Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Rose Island by any other name

It would be interesting to research how many geographical features of the world that have been discovered by men are named after women: not royal or privileged women such as Queen Victoria, who probably heads the list around the planet, but after ordinary wives, mothers, daughters or sweethearts.

As much of the world was mapped in an age when even the most enlightened man considered women to be second-class citizens, the story of Rose de Freycinet is unique.
If her story were fiction people would call it romantic nonsense, but it is all completely true.
In 1817 she was aged just 22 when against all official rules her husband of three years, Louis de Freycinet, decided he couldn't bear to be parted from her so he smuggled her aboard his vessel Uranie which was to embark on a three-year scientific voyage into the unknown.
The only woman in a crew of 125, Rose had to face all the same fears and apprehensions of the men: the hazards of the sea, unfamiliar climates, tropical diseases, scurvy and dysentery. 

While Rose wasn't the first woman to have circumnavigated the world, she was the first to have left documents and letters detailing her experiences. Marc Serge Rivere's English translation of her journal, "A Woman of Courage", tells her story in detail and it is a refreshing change from the often dull and laborious expedition journals of men to have a woman's almost chatty perspective and to learn about bitchy women in Mauritius and greedy aristocrats in Hawaii, the hospitality of the convict colony at Sydney and hair-raising encounters with pirates off New Guinea. To top it off, there is even the shipwreck of Uranie on the Falkland Islands on her return to France.
Louis named a small atoll in what is now American Samoa after Rose, and the expedition's artist, Jacques Arago, said of her:
And in return for so much inconvenience, for facing so many dangers, for such deprivation, what recompense did she receive? What glory was hers? Alas! What did it matter to this brave lady, taken from her friends and from all her admirers at such an early age, that her name had been given to a small island a league in diameter at the most, to a sharp rock surrounded by reefs which we had discovered in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?
But Rose was happy and proud all the same:
It is done; my name has been linked with a small corner of the world.
For more about Rose, see talk given by Myra Stanbury
Woodside Valley Foundation

Original images of Rose and Louis in possession of de Freycinet family
 Photo of Rose Island by Phillip Colla