- Dunstan, Timothy, SBLT, NEOC 39 RANC
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 2009 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Usually in one’s lifetime, a person will witness or experience one event that will, or has the ability, to change the world. This event will stand out in history, will be taught in schools across the globe and when mentioned, will draw reminiscent silences. For my grandparent’s generation it was World War Two, for my parent’s generation it was the Apollo 11 moon landing and for my generation it is currently the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York. For the vast majority of us however, we are mere shocked onlookers glued to the TV screen or with our heads in the newspaper. It is extremely rare for an individual to not only be alive during several world changing events, but to experience them first hand as a leader of men.
Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1729-1811) was a French soldier and explorer. An accomplished scholar, he was also a man of action who fought in the Seven Years War, explored the Pacific Ocean, and was the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the world.
In the following essay I will discuss what Louis de Bougainville’s most significant achievements and failures were as a man. I will also discuss his intellectual qualities. I will analyze his style of leadership and how that style allowed him to deal with his superiors and subordinates. Rather than write a chronological order of de Bougainville’s voyage across the Pacific Ocean, I will simply draw on events and situations from his circumnavigation of the globe in 1766 to cover these points. Finally, I will focus on Louis de Bougainville’s legacy to the world and how he managed to change the course of history.
Achievements and Failures
‘A true Man of the Enlightenment, he was gifted in navigation, seamanship, soldiering, mathematics, longitude and latitude – many of the arts that made his age one of the most productive and creative in modern history.’
In his early life, de Bougainville was a renowned mathematician, producing a treatise about calculus titled Traite de calcul integral. This piece of work earned de Bougainville membership in the British Royal Society in 1756. This affiliation for mathematics and numbers, would assist a keen interest for one of the many skills de Bougainville would one day be remembered for, navigation. It was however while on a voyage across the North Atlantic en route to Canada as part of the army that de Bougainville developed an interest in navigation. He spent much of his time during of his time during the crossing watching the officers calculating the ship’s position according to the old painstaking and often unreliable methods. It was because of this journey that de Bougainville had the opportunity to take part in the first major world event of his time, the fall of French Canada.
It was during this conflict where de Bougainville’s calm, analytical personality began to rise to the surface. de Bougainville’s first contact with Native Indians involved addressing a group who were bringing in six British prisoners while bearing the scalps of several other unlucky prisoners. The British were made to sit in a circle while the natives proceeded to dance around them, singing and chanting. Although to the British it was a terrifying experience, de Bougainville took the opportunity to take mental note of the physical characteristics, the body decoration adorning the men and the design of their weapons. He also recorded down an observation which he would later make mention of in a lecture titled Notice historique sur les sauvages de l’Amerique septentrionale. ‘No one could have a better ear for music than these people. Every movement of their bodies synchronises perfectly with the rhythm.’ This observation is similar to those de Bougainville would make on his Pacific voyage. de Bougainville’s ability to make detailed observations while under pressure and in new surroundings, dealing with new people would assist him in the future.
Another quality de Bougainville possessed was the ability to give just praise to adversaries. This was particularly evident in the Pacific. de Bougainville entered the Pacific on his expedition to become the fourteenth navigator to circumnavigate the globe and the first Frenchman to do so. de Bougainville’s ability to admire and respect the natives of lands he visited became further evident on his travels throughout the Pacific. He admired the courage of the islanders, fearless men.