FRENCH NAVIGATORS, I
"We had penetrated," says Bouvet, in the report already cited, "twelve or fifteen hundred leagues into an unknown sea. For seventy days we had encountered almost continuous fog. We had been for forty days in the midst of ice, and we had had snow and hail almost every day. Several times our decks and rigging were covered with them. Our shrouds and sails were frozen. On the 10th of January, it was impossible to work our fore-topsail. The cold was severe, for men accustomed to a warm climate, and who were lightly clad. Many had chilblains on the hands and feet. Still they were forced constantly to tack about, bring to, get under weigh, and take soundings at least once a day. One of the sailors belonging to the Aigle, having been sent to loosen the fore-topsail, became frozen in the fore-top. He had to be lowered by a whip, and circulation was with difficulty restored. I have seen others with tears gushing from their eyes as they handled the sounding-line. And all this was in the fine season, and I ameliorated their condition by every means in my power."
We can readily understand that such small results did not tempt the East India Company to continue their efforts in these latitudes. If they were productive of no good, they cost heavily in the loss of men and ships they entailed. Still Bouvet's discovery was a first blow to the existing belief in an Antarctic continent. He gave the start, and various navigators, amongst them two Frenchmen, followed it up.
In our short record of this expedition, which is scarcely known, we have testified to an appreciation of our countryman, who was the pioneer of Antarctic navigation, and who deserves the credit of furnishing an example to the great English explorer, James Cook.
Another of the East India Company's captains, who had distinguished himself in various battles against the English, Jean François Marie de Surville, was destined to make important discoveries in Oceania some thirty years later, and to re-discover, almost simultaneously with Cook, the lands first seen by Tasman, and which he called Staten Island. The following is an account of the circumstances.
Messrs. Law and Chevalier, governors in French India, determined to send a vessel at their own risk to trade in the southern seas. They admitted Surville to their schemes, and sent him to France to obtain the needful authority from the Company, and to superintend the equipment of the vessel.
The Saint-Jean Baptiste was made ready for sea at Nantes, and provisioned for three years, with every requisite for a distant expedition. Surville then reached India, where Law provided him with twenty-four native soldiers.
Leaving Angley Bay on the 3rd of March, 1769, the Saint-Jean Baptiste put in successively at Masulipatam, Yanaon, and Pondicherry, where her equipment was completed.
Surville left the last-named port on the 2nd of June, and steered his course for the Philippines. On the 20th of August, he cast anchor off the Bashees, or Baschy Islands. Dampier had so named them after an intoxicating drink, which the natives compounded from the juice of the sugar-cane, into which they infused a certain black seed.
Several of Dampier's crew had formerly deserted in these islands; they had received from the natives a field, agricultural instruments, and wives. The recollection of this fact incited three of the sailors belonging to the Saint-Jean Baptiste to follow their example. But Surville was not the man to allow his crew to melt away in such a manner. He seized twenty-six Indians, and signified his intention of keeping them as hostages until his men were brought back to him.
"Among the Indians thus seized," says Crozet, in his narrative of Surville's voyage, "there were several courageous enough to throw themselves into the sea, and, much to the surprise of the crew, they had sufficient courage and skill to swim to one of their pirogues, which was far enough from the vessel to be secure from danger."
Pains were taken to make the savages understand that they had been treated in this way in order to make their comrades bring back the three deserters. They made signs that they understood, and were then released, with the exception of six, who had been taken on shore. The haste with which they left the ship, and flung themselves into their pirogues, augured badly for their return. Much surprise was therefore felt when in a short time they were seen returning with joyful acclamations. Doubt was no longer possible, they could only be bringing the deserters back to the commander. They came on board, and proceeded to deposit on deck—what?—three magnificent pigs, tied and bound. Surville did not appreciate, and he objurgated the natives so fiercely, that they jumped into their pirogues, and disappeared. Twenty-four hours later the Saint-Jean Baptiste left the Bashees, taking three captive Indians to replace the deserters.
Upon the 7th of October, after a lengthened route to the south-east, land, to which the name of "Prémiere Vue" was given, was sighted in 6° 56' S. lat., and 157° 30' long. east of Paris.