Captain d'Entrecasteaux

ON September 28th, 1791, in the two sloops, La Recherche and L'Esperance, of sixteen guns, and one hundred and ten men each, they weighed from the harbor of Brest, completely equipped for a voyage of circumnavigating the globe. The conduct of the expedition was assigned to Captain D'Entrecasteaux. The leading object of the voyage was to endeavor to procure intelligence relative to Captain La Perouse, who had long been missing in the South Seas, and to make a complete tour of New Holland; an island, by far the largest in the world; comprehending an immense circuit of at least three thousand (French) leagues. The accomplishment of this last point was essential to the history of geography, and what had not been effected by either Cook or La Perouse.

The first port they made was Santa Cruz in Teneriffe; they arrived there on the 17th of October, and having taken in wines and provisions, proceeded on their route to the Cape of Good Hope; and while they continued there, the expedition sustained a considerable misfortune in the death of the astronomer Bertrand. February 16th, 1792, they left the Cape, and bore away for the island of New Guinea, some parts of which they explored; they reached the islands Arsacides on July the 9th, and New Ireland the 17th ditto. They afterwards made for Amboyna, one of the Molucca islands, and arrived Sept. 6th. October 11th, they left Amboyna, and sailed immediately for the west part of New Holland. December 3d 1792, they arrived at the Cape, which is at the south-west extremity of New Holland, and sailed along the southern shore, till January 3d, having by this means traced and ascertained about two-thirds of the whole extent of the southern coast. On the 11th of March, they passed very near the North cape of New Zealand, and making for shore, several canoes came along side. On the 16th, they discovered two little islands at a little distance from each other. The most eastern one lies in 30 deg. 17 min. south latitude, and in 179 deg. 41 min. east longitude. On the 17th, discovered an island about five leagues in circumference, conspicuous by its elevated situation. It lies in 29 deg. 3 min. south latitude, and in 179 deg. 54 min. east longitude. On the 2d of March they saw Ebona, the most south-westerly of the Friendly Islands. The next day anchored at Tongataboo the largest of the Friendly Islands. Among the islanders they frequently met with men six feet high, their limbs shaped in the most comely proportion. The fertility of the soil, which exempted them from the necessity of extreme labor, may conduce not a little to the unusual perfection of their forms. Their features have a strong resemblance to those of Europeans. A burning sky has impressed a slight discolor on their skins. Those, among the women, who are hut little exposed to the rays of the sun, are sufficiently fair. Some of them are distinguished by a beautiful carnation, which gives a vivacity to their whole figure. A thousand nameless graces are visible in their gestures, when engaged in the slightest employments. In the dance their movements are enchanting.

The language of this people bears an analogy with the gentleness of their manners it is well adapted to music, for which they have a peculiar taste. Their concerts wherein every one performs his part, demonstrate the just ideas which they entertain of harmony. The women, as well as the men, have their shoulders and breasts naked. A cotton cloth, or rather a piece of stuff, manufactured from the bark of mulberry-tree into paper, serves them for apparel. It forms a beautiful drapery, reaching from a little above the waist down to the feet. These islands produce a species of nutmegs, which differs very little in form from those of the Moluccas. It is not, however, aromatic, and is almost twice as large. They also procured the bread-fruit tree, for the purpose of transporting it into the West India Islands. We must not confound these excellent species of bread-fruit tree with the wild species of it found in the Moluccas, and observed for a long time past in the Isle of Franco. In this second sort the grains do not miscarry, while in the good fruit-tree they are replaced by a food truly delicious, when baked under ashes or in the oven. In other respects it is a most wholesome viand, affording a pleasant repast during the whole time of their continuance on this island, and for which they willingly relinquished the ship's stock of baker's bread. The Molucca sort produces thirty or forty small fruits; while every tree of the Friendly Islands produces three or four hundred extremely large, of an oval form, the greatest diameter being from nine to ten inches, and the smallest from seven to eight. A tree would be oppressed with such an enormous load, if the fruit were to ripen all at once; but sagacious nature has so ordered it, that the fruit succeed each other, during eight months of the year, thus providing the natives with a food equally salubrious and plentiful. Every tree occupies a circular space of about thirty feet in diameter. A single acre occupied by this vegetable would supply the wants of a number of families. Nothing in nature exhibits a similar fecundity. As it has no seeds, it has a wonderful faculty of throwing out suckers and its roots frequently force their way up to the surface of the earth, and there give birth to fresh plants. It thrives exceedingly in a tropical climate, in a soil somewhat elevated above the level of the sea; and suits very well with a marly soil, in which a mixture of argillaceous clay preponderates.

They quitted the Friendly Islands on the 10th of April, 1793. April 15th saw Enouan, the most eastern of the islands of the Archipelago of the Holy Ghost, and afterwards that of Anaton. The eruptions of the volcano of Tana presented in the night a spectacle truly sublime. April 27th, steering for New Caledonia; in a night darker than usual, they ran among some islands surrounded with breakers, not noticed till then by navigators; they were only apprised of danger by an uncommon circumstance; the flight of a flock of sea-fowl over their heads about three in the morning. This indication of the proximity of land induced the officer upon watch to slacken sail, and lie-to, at a critical juncture, when an hour's more sailing must have dashed them to pieces against the rocks. These new discovered islands lie about thirty leagues north-east of New Caledonia, where they anchored April 26th.

After the description that Cook and Foster had given of the inhabitants of New Zealand, they expected to find realized the advantageous portrait given of them by these celebrated voyagers. They had reason, however, partly to suspend their belief of those accounts, when they afterwards observed a number of human bones, broiled, which the savages were devouring, eagerly fastening on the smallest tendinous parts which adhere to them. This fact at least suffices to prove that the New Zealanders are cannibals. They often attacked the boat; but the good countenance exhibited prevented their assailing or massacreing any of their company. Notwithstanding these hostilities, the ship was every day visited by numerous bodies of the islanders. The soil being every where barren, they perceived but few vestiges of any taste for agriculture; still, however, they observed in some gardens the Colocasia, the Caribbe cabbage, the banana-tree, and the sugar-cane. The barbarous customs of the natives did not prevent their reiterated excursions into the interior parts of the country. On these occasions they kept together to the number of twenty, always well armed. As evening came on, they commonly took their station on some elevated post in the mountains, where they passed the night in a situation which protected them from hostile assaults. To guard against surprise, they kept watch by turns.

May 9th, they weighed anchor, and sailed before the wind for the north. In their course, observed the eastern part of the reefs and islands, the western side of which they saw the year before. May 21st, were close on the island of St. Croix, and sent in two boats to look out for an anchoring place. While the sailors were employed in sounding, one of the natives, at the distance of upwards of eighty paces, lanced an arrow, which slightly wounded the forehead of one of them. A volley of firearms, however, soon dispersed the group of canoes which had surrounded the boats, and from which the lance proceeded. Although the wound was apparently so inconsiderable, it was attended with a tetanus, which proved mortal to the unfortunate sailor after only eight days. The arrow did not appear to have been poisoned, as it is well known that beasts pierced with the same weapons do not experience any fatal symptoms. In India, it is no uncommon thing to see the slightest puncture followed by a spasm, which is a certain forerunner of death.

July 16th and 17th, they sailed in view of the Anchoret Islands of Bougainville. On the 20th they lost D'Entrecasteaux, the captain. He died of convulsions, every fit of which was succeeded by a speechless stupor, August 16th, 1793, in 129 deg. 14 min. of east longitude, and so near the equator, that they were only half a minute to the south. Here the inhabitants brought very large sea-turtles, the soup of which they experienced to be a salutary remedy for the scurvy, which was now prevalent among them. In this island they procured a number of interesting objects, and quitted it August the 29th, and sailed for Bouao, where they anchored September the 3d, 1793. In this mountainous isle, where the productions of nature are extremely varied, they had a favorable opportunity of continuing their botanical researches, etc. Here several of the men died of a contagious bilious dysentery, contracted in the low marshy grounds of the country.

October 28, 1793, cast anchor in the road of Sourabaya, in the Isle of Java. Here divisions broke out among the crews, in consequence of gaining intelligence of the further progress of the French revolution. D' Auribeau hoisted the white flag Feb. 19th, 1794, and surrendered the two vessels to the Dutch. He also seized all the journals, charts, and memoirs, which were connected with the voyage, and arrested all those of the ship's companies that were obnoxious to his own political sentiments. One journal, however, was fortunately saved, by having been stowed in a box of tea. In this hazardous, yet important voyage, of two hundred and fifteen persons, thirty-six lost their lives; astronomer, Pearson, died at Java; and Ventenat at the Isle of France. Riche, the naturalist, remained at Java, as well as Billadiere. Lahay, the botanist, also stopped there; having under his care the bread-fruit trees, brought from the Friendly Islands. Pison, the painter, tarried with the governor of Sourabaya; but afterwards returned to Europe, and published an account of the voyage.