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French Tasmania

Besides looking and feeling a lot like France in a lot of ways, Tasmania has many French links and remnants from the early days of European exploration.

French explorer history

Tasmanian links to France extend prior to the settlement of most towns there and the legacy of the French there at that time lives on today in the names of many places notably the Freycinet Coast, Huon Valley and D'Entrecasteaux Channel.

French explorers were some of the very first to come to Tasmania/Australia. As the French were one of the first to explore these places, they were also the first to name them, and these names have remained.

While the English came to Australia mainly to colonise it, the French came for mostly for the purpose of discovery/science: the places, the plants and the people. A lot of scientists were on board the French ships that came with expertise in agriculture and horticulture.

As well as names remaining, so too did some of the gardens they established when they were exploring. There is one that was recently discovered at Recherche Bay, left behind by the French explorers in the 1700s.

Expeditions to Tasmania included those led by:
- Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne who was the second European visitor to Tasmania after Tasman and the first French explorer to make contact with the natives of Van Diemen's Land in 1772;  they were greeted with hostility and attacked
- Bruny D'Entrecasteaux in 1792/93 who mapped/named a lot of the coastline in his ship Recherche, joined by the Esperance commanded by Huon de Kermadec (they were sent to find French explorer La Perouse who landed in Botany Bay days after the first fleet in 1788 but was never seen again)
- Nicholas Baudin who was sent by Napoleon in 1800 to bring glory to revolutionary France by researching indigenous people for the real start of anthropology and to stock Josephine's garden at Malmaison with exotic flora and fauna; they also produced the first complete map of Australia during 1802/03. Interestingly, a lot of correspondence from the time indicates a step up of British interest in Australia notably Tasmania, to make sure they beat the French to colonisation.
- Dumont d'Urville who launched from Hobart to Antarctica in the late 1830s and demonstrated that it wasn't just an iceshelf but was actually a continent, so actually discovering Antarctica.

The French Memorial FountainIn Hobart's botanical gardens, a French Memorial Fountain was created in 1972 to mark the bicentenary of the first of a number of French voyages of discovery that visited Tasmania. It's presence in the Gardens acknowledges the contribution of early French explorers and scientists to the understanding of this island state. The garden surrounding the fountain is representative of plants collected and described by French naturalist Jacques Labillardiere who was part of the D'Entrecasteaux expedition.

French named places

From Bruny d'Entrecasteaux's expedition,  Bruny Island, Cape Bruny and the D’Entrecasteaux Channel were named. He also named Reserche Bay after his ship and the Huon River after the commander of his other ship as well as Huonville. Huon Valley and Port Huon; a certain type of tree only found in Tasmania is named Huon PIne.  There are also Port and Lake Esperance which was Huon's ship.

The Freycinet peninsula and national park were named after Louis and/or Henri de Freycinet, officers from Baudin's expedition. Also, the highest peak in the Hazard Range is Mt Freycinet. From Baudin's expedition, many places were named after Frenchman on board including: Cape and Mount Baudin, Taillefer (doctor) Rocks, Capes Peron (zoologist), Bernier (astronomer), Bailly (zoologist), Boullanger and Faure (geographers), Bay Reidle (gardener), Maurouard (petty officer), Lesueur (artist - his works from Tasmania are on display in the Le Havre museum in NW France) and  on Maria Island Point Mauge (a zoologist who died there). A number of these remain as well as other places named at the time including Ile du Nord (on Maria Island) and Point Geographe.

French festival

Every two years, Freycinet on Tasmania's eastern coast celebrates the journey of Baudin and Freycinet and the area's rich natural history, natural beauty, marine life and food/wines with the France to Freycinet Festival. It is a ten day event with local and French themed activities including parades, markets, food and music events including a dinner dance. For more details go to: (Note: most of the major activities are held in Swansea at the end of the festival). There is a permanent France to Freycinet exhibition at the Bark Mill Museum in Swansea on the Freycinet Coast.

French like Tasmania

While French explorers may have charted the coast of Tasmania and left some gardens, there were no permanent French settlements in Australia (unfortunately). However, there is much about Tasmania that reminds us of France, more than anywhere else in our country (or close by Noumea!):
- Climate: similar to France being very cold during winter with distinct seasonal changes and fog/frost like we see a lot in our village of Pouzauges
- Landscape: the deciduous trees, forests/walks, mountainous island like Corsica, city parks like those in Paris especially in Launceston, the light often times similar to that of Provence, country tree lined lanes with overhead canopy, green rolling hills of the north, harbours especially Hobart’s
- Architecture: stone cottages, churches, bridges, many buildings still from the early to mid 1800s which are similar to the age of many existing buildings in France
- Markets: notably the Salamenca markets in Hobart with old buildings on one side of the street and plane trees on the other with plenty of great market stalls in between
- Wine/food: The abundance of pinot grapes produce lots of easy drinking pinot noir and pinot gris (light like a lot of French wine) and the food is fresh but not quite French gourmet
- Village life: Richmond was the perfect example but also many of the small seaside villages
- Culture: relaxed lifestyle with plenty of tourists visiting
- Language: While no French to be heard, often the locals especially in country areas were difficult to understand with their own twist on Aussie English!

If only those early explorers had decided to stay and set up a large French colony in the southern hemisphere here, never mind, we will just have to keep going to France and be reminded by places like Tasmania in the meantime.

See our France like Tassie photos of our trip including the France to Freycinet festival.

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