Péron, Fran

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(b. Cérilly, France, 22 August 1775; d. Cérilly, 14 December 1810)

zoology, natural history.

Péron came from a family of modest means. He was intellectually gifted, and began the study of theology in 1791. But he abandoned theology in 1792 and enrolled at the Allier Battalion. He fought in Alsace, where he was wounded and taken prisoner. He was exchanged in 1794 and returned home blind in one eye. Pierre-Lazare Petit-Jean, a notary in Cérilly, financed his studies for three years at the école de Medecine in Paris. Péron was very interested in anthropology, and after learning that an expedition to New Holland (Australia) needed a physician-naturalist, he volunteered for the position. With the support of the naturalists Jussieu and Lacépède, he was accepted as a zoologist.

On 19 October 1800 Pérson sailed from Le Havre on the Geographe, bound for Tasmania and Australia, with stops scheduled at the Canary Islands, Mauritius, and Timor. Aboard the ship he made the acquaintance of Lesueur and the botanist Leschenault de la Tour. Dysentery broke out on board; and only a few of the scientists and crew survived. The voyage ended at Port Jackson (Sydney Harbor) on 20 June 1802. Peron, Leschenault, and Lesueur had been left behind on King Island (in Bass Strait), when the ship sailed to evade a storm. After twelve days on the island they were rescued by an English vessel.

On 25 March 1804 the expedition arrived at Lorient, France. They returned with about a hundred live animals that had never been seen in Europe, which were intended for the Empress Josephine’s château, Malmaison; they also brought plants for her garden and a sizable herbarium. Peron became a frequent guest at Malmaison and was even the empress’ reader, which was only a pretext so that he could be supported in his research. Péron, however, was weakened by the voyage, and he did not live long enough to complete his proposed works.


I. Oringinal Works. Péron’s works are Histoire générale et particuliére de tous les animaux qui composent la famille des medulles (n.p., n.d.), written with Lesueur; Mémoire sur quelques faits zoologiques applicables ä la théorie du globe, lu ä la classe des sciences physiques et mathématiques de l’Institut national (n.p., n.d.), Notice sur l’habitation des animaux marins (n.p., n.d.), written with Lesueur; Observations sur la dysenterie des pays chauds et sur l’usage du betel (n.p., n.d.); Precis d’un mémoire lu a l’Institut national sur la température des eaux de la mer, soit ä sa surface, soit a diverses profondeurs (Paris, 1816); and Sur les Meduses du genre Eguorée (Paris, 1816), 55–99, written with Lesueur.

See also Voyage de découvertes aux terres australes exécuté sur les corvettes le Géographe, le naturaliste et la goēlette la Casuarina pendant les annees 1800–1804 …, I (Paris, 1807), with a preface by Cuvier; Voyage de découvertes aux terres australes. Historique, II (Paris, 1816), continued by M. Louis Freycinet; Voyage de decouvertes aux terres australes … navigation et géographie … par L. Freycinet (Paris, 1815); Voyage de decouvertes aux terres australes, fait par ordre du gouverement sur les corvettes le Geographe, le Naturaliste et la goelette Casuarina pendant les annees 1800–1804 rédigé par F. Péron, et continué par Louis de Freycinet, 2nd ed., 4 vols. (Paris, 1824).

II. Secondary Literature. On Péron and his work, see in L. G. Michaud. ed., Biographie universelle, new ed. (Paris, 1854–1865), XXXII; and Maurice Girard, François péron, naturaliste, voyageur aux terres australes. Sa vie, appréciation de ses travaux, analyse raisonnée de ses recherches sur les animaux vertébrés et invertébrés d’aprés ses collections déposées au Muséum d’Histoire naturelle … (Paris, 1857), with a portrait.

P. Jovet
J. Mallet