Robert Tiley

Australian navigators : Picking up shells and catching butterflies in an age of revolution

Kangaroo Press

East Roseville (N.S.W.), 2002

bibliothèque insulaire


parutions 2002
Australian navigators : picking up shells and catching butterflies in an age of revolution / Robert Tiley. - East Roseville (N.S.W.) : Kangaroo press, 2002. - XI-243 p.-[8] p. de pl. : maps ; 24 cm.
ISBN 0-7318-1118-6

NOTE DE L'ÉDITEUR : In the mid-1700's Australia was a largely forgotten curiosity at the bottom of the world. Still only partly mapped by the dutch explorers who had made a series of often disastrous visits in the previous century, it was regarded as too distant, too hostile and too much trouble.

Then came the Australian Navigators. Within a 40-year span, one of the bloodiest in European history, legendary explorers including D'Entrecasteaux, Cook, Marion, Bligh, Bass, Baudin and Flinders undertook the perilous journeys of exploration to the southern continent. They were dangerous enterprises, and of that illustrious company, only Bligh survived long enough to retire. What motivated this great burst of interest? Why did some succeed where others, particularly the French voyages, failed ? Why were the French the first to publish a map of Australia's coastline, some of it named after their Emperor Napoleon ?

In this intriguing book, Robert Tiley looks at the roots of the era in war-torn Europe and at the complicated aims of the backers who supported and promoted these expeditions. He shows how, in may cases, the Australian Navigators were pawns in their floating political world, carrying out missions whose underlying aims were often overtaken by political events, or destroyed by their own weaknesses. He also explores the thirst for scientific knowledge, and the effect that this had on the navigators and their journeys.

A great deal has been written on these explorers in weighty academic volumes. This book does not seek to emulate them, but instead to capture the spirit of the era and the personalitites and ambitions of the individuals involved. They emerge fresh, convincing and compelling, as relevant now as they were then.

OCEANIA FLASH (Revue de la presse d'Océanie), 31 juillet 2002 : Sydney-based author Robert Tiley is […] releasing a book, titled Australian Navigators, which is devoted to the early European explorers who discovered the Pacific ocean, including Australia, […]

The book purports to give a different perspective to names often found in history books and Pacific maps, such as Bougainville, Carteret, Wallis, Cook and Flinders. Those, Tiley writes, have all contributed to a certain extent, to the re-shaping of Europe's understanding of the Pacific region. Cook was crucial in terms of setting up a school of navigators that allowed the British to delineate coastlines and therefore settle areas far quicker than any other nationality. However, he couldn't have gotten there without the efforts of those before him : Wallis, Byron, a very little known lieutenant called Carteret, who discovered Pitcairn Island, says Tiley. And the French, although somewhat behind the time vis a vis Cook, couldn't have gotten to where they did without the efforts of Bougainville and particularly Baudin.

Tiley regards Bougainville as the most audacious of the navigators at that stage. He was looking for new lands to settle. Obviously he realised what a wonderful place Tahiti was, but he was chasing the great South Land that all people believed existed somewhere south of Tahiti. He was audacious because even though his men were starting to suffer from scurvy and other problems and they were running out of food and water, he was probably the first European to approach the east coast of Australia before Cook.

Tiley also analyses the reason why most European discovery missions were in fact looking for a landmass in what was then a largely unknown region. It was a fairly basic belief that in order for the earth to spin on its axis, there needed to be a land mass down there to allow it to spin without interrupting its orbit. Obviously the belief assumed that the earth was a complete sphere, which it wasn't. It took a while for people to realise that. So there was an assumption that there had to be a landmass south of Tahiti. It had been known for a long time that New Holland was not that landmass, because Tasman in 1642 had sailed between the landmass of New Holland and the west coast of New Zealand. It was assumed that that west coast of New Zealand was in fact the west coast of a larger continent or series of islands that linked up with the southern end of America, Tiley explains. The early navigators were seeking to find that continent for various reasons. Ironically it was really the winds, more than anything else, that tended to ensure that they could never even get to that part of the globe to see if it was there.

Patrick-Antoine Decloitre

mise-à-jour : 16 septembre 2005