In 1800 Captain Nicolas Baudin led the last great Enlightenment expedition to the South Seas with two fully-equipped ships, Le Geographe and Le Naturaliste. Of the 22 scientists aboard, only three made it back alive.
This remarkable expedition produced the first full atlas of the Australian coastline, made important observations of the continent they called ‘Nouvelle Hollande,’ and amassed a treasure trove of exotica, including 200,000 dried specimens and objects, 3,872 animal species and 1500 plant species.
Baudin surveyed the western coastline of Australia first, before charting a course for Timor, a remote island northwest of Darwin, from which they voyaged south to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania).
Two young men under Baudin’s command, Charles-Alexander Lesueur and Nicolas-Martin Petit, who took over as illustrators after the official artists resigned, made some remarkable contributions that are only now receiving the appreciation they deserve.
“Their drawings and paintings of birds, animals and marine creatures, of coastal profiles, and of the Aborigines, are among the most historically important and beautiful records of 19th century discovery,” says the Western Australian Museum. “Lesueur was amongst the earliest colonial artists to record an Aboriginal corroboree [a sacred ceremonial meeting in which participants interact with the Dreamtime through music, costume, and dance], whilst Petit’s portraits of indigenous Tasmanians are sensitively depicted.”
Published in six volumes, the scientists’ meticulous historical records and illustrations will, say the museum’s curators, “assume even more importance as we face challenges such as global warming and species extinctions, as they contain answers to questions that we have yet to ask.”
That's not all.
Reproduced with permission from the David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries. A portion of the proceeds is donated to the Center in gratitude for its exemplary public service.