Elaine Forrestal

Celebrating 200 years since Rose de Freycinet’s historic voyage

Rose and Jose outside Rose’s distinctive tent at Shark Bay in 1818

Like Black Jack Anderson, who seems to regularly drop out of sight then pop up again, Rose de Freycinet is back in the spotlight.

The WA Maritime Museum has mounted a major exhibition, a highlight of which is the journal of Rose de Freycinet who, as far as we know, is the first European woman to set foot on Western Australia. Rose’s burning desire ‘to see the world’ prompted her to dress as a man and stowaway aboard the French Navy vessel, l’Uranie, much to the consternation of her husband, Louis de Freycinet. But the ship was already four days out to sea before she was discovered. The resulting voyage around the world almost claimed Rose’s life. However, in spite of encounters with pirates, cannibals, shipwreck, starvation and illness Rose kept a promise she made to her best friend, in secret. ‘You will see through my eyes, hear through my ears and live in my heart,’ she said. When Rose finally made it back to France in 1820 she presented the journal to her friend. It was never meant for publication, but it has since become an important historical document. Rose had given the world a rare female perspective on shipboard life and well documented accounts of people and cultures rarely seen by European eyes at that time.

Although l’Uranie, with Rose hidden on board, left France in September 1817, it was not until a year later that the ship landed in Shark Bay on the west coast of Australia. The timing of the current  exhibition celebrates 200 years since that landing which, among other discoveries, resulted in first contact being made with the local Malgana Aboriginal people. Rose witnessed this event and recorded it in her journal. The Malgana people also recorded her presence in their oral history. Their stories tell of a ‘woman with no legs, who floats across the landscape’. They had never seen a woman wearing a long dress before. If you haven’t yet read the whole of Rose’s fascinating story, check out To See the World at all good bookshops or direct from The National Library of Australia Shop.

The Exhibition at the WA Maritime Museum is on until December 9 2018.