History & Mystery
The name “Frenchman’s River” celebrates the hidden French history of Australia: history that began with the arrival of two French expeditions to this region over two hundred years ago. However, the memory of the French remains alive in Southern Tasmania since they lent their names to so many places in this tiny, exquisite region.
Bruni d’Entrecasteaux (Bruny Island) mapped our bay in 1792 as “Porte des Cygnes Noire” (which became Cygnet - he’d never seen black swans before). He also named the river - our river (well, that’s what it feels like!) - that flows into the bay below the farm after one of his lieutenants, Huon de Kermandec.
Later, in 1802 Francois Péron, a diarist from Nicolas Baudins’ expedition, recorded a charming meeting with the local indigenous people. Borrowing from the famous French Enlightenment Philosopher Rousseau, Péron thought he & his compatriots had found Arcadia at last...
But while the alternative French history of this part of Australia may be little known, research has uncovered an intriguing “almost-was”.
Baudin, it seemed, was actually a spy on a personally commissioned mission for Napoleon (covered up by the presence of genuine naturalists & scientists on board his ships). His mission was to claim as much territory in Australia for the French as he could. At that time, however, the French believed Tasmania was joined to the mainland of Australia, which had already been claimed by the English.
If Baudin had known Tasmania was an island – and, therefore officially unclaimed - he could have planted the French flag for his Emperor & for France.
Spies or not, the Frenchman on both expeditions thought they had found paradise when they visited what became Cygnet Bay to look for fresh water.
And, but for the fact that the British in Sydney panicked when they tracked Baudin’s movements - and sent a party to Tasmania to claim what they suspected was an island for the English Crown – Tasmanians might have been speaking French today!