The Uranie Voyage

L'Uranie Described

Plans and illustrations of L’Uranie (formerly La Ciotat) were obtained from France by M. Philippe Godard. They were in turn passed on to Mr Robert Sexton, of Adelaide, a maritime historian who is interested in French exploration vessels and who has made a detailed study of Freycinet’s work in command of the schooner Le Casuarina.

Mr Sexton has advised that the 350-ton Uranie measured 112 French feet (36m) long by 28 feet in length and depth of hold of 14 feet. His analysis of the plans also shows that:

Drawn plan of the vessel L'Uranie

L'Uranie plan
Credit: WA Museum

L’Uranie had both a main or gundeck and a lower deck, (the latter referred to by the French as the ‘orlop deck’). The forecastle and poop decks, their ‘upper deck’, were connected by broad gangways, and the opening left between them...was grated over. A dunette, cabin accommodation for the commander, was installed aft over the full breadth of the quarterdeck, while cabins for the various other officers were ranged around the after part of both gun-deck and between-decks.

In the hold, the magazine aft was separated from a series of three full-width bread rooms by a double-panel bulkhead, such as also separated the distilling plant room forward from both the hold and the boatswain’s and master gunner’s stores at the bows...[Items] seen here in at least one view include the pumps, galley, distilling plant, and the metal belaying pin racks and geared winches at the masts.

There are three ‘royal’ pumps, the traditional wooden pump modified by a metal tube in the working area, and a pair of double-acting pumps.

There are several strange features concerning the cooking arrangements. Instead of being in their usual place in the forecastle, the galley and bread oven were placed in the between-decks between mainmast and main hatch, and far from being associated with the galley, the still was in the hold just aft of the fore mast…. The series of iron tanks in the hold are generally marked eau (water), but the two larger ones are marked légumes (vegetables).

An engraving of a quarter view of the Uranie—the only source for the stern decoration at this stage—also shows guns projecting from all the ports. This compares with Baudin’s ships which carried only six guns.

Rose de Freycinet

There was an illicit element to the Uranie voyage, for when Louis de Freycinet’s expedition left France, the 22-year-old Madame Rose de Saulces de Freycinet (née Pinon) was aboard L’Uranie. This social element has added immeasurably to the importance of the voyage and, it is expected, to the significance of the archaeological remains.

Portrait of Rose de Freycinet

Rose de Freycinet
Credit: WA Museum

It appears that Rose and Louis' preparations for smuggling her on board began almost as soon as he was appointed commander of the new voyage of exploration and circumnavigation in the Uranie. It also appears that he extended the accommodation on board the ship to suit. From a social perspective, these were to be the beginnings of one of France's great and lasting love stories. It was one that so captured the imagination of contemporary society that she and her husband were to be feted in the salons of Paris on their safe return to France after many adventures, and he was never censured by the French Navy despite initial indignation once news of the tryst became known. The indignation was not universally shared, for it appears that when news of their arrival at Gibraltar, where Rose appeared disguised in ‘a long blue frock-coat and trousers to match’, the Minister in Paris could have ordered her ashore at the next suitable port, but decided to ignore the matter. (Dunmore, 1969:67).

Throughout the official accounts, including Louis’ own reports, Rose de Freycinet’s presence on board was not mentioned, though a lasting indirect reference appears in the naming of a new variety of dove Colombe pinon found on islands off New Guinea (Dunmore, 1969:82), and two ferns gathered by the botanists (Rivière, 1996:xxi). One official hint appears in section iv of the scientist’s report entitled GEOGRAPHY thus:

Captain Freycinet discovered...a small island to which he gave the name of Rose Island... (Humboldt, et al., 1823).

This small island named by Freycinet ‘from the name of someone who is extremely dear to me’ (Voyage, vol ii:623-4) proved a delight to Rose and she wrote on 21 October 1819 in her letters home that,

‘now it is done, my name has been linked with a small corner of the world’

(Rivière, 1996:110).

The island lies in the Pacific, near Samoa. No doubt concerned about the effect of their deception on his career, de Freycinet made few other references to his wife in the official accounts, though Cape Rose in Shark Bay on the west coast of Australia also refers.

In examining Freycinet’s actions in taking Rose with him, it needs also be noted that Matthew Flinders also had harboured a plan to take his wife Anne on his exploration voyage, at least to Port Jackson where she was to stay while he completed his work—a scheme that was abandoned when she was found on board during an official inspection of the ship. Further, a woman was on board one of Louis de Bougainville’s ships on his circumnavigation (Godard to McCarthy, February, 2002), and Marie Louise Victoire Giradin, disguised as a man, sailed as crew on board the Recherche, one of d’Entrecasteaux’s ships. Unfortunately she, like many others, died towards the end of the voyage, leaving the details of her story untold (Duyker & Duyker, 2001: xxv).

Thus in its execution and in the extant record, Rose De Freycinet’s presence on board L’Uranie was remarkable to say the least and her husband had taken a grave risk in regard to his career and future prospects in the matter. Thus the trend, almost an agreed need, to make little mention of Rose’s presence on board was continued where possible, even in presenting the official works of the various artists.

Nevertheless, the voyage of the ‘remarkably intelligent, courageous and determined’ 22-year-old Rose de Freycinet (Grille, 1853), was quietly celebrated in France in her own, tragically short, lifetime and later with the publication of her journal in 1927 by M. Charles Duplomb. Two modern accounts;

Marnie Bassett’s Realms and Islands; The world voyage of Rose de Freycinet 1817-1820 published in 1962 and Marc Serge Rivière’s A Woman of Courage: The journal of Rose de Freycinet on her voyage around the world 1817-1820 that was published in 1996 has since served to whet the appetite of the English-speaking world, for she provides a number of new perspectives on exploration voyages, including, apart from detailed comment on clothing and other personal matters and, ‘a keen observing eye for customs’ (Dunmore, 1969:70).

Further, to the unique elements of it all the French author Gabriel Lafond, who a few years later travelled along a similar route to L’Uranie, recorded that the Freycinets were:

‘Well remembered, even still discussed’ among Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese officials with whom they came in contact. He also recorded that ‘everywhere, as “one of France’s finest ornaments”, she had excited sympathy for her country, so lately wounded in its pride’ (Quoted in Bassett, 1962: 46).

There were positive and nationalistic elements in it all, as Lafond records below, and much of the latter appears dependent on the qualities of Rose de Freycinet herself.

She was also an apple of discord, a crowd of young men whose jealousies and passions could not fail to be aroused. Always of dignified, becoming and discreet behaviours, never herself giving cause for a single derogatory comment, by her mere existence young Mme de Freycinet furnished a topic of conversation likely to disturb the good harmony, even the discipline, essential to a naval ship’ (Quoted in Bassett, 1962:148)

Another contemporary, the Antarctic explorer James Weddell met the couple in his travels and he also starkly places Rose de Freycinet in a number of other useful social and historical contexts.

The extreme vivacity of Madame F. seemed well to accord with the character of the French fair: it was reported, that in the midst of the greatest danger and confusion, she retained a most surprising firmness and composure of mind; resembling in this, according to all accounts, the unexampled fortitude of many French ladies during that murderous period of the French Revolution, when their dearest friends and relations were torn from them by merciless assassins’ (Weddell, 1827:101).

Readers interested in Rose de Saulces de Freycinet, her time, her observations and her travels are referred to the Bassett and Rivière accounts for details, though excerpts of relevance to Australia and the archaeological remains at both the wreck and campsite are reproduced here.

Shark Bay: The de Vlamingh Plate

Having elected not to land first at King George Sound as ordered, de Freycinet brought L’Uranie to anchor off Dirk Hartog Island adjacent to Cape Inscription on 12 September 1818. The next day, a boat was despatched to Inscription Point in order to recover the Vlamingh plate. After a few days and with some difficulty, the boat returned and the plate was brought on board to the expectant Freycinet. In recovering the relic, contrary to his former Captain Hamelin’s sentiments, de Freycinet utilised a time-honoured logic in doing so, referring to its exposed location, the possibility of damage or its recovery by less well intentioned others.

Believing that such a rare plate might again be swallowed up by the sands, or else run the risk of being taken away and destroyed by some careless sailor, I felt that its correct place was in one of these great scientific depositories which offer to the historian such rich and precious documents. I planned, therefore, to place it in the collections of the Académie Royale des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres de L’Institut de France.

(de Freycinet, Voyage Historique, Vol.I.:449)

While some will consider this act ‘sound and reasonable’ in the circumstances (Dunmore, 1969:73), many, including Jacques Arago, the expedition draughtsman, will not agree. At the time, he noted that:

‘M. Fabre had been directed to go in search of a plate of lead, left on this land by its first discoverer. In fact, the plate has been carried away...I abstain from all reflections on the circumstances’. (Footnote to letter LVI). Perhaps Arago was aware that Hamelin had been quite forthright on the matter, stating in his journal that it would have been a ‘crime and a sacrilege’ to remove the plate (Horner, 1987:175).

It is possible that Freycinet also removed Hamelin’s plate and certainly the absence of the two plates created some concern just a few years later when the Australian-born explorer Phillip Parker King (son of the Governor with whom Baudin was earlier in contact) landed at Cape Inscription and ‘with eager steps’ hurried up to Hamelin’s two posts that he could see were still standing. Expecting to view the two plates either on the posts or, at worst, lying detached in the sand at the foot of the posts, his reaction is recorded thus:

On reaching the top, however, they found the plates gone. King ‘mortified’, and unwilling to accept that a civilized European could have committed such an outrage, concluded that the Aboriginals had removed them (Hordern, 1997:341).While awaiting the return of the crew carrying the plate, Freycinet moved L’Uranie across to Baie de Dampier (Broadhurst Bight at Cape Peron) and established camp there. The observatory was duly set up and with water supplies very low, Freycinet arranged for the ship’s iron water tanks that replaced the wooden casks normally used for that purpose to be replenished with fresh water.

In his account of them Freycinet refers to them as an ‘ingenious type of cask’ (Freycinet, 1829:1239). This was effected using an ‘alembic’, or apparatus for distilling sea water. Although the plant on board set fire to the deck and had caused other problems, a second one set up ashore proved effective and soon began supplying fresh water.Rose de Freycinet’s and Jacques Arago’s letters concerning these events appearing in Rivière read as follows;


12 5 o’clock we anchored at the entrance of Shark Bay, near Dirck Hartog’s Island...we saw the low and arid coast of New Holland; there was nothing in the sight to ease our minds, for we knew we would find no water in this miserable land...


The coast from the moment we first saw it, exhibited nothing but a picture of desolation; no rivulet consoled the eye, no tree attracted it; no mountain gave variety to the landscape, no dwelling enlivened it: everywhere reigned sterility and death. (Letter LIII).


13 September 1818...Louis sent a boat to Dirck Hartog’s Island to remove an inscription left behind by the Dutch to mark their landing around 1600. It is a precious object which we plan to take back to Paris.

The Artwork of the Voyage

There is a great body of artwork extant. Of direct interest to those examining the works from an Australian and Freycinet perspective is Alphonse Pellion’s Baie des Chiens-Marins: Observatoire de L’Uranie which provides a record of the camp. The published version shows Louis de Freycinet at work on his observations at a table outside a very distinctive tent, whereas Rose and a Mauritian boy appear seated nearby in his original and unofficial version.

Drawing of the camp set up by de Freycinet

de Freycinet's camp
Credit: National Library of Australia

Drawing of the camp set up by de Freycinet

de Freycinet's camp
Credit: National Library of Australia

Rose de Freycinet's account of this scene reads;

18 September...I went ashore with Louis and we spend several days sleeping under a tent. That stay on land was not a pleasant one for me, the country being entirely devoid of trees and vegetation...When the heat died down a little, I would collect shells, of which I have an impressive collection. I spend the rest of the day in the tent reading or working.

Meeting with the Indigenous People

Later our two observers, Rose de Freycinet and Jacques Arago, record a meeting with Aboriginal people in a manner that reveals both the concerns on both sides and the literary legacy that all mariners shared at the time.


21 September...The natives, no doubt frightened off by the number of people coming ashore, had retreated on the day we first saw them. The previous day, after much hesitation, they had come up to the men in the first camp and had exchanged their weapons for tin, glass necklaces and so on.


After I had taken a dozen steps, I distinguished on the sand some traces of a naked foot, that reminded me of the situation in which Robinson Crusoe once found himself in...

The exchange is also relevant in that the attitudes of those who landed at New Holland on the Uranie voyage tended to reflect the negative opinions of Dampier and the Dutch. Arago records their meetings with the Aboriginal people which were made ‘with a certain mistrust’ and when concerned at a developing impasse, he produced a pair of castanets and played a ‘sort of tune’ which resulted in astonishment and then a dance in response from some of the Aborigines. (Letter LIV).

It is in the context of the negative perceptions that the Uranie complement had of the land and peoples at Shark Bay that Rose de Freycinet’s mother was to advise her to ‘look at the drawings in Baudin’s voyage… and you will have a true idea of these people’ (Quoted in Bassett, 1962:920). In many respects it is evident that the amount of time spent in mixing with indigenous peoples and the philosophical tenets that underpin contact between diverse peoples combine to affect the perspective of those who report on the encounter.

Some survey work was accomplished by L. I. Duperrey during what transpired to be quite a short stay, and on 26 September the ship left for Timor.

More Travels

Landing at Timor

On the occasion of their landing at Dili, Pellion provides another official and very dignified view of the officers disembarking to a salute of cannon without Rose, while Arago shows the same scene, with Rose dressed in the fashion of the time, supported on her husband’s arm.

Depiction of Jacques Arago arriving ashore

Jacques Arago
Credit: National Library of Australia

It is interesting to note at this juncture that it was earlier in the voyage at Gibraltar when Rose appeared dressed as a man that the only hint of disapproval from foreign officials with whom they came in contact was received. While apparently not disturbed at all by her presence on board, the Governor was certainly not impressed with her appearance, and from then on Rose de Freycinet ‘abandoned her male disguise’ and dressed in the fashion recorded in some detail in her letters and, for instance, in Arago’s painting below (Dumore, 1969:67).

Arago was also quite a humorist, for when his depiction of the official landing at Dili is examined very closely, he shows a less dignified view of it all and, to the delight of the realists amongst us all, an officer upended in the bows of the Uranie longboat. Herein lies the ever-present gulf between reality and the recorded event, and we are indebted to Arago and Rose de Freycinet for its presentation!

Jacques Arago upended into his boat

Jacques Arago
Credit: WA Museum

This attribute, the exuberant almost uninhibited nature of Arago’s art and writings, and Rose de Freycinet’s frank musings on people, places, events, on Louis’ understandable ill-health and her reflections on her own reactions, and on occasion, even the appropriateness of her own attire in respect to local custom, allows us to view both her and Arago’s accounts as important social commentary. In that respect they represent far more of an anthropological resource than the more formal accounts of the officers and officials on board L’Uranie and on most other exploration ships that preceded it. In that same context it is also important to note that, unlike his predecessors, de Freycinet deliberately did not have a large body of civilian scientists with him, nor did he have such a politically divided ship.

In having, with the notable exceptions of Rose, Arago and the Abbé (chaplain), a complement consisting of naval personnel, he was thereby able to maintain discipline and a unity of purpose that was lacking in the voyages of d’Entrecasteaux and Baudin where the complement were divided as much by social and political discord as from the competing aspirations of the scientists and the mariners (Dunmore, 1969:65). Of importance in reflecting on the character assassination of Baudin by Péron and others, and both Péron and Freycinet’s failure to mention him by name in the final account of the Baudin voyage, except on the occasion of his death (Brown, 2000), is the fact that Freycinet did not suffer in like manner, despite there being plenty of opportunity for criticism. Again this is due in part to the make-up of the complement on the voyage. From Timor, L’Uranie proceeded as per the Itinerary above, and from an Australian and possibly an archaeological perspective, their next relevant port of call was Port Jackson in New South Wales.

Drawing of the vessel Uranie

The Uranie anchored off Timor
Credit: WA Museum

L'Uranie at Port Jackson

Concern at French Expansionism

On 13 November, they arrived off the coast of New South Wales and a few days later dropped anchor in Neutral Bay. The changes evident since his visit in 1802 were a wonder to Freycinet, while the newcomer Arago was overwhelmed and as a result his comments are positively effusive. Old friends came on board at Port Jackson and a house was rented ashore to house the Freycinets and for the scientific equipment. Dunmore recounts that while the botanists and others went off to become further acquainted with the hinterland, for the Freycinets ‘the stay was one long series of social events…local society succumbed to the charm and vivacity of the commandant’s lady—a very genteel, amiable woman’.

Dunmore also records that on the occasion of their visit to his residence at Parramatta, Governor Macquarie sent a regimental band to serenade the official party as they travelled up the harbour, such was the import of their visit. It was not all plain sailing, however, for on the first night in town they were burgled and lost a lot of linen, clothing and silverware. Rose’s account of this event is well worth reproducing at this juncture.

We learnt that during the night our silver, table linen, our servants’ clothing and other effects had been stolen from the ground floor of the house we occupy. You know the purpose of this colony and what sort of people are to be found here in plenty; you will therefore not be astonished at this misdeed: might one not say it is roguery’s classic shore. It would be astonishing not to find thieves here as it would not to meet Parisians in Paris and Englishmen in London (Bassett, 1962:179).

While in Sydney, the Freycinets went to Parramatta and spent two days at Elizabeth Farm with the Macarthurs of merino sheep fame. Louis de Freycinet was assured by Mrs Hannibal Macarthur that her brother, Phillip Parker King, who was then surveying the north-west coast would have liked to have met him. King was absent attempting to fill in the gaps in the charts left by his predecessors, for though peace had come with the defeat of Bonaparte, there were still many, including Governor Macquarie who harboured concerns about French expansionist sentiment that was still directed towards the coast of New Holland. When ordered by London to provide King with a small ship with which to complete the surveys, Macquarie stated that:

I therefore cordially and entirely concur in opinion… as to the expediency and necessity of using every possible means and precaution to frustrate the present intentions of the French Government in this instance (Bassett, 1962:181)

King circumnavigated Australia three times between 1817-1822. In the course of one of these voyages he found his bosun’s lady had stowed away and on another occasion was disappointed at not finding the Vlamingh and Hamelin plates in Shark Bay. He also named the Buccaneer Archipelago in the north-west in honour of Dampier, such was his effect on those who followed.

On Sundays Mass was celebrated on board L’Uranie, the service attended not only by the French but also by a sizeable number of the Catholic population of Sydney—a predominantly Irish group that Péron expected to join as sympathisers in his earlier plot to seize the colony (Péron to Decaen, 20 December 1802. Quoted in Scott, 1914:315-337).

On the eve of their departure, a large quantity of supplies and livestock was loaded. Included were two of Macarthur’s merino rams, with a view to introducing them to the flocks in France. They joined, as curiosities and valuable specimens, the eight black swans and a number of emus already on board. In reflecting France’s developing plans for the south-west of New Holland, Rose also expressed the hope that ‘would to God the French had as well-established a penal colony as this one’ (Quoted in Bassett, 1962:194). On leaving port on Christmas morning 1819, a drunken convict was found in the bilge and handed over to the pilot and although a thorough search was carried out; ten more escapees were found when they were too far at sea to return.

French Interest in New Holland Extinguished

In his detailed analysis of the social, political and strategic context of the French interests in the Southland, Leslie Marchant states that:

'In the period after Freycinet’s mission, the French government for the first time made specific plans to colonize western Australia, in order to realise the long held Bourbon dream of having a temperate base in the Indian Ocean to match British controlled south Africa’ (Marchant, 1998: 209).

Marchant also examines at length French interest in the establishment of a penal colony in south-western Australia in emulation of those on the east coast. The return to peace following Waterloo and restoration of the Bourbon monarchy resulted in the despatch of three French expeditions to south-west Australia.

The first led by Freycinet in L’Uranie and subsequently those of one of his officers, Louis Duperrey in 1822, and then Hyacinthe de Bougainville in 1824. The sole landing took place during an accidental visit by Dumont d’Urville, who had actually been sent to examine the suitability of establishing a French colony in New Zealand. He landed at King George Sound in 1826 just before French interest in a proposed south-west Australian colony was completely extinguished by British landings at King George Sound (Albany) in 1826 and at the Swan River (Fremantle) in 1829. Thus, for a variety of reasons no ‘Restoration Period’ French expedition, including de Freycinet’s, actually landed on the south-west coast of Australia, as intended and consequently no French penal colony eventuated.


This is not the place to provide further detail of the voyage or its ramifications, for as indicated this work is designed purely to provide the basis for an informed assessment of the importance of the Uranie story to both Australia and the Falkland Islands and to provide the basis for an informed assessment of the archaeological remains at the wreck and the camp.

Suffice it to say here that they eventualy arrived at the Falkland Islansds, where they attempted to reach Bougainville’s abandoned settlement at Port Louis where they hoped to finish the work and to rest after their battering in rounding Cape Horn. Louis de Freycinet wrote of ensuing events as did numerous others. Excerpts from the accounts he, the artist Jacques Arago and Rose de Freycinet gave are quoted here, and where they provide insights into the expected archaeological record the relevant section is underlined.

Louis de Freycinet's Account:

(Excerpt's from a translation by Mr Robert Sexton)

At 4 p.m. on 14 February we discerned the entrance of French Bay [Berkeley Sound]….[a] reduction in depth made me give the order to fall way two points to larboard to deviate away from the coast; but this excessive care became disastrous for us, and shortly the corvette was brought up with a pretty strong shock on an underwater rock…by backing all sails quickly we got ourselves refloated promptly….water soon entered the hold strongly…We hastened… to try to at least fother the leak; but after much work this measure was found inadequate; from this time I saw no other hope of escape than to go and cast the corvette ashore in a suitable place to at least save the crew and the results of the voyage…At 11 p.m., when in the proximity of Penguin [Hog] Island, we were overtaken by calm [and decided] to anchor. . .

Despite the efforts of the crew and the working of all our pumps, the water had already reached the height of the orlop deck…. and I sent a pinnace under the command of Monsieur Duperrey to sound in the vicinity and look for a suitable spot to beach the corvette… fear of seeing the corvette sink persuaded me to slip the cable [i.e. to abandon the anchor]…to stand in for the sandy cove… to the south of Penguin Island.

We fell in with the track of the pinnace of Monsieur Duperrey, who having just reconnoitred the beach in question was in a position to more surely direct our course. It is therefore at 3 a.m. that the Uranie reached the inevitable termination of her voyage, at the place we have so properly named the Anse de la Providence!

… As soon as the ship was beached we carried some kedge anchors abreast her for fear that the surf should shift her away from shore…she heeled little by little to starboard to the point where the masts made an angle of twenty degrees with the vertical. . . We were fortunately then at the time of high water , spring tides; the water entered to half the breadth of the gundeck; afterwards only descending to about five pieds [5.3 feet] below this level at the ebb tide.

At first we worked to lighten the vessel; sent ashore were all the objects that could be of some use to us, whether immediately or later: the anchors, and the guns, fitted with buoys were dropped close alongside. We came to regret acutely that our tier was composed of iron tanks, for we could never recover a single one of them from the hold…Not only did these iron tanks give rise to a disastrous encumbrance, they later deprived us of the resources to place a string of water casks around the sides of the ship, which might have been a powerful agent for us.

[in trying to turn the vessel onto its other side and thereby expose the leak] …two bower anchors were dropped on the landward side opposite the foremast and the mainmast; their backing was set up on the shore with kedge anchors strongly secured with stakes and planks buried in the sand.

… the frightful shocks the hull suffered on the ground as a result of the ocean swell… we expected to see the corvette smashed to pieces…soon indeed we came to the sad conclusion that complete planks had been detached from the ship’s bottom through these repeated jolts… As soon as the impossibility of repairing the Uranie had been proven, I set to work decking the longboat with the intention of sending it to Montevideo…to fetch the help we needed…

(Freycinet, 1826, Book One, Itinerary: 37-43).

In his Voyage autour du Monde: Historique II (1829) Freycinet provides details that also assist in making predictions about the archaeological remains, in explaining what is found, or in planning future work at the site. For example he refers to utilising the ship’s ‘royal pumps’ and ‘chain pumps’ together…and attempting to put the ship ‘square to the shore’ but coming to rest ‘a little crosswise’. In contradiction of his earlier statements, when he said he says that the tide was ‘rising’ as they stood in to the beach, he stated in this account that the ship struck at ‘low water’.

In respect of predictions about what might have been abandoned in the wrecking, he states that the ‘valuable merino sheep from New Holland’ and other stock that had survived the voyage were landed though they lost ‘several cases of specimens that were in the hold’.

…it was essential to place in safety immediately the journals and other expedition papers… we generally saved all our work in physical science, astronomy, hydrography, anthropology, and linguistics as well as all our journals and notes on natural history.

Freycinet also records that:

…special tents were pitched for our small number of sick, then for the crew, the petty officers, the midshipmen, and the officers; a particular one was also reserved for me, and it was there that all our papers were brought together as well as the astronomical and physical science instruments etc. The one destined to contain our gunpowder was placed in a separate quarter; two likewise were raised to receive the spirits and sea provisions that we had saved from the wreck

James Weddell’s Account

The Antarctic explorer James Weddell records that he was in the Falkland Islands in the brig Jane at the time and that Captain Orne of the American ship ‘cunningly prevented’ news of the disaster getting to him in order to avoid there being competition in securing recompense for taking the French home. Weddell met the Freycinets and dined with them, providing numerous additional insights, some of which have been mentioned earlier. He also produced a chart of Berkeley Sound which shows L’Uranie, much as it was abandoned by the French ( See the contemporary Spanish view below). This was obtained from the French archives by Philippe Goddard.

Drawing depicting the break-up of L’Uranie near the shoreline

The break-up of L’Uranie
Credit: WA Museum

Rose de Freycinet's & Jacques Arago's Account

Rose de Freycinet’s journal as translated by Rivière and Bassett is important in respect to the clues it provides both in respect to the break-up of L’Uranie and to the remains at the camp. Jacques Arago also provides two items of useful information in his letters and these are interspersed with the Freycinet account. Clues gleaned from his book appear below.

Arago...Letter CLIV:

At first the ship was lying on the sand; by degrees she was forced upon the rocks, and, notwithstanding the assurances which had been given to me to the contrary, she fell over on the starboard side, and my cabin was immersed in water ... The collection of shells which I had gathered at every place where we stopped; the different arms of almost every nation on earth; rare birds and curious reptiles; my linen; my books; ten portfolios of sketches and finished drawings; all—all were engulphed ... It became necessary to take proper measures for landing the few provisions which had been saved. Muskets and ammunition were the principal objects of our solicitude.


18 February 1820

... we are still on board, as Louis does not wish to abandon the ship before the most essential items have been removed from it. We see enormous waves lifting the ship and dropping it with great force. Each time this happens, we feel that the Uranie is going to spilt into two.

20 February 1820

... waves are still lifting the corvette

29 February 1820

... the longboat has been taken ashore; a tent has been pitched for the carpenters and another for the blacksmiths. Our camp looks like a small village; there is a tent for Louis, one for the equipment and the records where we will also take our meals, one for the staff, one for the midshipmen and one for the volunteers. Three other tents have been pitched, for the hospital, the sailors’ barracks and the masters respectively. There are also small tents for the cooks and the supplies. At some distance from the camp is the powder magazine where arms and ammunition are kept under lock and key. The crew are still busy salvaging anything they can from the ship.

Painting by Nicolas Maurin depicting the break-up of L’Uranie

Nicolas Maurin
Credit: National Library of Australia

Arago ... Letter CLVIII:

Three horses have been killed to-day, at a short distance from the camp, and the pieces are already placed in store; and as no one can go on board the corvette, which is gradually filling with sand, rolled in with great violence by the high seas…


4 March ... Louis goes aboard each day to supervise the salvage operations…The swell is very heavy and the sea continues to lash the coast with such a fury that boats moored in a small bay have been driven onto the shore ( See the Duperrey chart in Figure 35)

8 March ... High tides have prevented any salvage operations in the Uranie, as the top of the battery is permanently underwater.

10 March ... we have resolved to send the hunters to set up camp three leagues from here...four hunters and 11 men left at 1p.m to carry the necessary equipment to the new camp. [This camp is expected to have been substantial given the large number of horses and foals together with some oxen and pigs that Rose de Freycinet records were butchered there].

11 March ... The new moon has brought back the high tide, and the men have seized the opportunity to go on board today.

13 March ... The low tide made it possible for a large number of times to be salvaged from our poor Uranie. The search party managed to reach a hold containing biscuits and removed a large number…

14 March ... sack [of flour] was salvaged and… fell into the hands of the cook during the construction of his oven.. …The only sound that disturbs me, and will torment me for a long time to come, is the noise of the waves crashing against the rocks on the shore, close to our tent.

Today many other items have been salvaged… the Lieutenant noticing a large piece of wood at the bottom of the sea, almost directly under the corvette, dredged it and recognised it as a plank from the Uranie. It contained a gash at least 7 feet long. The plank comes from the section of the ship which struck the rock, and the rolling of the sea has loosened it.

18 March ... my husband decided to take a walk to the ship-yard; we found the chaloupe very advanced [it was being decked] and ready to be launched in two or three days… the crew salvaged… a barrel of pitch. They also removed a box containing 66 cheeses in good condition..

22 March ... The crew are busy tidying up the rigging and various items salvaged from the Uranie. Louis….presses on with the building of his observatory and intends to set up the equipment tomorrow…

29 March ... The fine weather of the last two days, which made it possible for the crew to board the Uranie, has not kept up and nothing could be salvaged, even though high tides arrived with the full moon. The recent bad weather has heeled the Uranie over much more, and the battery is now permanently submerged. We have no choice but to abandon the rest of the goods left on board.

The Mercury ... dropped anchor. The American informed us that he was flying the flag of rebels in whose service he was and that the purpose of his voyage was to transport cannons to Valparaiso.

30 March ... The limited shelter which our tents provide in such a cold and wet climate is very trying..

2 April ... we have received some medicine, which we had not been able to salvage from the Uranie.

Alphonse pellion's camp on the shoreline

Alphonse pellion
Credit: National Library of Australia

4 April ... The Sloop [a schooner belonging to the whaler [General Knox] showed M. Dubaut six spots where ships had been wrecked recently… and the captain told Louis that there were perhaps 50 wrecks in this area.

7 April ... I continue to oversee the packing of my crates… all the books, maps etc of the expedition need to be packed, in addition to our personal effects…Today I have numbered the twenty-second box and I still have about another ten to do..

8 April 1820 ... The captain of the General Knox [Orne]…has rendered assistance to the captain of the Mercury [Galvin] by taking on board some of his guns, with the intention of throwing them overboard at sea. This work is already well advanced and will allow us at last to send our baggage on board. Today Louis received a letter from the captain of the whaler who has heard that we planned to burn the remains of the Uranie.

He asked for permission to remove everything that might be useful to him beforehand. But Louis does not wish to burn anything nor allow anything to be taken, not knowing whether the Government will send a rescue party to salvage all those objects, many of which, such as anchors, cannons, masts, etc, are very valuable. He is going to reply that unless he wishes to pay for it, the captain has no right to take away this material. I believe that he has no intention of purchasing anything whatsoever and his conscience will be lax enough for him to return after our departure and brazenly take what has been refused him.

24 April 1820… The weather is foul; the tempestuous gales make us fear for the safety of several boats out at sea… M. Lamarche went on board our poor wrecked vessel to remove various small items and found that everything was smashed or damaged and that several things had been stolen, including a beautiful mirror which used to stand in the poop-deck. He had no doubt that the culprit was Captain Orne who, believing that no-one would go back to the Uranie, had taken what he wanted. M. Lamarche headed straight for our old camp, where he knew he would find the captain, to accuse him of the theft, hoping at least to recover the mirror.

Orne [of the General Knox] was lost for words but assured us that his sailors had gone on board the Uranie without his consent, and that he believed the mirror was in the sloop and he would send it to the Mercury the following morning.

25 April 1820… Our captain has raised more difficulties concerning some topmasts which M. Lamarche had brought on board and placed on the deck. He arrived in a huff to tell Louis that the weight was excessive and that this endangered his ship. After some discussion regarding the fact that the ship was overloaded, it was agreed to jettison half of the goods at sea.

Tonight the Scottish captain [Weddell] came to visit Louis who offered him his rigged rowboat; as we cannot take it with us…He appeared to be very grateful and told us that, out of greed, Captain Orne had concealed the tragedy which had befallen the Uranie…I have heard that he asked what my name was and has called this small sloop The Rose.

Visits to the Site

Mr David Eynon's Uranie Wreck Report

In his earlier role as a ‘travelling teacher’ in the Islands, Mr David Eynon of Port Stanley had become interested in the many wrecks there and he compiled his own database of wrecks and conducted numerous dives, often in home-made wetsuits. These dives including one that resulted in the location of the wreck in what was then known as French or Uranie Bay. In a letter to the author Mr Eynon indicated that L’Uranie was ‘one of the first shipwrecks’ he had located and that the discovery occurred in 1971 while he was diving with another local diver, Ken Halliday. Mr Eynon’s report of finding timbers on the seabed about 200 metres from the shore along which was strewn large amount of timber appears below. It was kindly provided to the Museum team soon after meeting with him in March 2001.

David Eynon’s 1972 Diary Entry

Saturday 20 December, 1972:

Jack, Ken myself leave for Long Island… on—All gear out and wet suits on—In the water at 1850. takes 10 mins to locate wreckage of URANIE—remains of keel remaining, copper fastened also some iron work…. cold—sun out taking photos—out of water at 1945.—…. rub ourselves quickly to gain circulation. Pitch tent —wet suits out drying—lovely. Cold but calm evening hoping for a good day tomorrow.

Sunday 31st Dec

… in the water again at 0930—clearer than the day before—especially with the sun up. This time find the wreck straight away—we think a considerable amount is under the sand. Use Ectochrome (high speed)—find a few other sections of the Uranie near the keel sect[ion] various artefacts as shown in the diagrams the rod shaped object made of copper found to the west of the keel. The circular section attached to a piece of wood and because of this we were unable to detach it.

Photograph. Find square slab—not sure what its made off. Barnacle growth photographed. Also find what is probably a sheave—found in blocks—copper or brass. 3 rungs on it—too embedded to prise off. Lovely now, sun overhead—snorkelling fine. Finish film.

Out of the water at 10.30…take down gear-tent…make our way along beach to dig out piece of wreckage which could have something to do with capstan—fine—3 hawse pipes one with lead wrapped around it. Leave at 1330.

Using Mr Eynon’s directions, in 2001 the Western Australian Museum relocated the timbers and areas found by he and Mr Halliday in 1972. While, clearly from Uranie and evidence the wreck was nearby, the main site remained to be found, and was not located until the WA Museum’s expedition in 2001 (see following).

Other Expeditions

Mr Eynon was also part of a committee formed in the Falkland Islands to facilitate a youth training expedition under the ‘Operation Raleigh’ banner to the Uranie in the summer of 1991/2. It is understood that Associate Professor Leslie Marchant, a Western Australian and author of the seminal work France Australe, referred to in the historical analyses above, and retired Lt Colonel Blashford-Snell were also involved in the project. The Operation Raleigh search and survey did not eventuate and that the committee was subsequently disbanded.

Uranie Bay was also visited by the author M. Philippe Godard, a French citizen and adventurer residing in Perth, Western Australia. As part of his research into the activities of the French explorers on the Western Australian coast, in 1998 he chartered Mr Eynon to take him to the wreck by boat from Stanley. Though the land camp was visited and a brief photographic record was made, they were not able to locate the wreck itself.

When M. Godard and the author met in 1998 in connection with his location of relics from the 1772 annexation of Western Australia for France (McCarthy, 1998), it was agreed to join forces and Mr Godard provided the Museum with both a record of his visit and his preliminary research notes.

In March 2001 the WA Maritime Museum team joined with Falkland Island residents and service personnel to inspect the Uranie sites.

The Maritime Museum’s Fieldwork

When contacted by the Museum team on the advice of both the Receiver of Wreck, Mr Robert King and by Mr John Smith, the Museum Curator in the Falklands, Mr Eynon again agreed to act as guide to the Museum team, to take them to the site, and to assist it with the hire of boats and equipment. Expressions of support had also been received from the Falklands Island Sub Aqua Club (FISAC), a service-based dive club then being led by Flt Lt Paul Carrier, an RAF officer keen to have the club become involved in bona fide shipwreck survey in the islands. He offered to assist with the provision of divers and with a large Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) for use as a platform from which to operate.

After extensive planning and preparation, and after receiving all the necessary letters of permission and support (e.g. from the Falklands Islands Museum and National Trust) including approval to camp at Long Island and approval from the Receiver of Wreck in the Falklands ‘to conduct a strictly non-disturbance search and inspection’ of the site (King to McCarthy, 3 May 2000), sponsors were sought and the Western Australian Maritime Museum’s team arrived at Port Stanley on Tuesday 6 March 2001 and spent the rest of the day settling in.

The Team were Carmelo Amalfi (journalist); Hugh Edwards (author); Geoff Kimpton (chief diver) ; John Lashmar (diver), Cr. Les Moss (President Shire of Shark Bay); Dr John Williams (medico and expedition artist); M.McCarthy (team leader).