CAPTAIN COOK'S PREDECESSORS, III
Bougainville—A notary's son metamorphosed—Colonization of the Malouine Islands—Buenos Ayres and Rio Janeiro—The Malouines relinquished to the Spaniards—Hydrography of the Strait of Magellan—The Pecherais—The Quatre Facardius—Tahiti—Incidents of the stay there—Productions of the country and manners of the inhabitants—Samoa Islands—The Land of the Holy Spirit or the New Hebrides—The Louisiade—The Anchorite Isles—New Guinea—Boutan—From Batavia to St. Malo.
Whilst Wallis completed his voyage round the world, and Carteret continued his long and hazardous circumnavigation, a fresh expedition was organized for the purpose of prosecuting new discoveries in the Southern Seas.
Under the old régime, when all was arbitrary, titles, rank, and places were obtained by interest. It was therefore not surprising that a military officer, who left the army scarcely four years before with the rank of colonel, to enter the navy as a captain, should obtain this important command.
Strangely enough, this singular measure was amply justified, thanks to the talents possessed by the favoured recipient.
Louis Antoine de Bougainville was born at Paris, on the 13th of November, 1729. The son of a notary, he was destined for the bar, and was already an advocate. But having no taste for his father's profession, he devoted himself to the sciences, and published a Treatise on the Integral Calculus, whilst he obtained a commission in the Black Musqueteers.
Of the three careers he thus entered upon, he entirely abandoned the two first, slightly neglected the third, for the sake of a fourth—diplomacy, and finally left it entirely for a fifth—the naval service. He was destined to die a member of the senate after a sixth metamorphosis.
|Portrait of Bougainville.
(Fac-simile of early engraving.)
First aide-de-camp to Chevret, then Secretary of the Embassy in London, where he was made a member of the Royal Society, he left Brest in 1756, with the rank of captain of Dragoons, to rejoin Montcalm in Canada. Becoming aide-de-camp to this general, he distinguished himself on various occasions, and obtained the confidence of his chief, who sent him to France to ask for reinforcements.
That unhappy country was just then overwhelmed with reverses in Europe, and had need of all her resources. Therefore, when young Bougainville entered upon the object of his mission to M. de Choiseul, the minister answered brusquely,—
"When the house is on fire, one does not worry oneself about the stables!"
"At least," replied Bougainville, "no one can say that you speak like a horse!"
This sally was too witty and too stinging to conciliate the minister. Ultimately Madame de Pompadour, who appreciated witty people, introduced Bougainville to the king, and although he did not succeed in obtaining much for his general, he gained a colonelcy, and the order of St. Louis for himself, although he had only seen seven years' service. Returning to Canada he was anxious to justify Louis XIV.'s confidence, and distinguished himself in various matters. After the loss of the colony he served in Germany under M. de Choiseul-Stainville.
His military career was cut short by the peace of 1763. His active spirit and love of movement rebelled against a garrison life. He conceived the strange idea of colonizing the Falkland Islands in the extreme south of South America, and of conveying there free of expense the emigrants from Canada who had settled in France to escape the tyrannous yoke of England. Carried away by this idea, he addressed himself to certain privateers at St. Malo, who, from the commencement of the century, had been in the habit of visiting the group, and who had named them Malouine Islands.
Having gained their confidence, Bougainville brought the advantages (however problematical) of this colony to the minister's notice, maintaining that the fortunate situation of the island, would secure a good resting-place for ships going to the Southern Seas. Having high interest, he obtained the authority he desired, and received his nomination as ship-captain.
It was the year 1763. There is little reason to suppose, that marine officers, who had passed all the grades of the service, looked with gratification upon an appointment which no past event justified. But that mattered little to the Minister of Marine, M. de Choiseul-Stainville. Bougainville had served under him, and was far too grand a personage to trouble himself about the grumbling of the ship's officers.
Bougainville having brought his uncle and cousin, MM. de Nerville and d'Arboulin, to look favourably upon his venture, caused the Eagle of twenty guns, and theSphinx of twelve, to be built at St. Malo, under the auspices of M. Guzot Duclos. Upon these he embarked several Canadian families.
Leaving St. Malo on the 15th of September, 1763, he rested at St. Catherine's Island, on the coast of Brazil, and at Montevideo, where he took horses and cattle, and landed at the Malouines in a large bay, which appeared to him wholly suited to his purpose, but he was not long in discovering that what had been taken by preceding navigators for woods of moderate height, were only reeds. Not a tree, not a shrub grew in the islands. Fortunately an excellent turf did for fuel in their stead, whilst fish and game offered good resources.