French first to lay claim to WA
Dr Michael McCarthy, the museum’s curator of maritime archaeology, said most people were often surprised to find out WA had been claimed by the French in 1772.
Only two years after Captain Cook named and claimed New South Wales for the British.“Not many people know that Saint Alouarn (a French explorer) came to Shark Bay and annexed Western Australia for France,” he said.
“So this should have been French, this part of the coast, because the French actually laid claim.
Historic documents and drawings never seen before outside France – and on loan to Western Australia – have shed more light on the theory that WA could just as easily have been settled by the French.
The artefacts, from two French-led expeditions in the early 1800s – the first commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte – are on display at the WA Maritime Museum.
The earlier expedition, led by Nicolas Baudin with 23 scientists on board, was labelled a journey of scientific discovery.
It was likely the French leader had other, less scientific intentions, that of laying claim to more lands.
“There was also a colonial aspect to it, the French and the English were, in a way, rivals.
“The British were already there on the east coast but nobody knew much about the west coast … and so the French were sent to not only discover the natural elements of the land but to look for harbours.”
In October 1800 Baudin was selected to lead what has become known as the Baudin expedition to map the coast of Australia (New Holland).
In April 1802 Baudin met Matthew Flinders, also engaged in charting the coastline, in Encounter Bay in present-day South Australia.
According to recent researches by academics from the University of Adelaide, François Péron, who had become the chief zoologist and intellectual leader of the mission, wrote a report for Napoleon on ways to invade and capture the British colony at Sydney Cove. So New South Wales could have become French if Naploleon hadn't been distracted in Europe.