The French circumnavigation of the globe in 1767-68 under the command of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville was a rather straightforward venture. Bougainville’s first concern was to officially cede the infant colony (one he founded) on the Falkland Islands (Malouines) to Spain, but because of many difficulties, it was a year before the Boudeuse and its sister ship, Étoile, entered the Pacific.
Bougainville’s official journal does not quite cover a single year – commencing on 14 November 1767, when his ships departed the Plate River, and ending on 8 November 1768 at the Isle de France (Mauritius). It took two months to navigate the Strait of Magellan. His original shipboard journal did not see print until 1977, in a French edition edited by Étienne Taillemite. Among the reasons why it lay dormant for 200 years was that Bougainville’s voyage created little interest among the elite in France, and he also had published his own quite popular account, Voyage autour du monde, in 1771. The French admiralty simply filed it away.
This Hakluyt Society volume, edited by John Dunmore, is the first English translation of Bougainville’s Pacific journal. Dunmore translated and superbly edited The Journal of Jean-François de Galaup de la Pérouse, 1785-1786, for the Hakluyt Society in 1994, and the Bougainville volume is treated in a similar manner. His seventy-seven page introduction revealingly discusses the ships, officers and crews, the relatively danger-free route sailed, and the contributions of the French voyage. Unfortunately, Bougainville did not discover much new territory, the primary reason being that his expedition sailed in the wake of the English mariners, Wallis and Carteret. For example, unbeknown to Bougainville, Wallis preceded him at Tahiti by only a few months. Further, neither of his ships was suitable for close coastal reconnaissance. Nonetheless, respectable scientific work was conducted, especially by botanist Philibert Commerson. Commerson, incidentally, was responsible for taking on board the Étoile as his assistant Jeanne Baret, who created an embarrassing problem for Bougainville when he discovered that he had a female as a member of his crew. She turned out to be the first woman to circumnavigate the earth.
As Taillemite did in his 1977 volume, Dunmore includes in his appendices translations of accounts by several of the voyage’s participants. These documents help flesh out the skimpy shipboard journal maintained by Bougainville. Of particular interest is the journal of the Prince of Nassau, a passenger (not a naval officer) on the Boudeuse.
Along with the appendices and indexes, readers will appreciate the
numerous maps strategically placed in the volume.
One cannot calculate the immense value of the mission of the
Hakluyt Society, and certainly this volume on Bougainville’s
circumnavigation adds luster to its long list of scholarly publications.