Bougainville, Louis Antoine De

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Bougainville, Louis Antoine De

(b. Paris, France, 11 November 1729; d. Paris, 31 August 1811)

geography, mathematics.

Bougainville was the son of a notary, Pierre-Yves de Bougainville. To escape his father’s profession he joined the army, saw service with Montcalm in Canada, and, on his own initiative, founded a French colony in the Falkland Islands in 1764. Two years later he was commissioned to sail around the world. On his return he received many honors and was promoted in both the army and the navy. He saw further service in North America, He married into a naval family in 1780 and had four children. Despite his royalist sympathies, he survived the Terror. He escaped the massacre of Paris and lived quietly for the rest of his life. He was an associate of the Académie des Sciences, a member of the Legion of Honor, a count of the empire under Napoleon, and a senator. He was buried with full honors in the Panthéon.

Bougainville’s contributions to science were two fold: he began a career in mathematics but achieved his greatest fame as an explorer. At the completion of his schooling he came under the influence of d’Alembert, and as a result he wrote the Traité du calcul-intégral during 1752. L’Hospital had written the first textbook on calculus in 1696. Bougainville’s contribution was to extend L’Hospital’s treatise to cover the integral calculus and to bring the differential calculus up to date. He brought such clarity and order to the subject, as well as incorporating new work, that he achieved immediate recognition. The Académie des Sciences noticed the work in January 1753. It was published the following year, and at the beginning of 1756, it brought Bougainville election to the Royal Society of London. A further volume was published in 1756, and this was the end of his career as a mathematician.

At the end of 1766 Bougainville left Nantes in the frigate La Boudeuse. After handing over the Falkland Island colony to Spain in 1767, he called at Rio de Janeiro to meet his supply ship. On board was the botanist Commerson. Among the plants Commerson collected around Rio de Janeiro was a climbing shrub with large purple-red bracts which he named bougainvillea.

The two ships left the Falkland Islands in July 1767 and sailed through the Strait of Magellan. By the end of March 1768, Bougainville was discovering new islands in the Pacific archipelago of Tuamotu. He sailed on to Tahiti, only to find that La Nouvelle Cythère, as he named it, had been discovered eight months earlier by Samuel Wallis. Sailing west, he almost reached the Great Barrier Reef but turned north without exploring further. Bougainville sailed through an archipelago that he named the Louisiade, and discovered two of the Treasury Islands before reaching the Solomons. On 1 July he left the west coast of Choiseul Island and for three days sailed along “a new coast which is of an astonishing height.” This is now Bougainville Island, and the strait between it and Choiseul is Bougainville Strait.

Putting into the Moluccas, Bougainvillea found a “species of wild cat that carries her young in a pocket below her belly,” and thus confirmed what Buffon had doubted, that pouched mammals exist in the East Indies. In 1771 Bougainville published the best-selling Voyage autour du monde.

It has been said by Frenchmen that, in spite of his mathematical abilities, Bougainvillea was no great navigator. But he was the first Frenchman to sail around the world. His voyage took three years and, in an age when the death rate for sailors was high, he lost only seven men. He named new islands in the Solomons and the Tuamotu Archipelago; and he was the first to make systematic astronomical observations of longitude, providing valuable charts for future sailors in the Pacific.

Bougainville’s attitude toward exploration can be summed up in his own words: “But geography is a science of facts; one cannot speculate from an armchair without the risk of making mistakes which are often corrected only at the expense of the sailors” (Voyage autour du monde, p. 210).


I. Original Works. Bougainville’s works include Traité du calcul-intégral, pour servir de suite à I’analyse des infiniment-petits du Marquis de l’Hôpital, 2 vols. (Paris, 1754–1756); Voyage autour du monde (Paris, 1771); “Journal de l’expédition d’Amérique…,” in Rapport de l’archiviste de la province de Québec (1923/1924), pp. 204–393, trans, and ed. by E. P. Hamilton as Adventure in the Wilderness, the American Journals 1756–60 (Norman, Okla., 1964). MSS are in the Archives Nationales, Paris.

II. Secondary Literature Works on Bougainville are J. Dorsenne, La vie de Bougainville (Paris, 1930); and J. Lefranc, Bougainville et ses compagnons (Paris, 1929).

Wilma George

Louis Antoine de Bougainville

views updated May 18 2018

Louis Antoine de Bougainville

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.

Louis Antoine de Bougainville was born in Paris on Nov. 12, 1729, and early established a reputation as a mathematician. A friend of the philosophe Jean le Rond d'Alembert, Bougainville was elected to the British Royal Society in 1754 in recognition of a work on calculus. He served with distinction as aide-de-camp to Gen. Louis Joseph de Montcalm in Canada during the Seven Years War, assisting in the defense of Quebec.

After the war Bougainville—at his own expense— founded a settlement in the Falkland Islands. In 1767, however, he was ordered to surrender the colony to France's ally Spain, which had a prior claim. In return he was given charge of the first official expedition to the Pacific, where he hoped to make discoveries and find an outlet for French expansion.

Circumnavigation of the World

Aboard the frigate Boudeuse and accompanied by the storeship Étoile, Bougainville sailed from Nantes in November 1766. Rounding the Straits of Magellan, he crossed the Pacific via Tahiti, which he named New Cytheria and which he described in romantic terms. He sailed on to Samoa, which he called the Navigator Group, and to the New Hebrides, which he called the Great Cyclades. From there, moving west, he was turned away from the Australian coast about 100 miles east of Cooktown by dangerous reefs.

Bougainville then headed north through the Coral Sea, rounded New Guinea after trouble with the winds, and sailed for home, touching at the Solomons, the Moluccas, and Batavia, and reaching Saint-Malo on March 16, 1769. He thus became the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the globe, and although none of his discoveries was of major importance he gained much useful information and prestige. The lucid narrative which he published in 1771 attracted much attention and strengthened belief in the concept of the "noble savage."

Later Career

Rather than return to the army, Bougainville remained in the French navy and fought against the British in the struggle over the American colonies. The major part he played in the Battle of Chesapeake Bay in September 1781 considerably advanced the American cause. His later quarrel with the commander of the French fleet, Adm. de Grasse, however, disillusioned him with the navy, and he retired at the end of the war, returning only briefly after the outbreak of the French Revolution to command the fleet at Brest.

As a royalist, Bougainville was out of favor during the Revolutionary period and narrowly escaped execution. Napoleon had a high regard for him, making him a senator and count of the empire in 1804, besides presenting him with the Grand Cordon of the Legion of Honor. He was also elected to the Academy of Sciences and to the Board of Longitude. Bougainville died on Aug. 31, 1811.

Further Reading

An account of Bougainville's travels is in his work, A Voyage Round the World (trans., 2 vols., 1967). For secondary treatments see J. C. Beaglehole, The Exploration of the Pacific (1934; 3d ed. 1966), and John Dunmore, French Explorers in the Pacific, vol. 1: The Eighteenth Century (1965). □

Bougainville, Louis Antoine de

views updated May 23 2018

Bougainville, Louis Antoine de (1729–1811) French maritime explorer. A veteran of the French and Indian Wars, a diplomat, mathematician and soldier, he commanded the frigate La Boudeuse on the first French voyage around the world (1766–69). It included a long interlude in Tahiti, which, among other Pacific islands, he claimed for France. Important botanical and astronomical studies were made during the voyage, of which Bougainville published an account in 1771–72.

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