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New Zealand 1826-1827: From the French of Dumont D'Urville

II Preparations-the Ship and the Men†

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II Preparations-the Ship and the Men

1825, 25th December—The expedition of the Coquille—the plan of which I had conceived and later presented jointly with my colleague M. Duperrey —had just been completed. As its course had been almost the whole time out of sight of land, the voyage had involved very little risk and had, in fact, proved very fortunate. It had produced interesting results both for the natural sciences and for physics. Geography also was indebted to it for one or two discoveries and particularly for the correction of positions not accurately determined hitherto. But there had been no systematic survey of coasts, no thorough exploration of any archipelago, except perhaps of the Gilbert and Mulgrave Islands: so that the claims of geography demanded further investigation by the explorer in these seas. Although apparently absorbed throughout the whole course of the voyage in my work in botany and entomology, as well as in my duties as second in command, I nevertheless made a careful study of the winds and currents and of the course and influence of the seasons. I took pains to make myself fully acquainted with the progress that had been made in the geographical study of the different groups of islands in the Southern Seas. In a word, I pondered over a project for an expedition that should render the greatest services to the science of geography, while in no way detracting from the benefits which all the other branches of knowledge might receive from our researches. So it came about that I brought back with me to France a complete plan and had but to wait for an opportunity to put it into execution.

The favourable reception that I was accorded by the Admiralty under M. de Chabrol, and the confidence with which he honoured me, decided me to lay my new projects before him without delay. He received instructions from the gracious monarch who rules over France and who, on this occasion, gave further proof of his kindly interest in the progress of science and navigation. I must add that I was shown every consideration by M. Halgan and M. Tupinier, the heads of the naval departments dealing with men and stores. Thanks to their influence and to the generous efforts of the minister, page 55I received my papers as early as the month of December 1825, and was authorized to select, with the fullest liberty, all the men who were to accompany me and share the dangers and the honour of this undertaking.

From the moment of presenting my plan, I had expressed a desire that M. Jacquinot should act as my second in command. His ability and devotion had been known to me for many years; he alone in the whole navy, was, in my view, capable of worthily filling a post at once so important and so delicate. Next, and for similar reasons, Messrs. Lottin and Gressien were appointed to the expedition. With M. Guilbert, who had written to me expressing his ardent desire to serve under me and of whom I had received highly satisfactory reports, the number of officers was complete. The cadets, Paris, Faraguet, and Dudemaine, were selected later.

M. Gaimard, already known for his work on the Uranie, was at first to have been alone in carrying out the work of surgeon and zoologist, while M. Lesson, his medical assistant, was expected to attend to matters relating to botany. But by an undreamed of stroke of good fortune, M. Quoy asked, as a favour, permission to come on the voyage. I was as familiar with the vast extent of his knoweldge of natural history as I was with the flawless integrity of his character, so it was with delight that I accepted the offer of such a distinguished colleague. Never has the slightest cloud dimmed even for a moment the esteem in which I held him, and the expedition was to owe to his presence on board the admirable records of zoology and the valuable collection of numerous drawings, that in themselves would suffice to make the voyage memorable.

Earlier expeditions had not been well served in the matter of drawings designed to accompany the narrative; yet everyone realizes to what an extent drawings that are attractive, and above all absolutely accurate, can add to the interest of the accounts of these voyages, particularly from the point of view of the general public. I pondered over the choice of someone capable of fulfilling my expectations; for a long time I could come to no decision. Finally, M. de Sainson, then a special clerk in the Admiralty at Rochefort, offered himself. M. Quoy, in whom I had absolute confidence, recommended him. Thus M. de Sainson became one of my companions on the voyage, and the public will realize how admirably I was seconded by this new colleague.

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As to the course of the voyage and the choice of places to be included in our investigations, by a confidence which did me the greatest honour, the minister left me entirely free to draw up the plan of campaign in consultation with Messrs. de Rosily and de Rossel, heads of the naval department.

According to the plan as I had conceived it originally, I was to limit operations to the coasts of the Louisiade Archipelago, New Guinea, and New Britain, working my way back through the Carolines by way of the Moluccas and the Sunda Archipelago. Messrs. de Rosily and de Rossel adopted all my suggestions, while adding the north-eastern part of New Zealand, the islands of Tonga and Viti [Fiji] and Loyalty Islands. Secretly I was very pleased, for nothing but the fear that I might appear to embrace too vast a plan had prevented me from proposing to include these regions in the survey.

Just at this time all the newspapers of Europe were full of the news spread by Rear-Admiral Manby about the recent discovery of traces of La Perouse, made by a whaling captain on islands between New Caledonia and the Louisiade Archipelago. There was talk of a cross of St. Louis and medals having been found on these islands. Other details were added, of so precise a nature, that it would have been impossible to feel any doubt about the news, if the statement itself had been founded on fact … [Letters quoted passed between d'Urville and Admiral Manby.] From that moment I no longer felt any confidence in these rumours and I was convinced that they had no more foundation in fact than others concerning this great disaster, which had been current at almost regular intervals and had taken every conceivable form. Until now the sole cause of these different reports and the passing credit which they almost always gained, had been, on the one hand, the natural desire of travellers to attract if only for a moment the attention of the public by any means whatever, and on the other, the widespread interest aroused throughout the nations of Europe by the fate of the unhappy La Perouse. I could not foresee that in the course of the voyage of the Astrolabe the dark veil, which for so long had concealed the fate of our fellow countrymen, would at last be lifted and that we were to be the first to render the homage due to their memory. However, the minister gave me the commission, and I undertook to spare no pains to ascertain how far what M. Manby reported might be based on facts.

1826, January—In its official report on the expedition of the Coquille, page 57the Academie des Sciences had expressed regret that no experiments had been carried out on temperatures at great depths. I took steps to inform the society well in advance of the departure of the Astrolabe, so that it might have ready the instruments it wished us to take. The better to carry out its wishes in this respect., I also obtained permission from the minister that M. Lottin should stay behind in Paris for a month after I left in order to complete the preparatory work under M. Arago in person and to receive from his lips instructions such that we could feel confidence in them.

In accordance with my request, I was given the corvette Coquille which now took the name of Astrolabe in memory of M. de La Pérouse. It was manned by the same number of officers and its crew was raised to eighty men all told. I also asked for a detachment of six marines to act as sentries when necessary, a type of service for which sailors were never any good till training was given to the crews of battleships.

At the same time I sent to England and Holland for maps and books which would be of use to me. In response to my wishes, M. Gaimard visited the natural history museums in England and Holland to examine their treasures and to note the things that were missing in our own collections. The other members of the expedition made preparations for the particular work they were to undertake.

It is pleasant to recall how all the requests I made to the minister in the interests of the expedition were granted immediately and that an order was sent to the port of Toulon to hold a company of picked men in reserve for the Astrolabe. It therefore seemed to me that I had provided for all contingencies and that it would be an easy matter to get the ship fitted out quite quickly, so as to enable me to get underway on the 1st of April, the date I had fixed for our departure.

Counting on so doing, I left the capital and reached Toulon on the 28th of January 1826. There I was annoyed to find that it had not been found possible to secure a really first-class crew for me. For a whole month I had to proceed with the work on the ship with seven or eight men at most. In spite of the orders received, no one was forthcoming from the registered groups and finally I found myself forced to accept men who were not at all the right type for an expedition of this kind.

Fortunately I had been able to find good mates and artificers, and I could feel a measure of confidence in the petty officers. I counted on these page 58men and, above all, on the help of the officers. These never failed me and their devotion, which never flagged, saved the expedition and secured its magnificent results.

On the 10th of March, M. Lottin arrived with most of the physical and astronomical apparatus. All the five Bunten thermometrographs for testing deep-sea temperatures were broken on arrival. Spinelly in Marseilles could not mend them and I asked for others from the naval stores. Without any delay M. Lottin carried out the observations of magnetical dip and intensity suggested by the Institut.

One of the three hundred yard iron chain cables that I had asked for arrived on the 18th, and turned out to be much too heavy for the corvette. After reporting the situation, I only took on half of it and was authorized by the minister to buy en route another length of whatever dimension I found suitable. This chain, which was absolutely necessary for the investigations I had planned, caused me the most acute anxiety. Until I was able to procure one, I was uneasy in my mind whenever I thought about attempting to find a way through the islands with their coral reefs and I was the whole time in a state of violent agitation.

The Astrolabe was taken into the roads on the 28th of March; the medals to commemorate the expedition and my instructions were handed to me on the 13th of April. The crew was not complete till the 17th, and at dawn on the 22nd I made ready to sail.

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List Of Names Of The Officers, Petty Officers, Sailors And Other Hands Forming The Crew Of His Majesty's Corvette the Astrolabe
Surname and Christian Names Rank Date of Birth. Place of Birth.
Dumont d'Urville (Jules-Sebasti en-Cesar) Commander, commanding officer; Post captain 8 August 1829 23 May 1790 Conde-sur-Noireau (Calvados)
Jacquinot (Charles-Hector) Lieutenant, executive officer 4 March 1796 Nevers (Nievre)
Lottin (Victor-Charles) Ensign; Lieutenant 1 July 1827 26 October 1795 Paris (Seine)
Gressien (Victor-Amedee) Ensign; Lieutenant 31 December 1828 9 November 1798 Paris (Seine)
Guilbert (Pierre-Edouard) Ensign; Lieutenant 30 October 1829 11 September 1800 Lorient (Morbihan)
Bertrand (Frangois-Esprit) Bookkeeper 13 September 1795 Toulon (Var)
Quoy (Jean-Rene-Constant) Teacher and naturalist. Appointed physician to navy, April 1828 11 November 1790 Maille (Vendee)
Gaimard (Joseph-Paul) Staff-surgeon and naturalist 31 January 1793 Saint-Zach-arie (Var)
De Sainson (Louis-Auguste) Artist. Permanent clerk to the Admiralty 1 November 1829 26 April 1801 Paris (Seine)
Lesson (Pierre-Adolphe) Surgeon third grade; surgeon second grade July 1826 24 May 1805 Rochefort (Charente-Inferieure)
Girard-Dudemaine (Esprit-Justin-Gustave) Cadet second grade; ensign June 1829 26 April 1807 Marseille (Bouches-du-Rhone)
Lauvergne (Barthelemy) Secretary to the Commanding Officer 1 June 1805 Toulon (Var)

The names of two cadets and 65 petty officers and crew complete the list.

d'Urville, Volume I, Chapter I, pp. 1-9. With this exception, the chapter headings are from d'Urville.


d'Undlle, Volume I, pp. 34-47.