Bruny d’Entrecasteaux

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Joseph-Antoine Raymond Bruny (or Bruni) d’Entrecasteaux (1739-1793), French admiral and navigator, served in the Seven Years War and found an aptitude for hydrography that he developed during service in the years of peace that followed. He rose steadily and in 1786 became commander of the French navy's Indian Station. Whilst there he pioneered a new route to China, and gained a reputation for his ability as a mariner in monsoonal conditions. He had been appointed governor of the French outposts of Ile de France and Ile Bourbon in the Indian Ocean when he was chosen to lead an expedition to hunt for the lost French explorer, La Pérouse; a venture also aiming to increase knowledge of the seas to be explored and to check the accuracy of old Dutch and D’Après' charts of the southern Indian and Pacific oceans. Accompanying him would be a number of experts – a botanist, hydrographic engineer, artist, astronomer and writer.

With two ships, “La Recherche” and “L’Espérance” under Huon de Kermadec, he sailed during the last months of 1791 from Brest for the Pacific via Cape of Good Hope where he had heard French clothes and objects had been found in the Admiralty Islands. He arrived in Storm Bay in Van Diemen’s Land Tasmania in April and closely surveyed the area south of what is now the capital Hobart before heading for New Caledonia, which he surveyed, before searching the vicinity of the Admiralty Islands, (in the Bismarck Archipelago, north of New Guinea.) The expedition refitted at Ambon, (eastern Indonesia) then headed back to the south-west of New Holland, explored and charted there before arriving once more in south-east Van Diemen’s Land. He continued charting and exploring the area, whilst the natives were studied, and fauna and flora collected, before sailing for New Zealand; then north once more, searching amid the archipelagoes East of New Guinea, before deciding to head for the East Indies for another refit.

He died on the way. The second-in-command, Kermadec, had already died, and the one who took command, d'Aribeau, was a royalist - on hearing of the proclamation of the French Republic he handed the ships over to the Dutch. Somehow the records of the expedition got back to France, and were found to be a goldmine of information about the places visited, not only charts but useful notes on the plants and animals, the language and customs of the natives, meteorological notes and more. South-east Tasmania in particular contains legacy of his two visits. Bruny Island is separated from the Tasmanian mainland by D’Entrecasteaux Channel into which the Huon River flows, not far north of Recherche Bay where there is evidence of a walled garden started by the French in 1792, on land which has now been bought by a conservation organisation to protect it from logging.

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