Elaine Forrestal

The Freycinet Collection

The first of two version of this scene, painted by Alphonse Pellion, showing Rose and Jose in the doorway of Rose’s tent at Shark Bay

Momentum is building around the story of Rose de Freycinet with the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Freycinet Collection at the State Library of Western Australia.

In October 2003 the Freycinet Collection, bought by Alan Bond from the previous Baron de Saulses de Freycinet, came up for auction in London. A dedicated band of people, who are interested in the history of Western Australia, raised funds from various sources and set off for London. Amongst the collection of artwork, surveys, maps and journals being offered for sale was the first map of the lower reaches of the Swan River. It was made by Louis de Freycinet while he was Baudin’s Lieutenant on board the Nautaliste and was the most valuable piece on offer. The WA group knew that the funds they had raised would not be enough to purchase the whole collection, so they were careful in their bidding and focused on pieces that were relevant to Western Australia. Among the works they chose were two pictures by Alphonse Pellion who was the official artist on board the Uranie. Against his Commander’s orders Pellion had shown Rose de Freycinet and her Mauritian pupil in the doorway of Rose’s distinctive conical tent, pitched on this occasion in the barren landscape of Shark Bay. Since Rose’s presence on the voyage was not to be mentioned in official communications of any kind, Louis was outraged and took Pellion to task. The artist then produced a much less attractive black and white representation of the same scene. The doorway of Rose’s tent in the second version is completely empty.

Along with Rose’s own detailed descriptions these two images bring graphically to life not only the landscape but the culture and attitudes of the French Navy at that time, and the courage needed to venture into unexplored places so far from home. Also depicted in the first of Pellion’s two versions of this scene is the experimental still which was carried aboard the Uranie to desalinate sea water and make it safe for drinking. This still was the cause of several fires on board during the trials carried out at sea. Rose declared that they would all be drowned by this dreadful contraption, but she changed her mind when they arrived in Kupang and Louis carried some of the distilled water ashore, for their personal use. The local water caused an outbreak of dysentery amongst the crew and Rose was pleased to have escaped the debilitating and sometimes life-threatening illness.