Elaine Forrestal

Growing interest in Rose

Some of the de Freycinet boxes in the Archive de Laage

This week I was contacted by a French Maritime Archaeologist who is working with the Maritime Archaeology Department at the  Shipwreck Gallery in Perth. There has been a growing interest, over the last four or five years, in Rose and Louis de Freycinet’s visit to Shark Bay on board the Uranie in 1818. And significant research has been carried out by the archaeological team during that time.

Earlier this year an article called Who do you trust? by Dr Michael McCarthy was published in the book European Perceptions of Terra Australis, edited by Anne Scott. In his article Dr McCarthy examines the original documents, journals and artworks produced during the time l’Uranie was anchored in Shark Bay and highlights the places where the official and unofficial accounts are at odds. Disparities of this kind are not unusual in historical documents. In fact they appear much more frequently than most people realise. And not only between official and unofficial documents. Sometimes eye-witness accounts of the same incident vary so much that a lot of cross-referencing is needed and, in the end, choices have to be made about which version is most likely given the times and the circumstances surrounding the reported event. So there can never be one ‘true’ version of history. Is it any wonder then that novelists fill in the gaps? Otherwise how could their readers, who are not research scientists, ever make sense of the past? We know that the past is important. It influences so much of what we do here and now. But if novelists are continually criticised for making thing up, as they often are in the press, there is a real danger that fascinating and informative stories from the past will be lost forever.

I am pleased to say that my contacts with the Maritime Archaeology Department over the years have always been very positive, helpful and supportive, first with Straggler’s Reef, then Black Jack Anderson and now with Wild Rose. I always feel a new serge of excitement and enthusiasm for the long and difficult task of ‘getting it right’ when I know that others find the story just as fascinating as I do.