The Freycinet Collection of the State Library of Western Australia is a
series of eighteen drawings, engravings and watercolours. The images
were made during and after two nineteenth-century French
maritime expeditions which visited the coast of Western Australia. The
first of these expeditions was undertaken by captain Nicolas Baudin
from 1800 to 1804 in three vessels: firstly the Géographe
and later the Casuarina
. The second
expedition was under the command of Louis de Freycinet in the vessel
then the Physicienne
) from 1817 to 1820.
The Freycinet Collection is so named because Louis de Freycinet
(1779-1842) was a participant in both expeditions, having been an
officer on the Naturaliste
during Baudin's circumnavigation of
Australia. As Baudin died in Mauritius in 1803, Freycinet was
responsible for many of the maps published as a result of the expedition
and took on the task, with François Péron, of completing the official
account of the voyage. By 1816, France was displaying a newfound
interest in maritime exploration to restore national
prestige in the wake of the humiliating downfall of Napoleon. Freycinet
took advantage of this revival and, that year, submitted a proposal to
the Ministry of the Interior for, and was granted command of, an
expedition to circumnavigate the globe.
Watercolour and ink drawings of a crowned baler at Shark
Bay, Western Australia in 1818
Both the Baudin and Freycinet expeditions had mostly scientific objectives.
During the eighteenth century the driving force behind European
maritime travel had begun shifting towards the pursuit of greater knowledge of the mysteries of the
Earth. It was the Age of Enlightenment, a time devoted to reason,
science and progress. Maritime voyages of exploration played a vital
role in advances in a wide range of scientific disciplines including
botany, zoology, taxonomy, astronomy, geology and anthropology.
The names of Baudin's and Freycinet's vessels — the Naturaliste (naturalist), the Géographe (geographer),
the Uranie (Urania, the
muse of astronomy) and later the Physicienne (physicist) — attest to the
primacy of scientific endeavour on these French expeditions of the early
nineteenth century. Both expeditions contributed large botanical and
zoological collections to the Muséum National d'histoire naturelle in
Paris and Baudin's expedition provided Josephine Bonaparte's Malmaison
with exotic flora and fauna.