Posted by: Rob Viens | March 11, 2013

The Corvette L’Ursanie and the Rose of the Sea

For a quiet set of islands, the Falklands seemed to be abuzz with passing ships in March 1833. Upon arriving in the islands, Darwin first noted the recent wreck of a French whaling ship:

“We received all this intelligence from a French boat, belonging [to] a Whaler, which is now lying a wreck on the beach. Between the 12th & 13th of January, the very time when we suffered from the gale off Cape Horn, this fine ship parted from three anchors & drove on shore.— They describe the gale as a perfect hurricane.— They were glad to see us, as they were at a loss what to do.— all the stores are saved & of course plenty of food.— Capt: FitzRoy has offered to take them 22 in number in the Beagle & to purchase on account of the owners, any stores which we may want. The rest must be sacrificed.” (Mar 1)

During their stay a few more ships came through Port Louis, including an English schooner.  And Darwin also found evidence of the wreckage of several other vessels, including a French exploration ship that circled the globe on a voyage of scientific discovery 15 years before.  He writes:

“Several ships have arrived; we are now five sail in the harbor: An English schooner has agreed to carry the Frenchman & all his stores (which we could not have done) to Monte Video & to receive 20 percent at the auction.— During these days I have been wandering about the country, breaking rocks, shooting snipes, & picking up the few living productions which this Island has to boast of.— It is quite lamentable to see so many casks & pieces of wreck in every cove & corner: we know of four large ships in this one harbor. One of these was the L’Uranie a French discovery ship who had been round the world.— The weather generally has been cold & very boisterous.” (Mar 6/9)


L’Uranie (source unknown)

The corvette L’Uranie (named for the Greek muse Urania – the muse of astronomy) departed France in 1817 on a voyage of discovery commissioned by the French government.  The ship captained by Louis de Freycinet , first crossed the Atlantic to make several scientific measurements in Brazil (sound familiar?). They then crossed back across the ocean stopping in South Africa, Mauritius (plus several other Indian Ocean islands), and Australia. L’Uranie then headed across the Pacific making stops at several additional islands (including Tahiti and Hawaii) to explore the natural history. In 1820 they rounded Cape Horn and headed for the Falkland Islands.  Like the Beagle, the French ship had suffered heavy storms when they rounded the horn, and stopped in the Falklands intending to make repairs.  However, L’Uranie hit a rock, and after a failed attempt to save her, the crew had to abandon ship.  After spending some time in the islands, they were eventually rescued and returned to France with an extensive collection of specimens, log books, and artwork from around the world. And everyone survived.


Urania – muse of astronomy (from Wikipedia Commons)

Louis de Freycinet, who went on to become one of the founders of the Paris Geographical Society, was still alive when Darwin returned from his voyage and published his Narratives. Whether de Freycinet ever read them is a mystery.

One would think that the scientific discoveries of the voyage of L’Uranie would be what has stood the test of time.  But interestingly, the thing most frequently noted about the ship is that fact that Captain de Freycinet stowed his wife (Rose de Freycinet) on board by disguising her as a man and managed to keep her on board for their entire voyage. Although he managed to keep Rose out of the record books (it was illegal for a woman to even set foot on a French naval ship), the captain indirectly made note of his wife by naming several species and geographic locations (including Rose Atoll near Samoa) after his wife. Rose’s account of the trip (recently republished in A Woman of Courage: The journal of Rose de Freycinet on her voyage around the world 1817-1820 by Marc Serge Rivière) remains one of a handful of accounts of a woman at sea. Like Darwin, she was only 22 years old when she left Europe.

Rose de Freycinet (from Western Australian Museum (see link below))
Rose de Freycinet

Interestingly, the records show that L’Uranie never left the Falklands after the 1820 wreck.  So Darwin was, for all practical purposes, describing a derelict in the harbor.  Presumably after years of disuse the ship eventually sank. Eventually, in 2001, an Australian expedition returned to the Falklands to locate the wreck of L’Uranie. Their story (and more on the voyage of L’Uranie) can be found here.



  1. Hi – really enjoying your diary of entries, it’s such a nice way of lending immediacy and context to the whole history of Darwin’s travels.

    • Thanks – I appreciate the feedback! I’ve enjoyed reading your site, too.

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