One of the most familiar impacts of the voyages of Flindes and Baudin around Australia is the names that they gave to places. While many of Flinders names are still in use today, Baudin left very few place names in his wake. Jean Fornasiero, Peter Monteath and John West-Sooby explain why in Encountering Terra Australis.
One of the most distinctive and recognisable symbols of any nation is the outline of the country its citizens inhabit. Determining the shape of Terra Australis was a process in which mariners over many centuries played a role. Even after Flinders and Baudin, who in the end were unable to fulfil their respective goals, the map was not entirely complete – parts of the coastline had still been filled in with only a tremulous hand. But it was thanks to the joint efforts of Flinders and Baudin in 1802 that the one large piece then missing from the Australian puzzle was finally added – namely, the stretch of coastline that corresponds roughly to the coast of present-day South Australia. It was not merely a matter of filling in the details of an unknown stretch of coast; it was also a matter of confirming once and for all that they were dealing with a single, massive continent. Baudin and Flinders were among those who had speculated that there might be a strait running from the unknown coast in the south to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north, separating New Holland from New South Wales. Together, on 8 April 1802, they established from each other’s experience that no such strait was to be found.
Baudin seemed well placed to emerge the winner of the race to finish the map, having been the first to set out on his mission. But we now know only too well that his advantage was soon lost and that his lasting contribution to the definitive map was relatively small. Moreover, the tragic end to his life and the eventual settlement of Australia by the English ensured that he would not have the opportunity to compete with Flinders when it came to naming the continent whose shape he had helped to define. There have been so few opportunities in history to name a new land that Baudin and the French might be considered to have lost heavily on that score. Baudin’s death also cost him naming rights for the geographical features that he identified in the rough charts made during the voyage.
Many French names still survive in parts of Australia that the Baudin expedition charted. However, in most cases these are the names used by Péron and Louis Freycinet on the maps published in the official account of the voyage, and not those originally given by the commander himself. To make matters worse, Péron and Freycinet themselves featured prominently in the resulting nomenclature, while Baudin’s own name was as pointedly omitted from the map as it was from the written record of the voyage. Admittedly, Baudin might well have adopted a similar approach, had he been given the chance. There was little in the way of flattery or homage to his officers in his original nomenclature; one can therefore imagine that Baudin’s faithful companions, such as Riédlé or Maugé, would have received more recognition from him than the likes of Péron and Freycinet.
Be that as it may, circumstances would probably have forced Baudin, like Péron, to revise his nomenclature to account for other considerations than personal point-scoring. The same bureaucratic and political factors that influenced Péron’s choices would certainly have weighed heavily on the commander in his review of the names in his drafts. After all, the official cartographers at the Ministry of Marine would have had some say in the matter. It is also a constant fact of life that Ministers change and that the new incumbents require some form of flattery to ensure that funds continue to flow. Baudin did not have to face that particular dilemma; it was Péron, and later Freycinet after Péron’s death in 1810, who had to deal with the political obstacles that impeded publication of the voyage’s map and official account.
One of Péron’s strategies was to name a relatively large number of features after prominent political figures of Napoleon’s regime. Some of these were the cause of a certain amount of embarrassment even before the Freycinet map of Terra Australis appeared – particularly the twin gulfs of what is now South Australia, which were named after Napoleon and his by then repudiated spouse, Josephine. However, since it was Flinders who had first charted and named the two gulfs, he had every reason to object, as he later did, to the ill-inspired nomenclature of Péron and Freycinet.
Baudin was, of course, long gone before controversy erupted over the political ramifications of the French nomenclature. Péron had not just chosen to name the French expedition’s discoveries after political figures, but he had also assigned politically inspired names to Flinders’ section of the unknown coast. As if this were not bad enough, of these names Napoleon’s was the one that was guaranteed to cause the deepest offence to the English. When the first volume of Péron’s account appeared in 1807, the English reacted most angrily to the naming (and implied claiming) of the entire unknown south coast as Terre Napoléon.
It is hard to imagine that Baudin would have been party to this, even under pressure. From the conversations and exchanges of information between Flinders and Baudin, we know that both captains were scrupulous about noting what the other had done – and that this was to serve as the basis for their final maps. Flinders found it hard to believe that this etiquette had been breached and that his own discoveries on the south coast had deliberately been ignored by Péron, whom he would have known well from the stay in Port Jackson. The case against Péron was, in fact, so damning that Freycinet felt the need to remedy the situation in the second edition of the Voyage de découvertes aux Terres Australes, published in 1824 – although he took care to distance himself from the controversy, attributing the original nomenclature to Péron alone. In defence of his deceased colleague, however, Freycinet stated that Péron had not intended to claim as discoveries the features he wrongfully named; he had simply not known the names Flinders had given, since the English map was published much later, in 1814. Once Flinders’ names were known, the French accepted them without question.
… It is thus unlikely that the two captains [Flinders and Baudin] would have fallen into disagreement over the delicate issue of prior rights. In fact, in naming generally, they adopted similar practices. Their charts bore homage to celebrities, often maritime figures, as in the case of Cape Borda on Kangaroo Island, named by Baudin after the eighteenth-century French naval officer and mathematician. The French expedition’s major discoveries were also commemorated in other ways. The captain’s ship, for instance, provided the inspiration for the naming of Geographe Bay in Western Australia. To prominent landmarks Baudin often gave names that corresponded to their physical appearance. This was also a conventional category, in that it signalled recognisable features to future explorers – a practice illustrated by Baudin’s ‘Ile du dragon’ (Dragon Island) off the Victorian coast, now known more prosaically as Lawrence Rock.
Baudin’s names sometimes went a little further than mere appearance. The steep columns he saw at Cape Hauy in Tasmania led him to adopt the name ‘Cap des Organistes’ (Organists’ Cape) in an attempt to describe the grandiose nature of the spectacle, with its tall columns reminiscent of organ pipes, rather than just evoke the sheerness of the cliffs. In another category, Baudin also conformed to conventional usage by conferring names that reflected incidents on board ship. Of course, he could not refrain from adding the occasional dash of his characteristic humour and sarcasm – though, not surprisingly, the humorous names disappeared entirely from the list of Péron’s names, which overwhelmingly favoured the use of clusters of philosophers and scientists. While the commemoration of such celebrated figures is an interesting heritage that reminds us of the scientific nature of the Baudin expedition, it does not entirely compensate for the loss of such colourful names as those that Baudin gave to parts of Geographe Bay: ‘Anse des Maladroits’ (Cove of the Clumsy – today Wonnerup Inlet – where Baudin’s longboat was grounded) or ‘Cap des Mécontents’ (Cape of Discontent – now Cape Naturaliste – where Baudin reprimanded Sub-Lieutenant Picquet for his failure to land).
While there is no definitive record of place-names comparing the names conferred by Baudin with those that finally appeared on Freycinet’s charts, it is clear that both lists draw to a similar extent on the conventional categories. The differences are to be found in the relative frequencies of certain categories, but these can be telling. Péron and Freycinet used more proper names, whereas Baudin’s nomenclature reflects a more evenly balanced use of the various naming principles. On the other hand, his use of descriptive names was no more conventional than the man himself. This fact alone may have caused him later problems with the official cartographers, had he lived to supervise his map.
Click here to read more about the fascinating voyages of Flinders and Baudin, and the legacy they left behind.