The French navigator, Antoine Bruni d’Entrecasteaux, visited and named Recherche Bay on the extreme southeast corner of Tasmania in 1792 and returned in 1793. On one of these visits, a botanist from his party planted the first Tasmanian garden – a vegetable garden edged with stones. In 2003, archaeologists claimed to have discovered the remains of the garden but subsequent investigations have shown that they were mistaken.
The garden was planted by Felix La Haie (also called Felix Delahaye) in the hope that “they might in future furnish supplies to navigators who will shelter in this haven” and also “for the benefit of Indigenous people – a gift from the French people to the natives of the new land”. It contained potatoes, sorrel, cabbages, radishes, celery and cress. The experiment was not successful, owing the the poor quality of the soil.
Gay Bilson writes that:
“The sailors’ daily rations included a handful of raisins and half a pound of bread, garlic, salt beef and dried peas; their wine was undrinkable by the time they reached what is now called the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. In their culinary ignorance, the French explorers presented brandy and bread to the first Aboriginal people they encountered.”
The d’Entrecasteaux expedition was searching for another French expedition, that of La Perouse, which had vanished after meeting with officers from the English first fleet at Botany Bay in 1788. Many years later, the remains of La Perouse’s ships were discovered in the Solomon Islands.
D’Entrecasteaux’s expedition included scientists and cartographers, gardeners, artists and hydrographers. As well as planting the first Tasmanian garden they collected many specimens and made careful maps and records of the countries that they visited and wrote admiringly about the Tasmanian aboriginal people. One account tells of the women diving for shellfish and lobsters, which were then cooked on open fires.
This expedition also ended in tragedy. The commanders of both ships (the Recherche and the Espérance) became ill and died while en route to the Dutch East Indies in 1793. The records of the expedition were captured by the British but eventually returned to France.