CHAPTER 13. THE FRENCH EXPEDITION.
It will be necessary to devote some attention to the French expedition of discovery, commanded by Nicolas Baudin, which sailed from Havre on October 19th, 1800, nearly two months before the British Admiralty authorised the despatch of the Investigator, and nine months all but two days before Flinders was permitted to leave England.
The mere fact that this expedition was despatched while Napoleon Bonaparte was First Consul of the French Republic, has led many writers to jump to the conclusion that it was designed to cut out a portion of Australia for occupation by the French; that, under the thin disguise of being charged with a scientific mission, Baudin was in reality an emissary of Machiavellian statecraft, making a cunning move in the great game of world-politics. The author has, in an earlier book* endeavoured to show that such was not the case. (* Terre Napoleon (London, 1910). Since that book was published, I have had the advantage of reading a large quantity of manuscript material, all unpublished, preserved in the Archives Nationales and the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. It strengthens the main conclusions promulgated in Terre Napoleon, but of course amplifies the evidence very considerably. The present chapter is written with the Baudin and other manuscripts, as well as the printed material, in mind.) Bonaparte did not originate the discovery voyage. He simply authorised it, as head of the State, when the proposition was laid before him by the Institute of France, a scientific body, concerned with the augmentation of knowledge, and anxious that an effort should be made to complete a task which the abortive expeditions of Laperouse and Dentrecasteaux had failed to accomplish.
Moreover, if Bonaparte had wished to acquire territory in Australia, he was not so foolish a person as to fit out an expedition estimated to cost over half a million francs,* and which actually cost a far larger sum, when he could have obtained what he wanted simply by asking. (* Report of the Commission of the Institute manuscripts, Bibliotheque Nationale, nouveaux acquisitions, France 9439 page 139.) The treaty of Amiens was negotiated and signed while Baudin's ships were at sea. The British Government at that time was very anxious for peace, and was prepared to make concessions - did, in fact, surrender a vast extent of territory won by a woful expenditure of blood and treasure. It cannot be said that Australia was greatly valued by Great Britain at the time. She occupied only a small portion of an enormous continent, and would certainly not have seriously opposed a project that the French should occupy some other portion of it, if Bonaparte had put forward a claim as a condition of peace. But he did nothing of the kind.
If we are to form sound views of history, basing conclusions on the evidence, we must set aside suspicions generated at a time of fierce racial antipathy, when it was almost part of an Englishman's creed to hate a Frenchman. Neither the published history of Baudin's voyage, nor the papers relating to it which are now available for study - except two documents to which special attention will be devoted hereafter, and which did not emanate from persons in authority - afford warrant for believing that there was any other object in view than that professed when application for a passport was made to the Admiralty. The confidential instructions of the Minister* of Marine (* Manuscripts, Archives Nationales BB4 999, Marine. I have given an account of this important manuscript, with copious extracts, in the English Historical Review, April, 1913.) to Baudin* leave no doubt that the purpose was quite bona fide. (* Fleurieu to Forfait, manuscripts, Bibliotheque Nationale, nouveaux acquisitions, France 9439 page 137.) "Your labours," wrote Forfait, "having for their sole object the perfecting of scientific knowledge, you should observe the most complete neutrality, allowing no doubt to be cast upon your exactitude in confining yourself to the object of your mission, as set forth in the passports which have been furnished. In your relations with foreigners, the glorious success of our arms, the power and wisdom of your government, the grand and generous views of the First Consul for the pacification of Europe, the order that he has restored in the interior of France, furnish you with the means of giving to foreign peoples just ideas upon the real state of the Republic and upon the prosperity which is assured to it." The men of science who had promoted the voyage were anxious that not even a similitude of irregularity should be permitted. Thus we find the Comte de Fleurieu, who drew up the itinerary, writing to the Minister urging him to include in the instructions a paragraph prohibiting the ships from taking on board, under any pretext, merchandise which could give to a scientific expedition the appearance of a commercial venture, "because if an English cruiser or man-of-war should visit them, and find on board other goods than articles of exchange for dealing with aboriginal peoples, this might serve as a pretext for arresting them, and Baudin's passport might be disregarded on the ground that it had been abused by being employed as a means of conducting without risk a traffic which the state of war would make very lucrative."
The question of the origin and objects of the expedition is, however, an entirely different one from that of the use which Napoleon would have made of the information collected, had the opportunity been available of striking a blow at Great Britain through her southern colony. It is also different from the question (as to which something will be said later) of the advantage taken by two members of Baudin's staff of the scope allowed them at Port Jackson, to "spy out the land" with a view of furnishing information valuable in a military sense to their Government.