In 2016 the SA Maritime Museum curated the national touring exhibition The Art of Science. It showcased exquisite artworks created on French navigator Nicolas Baudin’s voyage of 1800-1804, borrowed from the Museum of Natural History in Le Havre, Normandy.
When Baudin’s ships returned to France they docked at Lorient, Brittany unloading a vast cargo that included live emus, kangaroos, wombats, cockatoos and black swans. Josephine Bonaparte and scientists from the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, tussled over ownership. A beautiful etching on the frontispiece of the official voyage account hints at the victor–emus and kangaroos graze the grounds of Josephine’s estate, Malmaison, while black swans bob on its lakes.
The recently negotiated submarine contract with French company DCNS has spurred a flurry of delegations from Brittany and Cherbourg attempting to find histories and projects in common.
While Baudin remains a household name in South Australia, in France he has largely been forgotten. This presentation unpacks Curator Lindl Lawton’s 2015 trip to France searching for the elusive navigator in its rich collections, and flags future projects where the Museum might bring Baudin’s voyage and other shared maritime histories, to audiences in Brittany, Cherbourg and Adelaide.