Louis Antoine de Bougainville and his Voyage Around the World

Louis Antoine de Bougainville reaching Tahiti [1]

Probably on November 11, 1729, French admiral and explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville was born. A contemporary of James Cook, he gained fame for his expeditions, the first recorded settlement on the Falkland Islands and his voyages into the Pacific Ocean. The largest of the Solomon Islands is named after him, as is the colorful tropical climbing plant bougainvillaea.

Louis Antoine de Bougainville was born in Paris and began to study law, which he abandoned shortly after. Bougainville joined the army in 1753 and was sent to London as secretary to the French embassy three years later. During the Seven Years’ War, Bougainville gained experience at sea. Also, he participated in the defense of Quebec City and later became a diplomat taking part in negotiating the Treaty of Paris that eventually conceded most of New France to the British Empire.

After the war, the French decided to colonize the Falkland Islands, which were not well known at this time. Bougainville decided to travel there on his own expense. He set out in 1763 with the Eagle and the Sphinx and they reached the French Bay in 1764. The explorer then received the permission to circumnavigate the globe in the 1760s and he would become the first known French to sail around the world. It is assumed that this was also the first expedition to carry professional naturalists and geographers aboard. The crew traveled with two ships, La Boudeuse with 214 men and Étoile with 116 men. The botanist Philibert Commerçon named the flower Bougainvillea. Also on board was Jeanne Baret, who joined the expedition disguised as a man, calling herself Jean Baret. She enlisted as valet and assistant to Commerçon, but that is a whole different story.

Bougainville visited the island of Otaheite. From Tahiti, the crew sailed westward to southern Samoa and the New Hebrides.  Bougainville almost discovered the Great Barrier Reef and sailed towards Solomon Islands. However, the expedition was attacked probably by people from New Ireland and they headed towards the Moluccas. The expedition managed to complete the mission with the loss of seven men. In the 1770sBougainville published his travel log titled as Le voyage autour du monde, par la frégate La Boudeuse, et la flûte L’Étoile. In it, the geographical, biological, and anthropologic findings of Argentina, Patagonia, Tahiti, and Indonesia were explained.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture on the Age of Discovery by Jim Bennett.

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