Louis Antoine de Bougainville

Birth: 1729


Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1729–1811) was a French navigator born at Paris on the 11th of November 1729. He was the son of a notary, and in early life studied law, but soon abandoned the profession, and in 1753 entered the army in the corps of musketeers. At the age of twenty-five he published a treatise on the integral calculus, as a supplement to De l'Hôpital's treatise, Des infiniment petits.

In 1755 he was sent to London as secretary to the French embassy, and was made a member of the Royal Society. In 1756 he went to Canada as captain of dragoons and aide-de-camp to the marquis de Montcalm; and having distinguished himself in the war against England, was rewarded with the rank of colonel and the cross of St Louis. He afterwards served in the Seven Years' War from 1761 to 1763. After the peace, when the French government conceived the project of colonizing the Falkland Islands, Bougainville undertook the task at his own expense.

But the settlement having excited the jealousy of the Spaniards, the French government gave it up to them, on condition of their indemnifying Bougainville. He was then appointed to the command of the frigate "La Boudeuse" and the transport "L'Etoile," and set sail in December 1766 on a voyage of discovery round the world. Having executed his commission of delivering up the Falkland Islands to the Spanish, Bougainville proceeded on his expedition, and touched at Buenos Aires. Passing through the Straits of Magellan, he visited the Tuamotu archipelago, and Tahiti, where the English navigator Wallis had touched eight months before. He proceeded across the Pacific Ocean by way of the Samoan group, which he named the Navigators Islands, the New Hebrides and the Solomon Islands.

His men now suffering from scurvy, and his vessels requiring refitting, he anchored at Buru, one of the Moluccas, where the governor of the Dutch settlement supplied his wants. It was the beginning of September, and the expedition took advantage of the easterly monsoon, which carried them to Batavia. In March 1769 the expedition arrived at St Malo, with the loss of only seven out of upwards of 200 men. Bougainville's account of the voyage (Paris, 1771) is written with simplicity and some humour.

After an interval of several years, he again accepted a naval command and saw much active service between 1779 and 1782. In the memorable engagement of the 12th of April 1782, in which Rodney defeated the comte de Grasse, near Martinique, Bougainville, who commanded the "Auguste," succeeded in rallying eight ships of his own division, and bringing them safely into St Eustace. He was created chef d'escadre, and on re-entering the army, was given the rank of marechal de camp. After the peace he returned to Paris, and obtained the place of associate of the Academy. He projected a voyage of discovery towards the north pole, but this did not meet with support from the French government.

Bougainville obtained the rank of vice-admiral in 1791; and in 1792, having escaped almost miraculously from the massacres of Paris, he retired to his estate in Normandy. He was chosen a member of the Institute at its formation, and returning to Paris became a member of the Board of Longitude. In his old age Napoleon I. made him a senator, count of the empire, and member of the Legion of Honour. He died at Paris on the 31st of August 1811. He was married and had three sons, who served in the French army.

Bougainville's name is given to the largest member of the Solomon Islands, which belongs to Germany; and to the strait which divides it from the British island of Choiseul. It is also applied to the strait between Mallicollo and Espiritu Santo Islands of the New Hebrides group, and the South American climbing plant Bougainvillea, often cultivated in greenhouses, is named after him.


1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Volume 4. pg 315-316.

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