Realms and Islands: The World Voyage of Rose de Freycinet in the Corvette Uranie. From Her Journal and Letters….

Rose de Freycinet was smuggled aboard her husband, Captain Louis de Freycinet’s corvette ‘Uranie’, about to sail on a scientific expedition round the world. She played a gallant and gracious part in the adventure which took her to many islands and countries. Her presence aboard, officially forbidden at the outset, had been condoned by the authorities long before she returned, and she was welcomed home as the heroine she had proved herself to be. [Summary from Aquila Books, ABEBooks, 3/1/17.]

p. 13-14, at the first port after Toulon, Gibraltar: Shepherded by one of the General’s engineer-officers, they inspected Gibraltar’s singular fortifications; also the tennis court, the magnificent billiard room and the library, amenities provided in the hope of keeping the garrison’s officers—English and Hanoverian—out of mischief in this restricted spot. The library proved to be a small but choice collection of books in the charge of an elderly French refugee, cultured and urbane; here, among other works, their English guide showed them a volume of engravings entitled The Victories of the French Under Napoleon; and here, according to [Jacques] Arago, on his several visits no readers were to be seen except one English colonel solemnly examining some caricatures.

p. 17, en route to Rio in October 1817, Rose describes her life at sea: In the evening, if Louis stays with me, I take up my books or my work, according to circumstances. Sometimes, but not often, we take a turn on the bridge. In all this as you will see, there is no place for boredom. It is my belief that boredom can always be avoided if one enjoys work and wants only the attainable.

p. 26, while in Rio: In the household of the Russian Consul, M. Langsdorf, formerly naturalist of the Krusenstern expedition, French was spoken fluently and the latest journals from France were to be seen: it was under this roof that Rose saw ‘the ridiculous article published in some of the French papers [about her scandalous voyage] when I left Toulon; very far from being flattered by the celebrity that people want to fasten on me it gives me great displeasure’….

p. 54, concerning the Chief Judge of Maritius, a new English friend there, a man who spoke such fluent French: as, for instance, when, presiding at an assemblage of Freemasons meeting in de Freycinet’s honour, he gave a delightful address as perfectly as a Frenchman would have done. And although he was elderly—indeed, over fifty—Rose found him charmingly gay.

p. 59-60, while in Mauritius Rose tried to track down the site of a novel by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Paul and Virginia: Like the rest of her world, indeed, like all reading Europe, she had been enchanted by this tender pastoral set in eighteenth-century Ile de France, a love tale culminating cruelly in the authentic wreck of the ship St. Géran off the island’s coast. The book’s limpid language, the simple and virtuous lives it told of the perfection of social relationship as shown by the mutual devotion of white and black; the background of forest glade and waterfall, leaning coconut palm and soaring crag—all accorded with her generation’s desire for artlessness in Man and the picturesque in Nature. [She later became disillusioned at the “many inaccuracies this charming author has given us.”]

p. 184, Freycinet was directed to meet Judge Barron Field in Sydney in 1819, an Englishman who had been in the colony for three years, and a man of letters: Not that there were none to share Field’s literary tastes; but he alone had a published book to his credit—the more-than-thin volume, First Fruits of Australian Poetry; nor is it likely that any others among them had moved in a London circle devoted to the drama, poetry and journalism or who could claim to be a friend of Leigh Hunt and intimate of Charles Lamb and to have met Wordsworth at least once: nor, probably, was there any other than Field whose wife was to be praised by Lamb as ‘really a very superior woman.’

p. 194, at the end of the Sydney visit which they clearly loved: It was only for the few, and probably all of them French and caring for the lustre of France’s name, that Botany Bay was hallowed as the place from which Europe had received the last messages from the renowned la Pérouse, just before he sailed out into the Pacific and to his mysterious end. Those messages had reached France through his chance and happy meeting with the English officers on their way to Port Jackson to plant the first parties off convicts on its unknown shore.

p. 201ff (Chapter XIX); after a relatively benign passage of Cape Horn, the ship arrived in the Falklands in February 1820 and while seeking a safe harbor was wrecked on submerged rocks. After keeping the ship afloat until morning light, they were able to bring the derelict to a sandy beach.

p. 204: At once their tasks began: first, the removal and safehousing of the journals and scientific documents, records of observations made in physics, astronomy, hydrography, languages, natural history—an immense number and all intact; but most of the collections of botanical specimens, of birds and butterflies and shells, all made with loving labour, were either water-damaged or altogether lost, and also lost were twelve or fifteen of Arago’s albums of sketches and his collections of the arms and costumes of the countries visited en route.

p. 214, while beached on a deserted Falklands Island awaiting rescue by an American whaler, Rose write of her reading or sewing: There is no mention of practice on her guitar, known to have been carried ashore from the corvette. Arago, attempting at this time to distract his fo’c’sle friends from the desolate present, read aloud to them each night from Robinson Crusoe [presumably in French]; he found them attentive until their accustomed meal-time came round, bringing no meal, when grumbles and groans put an end to reading and they all abandoned themselves to a sleepless night.

Conclusion: the crew was finally rescued by a ship which brought them to Rio de Janeiro and finally back to France by November1820, three years after their departure from Toulon. Somehow Rose maintained her equanimity and religious convictions to the end of the journey though she died of cholera in 1832.

p. 257 describes the Freycinet Château de l’Age: With in the house, portraits of the Freycinets—Henris, Claudes, Charles—look from the walls at their successors moving about twentieth-century life. The round portraits of Louis and Rose are beside a fireplace in the salon; these young faces do not look out at the world but at each other, in happy trust.

It is perhaps in the library rather than in the salon that the spirit of both Louis and Rose is most clearly felt: for it is here that Louis’s Voyage takes its rightful place among the other navigator’s volumes, gleaming in leather bindings of old gold, and here that Rose’s manuscripts are in safe keeping, record of adventures met with when travelling among foreign realms and islands one hundred and forty years ago.