IOn the 12th of March 1819 the Uranie passed close to the island known to those onboard as Bartolomé, but to the people who actually lived there as Pulusuk. The following day, the corvette was in sight of the island of Alet on the Poluwat atoll and of Tamatam, Fanadik and Pollap on the Pollap atoll, just 50 km to the NNE. They did not stop at any of these places, but the proas of the Carolinians were easily able to keep up with them while mutually satisfactory trading was carried on. Given that this was the nearest that Gaimard came to actually visiting the Carolinians on their home islands, he wrote a surprising amount about them.
It was spice that brought Europeans to the remote shores of the northern Moluccas. By the time of the Uranie voyage the outlines of the future colonial empires had been established. Two hundred years earlier, however, things had been very different.
When Louis de Freycinet was looking for a suitable vessel for his round-the-world expedition, he rejected the first one that he was offered, but eventually found just what he was looking for in the French port of La Ciotat, near Toulon. A port with a more recent reputation that has nothing to do with shipping.
On the 16th of August 1819, after a less than satisfactory stay on the Big Island, where it had been impossible to obtain the supplies needed for the next leg of his voyage, and after having rounded Kaho’olawe island on the previous day, Louis de Freycinet dropped anchor off the settlement he knew as Reheina
The ordinary seamen listed in Gaimard’s diary were divided into First, Second and Third Class categories. The first two people listed as belonging to the First Class (Matelots de première classe) were further described as ‘matelots à 30 francs’, Presumably this was their rate of pay, but was it for a day, a week, a month or a year?
In Gaimard’s account of the visit of the Uranie to Mauritius he listed the heights and in some cases the latitudes of more than two dozen prominent topographic features. It is not difficult to discover the primary source of the information, but the story is an interesting one. It links Louis de Freycinet to a member of the island’s mixed-race community and to a now almost forgotten French cleric who died more than fifty years before the Uranie arrived off Port Louis..