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The first time that Rose de Freycinet went ashore after leaving Toulon on the Uranie was during the unscheduled stop at Gibraltar. The stay there was brief (her husband, Louis de Freycinet, was just waiting for a favourable wind to tale the corvette through the straits) but rather pleasant. In particular, she was well looked after by the unofficial French consul, as was the vessel and its requirements. The first scheduled stop, at Santa Cruz de Tenerife, was to be very different. As Rose wrote in her diary to Caroline:

In the evening we anchored in the roads of Santa Cruz. As soon as we had done so, the Port Captain came to ask Louis to anchor further out to sea, because he considered that we were too close to land; he also told us that the orders were very strict as regards entry and that, as we were coming from the Mediterranean, where plague had broken out in several ports, we could expect a long period of quarantine. Louis hoped, however, that his mission would be respected and that, if he certified that he did not have any kind of infectious disease on board, the governor of the colony would allow him entry after a few days.

Unfortunately, he was disappointed in his expectation; a singular character who said he was a French consul came on board to give us the news. Louis gave him a letter to the Governor, and asked him to also ask him, personally, for something that seemed so reasonable. We never found out why the Governor did not reply, but all he did was tell the so-called consul to inform us that all he could grant was to reduce to ten days the quarantine that should have been twenty-five days for any ship leaving a port in the Mediterranean.  Louis was shocked to have only a verbal response from the governor; the consul told him that His Excellency did not know how to write, which we very much doubted, because he at least knew how to sign his name with the help of a secretary.

The consequence of this chilly welcome was that they remained for six days only, carrying out a reduced set of observations in the lazaretto. It was a bleak, unsatisfactory setting, which offered them the choice of staying overnight in a crumbling stone building with no facilities, or making each day the hazardous journey to the rocky shore on which the waves beat fiercely if there was any sort of a sea. They chose to make the trip each day, and Rose, for the last time, dressed herself in men’s clothes, as being more suitable for scrambling up the rocks to the enclosure.

The Lazareto in Santa Cruz de Tenerifein 1893, when it was being used as a hospital during a cholera epidemic. It had clearly been enlarged since the Uranie visit, but still appears bleak and unwelcoming. Image]V[orlock Zernebock Some rights reserved

The unhelpful consul’s name was Alexandre Bretillard,  and his incompetence is surprising, because he had a long history of service to France. He had been an assistant to the French consul on the island for some twenty years, before being appointed official Vice-consul in 1816. At that time an official report on his suitability for the post was submitted in which answers were given to a number of (unstated) questions, as follows:

To the first: that the qualities, intelligence and circumstances of said Bretillard are most suitable and purposeful for the performance of said assignment, due to his honesty, good character and peaceable nature.

To the second: that he was born in France in the Catholic city of Versailles and is noted in the registration of foreigners as resident in this province.

To the third: that he does not have assets of any kind since he subsists solely by insurance and trade, and has not exercised any of the legal offices or other positions that can only be held by natural or naturalized citizens.

To the fourth: that he has been married to a Spanish woman for 14 years.

To the fifth: that he only carries on his business from his residence in the Plaza de Santa Cruz, where he lives  with his entire family.

To the sixth, that this trade is carried out by himself in an open house established in that Plaza and although he makes some journeys for its benefit, he afterwards returns to these domains, his house and his family.

To the seventh, that in this Plaza there have been general consuls of France with royal approval and are also a vice-consul necessary for the traffic and trade between these Islands and that nation.

He sounds like just the man de Freycinet needed, but he was, in fact, a sad disappointment. As Rose put it, he made us regret the good M. Vialé, the Italian who had acted as consul in Gibraltar. He did, however, send Louis one letter, which has survived, and is now preserved in the Mitchell Library in Sydney. It was not very helpful.

Ste Croix de Ténérife, 24 Octobre 1817 (après-midi)

Monsieur le Commandant

In this city there is no market after ten o’clock. I could not find one pound of fish at the fishmonger’s, but I have a man on the lookout: a boat has been sent to you straight away, to take the seven water containers to your ship, this item will not delay you: I have placed your three notes in the hands of M. Martin, a very honest and energetic person, to deal with as quickly as possible.

I have obtained from the Governor General, as well as from Monsieur the president and deputy of health of the special council of the city, permission for you to go with your boat, disembark and remain at the Lazaret of this city, situated at the place that I pointed out to you this morning; but as there are already people there that we want to remove for your convenience, I will let you know early tomorrow morning when the Lazaret will be free, and if you would be kind enough to let me know also when you will be going there, so that I can have the men there to receive you.

I am sending you a sample bottle of good merchant wine from Tenerife, which you can buy for 120 or perhaps 115 gourdes[1], or about 575 francs, for a pipe of at least 480 litres[2], the London particular[3] costs 150 to 170 gourdes. The Bordeaux wine merchant in the harbour on board the brig Le Navassois asks a price of one hundred piastres a barrel for the 1812 Haut-Brion[4] wine from his cargo, in large barrels (around ½ pipe). Our local wine is a little more expensive than the claret from his cargo but what a difference, half a litre of the first is equal to a litre of the other; after all, M. le Commandant, it is your choice so please let me know your decision so that we can get to work immediately and you are not delayed:[5] let me know if you want the local wine in ½ or ¼ barrels.[6]

I have the honour to greet you, and am with perfect consideration

Your  most humble and obedient seervant


It seems fairly obvious that if Bretillard was the humble servant of anyone, it was the wine merchants of Santa Cruz. One imagines he was working on commission. Whether Louis took advantage of his offer is not recorded, but since the Uranie had only been away from France for a little over two months and had (according to Gaimard) left Toulon loaded down with 25 tonnes of table wine and 3¼ tonnes of brandy, and was headed for Cape Town, already famous for fine wine, it seems unlikely.

Louis was not the only leader of a scientific expedition to encounter problems in Tenerife. Fifteen  years later, on January 6, 1832, when the British sloop Beagle, with Charles Darwin on board, had just anchored in the roads of Santa Cruz, a boat came out from the shore carrying the British Vice Consul, several quarantine officers and a doctor who, after hearing they had come from England, where there was a cholera epidemic, informed the captain, Robert Fitzroy, that everyone on the ship would be subject to a strict twelve-day quarantine.  Fitzroy, an impatient man at the best of times, declined to wait that long and, abandoning the idea of using Mount Teide to calculate longitude, nor use the coast for observations, sailed away, writing in his diary:

We have left perhaps one of the most interesting places in the world, just at the moment when we were near enough for every object to create, without satisfying, our utmost curiosity.


[1] The French word ‘gourde’ is derived from the Spanish ‘gordos’, the “pesos gordos” or ‘fat pesos’ and was an alternative name for the piastre. The prices quoted suggest a rate of exchange of 5 francs to the gourde, which may have been quite favourable to Louis. The price of 18,000 piastres or 97,200 francs negotiated three years later for the charter of the Mercury from the Falklands (Voyage autour du monde, v.2, p.1318), indicates a rate of 5.4 fracs to the piastre. The name gourde is preserved today in the currency of Haiti, where it was first brought into circulation in 1813 to replace the French livre of 20 sous, at a rate of 165 sous to the gourde.

[2] In 1824 a pipe (or butt) was defined as 105 imperial gallons or about 478 litres.

[3] A Madeira wine made especially for the London trade.

[4] Chateau Haut-Brion is a vineyard a few kilometres south of Bordeaux.

[5] The Uranie arrived off Santa Cruz on the 22 October 1817 and this letter was written on the 24th, but de Freycinet decided not to wait for the ten days of quarantine to expire and departed on the 28th, so there may well not have been time to bring the wine from Santa Cruz.

[6] The word ‘barrels’ is not in the original but seems to be implied by the context.