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

Paris, 8th April, 1826

page 226

Letter from
The Secretary to the Admiralty
M. Dumont d'Urville, Commander,
Commanding Officer of the King's Corvette Astrolabe at Toulon;

Paris, 8th April, 1826.

To serve him as Instructions relating to the Voyage of Discovery which he is about to undertake.

The King, Sir, in placing you in command of the corvette Astrolabe, desires to make it possible for you to explore some of the most important archipelagos of the Great Ocean [Pacific], through which the Coquille only made a rapid passage, and to provide means by which you may add, as far as lies in your power, to the mass of scientific documents which were the results of the voyage carried out by the same ship in the years 1822, 1823, and 1824.

His Majesty is aware that you contributed largely to the success of the recent expedition in which you were second in command to Commander Duperrey. Appointed to lead, as Commander, the mission now under consideration, we are confident that you will realize all the hopes which have inspired the project and that the navy will once again have cause to congratulate itself on the services rendered to the various sciences, by its co-operation with those who devote themselves to such studies and by the provision of material for research, material gathered with no less skill than zeal in every part of the globe.

page 227

The Astrolabe should now be ready to sail. I gave the strictest orders that this corvette should be put in perfect condition and be supplied with all the equipment required for an undertaking that will last nearly three years. As you have supervised the work personally and have been able to utilize the experience gained on the Coquille, I may assume that nothing is lacking on board of what will contribute to the success of your mission and it only remains for me to acquaint you with the plan of operations which it will be your duty to carry out.

I estimate that you will leave Toulon shorty after the 15th of this month, and that before the end of May you will be on your way across the Atlantic towards the southern hemisphere, after spending a few days in Santa Cruz, Teneriff e, in order to check your chronometers.

Having sailed to the south of the Cape of Good Hope, you will take an easterly course in order to go straight to Bass Strait, which separates New Holland [Australia] from Van Diemen's Land [Tasmania].

It is probable that, reaching these regions towards the end of August, you will be able to spend a few days in Port Dalrymple [Tasmania] and from there reach Port Jackson [Sydney] at the beginning of September.

Twenty or thirty days in this chief town of the English settlements in New South Wales will be enough to enable your crew to rest and yourself to make the necessary preparations for the investigations which are to be your concern in the Great Ocean.

At the beginning of October you will leave Port Jackson to go and explore the northern part of New Zealand. You will make for Cook Strait and from there will sail up the north-east coast in order to survey different sections of this part of the island.

About the 1st of December, you will leave New Zealand and go to Tonga-Tabou, where you will see the end of the year 1826.

Leaving the Friendly islands [Tonga] early in January 1827 you will go and survey the archipelago of the Fijian Islands, where you will arrange to tarry not later than the March equinox; from there you will visit in turn New Caledonia and the Louisiade Archipelago, and thence you will sail to Cape Rodney in New Guinea.

You will spend five or six months off the southern shores of this region, sailing through Torres Strait, which you will explore, as you will the whole page 228of this area In which there are a great many islands and channels still almost unknown.

From New Guinea you will sail to Amboyna, arranging to reach it at the beginning of October 1827. You will stay there till the end of November to take stores on board and to rest the crew. Then about the 1st of December, retracing your steps to some extent, you will set a course for the shores of New Guinea and resume exploration there. At the beginning of January 1828, you will take a short rest in Port Dory and then leave to survey the northern shore of this island as far as Dampier Strait.

During the following month of March you will visit the shores of New Britain and about the 20th of April you will make a stay in one of the Caroline Islands; as its position will have been accurately charted during the expedition of the Coquille, you will be able to use it to check your latest investigations.

For about a month you will sail in the western waters of the Caroline Archipelago, as far as the Pelew Islands, where at the end of May you will stop to allow the crew some rest.

Leaving the Pelew Islands early in June, you will reach Sourabaya at the beginning of July. You will be able to spend about three weeks there and then go on to the Ile de France [Mauritius]. Thence, after a period of about one month, you will leave at the beginning of October, and touching at Bourbon, work your way back to Toulon. You will probably reach this port early in the year 1829.

This itinerary, which you yourself planned in conjunction with Rear-Admiral Rossel, is worked out in great detail in the accompanying memoir, which was drawn up in the Naval Department of Maps and Charts, and which Vice-Admiral Count de Rosily passed to me as containing all the data required to guide you in the course of your navigation.

I am not unaware, Sir, that in selecting the regions which the Astrolabe is to visit, your sole aim has been to achieve the maximum result in the time available and to avoid the long crossings that you would have had to make in open seas in the case of a voyage of circumnavigation.

It is true that you are not setting out to go round the world, but the expedition that you are going to undertake will be no less remarkable on that account; it will give you an even stronger claim to the esteem and gratitude of navigators, in that you will have been at greater pains to explore page 229lands hitherto little known, and to indicate the numerous reefs which make any approach to them both difficult and dangerous….

Having traced the route that you are to follow and the plan of the principal operations that you are to undertake in the interests of the Navy and the advancement of marine geography, it would remain for me to speak of what the world of learned men expects from your expedition; but I will do no more than convey to you the special instructions sent to me for you by L'Institut Royal de France. Recognizing, moreover, your experience, your learning and the enlightened zeal of all your colleagues, I am persuaded that you will amply justify the hopes that you have awakened, and that on your return, the voyage of the Astrolabe will rank with those whose results have made the richest contribution to the progress of science.

A large consignment of books, instruments, maps, etc., will have been sent to you through the Director of the Department of Naval Stores; you will find the list herewith.

There have also been sent to you recently 30 silver and 450 bronze medals that I have had struck to commemorate the expedition of the Astrolabe: you will be able to distribute them in the countries you visit and wherever you consider it useful to leave some memento of your passage.

I am arranging for you to receive with this communication, passports from the foreign powers, which will ensure for you a favourable reception under any circumstances and help in case of need, in the various settlements under their jurisdiction.

Among peoples who are less advanced in civilization you will supplement the official documents by gifts from the trading goods which I have ordered to be supplied to you in sufficient quantity. In this respect, as in all the other measures taken to guarantee resources for you in the various circumstances of your voyage, the manner of fitting out and provisioning the Coquille has been the obvious guide for the equipment of the Astrolabe; except only those modifications which experience has shown to be necessary, and that you yourself have noted.

Thus, Sir, the same means of success are afforded you and no doubt the same good fortune will mark the voyage you are about to carry out. You contributed largely to the good results of the expedition of the Coquille and you know that they were due no less to the spirit of unity which page 230prevailed on the ship than to the measures taken to maintain strict discipline among the hands on board, while at the same time the greatest precautions were taken to safeguard them against the risk of illnesses to which they were exposed by the strain of life at sea and the unhealthy climate of some of the countries where they landed….

All the results of the expedition, diaries, maps, charts, and other documents are to be collected by you and forwarded to me on your return to Toulon. All collections of natural history specimens are to be treated in the same way. None of these may be withdrawn from the main collection of the products of the expedition, and I give you formal instructions to report to me how far each of your colleagues has contributed to the work which is to be carried out in common.

In some earlier voyages, officers, petty officers, and even sailors have bought and kept for themselves natural history specimens; not being included in the collection reserved for the King, these specimens could not be described or published. In the interest of science and for the renown that should be accorded to the expedition of the Astrolabe, it is hoped that nothing of the sort will occur during this new voyage. You will kindly make clear to all the ship's company that new or rare specimens of animals, plants or minerals, which are brought on board, must without exception form part of the King's collection and will therefore remain in the hands of the naturalists, those who have bought them being reimbursed. In order to facilitate transactions of this kind with the inhabitants of the countries that you visit, you will be careful to put at the disposal of the naturalists on board a certain quantity of the trading goods that have been taken on board at Toulon. Finally, Sir, I ask you to take measures to ensure that the specimens intended for the royal Museum be placed on board in places where their preservation will be assured.

You will be careful to take every opportunity which offers to send me detailed news of your voyage; it will give me great pleasure, Sir, in presenting your report to the King, to be able to assure his Majesty that you have completely justified, by your work, the confidence that he deigned to accord you in entrusting to you a mission as important to science and to the navy as it is honourable to you….

Signed Count de Chabrol, Peer of France: Secretary of State for the Admiralty and the Colonies.

page 231

d'Urville, Voyage de l' Astrolabe, Volume I, p. XLIX.