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The idea of ​​a vast austral continent born in the fertile imagination of a cartographer of Antiquity, is still anchored in the minds of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However,
From the sixteenth century, the numerous and remarkable journeys of human circumnavigation are undertaken “.
It must be said that knowledge on the southern lands is increasing gradually. In 1770, for example, the English Cook succeeded in showing that New Zealand is an island and not a part of the mythical continent.
This discovery bounces the debates and prompts the French government to send an expedition to these regions. “Expeditions whose command was entrusted in March 1771, to a gentleman Breton, the knight Yves Joseph de Kerguelen-Trémarec then lieutenant of ship” (Jean Valette, archivist-paleograph).
Mounted on “Le Berrier”, he left Lorient on March 1, 1774, endowed with instructions which said in particular: “Mr. Kerguelen is informed that there is every appearance that there is a very large continent in the south of the islands of St. Paul, and Amsterdam, and which is to occupy a part of the globe from the south of 45 ° to the pole, in an immense space which has not yet been penetrated. It seems rather constant, however, that the Sieur de Gonneville entered there about the year 1504, and stayed there for nearly six months, during which time he was treated very well by the people of the country. “
Kerguelen arrives at the island of France (Mauritius) on 20 August, makes his final preparations and, on
December 3, leave for the unknown. On February 12, 1772, he discovers the archipelago that he calls his name, but no one can approach it because of a violent storm that forces him to turn back to repair his damage. The season being too advanced, he returned to France and arrived at Brest, on July 16th.
Named captain of ship, received by the king at Versailles, Kerguelen is entrusted a
New commander to go and check and extend his discoveries. It takes again the sea, the
26 March 1773, made a stopover at the Island of France and at Bourbon, and only set out for the South on 29 September.
“The journey was long and painful, the winds were contrary to navigation, but Kerguelen succeeded on January 6, 1774, in taking possession of the archipelago in the name of the King of France. He continued his journey, but at the end of January, the condition of his crew, exhausted by fatigue and a cold to which he was not accustomed, compelled him to retrace his steps. “
Kerguelen then headed for Madagascar where he thought, better than in the island of France, to find the natural products to restore the bad health of his sailors. He stayed there from 21 February to 21 March 1774. On his return to France, Kerguelen published the account of his travels and, in particular, his visit to Madagascar (“Relation of two voyages in the Southern and Indian seas made in 1771, 1772, 1773 and 1774 “).
He then explains: “I preferred this release to that of the island of France, for several reasons. The first was that it took more time to go to the island of France. The second is that I would have overloaded this colony by my patients. The third is that I would not have found fresh meat and refreshments. The fourth is that the hurricane season still prevailed. The fifth was that I knew that M. de Benyowski had begun an establishment in Madagascar, and that I would render a great service to the King by handing over to this commander all the effects I had on board, proper to an establishment; And, finally, Madagascar has rice, lemons, fruits, and oxen in abundance, in short, all that is necessary to restore a scorbutic crew. “
According to Jean Valette in 1961, this book, very rare because the edition is partly destroyed by order of the king, is “very little known”. That is why the service of the Archives of the Malagasy Republic, of which he is the leader, decides to repeat the passages that concern the Great Island. This letter addresses “the utility of forming an establishment in Madagascar”.