Sunday, 6 March 2011

Les plantes françaises


It’s a great dinner party debate, whether life would be better if we had been settled by the French rather than the English.

Given I'm about to live in England I won’t go there, but French botanists certainly had a major role in the discovery of Australia’s amazing flora.

Jean-François La Pérouse commanded the first French expeditions to the Pacific in 1785, reaching Botany Bay on 26 January 1788. A familiar date of course – Captain Phillip was on the same day proclaiming British sovereignty over eastern Australia and landing the first convicts a little further north.

Captain Hunter, on another of the First Fleet ships, met in Botany Bay with La Pérouse who stayed for six weeks before heading back into the Pacific to be lost for ever.

The French sent a number of search expeditions, all including scientists to explore the new lands, starting with the one lead by d’Entrecasteaux and including botanist Labillardière. This first expedition made camp at Recherche Bay in far south-east Tasmania, now an important historical and scientific site – we could call it the ‘French Botany Bay’ (La Baie Botanique?).

Perouse was never found but the wreckage of his ships turned up in the Santa Cruz islands in 1827. Importantly, though, lots of Australian plants made there way to France. In fact even a specimen of eucalypt (Eucalyptus obliqua) collected by one of Cook’s crew became the basis for describing our iconic Australian tree genus by the French botanist l’Heritier.

Empress Josephine Bonaparte grew more than 100 Australian plants at her country home of Malmaison, just out of Paris at that time. She also published a book of colour plates by the renowned artist Pierre Redouté.

Despite the new colony at Port Jackson, the Napoleonic era was far more productive for Australian botany than England under George III.

Image: Recherche Bay in Tasmania, the ‘French Botany Bay’. *Having said my previous post was the last from the Radio Archive I've discovered a couple more. This one is from August 2008.

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