The View From Mount Clarence

A look back at settlement along Western Australia's South Coast

Those Other French Guys

Originally published 5 April 2014;

 

d'Entrecasteaux
Bruny d’Entrecasteaux

There are two other French excursionists I need to mention. One is Bruny d’Entrecasteaux, the other Jules d’Urville.

These voyagers didn’t do anything in particular to influence settlement. They just visited, gave names to the most obvious geographic features they came across, collected specimens of flora and fauna, drew pictures, configured maps and tracked the path of the stars at night. Their job was exploration and discovery, furthering the practise of navigation and their limited understanding of the strange New World.

The names they gave provide geographic reference points in a language we understand today, but the seafarers in the big ships didn’t actually do anything to shape the local history we are interested in here. We can’t proceed, however, until we have this under our belts because those geographic references are essential to knowing exactly where we are talking about.

An outline of the South Coast from Albany (King Georges Sound) to Esperance and Middle Island , which is off Cape Arid. The Recherche Archipelago stretches from Esperance to Israelite Bay, about 80 miles east of Middle Island. Middle Island is midway between the two, hence the name.
An outline of the South Coast from Albany (King Georges Sound) to Esperance and Middle Island , which is off Cape Arid. The Recherche Archipelago stretches from Esperance to Israelite Bay, about 80 miles east of Middle Island. Middle Island is midway between the two, hence the name.

d’Entrecasteaux came to look for another Frenchman, the Compte de la Perouse, who had been commissioned by his king to explore the North Pacific and to circumnavigate the partly understood land mass known as New Hollande. La Perouse and his two ships went missing after meeting (by pure coincidence) the First Fleet in the process of transferring from Botany Bay to Port Jackson in 1788. Bruny d’Entrecasteaux, post Storming of the Bastille, under the command of the new French Republic and also with two ships, had, amongst other tasks, been sent to see if he could find him.

Bruny's BoatsThe detail of Bruny’s voyage isn’t important to us, suffice to say early in December 1892 he arrived (from the North West) at Cape Leeuwin in La Recherche with l’Esperance close to hand. They proceeded eastwards along the South Coast. Bad weather prevented them from anchoring at King Georges Sound (they didn’t even see it) and it was around Cape Riche (named after one of the Naturalists on board) that they began observing the littoral.  Bear in mind this is just over a year after Vancouver and well before Flinders, so what knowledge of the coast Bruny had was provided by the very early Dutch charts. Running onwards in stormy weather, they came across the islands off the place we now call Esperance and took refuge. When the sea calmed Bruny made his observations, giving name to Esperance Bay, Recherche Archipelago, the largest of the islands in the archipelago, Middle Island, as well as Cape LeGrand and Cape Arid. d’Entrecasteaux then set sail for Van Diemen’s Land where he is more widely known for the work he did in that vicinity.

The further we delve into this history the more the names listed above will come to mean. They, and a couple of others, are sites of recurring importance that cannot be ignored.

durville (1)Now, I didn’t elaborate on Jules d’Urville in the previous posts because he arrived at King George’s Sound in October 1826, going on five years after Roe’s third and final visit, so it wasn’t relevant. BUT, as circumstance would have it, October 1826 was mere weeks before Edmund Lockyer arrived to plant the British flag on behalf of the colony of New South Wales.

d’Urville needs to be mentioned for a few reasons. First, it was his presence that prompted the New South Wales establishment to send Lockyer out, on-the-double, to set up camp at King George’s Sound. The NSW and London based administrators had dithered over that precaution for way too long and the thought of red faces all round was suddenly too much to bear. Thus, the little military camp they first called Frederickstown came into being under the threat d’Urville’s expedition might plant the French tricolour first.

Second, on board d’Urville’s ship, L’Astrolabe, was the talented watercolourist and draughtsman, Louis Auguste de-Sainson. d’Urville anchored the Astrolabe in King George’s Sound for 18 days during which time de-Sainson met with and made important portrait drawings of the local Noongar people. These included the tribal leader Mokare; his father, Patyet; and his youngest brother, Yallapolli; the descendents of whom still live at Albany today.

Mokare (bottom) Patyet (above) and Yallpolli (left).
Mokare (bottom) Patyet (above)
and Yallpolli (left).

Third, while they were anchored off Breaksea Island the crew of the Astrolabe were approached by a small boat crowded with sealers and their women, one of them a little girl of around eight years of age. The gang, part of a wider fragmented group abandoned by their mother ships the Hunter and Governor Brisbane near Middle Island, the largest in Bruny’s Recherche Archipelago, had been drifting along the coast for seven months. d’Urville’s record of this encounter gives a first glimpse of the first people who did have an impact on settlement. The thing being, that same band of motley outcasts roaming the coast in a few leaky whaleboats had wreaked havoc between Cape Arid (the mainland off Middle Island) and King George’s Sound in the meantime.

 

 

Evanescence and The Major’s Last Stand, the second and third stories in the OUTDONE collection concern themselves with some of the members of this gang and the desperate acts they carried out while trying to stay both sane and alive. Their circumstances were dire but they were tough men and the women they kidnapped to ride along with them became tough and conditioned too. d’Urville, in his publication, gives an account of the meeting in the excerpt below.

 

l'Astrolabe Voyage BookOn 19 October (1826): The two English whalers have returned with fish, petrels, oysters, a female seal, a small phalanger and some fairy penguins. All of this was acquired as food for the crew and for natural history in return for a bit of gunpowder and some rope-yarn. The Englishmen had with them five Australians, as follows: first two young women from Van Diemen’s Land, near Port Dalrymple, both short, stocky and not bad looking, but with very coarse features, the front part of their faces being very prominent and their complexion very dark like the natives of Sydney. I cannot judge the texture of their hair because it was close cropped. One of these women who was quite intelligent, has given M. Gaimard a large number of words from her language. Two other individuals, one male, the other female, aged from eighteen to twenty, come from the continent opposite Kangaroo Island (Sth Australia). These two, quite well proportioned, have a much darker complexion, regular features, rather beautiful eyes and very smooth black hair; they are far from being repulsive looking like most of the natives of Australia and seem to belong to a less degraded race. Finally a little girl of about eight or nine, who comes from the mainland opposite Middle Island and as far as features and build are concerned seemed to be a cross between those from Kangaroo Island and the ones from King George Sound. All these individuals have been living for several years with the Englishmen except for the little girl whom they have only had for about seven months.

Sarah Drummond, author of ‘Salt Story‘ and local historian at Albany, has been researching the subject of the Hunter and Governor Brisbane sealers for some time. Hopefully, the fruits of that labour will be evidenced with another book in the not too distant future. Sarah maintains a blog called A WineDark Sea which can be found at www.thawinedarksea.blogspot.com

In the next couple of posts I’ll talk about the history behind story two in my collection, Evanescence, which deals fictionally with some of the sealers and also introduces two key players in the indigenous historical role, one of which is possibly Albany’s most famous Noongar son, Wylie.

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