The French scientists selected for Baudin's voyage of discovery to the southern hemisphere made up the most impressive scientific team gathered for a maritime expedition to that date.
Astronomers, geographers, botanists, zoologists, minerologists, and gardeners were selected by the Institut National.
More than twenty scientists and artists set out on the voyage, but less than ten returned to France. Several left the expedition due to personal and political conflicts with the captain, while others were left sick at places of call, or died during the voyage. For example, zoologist Stanislas Levillain died at sea in December 1801, and Baudin's friend zoologist René Maugé became ill on the first stopover in Timor and died in February 1802. Botanist Leschenault de la Tour was left sick at Timor in June 1803.
Despite the difficulties and disasters of the expedition, over 200,000 specimens were brought back to France for natural history collections. The strange and exotic plants, animals and birds from Terres Australes, including kangaroos and emus, were sent to Empress Josephine Bonaparte's gardens at Malmaison.
Born in August 1775 at Cérilly, in France François Péron was educated at the local school where he showed outstanding ability. He enlisted in the revolutionary army in 1792, was injured and captured and spent the long months of his imprisonment reading accounts of voyages of exploration. After his release he studied medicine for three years, and developed an interest in natural history. In 1800 he joined Baudin's expedition as zoologist and anthropologist.
On the voyage out he formed a lasting friendship with the young artists Nicolas-Martin Petit, and in particular Charles-Alexandre Lesueur. His revolutionary politics however were the opposite of his captain's royalist sympathies, and the cause of much of the animosity between them.
When the majority of the scientists left the expedition at Mauritius, Péron became the chief scientist and the enormous size of the collections that were taken back to France were largely due to his enthusiasm. His study of marine life was unprecedented, and his work on Aborigines, particularly in Tasmania, formed an invaluable record of a culture that would soon disappear.
However much of his work in these fields remained unpublished, as he was commissioned to write the official history of the expedition. This major work took the rest of his short life, and was uncompleted at the time of his death of tuberculosis in December 1810. The expedition account was completed by Louis de Freycinet.
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