One of the most prized possessions in Western Australia’s Battye Library is the manuscript of the diary kept by Joseph-Paul Gaimard during the first half of the planned (but never to be completed) round-the-world scientific voyage of the French corvette Uranie. For Western Australians its main interest is in the pages devoted to the ship’s two-week stay in Shark Bay, in 1818.
When I first began working in the eastern part of Papua New Guinea, I was struck by the quite aggressively English names of the major features of its geography. But then, as our project moved offshore, a French influence began to appear.
On the 10th of November 1820 the three-master Physicienne, formerly the American gun-runner Mercury but recently bought into the French Navy and now commanded by Captain Louis de Freycinet, dropped anchor off Cherbourg. Also on board was his wife Rose, who had just become only the second woman ever to circumnavigate the globe, and was the first to leave behind a journal of her adventures.
But who was Peter Piper, and what is his connection with penguins?
Alone among the islands between Borneo and New Guinea, the middling-sized island of Timor stands out as a land of two masters. The western part belongs with all its neighbours, as part of the Republic of Indonesia, but the slightly larger eastern part is the main component of the independent state of Timor Leste,
The first set of instructions issued by Louis de Freycinet to his officers was delivered to them in Sainte-Croix de Ténériffe on the 23 of October 1817, and the second, much longer, set ends with the statement that it was issued in the harbour of Rio de Janeiro on 28 December 1817. The diary proper then begins with the departure of the Uranie from Toulon on 17 September 1817.