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Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia

Louis De Bougainville

Louis De Bougainville

1766 to 1769

De Bougainville was given command of the frigate Boudeuse, in which he sailed from Nantes in November 1766 for the Falkland Islands, where he was to pick up the storeship Étoile to accompany the expedition across the Pacific. After some delay at South American ports, Bougain-page 50ville reached the Falklands and delivered them to Spain on April 1, 1767. Further delay was caused when the Étoile did not arrive, and Bougainville sailed back to Rio De Janeiro, where he found her awaiting him.

The Boudeuse and the Étoile finally passed through the Strait of Magellan into the Pacific on January 26, 1768. Contrary winds prevented them from calling at Juan Fernandez, so Bougainville sailed northwest to search for the elusive Davis Land. His failure to discover it he rightly attributed to the inaccuracy of the bearings given by Davis. He continued on a westerly course between the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn, a course more to the north than that of Wallis. Thus he found a different series of islands in the Tuamotus. On March 22, he saw four little islets, which he named Les quatre Facardins (Vahitahi). A little farther on he saw another island, which he named Isle de Lanciers (Akiaki), because the inhabitants came down to the shore with spears. Another atoll was discovered on the next day and named Harp Island (Hao). More islands were encountered, but afraid that he might be wrecked among them, Bougainville gave them the collective name of the Dangerous Archipelago and steered south to get clear of them.

On April 2 he perceived a peak standing up out of the sea and named it the Boudoir, or Pic de la Boudeuse. Farther on, he perceived a high island. The peak was Meetia and the high island was Tahiti, which he later named La Nouvelle Cythere, being unaware that it had already been discovered by Wallis. The customary hospitality was extended to Bougainville by chief Ereti and his people. Bougainville sailed from Tahiti on April 16 and, on the same day, sighted the island of Tapuae-manu (Tubuai Manu), for which a Tahitian whom they had on board gave the alternative native name of "Oumaitia" (Maiaiti). This was the island which Wallis had named Sir Charles Saunders Island. To Tahiti and neighboring islands Bougainville gave the name of the Bourbon Archipelago.

Sailing west, Bougainville encountered on May 3 a group of three high islands, the most easterly of which was the largest. Without doubt, the group was the Manua Archipelago—comprising Tau, Olosenga, arid Ofu—which Roggeveen had discovered and named the Bauman Islands. The next day, Tutuila was sighted, and they sailed on along the south coast of another large island which must have been Upolu. The sea was too rough to attempt a landing on any of the islands, but the people came out in their canoes and a limited trade was possible. Because of the way the canoes were able to sail round his ships, Bougainville named the group the Navigator Archipelago. On May 11 an island with two elevated parts and low land between was sighted, a description which could apply to Rotuma. It was given the name of the Enfant Perdu.

Bougainville sailed on through Melanesia, saw the Great Barrier Reef, passed through the Solomons, New Britain, and Batavia, and reached the Cape of Good Hope on January 9, 1769, three days after Carteret had sailed in the page 51Swallow. Bougainville concluded his voyage by anchoring at St. Malo on March 16, 1776. This first French expedition was also the most important, as far as French discoveries in Polynesia are concerned.