Nicolas Baudin (1754-1803)

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Thomas Nicolas Baudin was born in Port La Rochelle, France in February 1754, and joined the French navy in 1774. He was promoted to a sub-lieutenant in 1786. In 1792 while on secondment to the Archduke of Austria he led a scientific expedition to the Indian Ocean, to collect plants and other specimens for the palace museum. Following the success of this journey, he led another expedition to the West Indies in 1796, this time collecting for French museums. In 1798 Baudin suggested a voyage around the world, exploring and collecting specimens, but it would be several years before this idea could be taken up, due to the political upheavals in France at that time.

Finally in 1800 an expedition was fitted out. Baudin was given command of two ships Le Geographe and Le Naturaliste (under Captain Hamelin). A large group of civilian scientists, including François Péron, were present on board. When the expedition reached Mauritius most of the scientists and some of the ships' officers left, because of personal and political differences with their leader.

Following his detailed instructions from the French Ministry of Marine, Baudin led the expedition to the coast of New Holland [Western Australia] to chart the coast and to collect specimens. Following resupply in Timor, the ships then sailed to Van Diemen's Land [Tasmania] to make further studies there. Finally in March 1802 they sailed for the 'unknown coast', naming it Terre Napoleon, after the French Emperor. The French met the Flinders' expedition off Encounter Bay on 8-9 April 1802.

After spending 5 months recuperating in Sydney, Baudin led his expedition back to South Australian waters, to complete the charting of Terre Napoleon. After further work there and on the Western Australian coast, he sailed to Timor for resupply. His health failing and with many of his crew ill as well, Baudin sailed for Ile de France [Mauritius], abandoning the rest of his exploration of Australia.

He died on of tuberculosis on Ile de France on 16 September 1803. Le Geographe returned to France in 1804, and the account of the expedition was written by François Péron and Louis de Freycinet.

Collection Items




South Australian geographical journal, vol. 97, 1998 - pages 20-32.

Brown, Anthony. 'The captain and the convict maid: a chapter in the life of Nicolas Baudin.'


Image from the State Library catalogue

Captain Nicolas Baudin ca.1800

Internet sites

Le Havre Museum: summarised biographies

Bright Sparks Biographical entry: Baudin, Thomas Nicolas

Matthew Flinders Collection: Biographies: Nicolas Baudin

Further sources

Australian dictionary of biography. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press; London; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1966-. vol. I, 1788-1850, A-H.

Brown, Anthony J. Ill-starred captains: Flinders and Baudin. Hindmarsh, S. Aust.: Crawford House Publishing, 2000.

Cornell, Christine. Questions relating to Nicolas Baudin's Australian expedition, 1800-1804. Adelaide: Libraries Board of South Australia, 1965.

Horner, F. B. The French reconnaissance: Baudin in Australia 1801-1803. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 1987.