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Echouage des Corvettes dans le Canal Mauvais (Stranding of the Corvettes in the Bad Channel)

Date: 1846
560mm W x 410mm H
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Lithograph
Object No: 00008309
Related Place:Torres Strait,

User Terms

    Rear Admiral Jules Sébastien César Dumont d'Urville (1790-1842) was a French explorer and naval officer who explored the South and Western Pacific, Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica.

    This lithograph depicts an event which occured towards the end of his final voyage (1837-1840) when both of his ships, the ASTROLABE and the ZÉLÉE, ran aground while attempting to traverse Torres Strait. It was originally drawn and published by junior surgeon Louis Le Breton who took over from d'Urville's official artist Ernest Goupil after the latter died in Hobart in 1840.
    SignificanceThis lithograph is of great significance in that it provides a visual record of one of the great French exploratory ventures of the 19th century (and, incidentally, one of the last). It is important as a source in both the history of European world exploration and, more specifically, of the European relationship with Australia and its inhabitants.
    HistoryRear Admiral Jules Sébastien César Dumont d'Urville was a French explorer and naval officer who explored the South and Western Pacific, Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica.

    He was born on 23 May, 1790, enlisted in the navy at the age of 17 and, following the completion of his studies at the French Naval Academy at Brest in 1808 was initially confined to land-based duties. He undertook his first short navigation of the Mediterranean Sea in 1814, after Napoleon Bonaparte had been exiled to Elba.

    Despite having failed to obtain entry into the École Polytechnique (the foremost school of engineering in France) in his youth, d'Urville had, nevertheless, always maintained an interest in all things scientific. He also admired explorers such as Bougainville, Cook and Ansen. In 1819 he sailed aboard the CHEVRETTE, under the command of Captain Gauttier-Duparc, to carry out a hydrographic survey of the islands of the Greek archipelago. It was during this voyage that d'Urville played a major part in helping France to acquire the now world famous Venus de Milo statue. This achievment alone earned him the title of Chevalier (knight), the Legion of Honour, the attention of the French Academy of Sciences and promotion to lieutenant.

    In August, 1822 d'Urville set sail onboard the COQUILLE (this time as second in command). It was a joint exploratory venture between him and his friend/Captain, Louis Isidore Duperrey that was aimed at helping to reclaim France's place in the Pacific after the Napoleonic Wars. In March, 1825 the COQUILLE brought back to France thousands of floral and faunal specimens. Despite having behaved as a competent officer, d'Urville had neglected his health and his hygiene as well as having shown very little inclination to socialise during the voyage. On his return to France, Duperrey was promoted to commander, while d'Urville was promoted to a lower rank.

    D'Urville's next venture would be one he commanded himself. Two months after his return aboard the COQUILLE he presented the Naval Ministry with his plan for a new expedition which would see him returning to the Pacific. It was approved and on 25 April, 1826 the COQUILLE (renamed the ASTROLABE) departed Toulon to circumnavigate the world in a voyage that would last nearly three years.

    The ASTROLABE skirted the coast of southern Australia, carried out new relief maps of the South Island of New Zealand, reached the archipelagos of Tonga and Fiji, executed the first relief maps of the Loyalty Islands (part of French New Caledonia), and explored the coasts of New Guinea. D'Urville identified the site of La Pérouse's shipwreck in Vanikoro (one of the Santa Cruz Islands, part of the archipelago of the Solomon Islands) and collected many remains of his boats. The voyage continued with the mapping of part of the Caroline Islands and the Moluccas. The ASTROLABE returned to Marseille in early 1829 with an impressive collection of hydrographical papers and collections of zoological, botanical and mineralogical reports. It was also thanks to this expedition that the terms Micronesia and Melanesia were established to distinguish two very different cultural island groups from Polynesia.

    D'Urville's health had been severely damaged by his years of poor diet at sea. He suffered from kidney and stomach problems and from intense attacks of gout. His first son had died at a young age, while d'Urville was still aboard the COQUILLE.
    Perhaps as a means of escaping the tragedies of his family life, d'Urville did not spend long at home before travelling to Paris in order to compose a report of his travels. Having been promoted to Captain, the French Government published his five volume account between 1832 and 1834. It was during this time that his poor health together with his poor diplomatic skills led to him losing favour with the naval leadership. In his report he criticised France's military system, his colleagues, the French Academy of Sciences, and even the King, none of whom had given his voyage aboard the ASTROLABE the recognition he believed it deserved. In 1835 he was instructed to return to Toulon to engage in 'down to earth' work.

    The death of his daughter from cholera, together with the birth of another son did nothing to alter d'Urville's obsession with embarking on a third voyage to the Pacific. Finding significant gaps in the exploratory findings of his first expedition, he wrote to the Naval Ministry in January 1837 requesting permission to undertake another voyage to fill them. His plan was approved, again with an added condition: this time d'Urville was charged with the duty of claiming the South Magnetic Pole for France. If this was not possible, he was to equal the most southerly latitude that had then been achieved by a European explorer (Englishman James Weddell in 1823).

    D'Urville was initially unhappy with the modifications made to his plan. He had little time for polar exploration, preferring more tropical climates. However, he soon became very taken with the idea of achieving a prestigeous objective and earning an even more important place in the history books. The ASTROLABE together with another ship, the ZÉLÉE (commanded by Charles Hector Jacquinot) were prepared for the voyage at Toulon while d'Urville travelled to London to aquire both documentation and instrumentation. It was here that he was able to consult the British Admiralty's oceanographer, Francis Beaufort and the President of the Royal Geographical Society, John Washington.

    D'Urville's third voyage was plagued with misfortune. Early in the voyage several crewmen were involved in a drunken brawl and were arrested in Tenerife, a stop had to be made in Rio de Janeiro to disembark a sick official and a large quantity of voyage provisions consisted of rotting meat, which had dire consequences for the crew's health. Two weeks after encountering their first iceberg, the two ships found themselves entangled in a mass of ice in January 1838. Over the next two months d'Urville lead increasingly desperate attempts to find his way through the ice to the desired latitudes, frequently having to change direction to compensate for the moving ice. Heading towards the South Shetland Islands and the Bransfield Strait, d'Urville located several areas of land in dense fog which he named Terre de Louis-Philippe (now called Graham Land), the Joinville Island group and Rosamel Island (now called Andersson Island).

    By February 1838 with conditions on board both ships rapidly deteriorating, d'Urville had to face the fact that he was not going to be able to travel any further south (he even began to doubt whether Weddell had made it as far as he said he had). He redirected the ships to Talcahuano, in Chile, where a temporary hospital was established for the large number of crewmen afflicted with scurvy. During the voyage from the East Indies to Tasmania, several of the crew were lost to tropical fevers and dysentry. Arguably the worst moment for d'Urville himself, however, was when he received a letter from his wife informing him that his second son had died of cholera and demanded he return to France. D'Urville's health was again deteriorating as he was hit by greater spells of gout and stomach pains.

    In December 1839 the two corvettes landed at Hobart where the sick and dying were treated. D'Urville was received by the Governor of Tasmania, John Franklin who informed him that the ships of an American expedition to the south led by Charles Wilkes were currently berthed in Sydney preparing to sail. Plagued by misfortunes and the increasing reduction of his ships' crews due to disease, d'Urville announced that he would leave for the Antarctic with only the ASTROLABE. Captain Jacquinot urged d'Urville to solve the crew situation by hiring replacements (generally deserters from other French vessels) and the latter eventually agreed to sail with both ships in early January 1840. On 19 January 1840, the expedition crossed the Antarctic Circle, with celebrations being held in a similar fashion to that of an equator crossing ceremony. The two ships then sailed west, skirting walls of ice and eventually choosing a rocky island to hoist the French tricolour. D'Urville named it Pointe Géologie and the land beyond, Terre Adélie (Adélie Land, named after his wife).

    In the following days the ships followed what it was assumed was the coast, briefly sighting an American schooner from the Wilkes expedition that quickly vanished in thick fog. On 1 February d'Urville decided to return to Hobart. They then went on to the Auckland Islands, where they carried out magnetic measurements leaving behind a commemorative plate of their visit, in which they announced the discovery of the South Magnetic Pole. They returned to France via New Zealand, Torres Strait, Timor, Réunion, Saint Helena and finally Toulon, returning in November, 1840. It would be the last great French expedition of exploration that would ever sail.

    On 1 June, 1840, both of d'Urville's corvettes, the ASTROLABE and the ZÉLÉE, ran aground while attempting to traverse the Torres Strait. It was not until 4 June that they were able to free themselves and resume their journey. This complication is well documented in d'Urville's published account of the expedition.
    Additional Titles

    Web title: Echouage des Corvettes dans le Canal Mauvais (Stranding of the Corvettes in the Bad Channel)

    Primary title: Echouage des Corvettes dans Le Canal Mauvais ('The Stranding of the Corvettes in the Bad Channel')

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