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Louis Antoine de Bougainville
Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, by Jean-Pierre Franquel
Born (1729-11-12)November 12, 1729
Paris, France
Died 31 August 1811(1811-08-31) (aged 81)
Paris, France
Nationality France
Known for Being the first French man to circumnavigate the world, during the 18th century.

Louis-Antoine, Comte de Bougainville (12 November 1729 – 31 August 1811) was a French admiral and explorer. A contemporary of James Cook, he took part in the French and Indian War against Britain. He later gained fame for his expeditions, the first recorded settlement on the Falkland Islands and his voyages into the Pacific Ocean.

Early career[]

Bougainville was born in Paris, the son of a notary, on either 11 or 12 November 1729. In early life, he studied law, but soon abandoned the profession, and in 1753 entered the army in the corps of musketeers. At the age of twenty-five he published a treatise on integral calculus, as a supplement to De l'Hôpital's treatise, Des infiniment petits.

In 1755 he was sent to London as secretary to the French embassy, and was made a member of the Royal Society.

Seven Years' War (French and Indian War)[]

Young portrait of Louis Antoine de Bougainville.

In 1756 he went to Canada as captain of dragoons and aide-de-camp to the Marquis de Montcalm. He took an active part in the capture of Fort Oswego in 1756 and in 1757 at the Battle of Fort William Henry. He was wounded in 1758 at the successful defence of Fort Carillon. He sailed back to France the following winter, under orders from the marquis to obtain additional military resources for the colony; during this crossing, he continued familiarising himself with the ways of the sea, skills that would later serve him well. Having distinguished himself in the war against Britain, he was rewarded with the cross of St Louis and returned to Canada the following year with the rank of colonel, but with little supplies to show for his trip - the metropolitan authorities having decided that "When the house is on fire, one does not worry about the stables"[citation needed].

Louis-Antoine de Bougainville

During the pivotal year of 1759 (see Seven Years' War and French and Indian War), he participated in the defence of the capital of New France, the fortified Quebec City. With a small elite troop under his command, among which the Grenadiers and the Volontaires à cheval, he patrolled the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, upstream from the city, all summer long stopping the British several times from landing and thus cutting communications with Montreal. He was not given sufficient time, however, to rally his troops and attack the British rear when they successfully climbed up to the Plains of Abraham and attacked Quebec on September 13.

Following the death of the Marquis de Montcalm and the fall of Québec on 18 September - after the colonel's aborted attempt to resupply the besieged city - Bougainville was dispatched to the western front by his new commanding officer, the Chevalier de Lévis and attempted to stop the British advance from his entrenchments at Île-aux-Noix. He was among the officers who accompanied Lévis to Saint Helen's Island off Montreal for the last French stand in North America before the general capitulation of 1761. Of the war, Bougainville wrote in his journal: "It is an abominable kind of war. The very air we breathe is contagious of insensibility and hardness".[1]

Shipped back to Europe along with the other French officers, all deprived of military honours by the victors, Bougainville was prohibited from taking up any further active duty against the British under the terms of surrender. He spent the remaining years of the Seven Years' War (1761 to 1763) as a diplomat and helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris that eventually conceded most of New France to the British Empire.

The first French circumnavigation[]

Îles Malouines settlement[]

Port St. Louis as established by Bougainville (Dom Pernety, 1769).

After the peace, the French government conceived the project of colonising the "Isles Malouines" (Falkland Islands). These islands were at that time almost unknown. Bougainville dreamt of founding a new colony for the Acadians who had been expelled from Canada to Saint Malo. He chose the Falkland Islands because he believed their remote location would protect the colonists from harassment. His expedition was supported by the French Foreign Secretary, the Étienne François, duc de Choiseul, after whom Bougainville named Choiseul Sound in East Falkland.[2] He undertook the task at his own expense.


Port St. Louis (Federico Lacroix, 1841).

On 15 September 1763, Bougainville set out from the port of Saint Malo with the frigate "L'Aigle" (Eagle) (captained by Nicolas Pierre Duclos-Guyot ) and the sloop "Le Sphinz" (Sphinx) (captained by François Chenard de la Giraudais) with a crew of a hundred and fifty people.[3] This expedition included the naturalist and writer Antoine-Joseph Pernety known as Dom Pernety, the priest and chronicler accompanying the expedition, together with the engineer and geographer Lhuillier de la Serre.[4] The expedition stopped at Montevideo to gather provisions and animals for the colony. They informed the Spanish authorities that they were headed for India.

Port St. Louis (Dom Pernety, 1769).

The expedition arrived in late January 1764 in the most sheltered portion of a deep bay which they named French Bay and was later renamed Berkeley Sound. They landed at Port Louis named after King Louis XV, at what was to become Fort St. Louis settlement. After construction of a fort of earth and peat sods and an apartment house, a formal ceremony of possession of the Islands was held on 5 April 1764, after which Bougainville and Pernety returned to France leaving 28 settlers behind. Louis XV formally ratified possession on 12 September 1764.[3] Bougainville returned to the Islands in January 1765 with a further 53 settlers. After a short stay at Port Louis, Bougainville sailed to the Straits of Magellan, to obtain timber for the colony. He returned in March and then a month later, set sail for France, leaving an established colony of seventy nine settlers. The third visit of Bougainville's ship L'Aigle at the beginning of 1766 brought more people and stores, bringing the colony to over a hundred and thirty people, but Bougainville himself did not accompany the ship, as he had been instructed by King Louis XV to travel to Madrid to negotiate the transfer of the colony to Spain.[2]

Up to the 1760s Spain had never shown any interest in the Malouines[citation needed] themselves and they had no Spanish name, but they did dissuade the British from forming a colony there in 1749[citation needed]. The French settlement, however, was seen as a strategic threat to Spanish interests in South America. The Spanish government claimed that the islands were rightfully Spanish and in 1767 forced the handover of the French establishment to Spain. Even if the French colony was no more than 150 people, for financial motivations (Bougainville having paid for the expeditions) and diplomatic reasons (Spain feared that the Falklands would become a rear base to attack her Peruvian gold), Bougainville was ordered by the French government to dismantle his colony and sell it to the Spanish. Bougainville received 200,000 francs in Paris and a further 500,000 francs in Buenos Aires. France insisted that Spain maintain the colony in Port Louis and thus prevent Britain from claiming the title to the islands and Spain agreed [3] although the territory was a rightful Spanish dominion even before the French settlement. On 31 January 1767 at Río de la Plata, Bougainville met Don Felipe Ruiz Puente, commanding the frigate La Esmeralda and La Liebre ("the Hare") and future governor of Islas Malvinas, to take possession and evacuate the French population.

The French did not recognise any superior Spanish title to the islands[citation needed] but the French and Spanish royal families were linked by the Bourbon Family Compact and France simply gave in to Spanish pressure. Bougainville himself did not believe the Spanish had any superior title and in 1800 he even wrote to Napoleon urging him to raise the question of the French claim to the islands at the negotiations leading to the Peace of Amiens (1801).

In his memoirs, written in 1770, Bougainville claimed that the French had founded Port Egmont before the British and named it “Port de la Croisade”. Many writers both Argentinian and British have followed these claims. However the assertion was wrong[citation needed] as the French never founded Port Egmont. Indeed, the Spanish did not find Port Egmont until February 1770. The place named by the French was a different one, Keppel or Pebble Sound and not found until April/May 1766. The French were told where Port Egmont was on 4 December 1766, when the British Captain John MacBride visited Port Louis.[5] Bougainville wrote: It was not before 1766, that the English sent a colony to settle in Port de la Croisade, which they had named Port Egmont; and captain Macbride, of the Jason frigate, came to our settlement the same year, in the beginning of December. He pretended that these parts belonged to his Britannic majesty, threatened to land by force, if he should be any longer refused that liberty, visited the governor, and sailed away again the same day.[6] What Bougainville did not know was that Captain MacBride was under instructions from the British Admiralty. These instructions required him ask nationals of any other country (with which Britain was at peace), to leave the islands, but if they did not go, not to use force against them unless it was in self-defence.


The Boudeuse, of Louis Antoine de Bougainville

In 1766 Bougainville received from Louis XV permission to circumnavigate the globe. He would become the 14th navigator in western history, and the first Frenchman, to sail around the world, and the completion of his mission would bolster the prestige of France following its defeats during the Seven Years' War. This was the first expedition circumnavigating the globe with professional naturalists and geographers aboard.

Bougainville left Nantes on 15 November 1766 with two ships: La Boudeuse (captain : Nicolas Pierre Duclos-Guyot ) and the Étoile (commanded by François Chenard de la Giraudais). This was a large expedition with a crew of 214 aboard La Boudeuse and 116 aboard the Étoile.

On board was the botanist Philibert Commerçon, who named the flower Bougainvillea, and his valet, later unmasked by the ship's surgeon as Jeanne Baré, possibly Commerçon's mistress; she would become the first woman known to circumnavigate the globe. Other notable people on this expedition were Count Jean-François de Galaup de la Pérouse (member of the crew), the astronomer Pierre-Antoine Veron, the surgeon of La Boudeuse Dr. Louis-Claude Laporte, the surgeon of the Étoile Dr. François Vives, the engineer and cartographer abourd the Étoile Charles Routier de Romainville, the writer and historian Louis-Antoine Starot de Saint-Germain.[4]


Bougainville reaching Tahiti

He saw islands of the Tuamotu group on the following 22 March, on 2 April saw the peak of Mehetia and famously visited the island of Otaheite shortly after and narrowly missed becoming their discoverer, unaware of a previous visit, and claim, by Samuel Wallis in HMS Dolphin less than a year previously. He claimed the island for France and named it New Cythera.

They left Tahiti and sailed westward to southern Samoa and the New Hebrides, then on sighting Espiritu Santo turned west still looking for the Southern Continent. On June 4 he almost ran into heavy breakers and had to change course to the north and east. He had almost found the Great Barrier Reef. He sailed through what is now known as the Solomon Islands that, due of the hostility of the people there, he avoided. He named Bougainville Island for himself.[citation needed] The expedition was attacked by people from New Ireland so they made for the Moluccas. At Batavia they received news of Wallis and Carteret who had preceded Bougainville.

Return to France[]

On 16 March 1769 the expedition completed its circumnavigation and arrived at St Malo, with the loss of only seven out of 330 men, an extremely low level of casualties, and a credit to the enlightened management of the expedition by Bougainville.

The legend begins: Voyage autour du monde[]

Cover page of the English edition of Bougainville's travelogue (1772).

In 1771, Bougainville published his travel log from the expedition under the title Le voyage autour du monde, par la frégate La Boudeuse, et la flûte L'Étoile (a.k.a. Voyage autour du monde and A Voyage Around the World). The book describes the geography, biology and anthropology of Argentina (then a Spanish colony), Patagonia, Tahiti and Indonesia (then a Dutch colony). The book was a sensation, especially the description of Tahitian society, which Bougainville depicted as an earthly paradise where men and women lived in blissful innocence, far from the corruption of civilisation.

Bougainville's descriptions powerfully illustrated the concept of the noble savage and influenced the utopian thoughts of philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau before the advent of the French Revolution. Denis Diderot's book Supplément au voyage de Bougainville retells the story of Bougainville's landing on Tahiti, narrated by an anonymous reader to one of his friends; this fictional approach to Bougainville's expedition, along with Diderot's description of the Tahitians as noble savages, was meant to criticise Western ways of living and thinking.

American War of Independence[]

Hyacinthe de Bougainville, also a sailor and circumnavigator, was the son of Louis Antoine de Bougainville.

After an interval of several years, Bougainville again accepted a naval command and saw much active service between 1779 and 1782, including participating and playing a crucial part in the French victory at the Battle of the Chesapeake, which led to the eventual defeat of Great Britain in the American War of Independence.

Battle of the Saintes[]

In the memorable engagement of the Battle of the Saintes, in which Admiral George Rodney defeated the Comte de Grasse, Bougainville, who commanded the Auguste, succeeded in rallying eight ships of his own division, and bringing them safely into Saint Eustace. He was promoted to chef d'escadre and, on reentering the army, was given the rank of maréchal de camp.

After the peace of 1783 he returned to Paris, and obtained the place of associate of the Academy. He projected a voyage of discovery towards the North Pole but this did not meet with support from the French government.

Promotion and retirement[]

Tomb of Louis Antoine de Bougainville, at the Panthéon.

In 1787, he became a member of the French Academy of Sciences. He obtained the rank of vice-admiral in 1791; and in 1794, having escaped from the Reign of Terror, he retired to his estate in Normandy. Returning to Paris, he was one of the founding members of the Bureau des Longitudes. In 1799, the Consul Napoleon made him a senator. He was made a Grand Officier de la Légion d'honneur in 1804. And, in 1808, Napoleon conferred upon him the title of count (the Comte de Bougainville). He died in Paris on the August 31, 1811. He was married since 1781, and had four sons, including Hyacinthe de Bougainville, who all served in the French army or navy.


Bougainville's name is given to the largest eastern island of Papua New Guinea; and to the $3 which divides it from the island of Choiseul. It is also applied to the strait between Mallicollo and Espiritu Santo islands of the New Hebrides group. In the Falklands, Port Louis, and "Isla Bougainville" (Lively Island's Spanish name) commemorate him.

The genus of South American climbing shrubs with colorful bracts, Bougainvillea, is named after him.

Thirteen ships of the French Navy have been named in his honour, see French ship Bougainville.

See also[]

  • European and American voyages of scientific exploration


  1. Cave, p.11
  2. 2.0 2.1
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 The Falklands/Malvinas Case Breaking The Deadlock in the Anglo-Argentine Sovereignty Dispute | author = Roberto C. Laver | ISBN = 90-411-1534-X
  4. 4.0 4.1 Essential Oceanic Expeditions from the beginning of Zoological binominal nomenclature until the 1950s.; accessed : 1 November 2010
  6. |Voyage Around The World By Lewis De Bougainville In 1766-9


  • Waggaman, Beatrice Elisabeth. Le Voyage autour du monde de Bougainville: droit et imaginaire. (Nancy: Presses universitaires de Nancy, 1992).
  • Alfred A. Cave. The French and Indian War (New York, Greenwood Press, 2004).
  • John Dunmore, Storms and Dreams: The Life of Louis de Bougainville (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

External links[]

Works related to Voyage autour du monde at Wikisource

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