Bougainville Circumnavigates the Globe Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Bougainville organized the first successful French expedition around the world. During the voyage, in which he returned the Falkland Islands to Spanish control, he claimed many of the uncharted islands that he discovered for King Louis XV of France.

Summary of Event

Louis-Antoine de Bougainville was born on November 12, 1729, in Paris, the youngest of the three children of Pierre-Yves de Bougainville, a notary, and Marie-Françoise d’Arboulin. After his mother’s death when he was five, he was raised by his aunt and his elder brother, Jean-Pierre, who encouraged him to attend the Collège des Quatre-Nations in Paris, a school founded to provide free education to sixty deserving pupils. He then studied at the University of Paris, where he realized his passion for mathematics, and later was a student of Jean le Rond d’Alembert, the famous French mathematician, philosopher, and editor of the Encyclopédie: Ou, Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts, et des métiers (1751-1772; partial translation Selected Essays from the Encyclopedy, 1772; complete translation Encyclopedia, 1965). [kw]Bougainville Circumnavigates the Globe (Dec. 5, 1766-Mar. 16, 1769) [kw]Globe, Bougainville Circumnavigates the (Dec. 5, 1766-Mar. 16, 1769) [kw]Circumnavigates the Globe, Bougainville (Dec. 5, 1766-Mar. 16, 1769) Circumnavigation of the globe [g]France;Dec. 5, 1766-Mar. 16, 1769: Bougainville Circumnavigates the Globe[1810] [g]Southeast Asia;Dec. 5, 1766-Mar. 16, 1769: Bougainville Circumnavigates the Globe[1810] [g]Australia;Dec. 5, 1766-Mar. 16, 1769: Bougainville Circumnavigates the Globe[1810] [g]Pacific Islands;Dec. 5, 1766-Mar. 16, 1769: Bougainville Circumnavigates the Globe[1810] [c]Exploration and discovery;Dec. 5, 1766-Mar. 16, 1769: Bougainville Circumnavigates the Globe[1810] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;Dec. 5, 1766-Mar. 16, 1769: Bougainville Circumnavigates the Globe[1810] Bougainville, Louis-Antoine de Louis XV Ahutoru Rousseau, Jean-Jacques

Bougainville’s Traité du calcul integral (1752; treatise on integral calculus) established his position among French intellectuals, when he presented it to the Académie des Sciences (Academy of Sciences) in Paris in 1753. Three years later, he was elected to the Royal Society in London in January, 1756. Having joined the French army in 1750, when the French and Indian War broke out in 1754, he held several military positions, serving as aide-de-camp of Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm, during campaigns in Canada, New York, and Ohio. His fluency in English made him an especially valuable member of the staffs on which he served when negotiations with the English were required. In 1760, he returned to France, serving in Germany from 1761 until the Seven Years’ War ended in 1763.

Though the war in America ended in a complete defeat for France, resulting in the territorial losses of Louisiana, Canada, the Ohio Valley, and several islands in the Caribbean, the experience was invaluable for Bougainville, whose service had allowed him to learn navigation, hone his skills at diplomacy, and cultivate a growing interest in the broader world. The need for new lands Imperialism;French for the displaced French settlers from the lost lands in America and the desire to reestablish French pride and influence prompted Bougainville to formulate a plan to colonize the Falkland Islands, Falkland Islands off the coast of Argentina, as a forward base from which to search for unclaimed lands in the South Pacific South Pacific and French colonialism and ultimately circumnavigate the globe.

By the 1760’s, thirteen voyages around the world had been accomplished by sailors from Spain, Portugal, Britain, and Holland, but none by the French. Thus, Bougainville hoped that his voyage not only would provide new lands for his nation but also would boost France’s morale and reputation by demonstrating French navigational capabilities equal to or surpassing those of other European nations. Though his initial voyage to colonize the Falkland Islands was a success, diplomatic negotiations between France and Spain returned the islands to Spanish control. Bougainville was forced to remove his colony but not to give up his dream of French expansion into new lands in the region, nor to renounce his intention to demonstrate French skill and bravery. His voyage of circumnavigation of the globe would still be carried out.

When Bougainville’s expedition left France on December 5, 1766, it carried a number of prominent scholars who would record the adventure’s history and study its discoveries. Naturalist Philibert Commerson, accompanied by his valet Jeanne Baré Baré, Jeanne (who was in fact a woman disguised as a man and thus became the first French woman to visit the Pacific and circumnavigate the globe), intended to catalog the plants that were discovered, hoping to find new species with medical uses. Pierre-Antoine Véron, an astronomer, made the trip in order to reach southern India, where he hoped to observe an eclipse of the Sun. Charles Routier de Romainville was the expedition’s cartographer, whose vital task it was to map their discoveries, and Louis-Antoine Starot de Saint-Germain was its historian.

The trip was a perilous one, in which bad weather, treacherous currents, disease (particularly scurvy, which resulted from the lack of vitamin C in the diet of the sailors), thirst, and starvation were recurrent threats. Bougainville benefited from the use of a distillation machine to supplement his fresh water supplies, but the problems of food, weather, and disease caused considerable delays when they repeatedly forced him to divert from his course to find necessary supplies or safer conditions.

On March 21, 1768, Bougainville sighted the Tuamotu Archipelago, then Vahitahi, and, by April 7, Tahiti. Tahiti During a nine-day layover on Tahiti, the French learned much about local antiscorbutic plants that could reduce the threat of scurvy among sailors. Bougainville also developed a relationship with Ereti, the chief of the district, which prompted him to evaluate the concept of the “noble savage,” uncorrupted by civilization, that had recently been promulgated by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Discours sur l’inégalité (1754; A Discourse on Inequality, 1756). Impressed by the Tahitians, Bougainville, at Ereti’s prompting, decided to transport a Tahitian (a man named Ahutoru, who may have been Ereti’s brother) back to France as a confirmation of Rousseau’s theory.

After leaving Tahiti, the expedition sailed west along the other Society Islands to Alofi, Samoa, Futuna, Vanuatu, and the Santa Cruz Islands. By the end of May, Bougainville discovered a new medical problem on board: Many of his crew were suffering from sexually transmitted diseases contracted during their stay on Tahiti. By the end of June, their difficulty was compounded by a critical shortage of fresh food, forcing the expedition to land on the Solomon Islands (and nearby New Ireland), where they stayed until August.

Resuming the voyage, Bougainville wisely decided against attempting to cross the Great Barrier Reef, turned north without sighting Australia, and traveled to New Britain. Passing through the Torres Strait between Australia and New Guinea, Bougainville proceeded to Ceram, Buru, and Java, where he anchored at Batavia until October, replenishing his supplies, repairing his ships, and resting his crew. Commerson, the naturalist, left the expedition at Batavia, as would the astronomer Véron when they later landed at Pondicherry in southern India. Bougainville reached Cape Town in January, 1769, approached the Azores in early March, and completed his voyage when he landed at St. Malo, France, on March 16, 1769.


Bougainville’s voyage was greeted in France as an epic adventure that demonstrated the character, skill, scientific accomplishments, and bravery of the French. Though the chronicle of the expedition would not be published for another two years, Europe was made aware by Bougainville’s success that the French, recently defeated in the Seven Years’ War, were resilient, competitive contributors to the intellectual, scientific, and political discourses of the eighteenth century. As important as the symbolic and psychological impact of his voyage, however, were its material results.

Bankrupted by the wars and deprived of many of its colonial Colonization;French of Polynesia holdings in America and India, France needed the new lands and new sources of income that Bougainville had discovered in Polynesia. The Society Islands that he claimed for France, including Tahiti, Wallis, and Fortuna, were a source of valuable commodities, such as spices and sugar cane, as well as an outlet for France’s domestic products. In the early twenty-first century, France still controls French Polynesia, and Bougainville’s accomplishments are commemorated in the names of Bougainville Island in the Solomon Archipelago, two Bougainville Straits (one between Bougainville and Choiseul Islands near New Guinea, and the other at Vanuatu), and the Bougainvillea, []Bougainvillea vine a beautiful, flowering, ornamental shrub.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bergreen, Laurence. Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe. New York: William Morrow, 2003. Tale of exploration in the sixteenth century. This well-written book will allow the reader to compare Magellan’s journey that ended with only eighteen survivors to that of Bougainville.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bougainville, Louis-Antoine de. The Pacific Journal of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, 1767-1768. Translated and edited by John Dunmore. London: Hakluyt Society, 2002. Bougainville’s journal of his voyage, detailing the discoveries, encounters, and experiences of the explorer and his crew.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lincoln, Margarette, ed. Science and Exploration in the Pacific: European Voyages to the Southern Oceans in the Eighteenth Century. Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell Press, 2001. Contains essays on the exploration of the Pacific Ocean in the eighteenth century by western Europeans, including Bougainville.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thomas, Nicholas. The Extraordinary Voyages of Captain James Cook. New York: Walker, 2003. The author unravels the voyage of James Cook, who, like Bougainville, went around the world searching for new lands in the Southern Hemisphere.

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Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Eighteenth Century</i>

Jean le Rond d’Alembert; Louis-Antoine de Bougainville; James Cook; Louis XV; Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Circumnavigation of the globe

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