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Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia

Marion de Fresne and Crozet

Marion de Fresne and Crozet

1771 to 1773

The voyage of Nicholas Thomas Marion de Fresne was really initiated by an episode arising out of Bougainville's voyage. Bougainville had brought back to France in 1769 a Tahitian named "Aoutourou" as "a human curiosity." The Tahitian, who assumed the shorter name of page 52 New Zealand War Canoe, Reproduced From Sydney Parkinson. page 53 Mayoa, was well treated in Paris. However, the French Government, realizing its responsibility to a human being, sent him to Mauritius with instructions to the Governor of the French dependency to send him on to his own home. Marion de Fresne, who had been a captain in the French navy was a well-to-do resident at the Ile de France at the time, and he offered to take Mayoa to his home. The Governor, M. Poivre, saw an opportunity to combine exploration with duty, and two ships, the Mascarin and the Marquis de Castries, were equipped for the expedition. Marion de Fresne was appointed commander, and he sailed in the Mascarin with M. Crozet as his First Lieutenant. The command of the Marquis de Castries was given to Chevalier Duclesmeur.

The ships sailed from the Ile de France on October 18, 1771. Although when Mayoa developed small pox and died off Madagascar, the primary object of the voyage was gone, Marion de Fresne decided to go on. The ships sailed south to latitudes 45° and 46° S., then east. They saw land; and in making soundings, the two ships collided with the result that the Marquis de Castries lost its bowsprit and foresails and the Mascarin, its mizzenmast. After repairs, they continued along latitude 46° S. and on January 24, 1772, discovered two islands, now known as Crozets Islands. They took possession and named the larger island Prise de Possession. On March 3 they sighted Van Diemens Land, landed, and made observations on the inhabitants. They next sailed for New Zealand and, passing round the northern extremity, anchored in the Bay of Islands on May 12. Friendly relations were established with a local chief named "Tacouri," the sick were put ashore in tents, and a working party camped in huts to prepare suitable timber for masts and spars. On June 12, Marion de Fresne, with sixteen men, visited Tacouri's village and failed to return. When, the next morning, the Marquis de Castries' longboat went ashore for wood and water, all were killed except one who escaped by swimming. The sick and the working party were brought back on board, and several natives were killed by musket fire during the removal. A punitive expedition fired Tacouri's village and the neighboring village of the chief "Piquiore." In an attack on another village, fifty natives were killed and the village burned. Having thus avenged the death of Marion de Fresne and the others, the ships hurriedly completed their supply of wood and water and sailed from the bay on July 14. Captain Duclesmeur assumed command of the expedition. Crozet, however, took command of the Mascarin and, as the narrative was obtained in the first person from his journal, he seems to have played the more prominent part in the expedition after the death of Marion de Fresne.

The ships sailed northeast intending to seek refreshments at Rotterdam and Amsterdam in the Tongan islands, which they missed. They saw a chain of coral islands, which were not identified and later, on August 12, they saw an island in latitude 16° S. which they named Ile du Point du Jour (Daybreak Island). They crossed the equator on August 23, turned west, and anchored page 54at Guam on September 27. Thence, they sailed to the Philippines, where they anchored at Port Cavite on December 8. Repairs were completed with difficulty, as members of the crews of both ships deserted. The Marquis de Castries sailed for the Ile de France on February 15, 1773, with deserters replaced by twenty Indian sailors; and the Mascarin sailed on March 8, with their deserters replaced by thirty Indians.

From the French point of view, the attack at the Bay of Islands was unprovoked and treacherous. The Maori version can only be surmised, as no first hand evidence was available from Tacouri and his contemporaries.