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With the translation of the letters that Rose de Freycinet wrote to her mother about to be sent to the printer, my thoughts turned to her other narrative of thejourney, the journal she wrote for her close friend Caroline de Nanteuil. Together with the letters, this has found a safe haven in the archives of Sydney’s Mitchell Library, where it also has been digitised and placed on line, but, unlike the letters, the journal is Rose’s original and not, as is the case with the letters, a contemporary copy handwritten, probably, by her husband.

Neither the journal nor the letters provides a complete account of the voyage but, by the greatest of good fortunes, they do when put together. The lacuna in the journal extends from the departure from Dili to the middle of the stay in Sydney, and the last of the letters, the first of which was written while Rose was still in Toulon, was entrusted by her to friends in Sydney as the Uranie was about to depart. For the second half of the stay in Sydney, and for the voyage as far as Dili, we have both the letters and the journal. Where they overlap, the letters have been neglected in favour of the journal, but was that the right thing to do? A question that can be answered only by comparing the two.

And therein lies an additional problem, because it is not simply a matter of comparing the now completed transcription of the letters with the corresponding sections of the published journal, because the journal’s editors made multiple changes to the original text, and omitted considerable sections. And this they did right from the beginning, by omitting two very personal paragraphs from the journal that spoke directly to Caroline.

It is for you alone, amiable and dear friend, that I want to write this diary, I will find pleasure in doing so, because it is something you have asked of me and which will please you; besides, will it not be a daily relaxation to trace all that can happen to me, happy or unhappy, in the hope of capturing the attention and of interesting a person who is so dear to me! I enjoy in advance the satisfaction that when, after a happy return, I will send ithese feeble lines and you will feel all the more pleasure in seeing me again knowing that I have escaped such and such a danger. If, on the contrary, I must succumb in the midst of this arduous journey, you will at least see that however distant from you I have been, my most pleasant occupation has been to think of and do something for my Caroline.

I would never have agreed to prepare a journal for anyone other than you, you alone have the necessary indulgence towards me to forgive a diffuse and often incorrect style. Moreover I think that when you pause over them you will not expect them to be reported elegantly or wittily, so I will simply trace the events and will very often let my heart speak without thinking of anything else.

These two paragraphs may be Irrelevant to the business of the voyage, but surely should have been included if the editors  wished to give their readers the best possible understanding of Rose as a person. However, in butchering (if that is not too strong a word) the originals, they also have a competitor. At some stage the Freycinet family loaned many of their papers of historical importance to the local museum, the Archive de Laage, and the librarian celebrated this generosity by embellishing them with the Archive’s stamp. Right across the first paragraph.

The first page of Rose’s journal, with the stamp of the Archive de Laage.

Happily, one such vandalism was considered sufficient, but it is frustrating that some of the words can only be guessed. It is with that as a caveat, and the further admission that not all the words in the text that follows can be read with certainty, that the translation above has to be read.

To return to the published version and its editors, Charles Duplomb and the Baron Henri de Freycinet,  the grandson of the first Baron de Freycinet, Louis’ brother Henri, and therefore Louis’ great nephew. Working in the early 1920s, when some people who had known the people concerned were still alive,they omitted not merely what they thought irrelevant but also what they considered, even after a hundred years, to be sensitive. In describing the arrival of the Uranie in the Canaries, a whole section critical of the French consul there was omitted. Very freely translated, since some parts are difficult to decipher, that section went as follows:

In the evening we anchored in the bay of Ste Croix. As soon as we were anchored, the Captain of Port came to tell Louis to anchor further from the shore, because he considered him to be too close to land; he also told us that the conditions for entry were very strict and that, since we were coming from the Mediterranean where the plague had broken out in several ports, our quarantine would be very long; Louis hoped, however, that his mission would be respected and that, after declaring that he had no kind of epidemic, the governor of the colony would allow him entry after a few days. But unfortunately his expectation was not fulfilled; an odd sort of man who said he was the French consul came alongside to give us this news. Louis gave him a letter for the governor begging him to be so kind as to grant him something that seemed so reasonable: we never knew for what reason the governor did not answer, but he only instructed the so-called consul to say that all he could grant was a reduction of the quarantine, which was set at 25 days for all ships carrying imports from the Mediterranean, to 10 days. Louis was shocked at receiving only a verbal response;, the consul told him that His Excellency could not write, which we doubted very much because he could at least sign his name and he could have made an answer with the help of a secretary. All this was very unclear and Louis, when trying to find out from this consul what was meant, was told secretly by him that he would tell him many extraordinary things when he had the pleasure of their being alone ashore together in the evening. What proves that all these were only stories, is that later, when Louis was able to speak to him alone, the stories were always different. As Louis only wanted to stay for 6 or 8 days, he decided to make observations at the lazaretto while we obtained provisions in the city and had them brought aboard.

It certainly seems over-nice of the editors to be so protective of the reputation of the consul, who was presumably Nicolas Alexandre Bretillard, after a hundred years and after the criticisms had been voiced at rather more length in Volume I of the Historique,, summarised by him saying that ‘the man who fulfils here the functions of French consul … gave us good reason to regret the nobility and sensitivity of the good M. Vialé’ (Historique, vol. 1, p. 25)*.  Perhaps, since only Gaimard (p.142), whose diary these editors would not have seen, but neither Rose nor Louis, gave the man’s name, they felt more comfortable ignoring the whole affair.

However, from a historian’s point of view they committed even more serious sins. They tampered with the original, making multiple alterations to the text, for reasons that are very hard to understand. There is hardly a sentence that they did not modify in some way. The treatment accorded to the sentence that followed the section translated above is fairly typical, and is by no means the worst example. In the published version it reads:

En France un Lazaret est un endroit agréable, où on trouve des maisons garnies de tout ce qui est nécessaire à la vie, plusieurs ont des jardins.

However, what Rose actually wrote went as follows:

En France le lieu qu’on appelle Lazaret est un endroit agréable où on trouve du maison garnie de tous ce qui est nécessaire à la vie, même dans beaucoup de nos ports il y a du jardin très agréable.

In part the changes are simply grammatical ones (e.g. substituting des maisons garnies for du maison garnie) on which it would be unwise for a non-native speaker to comment, except to say that it is surely the responsibility of a historian to quote his sources accurately, even if the original author made a mistake.  However, as can be seen, the editors went much further, by completely altering the ending of the sentence. That, very definitely, was inexcusable.


* Vialé’  was the honorary French consul in Gibraltar, who looked after them very well.