‘In accordance with my wishes, I was given the corvette La Coquille which was renamed L’Astrolabe in memory of Mr. de la Pérouse’

(Dumont d’Urville, 1834–5, Voyage de découvertes autour du monde et à la recherche de la Pérouse…sur la corvette L’Astrolabe pendant les années 1826–1829, Paris).

Jules Sébastien César Dumont d’Urville was one of the most knowledgeable French navigators. Like earlier expeditions, d’Urville’s voyages were primarily driven by the European thirst for knowledge and territorial possession.

The expedition left Toulon on 22 April 1826, instructed to confirm whether wreckage discovered at Vanikoro was from the ill-fated Lapérouse expedition. En route, Dumont d’Urville was to explore the southern Australian coastline, note good anchorages, collect scientific samples and make astronomical observations.

Cape Leeuwin was sighted on 5 October and two days later the Astrolabe anchored in King George Sound where it remained for 18 days. Dumont d’Urville assessed the Sound’s suitability as a port and thought it would be good place to establish a colony. He was surprised that the British had not already done so.

Louis de Sainson created many images of their friendly encounters with the Aborigines. D’Urville’s ships were ‘floating laboratories’ where the scientists observed and recorded the thousands of specimens and objects of these new worlds of nature and mankind. The natural history specimens and collections from his voyages, several of which were new species, were destined for the Muséum nationale d’Histoire naturelle, Paris. The specimens of fauna and flora were meticulously drawn by talented scientific illustrators and collated into large volumes, all lavishly published by the French government.

Portrait of J.S.C. Dumont d'Urville

A. Maurin, 1833

Reproduced courtesy of National Library of Australia