Dunmore, John (ed).
The Pacific Journal of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, 1767-1768.
Reading some explorers' narra-tives can be very frustrating when they make refer-ence to other explorers and you want to learn more but are unable to access information about those other people. This is usually the case if the other people were not British. The exploits of foreigners have not always been covered well in Britain.
Thank heavens then for the Hakluyt Society, which exists to publish and promote public knowledge of records of voyages, travels and geographical discovery no matter what nationalities are involved. To this end it carries out a programme of publishing at least two works a year. The journals of many British explorers have been published by the Society but it has also covered the journals of explorers from many other countries and from many periods of history. Their books conform to a very high standard whereby the narratives and journals of explorers and travellers are carefully edited by experts, well versed in the subject. Members of the Cook Society will be acquainted with Beaglehole's editions of Cook's journals.
John Dunmore has done more than anyone to bring our attention to the achievements of eighteenth and nineteenth century French explorers of the Pacific. In the past, the Hakluyt has published his editions of de Surville and Lapérouse. Now the New Zealander has turned his focus on Louis-Antoine de Bougainville.
Bougainville was a polymath and something of a renaissance man. He wrote a textbook on calculus in his twenties; served with Montcalm in Canada (and surrendered to the British in 1760); led the first settlement of the Iles Malouines (Falkland Islands); won the Battle of Chesapeake Bay for the French in 1782; grew roses; fought duels; protected Louis against the Paris mob; avoided the guillotine (just); became a close friend of Napoleon, a Comte and one of the first recipients of the Légion d'Honneur. Among all this he led an expedition across the Pacific.
As would be expected this edition of Bougainville's Pacific journal is a marvellous piece of research. However, it only deals with the middle part of the voyage from the River Plate to the Île de France (Mauritius), omitting the interesting part of the voyage where Bougainville had to hand back the Iles Malouines. The book shows how Bougain-ville's voyage, which predated Cook's as a scientific voyage of exploration, promised much but never quite delivered and allowed Cook the greater glory.
Bougainville led a most remarkable life before and after the voyage and it is good to know that John Dunmore has finished what will be the first proper biography of the man and that is scheduled for publication later this year.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 30, volume 27, number 2 (2004).