Louis Claude de Saulces de Freycinet was born in 1779, joined the French Navy in 1793 and was a veteran of Baudin’s voyage of discovery from 1801 to 1803. In 1817 he was given command of the corvette L’Uranie with the commission to finish some of the surveys and scientific work left incomplete by Baudin. This included studies of natural history, anthropology, geography and magnetic and meteorological phenomena. His wife Rose refused to be separated from her husband and joined the ship’s company as a stowaway.

L’Uranie sailed into Shark Bay in September 1818. De Freycinet set up an astronomical observatory near Cape Lesueur and spent some days collecting botanical specimens and exploring the inlets and coastal areas. His company also met with a group of Malgana people, a tense encounter that was diffused with dancing and an exchange of gifts.

A party was sent across to Dirk Hartog Island to recover de Vlamingh’s plate, which de Freycinet had first seen in 1801 during Baudin’s expedition. Back then de Freycinet had disagreed with his commander’s decision to leave the plate on the island. He believed “its natural place to be in one of those great scholarly and scientific storehouses which provide historians with such rich and precious documents”. Under his own command, the plate was eventually delivered to the Royal Academy of Inscriptions and Elegant Literature in Paris. There it stayed until 1947 when the French Government presented it to the people of Australia. The plate is now in the Western Australian Maritime Museum.

After briefly running aground on a sand bank between Bernier and Dorre Islands and the mainland, L’Uranie headed north to Timor, through the Pacific, south to Sydney and around Cape Horn. Her luck ran out in February 1819 when she was wrecked off the Falkland Islands. More than half of the scientific specimens were lost but the entire ship’s company was rescued by a whaler which de Freycinet purchased, renamed La Physicienne, and sailed back to France.

Louis Claude de Saulces de Freycinet