Joseph-Paul Gaimard, assistant surgeon on the Uranie, lived for sixty-five years, a respectable total for someone born in the last decade of the eighteenth century. He can certainly be said to have filled those years pretty well, but the extent to which they are documented varies enormously. The well-documented portion begins with his 3-year circumnavigation on the Uranie, for which we have his own diary up to the departure from Guam, and mentions and extracts from his reports in Louis de Freycinet’s Voyage autour de Monde for the remainder, but for his life before then we have very little, and what we have is suspect. The main source for that period is a 4-page biographical note published in 1837 by Jarry de Mancy (JdM), in which it is claimed that Gaimard barely knew his father, who had been killed during the revolutionary wars in the Midi. Both these claims are suspect, because local historians simply record that he was killed by bandits, and since Gaimard would have been seven years old when this happened, he probably did know his father quite well.
Documentation continues to be good for the period after the return of the Uranie. Gaimard’s second circumnavigation, under Dumont Durville in the Astrolabe, is covered in, among many other places, a series of letters he wrote to Louis de Freycinet. These continued after his return, and included a description of Paris during the July and of his visit to Russia to report on the outbreak of cholera, but ended after the death of Rose de Freycinet in 1832. until the end of his second expedition to Iceland. There are mentions of him scattered through the memoirs of Jean René Quoy, which were serialised in the Bulletin of the Société de Géographie de Rochefort between 1917 and 1923 (Q37-39), but these do not include the Uranie voyage (the relevant pages were missing) and were unfinished when Quoy died in 1869; there is nothing in them concerning Gaimard’s life after the publication of the reports on the Scandinavian expedition (‘Voyages … En Scandinavie, En Laponie, Au Spitzberg Et Aux Feroë, pendant … 1838, 1839 Et 1840, Publ. Sous La Direction de P. Gaimard in no fewer than seventeen volumes), or his death in 1858. The easily accessible record is, in general, patchy even for those expeditions. partly because Gaimard features in them relatively little, and partly because, It seems, only the books of illustrations (‘Atlas’ in French) and some other rather specialized parts of the work have been digitized. Various suppliers have recorded the 21st Century publication of parts of the work amongst the British Library Historical Print Editions, but with little or no information on the volumes concerned, and the Library’s own website is silent on the matter.
A timeline for his life, with links, is given below, but there is one very questionable item in it. A number of sources, including the one to which a link is provided, state that Gaimard was nominated or appointed as President of the commission scientifique d’Islande et du Groenland in 1829. It would be remarkable if this were true, because he only returned from the Astrolabe voyage in March of that year, and was then, as his letters to de Freycinet testify, heavily involved in dealing with, and reporting on, the specimens brought back. He had, moreover, no experience at that time, in travel in high latitudes. It seems much more likely that he was selected for the first Iceland expedition, in the report on which he is listed (on p.3-4) simply as chirugien, because of his limited experience of Scandinavia en route to investigating cholera in Russia, and his presidency did not begin until after that, and possibly not until his return from the second expedition.
Joseph-Paul Gaimard dressed for Iceland. Lithograph by Emile Lassalle, from Voyag en Islande et ay Groenland. Source Library of the University of Wisconsin via Wikimedia.
31 January 1793 Born: 31 January/1 February at Saint Zacharie (JdM)
1790 Father killed
1802 Mother (Claire Gasquet) remarries
1803-1810? Brought up by an aunt called Allard
1810? Enrolled in the École de médecine navale
1812-1814 Auxiliary surgeon, l’Impérial
1815 Auxiliary surgeon, Néréride
September 1816 Appointed Surgeon, 3rd Class
17 September 1817 Departs Toulon as second surgeon, l’Uranie
18-20 September 1818 Near-death expedition, Peron Peninsula
13 February 1820 Shipwrecked, Berkely Sound
27 April 1820 Departure from Berkeley Sound
13 Novembe 1820 Returns to France on the Physicienne
February 1821 Appointed Surgeon, 2nd Class
14 July 1823 Quoy/Gaimard paper on coral reefs read to the Académie
May 1824 Appointed Surgeon,1st Class
1824 Publication of Voyage autour du monde, Zoologie
26April 1826 Leaves Toulon as chief surgeon on the Astrolabe
4 December 1826 Letter to de Freycinet from Port Jackson (MLNSW)
14 March 1827 Letter to de Freycinet from Bay of Islands re Académie (NLA 02)
16 March 1827 Letter to de Freycinet from Bay of Islands (NLA 03)
12 May 1827 Letter to de Freycinet from Tongatapu (NLA 04)
14 May 1827 Letter to de Freycinet from Tongatapu (MLNSW)
25 December 1827 Letter to de Freycinet from Hobart (NLA 05)
18 October 1828 Letter to de Freycinet from Port Louis, Mauritius (MLNSW)
November 1828 Disembarked sick, Mauritius (Q38)
28 November 1828 Letter to de Freycinet from St Denis, Réunion (NLA 06)
19 March 1829 Letter to de Freycinet from the Bayonnaise, Marseille (NLA 07)
25 March 1829 Meets Quoy and Sainson when Astrolabe arrives in Marseille. (Q38)
31 March 1829 Joint Quoy/Gaimard letter to de Freycinet from Marseille (NLA 08)
April 1829 Takes Quoy to visit Saint-Zachaeie (Q38)
13 April 1830 Letter of apology to de Freycinet from Paris (NLA 09)
24 July 1830 Letter with request to de Freycinet from Paris (NLA 10)
3 August 1830 Describes for de Freycinet the start of the July Revolution (NLA 11)
7 August 1830 Describes for de Freycinet the ending of the July Revolution (NLA 12)
1831 Visit to Rose de Freycinet recorded by Quoy (Q39)
14 June 1831 Leaves Paris for Russia on mission to investigate Cholera epidemic
11 November 1831 Letter to de Freycinet from Memel re Cholera in Russia (NLA 13)
7 May 1832 Attends dying Rose de Freycinet
1832 Publication of Du choléra-morbus en Russie, en Prusse et en Autriche,
July 1832 Publication of Traitement de Choléra-Morbus
17 March 1835 Publication of Voyage de découvertes de l’Astrolabe, Zoologie
27 April 1835 La Récherche sails from Cherbourg on 1st northern expedition.
13 September 1835 La Récherche returns to Cherbourg after 1st northern expedition.
21 May 1836 La Récherche sails from Cherbourg on 2nd northern expedition.
3 September 18361 La Récherche returns to Cherbourg after 2nd northern expedition.
20 September 1837 Recruitment of scientists for Scandinavian expedition begins
1838 Publication of Voyage en Islande et au Groenland, 1835 & 1836
29 March 1838 Writes to Berzelius about plans for Scandinavian expedition
1838 ? Fails to include Quoy in the science team for the Scandinavian expedition
13 June 1838 La Récherche towed from Le Havre for the Scandinavian expedition.
1838 Ten days spent in Spitzbergen, not much longer at North Cape.
September 1838 On La Récherche in Stockholm
February 1839 Presented with the Danebrog cross in Copenhagen
May 1839 Meets Léonie d’Aunet, recruits her and François Biard for Spitzbergen expedition
16 January 1839 Poetic banquet given by Icelandic community in Copenhagen
1839? 1840? La Récherche returns to Cherbourg after Scandinavian expedition.
1840 Initial publication of Voyages de la Commission, 1838, 1839 & 1840
1842 Publication of final volume of Voyages de la Commission
March 1848 Ends active service
10 December 1858 Dies in Paris
The Poetic Banquet of 1839 ws given by the Icelandic community in Copenhagen, which was evidently less than well disposed to Danish rule of their homeland. During it copies of a poem by Jonas Hallgrimsson, one of the island’s premier poets were distributed, and it was also read out loud. An English translation by Dick Ringler, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison goes as follows:
Standing on Hekla’s stony height Riding a steed of rugged stock
you stared at braided rivers gleaming you roamed through many an upland valley,
over the peaceful plains and streaming pausing where tumbling torrents dally
out to an ocean broad and bright, dimly with dwellers in the rock,
while Loki lurked among the boulders while high in steep and stony passes
lying beneath the mountain’s shoulders- straggle-haired sheep ate fragrant grasses —
were you not awed by Iceland then, were you not awed by Iceland then,
this ancient realm of crag and glen? this ageless land of moor and fen?
Looking on lava’s vast extent Here, beneath Copenhagen’s towers,
along the stream where chieftains hosted a host from Iceland greets you, knowing
back in the days when Iceland boasted Frenchmen will never fail in showing
her proud and ancient parliament love for a land as free as ours,
(its towering tents are long forgotten, where liberty still laughs and dances
their turf foundations wrecked and rotten) — though lamed by tyrannous circumstances,
did you not ache for Iceland then, and all its natives need or want
openly shamed before all men? is nourishment from wisdom’s font.
Progress depends on truth and lore. Honor to you, Paul, evermore!
Patient research, pursued with rigor, Honor for your immense successes
restores a people’s stagnant vigor, drawing from nature’s dim recesses
bringing them boons unknown before. puzzles and prodigies galore!
Therefore we place supreme reliance Well-earned renown was never clearer;
upon the work of men of science, never has guest of ours been dearer!
who toil up pathways never trod God be your aid in all you do —
to tend the holy flame of God. Iceland will long remember you