The bicentenary of the visit of Louis de Freycinet to Tenerife



retrato de Louis de FreycinetHenri Louis Claude de Saulces de Freycinet, best known as Louis de Freycinet, was a French naturalist who lived between the 18th and the 19th Centuries. He became famous because of his studies in geology and geography, which contributed to a better understanding of the world at that time. He traveled all around the globe, developing investigations in every part of the Earth where he landed. And one of those was no other that Tenerife!

As we already mentioned in this blog about another important visit, the one that made Jacques Arago -who, curiously, was a travel partner of Freycinet-, in StarExcursions we would like to talk about the most relevant historic happenings of Tenerife. That is the reason why we are about to explain the story of this French scientist, one of the greatest of all time. However, we must say that, in fact, he did not have a great time in our island. Would you like to know why? Please, keep reading!

Background of Louis de Freycinet


Louis de Freycinet entered the French Navy in 1793, when he was 14 years old. He fought against the British in several fronts, and he even shared positions with his brother, Louis-Henri. His luck changed when he was 21, because at that time the rest of his travels were purely scientific.

At this age he enlisted on Le Naturaliste as second officer. It was a scientific expedition which was led by captain Baudin. The main goal was to develop some studies in Australia; more concretely, its mineralogy, zoology and botanic. In this trip, which was organized by the Paris Academy of Science, and funded by Napoleon Bonaparte, started on the port of Le Havre on the 18th of October 1800.

In this occasion Louis de Freycinet had a first encounter with Tenerife. They arrived at the capital of the island on the 2nd of november, and they stayed there until the 13th. However, the most important visit to our island was 17 years later.

Louis de Freycinet mapa de Timor
Meanwhile, Louis de Freycinet developed different tasks, such as finishing the book of his partner François Péron, who died before being able to do it himself. The title of the book was “Trip to discover Australia 1800-1804”. Another thing he did was leading an expedition whose goal was to travel around the globe in order to study the Earth magnetism and the meteorology of the South Pacific. At the same time, he recollected materials for the museums of Natural History of France.

This expedition, which sailed from France on the 17th of September 1817, was the one which finally brought the most important encounter between Louis de Freycinet and the island of Tenerife. The trip was composed by two corvettes, called L’Uranie and La Physicienne, and the most important crewmen were the scientist Louis Isidoro Duperrey and the drawer Jacques-Étienne-Victor Arago, whose presence on our island was already told in StarExcursions Blog.


The arrival to Tenerife


The stop at Tenerife happened on the 22nd of October 1817, the date which commemorates the bicentenary of the presence of Louis Freycinet in Santa Cruz, the capital of the island. In his book, called “Trip around the World between 1817 and 1820”, he shared his experience in the city. He did it in the first chapter, which was named “Quarantine in Tenerife”. As we have already explained, his experience in Tenerife was far from ideal.

In this chapter he explained the adventures he and his crewmen suffered at the arrival to the port of Santa Cruz, on the 22nd of October 1817 at 20:00. He even pointed out that “the Canary Islands were not for us the Fortunate Islands” -a typical name used to name them. From the beginning there were complications, because some of the crewmen felt ill.

Louis de FreycinetBut the worst part was to see how, from the moment they entered in Tenerife, all the tripulation was blocked, so they were not able to enter the city itself and had to remain in the port. This happened because they came from a mediterranean port, so the canarian authorities were afraid that the ships carried the plague.

As a result, Louis de Freycinet and his crewmen were obliged to remain in quarantine, the reason why the chapter of his book had that name. At the beginning local authorities tried to force them to stay isolated for a period of 25 days, but they fought to reduce it to 10. Finally they only had to stay in this situation for 8 days.

Meanwhile, being impossible to visit the city and the rest of this volcanic island -an ideal place for a geographer such as Louis de Freycinet-, he only had the chance to go to the lazareto, a space near the port which was isolated from the city. There they made some physics measurements. They developed some magnetic experiments, which were the reason why the started the trip in the first place.

These experiments were developed between the 25th and the 27th of October. On the very same 28th, with all the provisions needed in the ships, they were about to sail, but, for a series of procedures, they had to wait until the next day to abandon the island, a place with no pleasant memories for them.

The turbulent end of the expedition


The journey went on very far. During the 3 years that the expedition lasted, they visited a group of islands from South America, as well as Australia, where they made some important studies about magnetism and gravity.

Louis de Freycinet mapa de Australia
When they came back to France, an unexpected stop made them extend the journey. The ships wrecked near the Malvinas islands on the 13th of February 1820. In this incident they lost the majority of their materials and texts. In order to return safely to their country, they had to buy a anglo-american nao, with which they arrived to the port of Le Havre on the 13th of November 1820.

This has been our approach to the bicentenary of the visit that Louis de Freycinet made to the city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. In StarExcursions we always want to pay attention to the History of our island, and this was an event that was worth telling, even though it was an awful experience for the people involved.

Despite the fact that the texts that Louis de Freycinet dedicated to talk about Tenerife are not positive, it is always interesting to remember the important characters that once came to our island. This is the case of the scientist Louis de Freycinet, who, after all, was able to study the geological and magnetic characteristics of our ground.


The images have been obtained from the Wikipedia article about Louis de Freycinet.