S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Freycinet, Capt Louis Claude Desaulses de (geophysics)

Born: 7 August 1779, Montelimar, Dauphine, France.
Died: 18 August 1842, Saulce-sur-Rhone, France.

Louis C.D. de Freycinet, French navigator, entered the French navy in 1793 at the age of 14 and took part in several battles against the English. In 1800 he and his older brother Henri (1777-1840), who later rose to the rank of admiral, joined the French expedition under Captain Nicolas T. Baudin to complete the French cartographic survey of the south and south-west coasts of Australia and conduct other scientific investigations there. The expedition consisted of the corvettes Le Naturaliste and Le Geographe. During 1801 Le Naturaliste was sent back to Europe with the results obtained so far. In Sydney the expedition bought the schooner Casuarina and Freycinet was put in command of her in November 1801. After Baudin's death on Mauritius the expedition returned to France in March 1804. Francois Peron*, naturalist to the expedition, started to compile an account of the expedition's work, but after his death Freycinet was asked to complete it and compile an atlas of maps and charts. The Voyage de decouvertes aux terres australis... was published in two volumes in 1807 and 1816. The first volume was edited by Peron, while Freycinet published his atlas in 1812 and edited part of the second volume. Freycinet's name is still attached to two coastal features: Freycinet Estuary on the west coast of Australia, and Freycinet Peninsula (on which we find the Freycinet National Park) on the east coast of Tasmania.

In September 1817 Freycinet was placed in command of the L'Uranie and sent on an extended expedition which was to collect geographical, ethnological, astronomical, geomagnetic and meteorological observations, and collect natural history specimens. His wife Rose secreted herself aboard and wrote her own account of the voyage. Among others Freycinet took the French physicist Dominique F.J. Arago (1786-1853) to Rio de Janeiro to perform a series of pendulum experiments. Over a period of three years Freycinet visited the Cape of Good Hope, Mauritius, Australia, Indonesia, several Pacific islands and South America. Although L'Uranie was wrecked on the Falkland Islands in February 1820 he returned to France in November that year with fine collections of specimens, and voluminous notes and drawings, which formed an important contribution to knowledge of the regions investigated. During his visit in 1818 he made the first complete determination of the earth's magnetic field at the Cape of Good Hope, finding its total intensity to be 32.45 microTesla, the inclination -50.8 degrees and the declination 26.5 degrees west. He also made pendulum observations to determine the local strength of the earth's gravity.

The results of the expedition were published under his name as Voyage autour du monde... (Voyage around the world...) in eight volumes of text plus several volumes of plates and maps, between 1825 and 1844. His death prevented completion of the work. Three of the volumes dealt with pendulum observations (1826), terrestrial magnetism (1842) and meteorology (1844) respectively. The zoological specimens collected during the expedition were described by J.R.C. Quoy* and J.P. Gaimard*. Freycinet was admitted as a member of the French Academy of Sciences in 1825, and was one of the founders of the Paris Geographical Society.

List of sources:

Australian dictionary of biography. Melbourne University Press, 1966-.

Beattie, J.C. Report of a magnetic survey of South Africa (pp. 5-7). Cambridge University Press, 1909.

Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th edition, 1875-1888, Vol. 9, p. 777, Freycinet.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

South African bibliography to the year 1925 (Freycinet, Peron). London: Mansell, 1979.

Compiled by: C. Plug