On the 14th of February 1820, the French corvette l’Uranie commanded by Louis de Freycinet struck the peak of a subsurface pinnacle while entering East Falkland’s Berkeley Sound and began to sink. Heroic efforts at the ship’s pumps by everyone on board (including the elderly chaplain, but excepting the captain’s wife, Rose) kept the vessel afloat throughout the following night, during which travelled two-thirds of the length of the sound to the sandy shore of what has since become known as Uranie Cove, where it was successfully beached at three o‘clock in the morning.
Berkeley Sound, East Falkland, showing the locations of the fatal rock and the last resting place of the Uranie.
The leak proved impossible to repair, and In the course of the two and a half months during which the castaways remained on the island, Rose de Freycinet continued the diary that she had begun when the corvette left Toulon two and a half years before. It was published in France in 1927 in an edition very heavily edited for both grammar and syntax, and any matter considered controversial or discreditable to France and her navy was omitted. For reasons known only to the editors, those omissions included the majority of the references to a nervous illness suffered by Louis de Freycinet which in some days kept him to his bed in the tented camp established ashore. The placing on-line of images of the diary pages has now allowed the course of that illness, which was probably the result of deep depression at the loss of his ship, to be tracked.
For the first few days after the beaching de Freycinet proved himself a man of action, directing the establishment of an onshore camp and overseeing the transfer to it of as much as possible of the stores and equipment of the corvette, including the precious scientific instruments, samples and specimens, and the notes and records that accompanied them. Fortunately, the vessel remained accessible, and even partly occupiable, while this was being done, but after a series of storms the hull was tilting so badly and was clearly so unstable that on the 22nd of February de Freycinet decided to bring everyone ashore. By the 29th Rose was able to write in her diary:
= 29 = Notre camp a l’air vraiment d’un petit village, il y a une tente pour Louis, une pour les instruments et les papiers et où nous mangeons, une pour l’état-major, une pour les élèves de la marine et une pour les volontaires ; trois autres sont pour l’hôpital, caserne des matelots et pour les maitres.
Fortunately for the castaways, the Falklands, although at the time uninhabited, were regularly visited by sealers and whalers, and as precaution against mishap horses, cattle and pigs had been set free to breed and provide a food resource for just such emergencies. A mobile camp was set up for the hunters who kept the main camp supplied with fresh meat for most of the stay until the eventual rescue, and It was not until the 10th of March that Rose recorded any hint of problems with her husband’s health. She wrote:
= 10 = Louis se trouve indisposé de l’estomac et de tout le jour, il ne peut travailler, il épreuve enfin quelques coliques.
According to the website Trésor de la Langue Française, the word colique can have a number of different meanings, but possibly the most apposite is the second one defined as ‘Trouble psycho-somatique résultant d’un trouble du système nerveux sous l’effet de l’inquiétude, de la crainte, du désarroi. Colique convulsive, hystérique, nerveuse, spasmodique’
Only the words underlined in the quotation from the entr for the 10th of March survived the assaults of the Twentieth Century editors, and at first it seemed that de Freycinet’s stomach problems were merely temporary. However, on the 13th Rose wrote:
= 13 = Louis est toujours indisposé et garde le lit. Il souffre du coliques nerveuses qui viennent je pense [Il se ressent] des grandes fatigues qu’il a éprouvées depuis 2 mois.
Here, as in future quotations, matter retained by the editors is underlined, and insertions by them that are not in the original are enclosed in square brackets. As far as her husband’s health was concerned, almost everything Rose had to say about it on the following day was omitted.
= 14 = Louis a passé une nuit un peu plus tranquille, ses douleurs n’était plus continuelles et lui laissant quelques instans, une forte dose d’opium a dû d’ailleurs les engourdir et lui procurer si non un bon sommeil au moins un peu de ce repos dont le corps a besoin chaque jour. Le voyant mieux et étant moi-même un peu fatigué de la nuit précèdent …………. . La calme que Louis a éprouvé pendant la nuit s’est à peu bien soutenu pendant toute la journée quoique retentit du colique très vite cependant, elles lui ont permis de dormir plusieurs fois dand le jour ; mais ne prenant que quelque petit bouillon depuis deux jours il [Louis] est d’une faiblesse extraordinaire.
It was a pattern that was to be often repeated
= 15 = Louis a passé une bonne nuit et comme je m’etais mieux arrangée pour la nuit j’un un peu mieux dormir. …… Louis se trouve toujours plus tranquille [aujourd’hui un peu mieux].
= 16 = Louis va di mieux en mieux mais il ne sort pas encore parce que le tems est mauvais et brumeuse et bien pénible pour de pauvres campées
= 17 = Comme il fait très beau temps, Louis se décida à sortir, il est un peu fatigué de cette petite course.
By the 19th Louis was well enough to take a walk to inspect the work that was being done on the largest of the ship’s boats to prepare it for the perilous journey to Montevideo in search of rescue, and it was on the evening of that day that they learned they were not alone on the islands, when a sloop belonging to an American whaler entered the sound. Their troubles, however, were far from over, and nor was de Freycinet’s health immune from fresh bouts of ‘colique’. Rose noted on the 23rd of March that although he had begun to establish an observatory and make observations, he quickly tired while doing things that in previous times had stretched him not at all. Effectively, he suffered a relapse.
= 26 = Bien loin d’après avoir commencer hier ses observations, Louis s’est trouvé de matin fort incommodes de ses coliques nerveuses et billieuses, il [Louis] souffre encore beaucoup aujourd’hui et il est forcé de garder le lit. ……..
= 27 = Louis est toujours bien souffrant et n’a reposé que quelques heures cette nuit grâce à un forte dose d’opium il prit hier soir, il ne peut encore rien prendre qu’il ne le renda : cela tuit au mauvais état de son estomac ; le docteur pense qu’il fut purgé et malheureusement dans le nombre des médicaments qu’on a sauvé il ne se trouve rien pour purger de sorte qu’il ne voit point de moyen de guérir cette indisposition tant que nous serons ici. ……..
= 28 = Louis est toujours fort indisposé, son coliques moins violents mais il a un hoquel continuel que la fatigue a un point continué d’autant plus que tous les rendre qu’on a fait jusqu’on ne le font point assez.
= 29 = Louis a passé une nuit bien peu plus tranquille et j’espère qu’au aujourd’hui il ira mieux.
It was on this day that the ship that had entered the sound the previous day was discovered to be, not an envoy from the whaler but the Mercury, the American three-master on which they would eventually leave the islands. In negotiating with its captain, de Freycinet was going to need to have all his wits about him, but he was still ill and really in no fit state for what lay ahead.
= 30 = Louis va toujours un peu mieux mais il souffre encore du hoquets :
= 31 = Nous avons aujourd’hui la visite du capitaine américain et deux autres de ses passagers, Louis allait se lever, fut obligé de les recevoir au lit.
It was not an auspicious beginning to negotiations that were to be protracted and increasingly fractious, nor was it to be the end of Louis’ ill-health, but the unanswered, and now unanswerable question remains. Why did the editors, more than a hundred years later, think that aspect of the saga of the shipwreck should be supressed?