same food as the crew.

Sailing north the French saw land again on 28 June. Several small islands, Ranongga, Baga and Simbu, were seen to the northeast while more small islands, the Treasury Islands were seen in the distance to the northwest. They had reached the Solomon Islands, named by the Spanish explorer Mendoza nearly 200 years earlier but whose exact location had remained a mystery. The next day they passed Vella Lavella and approahed a much larger island trending southeast to northwest. The ships sailed northwest along the island's southern coast. Canoes full of armed men came offshore. They were seen to be Melanesian

The end of the island was reached on 30 June and Bougainville sent two longboats to inspect a bay and search for anchorages and supplies. In the bay the longboats encountered 10 canoes with 150 armed men who attacked the French with arrows and stones. The French replied with two rounds of gunfire, the second of which dispersed the locals. Two canoes with carved heads on their prows were captured along with their contents of nuts, fruit, coconuts, and bows and arrows. A good anchorage was identified but the ships had great difficulty in negotiating passages in the Raz Denys that protected the bay and stood off. The island and the bay were named Choiseul in honour of Etienne-Francois, Duc de Choiseul, the present French Minister of Marine. The River Sui from which the canoes had emerged was called Riviere aux Guerriers (Warriors' river).

July 1768 - August 1768 Solomon Islands and New Ireland
With the longboats back on board the ships sailed from Choiseul on 2 July 1768. Across a strait to the northwest was another island and both this island and the strait would be called after Bougainville. The Boudeuse and the Etoile sailed along the island's north coast. On the 3rd a prominent cape at the northern end of Bougainville Island was named Cap Laverdi. Beyond the cape was a smaller island from which canoes came out, full of men shouting "bouka, bouka, bouka", which occasioned Bougainville to call the island Bouka (It is now written as Buka). The word probably meant "come here". The island of Choiseul had not provided them with many supplies and Bougainville was still looking for somewhere to land. Once more Bougainville took possession for France of land they had just visited or passed.

The British buccaneer Dampier had visited this area 60 years earlier and described an anchorage on the island of what he called New Britain, north of New Guinea. Bougainville rounded Cape Hanpan, the northernmpost point of Buka and headed west looking for Dampier's island. The Nissan islands were seen in the distance to the north. On 6 July he reached a headland and sent Bouchage ashore to look for an anchorage. This was found and the ships dropped anchor safely in a sheltered bay just north of the headland, Cape St. George.

The bay, Port Praslin, proved to have good sources of fresh water and timber but little else. It rained continually for most of the 18 days they remained in the bay, ensuring a nearby waterfall always looked spectacular. Repairs were made to the ships and the sick were able to get ashore to help their recovery. However, there were no coconut palms or bananas or other fuits for the French to collect. Part of a metal plaque with writing in English was then found. A search revealed other signs of a recent visit to another bay, just to the north, by a British ship in the last few months. Bougainville speculated that it was Carteret in the Swallow. A solar eclipse on 13 July allowed Veron to fix the bay's position. An offshore island was named variously Ile Duclos and Isle aux Marteaux (after hammer oysters found there). They were finally able to sail on 24 July but only after experiencing an earthquake two days earlier.

The ships rounded the headland and sailed off to the north along the east coast of the island where they had been anchored. Bougainville did not realise that the land against which he had anchored was in fact an island separated from New Britain by a passage, St. George's Channel. This island was later called New Ireland. A smaller headland just northeast of Cape St. George is called Cape Bougainville. As they sailed up the coast Bougainville bestowed the names of some of his officers on offshore islands as they were passed. From south to north these were Bournand for Ambitle in the Feni Group, D'Oraison for Malendok on the Tanga Group, Du Bouchage for Lihir, and Suzannet for the joint islands of Tabar and Tatau. None of Bougainville's names have been retained.

The stay at Port Praslin had proved good for recuperation but poor as a source for provisions so food for everyone was still strictly rationed. As they were finally nearing again a part of the world with European contact, albeit the Dutch East Indies, Bougainville reasoned that the need to use tents had reduced considerably and he gave instructions to cut up the tent material to make new trousers for the crews. The men had been away for 18 months and their clothes were in poor condition.

On 29 July the ships were visited by visited by canoes manned by armed islanders who brandished bows and arrows. The next day more canoes appeared and the French speculated that the islanders were preparing for an attack by identifying which was the weaker vessel. Indeed, on the 31st the Etoile was attacked by a flotilla of canoes but cannon fire scattered the canoes, none of which returned. They reached the end of New Ireland on 2 August but another smaller island, New Hanover (called Kerhue after another French officer) was located off its northwestern point. Cape Entrance (Dampier's Cape Salomasner), the northern point of New Hanover was passed and on 3 August 1768 they were in open water with a tiny island, Tench (Le Corre) distant on the northern horizon. Dampier had located and named the St. Matthias Islands in 1700. Now, on the 4th, Bougainville sailed past to the north of Emira and the larger Mussau that make up the island group.

August 1768 New Guinea to Ceram
On 8 August a small island appeared ahead. The Boudeuse and the Etoile passed to the south of the island but close enough to observe the presence of many coconut palms and houses. Numbers of canoes were out fishing but the occupants ignored the passing French completely. Bougainville named the island Ile de Anchorites (Hermits) on account of their seeming isolation and self-contentment. The island and some adjacent smaller ones are still called the Anchorites or the Kaniet Islands. One of the other islands was seen further west and Commerson called it Sae. (Strangely the name Hermit Islands is now applied tho Maron and Luf Islands, further south and not seen by Bougainville).

The ships were sailing just south of west when on 9 August two small islands appeared. They were followed by a cluster of many others. Bougainville called the group L'Echiquier (Chessboard) but the islands are now known as the Ninigo Group. Again, Bougainville was wary of grounding and did not attempt to land. Keeping the islands to his north, he passed between them and another isolated island, Liot, off to the south. Bougainville called Liot La Boudeuse after his own ship. The French headed southwest away from the islands.

By 11 August the ships could see the mainland of New Guinea. Between Vanimo in Papua New Guinea and the Irian Jaya border are situated Bougainville Bay and Mount Bougainville. On the 13th two mountains were especially clear, which Bougainville called the Two Cyclops. A coastal range of mountains running west from Jayapura on Humboldt Bay is still called the Cyclops mountains. A series of small islands lie off the north coast of New Guinea and over the next few days Bougainville sighted them but did not attempt to land. Progress was slow on account of the state of the Etoile.

A group of islands, Pulau Podena, in Teluk Walckenaer was called Iles des Falaises while Oger, the pilot of the Boudeuse, had his name bestowed on the next island they passed, though it has reverted to being called Pulau Jamna. On 15 August Bougainville could see a particularly high mountain, which he called Moulineau (it was probably a mountain of 2193 metres in the Foja Range). Another island, L'Isle d'Alie, one of the Pulau Koumamba islands, followed. The currents were against them and then the surface of the sea started to be covered with material such as tree trunks, leaves and fruit, denoting the outflow of a large river. Indeed, the River Mamberano enters the sea close by Tandjung D'Urville. On the 18th the much larger offshore island of Biak came into view.

Morale was low and food continued to be in extremely short supply causing them to kill and eat their last dog. They were now close to the Equator and the ships crossed the line several times. By the 21st, Bougainville had regained the coast of New Guinea in the form of the Doberai Peninsula but the next day the coast began trending to the south. He was aware that he was nearing the western end of New Guinea, off which there were many small islands and routes through them were hard to locate. While waiting once more for the Etoile to catch up Bougainville sent Suzannet to investigate two small islands, Pulau Su but no houses and people were seen or food obtained.

Bougainville could now see a wide passage (Dampier Strait) between New Guinea and an island, Waigeo, off to the west. He realised he had the choice of attempting to make the passage or go round to the north of Waigeo. A tentative effort was made at negotiating the strait but currents and winds forced the ships back and they steered for the north of Waigeo. Even then they were in danger as they were driven close to rocks and over reefs. On 24 August, sailing west, they saw canoes along the coast and could see the atolls of Pulau Ayu to the north. Their troubles were far from over as, the next day, approaching the western end of Waigeo, Bougainville was faced with three passages to choose from to get him through to the open seas to the southwest. He chose the southern passage between the islands of Waigeo and Kawe, off to its north. The French sailed through safely and called their route French Passage. It was later called Selat Bougainville (Bougainville Strait).

Passing to the west of Gag the Boudeuse and the Etoile pressed on toward the southwest. A string of islands stretched across their route. Bougainville called them the Five Isles and sailed between the Boo Islands and Pisang (called Le Gros Thomas by the French). Bougainville instructed La Giraudais to send out the Etoile's small boat to investigate Pisang but, other than one man, nothing of interest was found. On 30 August land was seen to the south.

On 31 August 1768 the French ships reached the north coast of the island of Ceram. They had reached the area under the control of the Dutch East India Company, which was a mixed blessing. It marked their return to a region influenced by "civilisation" and seas already charted but the Dutch would be wary of Bougainville's intentions and Bougainville could not know whether the French and the Dutch were friends or enemies. They sailed first into Boano Strait between the smaller island of Boano and Ceram, hoisted the Dutch colours and fired their cannon. What the French did not realise was that Ceram was in revolt against the Dutch.Therefore, the sight of a Dutch flag denoted the enemy so the local people remained hidden. The Dutch had ports nearby on the islands of Ambon, south of Ceram and on Buru (Boero), west of Ceram. Bougainville decided to go to Buru so he skirted Boano and the neighbouring islands of Kelang and Manipa and crossed the Manipa Strait to reach Buru

September 1768 Buru to Java
The Boudeuse and the Etoile entered Kayeli Bay, at the eastern end of Buru, and anchored on 1 September 1768. Dutch soldiers came on board to ask Bougainville the purpose of his visit and to inform him that only Dutch ships were allowed in the harbour. Bougainville told them they were in desparate need of provisions and that Buru was the first port they had reached. The Resident, Hendrik Ouman, asked for this in writing, which Bougainville immediately provided. The French were then able to spend six days ashore during which their sick were treated and they purchased oxen, sheep and poultry for the next leg of the voyage.

The ships left Buru on 7 September and headed west along the north coast of the island. The island of Sanana (Xulabelli) was visible to the north. Bougainville had been advised that the monsoons at that time of year would make sailing in open water between the islands of Sulawesi (Celebes or Macassar) and Flores impossible, especially around Kepulauan Tukangbesi. The recommended route involved sailing through the Buton Strait between the islands of Buton (Button), Wowoni (Wawoni), Muna (Pancassani) and Sulawesi. Bougainville headed for that strait. Wowoni was sighted and on the 12th the two ships entered the strait between Buton and Wowoni. A French sailor had been taken on board from a Dutch ship at Buru and he proved useful with his local knowledge, helping to navigate through these waters..

Sulawesi was sighted ahead of the ships but the strait turned south. Soon the island of Muna took over as the western shore and pirates were seen sailing north. The ships anchored near Bone, just north of a narrow passage. Both shores appeared fertile and populated and soon the ships were surrounded by canoes. Trading between the ships and canoes quickly started. Bougainville mused that the French should be making their presence felt in the region ahead of the British and exploiting the spice trade. The ships sailed on and on the 15th a pilot was taken aboard the Boudeuse to guide them through the last part of the strait. Currents were difficult and they proceeded very slowly. They made a brief visit to Baubau, the Dutch post near the strait's entrance before sailing out to the open sea on the 18 September.

The ships sailed west past the south coast of Muna and an adjacent island, Cambona. They were heading for another strait, the Selat Selayar, between the island of Selayar and the southern point of Sulawesi. On 19 September, after waiting for the Etoile to catch up, the ships passed through the narrow strait. They followed the south coast of Sulawesi, which looked beautiful and well populated but was known as the base for pirates. At the island of Tanakeke, off the southwestern point of Sulawesi, Bougainville turnesd southwest for Java. Various shoals and small islands were located in the area and Bougainville found his French charts untrustworthy but the French sighted the north coast of Java on the 23rd.

The twin headlands of Tanjung Bugel (Bougainville's Pointe Alang) and Puolo Mandalika (Isle Mandali) were observed on 23 September. Small islands, Karimandjava, were seen to the north on the next day. Batavia (Jakarta) was close and the French were keen to reach the port but they still had to sail between Telung Indramaya and Pulau Pakit (Isle Rachit). On the 27th Bougainville wanted to give Tanjung Karawang (Pointe Sidari) a wide bearth and in doing so he nearly overshot Batavia. However, on the morning of 28 September 1768 theBoudeuse and the Etoile sailed past the islands of Edam and Onrust to anchor in Batavia Roads.

September 1768 - October 1768 Batavia, Java
The Governor General of Batavia, P. Van der Para, knew already of Bougainville's presence in Dutch waters. The Resident of Buru had sent word but the French had been seen before Buru. Everts Silvertien had seen the ships off Pulau Massavoy, a very tiny island on the north tip of Manipa, itself off Ceram. He had reported to Jan-Hendrik Knop, the Resident on the island of Manipa, who in turn informed the Governor of Amboin. Hendrik Breton, the Governor, passed the information on to Batavia.

October 1768 - December 1768 Java to Mauritius
Bougainville left Batavia on 17 October 1768 and the two ships wended their past the many islands that lie off the northwest Java coast. The next day they entered the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra. Having signed off with a Dutch official who came on board the ships sailed to the north of Pulau Panaitan (Princes Island) and out into the Indian Ocean. The ships headed southwest seeing no sign of land until 4 November when they passed to the south of Rodriguez Island. Two days later, the Boudeuse and the Etoile approached the north point of the island of Mauritus, then a French possession and known as the Ile de France. They sighted Round Island, off the main island's north coast, and fired their cannon but this drew no immediate response from the battery on Pointe aux Canoniers. Disaster then nearly struck as, having taken on a local pilot, the Boudeuse just missed rocks near Baye des Tombeaux on the approach into Port Louis but finally anchored on the 7th. The Etoile anchored on the following day.

Several crew had fallen ill as a result of the stay at Batavia and shortly after arriving at Port Louis Du Bouchage died from dysentry. Several members of the voyage chose to disembark here while others such as the marines were instructed to join the local garrison. Among those electing to stay were Commerson, who had suffered badly from seasickness, and his valet Jeanne Baret. Before they parted, Commerson informed Bougainville that he would name a plant he had discovered in Brazil after the explorer. This plant is bougainvillea. The astronomer, Veron, was aware of an impending Transit of Venus and wanted to go to Pondicherry in southern India to observe the phenomonen. Romainville, who had drawn the charts for the voyage also decided to remain on the island. When the French had arrived in the Dutch East Indies they had realised that in sailing slowly around the world east to west they had "lost a day" and were a day behind. Bougainville chose to to remain in this state until Ile de France where they conformed to local time.

December 1768 - January 1769 Mauritius to Cape Town
The Etoile had been in need of much repair and Bougainville decided to leave without the storeship. It was no longer so necessary for the two ships to sail together and, as Bougainville was keen to press on, the Boudeuse sailed on 12 December. Joseph Hervel, a pilot, joined the ship and proved very valuable, amongst other things keeping a detailed journal. The ship sailed away from Mauritius sighting Morne Brabant, the island's southwest point, before passing to the south of the Ile de Bourbon (Reunion) but cloud prevented their seeing the island. On 22 December 1768 they approached the coast of southern Africa (just north of present-day East London) but their progress was slow over the next two weeks as they battled very bad weather. They rounded Cape Agulhas on 7 January 1769 and reached False Cape the 8th. After standing off the Cape of Good Hope, the ship anchored in Table Bay off Cape Town the next day.

Bougainville paid his respects to the Dutch Governor and arranged to purchase fresh supplies. He and his officers undertook some short trips including one to a vineyard at Constance (Constantia), between Cape Town and False Bay.

January 1769 - March 1769 Cape Town to France
They departed Cape Town after a brief stay of 8 days on 17 January 1769, sailing bewteen Robben Island and the coast. They headed northwest for St. Helena which they passed on 29 January, intent on reaching Ascension Island where they hoped to obtain turtles. On 4 February the Boudeuse anchored off Ascension's northwest coast at Clarence Bay by Cross Hill. Bougainville sailed on the 6th with 56 turtles on board.

Ever since Port Praslin, where he had first become aware of his existence, Bougainville had been following the British sailor, Phillip Carteret, and had been gaining on him. He had received news about him in Batavia and at the Cape. Now at Ascension he had read a note left in a bottle that informed the French that Carteret's ship the Swallow had departed from Ascension on 1 February, only five days ahead of them. On 25 February, the Swallow was sighted and Bougainville offered Carteret assistance, which was politely declined. The small British ship was in poor condition and sailed badly leaving Bougainville wondering how it had sailed so far and how miserable it must have been to be in the ship.

In early March they approached the Azores and sailed through the middle of the island group, passing just to the west of Terceira on 4 March. On the 14th the island of Ouessant (Ushant) off the west coasted of Brittany was sighted but conditions would not allow them to enter Brest and forced them north. The foremast then broke and Bougainville resolved to go to St. Malo, where the Boudeuse anchored on 16 March 1769. Bougainville left the ship and set off for Versailles. The Boudeuse sailed from St. Malo on 21 April and reached Brest two days later.

Meanwhile the Etoile had left Mauritius on 31 December 1768 and arrived at Cape Town on 31 January 1769. After a short stay of a week while they replenished their supplies, they sailed on 7 February up the Atlantic. Like the Boudeuse the ship stopped at Ascension Island to take turtles on board. Finally on 24 April the Etoile anchored back in France by the Ile d'Aix off Rochefort.

March 1769 Back in France
Having arrived at St. Malo on 16 March, Bougainville set off for Versailles immediately with the Prince of Nassau-Siegen and Ahu-toru, the Tahitian. They arrived at Court on 19 March. and then moved on to Paris and Bougainville's house in the Rue Basse-du-Rempart. He soon learned of the death of his brother-in-law, Louis-Honorat de Baraudin. Returning to Versailles he met with the Duc de Choiseul and the Duc de Praslin before having an audience with King Louis XV where he told of the adventures that had befallen them on the voyage and of the seven acts of possession undertaken on Louis' behalf.

Bougainville was an immediate celebrity in Paris. Already known and well-connected, he was quickly the guest of every salon in Paris. Bougainville was justly proud that only seven men had died from illness on the Boudeuse and the Etoile had lost only two. The voyage marked the first successful French circumnavigation (in one vessel) and was the precedent for future journeys by Laperouse and others. It had been one of the first such voyages to carry scientists on board (pre-empting Cook's Endeavour voyage) and had brought back to France the Tahitian Ahu-toru. It had restored some pride to France.

Ahu-toru was a celebrity just as much as Bougainville. Having been presented to the King, Ahu-toru was taken under the wing of the Duchesse de Choiseul who showed him off in Paris society. He was a regular at Versailles and at the Opera and was often seen walking around Paris. He now referred to himself as Poutavery, his attempt at the name Bougainville. However, in late 1769, Bougainville sensed the need to return the Tahitian to his home and asked the Government to assist. In February 1770 passage on a ship, the Brisson was arranged and Ahu-toru sailed for Mauritius, which was reached in October. A year later another ship the Mascarin commanded by Marion Dufresne then began to carry him to Tahiti but Ahu-toru had contracted smallpox in Mauritius and died on 6 November off Madagascar.

The presence of Ahu-toru in Paris and the reports by members of the voyage of the utopia they had experienced in Tahiti were the catalyst for the debates and writings that ensued about the concept of the "Noble savage". Rousseau had written his "Discours sur l'origine de l'inegalite parmi les hommes" in 1754 and its themes had been taken up by many. Man was naturally good and it was only the society in which he grew that shaped him; European society was already debased whereas other places, for example, tropical islands offered a natural innocence with equality for all, wonderful climates and an abundance of food and other necessities. Commerson wrote a letter from Mauritius that was published in November 1769 in the "Mercure de France" in which he argued that Tahiti was confirmation of Rousseau's ideas. Diderot later wrote a "Supplement au voyage de Bougainville" in which he criticised Bougainville indirectly for introducing the evils of Europe to the utopian state of Tahiti and other Pacific islands.

Bougainville, himself, did not fully subscribe to Rousseau's idea of the Noble savage. He had previously seen some of the practices of the Native North Americans and he had also seen evidence in Tahiti that refuted that islnad being a paradise. There was a social stratification so everyone was not equal; various diseases were prevalent in the islands; war and slavery were common; and there had been evidence of cannibalism.

After the initial euphoria of his return to France, Bougainville began the work of writing up the record of the voyage. He firstly prepared a manuscript journal, together with charts, which he presented to the King on 28 October 1769. After that he began to write the version that was published in 1771, "Voyage autour du monde par la fregate du roi La Boudeuse et la flute L'Etoile". Unfortunately, the fact that Commerson and Veron had not returned to France seriously undermined the worth of Bougainville's book. It contained little or no scientific or astronomical information and Bougainville included a minimum of nautical data. However, these omissions did not reduce its general appeal and the work proved an immediate success in France. It was also soon translated into English and German.

While the initial evaluation of the voyage was that it had been very successful, a more careful assessment would show that it not been quite so successful or productive. It is true that the ships had completed the voyage and had returned intact with a healthy crew. It had also added to French prestige and the naturalists had discovered and described some new plants and animals. However, the first thirteen months (effectively half the voyage) had been taken up with the matter of handing over the Iles Malouines to Spain and problems with the ships in the Rio Plata. Only six months of the voyage had been spent crossing the Pacific. In some ways it was a voyage of missed opportunities. The island groups of Samoa and Vanuatu were visited but little or no attempt was made to land and look around (other than a brief water stop at Aoba in Vanuatu). Bougainville had determined to sail close to latitude 15S and rarely showed any inclination to deviate from this track. On Tahiti he made little attempt to visit other parts of the island or the neighbouring islands which showed a distinct lack of inquisitiveness.

The voyage had "discovered" or located very few new islands though it did confirm the location of several reported by earlier Spanish voyages. Romainville's charts of the voyage were adequate to show the general route taken by the ships but few detailed charts were produced. As noted before, Commerson's decision to remain at Mauritius meant that the scientific material and specimens were largely lost though some drawings and specimens did find their way to France several years later.

In November 1769 Bougainville was granted a life pension of 50,000 livres by the Government in recognition of the voyage and to offset some of his losses over the failed settlement in the Iles Malouines. It would have been more but the Government's finances were in crisis. A month later Bougainville proposed an expedition to the Pacific to return Ahu-toru and to make further explorations of the region but the Government could only afford to send Ahu-toru as a passenger on a scheduled trip to Mauritus.

For more information on Louis-Antoine Bougainville, go to:


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