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A French journal from 1687 on the ship L’Oiseau records the first European sighting of the Australian coast


The first ever European description of Australia’s coastline is found in a newly discovered 330-year-old diary written by a surgeon.

The journal recounts the 1687 second French voyage to Thailand aboard the L’Oiseau, captained by Abraham Duquesne-Guyton, as part of Louis XIV’s royal fleet.

The ship was one of five that left Brest in northwest France and sailed to Cape Town, South Africa, on March 1, before departing for Batavia (Jakarta) on June 28.

However, a week of violent storms separated it from the other ships and drove it eastward, causing it to visit Western Australia unexpectedly, where the ship sailed close to the Swan River.

The Chief Surgeon of the Royal Fleet, known as ‘Berimmond’, was the first to spot Australian land on 4 August and wrote that the entire crew was taken aback by the sight.

A journal written by a French Royal Navy surgeon describes the first ever sighting of the Australian coast in 1687. The author claims to be the first to see “terre auxtralles” (highlighted above) after a week-long storm drove the ship far east

I was one of the first (who saw him) with the priest as we walked on the tube. At first glance we thought it was some ships, but as we sailed fast in a short time we saw it was rocks, Berimund wrote.

At the same time that we were saying “There is a land,” Mr. Duquesne came up to us, and we told him that we had just seen a land; He was very surprised to climb up the main shrouds (and) found that to be true. Suddenly, everyone was very surprised, because everyone was crowded next to each other.

The surgeon added that he and the captain speculated if the land was inhabited and by what people.

Perhaps there is no one but for a few people; What makes one think that this is because the early navigators who were in these lands found the footmark of a man about a foot and a half long,” Berimmond wrote.

The journal recounts the second French voyage to Thailand as part of Louis XIV's royal fleet (pictured) in 1687

The journal recounts the second French voyage to Thailand as part of Louis XIV’s royal fleet (pictured) in 1687

L’Oiseau’s visit to Western Australia is France’s first verified sighting of Australia, and the magazine is expected to sell for more than half a million dollars in London this month.

Head of Books and Manuscripts at London’s Christie’s, Thomas Venning, said he realized through research that the ship occurred in Australia and frantically flipped the pages of the journal for any mention of the country.

Mr. Venning explained that he was “completely dumbfounded” when he read the “terre auxtralles” written in the magazine.

‘It really was a heart-in-mouth moment,’ Mr Vining told the Guardian. Sydney Morning Herald.

I had no idea if he would ever describe it! When I saw the words Terra Australis (or “terre auxtralles” in this somewhat whimsical French text) in a manuscript written in 1688, I was completely dumbfounded.

“In my 25 years as an autograph specialist at Christie’s, I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

Mr Venning described the notes as an “extremely rare” find, as they are believed to be the only description of the seventeenth century and the first mention of Australia offered for sale.

The magazine will be available for purchase through Christie’s Private Sales team and will fetch in the region of £350,000 (AU$643,105).

Historians record the manuscript as the 33rd verified sighting of the Australian coast by a European ship.

The voyage, which was described in Bermond’s journal, included 14 Jesuit scientists under the command of Berry Guy Tachard and five warships – including L’Oiseau, which had 46 guns.

Bremond's drawing of a Javanese man and woman with a papaya tree (pictured)

Sketch of a rhinoceros and tamarind tree from the trip (pictured)

The manuscript has been classified as an “extremely rare” find because it details the voyage from France to Batavia (Jakarta). The magazine features twelve dedicated illustrations of Siam (left and right).

Diagram of the King of Siam's barge with oarsmen and the Prince's barge (pictured)

Diagram of the King of Siam’s barge with oarsmen and the Prince’s barge (pictured)

The trip formed part of more than a decade-long diplomatic exchange between Siam and the French court of Louis XIV, which was chaired by the mathematician Simon de la Lupre and the French East India Company administrator Claude Siebert.

The manuscript also details offerings sent by Louis XIV and drawings of the local population, flora and fauna, and topography of the Cape, Siam, Batavia, the Nicobar Islands, Puducherry, and Ascension Island.

It shows twelve illustrations dedicated to ship siam, elephants, and even the palace of King Nari.

Bremond wrote that Batavia was “the most beautiful city in all the East Indies” and claimed that the city had a large Chinese population.

The author of the journal continued his career as a surgeon for another 20 years and even served in a major French seaport in Toulon – however, little is known about his life and travels, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

The magazine is believed to have changed hands once after it was sold at auction at Christie’s Paris in 2012.

Prior to 2012, the manuscript was kept in a family library in western France – the region where the journal was written.

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